Sandy’s Background in Co-op Gaming

Sandy’s Background in Co-op Gaming

Planet Apocalypse is the most complex and in-depth co-op game I’ve ever designed. If you’re wondering what other co-op games I can take to my credit, let me list a few:

  • Arkham Horror – yes, I know you’re thinking “Isn’t that by Richard Launius?” and of course it is. Richard is a terrific designer, and I count him as a friend. When he first wrote Arkham Horror, back in 1987, I had the privilege of being the game’s developer. As such I had to write the final version of the rules, design the monsters, tweak the areas, etc. etc. That’s what developers did back in the day.
  • Doom, Doom 2, Quake – yes I know that first person shooters are now famed as competitive duels, but when I worked at id Software, and we developed Doom, Doom 2, and Quake, we designed it as much or more for co-operative games as deathmatch. Try playing these games as a team and you’ll see. I did 20 of the 27 levels in Doom, 17 of the 32 levels in Doom 2, and about a fourth of the levels in Quake. I also was responsible for naming the levels, ordering the levels, figuring out weapon & monster stats etc. Of course, since this were computer games, they were a group effort. The Carmacks & Johns did the amazing work to create the systems and appearance, but it fell on me to turn their art & programming into a game.
  • Orcs Must Die: the board game – this was launched by us in a Kickstarter campaign back in 2015. It is a fully co-operative game in which you must survive against hordes of orcs and monsters. It is a much lighter game, strategy-wise, than Planet Apocalypse.

Why doesn’t Planet Apocalypse have a head to head version? After all, even Orcs Must Die and Doom had player-vs-player aspects. Why not Planet Apocalypse? Well, this may be one of my shortest design corners ever. The answer is simple – because by NOT letting a player be the demons, I could have the demons be as terrifying, as extreme, and as over-the-top as I wanted. It’s that simple. The demons in Planet Apocalypse have such striking designs I wanted their reality in play to equal the terror of their appearance. I think I’ve succeeded, and I hope you agree.

Two Sides

Two Sides

All of my “Design Corners” are in response to comments or questions from you, the backers. Feel free to suggest more and I’ll keep doing these forever! This one is because a backer asked the sensible question, “Are the Order & Unchained minions identical except for their figures? Are the Unchained & Order item & trap cards the same? How different are the two games?”

The answer is, first, that the Order and Unchained minions have different stats, and are NOT identical, though they do share similarities. A human soldier has different vulnerabilities than an orc, for example. This is true for all the minions. A Lion, for example, is the Order’s ecological answer to the Gnoll, but it has different vulnerability, a different attack, a different speed, and it evolves differently over time. But it still fills the same niche. (Both hunt down enemy heroes for instance.)

The two sides have some overlap with their traps & items – about 25% are the same (both teams have access to the Quarter Pounder, for instance). The rest of their cards are highly different. In general, Unchained items & traps tend to be more powerful, but are likelier to be one-use in nature – like grenades and bombs. Order items & traps are less powerful, but keep working over time.

Tundra and Mystery Hero A

Tundra and Mystery Hero A

Tundra (Order)

Tundra is an intelligent polar bear, fighting for the Order. He is fairly tough (as you’d expect), and his weapon upgrades let him freeze dangerous enemies, which is both tactically and strategically useful. His special power is that all of the skulls he earns go directly into the War Camp’s skull pool, meaning that he is a major help to the other players, though this sometimes comes at a cost for his own advancement.

His Super ability lets him freeze all enemies on his tile, blocking entire groups of foes, and discouraging enemy heroes from grouping together (lest they all get stunned). In a PvP game, he can “buy” extra bears to add to your team’s waves of Minions – this ability means he can hang out defensively in your own fortress, while still contributing to your team’s offensive efforts. Of course, he is also useful on the offense, as his ability to stun with his weapon or his Super slows and weakens the enemy heroes’ efforts.

Tundra, his upgrades, and his character card are included free in every Order Edition box.

Mystery Hero A

Let me make it clear, this is not an “undecided” hero – we know exactly who he is, what his name is, and what his powers are. However, Robot Entertainment is reserving the announcement of this playable Order hero for a later date (as they have a perfect right to do!) so we are not able to give you his name, nor his appearance. (During the Kickstarter, this was actually an Unchained hero, but when Robot moved Ancestor to the ranks of the Unchained, this guy was moved to the Order, to keep the Force in balance I guess.)

Mystery Hero “A” is unusual, even for the wacky Orcs Must Die characters. His Vulnerability is not a fixed amount – instead, it is always the same as the unit that is attacking him. This means he is extremely resistant to powerful minions and even bosses, but he is susceptible to “energy projector” heroes such as Smolder or the Ancestor, who pack a powerful punch, but are weak defensively. His Super changes the Vulnerability of all enemies in his tile, rendering them much easier to kill. And his PvP ability makes enemy Heroes far more vulnerable. (Letting every die result hit them!)

Player Number

Player Number

A backer asked how we are handling different numbers of players. If you play co-operative games, you know this isn’t always done perfectly. He noted that each Army in Orcs Must Die! The Boardgame has 3 cards. He wonders how this works with fewer players.

So I thought, as I’d explained it to him, I’d explain it to all. Each Army is always 3 cards (though some maps have more than one Army). However, each card comes with three blocs of text – for different numbers of players. For example, I just randomly drew two cards from my decks just now and they are pictured below:

Orcs Must Die Stats3

Orcs Must Die Stats3

The average number of creatures is carefully scaled so that the 3 player game has 75% as many enemies as the 4 player game, and the 2 player game has 50% of the enemies. (The two cards above don’t follow this precise scaling, but as you draw multiple cards, they draw near to the mean.) Other features in the game also scale with the number of players. For example, the number of skulls required to upgrade your war camp scales with players.

So in our tests, 2, 3, and 4 players all seem to win (and lose) about the same percentage of the time.

Minion evolution

Minion evolution

Let’s talk about how the enemy minions work. Each minion basically consists of three stats – a Movement, an Attack, and a Vulnerability. Some minions also have a Special of some sort. All minions fall into one of two categories – they are either a Lesser minion or a Greater minion. When a Lesser minion reaches the Rift, he vanishes and damages the Rift by 1 Health. When a Greater minion reaches it, he vanishes and damages it by 2 Health. Also, Lesser minions drop 1 skull for you to harvest when they are killed, while Greater minions drop 2 skulls. (I like to think that they are arranged like Russian stacking dolls, one skull inside the other.)

Orcs are pretty much the most baseline minion. They have a Move of 1 (true for most minions), and an Attack and Vulnerability that scale up over time. Here is the card I’m using right now for the Orc stats:

Orcs Must Die Stats2

Orcs Must Die Stats2

The three stars on the card are for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Onslaughts. So you can see in the 1st Onslaught, the Orc has an attack of 1, and a vulnerability of one sword. In the 2nd Onslaught, his vulnerability is the same, but he now has an attack of 2. In the 3rd Onslaught, his vulnerability jumps up to 2 swords, which makes him twice as hard to kill.

The way this works in play is that the orcs in the 1st onslaught don’t do much damage. They would be fairly easy to kill, but since players don’t have good weapons and gear yet, sometimes players still struggle for a bit. By the end of the 1st Onslaught players can kill orcs with confidence.
Now, in the 2nd Onslaught, players have good weapons, and their trap network is starting to bear fruit. The orcs are just as easy to kill, but you have to rely on the traps more, because an orc group can really hurt a player. Usually they won’t kill you in the 2nd Onslaught unless you are really reckless but you certainly have to pay attention to the incoming waves. Since Orc vulnerability is the same, your 1st Onslaught traps can still kill them, though of course they are not quite as nice as the new traps. Usually players don’t replace old traps in the 2nd Onslaught – but simply place newer ones in tiles that are lacking defenses.

Generally speaking, the 2nd Onslaught is a good time to cash in on your weapons and traps and earn a lot of skulls.

The 3rd Onslaught everything changes. Now the Orcs not only can kill you BUT they are much much harder to kill. Your relict 1st Onslaught traps are nearly worthless, and you’ll have to consider replacing them. If you’ve earned enough money in the 2nd Onslaught, you can quickly increase your gear & weapons, and possibly even upgrade your War Camp, rebooting your Supers! This can come in very handy during the horrors of the last Onslaught!

How different are the sides in Orcs Must Die?

How different are the sides in Orcs Must Die?

One of the choices I faced in creating the Unchained vs. the Order was how much overlap would be between them. I knew from the start I did NOT want them to be basically identical, except for art. I wanted them to feel different. One way in which I tried to accomplish this was in the two faction’s Gear cards.

Each faction has 16 First Level Gear cards. Two of these cards are the same for each faction (a pair of Vegetables of Mending). That is only a 13% overlap.

Each faction has 22 Second Level Gear cards. Four of these cards are the same for each faction (the Stone of Stoning, the Talking Skull, and two more Vegetables of Mending). In addition, the Order has a third Second Level Vegetable of Mending, which the Unchained lacks, so that kinda-sorta is an overlap, but not really. Depending on how you count that third Veggie, this is about a 20% overlap.

Each faction has 22 Third Level Gear cards. Six of these cards are the same for each faction (the Mood Ring, Burning Coal, Joy Buzzer, Icicle, Mithril Disk, and Magic Brick). This is a 27% overlap, which is the greatest, but Third Level cards tend to be purchased less frequently, so it is likely that the two factions will be significantly different in  makeup in any case.

For Traps, we have 12 First Level traps, of which 3 are the same. (One Poison Needle, one Jack in the Box, and the Quarter-Pounder.) That is a 25% overlap, but the Poison Needle and the Jack-in-the-Box are one-use, and vanish quickly.
We also have 12 Second level traps. Only 1 is the same between the two sides (a Half-Pounder). That’s an 8% overlap.

Finally, there are 12 Third level traps, of which 2 are shared. (The Pound-Pounder, and the Auto-Ballista.) This is a 16% overlap.

So you can see that the two sides will function and seem pretty different from one another. I hope you also feel that I have accomplished my goal.

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