Hold the Gates! is a 2-player tactical defense card-game. This is a discussion of the design process. The game is unfinished and shelved. Read the first draft rules here.
Original Design Goals:
- Diceless combat resolution,
- Action Programming (in the form of planning optimal defensive strategy, then executing it),
- Slowly escalating difficulty against the Defender (meaning Defender wins are uncommon),
- A simple board/card game that takes around 30 mins to play.
Discussion: Hold the Gates! took many forms during the design process. The original concept was that a 4-sided object (such as the game box) would form the four sides of the defender’s settlement, with each side having a gate to defend. The Defender, only having 5 cards in total, would only be able to place a single card at each gate, while the number of Attacker’s cards would increase each turn.
When I decided that setup wouldn’t allow for enough complexity, I changed to an ‘Unit Stack’ approach, where players would program their stack of defensive units, then resolve the battle phase without alteration to their programmed stack.
The later inclusion of different Action Abilities for each card meant that the game needed to be more flexible, allowing players to play units in either configuration. The current version of the game uses a unit stack that can be modified by Action Abilities, and there are now multiple versions of the same unit, but each has a different Action Ability. Two (or sometimes more) units are still battling at the Settlement’s imaginary ‘Gates’ but it isn’t just a number comparison – the stack can be affected by Actions from either side, and individual cards can be empowered or damaged.
- Complexity – HTG is a much more complex game than I intended it to be. The addition of unique Action Abilities for each card means that there are 30 unique abilities that need to be written, tested and refined. I’ll admit that this was difficult, and my list isn’t even complete! The Phases of the Turn, and the steps in a Combat Round also seemed much more simple in my head, but they were difficult to write out succinctly. There also seem to be an immense number of game terms, eg. Ranged Attack, Melee Combat, Combat Strength, Deployment, Withdrawal etc. All would need to be defined and indexed in the rules!
- Asymmetrical challenge – Some players will hate the fact that this game is designed to be asymmetrical. As it stands, I think it is very unlikely that the Defender would ever win. I admit that this hasn’t been playtested, but I intentionally gave the Attackers some very powerful cards in Tier 4-6.
- Damage Tokens – I intended this to be a card-only game, but the DTs became necessary as the game evolved. While not a problem in and of themselves, they probably involve a higher production cost.
- Theme – the generic fantasy theme is greatly overdone in tabletop gaming, so this game does nothing new theme-wise. The story of destroying a settlement is also very violent and destructive, which may turn certain players away from the game.
- Fun – it may be my personal taste, but this game seems like fun to me!
- Head-to-head – I like the idea of a challenging two-player game, that can benefit from skill on both sides of the table.
- Limited scope – I also like that the game is limited and self-contained. Although there are 30 different powers to understand, that is much fewer than you would find in sprawling LCGs or CCGs like Magic: The Gathering.
- Quick turnaround and high replayability – I believe a game would be complete within 30 minutes (or even less if the Defender loses quickly). That means players could swap roles and play both sides in an hour. The fact that different cards are drawn each Turn also increases replayability as the player’s hand would rarely be identical.
Final Thoughts: In its current form, I feel that Hold the Gates is a fun framework of a game. The Action Abilities need to be better defined, and the whole game needs to be playtested and refined, but I think it will work well as a head-to-head asymmetrical battle game. I believe I achieved all of the goals I set myself at the outset, and I found the process of iteration and redesign a challenging, but rewarding, experience.