Game publisher Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) has issued a challenge to board and card game designers: we'll provide the theme, you bring the mechanics. AEG has been hard at work for over three years fleshing out their newest setting, Tempest, a fictional city-state that will provide a common world, cast of characters, and overarching plot line for an entire range of new games.
As a start, AEG plans to publish three Euro-style strategy games set in the Tempest world: Dominaire, Courtier, and Mercante. These three games respectively give players a Tempest-themed take on area control, set collection, and auctions, which are all tried-and-true mechanics for Euro strategy.
The first three Tempest games, from designers Jim Pinto, Philip duBarry, and Jeff Tidball, will be released during Germany's Essen Spiel gaming expo in October 2012.
But AEG doesn't want to stop there. They are looking for fresh ideas, and that's were you come in. Any potential game designer, experienced or not, has been welcomed to register for AEG's Tempest designer website, where the publisher will peel back the curtain on all of the characters and plotlines that can be incorporated into future Tempest games. After digesting the resources, designers have an open line of communication to pitch new game ideas directly to AEG.
If this sounds like your kind of challenge but you need a kick-start to your motivation, take a look at five areas where the Tempest setting might be a good fit for future game design:
5. Storytelling RPG
While Tempest is serving as the host to several Euro-style strategy games, the most common complaint levied against that genre is a lack of theme. Yet unless a game is crafted by one of the industry's few top designers, theme and strategy can act like oil and water. The trick here is to have players come to the table with the theme already in their heads.
Dungeons & Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep brought this to light; go ahead and read player's impressions of the game. Waterdeep is a solid Euro with very little theme, but players brought decades of their own D&D stories to the table. As a result, players felt as though they had just experienced a thematic Euro! AEG and Tempest don't have the benefit of a long-running RPG series to leverage, but they could try to capture lightning in a bottle with a decidedly "un-D&D" Tempest RPG.
To get players invested in the Tempest setting as quickly as possible, the RPG format AEG should lean on is strict storytelling. Ditch the dungeon-crawling combat and give characters clear motivation. Make their wants and needs known, but also let the background story of Tempest inform those character traits. AEG could also look to an RPG such as A Thousand and One Nights in an effort to get their audience telling stories in the Tempest setting as quickly as possible. If they can get a core audience invested, the rest of the Tempest games will have a built-in fan base.
4. Dueling with Dexterity
Every good gaming setting needs a good 2-player experience. Tempest is already rife with characters, so while a duel may not jive with the true story of the setting, why not make them all fight? For example, Marvel vs. Capcom doesn't exactly make a ton of sense, but gamers still got into a frenzy over the most recent iteration. The problem here is that the gaming industry already has a great 2-player fighting card game: Yomi. Just slapping the Tempest setting on won't be enough to sell a 2-player character duel.
With that in mind, a Tempest duel needs some unique mechanic, but in order to remain a competitive 2-player experience, this new mechanic must be a test of skill. The simple answer is dexterity. Disc flicking is gaining a head of steam with such titles as Catacombs and Ascending Empires, and even the classic Crokinole is getting some love, recently introduced to a whole new audience when it was the final challenge at PAX East's Omegathon. Merging a dexterity game with a card game could make for a winning hybrid.
The use of dexterity in a duel would also make thematic sense. Simply put, it would be awesome to see a designer incorporate a physical challenge into physical combat.
3. Through the Ages, Literally
I'd like to see someone really push the envelope of AEG's definition for the Tempest setting. While the publisher is defining the world of Tempest with its three core Euro games, other designers could craft some true spin-offs. Think about setting a game in Tempest, but 1,000 years prior or 1,000 years after the events of the main Tempest games.
While expanding the focus of Tempest so much could dilute its strength as a shared theme, it's also possible that a few games of this nature could help flesh out the edges of Tempest fiction and solidify it as an epic setting.
2. Deck Building Innovation
AEG knows how to make deckbuilding card games. Thunderstone was the second big hit in this genre, right after Dominion defined it, and AEG's Nightfall followed to become another strong entry. But deckbuilding is getting a bit stale these days. Given AEG's expertise in the area and need for new Tempest-themed ideas, the setting could be a good fit for an innovative deckbuilder.
One idea would be to lean on the mechanics of Texas Hold 'Em, where a portion of each player's hand is dictated by a shared center row. Using asymetric starting decks, players will have a clear preference for what shape the center deck will take, serving as the central conflict of the game. Each player will want that center deck to spit out cards the clearly benefit themselves over other players, so they will compete to add and remove cards from it.
That's just one idea, but any compelling twist on deckbuilding would do. AEG is working hard to keep card gaming fresh (see Smash Up and its newly-coined "shufflebuilding" mechanic), so it seems almost inevitable that Tempest will receive a card game of some sort.
1. Tempest: Legacy
Lastly, when you've got all of these Tempest-themed games, why not tie them together somehow? If several of them turn out to be great games, I'd jump at the chance to play in some sort of Tempest campaign. This could either take the shape of a meta-game, where success is dictated by performance in the various Tempest games, or as a Risk: Legacy-inspired campaign of individual game plays. For the latter, performance in one game could enact rules twists in another, adding a unique twist to games that players will already be very familiar with.
I've always had a love for competition on a grand scale, spanning multiple events. If AEG produces a diverse line of Tempest games as well as their already-announced Euro strategy games, then the setting could easily serve as host for some sort of "gaming Olympics".