Tension on Mt. Avalanche

Oh boy! I have been super-duper busy the past 3 weeks, I finally get a chance to write a post. I have been showing off It’s an Ambush! and AVALANCHE!, playing Pandemic Legacy, doing a podcast interview for AVALANCHE!, and of course school work. I am actually writing this as I watch the games for the IEM tournament for League of Legends. There are so many roster changes I don’t know who to even root for… I also ate half a box of Oreos and really feeling it. But hey, it’s getting super cold in Boston. Gotta get that hibernation fat going sometime.

So we finally get to my first game ever, AVALANCHE! In AVALANCHE!, you and your friends are attempting to climb the world’s newest, tallest, most dangerous mountain, Mt. Avalanche. However, all the professional mountain climbers are too busy with Mt. Everest. So now big companies are sponsoring you to climb to the top. But, there can one person who was the first to summit Mt. Avalanche, will it be you? “AVALANCHE! is a semi-cooperative 4-8 player tabletop game where you race to the top of Mt. Avalanche while working with your friends than back stab them for the win! It plays in about 45 minutes. It is easy to learn with quick turns and a lot of interaction with your friends.” This is usually what I tell my friends when they find out I am making a game, which by the way feels awesome.

So why should you play my game? My game, AVALANCHE!, that I made without any prior experience. Playing AVALANCHE! let’s you a feel what you imagine the stress and tension to be like while climbing a mountain. This feeling is interspersed throughout the mechanics and game play but it is most emphasized in three places: drawing cards with possible hidden Avalanches, rolling for Avalanches, and surviving the journey to the top.

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The board in question. Be the first to reach the top and survive one whole turn to win!

During your turn, you have 10 Action Points (AP) to do a myriad of things including climbing up the mountain, drawing cards, playing cards, hurting other players, and using your character ability. Different actions have different costs. There is some tension waiting to see whether your friends will help or hurt you but there more frequent tension when drawing. Drawing has some inherent risk built in. Most of the cards (~85%) are beneficial cards, but about 15% of the cards are “Instants.” Instants cards include AVALANCHE!, Super AVALANCHE!, Gust!, and Updraft (which actually is good). Think of Pandemic. For those who have not played Pandemic, when you draw an Instant, you must play the card and then the mountain tries to stop you from reaching the top. So you are playing and steadily climbing towards the top. Nothing had gone wrong. You have some AP left over and you want some more cards to help you out even more… then you draw an AVALANCHE! Plans ruined, not only do you lose a card draw, you also might taking a step away from your goal. Thematically, you are making progress towards the top but then you feel a rumble and mounds of snow rushes towards you. You steady your footing and prepare to survive what is coming.

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One of 4 Instant cards

Note: because of how I used to name Instants, I might use Instant and Avalanche! interchangeably. “Instant” is a category of cards that includes Avalanche! and a few other cards.

I designed my game around the Instant mechanic. You draw this Instant card and it’s an Avalanche! Everyone around the table looks up and makes that dreaded stare into your soul like you forgot to turn off the stove when you left the house. You then get the glory of determining the strength of the Instant. To do this, you just roll 2d6 dice, that’s two 6 sided dice for those who don’t know. The more you know! Everyone around the table, including you, rolls to see how well you can survive the Instant. Let’s say you roll an 8 as the Instant’s strength. You then roll a 10, your friend Amy, Albert, and Alex roll a 2, 7, and 8 respectively. You and Alex get to survive the Instant and stay where you are because you rolled equal or higher (10 and 8 vs the 8). Amy and Albert (2 and 7) however fall down 1 tile. Sad face. This is the main mechanic in my game. It creates tension when revealing the Instant, then tension in rolling to see the strength of the Instant, then finally more tension in what will you roll to resist the Instant. Everyone around the table is participating as well so it allows you to play the game outside of your turn as well, which helps cut down downtime between turns. I feel this mechanic meshes well with the theme because an Avalanche can occur whenever you are climbing the mountain and affects everyone around the table. However, I do understand real avalanches are deadly and many people have died buried in snow. I am not marginalizing the awe of real life avalanches. But in my game, Avalanches have much less disastrous consequences, and the art style and gameplay support that idea.

Finally, there is tension through surviving the journey to the top of the mountain. At the beginning of the game, you start with 10 health points (HP). Once you reach 0HP, you die and your character is removed from the game. You lose HP by getting damaged by other players, thematically named “Punching” another player. Punching someone causes them to lose 1HP, moving them towards their demise. However unlike other games, your HP is also a resource (just like cards are a resource). Whenever you fail to resist an Instant, you can make up the difference with HP. Say the Instant strength is a 10 and you roll the average of a 7. You can choose to lose 3HP to survive the Instant, therefore staying where you are. You gain a positional advantage but you inch closer to death, posing other players to “Punch” you to death on Mt. Avalanche. Sacrificing your HP is entirely you choice. You can choose to never lose your HP and win the game, or win the game with just 1HP left (you can always recover HP by skipping your turn). Or you can choose to kill everyone on the mountain allowing you win the game. As your HP drops towards zero, the tension of what your friends would do grows. Sure they do not want to harm you when you are full HP in fear of retribution, but when you are about to die and they kill you, they do not have much to fear from a dead person.

Designer note: many people will purposely design games so there is no player elimination (killing players so they cannot play the game until a new game is started). This allows all players to keep playing and not miss out. After much deliberation and changes, I decided to add player elimination to AVALANCHE! because it further enforces the tension theme. If what you do have real consequences in the game, players will take their actions more seriously and become more immersed into the game. It also helps quicken the pace of the game. When there are less players, rounds are quicker so the game picks up the pace pushing the game towards its conclusion while reducing eliminated players’ waiting time.  Also thematically, it makes avalanches more real but being able to hurt players but still not as deadly as in real life.

So there’s my 3 main mechanics of the game that enforces the tension esthetic/theme I am trying to build for AVALANCHE! I truly feel that they work cohesively together mechanically and thematically, which is not an easy task for any game designer. As always, thank you for reading and please feel free to leave a comment about game design or anything I have talked about.

Next visit: More mechanics! Who doesn’t like mechanics?

 

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