Part 5: Mechanics Sacrificed in the Basement
Last week, I shared some mechanics that made it into the final game. This week, I’ll talk about the ones that didn’t.
These mechanics were “sacrificed in the basement,” so that a better, faster, and more focused game could fill the space they left behind.
Individual Escape / Player Elimination
In the video game, there’s a concept of individual victory or defeat for Survivors, and a sort of graduated victory for Killers. If two Survivors escape and two are sacrificed, the Killer gets a rating that effectively reads “2 out of 4 ain’t bad”, but they have to decide for themselves if they really ‘won’ or ‘lost’.
In the board game, however, The Trial is a much tighter and closed system. We don’t have out-of-game rewards like the Bloodweb or The Archives to give meaning to a defeat. Similarly, any secondary objectives would throw the balance of the game—the Survivors and Killer in the board game are on very tight schedules, and any kind of meaningful diversion (say, “hide in a locker 4 times”) is effectively throwing the game to the other side.
Last but not least, the players of the board game are together in real life. They can’t just jump in another queue after dying, or start up a side game. It was important to keep each player invested and engaged through the whole experience. That meant that we had to make a much more stark victory condition. Either the Killer succeeds and summons The Entity, or all of the Survivors win together by opening the doors.
Earlier on, we had the opportunity for Survivors to escape through the door once it was opened. We also had hatches where some Survivors could escape early. But in the end, we decided to end the game at the opening of the doors. At that moment, it’s very clear whether the Killer is going to get a Survivor before they reach the door or not, and it’s just not very interesting for the other Survivors to watch that last chase play out.
Charms + Archives
I mentioned in an earlier blog that The Archives and Charms were imagined as a sort of legacy mechanic for the game, and that Survivors and Killers could gain access to more skills and items as they played.
As noted above though, the game turned out to be very tight. If one side or the other had meaningful material advantages (such as extra perks, extra starting bloodpoints, etc), it just wasn’t fun to go up against them. If the advantages weren’t meaningful, they would just be needless complexity.
Offerings were considered briefly as a way to create scenarios by modifying the setup of the board. Ultimately, however, the board setup wasn’t really meaningful—it matters whether you choose to look for Generators or Lockers, but it doesn’t matter much whether those props are in one space or another. In the end, we didn’t feel that setup options made the game significantly more fun than playing a randomized board—they just added another layer of complication to an otherwise clean setup.
Killer Items (specifically Iridescent items) were designed as alternate Killer Powers for each of the 16 Killers. However, there wasn’t enough time to properly test all of this content and still hit our target release date. As I mentioned earlier, if we’re not confident that a component will be good and balanced in 19 out of 20 plays, we cut it. So this was one of those unfortunate cuts. If we do ever do an expansion for the game, this is one of the first things I’ll lobby to put into that box.
Originally, we planned for a 2-player mode to go into the box. However, the final game supports only 3–5 players. After numerous tests, we found that operating all four Survivors at once was just not very fun. Very skilled gamers could handle it, but even for them it was stressful and they were likely to have a sub-par experience. Because of that, we decided to cut the mode entirely.
Putting a wider player count on the box is nice for sales, but when you put that on the box, people expect to be able to open the box, play it at that player count, and get the best experience the game has to offer. We felt that 2-player wasn’t consistently delivering, so we cut it. Of course, experienced players can still house-rule it back in quite easily.
So there you have it! It feels like a lot, doesn't it? In designing a game, what's left out is just as important as what's left in. While a lot of this stuff seems cool (and it was cool!), it's hard to imagine teaching all these details before a first game, or sharing them with casual players.
We had to make a lot of tough decisions to create a game that would be right for players of all types. In the end, the game is better for these omissions, because it remains a fast, focused experience that you can play again and again.