What would I love to see in the SK design? (Dropbox link for collection of illustrated ideas)
More Choices. SK Customisation and Essence.
Currently the SK has one variable– difficulty. That's not much of a choice.
Essence has equally little choice. You aren't deciding between city enchantments and unit enchantments (or other uses for mana) because of the lack of upkeep. You aren't choosing between 5x Enchanted hammers, because you just fill up the slots when you can, without having to think. Essence is just a tile yield, with no significant impact on play-style or replayability.
To me, it's all about choices.
Choices are a massive source of fun in any activity, there is a theory that maximising future options
(choices) is the driving force behind all intelligence. Choices are smart. Intelligence is forged in the fire of choice. It is a trope, a cliché, an undead horse or a universal truth. Choices are fun... I want more choices. But what exactly do I think is missing?
Sometimes words aren't enough, so here are a couple of very quick and rough mock-ups to show you.
Essence, (integrated into the game):
Sorcerer King customisation, (also integrated into the game):
Now for the words. It's a little long, if you do read it then thank you. If not, don't worry, the pictures say most of it.
The Sorcerer King
So, a game of Elemental (FE, LH) has reached its conclusion. The big bad won by diplomacy and military might... or whatever. His sphere of influence covers most of the map and his enemies are mostly defeated. You, in your tiny little empire with its solitary city hoped to win via research and magic. The forge was your plan and it only half worked.
So, that's the start. With that in mind, how much sense does it make for the SK to be following your magic-research plan (shards and mastery) when he's already won a dominion victory via his powerful cities, troops and trusty heroes? Not much sense .
Talking of sense, who would ally with the guy killing the hostages shards. How much more sense would it make for you to be following his plan in the game? Lots. You're desperate, without any other hope for victory, willing to strike at the SK's magical power to finally unseat him from his thorny throne.
How differently would this reversal in game design play? What changes would need to be made?
Surprisingly few changes for massive differences in game-flow and a multiplication of the replayability of the game. (Even just 2x SK starts and strategies means 2x the number of games you're likely to play before you tire of the game.)
I'm borrowing from the old game Ogre Battle. It has the most beautifully thematic introduction, an old man asking questions... with each question subtly changing the start. Here's a mock up of that + A SK book for an example of showing it through pictures (I'd like each icon to be clickable, with the text attached to it to be added to a growing passage, you writing the history of the game before starting.)
Thematic SK Customisation example:
“The world is at the edge of utter ruin. The wars of old are almost all over. Few opponents remain to challenge the Sorcerer King in his quest for ultimate power. He came to power slowly, few realised the extent of his true ambitions but he has played his hand. His true intentions are revealed. He intends to rule the world for all of time by...”
Destroying the magical shards, capturing the essence they contain to allow him to cast the spell of mastery. (default game)
Destroying all who would oppose him. His armies marching on all free peoples until his dominion is absolute and unquestioned. (SK guards shards)
Uniting the races against his few remaining enemies. His influence and guile the stuff of legend, the strength of his will and charm turning all into puppets dancing to his grisly tune. (SK allies with neutrals faster, they guard the shards)
Turning the land to ash, his undead hordes spilling forth to end all life.
Bringing beauty as terrible as the dawn to unmake all those considered tainted, evil or impure.
Personally I'd like the for the description of the SK to update with each you click (allowing for lots of combinations). e.g.
Selecting 1 + 4 would read:
“He intends to rule the world for all of time by...
...Destroying the magical shards, capturing the essence they contain to allow him to cast the spell of mastery. [While] turning the land to ash, his undead hordes spilling forth to end all life.”
With any incompatible options dropping from the choices as you select them. e.g. Selecting 4 would grey out 5. Expansions could increase the number of options without limit, giving a host of replay options all while being extremely thematic in presentation.
Also further questions could be posed to set the normal game lobby options. e.g. magic – 'gradual', 'normal' or 'supreme' could be shown with three different shard icons with thematic text (and contextual tooltips with the nitty-gritty details).
It's pretty as is, but if you start adding more options then it becomes less and less like a story and more like you're changing a car tyre. Checking each valve, drop-down box and whatnot. This way the settings become a beautiful flowing history that you write at the start.
Other choices. Shards!
Playing against a SK not trying to destroy them, you'd still be trying to capture them, as currently. But once captured you'd have the ability to destroy them (to gain some major reward, like... essence!) while also increasing the doom counter... (using the existing mechanics, so no work there) and also severely hurting your reputation with other races. The SK would need to be able to defend shards. (work needed there). You'd also need some choices for how to spend/use your essence (work needed).
This is as much a major mechanical overhaul as it is a big thematic shift. So, why do I think it'd be worthwhile to add? (I stress, not to replace but add to the scope of the game, drawing on things already present in other Elemental games)
For a start, it's just more choices:
Ignore, Capture or Destroy.
If they aren't going to die then there are more shards on every map (good), you could ignore them... (bad) but what's the SK doing with them? If you ignore them will he be stronger in the final fight? e.g. Fire shard = flaming swords on his troops. 5 x Fire shards = fireballs and elementals in the final fight. + more mana for him to cast spells in battle and overland.
So, which to ignore and which shards to capture? And when?
Capturing a shard should trigger some response. It should have some cost. But if the response only occurred after you defeat the defenders, then you can choose when and how to capture them. Ignoring weaker shards, or picking only the fire shards/etc as targets. Scouting becomes key, discovering where the shards are and how they are being used. Preparing before you trigger a wave... much like in any Tower defence game.
Why is the SK destroying them? (Essence?) Why don't you?
Existing mechanics give you magic for holding a shard. What if you had the choice to destroy the shard to gain Essence? It's a unique mechanic in the genre that exists only in the elemental lore. It is a waste to see it relegated to a tile yield. Maintenance costs for spells should be more than enough to stop you spamming city-buffs and unit buffs, it also restricts your gameplay. Cutting down your options... if you have a free essence slot the only option is to cast your best spell. If they cost maintenance you're trading magic per turn for city power.
Anyway, I'll come on to the reborn essence later. But why tactically would you destroy a shard?
Maybe it's too close to the enemy, too powerful to let fall back into his hands. Perhaps you have plans for that essence and need it to ensure victory. Maybe you'll only sacrifice shards before the final push on the SK, making the last battle the fight to end all fights. Once you start sacrificing shards there can be no going back... the mana income is gone and the doom counter is higher. If you lose the fight you can't just wait 20 turns and try again, you'll be hit with massive waves while your mana income is dead. You'll be overrun.
Currently with research and skills the choices are soft choices (or no real choice at all...) by that I mean you can choose everything with enough time, or there is only one choice. You can gain (in one game) all the spells you need, unlock all the skills and abilities you want.. maybe even all that are available. Ditto with buildings, none are locked-off by your choices (unlike with city specialisation where one path locks-off another).
There are very few tough, hard choices where one thing is sacrificed in favour of another.
Essence could change that.
What if you have 1 essence for each destroyed shard? To be used in a limited and extremely powerful way?
You could empower units, summon dragons, revive the land, curse the enemy or bless cities.
...How is that different to a spell currently? It would allow for very limited use 'ultimate' spells. These could revive entire regions for founding new cities, turn a peasant into a hero, wipe a city off the map or maybe temporarily charm the SK's lieutenants... things that would be terrifyingly overpowered if they were standard spells, even expensive ones.
What further choices would the above add? How would the pace of the game be affected?
You could wait, not capture shards and keep the SK's attention on other things.
You could capture shards to weaken the SK. Turtle up slowly and attack with a standard army.
You could capture shards, sacrifice them and use the essence to attack with an empowered army.
You could raid the SK, not holding shards but sacrificing them to boost your powers, but face tough battles much sooner for a shorter and more brutal game.
The early game would be more lenient. The difference between an almost RTS level of rushing clickfest to a more tactical, thoughtful choice of pace. Some people would win in an hour, some on the same map with the same settings could take 10, carefully taking and holding each shard before eating them all the turn before a cataclysmic battle – where all the neutral factions not befriended fighting beside the SK against your monstrous assault.
Anyway, that's enough for now. I just thought I'd share my morning's brainstorming. I know this game has potential and I have hope it will reach it. This is just my way of trying to explain, offer you a glimpse of what I see missing... some (hopefully) constructive criticism for once. I feel like I see the silhouette of the dream already in the game... but it's just a shadow of what it could be with lots of little changes and a few really really big ones. I don't hate the game, or the Devs... far from it. I'm just painfully aware of how small the scope has become, how much art and lore and mechanics already exist but aren't being used to their full potential.
Thank you for reading. If there's any interest I could always do more suggestions... afflictions, pictographs, item crafting... I have a very long list. It's all in my head and I type very quickly, so it's not much trouble. I welcome your criticism, your support of the game's current mechanics/UI. Feel free to chat about what else you want in the game. What would you love the game to have by release day or in some potential expansion?