by Matthew Hall on July 21st, 2016

​Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing an explanation of the factions of Endless, in which I choose a faction and then outline its flavor, its strengths, its weaknesses, and the heroes that pull it all together.

Today, I’ll start by explaining how I came up with the different factions for Endless.

It really all started with colors. When I first invented Endless five years ago, I was using a box of pieces that I had originally created for a Lord of the Rings homebrew strategy game. I had at that time four shapes in ten colors. My goal was to come up with a faction for each color that felt like something that color might represent. The colors in the original game were black (faeries), white (paladins), red (wizards), green (wood elves), royal blue (human empire), light blue (half-elves), gold (high elves), silver (halflings), orange (human empire), and purple (dwarves).

Below are some screenshots of the first draft of a few capitol tiles in the very first edition of Endless, when it was just a hobby. The art on the cards is from WOW.
​The Dwarves were the first to go, followed by the Halflings. Both of these factions were Tolkien filler material which I had very little interest in including. The purple faction had to be special somehow, different from everyone else since it was purple, so after a brief stint as a council of good wizards, they became the City of Athens, an Earthling city lost in a fantasy world.

The Halflings became Atlantis mer-people devoted to research with an almost Bio-Shock flavor. They will not be in the game, but I’d like to one day release them in an expansion pack.

From the very beginning I didn’t want the black faction to be outright evil, so I made them Faeries, amoral rather than immoral. Later, this faction became the Cult of Keys, a group of scholars dedicated to fixing the ills of the universe with magic. They’re the classic “ends justify the means” group, not outright evil, but definitely grey.

By contrast I wanted to make the white faction feel somewhat sinister, so after several variations they eventually became a group of religious zealots ruled directly by angels, the Awakeners. These have always been the turtle faction, centered around holding off their enemies until they can unleash judgement.

The red faction was from the very beginning called Vadiimar; they were a group of steampunk wizards riding around on airships. In early playtests they won most games. Later. I made them orange instead of red, ironed out a few of the kinks, and gave them a somewhat Lovecraftian flavor. The red faction on the other hand became an aggressive hoard of human shapeshifters trying to overthrow the gold faction.

Gold has always been my high elves, excelling at both magic and military muscle. With time they have become the Mondrien Empire, an elvish faction with a strong imperialist flavor. Central to my mythos is my desire for elves that aren’t suffering, sad, or fading, but rather mighty and in their prime. In its completed form Mondria may be the strongest faction in the current game.

The dark blue faction and orange factions were originally a divided human empire. The blue excelled in naval combat and ship building, while the orange faction could turn magic into gold. Eventually I united the two into one powerful faction called Unitas, which excels at making lots of gold and spending it on vast armies at both land and sea. This is pretty vanilla for a fantasy game, but I recognize that some players want this kind of option.

The green faction were the wood elves. They were both unflavorful and unpopular, since they were only good while fighting in certain tiles and not as interesting as the Mondriens.

Light blue were the half-elves, a magic-navy combo faction, which was equally unplayed due to the greater popularity of the Mondriens and Unitas. These two factions may see the light of day at some point in an expansion pack after significant revision.

After years of playtesting, players have overwhelmingly confirmed that the most interesting factions are the Cult of Keys, the Mondrien Empire, the City of Athens, the Unitas Empire, the Awakeners, and Vadiimar. For this reason we have decided to release these in the base game, and then hopefully follow the game up with more factions later in expansion packs.

Join me next week as I dive into the specifics of the individual factions, starting with the Cult of Keys!

by Jairus Elarbee on July 18th, 2016

One of the inherent challenges with designing competitive games is balancing the strengths of the players against each other. The goal is to have each player on level standing in their race to victory without anyone feeling the game was unfair to them. In my experience there are two sets of variables you can use to do this: Equal starts vs. Unequal starts and Known variables vs. random Variables. This leads to four possible combinations:
  • Make every player start identically and have all variables known.
  • Give each player the same start, but have some elements determined randomly.
  • Make each player different and have all variables known.
  • Give each player different starts, but have some elements determined randomly.
The design of the first sort can be seen in games such as Chess or Chinese checkers. Each player has the exact same starting position, the only differentiation being turn order. There are several advantages to this sort of design. One is that each player feels like they are equally equipped to win, rewarding skill of play rather than luck. This style of game is also simpler to mechanically design, being inherently symmetrical. The problems are games of this nature can be hard to make compelling. The core game play has to be really compelling for the players to want to return to this sort of game. It can also be more difficult to attract new players, since the skilled players will always have an edge.
The second sort of design is seen in games such as Catan or Monopoly. In Catan each player gets to build the same items at the start, but the tile placement or the turn order can add large variation between players. Monopoly gives each player the same starting cash and location, but the dice will immediately lead to large differences in player positions. These games tend to be among the more popularly successful. Games with these systems allow for some of the skill of the first type, but add more variability that can give advantages to newer players. The random variables can also make defeat easier to swallow players, as the burden of the loss can be attributed to the random elements rather than deficits of skill. This can come at the cost of reducing the importance of skill in a game if not implemented carefully, reducing the games long term appeal to more experienced games.
The third sort of design is used in the game Diplomacy. Here each player starts as a different nation, and can see all the pieces they and their opponents own. These are probably the greatest challenge to design. When executed correctly these systems can convey flavor to players better than any other system, giving each selection a unique play style. ​The difficulty comes in making certain each player feels uniquely situated without making one overpowered. These require careful and extensive play testing to balance.
The final kind of game is seen in Axis and Allies and our very own game, Endless. In the former, each player is given different nations to pilot in the war, but has variability determined in dice rolls of combat. In Endless each faction has unique heroes, units, and technologies, but the randomness arrives during the exploration of the map and the combat.  These tend to be among my favorite games. They are powerful to evoke flavor while also working to balance the inequalities out among the random variables. They share the difficulties of the third category, requiring extensive play testing and refinement. They can also occasionally be frustrating to the player if the randomness falls particularly harshly on a player, requiring careful tweaking of the variable odds.
These are the overall four sorts of competitive games that can be designed. Which you should use will largely depend on the goal of your game. Do you agree with my assessments? What are some games you can think of that fit these categories? Are there any you would say do not fit any of the four categories?

by Gordon Purcell on July 14th, 2016

The following is an imagined war correspondent's piece on a conflict between the Mondrien and Athenian factions in the game. Mondria and Athens are pitted against each other in one of the set scenarios of the game, and often find themselves at odds even in free play. This article is meant to give you a less mechanical more flavorful taste of the Athens faction.


        The outlook from the peaks of the Mondrien Mountains is a bleak one. For the last four months Athenian soldiers have been dug in at positions surrounding this recently captured elven village, renamed Firebase Alpha by CO Reece Gravenor. This position represents the total progress of the war to deter elven aggression in the lands south of the Berg Sea. Each day, grimly determined young humans and goblins meet their ends by the dozens as reinforcements arrive from Nova Roma in transport ships. The aim of this offensive was to capture Endree-by-the-Sea, thereby paralyzing Mondrien colonial forces and dealing a swift knockout blow that would bring the Faery Queen to the bargaining table. After the battle of the Delaplane Islands, victory seemed sure. Now, as one looks out upon the huge numbers pouring out of the Endree mirror, that victory seems ever less likely.

Artist’s depiction

        One goblin soldier, Pvt. Fabius Cicero, said “It bad here. Humans load us into the catapults, an we kills a bunch of elves, but they gots more and more.” When asked what he thought would improve the situation, Private Cicero answered “More guns! More guns! We shoots the elves, but we need more guns if we gonna kill ‘em all.” When asked for comment, the Office of Supreme Leader Berg issued this statement: “The solution to this ongoing conflict is not more of the same tired strategic thinking. Supreme Countess Berg is working tirelessly to implement a shift in strategy which will lead to the swiftest possible conclusion of this conflict. All citizens are encouraged to be diligent in their duties to make the state strong enough to overcome the recent adversity, and are reminded that dissent is punishable by death.” Of course, strategy shifts as outlined by the OSL tend to mean the nuclear option.

​​Mayguard, following the Prosperity Initiative trade negotiations

        Recently, there is some evidence to suggest this is what command is working towards. Crews of goblin construction workers and building materials have begun to arrive under the supervision of Thomas the Lawspeaker. When asked about his role in operations at Firebase Alpha, he replied “Not what I’d like. If I had my way, I’d march every soldier out of here and nail those smug elf b------s to the wall.” When pressed about the construction equipment, he explained “It’s the new initiative. Knife-ears know most of our nuclear arsenal can’t fly all the way from the silos in Athens to Endree, so we’re capitalizing on our assets by turning this base into something that can churn out troopers by the dozen while building silos here and threatening to go all Dr. Strangelove on them.” Answering a final question about the likelihood of a nuclear strike, the Lawspeaker smiled and pointed to ships arriving from Nova Roma “Let’s just say those things aren’t loaded with candy and down pillows.”

by Jairus Elarbee, Matthew Hall, Gordon Purcell on July 11th, 2016

So from time to time, I'm going to feature the writings and works of my fellow developers on the Endless project here on the blog, so I thought it time we presented the full team. With each person is a quick bio written by the person in question.
​         Jairus Elarbee is an Athens based game developer with B. S. in Physics from Georgia College and State University. He enjoys tinkering with systems, learning about the world, and fixing sources of inefficiency. For these reasons Jairus seeks to study engineering as a profession to put these characteristics to use improving the world. Among his hobbies are ballroom and swing dancing, as well as playing and designing strategy and role playing games. 
        The second is one of my closest friends, Matthew Hall, who has had the core ideas around which our game is based. He's been making games his whole life, but our time working together goes back to high school.
 
​​​           Matthew Hall is a writer and game developer with a B.A. in English from the University of Georgia. All of his fiction and games take place in the same universe, called the Worldring, which has expanded slowly with time to include a vast host of colorful characters and dynamic settings. Matthew is married to his high school sweetheart, and together he and his wife founded the Inklings of Athens, a group of fantasy and science fiction writers. Matthew is pursuing law as a vocation, and has an interest in logic puzzles, balance of power, and geopolitics. Making games is his way of bringing the two sides of his interests together. In the world of Endless, his flagship game, the fantastical factions of the Worldring are pitted against each other in a battle of wits, magic and occasionally, all out cosmic war.

        ​The final one the introduce Gordon Purcell, another of my good friends. He's been a valuable partner towards the completion of the project, offering valuable input and motivation. Below is his bio in his own words.

​            Gordon Purcell is a graduate student studying modern Italian history at the University of Georgia. A newcomer to the Worldring mythos and Endless, he was captured shortly after meeting Matthew by the story and has helped Matthew and Jairus where he could ever since. Approaching tabletops and world building from a historical perspective, he injects a note of real-world flavor into the game. His favorite factions to play are Athens, The Awakeners, and Unitas.
​​So look forward to some contributions from them in the future. ​You can check the author on a post to find out who wrote any given article.

by Jairus Elarbee on June 30th, 2016

Hello everyone! Some updates on where we are and where we're going this month:
  • Nearly all card back art is done. The only remaining artwork to complete is the card back art for the spell casters and updating the Ancient Hero art work to the proper resolution. This can all be found on the Endless page of this very website as well as this blog post!
  • Progress on artwork for Hero actions is the next step. We know what most need to look like, all that remains is to draw them out. Further we're planning to update the templating of most of the cards in the game.
  • Most of the remaining tasks from the last update remain in front of us: Writing out the rule book, acquiring artists to design original artwork for the project, and printing a professional prototype for broader playtesting.
So that's where we stand. We'd love to hear your thoughts on the artwork, as well as the direction of the project!