Unlucky Adventurers: The Origin Story - Part 1
Concept and Prototypes
Unlucky Adventurers is a humorous family card and dice game where you battle it out with your fellow adventurers to be the last man standing.
‘But where did it all begin’ I hear you ask?
Well, buckle in and get comfy as I take you on a completely frank trip back through our design process (and no, that doesn’t mean that we’re going on a trip with a guy called Frank).
The year was 2020... T'was a night just before Christmas and all through the house, we’d completely run out of board games to play and had spent hours (although let’s be honest it was probably closer to weeks) scrolling through various streaming services desperately looking for something that we hadn’t already watched in the last 6 months.
Chris had been wanting to work on his own RPG system for a long time anyway, so he took the lack of new movies as a perfect opportunity to disappear into his man cave to start writing.
While I debated on whether I should watch The Grinch for the thousandth time in a row or go completely insane with cabin fever, I thought ‘hey, maybe I could give this game design business a bit of a bash!’
This is probably where I should insert a small disclaimer that neither me nor Chris have any formal training or background in games design or development. We both work in the library world and have a healthy passion (*cough* obsession) with all things games - whether card games, board games, war games, RPGs, video games... you name it, between the pair of us we love and play them!
So with nothing more than a vague idea of wanting to design a game, I meandered over to our vast stationary collection to find a notepad (because it’s not just games that we horde!) and sat down hoping inspiration might strike.
...And inspiration did indeed strike!
Unlucky Adventurers was not it though...
What did strike was ‘Chance Quest’! A game where you battle various creatures and your opponents to become the ultimate ‘Master of Quests’!
Sounds a bit lame right? Well, that’s because it was. The mechanics were clunky at best and just didn’t work at worst. Battles with creatures were collaborative and timed, and interactions with other players was fairly chaotic.
I liked the idea of a simple fantasy themed family card game without the added complexities of stats and character sheets, but the mechanics were... for want of a better word... naff.
So I took my lame idea of Chance Quest to Chris and gave him my super over the top elevator pitch, and we were both in complete agreement. The mechanics (especially the timed battles with creatures) just wasn’t going to work. Chris did like the initial concept though, so I took that as a minor victory and went back to the drawing board/fancy faux leather notebook.
I had a rethink about the card games that I really enjoy playing, and the reasons why I enjoy them. Things that really appeal to me are simple mechanics, a fun theme, and replayability.
Too often I have played a card game that is easy to learn, has quite a unique or fun theme, but gets boring really quickly or has the same outcome every time you play it. I’ve also played a lot of card games that have great replayability and a fun theme, but require you to travel to Minas Tirith and research manuscripts over 17 years to try and understand the rules and mechanics...
I also love the chaos that can come out of rolling a dice and leaving things to chance while still being able to strategise to a certain extent, so still under the working title of ‘Chance Quest’, I had another bash at writing the mechanics.
The game would still have battles with creatures but they were no longer timed, and players would have to face them alone. Normal cards would have a ‘creature value’ on them that you could use to defeat the creatures, and you would have to ‘play’ a certain number of cards to defeat them. Once I had worked out that mechanic, the rest simply fell into place.
So I took my revamped version of Chance Quest back to Chris and once my super enthusiastic elevator pitch was done we sat in silence for a moment. It became fairly obvious to us that we might just be onto something (and we hoped that wasn’t just our overinflated egos talking!). Although we did both agree that the name was still fairly lame.
So after a bit more backwards and forwards, bouncing ideas off each other (and many, many, MANY cups of tea and coffee later) we had a rough draft of all the mechanics and types of cards for the game, but still no name.
Handily, we were both off for a week over Christmas, so we used this time to create our first scrappy prototype to check if this thing even had legs, let alone whether it could walk!
All of the cards were scribbled in marker pen, and all of the basic cards had the generic card name of either ‘item’, ‘spell’, ‘potion, or ‘weapon’.
The action cards were a bit more advanced… We even introduced coloured marker pens! They also had a little more variety to them than our our basic cards.
We also created some basic creatures that we could battle against, including the utterly terrifying ‘Rock King’! (Not sure if this one was arguably lamer than the name of Chance Quest… I’m still undecided).
The cards were ugly, but they got the job done. We then had our first play through. There were some things that didn’t quite work, but you know what? On the whole we quite enjoyed it.
So we had another chat about the things that worked well and the things that could do with tweaking. We also decided that we wanted to start naming the individual cards so that we could really start to see that fantasy theme coming through.
Chris went away and worked on the names for all of the basic cards using well known and loved fantasy tropes for inspiration. I did the same with the creatures. We then reconvened with prototype version 2…
This version was a lot nicer looking than the last, and we even jazzed it up a bit with a few symbols. I’d also made the executive decision that rather than using mythical creatures or basing the creatures off existing fantasy monsters, we’d just completely create our own weird and wonderful creatures that would be totally unique to our game.
And thus, it was on this day that the Carnivorous Orb was born!
We also didn’t like the term ‘creature’ so we renamed the entire deck as the ‘beast deck’ and changed all of the ‘encounter creature’ cards to ‘beast encounters’.
We then had another play through and, weirdly, it played really well. The mechanics all worked like they were supposed to. The game lasted about half an hour, and we’d played through half the deck before one of us was knocked out of the game.
Surely it was a fluke though?
So we played it again. This game lasted around 25 mins and again, we had probably played through half of the main deck.
To confirm it was not just some bizarre coincidence, we played it again for a third time. This game lasted half an hour and we played through just over half the main deck again.
It was either some weird Christmas miracle, or we’d actually managed to crack the mechanics and made a game that not only worked, but that we actually enjoyed playing. Each game we played was completely different to the last, and there was always a different winner.
We had a few more games just to make sure, before agreeing that the game just seemed to work. What we also discovered, is that I cannot roll to save my life… Although I had managed to win a couple of games, I had also managed to knock myself out of the game a few times by drawing multiple blunders and beast encounters and also rolling poorly on the basic cards.
It became very obvious that I was incredibly unlucky! I mean, we knew this already. We always joked that we’re quite unlucky at the best of times…
One small example of our catastrophic luck is that every time we’ve gone on holiday, something happens. Now, I don’t just mean delays at the airport or mishaps with the hotel room sort of bad luck (although that has definitely happened to us a lot!). I mean full blown political protests, bomb explosions at nearby hotels, and the worst storms since records began!
Needless to say, bad luck seems to be a long running theme with us, and this game was just confirming what we already knew.
That was when we had our second strike of inspiration… rather than calling the game the lame title of ‘Chance Quest’ we would call it the much more endearing and personal ‘Unlucky Adventurers’! Not only did the name mean something personal to us (because we really are unlucky adventurers in life as well as in this game) but we thought that everyone who has played an RPG at some point in their life can probably relate to being fairly unlucky too.
We knew then that we had to play test it with others. It was great that we enjoyed playing it and it worked for 2 players, but we needed to see what it could do out in the wild with people who hadn’t actually written the rules and mechanics.
After our first play through with family, we could not have asked for better feedback. On the whole, the game still worked and it got incredibly competitive between us all which is what we wanted. We only really got one bit of criticism and that was…
‘Why have you got a beast that’s called the Corona virus Orb?’
Well, that was a fairly big facepalm moment for us. As much as we adored our Carnivorous Orb there was no way that we wanted it to be mistaken for the virus that we have all been isolating from and fighting against for the last 12 months. So after a few more days of back and forth, we decided to rename our flagship beast as the ‘Ravenous Orb’. It was still close enough to the original but at least it wasn’t a reminder of the Covid pandemic.
But that’s what play tests are for, right?
So next, we decided that it was time to mock up some cards and get a feel for what the game might actually look like if we were going to produce it properly…
Stay tuned for ‘Unlucky Adventurers: The Origin Story - Part 2’ to follow our art journey and see how we developed the ‘look’ of our beasts which so far, only had a name on a tatty piece of card.
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