Spirit Island: Nature Incarnate

Spirit Island: Nature Incarnate

Adversary: Habsburg Mining Expedition
3 months ago
by Greater Than Games
Hello again all 10,196 of you for bringing us to one million dollars! All ten thousand one hundred and ninety-six of you brought us to one million dollars! So incredible that we had to say it twice! Mostly in disbelief! Thank you all again so much for backing and making all of this possible. We would be here without each and every one of you. Welcome to those of us who have just joined. You might want to go back and look at the Spirits for this pack before facing… the foe. Yes, Nature Incarnate comes with one new adversary: The Habsburg Mining Expedition. R. Eric Reuss, creator of Spirit Island, and Nick Reale, dev team member, tell us all you need to know about the story, design, and development. We finish off with our bonus card — an Event card this time! Gentlemen, please take it away.

Story

Emperor Joseph inherited the Hapsburg monarchy upon the death of his father, Leopold I, shortly after the conclusion of the War of Spanish Succession, a short-lived attempt by Emperor Leopold to put Joseph’s younger brother Charles on the Spanish throne. Secure in his alliance with Sweden and Prussia, Emperor Joseph stepped back from territorial conflicts in western Europe and focused on growing the wealth of the empire for his son and heir Leopold Joseph. 

Joseph I chartered the Ostend Company in 1697 to bring trade from the East and West indies through his Belgian provinces, setting up overseas colonies and beginning a program of  resettlement of Hungarian peasantry.

Alongside the mixed successes of their nomadic herding livestock colonial efforts, the Habsburg dynasty also reached across the seas with an eye towards gathering a key resource: salt. The salt mining colonies were outfitted to be self-sufficient, able to send the vast majority of their efforts back home to Austria. What the miners and their overseers did to the lands from which they extracted the precious mineral was of no consequence to Emperor Joseph.

Design

I handed off several Adversaries to the devs, and this was the one that seemed to show most promise after some testing, so they went with it - though it’s undergone a long, long journey from its initial form, exploring to find out what worked and was fun.

The handoff version had a very simple conceit: lands with lots of Invaders were entrenched: they cared about those places, and their numbers let them support each other.

Mechanically, this was “in lands with 4+ Invaders, all Invaders are Durable (have double Health)”. A higher level lowered the requirement to 3+ Invaders, and made Ravage cards match all lands with 6+ Invaders (so you couldn’t just shovel all the Invaders into a single stronghold and deal with it in endgame). There were a few other supporting bits (starting a land with 3 Explorers, messing with Remove effects), but that was the heart of it. Outside of these strongpoints, it changed the game very little, but you either had to break up these clumps of Invaders or use a lot of overkill damage to power through the extra Health.

It had some really interesting dynamics, and was really conceptually straightforward, but unfortunately it also proved both sloggy and had a tendency to snowball. There was a lot of exploration of different paths to mitigate both of these problems - I’ll let the devs talk about the journey - but ultimately, Durable got altogether dropped from the Adversary. I honestly feel some relief at this: Durable is a hack that’s necessary to make Health buffs work reasonably (otherwise “destroy” effects become too good, see England 5) but it carries an annoying amount of rules load for what should be a simple concept. And since health buffs really want to be conditional in some way (again, see England 5), Durable invariably ends up layered on top of some conditional checks, which boosts complexity.

The concept of some high-importance, high-threat lands remains, however. We’re not going to post the entire Adversary here, but the rules for Level 1 include:


So once a land accumulates 3 Invaders, instead of adding more Invaders, they Ravage. Then they Ravage again the following turn. This might seem like it’s going to cause cascades all over the place, but here’s the other part of Level 1:


So you don’t take as much Blight, but the Invaders fortify and become harder to destroy (but without needing Durable).

For the journey from the initial version to this one, I’ll hand it over to the devs!

PS: As a quick aside, one of those other handed-off Adversaries actually turned into a Scenario that will also be in Nature Incarnate! It worked really well, but could be swingy, and had a hard time breaking up what it did into 6 different levels. So instead, it’s a Scenario with an easier mode (+2 Difficulty) and a harder mode (+7 Difficulty) - and once you understand what it’s doing, it’s extremely rules-light.

Dev Notes, by Nick Reale

This Adversary changed more than anything else in Nature Incarnate. We completely rebuilt it not once, not twice, but thrice! Playtesters tried over 50 different variations. It was even originally themed as a completely different country. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The first version released to playtesters was similar to Eric’s, but we started Durable at 3+ Invaders as its signature Level 1 effect. We fiddled with this version for a while, but the Adversary just didn’t have enough pressure towards ending the game -- at least not in a fun way.

The first major rework gave this Adversary a small army of (Durable) Explorers that would march into lands that had just Explored. Moving all of the Explorers around felt too fiddly and was too hard to overcome at lower Difficulties, so that idea didn’t last long. The second major rework switched the Adversary to Ravaging in empty lands adjacent to big (Durable) stacks of Invaders. This too did not last, but it brought the Adversary to its current mining theme and association with the Habsburg Monarchy.

With three all three versions, having Durable at Level 1 was the underlying problem. It was pretty easy for players to get into a position where the game was effectively over aside from dealing with one stronghold per board. Low-Difficulty players wouldn’t even try to get at the Durable Cities; they’d spend about an hour keeping the other seven lands clear, realize that they were running out of turns, and then rush Fear to win.

And so we made the most critical change to this Adversary: switching Level 1 to be essentially what Eric shared in his preview. Durable stuck around a little in the middle Levels, moved up to Level 6 to make space for a more interesting mechanic, and then got cut entirely late in development. Ultimately, we learned that most players only like breaking Durable when it’s a bonus on top of something that’s already worth doing; the average player will never tactically use a Power just to break Durable.

So what was the mechanic that replaced Durable in the middle Levels? A new Invader Card that’s specially-positioned in the deck.


With some Adversaries (most notably Sweden and France), the game feels decided around Turn 3 or 4, when the Spirits survive their initial push towards one of the loss conditions. To avoid that problem, we tried multiple mechanics representing a gold rush; this one played the best. (At the time, we hadn’t decided which substance they were mining.)

With this card, the Habsburg Mining Expedition tries to make as many new Mining lands as possible before Ravaging in every Mining land on the island. But the miners don’t stop there; they keep Ravaging in all Mining lands for the rest of the game. Hurry up and scare the mining expedition off the island before it strips the land bare!

Event Card: Ethereal Conjunction

Before I go, we have one additional preview: another Choice Event! Like all Choice Events in this expansion, this one doesn’t require the entire team to agree.


Here, each Spirit has a choice between paying a small cost to weather the storm and paying a higher cost to seize the initiative. Choosing which Power Card (if any) to use and lose can be a surprisingly hard decision – stronger effects help you more this turn, but hurt more to miss out on for the rest of the game.


Thank you both again for your excellent details for this foe! Everyone, we’ve got updates every day this week! One tomorrow, one on Wednesday, and one on Thursday. I know, I can’t believe it either that the campaign is so close to finished! Tomorrow, we'll have a quick update about the premium token pack #2 AND Aspects. Wednesday, we have our final spirit to show you all and it is definitely worth the wait. We’ll finish off the campaign with a final thank you and letting you know the plan moving forward on bringing this game to you! See you then!


16 comments
Loading
Back It