Under the Hood – Fatigued & Furious

Developing Strive has been an absolute pleasure.

At times it felt like the game was making itself, the best design choice being so obvious with each turn. The mechanics flopping out of Joe and I’s brains onto dozens of spreadsheets with an unknown ease.

The one exception- Fatigue.

Fatigue. Does. Not. Work…
And I’m pretty fucking furious.

To catch anyone up-

What is Fatigue?

Fatigue has existed in various forms since we began developing the game. In V1 [Version 1] it was simply a card that the players would take to their deck every time they shuffled. At the time, the players performed ‘Instant Checks’ where they would draw cards from their deck, the amount drawn and the amount required to pass the check setting the difficulty. The more Fatigue cards the player had in their deck, the more likely they were to draw them, blocking other, more helpful stats from being drawn.

As the game changed and we moved onto the far better ‘Hand System’ in V2, Fatigue had to change with it. Both Joe and I must have been drinking a lot at this point because the mechanic we came up with was ridiculous. We used it for a few sessions and received nothing but critical feedback.

Why Are You so Furious?

3 versions later and we still didn’t have a system we were proud of.
Fatigue, like the rusty, misshapen gear in an otherwise efficient machine, ground us to a halt and it had to be fixed before we could progress.

Firstly, we had to nail how the mechanic should affect the players.

How the Mechanic Should Affect the Players

From the over-encumbered slow rolling in Dark Souls to the Insanity effects in Mansions of Madness, we always feel that mechanics are best when they are not abstracted away from the theme and its reality.
With this in mind, we wanted the players to feel, purely through mechanical interactions, that they were pushing their characters to the edge and going beyond their capabilities in desperation.
After the dust settles on a climactic conflict their pool of possibilities should become greatly limited, reducing them to their base instincts. It should force them to perform unsuitable actions, mimicking the loss of self-control experienced by the fatigued, their actions seeming erratic and often volatile.

With the concept finally nailed down, we began an intense period of brainstorming new systems, all of which were all awful. But our time was not wasted, we had learned what we actually liked about the system, why it was broken in the first place and what we could do to fix it.

Why it was Broken

After the brainstorm we realised a few things, our main complaint with the ‘almost good’ version of fatigue was how it was ‘gameable’. If you hadn’t already taken a fatigue you could use one freely on your last action before shuffling. This wasn’t awful but it ruined the flow of action > shuffle > draw and forced the player to perform a pointless series of movements by having them play a fatigue card then take it to hand even though they are about to shuffle their deck and immediately discard the fatigue they just took.

We also realised that the cost of each fatigue card raised exponentially with each blocked stat card, lowering the possibility of actions and the speed with which a player can clear their fatigue. Once you were up to 3 fatigue cards playing the game just became a boring task of clearing your fatigue and that wasn’t what we wanted for the game, card, or players.

How we (maybe) Fixed it

Instead of forcing the player to go through this odd routine to play a fatigue card and the small edge cases that spawned, we decided to just completely remove the fatigue card!

Problem solved!

Now, when the player wants to fatigue themselves for an action they:
– Play a card from their hand face-down in lieu of the card they need.

– After the action is complete, they discard any face-up cards they played alongside the face-down card.
– They then return the flipped card to their hand, keeping it reversed where it acts as a blocked stat slot.

– On shuffle, they flip one of their reversed cards back over and it resumes its normal function as a stat card.

We’ve found this greatly improves the flow and completely eliminates the shuffling confusion.  However- despite all it’s elegance- it hasn’t removed the issue with gaming the system when you are about to shuffle though, for that we’ve introduced a brand new card and mechanic called ‘Vigour’ which I shall explain in my next post.

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