Games need settings. A backstory gives a sense of direction to a game even if the player never actively thinks about it. It can even serve as a proto-tutorial for new players, giving them hints about what they’re trying to do and why. Angry Birds is a great example of this. Its intro cutscene teaches you that the pigs are bad and you’re trying to get back at them, so you’re already prepped with a rough idea of what your goals are before you encounter the very first level.
Even though I don’t expect anyone to delve into Nova Blitz without knowing it’s a two-player CCG, a solid setting gives players a sense of place. Of what mechanics they’ll encounter. Of what rivalries and alliances already exist. It gives players a head start picking an Aspect appropriate for their favorite playstyle.
More than that, a living world makes the game more rounded. More interesting. What I described in that last paragraph can be accomplished simply by having monolithic Aspects with some basic descriptive text. “Chaos is an Aspect of aggressive tactics, reckless abandon, and salvaged vehicles.” That’s informative, and it’s accurate, but if it’s all you ever get, it’s also boring.
To that end, I plotted out a setting for Nova Blitz to live in, starting with generalities and narrowing down the details as I went. Certain key points had to be covered. For instance, where are the various Aspects? Do they coinhabit one world or exist on separate planets or dimensions? How long have they been aware of each other? How long have their inter-Aspect battles been going on? Months? Weeks? Centuries? What are the fights even for? Invasion? Resources? Glory?
In presenting the game originally, Paul and I depicted the fights as formal gladiatorial contests. Would another explanation work better? Regardless, how did they start, and what do the Aspects think of them? What do the various prominent characters of the NB world think of them?
Oh yes. Characters. Aspects are great for painting the world in broad strokes, but they’re tough to relate to. Individual characters give people something to focus on. Also, a generalization like “Nature hates Tech” isn’t a story. “Garm Thirdborn, sole surviving minotaur of Barnock Chasm, has sworn vengeance against CEO Octavius Crassus for the paramilitary excursion that killed his family” is a story. From that story will come card art, and mechanics, and the interest of players eager to learn how Garm plans on getting his revenge, and whether it works, and who he’s going to ally with, given that Crassus is borderline paranoid and nigh untouchable.
Maybe Garm will go to Baron Streek, or Olivia and the Rough-and-Tumbles. Maybe he’ll sell a bit of his soul to Sicklegrin. Possibly he’ll be too proud to ask anyone for help until Chronomancer Merrick talks some sense into him. Even I don’t know yet!
That’s enough for the background of the background. The next post in this series will be on the Nova Blitz setting itself. Let us know what you think in the forums!