To be good, a game’s backstory needs two major qualities.
First, it needs to put the player at the heart of the action. Being saddled with a minor role while interesting and powerful characters carry on the plot around you makes for poor lore just like it makes for unsatisfying RPG sessions. Second, the story needs to ground the gameplay. What the player does before and during a match has to align with the narrative. Basing the game on lore that doesn’t synch with its own play defeats one of the main purposes of having a backstory in the first place, which is to give players an accessible context for what they’re doing.
The first idea I had for an overarching fictional setting was to make matches represent actual military incursions by one Aspect’s forces into another’s territory. It was simple. It was direct. But it had problems.
Numerous characteristics of typical games didn’t line up well with what would most likely happen in such a setting. For one, decks usually contain cards from more than one Aspect, but invading armies don’t often feature mixed nationalities to such an extent. There was also the fact that the logistics didn’t match. Proper military actions tend to begin with the bulk of the attacker’s forces already present. (This particular incongruity has plagued attack-style CCGs since Magic.) Yet another problem: what was the player’s role, exactly? The most straightforward one would be the invasion’s commander. It’s not hugely flawed but it also suffers from the “why doesn’t he know what units are coming next?” issue.
There was one story element to this that felt sound and solid: the Aspects were isolated from one another. It didn’t feel plausible for so many philosophically different societies to grow so advanced and powerful side-by-side. Giving each its own world let us make all of them dominant civilizations on their own little worlds, which justifies why they get into such an expansionist mindset when they discover each other — and why they’re so poor at diplomacy.
So we went back to the drawing board to find something better. Specifically, we went back and looked at the rough proposal from the start of the project — that the game was some sort of traditional, gladiatorial sporting event — and things started falling into place. Mixed forces, odd alliances, and mirror-matchups make more sense in the context of an entertainment event.
How did the games get to the state of a spectator sport? Tradition, like jousting or the Roman colosseum. They started as actual battles, but rarely succeeded. Making inter-world travel restrictive killed two birds with one stone. It explains why the Aspects aren’t still fighting (much) for real, and making interdimensional travel slow and unpredictable matched the way a Nova Blitz game involves random draws and a gradual Energy buildup.
On top of that, making the battles change over time from actual fights to a sport let us elevate the player’s role further. Not only are they still necessary for the event to even happen, they’ve leveraged the interdimensional travel monopoly and now have a big say in who gets to participate — as much fight promoter as ferry captain. And that’s where deckbuilding comes in.