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Designer Diary - Vault Wars: Relic Roadshow

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As many of you long-time Floodgate fans know, we published a little game called Vault Wars in 2015. This year, we teamed up again with illustrator Jacqui Davis to bring you Vault Wars: Relic Roadshow. It's an expansion packed with great new content, and you can learn all about it on our Kickstarter page. For now, I'll turn the keyboard over to the designers, Jon Gilmour and Ian Moss, to tell the story of how villains made their way into the bidding war.


We'll Start the Bidding at... - Jon

Back in the before times, we had these things called conventions. They were large gatherings of awesome like minded people that you could buy games, play games, and hang out and meet new friends. The year that Dead of Winter was coming out, I was attending GrandCon (one of my favorite smaller conventions) in beautiful Grand Rapids MI. I was a new designer, with my first game coming out. I had a few other designs I was working on as well. One was based on the TV show Storage Wars. At the time it had a rather bland normal theme. I had just tested it at Protospiel (also in MI), and was looking forward to spending some time in the Unpub area of Grandcon testing it out. So I spent the first day hanging out in the unpub area, playing other peoples games, and then finally towards the end of the night, I got the courage to ask some of the designers to try out my game. I don’t remember everyone who was at that table, but I think Jason Kotarski and Jason Slingerland were both playing. Or at least one of them. It was a long time ago, but probably at least 1 Jason was present. But I digress. The playtest went great. The game was getting the experience I wanted. It was fun. It had some cool tensions. The players were bluffing and talking things up. So I was pretty excited... Except that the resounding message from all the players was “this theme sucks”. So I went to bed with mixed emotions.

The next day, I went to the vendor area and walked around. I had backed Epic Resort on KS, and was a fan of Legacy: Gears of Time, and Floodgate games had a booth. So I stopped by and introduced myself. Ben and Emily were both awesome awesome people. They were welcoming and friendly. I sat at the booth, we chatted about their games. We talked about the buzz that Dead of Winter was starting to get. GrandCon is a great con because it’s smaller, and you can get some good one on one time with people. So as we are chatting, it dawns on me. What if my Storage Auction game was set in the Epic Resort world. I loved the art, I loved the slice of life take on fantasy settings. So I brought up the game and the idea of retheming it to Ben. I’m sure he loved being cold pitched a game while trying to run the booth. It’s not a move I would do now. Anyway, long story short, Ben dug the game, he liked the retheme, and Vault Wars became my second game release!

Overall the release went well. I was really proud of the kickstarter, and the game itself! I got to meet some super fans over the years at conventions (Looking at you Tony). But one of the pieces of feedback we had when I demoed it, and on BGG was that the vaults each having special powers was just a step too far for some players. It was just a little too much when learning the game. I’m a designer that reads all the good and bad reviews of their games. I try to take notes of things that keep popping up so I can make sure not to repeat mistakes in future designs, and hopefully fix some of them if I ever do an expansion.

So fast forward a couple years, and that’s where Ian comes in. 

Another Bidder Has Entered! - Ian

The first time I went to our local designer meetup (Northwest Ohio Game Designers, we’re a very creative bunch), I sat down at a table in the back room of our FLGS and shared introductions with the members of the group I hadn’t met previously. The only one I did know, because he invited me, was Jon who was setting up a game at the table as I was getting to know the others. He explained the rules and what specific items he was focused on for this test and we played through most of a game. That was one of the first games I ever playtested, and it was the last time Jon would bring it to the meetup before finalizing the design for the upcoming Kickstarter campaign. That game, which was still composed mostly of blank sheets of paper with squares and text and icons and no art or graphic design to speak of, was Vault Wars.

Fast forward: the whole world is on fire. Whoops too far, rewind a bit: Jon and I share an office where we make games and play games pretending it’s for ‘research’. It’d been a few years since Vault Wars had been on Kickstarter and Jon mentions that there is talk of doing an expansion, but there’s an issue. Vault Wars original print run was with a manufacturer that wasn’t available for future print runs. So the different versions of the game might have slightly different color profiles (manufacturers are like snowflakes, no two are the same and you shouldn’t pack a bunch of them together and throw them at your friends head). Different color profiles means that even though you are using the same color for the cards at both places, the results can look slightly different. Lighter or darker in almost imperceptible ways, but that small change would make all the difference if you could tell that a card in a players hand (or off the top of the deck) was from the expansion. That’s meta game knowledge and it can derail an experience quicker than a bad metaphor about trains.
TL;DR - If there was going to be an expansion to Vault Wars, it couldn’t add ANY cards to ANY of the existing decks in the game. No new items in the item deck, no new aspiring heroes, no new vaults.

When I heard that, the problem solving part of my brain lit up like a circuit board. I didn’t know how to do it, but I knew I wanted to try to help. So we thought “how could you take the items you gain from the Vaults and use them in a different way?” and the answer, as usual, was MAGIC. We added Relics that must be Transmuted into reality to use their abilities and gain their VP. Once we figured out the answer to that question, everything else started to fall into place. “How do we add new Vaults?” we replace them with Villain vaults that simplify the auction but add a way to get Relics into your hand. “What about Aspiring Heroes?” You have an aspiring hero who wishes for you to keep the items you gain but also an aspiring villain who wants you to transmute everything you find to fit their Relic needs. Jon and I also thought about a way to introduce more corruption with Vices (since villains have no shame indulging in their vices). And all of that without adding a single new card to any existing deck.

We then sent the game off to Ben, who developed it (along with Sam Bailey) into the Relic Roadshow expansion you see now and Jon and I are so excited for you to play it!


If you have a moment, please check out the Kickstarter page to learn more about this game of bidding and bluffing that we're all so proud of -- we promise you won't have to take on too much corruption!