Debtzilla - Game Design Diary Part VII: Boss Fight Design



Boss fight in a superhero movie is often the main highlight. The final confrontation between the good and bad, and in almost all instances, we expect the Villain to lose (with the rare exception of trilogy such as Empire Strikes Back). In a superhero board game like Debtzilla whereby players have to work together to take down the final boss, the boss is no doubt the highlight of the game. That's where the tricky part in game design comes in.

Too Much of the Same Thing

In the initial prototype, we just did a power creep on the Boss cards as compared to the henchmen and playtesters complain that the fight with the final boss doesn't feel EPIC. It was more of the same thing, just more difficult. No end of the world feeling and no tension.

No Influence of Real World

In another iteration of the game, Debtzilla basically slumbers in its lair and have no interaction with the day to day grind of the heroes taking out common Villains. "We don't feel the presence of the boss until the final fight. There is no TENSION!". I need to design a series of mechanics whereby the influence of the boss become stronger as the game progress and the influence will get make the game harder until the final battle.


It Hurts My Head

With that in mind, I designed a new set of mechanics of rules for the Boss fight which deviate greatly from the simpler mechanics of the Villain fight. In this version, the Boss moves around and hits the heroes based on where it is facing. Meanwhile, the heroes try to move and position around the boss such that they can inflict maximum damage without being toasted to a crisp. The system is quite different from the old system whereby positions of Villains are static and players just need to decide who to target by placing their hero's meeple on the Villain. This design is warmly welcomed by the gamer crowd which they feel, makes the boss fight much more epic. The litmus test came when I tested the improved Boss fight with non-gamers. As the players tear into the Villains, slowly getting the hang of the feel of the game, I am feeling optimistic that they will be able to scale up the difficulty curve easily. After spending another 3 mins explaining the Boss fight mechanics, the whole lot of them gave up and decided to go watch TV instead. Puzzled, I check with the players why they decided to give up just before the Boss fight. One of them told me candidly, "Xeo, I analyse business for a living, and this new layer of mechanics has so many things to look at that it hurts my head!"

A few more tests with non-gamers garnered almost similar results.

The question boils back to: Who are we designing this game for?

Debtzilla is designed for casual gamers whom we are not used to sophisticated game mechanics and takes a while to process all the information in a medium difficulty board game .

With this objective firmly in mind, I decided to lower the difficulty curve of the Boss fight and scale back to make the boss fight just slightly harder than the average Villain.

This approach seems to hit a right balance, although it results in a lower rating of a "great" to "good" rating from serious gamers. Meanwhile, the non gamers find the difficulty to be "alright" to ease into.

Lessons of the Day

Personally, I am a gamer who likes complex interaction between the different elements of the game, but will that achieve our objective of creating a good game for the non gamers?

At the end of the day, it boils down to the fact that designers must hold firmly to their design principles who this game is designed for.


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