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OverRealm - New design, borrowed name

Hey everyone!

My previous game design named OverRealm had enough serious core design issues that I ended up scraping it entirely (well, everything except the name). Its blend of playing monsters akin to Magic: the Gathering and simultaneous action selection never came together in a satisfying way. These two halves felt disjointed, like having two different games kind of sort of interacting with each other, rather than being more of the sum of their parts.

Now OverRealm is completely focused on simultaneous action selection, with much of the design inspiration originating from my fondness of the competitive Pokemon scene (the video games, not the card games). Not many are aware of how big the competitive Pokemon scene is, and how deep of a game Pokemon is. However, I'd argue that Pokemon is unnecessarily complex, where each point of complication adds diminishing depth.

The basic setup for Pokemon is that you bring in a team of unique monsters and battle your opponents team. There are two core versions of this - 1v1 and 2v2. In 1v1, both players only have 1 active monster in play at a given time, whereas in 2v2 both players have at most two active monsters in play at any given time. Each turn, for each monster in play, players simultaneously select one of the four actions they would like to perform. Once both players lock in their choices, actions resolve in order of monster speed.

In a 1v1 game, potential options are pretty limited. You have 4 monster actions to choose from, or you can switch to a different monster in your team. The complexity of decision making increase a lot in 2v2 games, making it more unpredictable and more exciting. That's probably why it's the mode of choice for tournaments.

If this was all there was to Pokemon, I'd have fewer critiques. Choose a team of monsters! Pick some actions! See what happens! Within that small framework exists an interesting game of bluffing and excitement. However, I haven't discussed any of the customization aspects that make Pokemon, in my opinion, overly complicated.

1) Actions

Each Pokemon has a long list of potential actions it can learn (like 20+). And your opponent doesn't know which actions you taught it (and vice versa). While this create opportunities to tune monsters to better suite your overall strategy, it also forces players to learn large monster movesets just to be able to have a chance in battle.

2) Stats

Players can adjust each Pokemon's stats in pretty significant ways. This allows players to maybe invest more attack in some monsters, or more speed in others. Speed is important here, because speed correlates to which monsters act first. So knowing how fast one of your opponent's monsters is very important. But just like monster actions, you cannot see how your opponent has tinkered with their monsters stats. Knowing how much damage a monster attack can do is also important, and becomes hard to calculate when there's this level of customization. If you watch streamers, sometimes they'll use a Pokemon Damage Calculator to best approximate damage. This process can take upwards of 1 minute to enter all the requisite data. This should not be this complicated, but it is.

For example, a simple damage calculation can look something like this:

85 * 0.75 * 1.5 * 0.25

And you thought this was a kids game!

3) Held Items

Players can have each Pokemon hold an item, which provides further levels of customization. And once again, there is no way to check what items your opponent's monsters are holding.

4) Passive Abilities

Each Pokemon can learn different passive abilities, providing further customization. And, you guessed it, there is no way to check what ability your opponent's monsters have.

In order to play Pokemon at a competitive level, you are required to learn an insane amount of information. And because of the insane amount customization, there is an equally insane amount of uncertainty during battles.

How much damage will my attack do?

Is that monster holding an item that makes it faster than mine?

Does that monster have an action that is super effective against my monster?

If you play enough matches and study the most used monsters, you may eventually develop the heuristics to answer these questions. But I don't think these are the kind of skills competitive games should be testing.

To be fair, many popular games prioritize complexity over depth. League of Legends has its massive item shop. Street Fighter has frame-perfect combos. Starcraft has actions per minute.

Games should be testing players ability to make good decisions in a large array of different contexts.

OverRealm is a fixed Pokemon

This brings me back to my game design, OverRealm. OverRealm is a two-player card game that addresses all of these issues by simply not including them. All four of the above points of customization are not in OverRealm, while still maintaining all of the fun decision making of Pokemon. If not more.


That's what the next blog post is for!


Sounds interesting to me

I wasn't aware that Pokemon was so complicated... I know from a video that if you want to learn Magic: the gathering, they said learn Pokemon and you will be able to play Magic.

The more you need to know, the lower the odds of adoption of the game.

My "Monster Keep" (MK) is also an attempt to simplify the common TCG and introduce something kids can actually play with little to no memorization. The game itself has some particularities... But I'll keep the trade secrets for the time being.

Howeve like you, MK aims for a game which is EASY to play with simple rules and math, but is hard to master and with sufficient variability because kids can get bored and at it's core MK was designed for expansion...

Would love to hear more about your direction and how you plan to design your game...

Oh and btw...

I think the game name "OverRealm" sounds pretty kewl too...

Tiered Approach to Player Ability

I like the way you described the difference between casual play and competitive play. One of the strengths that Pokemon seems to have (I say it this way because I've never played it) is that it is accessible to both casual and competitive players because of the dynamics you describe.

It's a way to bring meaning to the phrase, "Easy to learn, hard to master." Someone can play a "surface-level" match of that game and have a fun time, quickly gaining a grasp of the fundamentals. Meanwhile competitive play is something that one can grow into: the importance of the speed mechanic, learning about probability, the interaction of the different items skills, etc. that are gained over time.

I think it would be an admirable goal to consistently design games that provide this multi-layered approach to player achievement. A player's dependence on luck decreases in proportion to their understanding of the game. So early in their "career," luck can be a large part in their victories, and might depend on a couple "lucky breaks" here and there. Meanwhile, seasoned veterans end up prospering primarily due to their skill and planning in "training" their creatures. At that point, luck - though present - has much less to do with it when they face off with a similarly-skilled opponent.

I've seen a lot of this behaviour in competitive Dominion play, now that I think about it. But I'm certain it can happen in a lot of games where there's some measure of luck involved (so you're not gonna see it in Chess, for example).

OverRealm is a fixed Pokemon

Actually what you mean is that your game is a simplified version of the Pokemon "video game"... Not the TCG. I got a bit confused with the simplification because the Pokemon Trading Card Game (TGC) is still very complex, like Magic: the gathering (Magic)...

My guess is that the video game is more complex than the TCG. But even the card game is rather complex too (if people compare it to Magic).

Re: Tiered Approach to Player Ability

Thanks for reading!

@let-off studios

This approach is essential if you want new players to keep playing your game. Games should grow with experience, as you learn how to better manage their systems and mechanisms.

I think luck is an important aspect to games because luck inherently creates moments of excitement or disappointment. It's why everyone remembers movements when rolling a 20 in D&D, or likewise a 1. Implementing luck, or randomness, in competitive games is trickier, because you do no want players to feel robbed of victory due to random factors.

Super Smash Bros is an interesting case study. The majority of people who play Smash play four-player free for all with items. The competitive scene plays 1v1 no items and strict rules on stages. I have to assume that most people who start playing play free for all, enjoying the chaos. That chaos leads to a whole bunch of uncertainty in who wins. But as time goes on, that player learns more techniques, and probably yearns for a less chaotic, less random experience, veering closer to the competitive ruleset.

Not all games have the luxury of being able adjust whatever randomness is baked into its design, which makes this process of mastery inherently tougher, especially for board games. Games like Dominion, as you mentioned, do their best to combat this by randomly seeding games with different things, which help fight the feeling of "been there, done that." As do expansions.

My favorite games are the ones that are able to provide new board states that I haven't encountered, that meaningfully impact my decision making after countless plays. With each new circumstance you bring with you the knowledge of the ones prior, building a personalized set of heuristics.

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blog | by Dr. Radut