In the spring of 2015, Darrell Louder posed a question to Richard Launius and me: What if we designed a game where you were playing as the Cultists?
That would be the first seed of inspiration for Fate of the Elder Gods, released at GenCon 50 in August of last year. We succeeded in our goal: to create a game that was almost the antithesis to Richard’s famous cooperative design from 30 years before, Arkham Horror. The scene was still Arkham, Mass., but now players were competing Cultists actively trying to awaken ancient evil. The task wouldn’t be easy for the Cultists; not only were they all competing to awaken their Gods, but those pesky Investigators from the Streets of Arkham were handing out Elder Signs like candy in an effort to save mankind like annoying do-gooders are wont to do.
After Fate of the Elder Gods hit tables and we received stories of delighted gamers, we wondered what other ideas were worth pursuing. The gameplay in Fate was hardy, and with the Beasts from Beyond expansion providing more complexity (and minis) with horrific creatures from the Mythos we didn’t want to overextend the game. One of the top requests after release was for the addition of a fifth player. While we ultimately decided not to include that in the initial release we knew that if we could make it work and bring something new to the table this could make a lot of gamers very happy.
That’s when Darrell posed another question: What if you were playing as the investigators? What a revolutionary concept! And so, we set a date for a design retreat at Camp Launius.
On the drive to Richard’s, Darrell and I discussed the initial concept. For the expansion to be appealing it would need to offer some asymmetrical play. The Investigators needed to play differently than the Cultists, but also not completely abandon some familiar parts of the game. This expansion was to be for advanced players, and veterans stepping into the gumshoes of the Investigators needed to be able to pick it up quickly. Once we arrived at Richard’s we all brainstormed further, producing our first prototype within four hours.
We knew the Investigators would need two Win conditions, just like the Cultists. It made sense to keep the Elder Signs as a win condition; the Investigators would have a number of Elder Signs determined by player count in a pool to be distributed as in the base game. However, if that pool ran out then the Investigators would win. If a Cult lost because of Elder Signs, however, the Investigators would lose; the other Cults were scared off and the Investigators couldn’t continue their investigations. In this way, the Investigators could rely on sending agents into the field with the Streets of Arkham, but they couldn’t run away with the game since they had to watch the balance of how many Elder Signs were given out.
The second win condition was trickier. We returned to Richard’s roots and figured the Investigators needed to do what they traditionally do best: gather Clues. After all, if they could gather enough evidence against the Cults they could convince the government to shut everything down with a task force. We now had to figure out ways to gain Clues. One way was through survivors of a Lodge Raid, but the Investigators needed to catch the Cults out in the open; enter the Stakeout Car.
The Stakeout Car would eventually operate like the Fate Piece. Each turn the Investigators would send the car to a different Location. If a Cult moved the Fate Piece to a Location occupied by the Stakeout Car the Investigators would gain a Clue for witnessing nefarious acts. Eventually we decided that when the Stakeout Car moved an additional Investigator was added in that Location. This made the number of Investigators grow and increased the frequency of Lodge Raids. This helped the Investigators gain Clues and turn up the heat on veteran Cultists.
Since Investigators in the Field increased, we wanted to give players more to do with their agents, so we introduced the Ambush. An Ambush resolves much like a Lodge Raid but at a certain Location. Positive die results destroy Cultists at that Location, while negative results end in a loss of Investigators. If three or more Investigators are left after an Ambush, they gain a Clue. Ambushes are triggered in a few ways, but the most common is from playing an Investigation Card - a set of cards with special actions that players can activate much like the Spell cards of the Cultists.
Overall design and development of our first expansion has been pretty smooth. We went from concept to fully-working prototype in three days of testing and tweaking. But achieving the right balance while working toward asymmetry in how players controlled the Investigators provided the biggest challenge.
Initially we created a system of action selection through drafting the Fate Dice; this was far too random and limiting. Next was a menu of action items and a set number of action points - this was dry and super boring. Eventually we created the seven-card Stakeout deck. Six of the cards correspond to the six Locations around the Altar and have a set of variable actions on the bottom, while the seventh card allows a player to refresh their hand. Each turn the Investigator player chooses one of the cards left in their hand, moves the Stakeout Car to the Location, and performs a Location-specific action that is similar to that of the Cultists. For instance, visiting the Museum allows the Investigator player to choose a special Relic from the Dyer Collection that gives them a persistent ability. After performing the Location action, the player can choose an additional action from the bottom of the card. These actions range from sending Investigators from HQ into the Field or activating the special ability of the Agent In Charge.
Speaking of the Agent in Charge, we created a set of eight special characters that provide variable player powers for the Investigators, much like the Elder Gods’ Dark Gifts. Each character has a passive ability and one that is activated by Stakeout or Investigation cards. These special Agents will not only provide a lot of re-playability, but also flavorful story from characters like the voodoo priestess ex-Cultist Juniper Jackson to super sleuth Dr. Naomi Williams to the mysterious monster hunters, J & K from Dept. 23.
This expansion was conceived as a great way to add a fifth player to games of Fate of the Elder Gods, but we also wanted to provide a more robust solo experience. So, we’ve enlisted veteran solo designer Mike Mullins to develop a solo mode using the new Investigator rules. The Investigators will now operate with a variable AI and the ability to block Locations with a second vehicle, the Squad Car. Players will also be able to use these automated Investigators in multi-player games.
With further development underway and talented artist Lucas Durham providing the look and feel, we are excited to bring this exciting expansion to gamers – look for more information soon!
Chris Kirkman is a co-owner of Greater Than Games where he acts as Game Development Director. His job is to find awesome games and make them awesomer. He enjoys podcasting, whiskey, and games with camels.