Mercenary For Hire!

Jul 4, 2014

Hello!  My name is Kevin Jordan and I’m the Lead Systems Designer for HEX.  Today I wanted to share a bit of the specific design process we went through with Mercenaries and the end result for how Mercenaries will fit into the PvE experience.  As with most game systems, in HEX we started from a place where we asked, “What would be amazing in this type of game?”  We brainstormed a ton of great ideas, many of which ended up in our Kickstarter campaign.  It has been my job to dive below the surface of these ideas and figure out how they’re all going to work.  One thing I’ve learned over the years is that each system tends to touch many other systems.  This is especially true in MMO design as you’re creating a world of interlocking pieces and it’s the depths of those connections that make the individual designs so compelling.  So, we have these mercenaries as pieces, but where and how do they make those connections?

First, we have to identify the space they’re occupying.  From the TCG perspective, our team has always considered them identical in purpose to champions.  In other words, you’re either using the champion you’ve created or you’re using a mercenary.  This creates a collision problem immediately and brings up an assortment of questions:  Are champions or mercenaries the same power level?  If not, which one is more powerful?  Why would I use the less powerful one?  Are mercenaries bringing something unique you can’t get from the champion experience?  Which of the two should feel more compelling?  Do we want players feeling more attached or excited about their mercenaries as the champion protagonist?

Jovial Pippit

In answering these questions, we fired up several models for how the two would work together in ways that was fun and made sense in the world.  One consistent element in the early models we liked was that mercenaries do things that champions typically couldn’t.  They could direct the player into building a very specific deck theme (Race, Shard, Mechanic) whereas the champions had to allow for the possibility of any race/class combination and be more generalist in their design.  For example, Zoltog screams, “Play orcs!”  which is something we don’t want to pigeonhole the Warrior class into.

The other sticky point was mercenary progression.  Am I leveling my champion and all of my individual mercenaries?  Does my mercenary level through use?  That creates odd play choices where you’re using a non-optimal champion or mercenary so you can grind experience.  I became convinced pretty early on that progression for mercenaries was not the right path.  No progression also aligned better with the concept of mercenaries. As someone in Entrath, you would hire a mercenary to accomplish a specific task, and then they leave you.  You don’t have them in your employ permanently. By making those connections, we were now very close to locking in their purpose.

In order to discuss the final piece of the Mercenary design, we need to talk about how dungeons work.  Essentially, you select a dungeon you want to venture into then you select the deck you want to use.  You then have to beat the dungeon using that deck and only that deck.  Well, what about reserves?  There’s another system that needs to be worked out.  See where this is going?  Enter mercenaries!  The perfect option to jump in to handle that one pesky encounter you’re having trouble with in the dungeon.  Suddenly it all came together in my mind:

  1. Mercenaries are acquired in various ways (Treasure Chests, Conventions, Kickstarter, PvE Rewards, Trade via Auction House, etc…).
  2. You “Hire” a mercenary, making it non-tradeable and permanently attaching it to your account.
  3. Once per dungeon, in any non-boss encounter, you can sub in your mercenary to fight in place of your champion.  We may have smaller dungeons not allow mercenaries or larger dungeons have more than one opportunity for mercenaries to sub in.
  4. You create a deck specifically for each mercenary.  When you call upon him during the dungeon he brings that deck with him and it can be as different from your champion’s deck as you want it to be.
  5. Mercenary charge powers and passives are fully unlocked from the start and can be used to their maximum potential for that one encounter.
  6. Your champion receives all normal rewards you would earn as if you had defeated the encounter yourself.

So that’s the system– well, two systems really.  Mercenaries and reserves are now in a nice little package. The tension between your champion and mercenaries has been solved, and mercenaries get to be strong, flavorful designs.  I’m confident you’ll love the place we’ve found for them.

What’s the next step?  Our current mercenary designs have a progression system in their previews and we want to deliver what you’ve been expecting since the day you got your hands on these things.  Now we undergo the process of converting them to the new system while maintaining the essence of what each mercenary was trying to bring to the playfield.  I’ll go over a couple of examples below.  Please send us any feedback you have regarding these systems or individual mercenary designs you might have in the forum thread below.  We’d love to hear it.


Old Bebo


New Bebo

With BEBO, the key to his play experience is how interesting his pile of parts can get.  The progression was mostly there for progression’s sake and so preserving the integrity of his design was reasonably straightforward.  The charge power remained the same cost and we merged the passive unlocked at level 20 into it from the start.  We also reviewed the parts pile of cards and spiced them up where we could.  Examples include attribute increases, keywords, new card text and triggered effects (e.g. +1/+0, Swiftstrike, “Sacrifice this troop: Deal 2 damage to target champion or troop.”, or “When this troop is destroyed, draw a card.”).  This should make BEBO a fun, dynamic play experience that’s still true to the original design.

Thank you for reading this far!  As a token of appreciation, here are sneak previews of the mercenary for Gen Con 2014 and a mercenary you may already have in your stash.  Enjoy!

Ashahsa, Windbourne Acolyte (Available through Wheels of Fate)

Ashahsa, Windborne Acolyte

Brosi Buk (Available through Gen Con 2014 events)


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