"Who will rule the Ancient Earth -- and beyond?"
-- from the back cover of the Risk Godstorm box
Welcome to the first of a dozen columns previewing the upcoming Risk Godstorm game. It's the second Risk game in the Avalon Hill line, the first being the hugely successful Risk 2210 A.D. I designed the game alongside developers Mike Donais and Rich Baker; Mike is known for his work on Magic: The Gathering, and Rich equally for his work on Dungeons & Dragons. This expertise in top-flight fantasy games was crucial to designing a premier mythological board game. These columns will draw upon that experience and give you a first-hand peek into the new game.
Even though it's the third game released by Wizards of the Coast's incarnation of Avalon Hill, Godstorm actually was the first game worked on by Wizards R&D. Mike, Rich, and I got a very clear assignment: make a game that was as different from Classic Risk as 2210 was, but not necessarily in the same ways. The goal was to bring the classic game of Risk into a fantastical world, one just as appealing as the futuristic world of Risk 2210. (Disclaimer: These columns are going to presume you know nothing about 2210. If you already play that game, feel free to skip anything that you already know.)
We soon settled on some underlying principles that guided us through the design process. Here are the five principles of Godstorm.
Principle #1: Godstorm is Apocalyptic
Greg Staples' cover illustration says it all: When Zeus and Thor enter the arena, not everybody's getting home safely tonight. Those resolute Greek warriors and rampaging Norse barbarians draw strength from their powerful divinities. The game needed to match the intensity and drive of its most potent images.
Accordingly, we looked at the rules to Risk and made sure we highlighted everything we could to increase the desire for battle. The powers of the gods and cards would be scripted by the need for conflict.
Principle #2: Godstorm is Epic
We wanted all the great powers of the ancient world clashing against each other. The Greeks, Babylonians, Egyptians, Celts, and Norsemen all needed to occupy the same precious space, struggling for dominance and cultural supremacy. Despite many centuries separating some of our pantheons, we wouldn't let trivial issues like chronology bog down what everyone wanted to see: the biggest slugfest on the planet.
This desire led to what might appear to be a paradoxical decision: for the game to be as epic as possible, it had to be set on a smaller stage. Most previous Risk games used the entire world as their landscape. We wanted to set loose upon the ancient world all manner of plagues, cataclysms, and chaos. Using the entire world would mean that if you caused an earthquake, it'd affect all of Europe at once. By limiting ourselves to Europe and parts of Asia and Africa, we could shatter Gaul or flood Corsica at a moment's notice.
Principle #3: The Gods Stand Apart from Man.
Risk 2210 A.D. introduced the concept of commanders into the Risk universe. Commanders were sort of super-soldiers; they functioned like more powerful soldiers in combat. For example, the Space Commander would allow you to roll an 8-sided die when attacking from or onto the Moon, but would otherwise be treated as a MOD (the robotic soldier of the future).
This model, while effective in 2210, didn't work for Godstorm. In the great epics of old, when gods bestrode the battlefields of ancient myth, men did not attack them. The gods, for their part, considered it beneath them to attack common soldiers. The gods were not super-soldiers like the commanders, they were something else altogether. They were gods.
Accordingly, we separated the gods' ability to fight each other from their ability to affect the battles of men. In the former, gods would clash in world-shaking combat, and the effects would not be lost on those soldiers who stood behind them. In the latter, the gods could affect the combats of men but not battle directly with those men. Men would settle the disputes of man.
Principle #4: Man Serves the Gods, and the Gods Serve Man
2210 also introduced cards that could be played for battle-altering effects and energy counters that gave you choices in the game. You need two things to get a card: a payment of energy counters to gain the commander that matches the card type and payment of another energy counter to draw the card. Then you pay more energy counters to activate the card.
The core of that mechanic -- gain resources, get powerful figures, use them to get a card -- made sense for Godstorm. However, we didn't want this to be the only way you got power in the game. The gods wanted something from their followers, and each god would want a different kind of labor fulfilled before they would surrender the ability to perform acts of great power. Serve the gods, and your men will prosper.
The gods need something from man as well: faith. If the men that summoned them were driven from the earth, the gods could not fight alone. They would return to their heavens to await another epoch of war.
Principle #5: The Battle Transcends the Mortal Plane
Immortality being a hallmark of gods, we wanted more than just a battle for the soil of the ancient world. The gods' concerns were larger than scraps of land. They wanted control of the heavens above and the hells below. Their men would battle for that control, in life and even in death.
Accordingly, when soldiers die on earth, they don't leave the game. They go to their heavens -- Valhalla, Avalon, and the like. Their they enjoy the fruits of their valiance for as long as the gods let them sit idle. When the gods become impatient, the dead set out for more acts of war. Some even return to the earth, bent on helping those of the blood they had recently shed.
In other words, we needed an underworld in Godstorm. We wanted players to fight over it, control it, and use it to settle scores on Earth. The more successful you were on Earth at slaying your enemies, the more you would empower those other civilizations in the underworld. And so the battle would continue.
Those are the principles that guided the design of Godstorm. Next column, we'll examine the game's mapboard. It's truly a wonder of the ancient world. See you then.
Catch up on any previews you missed!
- Into the Fire
- The World of the Ancients
- God-Fearing People
- Gods Among Men
- The Warlords
- Miracles On the Battlefield
- The Sky Kings
- Blessings From the Heavens
- The Reliquary Opens
- Pandora's Box
Mike Selinker has been playing, designing, developing, and just plain loving games of every variety for many, many years. He is a gamer in the very best sense of the word. Mike lives in Seattle.