Welcome back, Tarnished! Last I left you, we were on the brink of combat and getting to grips with the new battle stance system for ELDEN RING: The Board Game (coming to Kickstarter on November 22).
Now, I’ve returned to give you vital guidance on how to establish initiative and make those all-important attacks!
(As always, keep an eye out for the miniature reveals throughout this diary…)
Taking the Initiative
Understanding timing is crucial to successful combat in the ELDEN RING™ video game. Get it wrong, and every one of your attacks will either swipe harmlessly through the air or bounce off a shield. Get it right? You’ll deliver a critical hit that cripples your foe, or breaks their poise.
And that’s just the actual moment of attack. Before you’ve fully begun, your enemies are already watching you carefully for the start of your attack animation, or the amount of space you’re generating, and will react accordingly, pushing home their own offence. If you’re too slow or impulsive, you’ll swiftly find yourself skewered.
As you can imagine, we were extremely keen to incorporate this into the ELDEN RING board game. Without it, combat just wouldn’t feel authentic.Some of that timing is represented by the battle stance system, especially when it comes to managing enemy attacks. But that covers more the reactive element of either forcing the enemy to move to close the distance, or dropping into a defensive stance. So how do we represent the rest?
Well, whether you’re in a dungeon facing a boss, or somewhere in the wilds staring down a pair of Godrick Soldiers, each combat encounter is divided into rounds.
At the start of each round, the initiative cards for each character involved in the combat encounter — both friend and foe — are shuffled and dealt in a row, determining a marching order, i.e. the order in which the characters get to act.
This marching order is read from left to right, with the leftmost card having the highest initiative, and the rightmost card having the lowest. The character with the highest initiative goes first, and so on.
Fairly straightforward, but let’s dig into it a little more.
Firstly, initiative cards. Each Tarnished has their own unique card and thus, a dedicated space in the marching order.
On the other hand, most enemies don’t have individual cards. Instead, they have a single card, which is used by every enemy of that type. This means that if you’re facing more than one enemy of the same ilk — the aforementioned Godrick Soldiers, for example — both enemies get to move and make attacks in the same turn.
Bosses are faster and more dangerous, and dial things up by having multiple initiative cards. This allows them to make multiple attacks per round, and significantly vary their offence in a way regular enemies cannot. It also lets players see their ‘tells’ and react accordingly when they see an attack coming.
Okay, those are the more parts. Now onto the not-so-obvious janky stuff, because there’s a whole load of that!
For starters, players can influence the marching order by moving initiative cards after they’ve been dealt. Making quick attacks in a previous round, for example, enables a Tarnished to gain positions in the following round. Conversely, making a powerful but slow attack will cause them to move down the track.
It’s not only the Tarnished, of course. Some enemies will have faster reactions, allowing them to move to the left, or be slow moving and drop right down to last.
And some attacks and status effects cause a card to be pinned in place, in time for the next round. This can happen to any model, and mastering it tactically can be crucial to success.
And before I move on, this mechanic also lets us have some real fun with bosses. Replacing cards to represent attack stages is one obvious way, but how about a boss that starts with a high number of cards, that slowly deplete as they suffer damage? Or a boss that starts with a single card, who ‘heats up’ as the encounter plays out? The list is endless…
There’s another crucial aspect of combat in the ELDEN RING video game, the importance of which just had to be reflected in any tabletop adaptation: equipment.
But we wanted to go further than simply giving weapons differing ranges and damage output. We wanted to dig into and understand the depth of the video game, so we could make specific interactions that felt just like they should.
Let’s start with a little context on the anatomy of an attack in the video game. Broadly speaking, there are three attack types to any weapon: light attacks, heavy attacks, and weapon skills. Although the first two are generic, the animation, attack time, threat range, and damage output vary depending on the weapon. The latter is unique to each weapon.
The simple option would have been to abstract the differences between light and heavy attacks to a dice roll. But after a lot of testing, that simply wasn’t hitting the mark. It didn’t offer granularity, or come anywhere near the tactical depth we wanted. And, it didn’t allow for the other element we wanted to address:
In addition to its base statistics, each weapon and spell in the video game also scales based on one or more specific characteristic modifiers. Broadly speaking, this means your Tarnished needs to have achieved a certain level in a characteristic before they can effectively use a weapon, and the more they’ve levelled it up, the stronger their attacks will be.
So, how would we represent that in the board game?
Each Tarnished in ELDEN RING: The Board Game has two unique decks, which will evolve throughout the campaign.
The first is their attack deck, determined by the equipment they’re wielding, including weapons, shields, spells, and ashes of war.
These cards determine how the Tarnished can attack enemies, including the range and area of their attack, if they have the option to change battle stance, and can affect the Tarnished’s initiative in the next round. They also have attack profiles, which key from specific characteristics.
The second is their effect deck. This is the deck you’ll draw from when your Tarnished hits an enemy, or blocks one of their attacks, and evolves as the Tarnished levels up their characteristics.
Remember I mentioned attack profiles above? Well, if you’re using equipment that scales from strength, then it will have higher damage or block values if you draw a strength effect card. Therefore, spending runes to add more strength cards to your effect deck will mean that your potential damage for that piece of equipment efficiency improves; but it also won’t affect using a spell or weapon with different scaling.
This gives you plenty of scope for customisation, as I’m sure you can imagine, especially when you consider that in addition to levelling up your characteristics and finding new equipment, you can also upgrade your existing equipment with smithing stones.
The final element I’ll talk about is stamina. Stamina is arguably the most recognisable element of any FromSoftware game, and essentially prevents players from simply spamming attacks.
In ELDEN RING: The Board Game, stamina is measured by two different metrics.
The first is action economy. During each of their turns, a Tarnished can spend three actions. This might represent an active beat during a fight — attacking, moving, or changing battle stance. It might also signify a passive beat, like drawing an attack card to represent the Tarnished allowing their stamina bar to recover.
This leads us to the second metric, which is hand size. In addition to attacks, Tarnished’s attack cards can be used to evade and block incoming damage. If a Tarnished uses all of their cards to attack, they’ll have spent their stamina, which can lead to them having to either back off and recover, or worse, take the full brunt of the enemy’s aggression should it come their way.
Although action economy is fixed, levelling up endurance can increase a Tarnished’s hand size, allowing them to unleash more combination attacks during their turn, and negate larger amounts of damage when they’re attacked themselves.
As with all elements of combat encounters, then, managing stamina requires a careful and considered approach, and mastering how to spend your actions and cards is a vital skill.
That’s All… For Now
Phew! That was still a lot to cover, and I didn’t even mention enemies yet…
Keep an eye on this blog for the next Designer Diary, Tarnished. And should you have any questions before the Kickstarter launch, you’ll find me in the Facebook group or on BoardGameGeek.