I didn't want to work on this. I've gone two rounds with this beast over the past year or so, and it's beaten me both times, but it won't leave me alone. It kept coming to me in quiet moments, suggesting changes and mechanics that might make the whole system work, and I couldn't get them out of my head until I tried them. So here I am, the third and maybe final time, battling against my ongoing experiment that for now is just known as The Lair Project.
The notion that's been haunting my steps off and on for so long is an experiment in just how asymmetric a tabletop game can get. Once I sorted it out into something coherent, the idea was a two player tabletop game where the theme is one player attempting to complete a series of plots, allocating resources while protecting their lair, while the other player represents the opposing force, invading the lair and attempting to disrupt those plots and destroy or steal those resources. I'd been intrigued by asymmetric play, and I wanted to create an extreme example, so in this case, the player completing plots is playing a card game, vaguely similar to playing corporation in Netrunner (allocating resources and completing plots being similar to advancing and completing agendas), while the other player is playing a board game, using their heroes and lesser units to explore the lair and interfere with the plans of the lair's master.
To preserve the separation between the two game styles, the main interface between the players is a "board" made up of cards. The lair master lays out a grid of face-down cards to represent the lair, and the opposing player moves into the lair, revealing rooms as they go, searching for the key rooms where the master's plots are in progress. Since the board would otherwise be quickly explored, the lair itself is also an active component of the game - the opposing force has limited units and the lair master can attack them, so they can only hold limited parts of the lair at one time. Whenever a room of the lair is unoccupied, the master can turn it face-down and, with some limitations, they can re-arrange face-down rooms of the lair.
So you take that basic setup, add some effects of plots, give the heroes some actions they can take, firm up the lair master's actions and the process of completing plots, and you've got the framework of a game.
And How Did It Go?
I think this pretty much sums it up...
I've been through probably 20 iterations of the rules this past month. The mechanic of completing quests has had three totally different versions. I've lost count of the different hero actions and follower mechanics. I've renamed everything eight times. The rooms and their special rules are half-assed at best. There is still almost zero flavor or cohesive theme. Playing lair master still feels like a robot's attempt at creating a deck builder. There's a six-sided die in the game, and in the current state of rules flux, it's used for exactly one situation. Madness and chaos and tiny marker cubes. All is lost. Change some rules and try again.
There's a game here, technically, in that all of the required components are present, the structure is there, each player has abilities and goals and win/lose conditions and all that. There are even still some things here that I like and might have some potential. That said, it's still little more than a rough prototype I could use to explore some ideas about an asymmetric tabletop game, so in that sense it was a success, but I don't know if I'll ever get this idea into a state where I would expect anyone else to be interested in playing it. Maybe this will be the push I needed to finally figure it out and get it into a better state someday, or maybe this will finally get it out of my system so I can let it drop and spend my time on something less futile. Either way, this version is done, and I'm going to try not to think about it for a while.