Altrix: game description February 2022

This blog post gives an overview of the adventure game I’m making, with the project name Altrix. The description is based on version 17 of the game. More information can be found at the Altrix project place on GitHub.

The target experience and audience

The main sources of inspirations for Altrix are Talisman (1983 edition) and Drakar och Demoner (kind of Sweden’s version of Dungeons and Dragons), both monumental games for me when I grew up. I want Altrix to give the feeling of adventure, fantasy and exploring. I want the players to have vivid images in their head and to get immersed in the game. I also want players to feel that the character they are playing growing and getting better. I want the game to enable fantastic experiences with friends or parents/children.

The primary target group is kids. I was initially aiming for 7+ year olds when playing together with parents or 10+ when playing by themselves, but I think 10+ and 13+ is more realistic. A secondary target group is parents who want to play games with their kids, and want to have games they enjoy themselves too.

The story and main idea

The story is intertwined with the game mechanics, so both are presented here.

The story is, very briefly: The fantasy world Altrix is permeated by a flow called Flux, which determines the lives and adventures of the inhabitants. The flow sometimes forms solid crystals – flux crystals – which can be used to alter the flow and change your fate slightly. Now the Evil Sorceress has returned. Her goal is to collect enough flux crystals to take control over everyone’s fate and turn the free peoples into unknowing slaves. She does this by having beasts and monsters attack the peoples, but also by luring humans to cherish gold and diamonds above flux crystals.

The gameplay is, very briefly: The game is cooperative, and the players control one adventurer each. The adventurers journey into the world of Altrix, encountering friends, foes, events, quests, items, magic and more. This is mostly done by drawing adventure cards. The adventurers need to build their skills and find equipment to become powerful enough to face the Evil Sorceress, and they need to do this before she grows too strong and enslave them with her Spell of Command. An essential part of the game are the flux crystals. They are the currency of the game, but are also used to make re-rolls (“altering one’s fate”).

A core mechanic: 3d6

Each player have their own 3d6 to use in the game, used more or less constantly. They are used in a variety of ways – some quite ordinary and some more novel.

  • Flow: Whenever you roll a straight with your own dice the adventurer touches the flow and gets one flux crystal. (This is regardless of what kind of roll was made.)
  • Roll to move: The number of steps an adventurer may move each day (turn) are decided by a movement roll where the number of equal dice are counted. A pair means (at most) two steps, three different dice means one step. A triplet means three.
  • Skill checks: This is the standard procedure – roll 3d6, add a skill or trait plus any relevant modifiers and compare against a difficulty value.
  • Perfect rolls: If a skill check exactly matches the difficulty value, the roll is perfect. The adventurer balances on the limit of her ability and gets three flux crystals.
  • Level up: When a skill is used and the dice show a triplet higher than the skill value, the skill is leveled up. That is, if your skill value in “use magic” is 2 and you roll three fours, your skill goes up one step.
  • Sacrifice flux crystals: Sacrifice one to re-roll a die. Sacrifice six crystals to flip a die to any side you want. This can be done on any roll a player makes.

I’m quite happy with how the dice are used in Altrix. The different uses support each other nicely, and that each player have their own three companion cubes makes them feel much more personal than dice being passed around.

Other important mechanics

The second most important part of the game is the cards. There are adventure cards, one deck for each region on the board, and separate decks for items, magic items and magic abilities. The game has a bit over 300 cards, mostly unique. The idea is that even in game number ten you should discover cards that you have not seen before, adding to the feeling of exploring and adventure.

Each player has a character sheet. Players enter name of the character (and the group!) as well as marking skills that improve. Apart from helping to keep track of items, magic abilities and stats, the character sheet also helps the player connect with the character. I also want character sheets to be found 15 years later, bringing back old memories of the game.

There are simultaneous turns in the game, so the downtime for the players is close to zero.

There are hit points and mana points, which are spent, paid and regained mostly in the ways you would expect.

There are locations on the board where the adventurers can actively practice skills. At these places they may pay to roll a lot of dice, in hope of a triplet higher than the current skill value and level up.

There is an in-game time consisting of a track being filled with the Evil Sorceress’ magic. This goes slowly at first and painfully quick at the end of the game if the players do not confront the Evil Sorceress in time.

Adventure card for the Woodlands. Image from Drakar och Demoner material released online by the copyright holders Riotminds.
One of many close-combat weapons available in the items deck. Image from Drakar och Demoner material released online by the copyright holders Riotminds.
An example of a magic item. (Can you spot the Easter egg?)
Another example of a magic item.
One of the simpler magic abilities in the game.
One of the more pleasant encounters in the Woodlands. Image from Drakar och Demoner material released online by the copyright holders Riotminds.

The introduction campaign

The things you’ve read so far is basically all the rules. There’s a bit more, but not much.

But the rules are not read before starting to play. Instead there is an introduction campaign booklet, which introduces story, rules and components in five chapters plus one epilogue. This makes it possible to really start playing just a few minutes after opening the box. It also allows telling the game story in a much more compelling way – introducing characters, places and the threat of the Evil Sorceress one step at a time. As anyone who has played a legacy game can tell, adding new components and rules to a game also helps building excitement, adventure and memorable experiences.

The introduction campaign booklet is complemented by a rules reference booklet (and reference sheets).

When the introduction campaign is complete and the epilogue has been opened, the game is played with all rules present from the start.

Getting the numbers right

For a game to be interesting to adult players, it needs to present some interesting challenges. Rolling, moving, drawing adventure cards and see how the story evolves can be spectacular for kids up to a certain age, but I want Altrix to be interesting also for adults. Altrix is definitely not a euro game, but it has choices and considerations at many different levels. The most salient are:

  • Which skills should my adventurer try to build? How does this fit with the group?
  • How long should the group wait before heading off to the Tower of the Evil Sorceress?
  • How can the adventurers help each other out to use the time in the best way?
  • How should I spend my flux crystals? How should the group spend its flux crystals?

Since Altrix is a cooperative game it is not possible to rely on players to create any balance in the game. If there is a strategy that works significantly better than others, all players will start using it and the game will tilt.

The balance in the game mainly depends on two things, which are interdependent: The length of the game, and the income and spending of flux crystals. In complement to playtests I have done a lot of maths to look at dice, cards and game length – including computer simulations of the entire game to data on eg. how quick the 5–10 percent shortest games are, or the 5–10 percent longest time it takes before adventurers have reached decent skill levels.

The result is a game where there is no one-fits-all answer for how to play. The circumstances for the particular game – if you want to get the most Honour and Glory  in the game, you need to look at the current skill levels and equipment for adventurers, how flux crystals are distributed, where on the board the adventurers are located and how much time you have left.

Easter eggs and a hidden theme

Finally, I want to mention two aspects of the game that are aimed towards the parent generation. The first is a lot of Easter eggs hidden in the game. If you look at the right places you will find Tolkien, Back to the Future, Zelda, Star Wars, Narnia, The NeverEnding Story, the Discworld and more inside the game. The intention with these, apart from being really fun to add, is to evoke nostalgia.

The second aspect is the more or less hidden theme in the game. The story on the surface is becoming a hero and defeating the Evil Sorceress, which is quite enough for children. The other story is that it is all too easy to get caught in the rat race. Every day is an adventure, especially with kids around, if we have presence to experience it. Playing board games with your kids isn’t just an evening gone by. It could be memories cherished decades later.

Have you read this far? I’d love to hear your thoughts about the game – feel free to comment. You can find more information at the project page and there’s a five-minute overview video here. Thanks for reading!

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