Voidfall Design Spotlight #13

Wide across the galaxy - Developing the Houses of Voidfall Part II

2022. April 07.

Hello everyone, I’m back after taking a much-needed moment to catch my breath! But just because I was too busy to update you on what's going on behind the scenes on Voidfall, the work has not stopped. Far from it, actually, the work has exploded onto the stage! Public playtesting has been underway for a while now, and after our previous update a significant number of our backers turned up to play and give opinions and feedback on the game feel and balance. We’ve had over 100 new playtests logged recently, so we’re very happy with the progress, and the confidence in Voidfall is ever growing as we get closer to completion.

Our Focus cards are still holding under the barrage of testing, and we’re confident that they won’t change any more. We have received the Focus cards with updated graphics from Ian, and we’re currently setting up usability tests with physical copies using the new user interface to see how it holds up to our demands.

But hey, as much as I love to show you glimpses of the new iconography, I promised to get through all the asymmetric houses in greater detail. Of course, there have been a few changes since the previous update 2 months ago to the 5 houses I showed then, but not in their intentions or their fundamental strategies, mostly balance or streamlining:

🌠 Astoran and Nervo’s agendas proved a bit too easy to scale up, so we adjusted accordingly.

🌠 Every house lost the Invasion from their civilization tracks (usually found on Tier 3 of Statecraft track) - this allowed us to finally guarantee that two invasions on a single turn don’t happen, making the order of the combat reward resolution a bit easier and more intuitive to write.

🌠 We’ve rebalanced all Combat techs across the board, slightly tuning most of them down (especially Shields, Combat Replicators, and Dreadnoughts) to avoid getting into situations where a player could keep on invading sectors, while consistently not suffering any losses from the Voidborn. Additionally, we’ve limited the number of Glory tokens players can hold between their turns. With these two sets of changes, we’re finally seeing economy-focused strategies return to parity in scoring or even gain a slight power lead compared to pure expansion-driven strategies. This is desirable since on PVP maps it is the threat of the militaristic player invading them that is meant to act as a primary guard against a pure economy strategy running away.

🌠 Overproduction has been redesigned - the moment we saw Ian’s new icon for it (which was an extension for his icon of production), we realized that even the name implied something different than what our rules said. So now, overproduction only triggers when you produce more than what you have space for. This meant a little redesign of Zenor’s ability, but fundamentally it’s still the same idea.

Okay, I actually can tease more of the new user interface here, since now this streamlined overproduction rule is clearly shown on the redesigned Production dials! (And yes, we swapped science and credits as many of you have been asking since as far back as Essen, to stress that credit cannot be used as science…)

Enough of my delay tactics, let’s move on to the other 5 house… Remember, some of these images are still all using my prototype components.

"The existence of House Shiveus is based on an ancient Novarchon prophecy that mysteriously got out from the royal palace hundreds of years ago. Unlike the Novarchs, members of House Shiveus believed that the Voidfall will bring only chaos and destruction. Now that their foretold apocalypse is here, they took on a holy mission to purge the corruption from the Domineum, no matter what it takes. Following the strict principles of their holy book, they dedicate their lives to experimenting with ways to destroy the Voidborn’s forces."

House Shiveus believes in solving problems in an absolute fashion. Their uncompromising approach is as strict as the religious dogmas they themselves live by. Their starting technologies are fitting for this: starting with Purification is the end-all to corruption management, while starting with Dreadnoughts guarantees them the resilience both in defense, and when effectively bypassing enemy sector defenses.

The Voidborn knows that its usual approach of skirmishes won’t work against Shiveus: when they are purified, there will rarely be any corruption on a Shiveus player board to boost a Skirmish, and when holding the line with Dreadnoughts, smaller Voidborn fleets bounce off without leaving a scratch. This difference in paradigm is represented by Shiveus’ entirely negative player power (A), the Voidborn gains an extra Fleet Power against them in all Skirmishes.

Even their Preferred focus is single-minded: only Politics (B), but this rarely matters to them, as they don’t have a Temptation Focus to resolve an action from their Preferred Focuses! What they have instead is a custom Crusade Focus (D): it can deploy like Reinforcements, it can remove corruption like Progress, and most importantly it can invade, scoring bonus influence for Voidborn fleet power destroyed in the attack. The more you hurt the Voidborn, the more you’re rewarded. Their other house specific card is an improved version of Politics (C): Cheaper to use than the regular one, and if they are willing to bend the rules of purity a little bit it will even allow the player to produce with this Focus. However, both Crusade and Politics is limited to attacking corrupted sectors, so if you want to turn your Dreadnoughts towards another player’s sector, you have to fall back to a traditional Conquest Focus, or a Subterfuge agenda…Crusade is an extremely powerful custom Focus card, and if used wisely, it more than makes up for Shiveus’ inherent weakness to Voidborn skirmishes.

Whichever side you select, their agendas are always about getting as many followers as possible: the Purification one (E) simply requires pure sectors and guilds, but you will have to find your own way to arm yourself for this conquest. Since the origin giving you Dreadnoughts (F) gives you the very tools, the demands of the house become greater as well: collect population as much as you can and build shipyards in the sectors you conquer, for a strange combination of the two starting agendas the starting houses use… Or you can just mostly forego focusing on these agendas, get more technologies of war, and set out to score crazy with Glory tokens, your Crusade card, and whatever you can reclaim along the way…

"Before the Voidfall, House Yarvek led a life of plunder, raiding small and weak Houses far from the Novarchs’ reach on the verge of the Domineum. Now that the Novarchs and the Domineum’s order are gone, they turned their ships towards the corrupted heart of the empire hoping to seize the royal treasures from the Voidborn. House Yarvek consists of a number of clans, each led by their own chief, but all clans fall under the command of the Yarv, the leader of all clans."

House Yarvek is possibly the most combat oriented of them all… but driven not by thirst for blood or ideology, but by their vow to help wherever they can, driving out the Voidborn from populated sectors across the stars. Their warriors are excellent mechanics, as evidenced both by their technology Hyperdrive - uniquely allowing them to strike further, and even beyond Voidstorms, and by their house power (A). The latter allows them to discard bounty tokens (after receiving their benefit) for additional resources, or discard reclaim tokens for an additional action - avoiding the need for costly trade tokens.

Yarvek's "no time for talk" attitude is represented by their Focus cards as well: both their Preferred Focuses are about being on the move: Reinforcements and Conquest (B), the latter is a custom card (C) for them, further utilizing their bounty and reclaim tokens. But their biggest surprise is their Raid Focus (D), replacing Innovation, and unlike that card it is available in the first cycle. A fairly Swiss army knife of a Focus card, it allows Yarvek to invade, gain a tech, and gain a trade token if their capacity to handle corruption is up for it. Their primary concern is to bring their help to the masses, as represented by the fact that this extra invasion grants rewards based on the population of the sector thus taken.

If you look at their bounty/reclaim management abilities as an abstract representation of organising relief convoys, delivering aid to recovering systems, their other technology will make perfect sense: Intelligence Networks allows you to efficiently convert a system's civilian populace into a ready fighting force and vice versa, allowing your fleets to pop up in the middle of nowhere (without the need of a shipyard), or your soldiers to quickly settle down and help out just in time for a grand production effort…

Both of their starting agendas tie into the above (F), urging you to capture more sectors and hoard more reclaim and bounty tokens to be given out later, in the time of need.

"Members of House Fenrax are not only considered to be the best pilots all across the Domineum, but they are also experts of keeping ships flying even in the worst conditions, instead of scrapping them as junk when they get fatally damaged. Believing that strength is in numbers, they always stick together and work as a team."

Fenrax is the most populous house, and they’re all about the sense of community. They make due with whatever happens: their ability allows them to gain resources whenever they increase or decrease their population (A)! Decreasing Population doesn’t happen often to other houses (a few events, and crises in cooperative play, plus a number of technologies, like Intelligence Networks above), but Fenrax’s people are always ready to mobilize or sacrifice for the common good. So on their special Development card (C), decreasing Population appears as an action cost, also allowing them to trigger their ability. Their Reinforcement Focus is replaced by a special one: Disperse Focus (D), that uniquely lets them increase population by deploying Fleet Power in one of their sectors! Additionally, their civilization advance action is cheaper than most houses’ but limited to their least advanced track: House Fenrax believes in not leaving any part of themselves behind. And for complete flexibility, uniquely amongst all houses, they have 3 Preferred Focuses (B), both their house focus cards and Conquest, allowing them to flexibly manage their empire or invade more as their agendas desire. The pair of their house focuses allows you to pick which half of their ability you want to activate: if you need credits, use Disperse to increase population, if you need science, use Development to decrease it.

Talking about Agendas, one of their starting Technologies: Central Surveillance represents the ultimate (forced) harmonization in society: when focused on Politics, they can willingly reduce population (triggering that ability again), to gain a new Agenda and increase one of their Glory tokens. Since players are now limited to 4 Glory tokens, the ability to improve the reputation of your military might is quite essential, especially to Fenrax, since their corresponding starting agenda rewards them for higher Glory values (F), and maintaining a strong Shipyard presence (thus the ability to effectively disperse their forces) across their holdings.

Their other starting tech is the last custom Fleet type in the game: Carriers. In defense, they function almost as well as Dreadnoughts, absorbing a hit in the salvo step, but in offense they have a unique advantage: they can deploy a Corvette Fleet Power at the beginning of the combat!

And they’re useful outside of combat as well: they can function as Shipyards whenever deploying (i.e. on their Disperse Focus, or for other houses' Reinforcements Focus), a point their corresponding starting agenda (E) drives home by scoring for sectors with a Carrier stationed. But this origin is much more “friendly and caring” than the one involving the surveillance state: it rewards building guilds and maintaining high stockpiles, after all a house as populous as Fenrax must prioritize keeping its people fed and battle ready as well…

"Organised military people with no place for individualism in their culture. Aiming to build a powerful and advanced militaristic society by creating and bringing up generations of clever soldiers, all supported by a strong financial background. For them warfare is art and they always achieve victory through a well-developed army and brilliantly planned operations. Soldiers are boosted by cybernetic implants.
They have a very practical leadership structure that’s based on merit, not on birth. They believe they are as strong as the weakest unit, so they work hard to lift each other up."

The mysterious House Kradmor is the master of dealing with Corruption. They live on a barely habitable homeworld (as represented by their lower population), but this gave them the edge in developing various techniques in isolating themselves from hazards of the environment. This came perfectly handy in the face of the Voidborn’s aggression, allowing them to study the Voidborn and even benefit from its residual effects as they tackle its corruption. This is represented by their house power (A), when a House Kradmor player removes a corruption using any effect, they immediately get two resources: energy if the corruption was removed from their player board, and science if it was removed from a sector. They have a custom Production Focus (C), which is full of trade-offs: do they keep the precious little resource they actually produce for themselves, or do they export it for economic gain and rely on the resources they can gain from cleaning up the Voidborn’s affliction? While their military is not as quick to react as most others, uniquely they can establish a guild using their Production focus, although at a cost. Their other special Focus card is a unique Temptation Focus (D), which gives them fewer corruption than the regular one, and indeed allows a limited civilization track advance for free! While the middle action of Temptation is actually just a weaker version of the usual one (again, they’re less able to mass produce resources, as represented by the one fewer produce effect here), but their true flexibility comes from the third action: with only a science and a credit cost, they can increase their population (to make up for their slower start in the area), and resolve one action from their sole Preferred Focus (B), Conquest - this effectively turns Temptation Focus into a third invasion card besides Conquest and Politics for them.

Temptation becomes an even more, well… tempting option, if you consider their technology Bionic Inhibitors. Probably the most potent corruption management tool in the game (side by side with Shiveus’ Purification), this allows the player to gain fewer corruption when playing Temptation. And since Kradmor’s relevant card has the option of being played without gaining Corruption, for them this can even result in a net reduction of Corruption - each time triggering their house ability! But all of these benefits come with a price, their respective starting agenda (E) is just a harder version of the symmetric houses’ more economical one: they get the same points for high population sectors, but instead of building guilds, they need to climb the Economic Civilization track (which they can do the usual way via Prosperity, or by sacrificing an option to produce on their special Production Focus).

Should they choose a more aggressive approach (F), they are uniquely required to build a massive, political war machine as represented by scoring for high upkeep (that they can gain by building installations, establishing guilds, and of course playing agendas). This comes with an affinity for the Statecraft track, steadily supplying them with fleet power and installations. And their war effort is boosted by their technology Revitalizers: at its basic form it allows them to add a reclaim token whenever invading a Voidborn sector. This either causes higher scores for the invasion, or gives them more guilds, allowing them to boost their economy and fill sectors for more upkeep faster. And in its improved form, Revitalizers becomes a true beast, allowing the player to either score additional influence for liberating high population corrupted sectors, or automatically remove a corruption from it, on top of its basic effect.

These options give House Kradmor great pay-offs and corruption mitigation options, but neither technology, nor any of their civilization tracks is a huge help in setting up an economy, making Kradmor a great choice for experienced players. And nothing adheres more that thread than our final house:…

"While most Houses were founded centuries ago, House Novaris was formed after the Voidfall, during the fight against the Voidborn. Those in the royal space fleet who refused to embrace the “blessing” of the cosmic entity, deserted from House Novarchon and fled the inner worlds to escape the spreading corruption. After regrouping on the verge of what was once the glorious empire of the Domineum, Captain Valerie Varis organized the resourceful renegades to operate as a tactical unit with a mission to search for the ones who hadn’t fallen to the Voidborn and unite the remnants of humanity. Their diplomatic approach towards the other Houses and their generosity towards the refugees earned them the people’s respect, and as word of their actions spread around the galaxy, people began to look at them more and more as a faction of their own, rather than a crew trying to right the wrongs of the royal House they used to belong to.

Since their aim was to rally everyone capable of fighting the Voidborn, House Novaris established a mutually beneficial and supportive cooperation with the citizens across the empire. Wherever members of the House appear, they almost certainly find people who are willing to back their cause in their own way."

House Novaris came as an idea during the Kickstarter campaign, and became our final stretch goal. We are always careful to not to bloat the game content that late in the process, but the thematic idea of a House brought together by the actions of the campaign’s story and willing to compromise in order to pull together, and the mechanical idea of a house gaining riches either by a constant build of economy (Cybernetics), or by a constant expansion (Combat Replicators) were a strong one. We got further inspired by the foreboding ending of the story, and we designed House Novaris to be essentially a Faustian deal: a house that benefits from gaining corruption but is extremely prone to be subdued by its alluring draw. This feeling starts with their house ability (A), giving them a chance to produce whenever they gain a corruption (via any other means than invading a corrupted sector). Combined with the steady income of Cybernetics or the flow of Bounty tokens via Combat Replicators this essentially guarantees deep pockets for this ragtag alliance.

But it comes with a grave danger: they have reduced ways of mitigating corruption: their Progress focus cannot remove corruption - in fact indeed it gives them more. While their custom Reinforcements (D) gives them another removal option, it is limited to their player board, and it means the complete lack of sector defense building options on this Focus card. However, their Progress card (E) is both a curse and their greatest gift: instead of building guilds, it can supply them with agendas, although its cost as a corruption - the same as the cost of actually researching! But Progress’ third option allows them to regroup and invade (a corrupt sector) on the same action - essentially giving them an action as strong as Yarvek’s Hyperdrive itself.

Continuing the theme of huge trade-offs, the corruption costing research action on Progress brings another downside: they lack access to multiple technologies. This is trickily offset by their Preferred Focuses (C): would you resolve an action from Innovation (uniquely available via Temptation only during the first cycle), possibly gaining another Technology, or would you resolve an action from Production, either to have a desperately needed corruption removal action, or to capitalize on your already available riches, for setting up an overproduction strategy? And then, will you realize, that in order to resolve a preferred action via Temptation, you’ll probably want to perform another action from that Focus, that will of course earn you yet another corruption. And earning corruption might seem fun when it triggers your production, and you can do it a little longer than most: your home sector can be corrupted (B), and often you’ll prefer to corrupt that over losing influence for corruption on your player board on your agendas (F and G). But soon you’ll find yourself choking on your own deals with the devil unless you can secure one of the technologies mentioned under House Kradmor, or Shiveus’ Purification, Nervo’s Robotics, or maybe House Cortozaar’s Starbases… Regardless, you’ll quickly want to improve either of these quintessential technologies - which you can do a bit easier, considering all of your tracks have a shorter Tier zero.

This makes Novaris the ultimate expert house. Amazing tools with huge costs, and grave dangers, but if you manage to tame the madness that is founding a house in the middle of a war against an unspeakable enemy from beyond the universe who is tempting you to listen to its whispers, you’ll find yourself in command of a formidable power.

With this, our tour of all 10 asymmetrical houses is concluded. Meanwhile, our public playtesting and development is almost complete. Next week we’re conducting physical tests of Ian’s new UI to finalize all components required for the core gameplay, and then we have one more iteration left to bring the solo/cooperative balancing and scaling all together based on the feedback we’ve received from the volunteers over 150 playtests in the recent months.

Next month, I’ll try to bring you an update on the coop/solo, while the rest of the team will be busy gearing up for production and preparing the files for the manufacturer. Until then, glory to your house, and beware of the Voidborn and its harbingers!