A Turtler’s Heaven

Thrones and imperial Powers, offspring of Heaven,
Ethereal Virtues; or these titles now
Must we renounce, and changing be called
Princes of Hell? for so the popular vote
Inclines, here to continue, and build up here
A growing empire; doubtless! while we dream,
And know not that the King of Heaven hath doomed
This place our dungeon, not our safe retreat

— Paradise Lost by John Milton

One of my key design goals for Solium Infernum was to provide some strategic space for players who wanted to turtle a bit. Turtling of course refers to a strategy where you hunker down in your defensive shell and lay the ground work for some type of strategic coup de grace in the mid to late game. For a good explication of the rush, boom and turtle strategies as they classically apply to RTS games see Tom Chick’s article at Crispy Gamer here.

The Rush strategy gets a huge swipe of the castration knife by the very nature of the victory conditions that I established for SI. Drawing inspiration from a lot of board games, I implemented a game clock that expires after a set amount of “tokens” had been drawn. The player with the highest “Prestige” at this point wins the game. That’s the simple explanation of the system but there is of course a lot more to it than that. The classic rush strategy of a quick build up of force and a decisive lunge at your opponent’s heart or brain isn’t as effective when eliminating a player isn’t the defacto win condition of the game.

Beyond the unusual (for most traditional computer strategy games) victory condition, the diplomatic system that I invented for the game serves as an even greater dampener on the aggressive rusher. You can read more about the diplomacy system here, but the short of it is that you can’t just march into the Rhineland. You have to maneuver diplomatically using the Protocols of the Infernal Conclave to actually get the chance to open the infernal can of Whoop Ass. And your opponent has a say up to a point in the matter. This highly structured channeling of player interactions tends to slow down the rusher and also functions as a bulwark against early player elimination.

So with the Rusher not really being able to rush to a decision point, the rock, paper, and scissors symmetry is broken a bit. The rusher can still be aggressive and expand rapidly and bully opponents but this tact starts to verge into the Boomer’s territory…which is a little odd since the rush is meant to counter the boom. The boom and the turtle start to look a little similiar as well since you don’t really need to devote much to defense as the game system throws up all sorts of road blocks to the unexpected and decisive use of force.

So instead I tried to devise a strategic state space centering on three “paths to prestige” which centered around “Disciplines” that a player could pursue. I called them Wrath, Deceit and Prophecy….. they correspond roughly to three different play styles that I wanted to encourage. The Wrath path is pretty obvious. Build up a powerful attacking force and whack your opponents with it. The Deceit path roughly corresponds to a passive aggressive method of stealing from your opponents as well as manipulating and hindering their prestige generating efforts. The Prophecy path is supposed to be more introspective…giving you knowledge of your enemies but most importantly focusing on non-traditional ways of generating prestige…namely through the use and manipulation of secret objectives.

There are two other “Disciplines” in the game that are more supportive than definitive. “Destruction” is a tool for offense or defense and limited for the most part to narrow situations in the game…namely Vendettas, Blood Feuds and Excommunication. “Diabolism” determines your resource infrastructure and functions as the foundation for all the other paths. It is actually a hybrid of a sort since there does exist a gluttonous path of resource accumulation and conversion into prestige.

So turtling needs a redefinition for SI. You could call it doing your own thing while keeping an eye on your neighbors…knowing that your end game plan is going to be powerful. Doing your own thing could mean powering up your attributes, acquiring items in the Bazaar, collecting rare manuscripts, building up a super combatant to challenge the Champion of Pandemonium, cycling through secret objectives to match your strategic circumstances, or just building up a pile of treasure to satisfy your public objective. These are all things that you do without much direct interaction with your opponents. It’s entirely possible in SI to play the game with a small rump holding of Cantons centered around your stronghold, keep your head down, steer clear of trouble, placate our neighbors when necessary, stick it to them discreetly and pull out a win at the end. That’s my idea of good turtle.

Balphegor The Turtle

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