Spaces in Space
So the ship has various locations, one of which, in the vein of sci-fi films everywhere is a Cryogenics pod. Originally, in the game the cryopod stopped crew breathing precious oxygen or suffering morale loss and they could walk in or out. This meant that crew could happily spend a lot of game time in cryosleep, rather than hunkering in there during desperate moments, crying and praying or serving out the last few turns of the game there, in the classic tradition of a range of films.
So first off voting rights went out for frozen crew; but the cryotubes remained too easy a choice, walk in on quiet turns, out when things get busy. That meant another solution, so now crew can freeze themselves going in, but need other crew in other locations to unfreeze them. A simple usage of the existing game's mechanics providing another thematically appropriate risk/reward exchange for players. One of the golden rules informing the base of games design for me is, extra choices, harder decisions and deeper interactions are always the aim.
My natural inclination with games is to see them in a very abstract fashion, which while working on Gaslands with Mike Hutchinson worked very well. Mike's natural inclination is towards something chaotic and fun on the assumption that people will iron out the house rules for details as they play. My inclination is towards something tactical and controlled on the assumption that when a group of friends get around a table the fun narrative happens naturally. That combination is why in a game of Gaslands you can very carefully plan to cross the finish line upside down and on fire. What it meant for this solo project was that we got some quite cold, intellectual elements in the Alpha version.
The basic structures of the game were there from the start. The ship consists of 9 internal locations and 4 external locations, each of which has a series of abilities relating to the crews ongoing survival and success. The two primary engines of threat were tied in to those initial locations, oxygen and morale. Crew need oxygen for obvious reasons and consume it continually, the ship locations allow its production, control its consumption and allow its loading up to leave the ship. Morale is required for crew to act alone; as missions fail and friends die or threats gather morale drains until terrified and depressed crew become unable to operate effectively. Ship locations provide and protect crew morale. Insufficient initial oxygen levels were an early decision, they give the basic impetus of the game, provide the crew with a challenge even if aliens and deranged A.I. were to leave them be. They were also part of an early decision for the game to be based on base 6 throughout. The game length is based on working through each game's challenge deck, 24 cards which tell a particular story of a specific threat. The challenge deck is flipped each turn, bringing all manner of threats and raising missions to deal with the problems it causes. Missions skip challenge cards, hastening the end of the game and the victory of any players still alive.
Another element present from the initial iteration of the game was the crew's rank tokens. Crew vote for missions, their timing can be vital for success or failure alike, and they vote with their rank tokens; the Captain can be over ruled but only by a collective response. But rank tokens also track a sense of guilt, when a voted for mission goes wrong and lives are lost morale is the cost. Further, various locations on the ship allow crew to be disposed of in various ways. Many games have a semi-co-op element based upon handing someone a card telling them to turn on their companions but in SSO betrayal is simply an option, always available but never forced.
Something that will almost certainly come up at various points, not least during reviews and Kickstarter, will be my decision to make the game without miniatures, multi-material counters, and thick game boards. I enjoy a well made miniature as much as anyone, well not as much as anyone but probably the average amount, and if the game requires a miniature I'm all in favour. I have my lead mountain and armies of WHFB, 40K, Warmahordes, Malifaux, etc. But if I don't need to know where a character's eyes are in relation to their feet or if their head is higher or lower than a nearby wall, then I have to seriously wonder if doubling or more the price of my game at retail is seriously justified. As a rule I unpackage a miniatures heavy game and stop looking at them after a couple of matches, and I barely register card artwork after a few of play throughs. This isn't to say that I don't appreciate the tactile satisfaction of game elements, every time I build a Takenoko bamboo stalk I smile, and just opening Onitama box makes me giggle like a school girl. I love a large box packed with elements when in Pandemic Legacy it feels like every one of those elements is providing a real game play benefit. When I think of the games I go back to time and again, Pandemic, Carcassone, Hanabi, all are finished to a high level but none of them expect their artwork or elements to do the heavy lifting of entertainment to any degree.
Now, I have game ideas and even prototypes that would require more elements, but I don't currently have the financial backing, artistic department or name recognition to bring them to fruition. I also believe in making a virtue of necessity which means that S.S.O. will consist of a box 200mm x 100mm x 20mm, containing 80ish cards, a rule book and some punch boards, all of which should retail at £15 before postage for a space based game to put 1-6 players through the experience of surviving on a space ship controlled by a murderous artificial intelligence.