Warcrow, from the team behind Infinity, redesigns the dungeon crawler

In a role-playing game, initiative—that is, the order in which players and enemies take turns—is one of the most important factors in setting the tone and stakes of combat. Traditionally, initiative order takes the form of a list that moves up and down, activating player characters and enemies along the way, then resetting to “top of order” on the next turn.

But the traditional initiative order can be a bit boring. This is especially true for a subset of RPGs known as dungeon-crawler board games. Like Diablo, this genre of action-oriented games, including titles like dark haven and Descent: Legends of Darkness, allows players to quickly switch between fights. Combat can be high stakes, and once you’re locked into a fixed initiative order, it can put some players at a disadvantage. Corvus Belli devs wanted something more exciting for their next game Warcrow Adventures. What they found is not a list or even a line. It’s a circle, and players actually have a say in where their character falls on the edge of that circle each turn.

“We have developed an initiative system to Aristeia, another game we released five years ago,” said Alberto Abal, Game Designer at Corvus Belli. “We knew it would be more interesting if the initiative wasn’t the same every turn, and we wanted something like that in Warcrow.

“We started working with a simple track that had numbers from 1 to 20,” he continued. “When you walk the track, you start again from [position] a. We start thinking about it, and then someone says, “It’s like a circle!” So we set it up in a circle.

This simple change to the shape of the initiative track suddenly unlocked a host of creative new gameplay mechanics. The end result is a system where players can directly influence their position on the initiative track by spending energy – a limited resource – each turn. Players simply deposit a power token on their supply, used to control their player character, to move in initiative order. This means that players can exercise control not only over How? ‘Or’ What they attack enemies on the board, but when.

“We started playing around with this new mechanic, and we developed new mechanics to push and pull the characters around this circle,” Abal said. “That was, I think, one of the key mechanics of the game. Players are now very much in touch with the actions panel, where they expend energy and activate their character.

This is not the only unusual feature of Warcrow. Like many other new board games, Corvus Belli’s latest effort is app-driven. Polygon previewed an early version of this app, and compared to other implementations of the technology, it offers a pretty light touch. While players roll the dice and take turns with their cards and miniatures on the table, the app kind of stays there. I only directly engaged with it when unlocking new sections of the map, slaying monsters, interacting with non-player characters, or making decisions that might affect the outcome of the story itself.

So why an app? Abal said it was a much more effective solution than a book full of numbered narrative bits, which many games have used over the years. It also allows Corvus Belli to add a lot more text than in previous games. Warcrow will be around 200,000 words when it’s all done. The game has a single critical path, but players can choose multiple ways to reach its end.

“Your choices change the scenarios you play,” Abal said.

Picture: Corvus Belli

The world of Warcrow is also a big departure for Corvus Belli. The Spanish company is best known for Infinitea miniature skirmish game with roots in anime and hard sci-fi.

“It’s a fantastic game [set in] a new world,” Abal said, “but we tried to figure out a lot of things in our history. We take many of these ideas – for example, how armor works and how armor is built for different troops in our story – to design, for example, the weapons or armor for our miniatures.

Corvus Belli has worked hard to steer his new franchise away from familiar Tolkien fantasy. His vision is inspired by the American Wild West and the tradition of daring embodied by Spanish explorers, Abal said. The action takes place in a town far from the center of a gambling empire, a place called Hawthorne Point. Ominous and mystical mists have covered the landscape there for generations. But, several years ago, the mists receded, revealing an ancient Elven empire to plunder. The world of Warcrow allows players to explore this dead nation, searching for artifacts and other treasures among the ruins. But each character comes to the place for their own reasons.

The Mornmab, shown in a rendering of the eventual miniature, has multiple converging jaws and is riddled with skulls and claws, trying to leave the distorted form.

Picture: Corvus Belli

“All nations now send people – adventurers or mercenaries, those kinds of people,” Abal said, “to take magic items or information about the past.”

How do these adventurers come together? Abal said part of the story is still being written – the game shouldn’t be released for a while now. Warcrow Adventures is expected to be released in 2023. A crowdfunding campaign is launched on Kickstarter on October 18.

About Johanna Gooding

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