Renegade title bar

By Richard Wilkins

Many of you will know me as Ricky Royal from my YouTube channel Box of Delights; many more of you will not know me at all; for this is only my second published game.

Like, I suspect, a large percentage of gamers, designing my own game has been a dream for a long time, and like many first-time designers, I went into this thinking my game would be 'the best game ever made.' Since its inception in 2011 (yes, it has taken this long; I did tell you this was a long journey!) there have been many times where I truly believed I was making the best game ever, and many times when I questioned whether anyone would ever want to play it, let alone love it. I have since learned, through many years playing hundreds of games, and through presenting Box of Delights, that there is no game that is universally loved; that the more popular a game is, the more people there are who will stand up and tell you why it's the worst game ever. This is a game designer, developer, and publisher's lot – your game will be loved and hated in equal measure; the key is making a game that you love, and that will be loved by gamers like you; and that is what I set out to do.…

Ricky Royal

I love games with many layers; games with both depth (mechanics that challenge you to create winning strategies) and breadth (games that present many different challenges and unpredictable re-playability). I also wanted Renegade to deliver a unique gaming experience. Renegade had to deliver the game that I wanted to play. The ironic truth of this statement is that I have now played this game so much that at times it is a challenge for me to even look at it anymore. But when I show Renegade to other people, and I see their eyes light up at the ideas contained in its little cardboard box, it renews my enthusiasm and makes me want to play along with them, this game of complex puzzles.

I love positional games; I like the abstract if the abstract picture presents a very clear image of the game state. I like games with simple mechanisms that interact with each other in complex ways. Back in 2011 I also discovered new game mechanics, things that impressed upon me and influenced the way I think games should make you feel. These influences are very apparent in Renegade, but the way I combined them was something very new. There is a truth in that, since its initial imagination, many newer games, which came to market much more quickly, have subsequently taken a little shine of just how unique Renegade's ideas are, but I am still proud of what the game delivers, and how it still feels fresh and new in today's market, 6 years on.

Renegade cover mockup

I am talking firstly about Dominion and the introduction of deck-building; and about Mage Knight and how it used deck-building, to develop a player's character and their ability to influence the game world they inhabit. But I'm also talking about games kike Tigris and Euphrates, where the player's world is built in a unique way each time they play, and how players are encouraged to diversify, with the game world they influence but do not own. And with a little bit of pixie dust thrown in, I added some new ideas into the mix.

In Renegade, players use their deck of command cards to influence the game world, but the different tokens they place on the board, just like cards, each offer their own abilities and impact on the game world, like a 3-dimensional deck of cards laid out on a battlefield; and like a positional abstract game, this kaleidoscope of tokens gives players an immediate feedback loop on the game state. Once mastered, Renegade makes players feel like generals over the game pieces, dealing out their commands, whilst continually developing their character's ability to influence this game world.

This is Renegade's USP (unique selling point). We've all seen deck-building before; we've all seen variable character abilities; we've all seen abstract puzzles. But Renegade gives you variable player abilities, with variable decks, with abstract puzzles, plus it adds this new layer of 3-dimensional multi-ability tokens, that themselves can be developed and built into stronger units, like micro civ-building.

Renegades are hackers; the game board is a computer network; the cards in your deck are commands that allow you to influence this network of servers and partitions; the tiles you lay are Contaminants that provide localised abilities on the partitions of the servers they inhabit; and these Contaminants become more powerful, and their influence more wide-reaching, as you build more, that interact with each other and grow into more powerful Installations with more powerful innate abilities. The players, as they command their Avatars through this network, can watch the game board mutate and evolve like some living thing. And all the while, a maleficent foe – the SMC (super massive computer) they have hacked into and now inhabit – is fighting back with its own countermeasures that seek to tear down and vaporise this growing mass of Contaminants.

KS sign ups

This was one of the biggest challenges designing Renegade; creating a 'living, breathing' artificial intelligence that challenged the players, and made them feel like they were fighting a real thinking foe. For yes, Renegade is a co-operative (or solitaire) game that has all players fighting together and winning or losing together. It is an unusual concept, co-operative play, playing against an imagined opponent, instead of against another real human. But it a growing sector of our hobby, and within that corner, solo gaming is growing perhaps faster still. Renegade delivers gamers, hobbyists, and puzzle solvers in general, something new to lay out on a table-top and solve. Every game offers a unique set of challenges to overcome. Each play makes players the masters of a machine. This is the attraction. We issue our commands, we watch the machinations unfold, and we see the results of our actions transform the patterns of pieces on the table in front of us. There is inherent beauty in watching a game of Renegade develop as the kaleidoscope tells the story of our hackers and their fight against the countermeasures.

But this was not the only challenge. The game had to deliver an immersive world into which players could disappear. Like Neo in The Matrix, players should be able to plug into the game and leave their alternate reality outside, as they engage in the puzzle of beating the game. For the game's theme has become a central part of the final delivery. This seems very odd now, because Renegade started life as a game of Anglo-Saxon conquest, with computer commands replacing dark-age collateral like religion, agriculture, weapons, and economics, and cyber-security countermeasures replacing rebellious Britons. What was important, and what gives Renegade a solid footing, is the fundamental game system, its mechanisms, the 'engine' if you will, that delivers the game-play. This game engine excites me still, with its potential to deliver different games with the same complex layers of simplicity; a system that provides a malleable game structure, with corners that can be rounded by this theme, or a story that nips in its waist here, tucked in by a character there. For that's what happened in giving life to the Renegade hackers; I took the game system I had built, and started twisting it and moulding it, so that it fit with the story we wanted to tell. The core underlying mechanisms remain unchanged, but the small cogs that drive that big wheel have taken many new shapes. For example, instead of missionaries who could use religion to convert pagan Britons to Christian conformists, we now have viral 'Replicants' that can use deceptive commands to mutate the server's software into Contaminants that infect its network like malware. The underlying concept is the same: we use our hand of cards to create different types of tokens on the board that each provide different types of behaviour; but the method of delivering those actions is wrapped in a different story with slightly different methods that fit the story more closely. Through years of playtesting and development, Renegade was transformed into the game we see today, and in many ways is unrecognizable from its original form.

Much of this transformation can be credited to the development team at Victory Point Games. I have long been a fan of VPG, especially its States of SiegeTM system, a system that delivers many different games, each with their own nuances, but founded on a simple and successful foundation, in much the same way I described above (though, of course, with much respect and much more experience!) The great thing, for a designer, working with such an experienced team of developers, is that they understand how to turn an ambitious game design into something streamlined and deliverable. There is one fantastic mechanism in the evolution of Renegade which came from one of VPG's developers, which resulted from seeking production economies when presented with a long list of components for Renegade, and that was to make the Contaminant tokens double-sided (e.g., Data Nodes on one side, and Neural Uplinks on the other), so reducing the token count by half! Then it occurred to us that we could introduce a new game mechanic that allowed players to flip those tokens, changing bits of software that behaved one way, into bits of software that behaved another, with just a few command cards. A new small cog developed in this large malleable system!

Now that my part of the journey is reaching an end, as I hand over the game to VPG's developers, artist, and producers; I am really excited to see what they make of it, and to see the game released to a world of gamers. I am anxious about its reception, but I am still confident in one thing: that I made a game for gamers like me, and I hope that will like it just as much as I do….