I've written before about how important it is that developers take care of their games post-release. Wrote about it at my blog, and then re-posted the article to Gamasutra. I feel strongly about this, and I want to be on record, very publicly, as having said it loud and clear. And it totally applies to EMPIRE, of course.
So, the game was released on the 5th – about ten days ago, at the time of this writing, and we're already knee-deep in the first patch. Version 1.1 will fix a ton of balance issues, a few bugs (there aren't many bug reports, though, we're proud to say), and even adds some significant new features. Wanna hear about 'em?
Keep in mind, this is a tentative list – some of this is subject to change by the time 1.1 reaches your hands. First, we'll start with the new features, which are probably the most exciting to hear about.
Introducing the EMPERORS!
As of version 1.1, EMPIRE will have three asymmetrical “factions” you can choose from. Beyond having their own portrait art done by Gilles Ketting(the same dude who did our lovely card paintings) and lore, they also have their own starting decks, starting armies, and even different special global powers. I won't give you the specific numbers for the most part, because we're still balancing / tweaking those, but this gives you a general idea of what we want for these Emperors.
Markus, The Senator
Markus is a much-beloved leader, both because his eloquent words have a way of inspiring unity in the tribes, and also due to his stewardship of the lands. As Emperor, Markus is well-balanced, although not quite as natural a fighter as some leaders.
Markus starts with a pretty balanced deck, and one of each unit type. He starts with the unique Copy card, and has a high redraw cap. He also gets more food out of Forests, so he generally has a good growth rate. He's kind of the all-around guy, but with a slight bias towards economy / overmap.
Johan, the Wizard
Johan is a mysterious figure with a trail of stories so bizarre, many in the world believe him to be a myth altogether. As Emperor, Johan wields great magical power, although often has difficulty maintaining a basic sense of order among his people.
Johan is the classic “glass cannon” approach. He has a LOT of downsides – doesn't start with any cavalry, cavalry cost 25 more materials to produce, and a paltry 2 max redraw. However, he also starts with several powerful spell cards (including the newly-unique Meteor card) and 2 Command, allow him to cast spells on turn 1.
Shirin, The War Chief
When not on the battlefield, Shirin appears calm and stoic; almost like a stone statue of herself. However, when on the battlefield, Shirin shows a brutality and skill that terrifies all who witness it. As Emperor, she relies heavily on her combat abilities.
Shirin is all about large armies and smart use of Action Cards. A cool rule that Shirin has is that when she kills a monster, she gains 1 Command and 1 Redraw, but on the other hand, Spell cards are harder for her to obtain. On the overmap, she has an increased capacity for materials, allowing her to produce more Cavalry or other unit types when she needs them.
So those are the Emperors. Later on, we could perhaps add more of course, but for now we think that this is just enough variety to help our little solitaire strategy game have enough longevity. I should make it clear that the Emperors are less like classical videogame asymmetry, and more like gameplay variants. We may add different gameplay objectives (I'll get into that in a second) and other game-wide rules for the Emperors in the future if needed. As it is, they do not compete with each other on the same scoreboard – each Emperor gets its own scoreboard.
One of the biggest requests we've been getting is for some kind of clear, achievable goal. We've heard you, and frankly, I'm a bit angry at myself for not having thought of this simple solution before we launched.
In order to Win in Empire, gain 200 Victory Points. If you want, you can continue past that and see how far you can get, but gaining 200 is the goal. If you die before getting 200, you've lost.
We also might add a Hard Mode that requires 300 or more victory points, although that hasn't been ironed out completely yet.
New Resource: Gems!
In general, another complaint people make is that the combat is significantly more fun than the overmap. I agree with this complaint whole-heartedly.
One of the biggest problems that I kept running into through Empire's development was making everything work with just the two resources: Food, and Materials. I generally like to start with too few resources, and move up as needed, but unfortunately it didn't quite dawn on me until after the game was out that by adding one more resource, we could dramatically improve the overmap game.
Gems can be seen through the fog of war, so you now have some kind of cue as to “where to explore”, whereas before it was slightly hard to know which direction to go. They are required for gaining spell cards, giving “taking action cards” more of a role. They are also required for building archers. Archers now cost very few materials (less than warriors), and 1 Gem. This means that your army composition will be slightly dictated by which resources you have a decent amount of.
There's so much more stuff that I can't really even get into all of it right now. I'll just say that I keep in close contact with our best players, like Mercviper, who got a whopping 559 points within the first couple days. Guys like him have been interacting with us on the forums and letting me know about the balance exploits they've discovered. Part of this stage of development is a bit of a special “whack-a-mole” game where we try to knock down every overpowered strategy, without harming the ability for players to make interesting, dynamic, creative decisions. It's hard, but fun.
We also have massive plans for version 1.2, including a big, positive change for how monsters work on the overmap. Keep a lookout! Thanks for reading, and please come join us on the forums!