Oath | Designer Diary 12: Oath's Landscapes

Designer/Developer Diary, Oath -

Oath | Designer Diary 12: Oath's Landscapes

Over the course of Oath's Kickstarter campaign I'll be writing shorter updates that talk through some of the card powers in the game. In this first entry, I wanted to talk a little about the site cards.

I wrote at length about the development of Oath's general geography here: 
Designer Diary 4 – A Map that Remembers.

For those that haven't read it, the short version is that after a lot of futzing around I found that the only essential structural element I needed in terms of the game's geography was to be able to handle the difference between core and periphery. Thankfully, that's an easy enough thing to collapse down to a single stack of cards, which is critical to how the game stores its map.

But that single requirement didn't mean that I wanted the game to have a simple geography. Rather, I felt that within that basic framework, I could provide all of the color I needed with the site card powers themselves.

Here I should say that I was heavily influenced by Christian Martinez's game Inis. Inis has a remarkable geography. This has less to do with the clever way its tiles fit together than the design of those tiles.

Board game Inis set up on a tabletop for solo play. (Cole won.)

In Inis, every land tile in the game is unique. This is a critical feature. By keeping the tiles unique, the game design is able to create some wickedly strong powers that wouldn't work if there were duplicates. In addition, the unique tiles make the game feel dense with tactical possibilities. There just isn't any filler.

Each land's power has a clear thematic justification that is deeply thought out in terms of the game's storytelling. Consider, for instance, the Swamp. The power of the Swamp is simple: the card can be played instead of passing. The game doesn't rely on any silly event table (“Roll to see what you encounter in the swamp!”) to generate it's effect. The effect is so simple as to seem anti-thematic. But it's perfect. The swamp allows you to hide out and bid your time. It fits perfectly within the logic of the game and the stories Inis is able to tell well. Likewise, the power of the Cove card is also brilliant. The Cove allows you to swap one of your cards from the one absent card. It's entirely about the arrival of an unexpected visitor. I could go through each and every land power in Inis like this. Even though there are only 16 land tiles in Inis the geography feels richer than far more complex games with two or three times the number of land tiles.

Oath has 24 site cards at the moment. Like the denizen cards in the game, each one is unique. With the land cards in Oath, my priority was the complicating the game's geography and fleshing out the world with abilities that resonated with those places. One of the things I most like about Oath is how wide the design space is and how easy it is to fold thematic powers into the design space without resorting to blocks of rules text or heavy-handed storytelling techniques. If the denizen cards were giving me lots of actors and actions, I wanted the site cards to give me interesting backdrops for the game's drama.

Let's highlight a few:

Land cards from the Oath board game: Deep Woods and Mountain; art by Kyle Ferrin

Just an FYI none of this layout is final and much of the art is serving as a placeholder. Don't worry!


There are six “homeland” sites, one for each suit (you can see one of these on the left). Control of these sites confers extra popular support only for the purpose of scoring either the Oath of the People or attempting to secure its corresponding Vision. Usually this Oath has almost no geographic or military component, but if the right site cards are out it essentially adds a second theater to the struggle.
You'll note too that every site card also has a number in the top right, indicating how many cards can be played at this site. Some site's can't support any cards while others can support as many as three.

Some cards contain ability augmentations. Many of these are obvious, such as the Mountains adding to the defenders advantage and the Plains adding to the attacker's advantage. Even small shifts like this are critical. There's nothing overly clever about the design of many of the land tiles—it's far more important that they simply make sense within the game's world. In some places it's easier to raise armies and in other players it's easy to find magic. I tried to keep these powers simple where I could and allow the storytelling ramifications to be handled by the system itself.

All that said, there are a few tiles which can radically change up the game's geography. One of my favorites is The Narrow Pass.

Narrow Pass land card from Oath the board game, art by Kyle Ferrin

The Narrow Pass has a global modifier on it, which means that all players are affected by the site, even if they have no direct connection to it. The effect is fairly straightforward though it takes some text to cover all of my bases. Basically, if you are moving to a region with The Narrow Pass, you've got to move to that site first. It essentially creates a bottleneck that players can transform into a critical defensive bulwark.

Hopefully this gives you a sense of some of the geographic variety of the game. On Monday I'll talk a little about establishing the different suits in the game and some of the core rules behind the game's deck design. From there, we should be able to finally be able to start looking at some specific denizen cards.




- Cole Wehrle


See the original post and discussion on Board Game Geek.