Initially, we had planned on building Arcs like Oath. The idea was that it would probably be a big box game, with tons of cards and a pretty hefty price point—likely around $130 dollars or more. The game was designed initially as primarily a campaign game, and I didn’t want to present it without that mode. However, over the past several months we have decided to split the game into essentially two product lines.
In general, my designs tend to have a lot of thematic overlap but very little mechanical overlap. Arcs is a little different. In this design, I consciously built on mechanical elements from both Root and Oath. I wanted the game to be easily to teach and learn for players with some passing familiarity of our games and to serve as a good entry point into our other titles. I also didn’t want to innovate in a space where innovation wasn’t warranted. For instance, Oath had presented some very interesting design challenges when it came to movement and demanded a novel solution. However, for Arcs, it was pretty obvious early in the process that the game would have pieces coexisting and moving in a manner very similar to Root. It seemed obvious that Root’s general movement system would work just fine within Arcs.
One of the earliest goals of the design of Arcs was to have a fully emergent asymmetry that went beyond what the positional differences in Oath could do. I wanted players to start in roughly similar positions. However, by the end of the campaign, I hoped that those positions would be as different as any two factions in Root or two roles in Vast. I saw this as a way of approaching an essential problem in asymmetric design.
In writing about this subject, I’m going to be using the word “temporality” a lot. First, I’m sorry for that. It’s a bad word with far to many syllables for its own good. When I use this word, I’m specifically referring to how something (say a board game) both uses time and is used by time. This is a particularly useful word because it captures the fact social spaces (like games) can organize and regulate time. In this way, the word’s oddness is useful too. It reminds us of the artifice inherent to all measures of time and the degree to which structure informs perception.
Unlike Root, Arcs is not a fundamentally asymmetric game. It’s not Root 2 and it doesn’t really try to attack the same design space, despite, as we shall see later, sharing a few rules. However, in one key respect, Arcs does respond to fundamental problem in Root.
Most of my games have very long incubation periods. Traces of both John Company and Oath can be found in decades-old notes. Arcs is not like that.
I’ve spent the past year working on a new game. Over that time, I’ve largely kept myself from sharing the details of its design and development outside of an occasional interview or Twitter thread.