In our last Pocket Paragons design blog, Rise of the Paragons was having some serious troubles with its endgame. The only mechanical solution that was testing well was having a combined health pool, but that didn’t work for its fantasy theme. We ended up going in a very different direction!
Mech Paragons (2017)
Early Mech prototype, July 2018. Double-wide playmat for both players on a team to play on. Ability cards tucked into the big character cards because they were small envelopes.
Two pilots, doing different attacks, but sharing one health pool of the giant mech you were co-piloting. It worked really well, and the new theming opened up new design space: having your two characters work together to unleash combo attacks. Additionally, the game gained a “growth curve” where you unlocked more powerful abilities and upgrades over time, and the upgrades were shared between the players.
Mech Paragons design sheet, July 2018. Gipsy Danger was added as we were trying for a Pacific Rim license tie-in.
It was possible to play both hands as a 1v1 game, but the game was way more fun with each player controlling one pilot in a 2v2 game. Secretly scheming with your buddy while trying to listen to what your opponents might be up to was a blast. I was very confident in the game, and for the first time ever, I took it on the road. I brought it to a publisher “speed dating” event at GenCon 2018 to try to hook a publisher.
I was surprised at the reactions I got. Publishers who played the game loved it and had a blast, but time after time I got the feedback that a 2v2 game was not right for the market. I thought it was an untapped niche that we could go after, but nobody was interested in publishing a game designed for 2v2 team play.
Breeze (left) tries Paragons for the first time. GenCon, August 2018.
Dejected, I still spent a lot of time at GenCon in the playtesting room, trying to get it polished up. During one playtesting game, I overheard a man say “This is it! This was the game I had been trying to find!”. That man was Breeze Grigas of Zephyr Workshop, who had published his own mech game A.E.G.I.S., a tactical wargame. Breeze had seen the game on Facebook through a social media post, and as a lover of giant robots, wanted to learn all about it. We chatted over the coming months, Breeze showed interest in publishing the game, and I was over the moon.
Pocket Paragons (2019)
Early prototype of Pocket Paragons, Jan 2019. Our old ability symbols were still pretty good, in my opinion.
I was waiting in line to get my badge at a gaming convention. The line was about 3 hours long, and I was sweating in the summer sun. In my boredom, I realized that I was standing in a line with a bunch of gamers, all with nothing to do. I thought “Man, anyone walking by with a game you could play while waiting in line would make a killing”.
The stars weren’t quite aligning on Mech Paragons becoming a reality, but I still liked the system, and I still had a bunch of fantasy art that had been commissioned for the original game. The pieces were falling into place, and I had a lot of time in that line to stew over ideas.
Quick notes that were the first foundation of Pocket Paragons, Dec 2018.
I would go back to the original fantasy kits, make it just a 1v1 designed to play with just the few cards in your hand so you could play while in line. You could exhaust cards by flipping them over in your hand, which means you wouldn’t see the cards you couldn’t play, and your opponent could see which cards you didn’t have available. I whipped up a little health card you could rotate in your hand to track HP, but eventually went back to my beloved dials as they were just cooler.
Health-tracker cards. The opposite side has the numbers going in the other direction so it shows the same number on both faces.
The frosting on the cake was taking the Weapon punish from double damage to an instant kill. The game was supposed to be short to play anyway, and this hammered that home. It took an already tense scenario and made it deadlier.
The quicker version of the game was instantly a big hit. Ultimates were added to give the game a small taste of the growth curve that was so integral to Mech Paragons.
The despicable cast of characters at the Maine Game Design Retreat, Dec 2019.
I took the game to a game designer retreat in Maine, where I got a lot of great feedback. But more importantly, I got a lot of praise from a lot of designers telling me I had something very special on my hands with this new build. It really reignited my passion and confidence in a game that had taken a long time without seeing the light of day.
I was advised to cut the game down from 20 characters to 6, which was heartbreaking at first but opened the door to cool crossovers with Temporal Odyssey (designed by the publisher, my roommate, Chris Solis) and AEGIS. It was really good getting to team up with Breeze after he was one of the few who believed in my 2v2 mech game.
Chris Solis (of Solis Game Studio) is a high school friend of mine, and we had somewhat drifted apart after college until I ran into him at a PAX back in 2014. He was working on his first game, Terrene Odyssey, and I was working on my first game at the same time. Our shared love of card game design really helped us reconnect!
Me working the CGC Games booth to sell some Terrene Odyssey, which came out in 2015. The game was better than that facial hair, and lasted longer too.
Chris did an amazing job with the graphic design for the cards and the boxes. He did a separate frame for each box, and three for Temporal Odyssey to match the past/present/future theme of that game. He’s worked tirelessly to turn my spreadsheets into something that actually looks like a real game, and without him, Pocket Paragons simply would not exist.
A work-in-progress shot of the box layout for Pocket Paragons AEGIS, June 2020. The red and gold logo is sick!
It’s a tremendous weight off my shoulders to see Pocket Paragons becoming a reality. It’s been a part of my life for almost a decade now, and although it’s been through so many redesigns and overhauls, I’m glad that I’ve found ways to come back to it at different angles when things weren’t working. I’m incredibly excited for its release, and I hope seeing the journey to get here has given you some excitement as well!