By Jake Kessler
Whew. We’re finally here! It’s been a long road getting Age of Primes from concept to completion, and I couldn’t be more proud.
As the Game Designer, I’ve been working with our Director, Chris Newton, for a very long time iterating a lot of different variations on the game. Believe me when I tell you: we’ve got something very special here.
In designing this first episode, “Firstborn”, we spent a lot of time making sure we nailed down the individual factions, or Houses, in the set. Even more than the characters, Age of Primes is defined by the relationships between the Houses, and so it was very important to make sure each of the Houses’ core personalities and values showed up on the cards.
The first House we really focused on was Wren, the mafia-esque underworld of gangsters, street fighters, and rogues. In some ways, I think Wren was the one House that was most important for us to get exactly right, because it’s one of the more unique aspects of our story setting. The other factions in the episode — Council and Clarity — each lean heavily on well-established tropes in science fiction: the corrupt authoritarian government, the organization of mad scientists. While we’ve definitely taken these tropes in some unusual directions — as I hope to show you when we talk about those Houses in future weeks! — the truth is that those tropes still feel a bit familiar to the science fiction setting.
Wren is different, though: the run-down urban setting of Claypigeon, the personalities of the various gang leaders, the focus on deriving glory and honor from street crime and face-to-face combat — these were things you don’t usually see in a science fiction story. We knew that getting that setting and those themes to come through on the cards would be difficult, but worthwhile to give a certain thematic flavor to the set.
The Virtues of Wren
The first thing we did when we began our design was figure out what Wren cared about. What themes or goals did we want the player to feel when they played the Wren deck? We realized quickly that these themes and goals were tied directly to the Wren Primes: Taren Blaine, Roman Jackson, and Sly McCormick. Each of these characters have strong personalities in the story, each one has their own organization and followers, and each one values slightly different things. In some ways, the Primes and their gangs are almost like mini-Houses inside of Wren.
We decided to focus on a different Virtue, or theme, for each of the Primes. These three Virtues all felt distinct, and would pull the player in slightly different directions, while still feeling true to what Wren as a whole was all about. Each Virtue would be directly connected with one of the Wren Primes, so that the cards a player got the most value out of would depend on the Prime they chose to play.
Taren Blaine: Strength in Numbers
Wren’s first Virtue ties directly into the strength and ethos of its first Prime, Taren Blaine. In the story, Taren is the leader of a gang of children who make their home in a place called Orphan’s Row in Claypigeon. Her gang, the Firstborn, aren’t physically powerful; they’re often pushed around and overpowered by larger, stronger adults in Wren’s other gangs. In order to survive in such an environment, the Firstborn know they have to stick together and protect each other. Their strength comes from loyalty and unity: they are strongest when in a group.
The “strength in numbers” Virtue shows up in several different ways on Wren cards. Some cards, like Taren herself, specialize in creating token Followers to fill up the party. These tokens only have 1 each — the smallest of the small — but by creating enough of them, they become a force that is difficult to ever truly deal with. Cards that reward the player for having a lot of Followers in their party fit neatly into this strategy, as they can rely on token-makers like Taren to hit the thresholds they require. Meanwhile, other cards focus on buffing up and protecting the whole party as a group. With enough of these cards in play, the party’s defenses become harder and harder to penetrate, creating a wall of bodies to protect your Prime. It can be a very potent strategy, given Wren’s focus on Followers in general.
Roman Jackson: Glory of Combat
Wren’s second Virtue is perhaps the House’s most defining theme. More than any other House, Wren derives value and advantage from having a strong Champion within its party to protect it and duel with enemies. This Virtue ties directly into the second Prime, Roman Jackson, whose abilities all revolve around putting powerful Followers into play and making them stronger.
This Virtue is reflected directly in Wren’s unique keyword mechanic: Glory.
With Glory, Followers are able to generate easy Prestige every time they walk into battle, whether on offense or defense. The Glory deck tries to focus on having a card with Glory at the front of its party at all times, and then using its Champion to duel as often as possible. If the Taren-tokens deck is trying to win by “going wide”, then the Glory deck does it by “going tall” — it’s not the number of Followers that matters, it’s their individual strength. By playing strong Champions and sending them in to duel, you will be able to generate Prestige for your party and gain influence among Wren’s many gangs.
Sylvester McCormick: Criminal Mischief
Not everyone involved in Wren’s criminal empire is in it for the honor and glory of combat, or the loyalty and protection of being part of the group. Rogues, thieves, con artists, gamblers, black marketeers — these men and women are in it just for the fun.
This Virtue is all about breaking the law and having a good time doing it. The Wren Prime, Sylvester McCormick, fits into this theme perfectly: his card is all about gaining the upper hand and using unconventional means. Not as prominent as the Glory deck or the tokens deck, this deck prefers to do things in the shadows, away from prying eyes. It is therefore no surprise that McCormick’s nickname is Sylvester “Sly” McCormick. This deck is all about trickery and deception, all while sticking it to your opponents. Whether it’s finding cards for yourself or taking them away from your enemies, sneaking in points where you can get them, or sabotaging your opponent’s plans, Sly’s deck is all about using whatever methods are available to claim the upper hand.
Divide and Conquer
The Wren criminal underworld has many faces and many personalities, and the Wren deck can be built in a lot of different ways. The diverse set of cards available in the Glory of Wren theme deck offer many directions for unique and personalized deckbuilding: a myriad of paths to Prestige and victory over your rivals.
Will you build a broad coalition too large to be defeated? Will you crush your enemies in duels of honor and strength? Will you be sneaky, snatching victory away from your opponents before they can see what hit them? The choice is yours.