14 June 2023 | Marvel D.A.G.G.E.R.

Mission Report

Check Out Some Designer Insights to Marvel D.A.G.G.E.R.

The release of Marvel D.A.G.G.E.R. is just a few weeks away! As we rapidly approach the game’s release, we’d like to take a moment to share with you all some insights from the game’s designer, Dane Beltrami.

Take it away, Dane!

Dane Beltrami Shares His Thoughts

Aww jeez, I finally get to talk about D.A.G.G.E.R. Was I working on this game a year ago? Or was it a month? Or was it three years? I don’t know, I firmly believe I’ve been in a bubble. Time isn’t real.

In any case, D.A.G.G.E.R. began with an assignment hitting my desk to make a globe-spanning Marvel board game. Really, that was the only bit of the project that was predetermined. Y’all may not realize this about me due to the games I am better known for, but I am primarily a co-op gamer. I love working together to take down a big bad—the closer the call, the better—and doing so with friends makes the victory even sweeter. Additionally, when I make games, I tend to make games that I would want to play, so I decided pretty early on that D.A.G.G.E.R. was going to be a cooperative game, and went from there.

Co-op? Check.

Boss fights? Check.

Lots of abilities flying around? Also check.

Yeah, I like splashy and flashy player abilities. I know, you’re all shocked. What can I say, there is a certain aspect of those kinds of player actions that lend themselves well to emergent narrative, in my experience, and that’s one thing I absolutely wanted this game to have. I decided pretty early on that the scripted narrative would be light or nonexistent, and that all the action would be largely driven by the players responding to various threats. Another thing I decided early on was that the game would always end in a boss fight (as noted above, I love those). Each boss—or “nemesis,” as they were named eventually—would have a series of simple missions to work through, but no matter how those missions panned out, whether in favor of the heroes or the nemesis, the game would always conclude with a final showdown. Initial tests of this showed promise, but it wasn’t until mechanics were implemented that had the nemesis walking around and doing nemesis things during the actual game rounds that I was sure it was headed in the right direction.

Speaking of player abilities, there were two things I knew I wanted: combo abilities between players and game-changing ultimate abilities. This is Marvel after all—and there is nothing more recognizably Marvel than heroes working in unison and huge, reality-shattering powers. And I felt like there was opportunity to combine these things together.

Originally, the combo powers were going to be a bit more scripted. Certain pairs of heroes had a very specific unison attack they could execute. However, that wasn’t quite doing it for me. Instead, the primed/empowered system was implemented. One hero could “prime” a target enemy, or “empower” a trusted ally, and then those statuses could be exploited by another hero to trigger their combo powers. Much better. Definitely played into my goals of emergent narrative, in any case—or is it physical comedy? Maybe it’s just me, but there is something intrinsically funny about Captain America’s shield bouncing around, marking various targets to be lightning’d into oblivion by Mighty Thor moments later.

Which leaves us with the ultimate abilities. Originally, these were going to be once per game. That felt alright, but it wasn’t quite where I wanted to see it. Instead, a different system was investigated, one more akin to filling a super gauge—but for the group. Each time players performed one of the above combo abilities, they’d get to increase that gauge, and once it was full enough, anyone could spend it to set off their ultimate ability—multiple times, if necessary! And I liked this a lot. There was one game in testing where Thor used the Bifrost to whisk me out of harm’s way six times in one game, much to the dismay of Hulk, who really just wanted to HULK SMASH his way around the world (relatable).

Another thing I really wanted to include was “class specs.” I have a particular way I like to play games, which means I tend to settle into one character or archetype that meets how I prefer to play and stick with it. But I didn’t want that to be the case here. I thought if I could separate the group roles from the characters, and players could pair them as they pleased, it might satisfy that wish. So I looked to Marvel Champions: The Card Game and snagged their Heroic Aspects for the class archetypes: Aggression (enemy fighter), Justice (mission do-er), Leadership (plan-maker), and Protection (damage mitigator)—and then also created two more in Vigilance (combo-enabler) and Determination (jack of all trades). I pulled together a list of heroes—ten at first—and was pretty happy with how it was all playing out. 60 total possible combos; you could, for example, play Iron Man as Aggression or Justice or any of the six aspects. But we saw an opportunity for more, and thus the double-sided heroes came to be. Two heroes, each of whom at various times have carried the same mantle, would be on different sides of the same sheet. Thus, if you chose Thor, you could pick either of Thor’s “specs” (i.e. Jane Foster or Thor Odinson) and then choose a further degree of specialization by picking which of the six Heroic Aspects they would represent. And just like that, there were even more combos.

Ultimately, though, I failed to keep myself from settling into one character. I play Sam Wilson with Justice. Every. Single. Time. Oh well, at least sometimes I will mix things up with Aggression or Leadership (but really it’s just because someone else picks Justice first). Anyway, that’s my favorite hero-aspect combination; what will yours be?

Well, you’ve made it this far through my rambling. I hope you all enjoy Marvel D.A.G.G.E.R. as much as I do. I am glad it’s finally going to be out in the wild. Looking forward to hearing about your games; I’m especially looking forward to hearing about how Loki teleported someone into a group of enemies, who then proceeded to one-shot them at the end of the first turn.

No, really. It could happen to you. Better look out!

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