It's a Game!

It's a Game!

This may be the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. As I type, and put the thoughts that have been flying around my head for six years to page, my palms are sweaty, I feel a bit nauseous, and I’m pretty cold for being in a 70 degree environment.

I’m anxious because this is also the most important thing I’ve ever written. So, if you’re reading, thank you.

If you don’t want to read everything below this, just know that I made a tabletop board game. It’s a high fantasy world you can interact with through tile-based, tactical, card-enhanced combat. You can check back here or on our socials every day for updates. Update number 1: the game is done, the assets are (almost) ready, the lore is written (and unedited).

That’s why everything you’ll see on our various profiles for the next few months will be about two things: introducing the world and game of Crystal Crucible, and shamelessly requesting your financial support, in the form of a Kickstarter, that will launch at the end of January, or early February.

Before we really get into it, there’s a few people I’d like to thank. For without their help, there would be no game, and I believe there’d hardly be a me: Hillz, Kougie, Luke, Tara, Victoria, Anna, Janus, Nicole, Hannah, Mike, Christian, Zak, Jordan, the museum gang, and my Mom.

And you. If you’re reading this, I want to thank you. For the past six years, this has been my passion, my daydreams, my outlet, my goal. Literal thousands upon thousands of hours have been put into this game, and I am beyond excited to share it with you.

Thank you.


The short answer is that Crystal Crucible is a streamlined, faster-paced, combat-only, randomized, uh, dungeons and dragons type game. 

Now forget that you ever read that — because other than controlling a single character, and moving that character from tile to tile, and existing in a fantasy setting — that’s where the similarities between the two begin and end.

So, to backtrack a little bit, I’ve loved RPGs since my older brother put Disc 1 of FFVII in our Playstation. I sat there for hundreds of hours of gameplay, watching him grind levels to beat Emerald and Ruby Weapon. 

I always watched, but I never played. I could pretty accurately summarize the plots of FF7, 8,9, and 10, but I didn’t play them until I was much older (and honestly, still haven’t played all of them).

The one I did play, however, was Final Fantasy Tactics. If you’ve never played it, it’s a tile-and-turn-based tactical RPG with an isometric view. There is no gameplay other than combat, character menus, and cutscenes of dialogue.

It changed everything I knew about games, and it’s — other than the Soulsringborne series and TES: V — the game I’ve replayed the most.

So anyway, I love fantasy, and I love video games. What I don’t love, however, are the tropes you’ll find in any fantasy video game, but specifically and especially fantasy MMOs:

  1. You are a full-bodied adult who has seemingly no idea of how any aspect of the world works. This includes how to look at, and interact with, simple objects.
  2. You are, again, an adult. And you have no idea who anyone is, where you’re currently standing, or who the good and bad people are.
  3. You, for some reason, are needed to go fight the big bad evil thing, but more often than not, there’s a level 99 player standing not ten feet away from you, decked out in endgame gear.
  4. When you die, you come back to life like nothing happened. Even the gear you died in is just magically there. But when other people die, they’re dead for good.
  5. Monoculture.
  6. Leveling Up!
  7. A plethora of violent, dangerous megafauna exists, that has for some reason not be hunted to extinction.
  8. One planet. And a multitude of highly intelligent, bipedal species.
  9. There are people who willingly go adventuring with often firsthand knowledge about how much it hurts to be charred to a crisp by a dragon’s breath.
  10. Throughout the world, there are approximately five children, and five geriatrics. Every other person is between the ages of twenty to thirty five.

I wanted to make a game that existed in a world where all of these RPG tropes had a reason — and a good one at that — for existing. And honestly, that was the easiest part. I’ve been world building in my head since my brother and I were kids, turning fence posts into swords, and building LEGO spaceships.

World building is one thing. Game development is another.

I’ll be honest: when I set out to make a game in 2017, I was pretty stupid. First — like every burgeoning game developer — I wanted to make an MMO. And after about two days of dreaming up skills for a hotbar, and trying to come up with percentages of damage points, I realized something — I’m not a billionaire.

And then, I found through a user on Reddit, the show a lot of us know, and some love, and some hate: Critical Role.

Now, if you’re not about Critical Role, and the “Matt Mercer Effect,” I understand. If you love the show, and the cast, know that I feel the same.

I was definitely aware of D&D, and I knew the general idea of rolling dice to determine whether or not you were successful at the action you just described. But I had never been lucky enough to play a real game — I had played very, very home-brewed versions with college friends, and had even “run” my own. But I had never, ever experienced what they were doing on Critical Role. Not even as a member of an audience of another form of media.

I, after watching one session, and then a second, and then a third, realized something. I loved Critical Role. And I wanted to play D&D. For real.

I did — and I learned something else: D&D is a role-playing game. It is not a combat game. I could say more, but this isn’t a blog about my nitpicks over the D&D combat system: that’s for another time.

So, once again, I set out to achieve a short-sighted, frankly ridiculous goal: to make a game that would compete with D&D. I worked on that goal for about three years. And finally, one day, with the gentle guidance of my fiancee and friends, I realized D&D is as popular as it is for a very good reason: it is nigh impossible to make a game that comprises the scope of all of the mechanics in D&D, and to simultaneously do it in a more streamlined fashion.

Every time I would attempt to take out something I believed was not needed for combat, it would break the game’s ability to provide a framework for the infinite expanse that is player agency. If you make a role-playing game with the draw of doing whatever you can imagine, your system needs to be complex and robust enough to cater to a player’s imagination.

So, I made the choice to take away all role-play elements from Crystal Crucible. I can still remember that day, as I set out to recreate everything I had spent the last three years building. I opened up a new file in Illustrator, and a blank artboard greeted me.

Since then, a lot about the game has changed — the biggest change of all being the addition of cards. Cards became a necessity once my development goals focused on two things: 1. Making a game that was purely combat based, while maintaining a level of emotional connection for, and customization of, your character. And 2. Creating a game that provided a tactical, exciting combat experience — without a game master to control the actions of the big bad and the environment the characters find themselves in.

What this led to was three types of cards: Monster, Environment, and Heirloom.

Monster cards and Environment cards made a lot of sense — you draw a “monster” card between each player’s turn, and it says the monster does _____. You’d draw an “environment” card whenever you ended your turn on a tile you didn’t occupy at the beginning of your turn, and things would happen, like a trap being sprung, or you’d find a helpful item.

Even Heirloom cards came about pretty early on — back then just called “passive bonuses” — it’s an RPG trope to find powerful items that give you extra powers and abilities, after all. 

But after play-testing with this set up, the game felt empty. 

Everything worked, the monsters ran themselves, the minions ran themselves, the skills and spells were balanced, but it was an empty game.

There just wasn’t anything exciting about it. It was a faster and streamlined D&D, without any of the tension, because there was no role-play. So when something bad happened, there was zero feeling of consequence.

And then, my friend Kougie said the most brilliant thing: “Why don’t you make the skills and spells cards?”

Up until that point, Crystal Crucible used a character sheet to track your skills, spells, and stats. You’d write down everything on your own. 

After she said that, everything else fell into place. Memory cards is what they’re called; each player has a personalized deck of skills and spells that they can draw cards from in order to equip them to their character. They’re learned by spending a point, referred to as a Memento, which are gained by interacting with Environment cards.

Mementos and Memory cards provide the keystone for what makes Crystal Crucible special and fun. You only begin with three skills and/or spells, and you only have a limited number of slots for them. By moving and drawing Environment cards, you find Mementos, which you then spend to gain new skills and spells. All skills and spells have a limited number of uses before they’re discarded. When a skill or spell is drawn from your Memory deck, if you have enough Mementos to learn it, and chose not to, the card must be discarded. But if you don’t have an open slot for it, you’ll need to discard another memory card in its place.

So what is Crystal Crucible? It’s a combat board game with an engine-builder on it. It’s a game where every single aspect is randomized, from monster and lair actions, to what options your character has available at any given time. It’s a dice game with almost no math. It’s the spirit of an RPG, without any role-play elements. 

It’s a game I hope you’ll enjoy.


I’m realizing now how long this has gotten to be, so I’ll call it quits here. If you’d like, you can follow Crystal Crucible on Facebook, Tumblr, and Youtube. (Links will be live tomorrow.)

Also, while the blog is technically up and running, no other pages actually have anything of substance. Feel free to look around it you like, but it’s a ghost town everywhere else.

Have a great day, and find the magick.

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