Designer/Developer: Double Fine Productions
Platforms: Linux, Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One
Release Date: June 1, 2015
Game Location: www.massivechalice.com
Massive Chalice is a tactical combat strategy game that requires the player to not only manage their units on the battlefield, but throughout their lives. There are no individual heroes in Massive Chalice. The player’s characters WILL age and die throughout the gameplay experience. Unlike most other games that take place in a small amount of time (say, a week, month, year or decade) Massive Chalice takes place over centuries. Characters routinely die after about 50 years of age and the player is constantly tasked with training new heroes, seasoning them in combat, and passing on their bloodlines in order to raise the starting level of new attuned heroes. Players have to deal with aspects like:
- Genetic characteristics to pass down to future generations (trust me, you don’t want to be passing down the genetics of a character who has a maximum movement of 3)
- The handling of the wills of dead heroes (passing on heirloom weapons).
- Long term strategies that involve the defense of the country (protecting territory and getting success bonuses).
- Individual decisions about heroes and citizens that arise during gameplay (sometimes it turns out very good, other times it turns out very bad).
- Hero death (they die constantly, and permanently).
The gameplay is both methodical and fast paced at the same time. Players have all the time in the world to make their decisions on the battlefield. Even so, all it takes is a single wrong decision to ruin your day. Players can be one shot by certain enemies. The AI is smart enough to focus fire on specific targets, and they attempt to flank and pinch the heroes during combat. Decision making is paramount in Massive Chalice. Players have to research items, weapons, training all while handling combat, managing the country, managing dying and newly born heroes, and keeping their team as diverse as possible. It is entirely possible to neglect the production of new attuned heroes for a few decades only to discover that you only have a handful of heroes to choose from, all your good heroes have died, and now you have to choose from level 1 children to fight your battle. All bad.
Throughout gameplay the player’s territories will be attacked by the Cadence. The three monoliths with glowing red squares beneath them show where the current cadence attacks are taking place. As you can see in this image, there are currently three attacks taking place. The player is only able to defend ONE of the three territories. Each territory has three “lives” once it has been attacked three times without being defended the player loses that territory. When the player successfully defends a territory, the amount of corruption it has is increased. So if the cadence attacked a territory twice that the player chose not to defend it would only have one tick of corruption left. If the third time the player chooses to defend that territory then the territory would gain a life back putting it back to two “lives”. The game describes the “lives” as corruption. Which makes sense.
Below is an example of the research screen. As you can see things are performed in years, not days or hours. Typically this means that your current hero won’t be able to benefit from the research you recently started, they will either be old and decrepit or just plain dead by the time you complete three or four research options (dependent on what you research).
Randomly as the game progresses certain scenarios will occur. As you can see in this example the player has to make three tough decisions. Each one will have a specific outcome that will affect the progress of the game in a positive or negative manner. If the player chooses the first option they could miss out on an opportunity to learn more about the cadence. If they choose the second option they lose an attuned hero. The “Vanguard” box in the upper right tells the player that they will lose someone that they currently use to defend the cadence with. The third option could result in the citizens of the territory becoming displeased or worse. Hero’s attributes can be changed with decisions the player makes resulting in good or bad behavior in the battlefield. In this example the hero Baltazar Weald will be gone for 10 years. He will come back as an old man of 45, which in this game is close to the grave. But he may also gain a new character attribute. In another similar situation I encountered while playing I sent a character away for 10 years, only to be shipped back his weapon in a box and a message saying simply “I’m sorry”. I lost a great hero that day…
Here a hunter is shooting an arrow at a Cadence Advanced Seed. The range is just outside what an advanced seed can move in a single turn. This would be an optimal position to be in if there weren’t two seeds below the hunter that flanked in from the right.
Players maneuver their characters based on a simple grid. Below shows the area this hunter can move while still being allowed to perform a second action. The player can choose to move outside of the orange area at the cost of an action. This is useful for rapid advance or retreat but typically is less useful than taking both a movement and attack action in each turn.
The heroes consist of three main types: Hunters, Caberjacks, and Alchemists. Hunters are effective against single targets and at range, but they are weak defensively. Caberjacks have high defense but they are a melee unit. Alchemists are somewhat of a combination of the two. They have a limited amount of ranged attacks that mainly consist of throwing bombs that deal AOE damage. After they have depleted their ranged ammunition, they become high damage melee attackers. Unfortunately, they are built like hunters, so they don’t hold up well to receiving damage.
Players of strategy games will immediately see the simple yet effective strategy of placing the caberjacks at the forefront of the battle in defensive positions while using the hunters and alchemists to deal the vast majority of the damage.
Due to the two action turn system, hunters can be extremely effective if they utilize a retreat and attack method of fighting, also known as “kiting”. The player can retreat to the furthest orange area in their hero’s movement radius and then shoot an arrow at the enemy. This strategy can be compounded by the use of a special type of hunter called an enforcer. Enforcers can utilize knock-back attack which further increases the distance between the hunter and enemy at the end of each turn.
Caberjacks are really useful for blocking bottlenecks on the map. If players use caberjacks to fill small holes on the map the enemies will be forced to take turns trying to kill your strongest unit. Which allows your hunters and alchemists to wreak havoc on the enemy forces. Players should combine alchemist with caberjacks so that they can breed blastcappers. Blastcappers are caberjacks who can deal AOE damage to enemies. It is devastatingly effective when combined with the bottlenecking strategy mentioned earlier. Enemies will line up just to get smashed into minuscule particles by the power of the blast cap.
Alchemists are mostly a utility unit. They are best kept near the center of your formation so that they can provide AOE support as needed. Players should avoid using the ranged attacks of the alchemist on single units since they are limited and AOE. Because of the ability of the alchemist to dispatch multiple units per attack, it is a wise investment to research the upgraded throwing claw early on. This will allow the alchemist to throw further. When paired with a hunter who has the advanced technique of listening to the enemy the alchemist becomes a murder machine. All other characters are limited by line of sight for their attacks but not the alchemist. Players can position hunters against a rock face or similar obstructing object to listen for the cadence soldiers on the other side. The sound markers can then be used to aid the alchemist in throwing a bomb over the obstruction, decimating all of the enemies on the other side without ever needing to be in line of sight.
The manipulation of time has long been a novel theme for games but to my knowledge it has never been applied in such a massive fashion. Fast forwarding through years is so interesting and it raises questions about how important characters are in games now.
Heroes of Might and Magic
Final Fantasy Tactics
The idea of having time progress in such a macro fashion gives me ideas for all sorts of games. I could foresee a game in which players manipulate time on the micro scale instead of the macro scale. Where this game progresses in years I could create a game where the player is manipulating milliseconds. The concept of the game could be something atomic in nature. Maybe handling and manipulating atoms in an attempt to create different elements or reactions. Another idea could be having situations where the player is faced with situations that require split second decisions but the player is limited by the speed of the current avatars thought process. The game could progress in slow motion allowing the player to make decisions each time the avatars thought cycle completes. Afterward the player could be shown the entire scene played out in real time using the decisions they made while in micro time. Situations could be things like car crashes, robberies, fights, deactivating bombs, manipulating delicate objects or even controlling packets through a computer system critical for defending a cyber attack. Anything is really possible.