A Sneak Peek at the Gameplay of Unwritten
A challenge we've found when talking about Unwritten is that it’s difficult to talk about any single element of the game without talking about everything at once. One of the game’s strengths is that the various gameplay mechanics are woven tightly together, and although individual elements are simple, it is their relationship to each other that really creates the magic.
This is why we've decided to post this rather exhaustive gameplay update. We want to give our current and future backers a chance to really see what makes the game so interesting.
A lot of the depth and many of the details have been omitted to keep from spoiling all sense of mystery, but hopefully this mock game manual also lays enough bare to show why Unwritten has us so excited.
In Unwritten your goal is to cross the tundra so that at least one member of your nomadic clan can reach “God Mountain”. Each clan starts with the following:
- At least one “hunter and gatherer” unit
- Some quantity of “roxlous” (a llama like animal that acts as currency in the game)
- Some quantity of “food”
- At least one “story fragment”, representing the preexisting history of the people
You then progress by playing through a series of zones, laid out on a grid of hexagonal tiles. In each zone the goal is to guide all your units from the starting point to the map exit. At this point you will be presented with a map of your current route, and will be given the choice of which way to go next.
Gameplay is turn based, with all of your units getting to move during your turn.
The game is over if all of your units die, and the game is completed if any of your units manage to talk to the God that lives in the Mountain.
Units represent a small band of people from your clan with a similar job. They may be hunters and gathers, warriors, shamans, or simply refugees. They are the lifeblood of the clan, and it is only by getting them to “God Mountain” that you can finish the game.
In Unwritten units have a few base stats and any number of abilities that may completely change the nature of the game. It is similar to a collectible card game like Magic the Gathering in this sense, in that the simple rules that serve as a framework may be overridden by any particular unit, creating a huge sense of variety.
For example, all units are affected by “hunger”, which must be managed in order to keep a unit alive and happy (see “Managing Units”). However, a unit might have an ability that allows them to spend a point of health in order to pay the hunger costs for all units for 10 turns, thereby completely changing the pace and consequences for a limited time.
In Unwritten unit special abilities and stats are created randomly, so it is highly unlikely to ever see two units that are alike.
Some example unit stats:
All units have a “hunger” stat, and it must be satisfied to keep order on the tundra. This is done by either paying the unit from the clan’s food store, or by maintaining enough “hunter and gatherer” units, which reduce the hunger costs for the clan and allow a certain number of units to be kept “for free”. Hunter and gatherers are fast, good at exploring, and weak in combat, meaning that it’s essential to find a good balance between them and other units.
If a unit can’t be fed they will defect away from the clan. For weak units this simply means that they will starve to death (although there may be more indirect consequences as well -- see “Story Fragments”). Stronger units will become hostile, and will attack your remaining units before starving a few turns later.
If a unit is going to be a burden they can be dismissed at any time. However, if this is done out in the wild (meaning they aren't on a “safe” tile like a friendly village), this is the same as running out of food. They will starve without your support, and attack you if they can.
In Unwritten you will be getting new units constantly and (because of the dangers of your journey) will just as easily lose them. It is vital to keep a steady stream of units with all their varied powers and abilities coming. However, you must plan carefully lest you end up with a balance of units that becomes a burden and eventually turns on you, ensuring your failure.
This balance is found by managing your “Storm Queue”, and maintaining relationships with other clans out in the wild.
The Storm Queue
At various times in the game you’ll be given the chance to recruit a new unit, usually through diplomacy with other clan leaders (see “Story Bouts”). When this happens you’ll get to review the stats and special abilities of one or more units and decide whether you want them to join you. If you choose to take the unit it won’t be yours to command immediately. It will instead be listed in your “Storm Queue”, and will then leave to prepare for the journey.
On the tundra every so many turns a “Quick Storm” will roll in, obscuring everything in mist and lightning. During this time one of the units that previously pledged fealty to your clan will join you under the cover of the storm. Whether you’re ready or not, you must deploy the top unit from your storm queue, and place them near one of your existing units.
Your storm queue can be rearranged to your liking, but only when at “safe” tiles like villages, and you cannot delay the arrival of a unit. In this way managing your storm queue and anticipating the next storm is a big part of the strategy of Unwritten. For example, since your queue is visible at all times you may see that a big unit with a high hunger cost is coming and that you cannot currently support it. Before the next storm you might take bigger risks with weaker units, getting them killed off before your strong unit drops in. If something goes wrong, you might also make sure to leave one unit near a “safe” tile, in order to drop the strong unit there so that it can be safely dismissed.
For those that play tabletop games or collectible card games, Unwritten has an interesting ebb and flow that may feel familiar. It is a bit like constructing a deck or army and then executing the resulting strategy, except in Unwritten you’re doing both at the same time.
A story fragment is the result of a critical decision your clan made. For example, each time your clan participates in a “story event” (a tile that fires off an interactive tableau told out with shadow puppets), the decision you make there converts to a token you take with you, indicating what you decided to do. For example, you may have met an old man alone on the tundra and gave him aid, or maybe you took him as a slave, or maybe you let him die. Your story fragment indicates this choice on a token and with a full text description of what happened.
Story fragments may also be given to you for other actions. Should you let many of your units starve in the wild as part of your strategy, that would become a fragment that you carry with you. Note that all fragments have both positive and negative qualities on the tundra. In this case letting your units starve might be considered strong or intimidating when recounting the tale to some of the other clan leaders (see “Story Bouts”), to others it would be a sign of weak leadership.
Because the tundra is a place of scarcity, trade and diplomacy with the residents of the wild is vital. Other clans can be found in villages along the way, and it is through their help that you will receive food, roxlous, and above all reinforcements.
Diplomacy is done via a “story bout”, which represents the two clan leaders joining together to share the stories of their respective people. A story bout makes use of the story fragments you’ve collected.
When a bout begins the most “notorious” fragments from your clan’s history are brought into a list. The notoriety of a fragment refers to how important other residents of the tundra might think that story would be. Killing a wolf doesn’t warrant much notice. Stealing another clan’s livestock would be a bigger event.
You must then arrange these fragments into a branching tree, which always starts with your most notorious fragment. As you tell your story to the rival leader you will get a reaction back, indicating whether the leader is intimidated, encouraged, disgusted, etc. You then choose which branch of the story tree to take next, ultimately trying to gain access to the rival clan’s resources through friendship or intimidation.
Because story bouts control the player’s access to new units (an irreplaceable resource), the decisions you make on the tundra directly affect your ability to survive. You may decide to make a wide variety of decisions so that you can later create a balanced story tree, versatile enough to convince a range of leaders, or you may make the same kind of decisions repeatedly, choosing to strongly ally yourself with one kind of leader.
However, there is a catch to only thinking about how you will be thought of by rival clans. Your destination is “God Mountain, a place of judgement”. By what criteria will you be judged once you reach your goal? Will the God of the tundra look favorably on the decisions you made to survive, or will you be measured by a different scale?
And Now We Want to Hear From You
So you read this whole update and didn't find the answer to a burning question? Please ask it in the comments. We’ll either answer it there or follow up with another update. We also love suggestions and hearing about your “sky’s the limit” wishes. A big part of running this Kickstarter is so we can talk with you, so we’re here and we’re listening!
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