LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE]: Adrenaline Cards and Fear Track

Now that I’ve explained the basics of the characters in LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE], let’s take a closer look at how two of those character components, adrenaline cards and the fear track, form the resource management system of the game.

An interesting resource management system is what always pulls me into a game. One of the fundamental things that make a resource management system captivating for me is not what it allows you to do but what it doesn’t. When I come to the point in a game where I have to choose from two or more things I really want to do, then I’m having fun. One of the most important parts of a resource that can contribute to those tough choices is how much control you have over different aspects of it. All this played a big part in the design of LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE].

Before the dice system for resolving challenges was created, your hand of adrenaline cards was the only tool you had for dealing with challenges as well as being the only resource you managed during the game. In that first draft each card had two uses, much like in the final version, but early on they were represented by a set of icons and a special ability. The icons were used to pay the cost of passing challenges in almost the same way as the final dice system; as long as you could discard enough of the necessary icons, you passed. We decided this didn’t provide enough tension, though, since you would always know exactly what you could accomplish and what you couldn’t. To deal with this and allow us to use the hand in other ways, we added the dice pool system.

Once we’d created this new way to attempt challenges, we were able to connect your hand of adrenaline cards to your health. We didn’t want you to have to discard cards to pass every challenge, but we did want you to see the hand as an important resource, one you want to protect. Forcing you to discard cards when you take damage removes some control of your resources and adds additional tension to the game.

At this point we had a hand of adrenaline cards that looked a lot like the final version, with one exception: the only cost to play a card was discarding it. The fear track was just a gauge of your terror that helped the enemy pick targets. We wanted the fear track to be much more central to the gameplay, so we tied it into both the stats and the hand of cards.

The first rule we attached to the fear track is that it can modify stats. You’re more clear-headed when your fear is low, but as it increases you become stronger and faster. The second rule we added—and the game-defining one—is the fear track’s relationship to the adrenaline cards. Because each card has its own cost in fear to play, your fear level determines what adrenaline cards you can play. If you can’t move the marker on your fear track as far as the card requires, you can’t play it. Just as important, though, is that the adrenaline cards are also the main way you have to control your fear. This creates an interesting loop and interacts with other aspects of the game in important ways. The biggest example is how the aliens see you. Since driving your fear up makes you more of a target to the aliens in the facility, you have to weigh keeping your fear low so the aliens aren’t drawn to you with how much you need to increase it to accomplish things. And that forces you to make some very interesting choices.

That’s how you’ll be dealing with the challenges LEVEL 7 [Escape] throws at you. Next time I’ll explain the main sources of those challenges: the tiles and event cards.