When we received the Highlander license I was very excited. When it turned out we were focusing on only the first film, I was even more excited. There can only be one after all! Don’t worry, that is the only time I will use that line.
Designing for a licensed game can be a fairly different process from designing unlicensed games. You have to start from the theme backwards, you have to try and catch the essence of the IP (intellectual property) you are using rather than building out from mechanics as some designers prefer. I have always been a top-down designer, preferring to start the design process with the feeling I want players to be experiencing, so that was how I started out with Highlander.
So what is Highlander about? What theme does Highlander have running through it and how would that translate into a kernel of a game mechanic?
I just heard your breath sucking over your teeth, I know the reputation that elimination games have with some gamers. There was no other way; elimination was so core to highlander that to not include it within the game would be tantamount to sacrilege, so we had to work with that rather than shying away from it. Elimination games need to be short and, in my opinion, need to get shorter when somebody was eliminated.
To implement an elimination mechanic into Highlander we created the behead card. The behead card is hidden in amongst the fate cards, which are drawn whenever someone wins a duel. Most of them give some form of bonus to the winner or a negative to the loser of a duel. After a fate card is resolved it is discarded, meaning the more duels you have, the thinner the fate deck gets. The only exception to this rule is the behead card, which shuffles itself back into the deck. As the deck gets thinner, the chance of drawing that behead card gets higher, increasing the tension!
The behead card allows you to eliminate another player from the game. Whenever a player is beheaded they discard a number of cards from the top of the era deck and the victorious player gains a powerful boost. These two mechanics speed up the game every time a player is eliminated, meaning nobody is sitting out for too long.
Originally we toyed around with players being able to influence the game after elimination but quickly found that players used this power spitefully! It also went a long way to destroy the excitement of being defeated. Being eliminated is not what anyone wants, but the threat of elimination makes the game more exciting for everyone.
That being said, due to early feedback from our kickstarter campaign we did add in some optional rules for players who do not want to play an elimination game.