A guide to Imbroglio boardbuilding

There’s a few guidelines I use when I’m building an Imbroglio board. These aren’t always correct, but they’re good rules to keep in mind. If you break them, you should have a good reason.

Rule 1: Keep the “heat map” in mind

Imagine the Imbroglio board as a “heat map” for your character, where high traffic areas you pass through often are red and low traffic areas are blue. What do you think it should look like?

It would roughly look like this:


The center has 4 possible connections, edges have 3, and corners have just 2. This has two effects:

  • If you pick up a star with a monster nearby, you are much more likely to be trapped in a corner than anywhere else.
  • To gather new stars, you’re constantly moving through the center. After that, the edges, and then the corners, where it requires unusual wall setups to ever have to pass through.

Because of these two differences, these three places have different weapon requirements.

If you put something in the center, it should have these properties:

  • Benefits from leveling up, since you’ll be killing a lot of monsters with it.
  • Becomes strong in combat. In the late game, it should be something you can rely on to kill a lot of monsters.
  • Examples: Echo Harp, Menacing Cleaver

If you put something in the corners it should ideally have these properties:

  • Starts out strong. It won’t be getting many levels, since you’ll be using it rarely.
  • Gives some insurance against getting trapped. There are many possible ways to do this. Dwindling Brazier kills the monster outright. Arcane Hourglass banishes it and lets you take care of it later. Blink Dagger lets you escape.

If you put something on the edge, it is usually either a combat weapon that doesn’t need much XP (Rimeclaws), *or* a “tech” weapon that needs lots of XP but is weak for actual combat (Ixxthl’s Ring). The edge is fairly flexible, though.

Rule 2: Mix your reds and blues

To simplify things, let’s say you only have weapons that do 1 heart (red) or 1 diamond of damage. You arrange them like this:


It should be apparent that this is a poor way of arranging your board. For instance, if you are on B1, and a Cube (4 heart, 1 diamond) monster is on C1, you almost certainly will want to use one of your blue weapons on it. But this requires a *minimum* of two moves (more if there are walls in the way) to be able to use one.

All else being equal, the optimal board is this:


If you are on a red square and need to move to a blue one, no matter what, it will only take you 1 move as long as you are not completely blocked from moving. Imbroglio puts you on a “timer” where monsters come out faster and faster as you take more and more turns, so minimizing the number of “wasted” moves is key to getting a high score in Imbroglio. This checkerboard pattern is the best way to do that as a general rule. Or, at least it would be, if it weren’t for Rule 3.

Rule 3: Pay attention to where monsters come out!

The last general wrinkle to consider in board creation is that every type of monster only ever comes out of one corner. Going back to a “heat map” analogy, the heat map for a Cube monster looks like this:


Cubes spawn at A1. They’re guaranteed to go there every time! By comparison, it takes a minimum of 6 moves to get to D4, so they will almost never show up there.

The practical implications of this are as follows:

  • Both Cubes and Snakes are weak to blue weapons.  As a rule, you should have more blue weapons on the left side. This consideration is especially important for the tiles that border the lefthand corners: A2, B1, C1 and D2. You will find yourself standing on these vs. a freshly spawned Cube/Snake quite often, so it is better if they are blue.
  • Both Wasps and Chimeras are weak to red weapons. As a general rule, put more red weapons on the right side. This consideration is especially important for the tiles that border the righthand corners: A3, B4, C4 and D3. You will find yourself standing on these vs. a freshly spawned Wasp/Chimera quite often, so it is better if they are red.

As a note, these guidelines are contradict Rule 2. Let’s refer again to the “checkerboard” formation:


Notice that the squares bordering D1 are both red, and the squares bordering D4 are both blue. This is the opposite of what you ideally want, since it will make dealing with Snakes and Wasps difficult. In practice, boards are often a compromise between the checkerboard pattern, and clumping relevant weapons around the four corners.

Board Analysis

Let’s analyze a board I recently used to clear the game with Masina:


This board revolves around the synergy between Plague Totem, Reaper’s Scythe and Necromancer’s Mask. When the combo is fully assembled, it’s hard to lose (the tough part is getting that far). Reaper’s Scythes are weak against Cubes and Snakes, so I added Echo Harps (and their eternal love, Whetstones) to help with that.

Plague Totem is a strong corner weapon. If you pick up a star in the corner, you’re normally worried about getting trapped by a monster you can’t kill. For Plague Totems, however, a single monster will be cursed and immediately turn into a ghost. The classic weakness of Plague Totems is that you sometimes can’t afford to take the diamond damage. Being in the corners helps with that (you can often avoid stepping on them if you don’t want to), but I added an Ixxthl’s Ring to help as well.

Every board has a certain “XP load”: the amount of XP you need before your board is functioning as intended. In this case, I want my Whetstones maxed, my Scythes at level 2, at least 1 Necromancer’s Mask fully leveled, and the Ixxthl’s Ring mostly leveled. That’s a high XP load, so the Vampiric Spears are included mostly because they only need 1 level to be pretty good. Masina has issues dying early because she has no “parity” control (ability to pause for a turn to get the first hit in), and the life gain from the Spears helps with that. I also considered using Blight Broadswords, but think they’re overall less useful. Masina’s hero power already lets you boost weapons, so the 2 damage from a broadsword isn’t too relevant here compared to the lifegain.

For placement, the Reaper’s Scythes are my “bread and butter” weapon. They are extremely powerful once operational, especially when boosted by Whetstone and Necromancer’s Mask. That’s why they’re in the center. Ideally I would put the Harps in the center as well, but the recent Whetstone nerf requires them to go there instead.

On the edges, all of my blue tech weapons are on the left so that I’ll be able to level those up quickly. The masks are together because I don’t need both to be maxed – the second mask is more of a luxury than a requirement. This way, I can focus on one, and then level the other one more leisurely. The ring is far away from the masks because I don’t want it competing with the masks for XP; it needs to be leveled up quickly.

Overall, it’s a powerful board, but somewhat inconsistent in the early game due to Masina’s lack of parity control.


Hopefully this guide helps to explain some of the logic behind why I build my boards the way I do. If you’d like me to analyze more boards, let me know either here or on twitter.

Imbroglio’s Izu Mode is the way forward for deckbuilding

Deckbuilding games have a long and successful history. People love customizing their experience and trying to find the best possible deck. If you look at the most popular strategy games today, a huge portion have customization. The best, in my mind, is Imbroglio’s Izu mode.

As most game designers know, the “classic” MTG model has a large weakness in the post-internet era. Players copy other players’ decks, making small improvements. This iterative process from the “hive-mind”  rapidly solves a format, to the point that a game like Magic needs incredible amounts of content to stay fresh. Even with hundreds and hundreds of new cards being printed, formats still get noticeably stale in between releases.

Not everyone can afford to vomit content in the same way that Wizards of the Coast does to maintain Magic. Designers wanting to create smaller customize-able games need more economical solutions. One solution, of course, is to simply refuse to create customizable games. Depending on your taste, this is perfectly valid! But for people that enjoy the process of fine-tuning a “deck”, what’s the best way forward?

A major breakthrough was made in 2008 with Donald X. Vaccarino’s Dominion. It randomized a “bank” of available cards, then had players build a deck from this limited subset. This approach has been tremendously popular, and is on the right track. Unfortunately, it had some basic flaws that prevented it from obsoleting the MTG model in the way Vaccarino had intended:

  1. Everyone started with the same boring deck. Boring!
  2. Making customization in-game limited how different final decks could end up. In Dominion, your final deck ended up being maybe 20 cards, with a few cards different from your opponents. This is a far cry from the level of customization available in a game like MTG, where two players can start turn 1 with completely different 60-card decks.
  3. Part of the fun of a customizable game is discussing “builds” among players. When the bank is randomized each game, it’s hard for a community to build around the game to talk about building things together. Usually at most you could only talk about general power levels, which isn’t as fun as showing off a cool deck you just made.

A great compromise I’ve found has been Imbroglio’s Izu mode. It’s the way forward for customizable games.

Michael Brough’s Imbroglio released to some fanfare last year. In it, players would construct “boards” to take into battle and compete on a global leaderboard. Unfortunately, it suffered the same problem as most customizable games. People iterated on each other’s boards and quickly arrived at working “solutions”, and soon mostly identical boards were populating the top of the leaderboard. The fact that the game released with 8 different characters helped with this somewhat, but within a month or two, every character had a working solution. At this point, there wasn’t much reason to try innovating, and players lost interest.

As a result, it’s sad but perhaps understandable that a comparatively smaller amount of attention was paid to Imbroglio’s follow-up expansion, Ossuary. In it, Brough added “Izu mode”, which has considerably helped with the game’s longevity.

Izu mode works as a sort of hybrid between the Dominion and MTG models. Every 4 days, a new “bank” of available options is generated from a larger pool of tiles for players to construct boards with. They then compete for highscores, which also reset every 4 days. This provides a good compromise of providing customization while still ensuring that the game remains relatively unsolved. It does not take long to find the best board with a given amount of options. However, it takes considerably longer to find the best board for every subset of options, and Izu mode exploits this well.

At the beginning of the period, several viable decks are tried out, and you can see a number of different approaches at the top of the leaderboard. At the end, a specific variant has been found to be the best, and users start adopting this board more and more. Fortunately, this is right around the time when the mode gets reset and players must reoptimize.

Usually, there’s a tension in games between “variety” and “quality”. Do you give a lot of low-quality content to improve variety, or do you add a small amount of quality content, but settle for low variety? Imbroglio finds a healthy mix of letting its “quality-minded” content go far in terms of providing the player with a large variety of game states.

It’s easy to see how a MTG-style game could benefit from taking a similar approach. Rather than trying to race player tendency to solve formats with more and more content, simply randomizing a “bank” of cards for players to construct decks in a given week would allow for a “customizable” game to go farther on a much smaller amount of content.