Synergy, OverRealm, and Oreos


First it was beef. Then we added bread. And veggies. And condiments. And bacon. This is the proven history of the burger. While cooked beef is good, it’s way better with a bunch of other tasty stuff. New food pairings are revelatory, like truffle oil and french fries or cinnamon bun Oreos.

Food pairing is like the concept of synergy in board games, minus the need for napkins. Synergy is when you have two separate things work better when paired together. Synergies, and also referred to as a combos, go hand-in-hand with value – the more you synergize, the more value/reward you receive for your effort. Combos aren’t explained to players, players discover them as they play. Finding them is half the fun!

Each playable hero in OverRealm features their own unique synergies that form their playstyle. However, synergy wasn’t something I had designed before. Sure, I’ve played tons of games with them, but that doesn’t mean I know how to make it myself. When I started playing some early builds of OverRealm, I started to realize this. Sometimes minions would do all sorts of crazy awesome things. Other times they would rarely interact with one another. I needed to have combos happen consistently, as this is an important component to OverRealm.

That’s when I discovered the magic of flowcharts. I mapped out how synergies progressed for each playable hero and found how disorganized and random it all was. One hero, Lilith Grimoire, was so convoluted that I had to start her from scratch!

How do you build synergy? I’ll explain by using OverRealm as an example, followed by three important learned lessons.

In order for a synergy or combo to occur in OverRealm, you need to have a minion in play that looks for something specific to happen. I’ll use these two cards to help illustrate:

You start the game with Unholy Channeler. Its triggered ability–deal one damage to an enemy minion–occurs whenever you summon an abomination minion or an abomination minion implodes. On your first turn, you summon Skinrot Viscous. It’s an abomination minion, so Unholy Channeler gets excited and lets you use his ability. Every time you summon a new abomination minion while Unholy Channeler is in play, he’ll let you damage a minion. The longer it stays in play, the more damage it does, therefore the more value it provides you.

Unholy Channeler also likes it when your abominations implode! Lilith’s hero card makes you place blight counters on your abomination minions, making them stronger. When abomination minions have a certain number of blight counters on them, their bodies can’t handle all of the power Lilith keeps giving them, so they use their implode ability and die. Whenever an abomination minion implodes when Unholy Channeler is in play, BOOM!, more value and damage directed at the opponent.

Lilith’s synergies are all formed around abomination minions and implode. Then there are minions that care about abomination minions and implode. That’s it. Lilith’s flowchart looks like this:

Untitled Diagram

The key and start to her synergies are abominations, so it’s first. 10 out of 16 of her minions are abominations, so you’ll definitely play some every game. Next come minions that care about abominations, of which there are 5 out of 16. All abominations have implode (that’s why they’re abominations!), so there’s 10 instances of that as well. Lastly, there are minions that care about implode, of which there are 3. It’s the fewest because it’s the furthest down the flowchart, which means it’s the least likely to happen (your opponent might kill some of your abominations before they implode!).

Lesson #1The further down an action occurs in your flowchart, the less frequently it will happen. This means there should be fewer cards rewarding that action.

Lesson #2Have cards occupy more than one space on the flowchart. If you look at Unholy Channeler, it occupies both 2 and 4 on the flowchart, which helps both synergies from happening more frequently. Adding more new cards to increase synergy can hurt overall synergy, as it makes drawing certain enablers less frequent.

Lesson #3The action(s) you’re building synergies around must be fun without synergies. Abominations are a little stronger than your average minion because they don’t have as much staying power, so being able to play fatties that get bigger is unique to Lilith. Having your minions blow-up for benefit is cool too! Even if you don’t have minions that care about abominations or implode in play, they’re still fun to play by themselves.

While all of OverRealm’s heroes share similarly simple flowcharts, it’s the variety of different actions amongst them all that makes exploring the synergies fun. The eat-an-entire-package-of-cinnamon-bun-Oreos-followed-by-intense- disapproval-of-your-life-choices kind of fun.

(For more information about OverRealm, including print-and-play PDFs for all six heroes, click here!)


2 thoughts on “Synergy, OverRealm, and Oreos

  1. Awesome post Calvin! Designed synergy is one area that needs improvement in my game, so I particularly like this topic. Your third Lesson is critical. As a gamer, I’ve always appreciated synergy between game elements and when they have dual purposes, but it’s annoying when something is designed specifically for synergy and isn’t very useful without it.

    In a card game, designing synergy seems simpler since there are more cards to work with. For example, having six sets of 16 cards per set creates a lot of opportunities for synergy, while also allowing some standalone cards that are fun in their own, non-synergistic merit.

    However, do you find it as important to focus on designed synergy in a board game with significantly less content? (Take original Pandemic for example, which only has 5 roles.


    1. Hey David, thanks for reading!

      As for your question, I do find it important to be aware of your designed synergies. Pandemic is a great example. I’ve only played it a few times but I remember that the Dispatcher + Medic combo being insanely good. So good, in fact, that it negatively affects the game by making it too easy.

      Strong combinations will always exist, but a well-designed game reigns in these combos to achieve balance.


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