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When I started thinking about the game now called The Golden Ages, it was February 2010. For a long time, I was mumbling about civilization games, a kind of game that I have loved since the first Sid Meier's Civilization for PC. I was thinking about how the board games created from this kind of videogame were never without flaws, like the game's length or the high downtime. I felt like they were missing a game that would reproduce the main aspects of the civilization game, with a short play time and with game mechanisms that would make it easier to compete with players suffering from "paralysis by analysis". I hadn't found this game around, so I tried to make it myself!
The first consideration that I felt, and that is perhaps obvious, is that in a civilization board game you cannot have the same complexity of a computer version. At the same time it is necessary that the interaction with other players is tighter because otherwise the game becomes a multi-player solitaire for at least half of the match. Thus, something of the original experience must somehow be sacrificed. Many games typically sacrifice the map; others sacrifice urban development; still others sacrifice the variety of the strategies, which are almost always heavily influenced by the military choices of some of the players; others sacrifice the historical extension to a single historical age. Some games, finally, focus on just one aspect of the matter, such as the tech tree, and leave out all the rest.
I realized that need to leave out something only after the first two or three versions of the initial prototype. At first, there were five different kinds of resources and a more complex technology tree, and the game was still too long and too chaotic — but the basic structure was there and it worked pretty well. From there, the development process went for stepwise refinement — for the curious that meant sixteen major versions of the prototype, plus a few minor releases — some of which have proved to be much more difficult than others. I think it's worth exposing at least some of these steps because each of them has taught me something and maybe they can be useful to other game designers.
In developing the game, I tried to avoid the "headache" at the end of the turn. Typically, the end of the turn in a game of civilization is when you do all the upkeep math: You count how many and which resources you control, you move counters on some tables, etc.
I realized — and I needed seven different versions of the prototype to understand it! — that this part is tiring and boring; for this reason I have removed from the game almost all counting, shifting the phase of economic rent to the time when a resource is acquired. In this way also the attacks become less frustrating for those who suffer them because while losing a resource can decrease the points you'll score, you don't ever lose money, which might have meant stopping the strategy you're pursuing.
In addition, in the development, I have endeavored to reduce downtime. The moves are therefore very basic and take place in a hurry; the turn comes around to you again almost immediately and you don't have time to get bored. Also, and I believe this is the newest mechanism of the game, when you have finished all your moves and pass your turn, you will not wait patiently for other players, but you continue to accumulate money. The fact that you're earning gold that you will use in the next turn puts pressure on the opponents who have not yet entered in the Golden Age. They must then decide whether to continue developing (thereby helping you, too!) or not. I find that this solution is much more fun than waiting patiently for other players to have finished!
Another effort has been to balance the different strategies. The lines of development of the technologies are very different, and you can win in many ways. Making balanced strategies has been quite difficult because some technologies were more useful than others with the same cost. For example, before I finally give up the idea that there would be a technology providing additional colonists, I had to bang my head on it several times! Actually, an additional colonist became so useful that it was also indispensable, and then this strategy was mandatory; the whole game was depleted.
The most fun thing in the whole development has perhaps been the search of game effects that were not purely abstract but related to historical reality. This is clearly visible in buildings and wonders, but especially in the civilization cards; each of them has a special power that is closely linked to its "personality" in history. For example, the Phoenicians were the inventors of the alphabet, so they start with the knowledge of Writing; the Portuguese receive additional gold if their colonists circumnavigate the world, the (modern) Japanese have an advantage in technological development, and so on.
I really care about these small "setting" details because I think that they make the game more fun and less abstract.
A similar choice was made with the continent tiles. With them it is possible to reconstruct our "real" world, which is therefore one of the thousands of possible spatial configurations available. If you try, you will find that the continents are not to scale. It is a deliberate choice which simulates how, throughout history, the world has become progressively "smaller" as the ability of humanity's exploration grew up. I hope you enjoy this strange map because I don't recall any other game where you can build a map using modular continents of the "real" world.
The game's aspect that has been more difficult to balance was the attack system. I have tried at least ten different ways to make war, and I discarded all of them. Obviously, the game had to have a military aspect, but I wanted that to be a strategy among the others, not a mandatory path to win the game. In civilization computer games, I have always noticed that there is a kind of schizophrenia in the way you use the troops; the turns cover several years, but the army deployments are purely tactical. From the point of view of the simulation this way to make war appears completely out of place.
The path that I have chosen is therefore one of abstraction; any military action in TGA is similar to a technological development, and "attacking" means investing resources into armaments and military technologies, gaining a military advantage that implies the disadvantage of someone else, who will lose some kind of resource. Getting a military supremacy is increasingly difficult and expensive; the first attack is cheaper and often allows you to make "easy money", while the fourth attack is very expensive and generally you should perform it only if there is a valid reason. This rule also follows the historical fact that modern civilizations think a lot more before starting a war because the social cost (in resources, but alas, even in human lives) is much higher than that of the battles of antiquity. Also, the one who is attacked, as I said before, receives contained damage and rarely is his strategy totally ruined.
A few notes about the game's name: I had several ideas, but I discarded all for several reasons: one name seemed to summon boredom and sadness; another sounded bad in some languages, etc. The thing that amused me is that someone else had the same ideas, and they have all been used for other titles released or soon to be released! What eventually prevailed was the idea to remember in the title the mechanism that characterizes it most, the "Golden Age" one.
In conclusion, I tried to create first of all a game that I would play: a full civilization game lasting less than one-and-a-half hours, a game that you can play also twice in a single evening. I seem to have succeeded, although of course I cannot say so myself! If you'd like to try it, maybe you will say it to me!
One word about the Cults & Culture expansion. I decided to spend time developing that expansion because I thought that the game may want something more; too many things had been left behind along the road, sacrificed on the altar of "easiness" of play, like religion, government, arts, wonders, etc.
I searched for how to integrate all of that stuff in the game in a way that doesn't appear as a superstructure upon a linear game. I think I've found that way, with a single rule that integrates all the new things...and now that the expansion is for real you may say to me whether my solution is good enough or not! And you may also try the game with a fifth player, if you want...
(...and for further consideration, you may look at this BGG blog where I continue this analysis...with more words and badder English...)
W. Eric Martin
Spiel 2015 opens on Thursday, October 8, which means that many exhibitors have already spent a day or longer on the construction of their booths, especially the larger publishers that create more intricate structures, as with this playspace for T.I.M.E Stories:
I'm not sure whether they're trying to contain you from the rest of the fair, keep what you say from spoiling the game for others, or encourage you to start dancing on the tables for money.
I've posted a few pics from Spiel 2015 on BGG's Twitter feed and will do much more of that today as more booths come together — especially from the smaller publishers who tend to wait until the final prep day. What's more, Wednesday at Spiel is press day, so I'll be tweeting game pics from the press room once that's opened up following the press conference that starts at 11:00 Essen time.
Despite my recent post suggesting otherwise, I've still been adding titles to BGG's Spiel 2015 Preview, such as White Wizard Games' Star Realms: Colony Wars, which will debut here, and the little known game Virus! from Spanish publisher Tranjis Games.
Maybe it seems like overkill to mention every new and new-ish title appearing at Spiel, but three hours after I had added Virus! to the preview, the publisher contacted me to say thanks and mention that they had already been contacted about the game by people who will attend Spiel. Well, how about that? I suppose that if you have only one shot of easily acquiring an obscure Spanish game about containing virus outbreaks, you probably want to take advantage of it, which is why I create the preview in the first place.
Okay, time for breakfast, then on to the fair for pics, preparation, and the launching of nine hours of livestreamed game demonstrations on BoardGameGeekTV. Check out the module on the front page to follow along and see what's new!
Every time I start working on a new idea, I always ask myself the same question: "What would I like to play?" This time I thought: "I like the feeling of cooperative games; I love the dynamics in deck-building games...okay, let's make a cooperative deck-builder!"
The best ideas are often the ones for which you don't immediately realize all the work needed to make them come true. It actually took five years for The Big Book of Madness to come to life and hit the stores.
The story began with a simple thematic idea: run across a temple, loot a sacred relic, then manage to get out alive. From this theme, game mechanisms came flowing very quickly, almost on their own. A series of various rooms with challenges to overcome, enemies, obstacles in the way, traps, room cards to progressively increase the difficulty of the game, and decks with four types of cards: Strength, Intelligence, Speed, and Special Abilities.
As in most deck-builders (like Dominion or Thunderstone), basic cards evolved into more powerful ones (1, 2, 3...) and special abilities allowed various chain combos.
From the start, several things seemed obvious to me: A deck-builder is particularly hard to balance because you need the possible combos to be exhilarating when they happen, without being overkill. I had already explored this issue with a few previous prototypes, but I found out it was an even more challenging puzzle to balance a cooperative game so that it turns out to be neither too easy to win nor too hard. From the first version of the game to the final one, difficulty remained a constant issue.
Interesting things started to come up during the designing process. New interactions between players that I never witnessed before emerged from this mix of cooperation and deck management, with everyone sharing cards, helping to build each other's decks, and giving up cards to support others.
I fiddled a lot with all of this, but something was missing, something that would set the game apart from other deck-builders. Than I thought: "Why not invert the process? Let's start with decks already well-built and spoil them as the game goes. But what would be the thematic reason for this? What if the temple had a curse that made the adventurers inside slowly turn mad?"
That's how the madness first appeared, even though the idea of "unbuilding" the deck didn't hold up for long.
Here I was, spending weeks looking for a mechanism that would prevent the common and obvious strategy in every deck-building game; I didn't want my game to feel just like another quest for a lean and efficient deck with combos that end up with you having all of your cards in hand in a single turn. "But how could I avoid this? What if each time you shuffle your deck, a card comes to spoil it? That's it!" The idea just fit perfectly with madness, which became a core and constitutive element of the game from then on. At that time, the release of Friday (a little card game by a certain green-haired designer) strengthened this idea for me.
After the cursed temple, I tried moving the poor adventurers into a maze reminiscent of strange horror movies, but the game had too many ideas — that I won't disclose here because even if they haven't made it into the final version of the game, I haven't entirely given up on them! — and game sessions were always lost in length and intricacy.
While madness had eventually fixed what annoyed me with the deck-building mechanism, several issues specific to cooperative games remained, especially the alpha male syndrome (or as I like to call it, the "Do this already, you idiot!" problem). I didn't like the fact that a seasoned player could dictate what to do to others. After a few tries, I decided to remove the standard turn order; the players would not play in clockwise order, but in the order of their choice, gathering fatigue and managing their resting time. I actually solved the issue later in the sharing of information.
It was still too intricate, but there was really only one thing left to change to come close to what would become The Big Book: Special abilities were chaotic, messy and unbalanced. I had to move them from the deck to personal boards that each player could activate with skill points. This last change streamlined the mechanism of the game, which eventually allowed me to gather enough courage to show the prototype to a publisher. Or did it?
I am amazingly lucky to work at a boardgame café in Nancy, France ("La Feinte de l'Ours", which literally translates as "The Bear's Trick"), so I have a lot of willing playtesters at hand. Showing my prototypes to our regular customers already felt slightly uncomfortable to me, so submitting them to a publisher seemed quite impossible. I had to wait a whole year of work on the game before I dared to do so — and even then it's really because Gabriel, a good friend of mine at IELLO, played the game several times at the café and insisted on showing it to his workmates. They all approved the game almost instantly! "That's it! My game's getting published!"
But there were still so much work — several years of work actually!
Back then, we enthusiastically named the project "Asylum" and pictured a game in which players would play as Allied agents posing as lunatics to spy on a mental hospital run by undead Nazis! We were young and boldly inventive, so IELLO's management had to kindly got me to understand this theme was..."too difficult". Too bad!
Allied agents became magicians
Another element of the game made things too intricate: a board game composed of a random series of rooms. This issue took us a long time to solve. Reluctant and weary, I eventually gave up and threw all the boards away. To help streamline the game, I conceded another theme change; instead of moving from room to room, players would fight against a book and turn its pages. Deep down, I liked the new idea, but what was I to do with the madness, which was the game's core element? The book would be plagued by demons, and the players would have to prevent them from getting out and spreading terror and destruction! "I like it, it sounds quite epic!" The Big Book of Madness had found its final theme at last, and that made fine-tuning the mechanisms a lot easier!
Some of the monster cards from the Big Book
At first, game sessions were too long and brainy. Gabriel had to fight to make me give up the chosen game order and resting time. Eventually, I agreed to work on a version with more usual, clockwise game turns. It shortened game sessions by half and made the thought process more intuitive. "I have to admit that it's much better this way."
Then, magic allowed us to bring everything together. Personal boards were dropped, and skills became spells. Strength, Intelligence and such were replaced by four common elements: Fire, Water, Earth and Air. And the element cards were now used for all actions. The game was more clear, better balanced, but also much more exciting to play!
Sample element cards
Later, I received the first roughs by Naïade. I felt so proud that I was exultant, while people at IELLO were pouting with discontentment. There was no way I could judge this without bias because it's my game and because I think so much of Naïade's work, so I stepped back and silently watched new briefs and sketches come and go. It took quite a while, but now that I see the result, I think it was really worth it!
Spells that you can learn
Now that we had chopped bits off the prototype, it looked like a real game. Game sessions at the boardgame café were looking increasingly exciting. As soon as I could get my hands on a little of Naïade's art, I made a new, better-looking prototype. I kept on fine-tuning and balancing, one bit after another. Changes became smaller and fewer. Playtesting progressively seemed less necessary. "It looks good! Now I just need to wait for the actual box to get on my shelves..."
Prototype at the 2015 GAMA Trade Show
W. Eric Martin
Spiel — more completely, Internationale Spieltage — is an annual game convention in Essen, Germany for which I create a huge preview highlighting hundreds of new games that will debut there or first be presented in front of a large audience. This event is due to open is just a few days, and as is customary at this point, I am filled with crushing disappointment and bitterness.
That's probably not the emotion that I should be feeling on the verge of attending one of the largest game conventions in the world, but each year at this time I head to the airport seeing only what wasn't done. The Spiel 2015 Preview isn't complete so much as "good enough" as I simply have no more time to make additions or corrections; despite wanting to provide more complete descriptions for all listed games, I have dozens of unread rule sets that will now probably never be read; publishers sent me sample games in advance so that I could record previews, and I can think of at least a dozen games that I've played, yet didn't get to in time.
Sure, I've tweeted pics of most of these games or used my knowledge of the rules to update their descriptions or otherwise present them more completely to potential viewers, and I can still do more once Spiel ends because it's not like the games vanish once the Messe closes, but still — it doesn't seem enough. I always want to do more, viewing this annual preview as my personal challenge, one that I know will end in failure, yet one that I can't help undertaking with the spirit that this year, for sure, I'll do a more thorough job. Keep spinning that hamster wheel, Martin!
All that said, I'm excited to attend Spiel once again — my tenth time! — to see familiar faces, nosh on the ever-delicious crêpes, look with fear at the fried spiral potatoes, and (who knows?) perhaps even play a game or two, although I know from experience that this too almost never happens. Instead I'll be talking with designers and publishers about their plans for 2016. What's coming in the new year? Who wants to write a designer diary to explain how one of these new mysterious creations came to be? How far behind will I feel next Spiel, given the incredible volume of titles released this year compared to 2014? Only time will tell...
Favor of the Pharaoh is a dice game for 2-4. Players roll dice to claim tiles — which grant more dice, powers to manipulate dice, or tokens — preparing for a final roll-off for the Pharaoh's favor.
Favor is a greatly expanded reworking of my earlier To Court the King. Where that game had just twenty different characters, Favor increases this to 55 and adds custom dice, tokens, and two-sided level bars for greater variety.
Roll Them Bones
Players each start with three dice, a locking pyramid, and 0-3 tokens. The first player gets zero tokens, the second player one token, etc., to offset turn order advantages. (In Favor, unlike TCtK, turn order never changes.)
On your turn, you roll your dice. After each roll, you may use powers and tokens to manipulate them. You must lock at least one die in your pyramid before re-rolling the rest. You continue re-rolling and locking dice until all your dice are locked. Then, you claim a tile based on your locked result.
Level bars detail what it takes to claim tiles. For example, at least three dice, all even, could claim a Servant, while a four-of-a-kind is needed to claim the Artisan. The game includes five bars, for tiles needing at least three, four, five, six, or seven dice to claim.
At level 3, there are always as many of each tile as players. (A player may not claim duplicates.) At level 7, there is always just one of each tile. In between, the number varies. For example, in a four-player game, there are three of each level 4 tile and two of each level 5 tile. This creates competition among players.
Tiles are color-coded: gold tiles grant more dice; blue tiles grant powers, each usable once per turn, to manipulate dice; and red tiles grant once per game powers.
Play continues until a player claims the Queen and Pharaoh with seven of a kind or better. Any players left to go in that round get a token worth one die (in lieu of their final turns). The final roll-off begins immediately with the next player.
In the roll-off, each player gets one turn to beat the current high roll. If the Pharaoh were initially claimed by seven 5s, for example, it could be beat by seven 6s or any eight-of-a-kind (or better). The player who claimed the Queen gets a final roll to retake the Pharaoh, using the Queen's power to bring in one die of any value.
Revisiting the Past
A reboot allows a designer to address "rough spots" in an earlier design as well as a chance to expand it. While I was happy with To Court the King, several things stood out:
• Tiles granting dice were generally more powerful than manipulator tiles.
• The rotating first player was too confusing for a family game.
• Finishing out the last round after claiming the Queen felt clunky.
• The icons were too small, and some were too hard to figure out.
• The "booby prize" for being unable to claim a tile — the Fool — was too weak.
The last issue I addressed with the Herder (which is always present). When its owner first locks a pair, he gains one die to roll for the rest of that turn. This can be hard to do early on when a player doesn't have many dice — a reasonable penalty for having previously failed to claim another tile — but it is easy to do later on (so its owner doesn't lose any dice relative to other players in the final roll-off).
When Ted Alspach of Bézier Games first approached me about revisiting TCtK, I gave him my unpublished expansion for it, plus a bunch of additional untested tile ideas, and a proposed Egyptian re-theme, which he liked.
I told Ted that if we were adding lots of tiles, we needed to group them so that only a subset would be used each game. Otherwise, players would be overwhelmed by too many characters. Ted designed the level bars and tile groups.
The level bars are two-sided, providing additional variety from game to game.
Each game uses 20 of the 55 tiles, determined randomly for each tile "slot" (except the Queen). Thus, only one of the three characters below will be used each game.
A first game set-up using the A-level bars and an interesting set of tiles is provided. For later games, players roll dice to select the level bars and tiles to play. Alternatively, you can download a free iOS or Android Favor set-up app provided by Bézier Games. This app, along with the custom box insert, cuts set-up time in half (no rolling needed) and is recommended.
As shown on the level bars, blue tiles come with one token, while red tiles come with two. Ted added one-shot tokens to "sweeten" the manipulator tiles as well as to compensate players late in the turn order. There are two types of tokens:
You may spend a reroll token to reroll any active die or spend a +1 pip token to add one to one die's result (say, to turn a 5 into a 6). You may spend as many tokens as you wish, one at a time, to adjust your rolled dice. Do you spend tokens during play to get the tiles you want or save them for the final roll-off?
Tokens also became another dimension for tile design:
After going to a fixed turn order and adding tokens, Ted proposed simply removing the final round after the Queen was claimed and instead going immediately into the final roll-off. This suggestion felt right, but I believed it penalized players late in the turn order too much. To make this work, I gave dice tokens to the later players to ensure that all players enter the final roll-off on a reasonably even footing.
Immediate and Custom Dice
Immediate (white) dice are new. These dice must be locked after their first roll (after possibly being adjusted by powers or tokens). This makes them much weaker than dice you can reroll. For example, Palace Servants is a level 4 character granting two Immediate dice, while the General, who grants two standard dice, is level 7.
Of course, if the Head Servant — who can adjust all immediate dice as desired — is in play, players have to re-evaluate matters...
Six tiles provide custom dice. Custom dice combine both a die and some control in a single tile, providing an alternative besides "gain a die" or "gain a manipulator". However, the amount of control is variable, depending on your rolls (unless you have powers to manipulate the custom dice).
The Serf and Noble Adoption dice have different arrangements of standard faces: the Serf has no 5s or 6s, while the Noble has no 1s or 2s.
The Artisan, Conspirator, and Grand Vizier dice each have one modified face.
If you roll the Artisan's "1" face, you may set one active die — possibly the Artisan die itself — to any desired face. If you roll the Conspirator's Intrigue face, you can set two active dice to any desired faces. This is balanced by the Conspirator die not having a "6" face, which can be limiting.
The Grand Vizier's Decree face replaces its "1" face and lets you both set an active die to any face and borrow a tile from another player to use sometime during your turn!
The Ship Captain's Voyage die has faces that let you reroll or adjust dice during your rolls. Then, if you manage to lock its double-die face, you gain two more dice to roll for the rest of your turn. However, if you are unlucky, you may end up locking this die for nothing (a shipwrecked voyage), effectively losing a die.
In my unpublished expansion, I had two once-per-game powers. Ted liked them and asked me to design more so that they could become a tile group. There are now fifteen different artifacts (the same number as different manipulator tiles).
Artifacts have varied effects. For example, Royal Decree provides catch-up for a player short on dice, while Pharaoh's Gift can mitigate bad luck, and Royal Power allows a player with lots of dice to get some control powers late in the game.
Artifacts add another player choice: Should you sacrifice some growth — the other tile you could possibly claim in a turn — for a one-shot advantage (plus two tokens for claiming a red tile)?
Between artifacts, lots of new tiles, tokens, and custom dice, players now have many more options during play. Sometimes, players get so involved with building their abilities, they forget to claim the Queen!
I'm very happy with Favor of the Pharaoh. I think we achieved our goals of greatly expanding the game, smoothing out its rough spots, and adding interesting variety in lots of different ways. Enjoy!
"This story takes place in the dark times from which legends come."
These are the opening words for the rulebook of Ekö. For those of you who have already played the game, I hope that this "designer’s diary", where I permit myself to talk a little about game design in a more general fashion, will show you how the game was born and has evolved. For those of you who know nothing about Ekö, let's just say that you will discover it the same way I did — by groping a bit. Oh, and sorry if those little titles in the text sound odd sometimes; I've tried to make them sound funny as they do in French, but...well, you'll see.
It all starts with the chicken and the egg question. The pawn or the Emperor — which came first? Theme or mechanisms? Here, it is the pawn. In 2012, I was fascinated by stacking games. Basically, I had tried to produce an adaptation of the "match 3" games like Bejeweled or Candy Crush with pawns and as a multiplayer game...without much success. I was not satisfied with the result at all: It was strategically poor and demanded a lot of fiddly manipulation, things that are normally taken care of by the system in the video game.
However, I found it excellent to start with a pawn, an "abstract" game, with a random set-up of the tokens: It created different situations each game and required the player to read a game freshly constructed right on the first turn. I saw the antithesis of games with scripted "openings", like chess, in which the set-up is fixed, and in which the first turns are far too crucial and can be more or less identical for seasoned players. I even used this principle for Crab Stack, which I created at the same time.
The Stack Options
So I was going with a random set-up of colored pawns without really knowing where I was going. Some mornings, you just play with the pieces like a toy and see how you naturally want to use them as a player. I stack the pawns, I unstack, and I see the possibilities of several amusing systems — but I tell myself that in terms of stacking games, it is awfully easy to reinvent the wheel, considering that there are already a number of them out there. I spent a little time researching, on BGG or François Haffner's site, in order to familiarize myself with the domain and to know where it was useless to go because others had already gone there before me — and better.
At that time, this resulted in a simple stacking and capture game — a distant cousin of Focus and Avalam, but with its own distinctions. I pasted on a theme because it's prettier, and — presto! — I cranked out a first prototype on a square cloth. The game functioned...not too badly...but there was a little problem with the victory conditions. Furthermore, it's a little dry, remaining a pure and true abstract game, and even though I adore games of this type, I had the feeling that this game would not be good enough to compete in the abstract domain. Since the system was already very pure, I told myself that I had a little room to add something to the game.
A Game of P(r)awns
The following draft was called "Medusa". I kept the sea floor theme because I was attached to my kawaii medusas, but I moved the game to a modular, hexagonal board: Hexagons are more "fair" than a checkerboard in terms of movement and trajectories, and the modular board fit well with the random set-up of the pawns, reinforcing my goal of high replayability by producing very different set-ups.
In order to enhance the theme a little and to resolve my victory condition problem, I placed "reef" spaces on the board, obstacles on which we do not place pawns at the start of the game and which are necessary to control during the game. In order to control a reef, you simply must have a majority around it. This is the prototype that I made to play at Cannes (the biggest gaming convention in France) in 2013. People had a lot of fun playing it, but numerous times I was told that even though the game was good, the theme was not a good fit. The colors of the board and the pawns suggested that it was a friendly family game, perhaps even childish, while the experience of playing the game was very calculated — literally, because you were constantly counting the pawns around each reef to see who controlled it, which was a bit tedious. Nevertheless, feedback on the game mechanisms were mostly positive, most notably a point that will later be what spices up Ekö: the placement of reinforcements.
Spinach Is Like Nietzsche: It Reinforces
"Medusa", like Ekö later, is a game that I wanted to be playable with up to four players. In its scale and features, "Medusa" is already a game of conquest. One of the problems with conquest games — games in which strong interaction is pervasive — when playing with three or four players is that in the same round, one player can be eaten alive by all the others (even without specific collaboration on their part as it often can happen circumstantially), and thus this player loses all traction and any hope of staying in the race. I wanted a balancing mechanism that could level the playing field in such a situation or at least make it less crippling. I decided that whenever a player's pawns are captured, he gets them back in front of him and can later bring them back into play on his turn. So, sure, he lost his strategic positions, but this gives him the opportunity to return his pawns to play with the flexibility to place them pretty much wherever he wants. This way, all players remain relevant and involved throughout the game. This (re)placement of captured pawns in reinforcement is a really nice addition to the game.
However, there was a parameter to bear in mind: In spite of this balancing mechanism, the game still needs to resolve. Allowing players to replace pawns on empty spaces can lead to loops or blocked situations. A strategic advantage in one region of the board can be destroyed because pawns are "parachuted" from out of nowhere. (In Ekö, this will be prevented in part by the rule that forbids placing reinforcements adjacent to an enemy building.)
But it was equally important that the board gradually empties in order to allow movement. Because of this, I decided that the reinforcements must be placed on friendly stacks. This prevents the creation of new stacks, which means the board can empty, so movement becomes necessary if you wish to reclaim a strategic zone that you lost.
The Wrong Movement
The more the pawns pile up, the more empty spaces are created. In Ekö, empty spaces permit movement, and this is what provides the story arc for the game: The board starts the game full, and movement is impossible. As the game progresses, opportunities open up, and pathways emerge.
In "Medusa", stacks moved only in straight lines. This drew from a legacy of classic games with pawns: You could think of the queen in chess, or many, many "pawn" games that make use of vector tactics. My modular board, full of obstacles, produced winding corridors, and this linear movement was laborious; it was often unappealing to move because going from point A to point B often required several turns. As a result, the starting set-up, which was random, induced a bit of predestination. This was a problem.
I think I have provided the simplest solution in the world. If the problem is that you cannot go from point A to point B, um, let's just say that you can. That's it. Thus, a stack of pawns can go anywhere it wants on the board as long as there is a clear path to it. Certainly this can seem less "realistic" than the movement in a normal wargame. How would my army get to the other end of the map in a single turn? I would respond by pointing out that it is all about the scale: scale of time, scale of distance. Now, you will notice that this scale is not explicitly defined in the game. We kind of ignore whether the lands represented on the board are an entire country or a simple valley. Visually, the "geography map" style chosen for the prototype advantageously did not define this scale. Game boards often use this type of graphical ellipse, and this was the scale that was ultimately chosen for the final game board of Ekö.
Tactically, this rather liberal movement rule suggested another interesting aspect; instead of thinking in terms of the "range" of the troops, as is often the case in conquest games in which movement is limited to a number of spaces, this game will make you think in terms of "access": open or closed. This was even more efficacious than the proposed board of winding paths; managing access could be done at multiple locations and by different players. The starting set-up was becoming far less determinant.
The Stack of Cthulhu, or The Question of The Theme
Upon returning from Cannes in 2013, I still needed to acknowledge the shortcomings of the game. Even though I was fond of the gap between the form and the substance, in which a cute and colorful game could in actuality be less light than it might seem, I had a choice to make: Either render the game more accessible in order to keep my pink jellyfish, or find a more adult theme for the game. I decided to set my octopi aside. The game was rather pure, so I chose to adapt it to a theme of medieval Japan. Not bloody original, sure, but doubtlessly effective.
The Map Is The Territory
Having discovered at that time Taluva, which I adored, I realized all the pleasure that can be found in handling little wooden buildings. This is where games and toys share common borders. A little wooden building, this is quite concrete; the game constructs itself, stirs, and comes to life as the game progresses. Looking at this game, we see neither numbers nor icons, just a flat region portrayed in three dimensions by little wooden buildings.
Thus, I decided to include little houses, towers, and castles in the game. This kills two birds with one stone: On one hand, it permits me to totally create a construction part of the game, and something on which to base the victory conditions (adieu, simple majority!); on the other hand, it brings the game away from being a pure game of pawns, and this reinforces the theme.
Obviously, the trap lay in creating the management part around what I had, which could imply resources, perhaps gold pieces...but I wanted the game to remain pure. In order for the heart of the game to remain in the placement and movement of the pawns on the board, the system to construct buildings must therefore be intuitive, simple to understand, and easy to remember. It should not involve additional components (gold pieces, resources) — it thus needed to be connected in some way or another to the pawns representing the players' troops.
No problem! One, two, three: "Sacrifice" one pawn (returning it to your reserve) to build a level 1 building, which is worth 1 victory point, and so on. Imposing a linear progression in the construction of buildings (house → tower → castle) is reminiscent of development or civilization games, which is a good thing.
That the buildings provide better victory conditions and reinforce the theme is good — but it bothered me a bit that they ultimately served "merely" as victory point markers spread around the board. In order for the game to be able to balance itself and resolve, it was necessary to forbid placement of reinforcements beside an enemy building. Thematically, this is justified if one thinks of it as a form of the building's "zone of influence" — or their territory. Mechanically, this turned out to be an excellent idea: This completes the narrative arc of the game. In the early turns, it is a placement/blocking game, then as the game progresses, it becomes about access created on the map (with the players sacrificing pawns in order to construct buildings), which then becomes a game of movement/capture.
Fish! Fresh Fish Here!
For the most part, Ekö was already here. It was called "Uma-Jirushi", and the game ran like clockwork. I was at the point at which I neither wanted to add nor remove anything. I decided that it was "fini" — or at least as much as possible. Now it was time to find a publisher.
It was François Haffner who told me that pawn games were no longer fashionable — and I think he was talking about a period of time more vast than just last year. When I went door-to-door trying to pitch "Uma-Jirushi" to different publishers, invariably, one may recognize the qualities of the game, but be turned off by the stacking principle of the game.
Without really knowing with whom to publish the game, I joined the Boulogne design competition, which had been won in the past by some non-standard games. The game passed one stage after another, leaving me more and more perplexed, thinking, "Well, crikey, I'm a finalist." At that point, I'd achieved everything I'd wanted with this contest: The game would have visibility to a lot of publishers, which is what I wanted.
The icing on the cake is that the game won! Beyond giving me enormous pride, it was also an enormous springboard for "Uma-Jirushi". The initial task of the Centre National du Jeu in getting games before publishers — whether downstream to francophones or upstream by taking award-winning games to Essen to show international publishers — is enormous. Well, in the end, I found myself playing with the guys from Sit Down!, with whom I had already worked on Wiraqocha and Sushi Dice; they liked the game right away and wanted to publish it. This is where "Uma-Jirushi" became Ekö.
The Void Is On The Box, But Not Inside
Sit Down! and I decided to transpose the game to a more fantastic universe, more dream-like than it was at first. Even if it still takes some Asian graphical cues, the game takes place in a universe that can't be identified, and that is for the better. The cover illustration perfectly serves this purpose in that it hints at more than is stated explicitly, and the line of the horizon allows you to get lost there, looking at it.
However, when we started to talk production, we found that on the larger boards from which punchboards included in the box would be cut, there was still room. Well, this was unacceptable. Although this was a game made without Kickstarter, without stretch goals, we decided to add more content because it didn't cost more and because we had the opportunity.
Note that at first, I was not particularly in favor of this, and for one simple reason: The game had turned out very well as it was, and sometimes the best is the enemy of the good. Adding things for the sake of adding things is not necessarily a good idea because it can transform a simple, functional concept into a kludge-fest. And then very quickly, strongly warning myself with this same notion, I told myself it was also an opportunity to give more breadth to the game, and that this would not only make me happy, but future players, as well. The main thing was to keep in mind that it should not add more complexity to the game and that these elements should be optional, acting as variants.
Thus, our developments have added Tempest tiles, which are the most beautiful effect to add to the game board, while requiring only a single additional rule. I also added the Pyramids, which are a nod to the reefs of the first version of the game, with their majority rule — though now the majority is counted from merely three spaces, which can be tallied at a glance. Finally, the temples bring little interesting effects without breaking the game.
Oh, The Places You'll Go!
If there is a lesson to this story, it would be this: Sometimes one conceives a game with a strong and simple intention, and because it functions, one succeeds in keeping it that way through to its completion.
The story of Ekö is the opposite. This is the story of a hazardous, three-year pilgrimage, armed with a pawn game that was supposed to be Candy Crush on a board, crossed with Avalam, and married to pink octopi and yellow jellyfish; I traveled to a realm at war in which one constructs little wooden buildings to finally stop in a desert of ochre dust, facing a golem of wind and sand who tells me that his Emperor is long dead. In the end, this is a game "of strategy", and I think the term is not abused here. Yes, Ekö is more than the simple abstract game it was in the beginning. This is a game of conquest, tense and open, delivered with elegant components and visuals.
Now the game is yours. Your turn to play!
Translation: Nathan Morse
W. Eric Martin
At Gen Con 2015 in August, Asmodee ran a press event where it showed off many of the games that it planned to distribute in North America in the second half of 2015: Pearl Games' The Bloody Inn, Matagot's Kemet: Ta-Seti, Space Cowboys' T.I.M.E Stories, and much more. If you visit the Asmodee booth during Spiel 2015, you'll see most of those games in their published forms.
Attendees were able to play a few turns of most games as they moved from table to table, but everyone was called together to participate in simultaneous sessions of Mafia de Cuba, a hidden role party game from Philippe des Pallières and Loïc Lamy that's published by Lui-même. I'm not great with hidden role games as I'm a terrible bluffer, but my cameraman John Knoerzer loves them, and he was practically panting with excitement as they explained how to play. He asked to record a video explaining how to play, and he's far more restrained on film than he is in real life. Guess you'll have to see him in person to experience his pants...
The theme for Pirates of the 7 Seas came about after inventing an interesting engine for a battle system that involves an unusual use of dice. It allows you to realize truly massive and spectacular battles in an elegant way. Both preparing and determining battle results takes little time, and it adapts easily to the number of participants in the fight. This mechanism has evolved into the "3D Dice Battle System", which was already licensed by another studio for that other project.
The appropriate theme was chosen almost instantly: grandiose sea battles involving dozens of ships. This was exactly what we needed, so we started to develop this game. This was in 2013, and its development was combined with one of our other projects, Mysterium. Maybe you have heard something about that one.
From start to finish, we created seven full-fledged versions of this game! I can't say that it was always easy, but it was interesting, for sure. You know, it's quite hard to create something with consistent balance if you have 44 dice. We wanted the player to always have a chance to win, regardless of his luck. It's not easy with one die, and when you have such a large number of them — well, it's a real challenge for designers. Of course, the quantity of dice rolling could help align the results in some way, but wait, these are dice, and they are unforgiving!
The final version is number 7.7. This is very symbolic, naturally, as the game is Pirates of the 7 Seas! In fact, this numerical figure pursued us consistently during the entire development. It kept appearing here and there as an optimal number. Soon, we realized that it was a sign, so we stopped resisting and decided to put "7" in the title of the game.
But development is not just dry data! How would we describe the creative process behind Pirates? First, the project had its own spirit. We wanted to capture the most fun and "explosive" pirate moments and pack them into the box. Simulation games imitate the most realistic moments of the pirate voyages — such as the economy of the time, or the nuances of pricing in the Caribbean — but we wanted to manifest all things fun, dynamic, and juicy about the pirate life. There was no room for boredom and routine — only adventures!
We chose our direction for the game like a musket shot. Perhaps the closest thing to Pirates is the unforgettable video game Sid Meier's Pirates! from the great maestro of game designing. Yes, his game is far from historical truth — you can hardly find a bit of realism — but it is about precisely those pirates that everyone would like to be at least once, if not more often. (And I think that most pirates dreamed of such a life: incredible treasures, saber battles, meeting the governor, and the opportunity to cross the Pacific Ocean — what a joy.) But we also wanted to add some intrigues, confrontations, and challenges to our game. Actually, each pirate is a mercenary, vain and mean, and this game will encourage you to be like those pirates.
First of all, the battle engine was better for cooperation, but the game is pirate-themed. We didn't want to make a cooperative pirate game, but we realized semi-co-op could work. We've all heard about the pirate brotherhood, but a pirate has no right to call himself a "pirate" if he doesn't love gold more than anything else, even more than friends. The continuous opportunity to backstab is meant to be a leitmotif, a recurring theme in the game — and there has to be only one winner.
The world also has to live. Something always happens there. In the beginning, the role of our "living world" generator was played by a banal deck of event cards. The top card decided what would happen in this world. It didn't seem like a bad idea because there were elements of unexpectedness and it was easy to implement, but in practice this old-fashioned solution wasn't good at all. After a few tests, we realized that it had its drawbacks.
The main drawback was that the deck wasn't connected with all those things that were happening to players. A trade ship could appear on the horizon, and players don't have any ships. The prices could be changed, but players have nothing to sell, which means this can't impact them in any way. Or the time to pay wages might come when there was nobody to pay. It means that these events won't engage the players — there's no emotional connection to events that are disconnected from the situation in the game. Of course, sometimes it happens to work anyway, but not very often.
Thus, we decided to give full control to the players so that they could decide which adventures they wanted to go on and when those adventures would take place. We liked this idea a lot. It reminded me of the revolution in video games that was made when high-speed internet became common. After that time, the whole world dipped into online games, allowing humans to play video games against humans, whenever they wanted. You can polish an artificial intelligence for years, but bots (at least at this stage) are no comparison with human ingenuity and deviousness!
Of course, this requires a certain level of mastery, but that's a good thing! As players become more skillful, the game world becomes more interesting and harder with each new game session.
In that way, players themselves create the plot for their games by choosing adventures for themselves and for other players, at the most appropriate time for the concrete event, but neither earlier nor later than that time.
Working on the box art
I'll mention it again: Because the game is full of dice, it was difficult to balance the battle system, so we brought in such elements as corsairs. It's highly thematic and implemented perfectly.
It's impossible to completely conquer all dice, and each game creates a new situation. Sometimes all players become richer, and they are thus focused on the economic path. But at other times, you are barely alive and fighting for every chest of gold. This is essentially a good reflection of different times of the "Pirate Era", which really existed in the Caribbean.
I think we found a good solution of how to combine your gained experience (XP) and the luck on the dice. I think you'll like the solution, especially those who aren't lucky when rolling dice. The more you lose while others are becoming richer, the stronger your desire to learn, and the game allows you to do that. You'll become a more powerful pirate with better opportunities than others.
Dice-ships are carrying booty
The last thing is the sequence of performing actions. Major events happen simultaneously to all players. It's nearly eliminated that pesky problem in games called "downtime" — and actions that affect only you don't take much time since they are very simple.
But the order for resolving actions of the same type has a huge impact on the game. We had a few options for a solution to this problem, but they were all difficult and uncomfortable. The easiest way is to move clockwise after the first active player. But there is a problem, and this problem exists in almost every game with such a solution: During the game, when players forget to pass the first active player marker, it results in confusion.
We couldn't solve this problem for quite some time. We tried different things, and we almost despaired of finding a simple and interesting solution. Once during our testing, my co-author Oleg Sidorenko offered a double or triple bonus for playing your characters rationally, playing almost all your characters before taking them back into your hand. We liked the idea, but we decided not to use it because it could make the game longer. It must be mentioned that if you are the only one who chooses a certain action this round, you get an extra bonus. That's why the moment of determining which cards other players will play is very interesting, and you wait until each card is revealed with some kind of trembling and excitement.
The next day, I was waiting near our office for a postman with two important letters. I didn't want to miss him because we needed those letters right then — and that waiting was my inspiration. I had had thoughts about how to draw attention to the first player marker, perhaps punishing those players who forget about it (but it's not always the solution) or encouraging those who didn't. But we couldn't find any such appropriate reward as it would always be too little or too much. And I nearly shouted out loud with joy when it hit me: Oleg had suggested this solution even without knowing about it. It was so obvious!
The solution: If you have the first active player marker, and you are the only one who chose your action, your bonus will be multiplied by two. This helps serve as a reminder to pass the marker. This solution was a real relief, and players got a new interesting choice because sometimes it is more profitable to play some certain action simultaneously with the current active player to prevent him from getting some great bonus. I'm sure you can see how the player with the marker would be glad if he managed to get the bonus and upset if he didn't. The bonus is great, but you have to make some effort and consider everything thoroughly to get it. It was the thing we’d been looking for.
Art for adventure cards in progress
The development of the game was long and sometimes arduous, but looking back at the process and at the exciting results of our hard work, we are very happy with what we've got. We in IGames hope you enjoy our game. I am eager to take a copy of the new box and give it a whirl. We are going to set off soon to face adventures across the seven seas. We are looking for some booty, friends! It is time for pirates!
There were a lot of changes. We added things, we removed others, and then we returned to the old version! And, of course, it was accompanied by a huge amount of tests along the way. I think it was the most exhaustive testing process we'd ever been involved in.
I'd like to say thanks to all our testers, families, and friends for their understanding, patience, and support. We couldn't do anything with those stubborn 44 dice in the tin box without you. I'd like to say special thanks to Oleg because the work was not so easy. We spent a huge amount of time being nervous, along with weekends without our families. I am proud to work with such a professional. We fought and argued. Sometimes our office looked like the eye of hurricane when we tried to defend our points of view, but it was because we really liked the game. I hope he doesn't stay angry with me because of that, and that he'll allow me to get the double bonus for the first player marker...at least sometimes.
Sylvion was born out of my desire to create a "tower defense" game in the Oniverse.
I always had a thing for this type of game, maybe because they have so much in common with board games. I thought I could rip a few pages from their book such as resource management, positioning strategies, and coordinating timing.
For my grandmother reading this article, a "tower defense" game is a game in which you need to defend a place, often a castle or a fortress, from evil foes charging in waves. You then have to place towers, barricades or heroes in their way to try to stop them before it's too late. In recent years, Fieldrunners, Plants vs. Zombies, and Kingdom Rush are among the most successful games of the genre.
The theme came to me while remembering the beautiful German forest – I was in Germany for The Marriage of Figaro – and instead of defending a fortress, I wanted the players to protect the Forest of the Oniverse. Fire and flames were the natural enemies, facing an alliance of animals, fountains and floral creatures, each one bringing a specific power.
The draft aspect was the other key element that I wanted to integrate in this game. Instead of playing with the same group of defenders every time, players now have to draft a few of them before each confrontation, giving the players the opportunity to build their own deck for more personalized strategies.
Once a deck is completed, the goal is now to survive the Ravage and its many waves of attacks. Its army and maneuvers are represented with cards, which are divided in four decks. Each of these decks is assigned to a specific zone of the forest.
A game round starts with the revelation of the top card of every Ravage deck and the movement of all of its minions. If one of them reaches the forest, it inflicts a certain amount of damage to the forest — and if the vitality of the forest falls below zero, the game is over.
To prevent this from happening, it is necessary to manage your cards correctly, placing fountains in strategic places and playing the right animals at the right time. But all of these cards have a cost, and you'll need to discard other pieces of your hand to play each of them.
The starting point of Castellion was entirely different: to create a game without any hand to manage.
Even though Onirim, Urbion and Sylvion have very different mechanisms, their objectives and development share a lot of similarities, with the three of them requiring players to manage their cards as well as timing. In these conditions, knowing when to play or discard a card is as important as which card you're actually playing or discarding.
With Castellion, I wanted the decisions to be instantaneous: At the beginning of a turn, the player draws a card and needs to decide immediately if they intend to play or discard it. And since they have no hand of cards, the management takes place somewhere else: the spatial organization of the played cards. Players then need to build something only with these cards: a structure, a building, or perhaps a castle!
After only a few test runs, I decided to replace the cards with tiles as they were much more stable and gave a better sense of construction.
Speaking of tiles, I thought it would be interesting to add a special power to the discard action so that it would create a greater dilemma. This power would then serve to make the castle stronger, able to defend itself.
But to defend the castle from what? That's right: I needed a new villain!
That's when I had the idea of a shape-shifting monster inspired by The Thing by John Carpenter, this cinematic trauma visited on my nine-year-old self. To defeat this entity, the castle has to imitate the monster and also change its form, always getting bigger and stronger so that it might resist the monster's three assaults, each of them more brutal than the last one.
These attacks are triggered when enough Traitor tiles, which are shuffled among the other tiles, are picked and placed. This system creates a great deal of pressure, forcing the players to choose between short-term and long-term preparation, for you never know when the first assault will occur!
The castle's tiles are called Defender tiles, and they represent both a piece of your castle and a defender. There are four types of defenders, each of them carrying a unique shape and a specific power. This power is activated whenever the tile is discarded, whereas the color indicates how and where to position this tile following a defensive formation.
You will need to master these different defensive formations in order to defeat the Menace, and using the right one depends on what form the Menace adopts to attack your castle. For example, if the Menace takes traits of a harpy, your castle will need high towers to defend itself (with these towers being made by aligning columns with tiles of the same color); if the Menace comes at you in a horde instead, you'll need to put up lines of defense (i.e., rows with tiles of the same color).
In the end, Castellion presents itself as a descendant of my childhood puzzles, a puzzle we can do over and over again because of its changing form and versatile pieces. It invites the player to explore all possibilities, but at the same time, reminds them that this is a race against an unavoidable menace.
Preview by Tom Lehmann and Wei-Hwa Huang
Ambition expands Roll for the Galaxy by adding fourteen factions, seven start worlds, two new types of dice, five game tiles, and optional objectives.
Originally, Roll was designed as a standalone game. Its popularity, plus customer demand for more start factions and home worlds, led us to consider doing an expansion in late February 2015.
With Success Comes New Challenges
A popular game faces the issue that experienced players want more complexity and new challenges, while many new players are just getting it but, in their enthusiasm, will also buy the expansion. How do you design it for both groups?
Having done Race and Pandemic expansions, Tom believes that a game's first expansion needs to offer variety in breadth — more of what caused players to like the game originally — plus a few new "twists". This keeps the complexity manageable for new players. Radical changes belong in later expansions, when more players will have explored the game's play space and not as many new players are just discovering it.
New Tiles and Dice
Ambition's development began with an exchange of lists. Wei-Hwa had a list of ideas that didn't make it into the base game: What if a world cost you a die to build? How about a faction that could effectively Scout for free?
Tom had noted down some interesting variations on base game tiles: What would an Uplift world or Contact Specialist (from Race) look like in Roll? How about an expensive world that scores a bonus?
We refined these ideas to produce a mini-expansion to begin testing. However, we also wanted something new. Wei-Hwa suggested adding two new types of dice, differing in how players got them. One would be quite powerful — the Leader die, with every player starting with one — while the other would be acquired normally, through factions, start worlds, and game tiles.
For these dice, Wei-Hwa added two concepts:
First, some faces would show two phases, so if a player assigned it to either phase and it didn’t occur — but the other phase did — then the die would shift after phases were revealed. This lets a player do speculative dice assignments.
Second, some faces would have both a phase symbol and $. If assigned to that phase — and that phase occurs — then after performing its task, the die goes back to the cup, not the Citizenry. (It effectively recruits itself.)
Finally, the Leader die has a wild face and matches all colored worlds, as either the shipper or good, for Consume tasks.
The Leader die was well-received by our testers, not only because it's more powerful than the white Home die it replaces, but also because it leads to more interesting early decisions when players don't have many dice.
The Entrepreneur die was designed as a "leeching" die for shipping players. Not sure whether a tableau-building player is going Develop or Settle? How about a face with both symbols? Wondering whether a tableau builder is going to Explore? How about Explore-Develop and Explore-Settle faces?
To ensure it would be useful for shipping, its other faces were Produce-Ship, Produce, and Ship. This gave us a die with two of every phase. To encourage its non-Consume uses, it doesn't match any world colors. Testing showed this was a bit weak, so we added $s to its Produce and Ship faces.
From Goals to Objectives
With limited design and testing time to produce an expansion in 2015, Tom suggested possibly adapting Goals (from the first Race expansion) to Roll. Wei-Hwa proposed that these objectives shouldn't just give VPs, but instead should provide 2-5 talent counters, "one-shot" wild workers who match all worlds for Consume. Any unused talent counters at game end are worth 1 VP apiece.
We tested this and found it worked well.
Easier objectives entice players into pursuing them immediately since once an objective is claimed, it is unavailable to other players on later rounds. This adds tension to early game rounds.
Harder objectives provide five talent counters apiece. Once claimed, these workers can allow a player to easily put out an expensive 6-cost development or ship a bunch of goods for many VPs in the final round. However, pursuing harder objectives can become a trap if a player spends too much time doing so and then is unable to use these workers before the game ends.
We devised twenty objectives, six of which are randomly in play every game, providing lots of variety. We made objectives optional, so that brand new players won't feel obliged to immediately add them.
Switching It Up
During Roll's development, Wei-Hwa did the design and detailed implementation while Tom offered high-level critiques. With Ambition's development, Wei-Hwa concentrated on new concepts while Tom designed tiles, with both of us sharing testing and revision duties.
Initially, we did a four-week design blitz, each week testing a new sub-system or tile group to make sure we were on the right track. We then reported to Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games that our design was sound, so he began work with the supplier to get production samples of the new dice.
After revising Ambition for a month, we took it to the Gathering of Friends to test it with lots of different players. Afterwards, we did two more months of stress testing, with both our main group and a blindtest group headed by Ken Chaney. By this point, we were recording game statistics and maintaining a faction spreadsheet to ensure that the new factions weren't too powerful relative to the base game factions.
The Art of Production
In early June 2015, we turned everything in to the art team. While we chose to reuse some Race art in Roll so that both games would exist in the same galaxy, over a third of Roll's art is original.
Most of Roll's reused artwork needed extensive touch up or was redone, due to being landscape, not portrait, as in Race. For example, if you compare the original card artwork for Pilgrimage World with the corresponding Roll faction, you can see how extensively the art was adjusted.
Similarly, the Ambition illustrations for Mining Robots, Destroyed World, and Rebel Colony above are all based on their respective Race cards, but are brand new.
Ambition features lots of completely original artwork. This takes time, so the art team — Martin Hoffmann, Claus Stephan, and Mirko Suzuki — had to work quite hard for four months to meet our intended press date. They came through, and I think players will like the results.
This was an ambitious project on many levels, but we are quite pleased with how it turned out. Enjoy!
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