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Hyperborea - the making of

Sharing with the community the creation process of "Hyperborea", my new light civilization game

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a living map

Andrea Chiarvesio
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so, now we have a civ game with tribes competing to rule the newfound world of Hyperborea.

We have a (hopefully) solid main mechanic of "bag building", drawing cubes and assigning them to pay the activation of effects (Technologies).

It's time to focus on the world to be explored and conquered, because otherwise we only have one main mechanic that can be played just as a multiplayer solitaire, and we need interaction in a civ game, don't we?

Each tribe should have some homeland territory to start from and developing from there. This is really a classic in civ games, like Eclipse (I wonder if now I am officialy entitled to list "Eclipse" as something I am discussing in this post or if I'll deserve some bashing for it... in doubt, I believe I'll avoid mentioning Eclipse in the tags), and Hyperborea is not going to be an exception, here.

I personally wanted the "basic homeland" do be a little more than a single hexagon (let's not dwelve in which scale we're drawing the map yet), because it may make sense in a hypergalactic civ game, it makes less sense in a game whose setting after all is someplace more or less of the size of Scandinavia.

So, we decided that a homeland was going to be a block of three hexagons (to be noted that at the time we started designing Hyperborea we were of course familiar with Twilight Imperium but Eclipse was not released or even heard of yet). Each homeland should be unique, and maybe suggest a possible strategy for the player, since one other design premise was that we did not wanted to create "pre-made" tribes, but we were going to leave to players the opportunity to customize their starting tribe.

I always wonder in civ-like games why there can't be two warrior races or two technology-centered races in the world/universe. Like if in our Earth there was no place for Atzecs and Huns, or for two big empires like Romans and Chinese, or for two great seafaring nations like Holland and England, etc... Sorry, I went OT.

Going back on track, a world to explore should be more than simple hexagons all identical. Not only each one of them should carry some unique resource the players should strive to acquire, but also there should be obstacles to overcome (and maybe special rules or territories, but this is something we'll save for a possible expansion of the game, to not make things too complex). It also makes sense that the players should find some kind of opposition there, like the barbarians in Civilization (or, again, the ancient spaceships in Eclipse).

The land of Hyperborea, then, is filled with natural obstacles (forests and mountains that slow down your movement, and lakes and big rivers that even stop you from crossing unless you do have the right technology to fly over them or to navigate them), but also with resources.

For the sake of simplicity, the tribe that controls a settlement (or city if you do prefer) in an hexagon also controls the resources linked to that city (while to "control" the region/hexagone there should also be no enemy troops in the same hexagon).

How do you grab the resources? You need to put your people at work, this means kind of "tapping" the population pawn in a city, to obtain its resources (in the current prototype, this is done by moving the figure from the "active" area of a city to the "not-active" area of the same city).

Now, which resources should be obtainable from the map? Basically, almost all the same resources that you should be able to obtain from your cubes by activating technologies: movement, warfare, wealth, growth. The only exception is Technology. We did not wanted to fall in the cliché of "ancient knowledge buried in this land by ancestors"... and also it would have broken the balance of the game

This creates a very interesting balance, and an option between two basically different approaches to the game: focusing on acquiring more cubes and activating Technologies, and acquiring more Technologies, and a more exploration/warfare oriented approach.

The challenge here is, of course, to keep a perfect balance between different approaches to the game, and, at the same time, to ensure that a player, in order to win the game, cannot totally ignore one of those aspects of the game.

A lot of the early playtest, actually, was focused on what you can and what you can't obtain from the map. At first, obtaining trade (wealth, which also immediately translates in victory points) proved to be really strong, and we were almost close to take this effect out of the map. The result would have been for playerst to almost ignore the map itself, or just making it a marginal part of the game, that again is something you don't really want.
At the end, I believe we reached a very good balance. You can obtain vp from many hexagons, but the central ones come with a better bargain in terms of population used, so this encourages the players to move to the center of the map (forcing them to collide), but leaves a player with the option to stay out of the fierce competition for the middle of the map and grabbling slowly but regularly victory points from more lateral hexagons.

Next time, I'll try to give you the feeling of how a game's turn flows.
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Tue Feb 21, 2012 5:47 pm
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Tracks and me

Andrea Chiarvesio
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If you're familiar with my designs, you may have noticed that I make an extensive use of tracks.
I find them easy to understand and visually clear.
Coming back to the whole cubes and the bag thing (remember: cubes are basic skills of our tribe), how do we represent tribes increasing in their efficiency of doing things, and specializing? By having them gaining new cubes.

A smart and efficient way to represent that was to link a simple track to each of the six basic skills:

- warfare
- movement
- trade/economy
- building
- population growth
- knowledge

plus, we have waste and corruption that is indeed not that much of a skill, so let keep grey cubes aside for now.

Each tribe has a track for each of the six skills. Track goes from 0 to 6, and during setup each player can choose one of the skills and have it starting at rank 3, another at rank 2 and a third one starting at 1.

By using a basic technology that is called "development", a player can raise two different tracks by one square each.

If a track has reached level 4, the player can choose to bring it back to 0, and add a new cube of the corresponding color to his bag immediately.

If the player waits until the track reaches level 6, he can bring it back to 0 and gain 2 cubes.

Right now tracks end at square 6, but we may have plans to change that in the future.

Actually, setting those 4/6 levels was not easy. The bargain "2 cubes for 6 instead of 1 cube for 4" looks indeed so tempty. And, extra cubes also are worth VP at the end of the game, so why a smart player should not always wait until a track has reached level 6?

Two reasons, effecting both timing and efficient gameplay:

1) sometimes it's really crucial to have that extra cube now, instead of waiting 1 or more often even 2 full turns before getting it. Even with many players, the game usually don't last more than 5-6 full turns. An extra cube gained in turn 2 will be used immediately and in the four consequent turns. Two cubes gained in turn 4 will be used immediately and in the two next turns. You can see that that single cube is used 5 times, and the two cubes are used 3 times each for a total of 6. Things starts to look more even. End there is also reason #2

2) it's not always useful to have too many cubes in a single color. Maybe you're anxiously waiting for that single green cube to move your people around and you keep on drawing all those orange cubes from your bag, losing momentum and wasting opportunities to expand to new hexagones. Or maybe you are planning to launch an attack and you long for a red cube, but all you get are blue and purple cubes...

Bringing the "2 cubes" score at rank 7 (we tried that in several playtests) was making the 7 ranks for 2 cubes a very poor deal. 6 ranks for 2 cubes seems to work good with some strategies and 4 ranks for 1 cube works better with other strategies, and this is the results we wanted to acheive.

I am sure that after the game will eventually be published, there will be two sides: the aggressive players that never wait for rank 6 and the players looking for the extra flexibility and power in the late game that will disdain the poor ratio exchange at rank 4.

This kind of remind me of a beautiful trading card game published by a company I used to work for, where there are "early beatdown" strategy and slower "control" strategy decks... it looks like a winning design choice, after all, so why not learn the lessons from the best?

*** Edit: since this may be an obscure reference to some readers: I am hinting to Magic: the Gathering here ***

I really like when design finding this kind of "resonances" between my games and games I love. After all, no one takes game mechanics and ideas out of nowhere and the creative process is often improved by knowledge of what was done in the past, especially what proved to work very well can really be a good source of inspiration, or at least a goal to look at.

Next time, a few basic concept about the maps and the hexagons and then we can really start focusing on how the game works.
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Sat Feb 11, 2012 2:53 pm
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First steps in a civilicube prototype world

Andrea Chiarvesio
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Unpublished PrototypeI believe different people have very different approaches to the first phase of designing a game.

As of me, I try to build a mental image of the game. Not very often I need to put things on paper, because when I am in the creative status actually the game occupies a large portion of my mind, so the rules and the components are somehow always with me.

What were the basic elements for Hyperborea (still civilicube at that time)?

a) each population has a few basic skills.
a1) Combining the skills they can "do things".
a2) The skills are colored cubes.
a3) Cubes are taken randomly from that population's bag.
a4) Each bag is a pool of cubes, and new cubes can be added during the game

b) the game board is hexagonal.

c) the population occupies and moves through the board, so it needs to be represented somehow.

Of course, the core issue was bullet point "a1". How do you combine the cubes? At first, I thought to the cubes as letters of an alphabet, letting the players free to create their own words. It's a fascinating concept, but a balancing nightmare. I could easily see game-breaking combo to ruin the game and spoil the fun.
So, we (me and Pierluca) would have been the ones writing the words. Players will still be free to putting the words together looking for the best combination and timings.

How does all of this turns into mechanics? Each population (let's call them "tribes" from now on) starts with few basic "technologies". All technologies require one or more cubes to be activated. By placing cubes on a technology (in the first prototype we had technologies on a board, with each player having his own specific board), and removing them when all the required cubes are on the technology, that technology is activated, and the player can use its effect.

So, if I have the technology "riding" that requires one green and one yellow cube, once I have placed one green and one yellow cube on its space, I can remove both to gain two "movement points". Movement points, as anyone can guess, are used to move population between the hexagons.

To allow customization and growth, there was also need for "advanced technologies": more powerful and sometimes more complex "words" with better effects. Each tribe starts with one advanced technology and more can be discovered (acquired) during the game.

To create many technologies was one of the first shared tasks between me and Pierluca. It wasn't easy also because at the very beginning we even had cubes of 9 colors! Other than war (red), movement (green), trade (yellow), knowledge (blu), growth (purple), build (orange) and waste (grey), we even had white for blessing and black for uhm... curses? We did not had a setting yet estabilished, so black and white were, more or less, the concept of "good vs evil" "angels vs demons" "order vs chaos", so common in fantasy games we both like.

Anyway, I'll spare you the details (also because I don't remember them all!) but we had a good number of technologies ready to test before our first game. As anyone can imagine, they were unbalanced and naive, but fine for a first play.

let's briefly discuss item a3) = cubes are randomly drawn from each player's bag.
At first, the idea was to make it work right like deck-building games. Your bag is out of cubes? Just put back inside it all the used cubes and you have a new deck... ehm bag to draw your cubes from.
This mechanic proved immediately, even if only in my mind playtest, to not work very well - to be honest to do not work at all - with the whole "cubes as alphabet letters" concept. Having more cubes with this system would have been more a hinder than an advantage (it's actually a well known truth with deck building games that keeping your deck thin is a great path- if not the first- to victory). And, since there are no cubes that simply are worth victory points, no player would have been incouraged to acquire more cubes, once he had the two-three duplicates of the colors he needed.

First big difference between Hyperborea and a "pool building" game: when you're out of cubes in your bag... you wait for the other players to be out of cubes as well. This means that extra cubes are worth (potentially) extra technology activations, or other moves if you like.

This is of course a strong incentive to gain more cubes and to grow your tribe-civilization, that is a goal we wanted to achieve.

This post is becoming too long (and I need to go back to work), so I am splitting it in two parts... next half later today, or tomorrow!
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Wed Feb 8, 2012 1:14 pm
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Early board(s)

Andrea Chiarvesio
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One of the first design calls in a civ game is: do we have a board with territories? and if yes, which shape?

recently, many brilliant civ games just went for the "no territories" option (again, the brilliant Through the Ages, but also the smart recent Innovation card-civ game). That kind of approach, imho, works better with a more abstract, card based, game.

Here, we already started with movement and warfare and miniatures in mind, so a map was mandatory.

The big choice then is: exagones (big squares like in the recent Civ game from FFG may work, but really look ankward in XXI century games, and also they're less flexible, especially on small scales) or more realistic, irregular size territories (a la Small World, even if it's not a civ game I bet you're all familiar with that board).

We went immediately for the exagons, since they're flexible, and a game called at that time "civilocube" doesn't needed to look realistic, at least at that time.

In the picture, you can see the image of one "homeland", starting territories for players. They haven't changed a lot since then, actually (except for graphic improvement).

More about what you see in the exagons in the next article, along with some game mechanic details.

That's all for now since today I am a bit in a hurry :-)

Hola a todos
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Tue Feb 7, 2012 11:03 am
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When it all started (if I can still remember)

Andrea Chiarvesio
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Unpublished PrototypeHello reader(s)!

I am starting this blog to share with you my thoughs about my "new" project, a light civilization game called (temporary) HYPERBOREA.

As people who met me around a gaming table know, I am really a sucker for Civilization game. Before you ask: yes, my most beloved one is "Throug the Ages" by the genius of Vlaada Chvatil.

Even if Olympus has some civilization aspects, I would call Hyperborea my first real attempt to design a civ game. Olympus indeed has the whole "building your city and evolve" part, with some war element, but it lacks the exploration, the conquest, the technology development that are imho part of a real civilization game.

I was looking for a good starting idea, and I thought I stumbled on one in late 2010.

Each civ/tribe/people has, to my eyes, basic common "skills". In a way or another, all population learn to substain themselves and grow, to make war with their enemies or at least to engage dangerous animals and hunt, to explore, to learn new knowledges, to build "things" and to develop some form of economic system.

So, I started thinking to a game where players moves were the results of differents way of combining those basic skills. After a while, the tribe/nation of a player would start to specialize, acquiring more "warfare" elements, or more "exploration" elements, etc...

so, for instance, explore + build = horseback riding or chariots, while warfare + learn = war tactics, and maybe economy + explore = travelling merchants, explore + population growt = migration... you see where we're going.

In the golden age of deck building game, the first idea was, obviously, to turn this mechanic into a deck building game but... everyone was designing deck building games at that time (and they're still doing it now).

So, I wanted to try a different approach, and I thought "I don't need text for those effects, why can't they be cubes of different colors? A red cube stands for warfare, and a green one for exploration. So, one green+one red cube means that I can move one of my warriors into an adjacent space and attack".

That's basically where the game (at that time in my mind called "civilicube") started.

In the next articles I'll describe how this rough idea was turned in the first prototype with the help of my co-designer Pierluca Zizzi, the first changes and the first playtesting sessions.

thanks for reading so far (I apologize for my far from being perfect English and for excessive use of ""...), to the next post!
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Mon Feb 6, 2012 10:53 am
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