In August 2017 I launched the Kickstarter campaign for Itchy Feet: The Travel Game, a card game based on my web comic, fully believing that to be the beginning and end of my flirtation with the world of tabletop games. I figured if I were lucky, I'd raise $15k, break even, have a neat bit of merch for the comic's followers, and that would be that. Instead, the campaign raised over $113,000, to my utter disbelief and astonishment, not to mention that of my friends and family! After printing and fulfillment was complete, my wife encouraged me to make another game. "You'd be stupid not to", were her exact words. The gears started turning in my head.
My career and passion was filmmaking. Since I was ten years old, I'd been directing movies. I went to film school in LA, worked in Hollywood, freelanced in Europe, and helped build and lead a film school in Berlin. The web comic was just a fun side thing; I was a filmmaker. Then, in December 2018, I was in the Berlin metro on my way to a Christmas party, listening to an episode of the Imaginary Worlds podcast about indie board games, when the host began talking about the explosion in the variety of themes that modern board games were experiencing. And it suddenly struck me: What about a board game about making a movie?
It seemed SO obvious that I was sure it had been done before, but I found that most "movie-making" games, like Dream Factory or Hollywood, were from a studio executive's perspective — matching actor types with scripts, that sort of thing — and they were all competitive. That didn't interest me. I wanted a game that captured my own indie filmmaking experience: what it's like to work together under the pressure of time, budget, and everything going wrong, toward that strange intangible artistic goal of cinema. THAT is real movie magic and something worth sharing, so that Christmas in my in-law's house, I got to work.
The First Few Takes
My first attempt at the design was the most literal: Players had roles that made decisions on what to do and could "veto" each other in ways that mirrored actual film team hierarchy. The board was a movie set with a hex grid on which you placed crew and equipment. And that was pretty much it.
I played one game of this version with my brother, who said in his politest voice possible, "Well...it isn't very fun." I realized I had gone TOO literal. The simulationist approach wouldn't work; I needed at least one level of abstraction that would allow players to get into the world of the game.
Tony Go's excellent Deep Space D-6. This game was a revelation: The crew are dice, and their roles are different faces on a set of custom d6s. You assign them to areas of the ship based on which faces you roll, and one face is a (!), which accumulate to spawn enemies. It's like Faster Than Light: the solo board game. It's awesome — and it was exactly what I needed, so I borrowed this core mechanism wholesale to see if it provided the abstraction I needed.
Later on, when it became clear that the crew dice placement mechanism was here to stay, I reached out and asked Tony whether he was okay with me using the idea. He graciously gave the project his blessing. I didn't technically need it, of course, but I felt better with it. I wanted him to feel not that something had been taken away from him, but rather that his work had inspired something new. Credit where credit is due! Thanks, Tony.
Now, although this first dice-based version was of course riddled with early-design issues like over-complication — two types of custom dice, one for crew and another for equipment, a checklist for shooting a scene?? — and imbalance, it was almost immediately fun to play. Most of the fundamental elements of the final game's design are in that image above: a rolling market of shot cards to shoot, problems that crop up, the steady downward march of budget and schedule, and the tension of the limited die faces pulling you in different directions — classic dice placement at its best. Although the crew dice was (and remains) the least directly thematic thing about the game — on a real film set you obviously don't just get a random assortment of crew each day — it delivered that dead accurate filmmaking feeling of having to do too much all at once with very little, as well as the uncertainty of what each new shooting day will bring. Overall, I was delighted. The game was working!
And best of all, right at this point the game's title smacked me in the face at about 100 miles an hour. I was reading about Roll Player, thinking about that pun and what variant might work for filmmaking given the dice mechanism, when — WHAM, there it was: Roll Camera! It was just too perfect.
The Kuleshov Effect
But the game still had these many design issues to iron out. Chief among them, the film set area was wayyyyy too static. It just felt really stiff to assign actors, lights, and other equipment to these fixed spaces on the set area. Real filmmaking is incredibly dynamic; you are always moving around into different formations and patterns as required by the scene. The hex grid on my first iteration let you really place anything anywhere you wanted, which was great. I still had all these individual pieces for crew and equipment. But now they were cubes. Hmm. What if...A-HA!
Once again, this set grid was a step toward abstraction and away from simulation — and yet, once again it far more accurately captured the real-world filmmaking process. Weird!
I was learning a LOT at this point about the relationship between theme and mechanisms in board game design, especially about the inverse relationship between fidelity and authenticity. I wouldn't have been able to put it into words for you at the time, but I was realizing that very often, the more a game component LOOKED like the thing it was trying to represent, the less it actually FELT like that same thing when engaged with — and the reverse was also true, to a point.
Pax Pamir: Second Edition, still today my go-to example of this idea made perfect. Give me resin blocks over high-detail minis any day of the week. I would argue that this relates to the old filmmaking rule of thumb that the monster is scarier if you DON'T see it (see: Jaws, Alien), or that old true but useless writing tip: "Show, don't tell." Your imagination filling in the blanks is far more fertile and emotionally engaging than anything that could be detailed for you by someone else. In fact, the more you detail, the less relatable it becomes. Cinema is at the height of its powers when it suggests, and so, I now believe, are board games.
Anyway, if you scroll back up to that image, you'll notice another new addition to the game's design: the dual-sided quality track under the set area and above the budget. Initially my idea was to try to be funny and suggest that you couldn't make a film that was both good and popular; you had to choose one of the two, a sort of meta-commentary on my part. So, some scenes when shot would push the meter up in popularity, while others would push it toward awards. Popularity would gain you money, awards would gain you bonuses.
It's a fun idea that made it pretty far down the line until later on a filmmaker friend of mine played a prototype and immediately said, "So you can't make Gladiator?" I don't really like Gladiator, but I took his point. I could foresee this smart-alecky comment coming at me over and over after publication, so I later changed this meter to overall quality, if only to save myself the annoyance. It managed to maintain its dual-sided nature; in the final design you have to make a film that's either "Not Bad" or better, or "So Bad It's Great", but nothing mediocre, which still today manages to get a laugh whenever I teach the game the first time.
Places, People! Picture's Up!
Around this point the design was stable enough that I thought I should start prototyping a physical prototype of the game with a wider group of people.
Hoo baby, that's ugly. Yes, it's literally scrapped together with tape and a cardboard box. I did try consciously to be spartan with the layout at this point. I didn't want to do more artwork and graphic design than was absolutely necessary (for some reason I felt the shot card artwork WAS necessary), mostly to save myself the hassle of redoing it later, and which I now know is the rule of thumb in game design.
But, I learned, withholding graphic design does come at a UX cost. I figured I could just cram everything together like a condensed wireframe and it would be at its easiest to playtest — but it wasn't. In fact, despite its minimalism, players found this version of the game confusing. Eventually I realized this wasn't due to the gameplay itself, but rather how the gameplay presented itself through its "interface" on the board and cards.
This was a really valuable lesson: Graphic design, artwork, and gameplay are intimately fused, at least for me. I honestly have no idea how other publishers can manage to put a game together taking design, art, and graphic design from separate places. I get that these people usually work together, but I doubt they can afford the continuous sort of iterative back-and-forth between the three areas that I did on Roll Camera. I guess that's what more experience will earn you.
Playing with the first physical prototype inspired me to give shot cards — later renamed "scene" cards to avoid confusing "shoot a shot" type language in the rulebook — two sides: a "before" side and an "after" side. This cleared up an annoyance I had early on that scenes in the editing room, after being "shot", still looked like storyboard sketches; now they could have a colorful "cinematic" side to show they're "in the can", as they say. This change also allowed me to put different information on each side of the card. This, in turn, gave me an opportunity to make the "editing" part of the game a bit more interesting.
Above are some scene cards that have been "shot" and are in the editing room side of the board. On the right side of the cards you'll see their bonus (movie tickets = popularity, laurel wreaths = awards, as described earlier), as well as numbers and arrows pointing down. Until now I was finding in my testing that there was no reason to put the scene cards in any particular order after the film had been shot, which again didn't feel very thematic; of course editing can dramatically alter your final film. So the idea here was that adjacency would matter; certain scenes would impact other scenes above and below them. It would be a little efficiency puzzle to try to maximize your film's output based on the arrangement of the scenes.
Isle of Skye, in which at set-up, four scoring tiles (out of many) are revealed to determine which tile patterns will award victory points. I loved the replayability that this offered, so inspired by this, I created "script" cards that were set out anew each game, then assigned the scene cards different colors. The adjacency of colors in the editing room provided the patterns that would score variously according to the script.
This was the best kind of design choice because it killed a flock of birds with one stone: Editing was important again, space on the scene cards was freed up, and I got the thematic one-two punch of adding a movie script PLUS giving scenes colors, which corresponded to their "emotional content", informed by the artwork. It all just came together so well.
I'll Be In My Trailer
There's one more mechanism present in this iteration that I really loved, but which had to get cut, that this gives me the chance to talk about: the crew mood.
I wanted a dynamic way for idea cards (the helpful kind of card) and problem cards (the unhelpful kind) to enter the game. Deep Space D-6 has an "alert" system in which one face of each crew die is a (!) that must be slotted into an alert area; three alerts draws a new enemy. I also had this in early versions, but pretty quickly I needed the real estate on the dice and abandoned it. Instead, I came up with this mechanism in which the game's bonuses and penalties would be meted out by how the crew is feeling, represented by a big "crew mood" die. At the start of your turn, you'd roll the die, then place it on the corresponding area on the mood track and get the bonus or penalty. You could then later use various cards and/or dice placement slots to impact the crew's mood, mitigating the randomness.
On paper, I loved this system for two reasons. First, that big chunky fun crew mood die would have made a great component (just look at that thing!), and second, I loved what it said about the theme. The reality of filmmaking (or any kind of group work really) is that morale is absolutely critical. The difference between crappy sodium-heavy snacks and healthy ones, for example, can quite literally make or break a shooting day in the real world. It's important to take care of your crew and think about their well-being. I liked that this mechanism gave a face to these otherwise poor abstracted dice-people working for you. They are people, too, you know! It seemed only fair that their mood should have some power to swing your film's production.
But the problems with it were pretty glaring. You can probably already tell it's not very interesting, gameplay-wise. It's also awkward to have your turn involve first rolling a die, then rolling more, different dice. Even if you can mitigate the crew mood roll to your advantage, between the mood and crew dice it just felt very arbitrary to have so many game systems connected to random dice chucks.
And if you DO get the mitigation under control, then problems don't come up at all, which is also not fun, even though you're technically playing well. Too much was tied up into one roll of the die, so the crew mood was scrapped, and nobody missed it but me. Maybe this thematic idea will find its way into one of my future games, but with a stronger design to back it up.
Playtesting continued through 2019. I iterated quickly. I knew I was on to something here because players were always fully engaged with the game's puzzle, and almost always the tension increased as budget and schedule dwindled and came down to the wire near the final turns. Players seemed to win the game more often than not, but at the same time almost always expressed at least once during the game, "Oh no, we're going to lose!" in desperation. I felt this was a strong feature. If the game could always feel like it COULD have tipped into failure near the end, it didn't matter if there were more wins than losses. This would later be tweaked with difficulty levels, of course.
The best feedback I got, however, which encouraged me to stay the course, came from my fellow filmmaking friends and colleagues, who almost without fail would say after playing: "This feels exactly like making a movie." In fact, even today I hear reports of people from the film industry avoiding Roll Camera because it's "Too much like work!" I love that.
Expanding the Call Sheet
There were still two major final pieces of the game's design, both of which came into place after the playtest pictured below. My extended family and I were vacationing together in a castle in Ireland. (Hence the tapestry — castles are actually super reasonable on Airbnb, believe it or not!) It rained often because Ireland, so we played Roll Camera quite a bit. After this specific playtest with my brother and his girlfriend, she looked at me and said, "It's fun, but why is this a game for more than one person?"
But she was right. At the time, the game had no individual player roles or player boards and no hand of idea cards. It was quite literally multi-player solitaire; you just all worked together doing what one person could do by themselves. Not great.
Being new to the world of board games gave me some critical advantages in the design, development, and publishing of Roll Camera. As an outsider, I did not carry much baggage about what a board game "should" be, or (apart from my research of every dice-placement game in existence during design) what had been done before, or what the industry's pulse was, or indeed care much what most people thought, so I was free to do pretty much whatever I liked without really feeling tied to anything in particular. I think that made Roll Camera feel in many ways that it "came out of nowhere," mostly for the better.
But the flip side of this blissful ignorance was that I was not really part of the conversation about alpha players / quarterbacking in co-operative games, which meant I reinvented that particular wheel from SCRATCH. I'm really pleased with how positive the reception of the game has been on that point in particular, considering how little I knew going in. It could have gone really wrong. Ignorance is a dangerous bedfellow!
In the end, I was happy about my brother's girlfriend's critique because it gave me the opportunity to bring something back that hadn't found a place in the design since the very first iteration: player roles!
Again, as with any satisfying design choice, the addition of player boards accomplished a few things. First, it let players feel that a part of the game was "theirs", which I learned is psychologically important, especially for co-operation. Ironically, it's harder to feel like you're contributing if ownership over everything is shared. (There's a political argument in there somewhere for someone cleverer than me.) It also gave them a "person" they could be, a role they could inhabit, and thematic games thrive on this role-playability. Plus it allowed me to fulfill on that final part of the filmmaking fantasy: being a named head of department. I'm the director! Do as I say! No, I'm the producer! I'm your boss! It's just good fun.
This change also offered new dice-worker placement possibilities, which would vary depending on which player boards were in play. This was needed because the main board actions became kinda rote after a while. It didn't take much effort to nerf those enough to make looking at your player board or other players' boards a necessity to get out of a tough spot. Finally, individual player boards gave a reason for the players to suggest to each other what they could do on their turn or what others could do to contribute, making the game far more interactive. Home run!
Have Your People Call My People
The idea cards were the second system to get an overhaul, and the production meeting mechanism is one of the places where players and reviewers have said that the game offers something novel to the co-operative experience.
Well, I have to come clean: It wasn't my idea. I mean sure, the idea cards were my idea, but they were fairly straightforward; if you played the production meeting action, any player could play an idea card from hand if they wanted to, then you decided how to use them. It was fine, but muddy. When I allowed anyone to pitch, it was almost never done by players when it wasn't their turn. If I forced everyone to pitch, inevitably the other players used it to dump their "bad" idea cards because they didn't want to overrule the active player.
I now, of course, can't find it for the life of me, but I posted here on the BGG forums that I was stuck on this idea card system, and some intrepid user suggested that three idea cards would always be played: one to be activated immediately, one saved for later, and one discarded. The "saved for later" really brought the idea cards to life, because you knew that even if yours wasn't picked, you could pitch something to be useful for the future — but there was always the risk it'd be discarded. Either way, none of the cards pitched could be returned to hand. This change just made the decision space around idea cards SO much more interesting. (Editor's note: Josh Ellis suggested this idea here in Nov. 2019. —WEM)
Best of all, this change suddenly made players say things like "I have a GREAT idea!" or ask, "Does anyone have any ideas?" or suggest puckishly, "I have a terrible idea", all of which work toward making the production meeting feel like a real meeting — because it is one.
This taught me a lot about strong language in game design. In many games, you hear players say something like, "I can pay two story points to activate that blue tile, so if you play that sword card we can gain that movement buff." Hard to tell what that's supposed to mean outside of the game's systems. In Roll Camera, most of the components and actions are named such that during the game, players are speaking in the language of the theme. They will commonly say things like, "We're running out of time, we have to shoot!" or "Let's not resolve that problem now, let's hold a production meeting!" or "Our film's quality is terrible! You're the director, can't you compromise on the budget a bit?" All of which make you sound like you're actually on a film set making a movie — or at least, what you THINK it actually sounds like on a film set making a movie, which is good enough!
This sort of naming wasn't done consciously here; it just came naturally as a result of my goals with the design, but it made such an impression on me that it will be at the front of my mind in any future designs, that's for sure.
Cheap, Fast, Good: Pick Two
The final bit of design worth mentioning involves what used to be called the clipboard:
Ooh, cinema-y. This component made it so far that it's in the Kickstarter campaign video! I really liked the clipboard because it felt right to hold in your hands, just like actual important production paperwork for a film's budget and schedule.
The intention was to print it on thick board and use clips for trackers so that it would be a REAL CLIP BOARD, get it? It just worked. But in the end, I couldn't find good clips. Any existing clips the manufacturer had were made for card stock, and I didn't want it to be flimsy card. I knew the clips would fray the edges, and anyway it's not supposed to be flimsy. A clipboard is sturdy! But board-sized clips were either so tight they scraped the printed art or so loose they slid all over the place. It just wasn't going to work.
Someone suggested I take a look at the Gloomhaven dials, and I did, but I wasn't all that excited at first. I still wanted that clipboard. Eventually though, on a whim I threw together a sketch and the manufacturer made a prototype, and you know what? I was sold.
They felt good, I could give them a "film reel" look to at least keep things in the film theme, and best of all, I was able to print the difficulty levels on the back side of the dials, which is something I was having trouble with on the clipboard. To set up, flip the dials over to the back, set the difficulty according to your choice and player count, and on the front it's ready to go. As usual, I'm most satisfied when a design choice can impact multiple areas and solve multiple problems at once — much like a good film scene, which ideally should be able to deliver information about characterization, background, plot, and setting, all at the same time.
So there's an overview of the design and development of Roll Camera! The game was originally published in 2021, but sold out quickly and the reprint is now available, along with editions in many languages and, of course, the anticipated B-Movie Expansion. I'll say a bit about the design and development of that here as well.
The Cutting Room Floor
During Roll Camera's design I had a few ideas that didn't make the cut (appropriately enough). When the base game's Kickstarter campaign did well, I figured it was worth exploring an expansion utilizing these leftover elements, and I did some initial design work.
I've got to be honest, I rediscovered these genre scene cards when I was rooting through my old Roll Camera box o' prototypes for this diary. I had completely forgotten about them. You can tell they're from a very early point in the design process because they have the little film reel icon, which dates the design to when the quality track was still popular vs awards, so the idea to incorporate genre scenes was there from very early on, but I never found a good place for them.
After Roll Camera! hit people's tables, one of the most oft-repeated comments was the desire for "more scene cards!" This was a great way to find a new home for an old idea, and just like these initial genre card designs had their own little mini-mechanism (as indicated by the ghost and cowboy boot icons), so does the B-Movie Genre mechanism provide a new layer of challenge for players.
The second element was something I had planned until very late in the design: a semi-cooperative mode. My idea was, thematically, players could compete for "credit" on the film. Each action you took would earn you points, and the player with the most points won — IF the film was successfully completed on time, under budget, and of appropriate quality! If not, then the player with the FEWEST points would win. They could find another job unscathed, employing plausible deniability; it wasn't THEIR fault the film had tanked!
Thematically I found this idea delightful, and I was sure it could work somehow. I turned out to be sorely mistaken. The game mode was cut entirely after months of trying and failing to make it work. It's probably for the best.
John Velgus to help me bring my B-Movie Expansion ideas over the finish line. You can read all about the development of the genre mechanisms, a new equipment system, and the exorcism of the semi-coop mode on their excellent project debrief.
After the successful Roll Camera and B-Movie campaigns, I found myself at something of a crossroads. Filmmaking has been my dream career since I was ten years old, and I was lucky to work in and around film for 25 years after that...and yet, here was a new (to me) medium — board games — that seemed to be extending its hand, offering a lesser-trodden path with a commercial potential and full creative control — every auteur's dream.
The end result is that I have strayed from my filmmaking path to explore this new realm full-time. I can't say I expected that turn of events, but I am so, so happy to be here. To anyone who has or will get Roll Camera or any of my games, thank you for helping make it possible.
I have many untold stories to tell and unexplored worlds to share, and the tabletop could just be the perfect place for them. See you there!
Malachi Ray Rempen
Keen Bean Studio
To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, contact us at email@example.com.
- [+] Dice rolls
David Chircop, the designer of Hamlet: The Village Building Game, and one from Johnathan Harrington, the game's developer. The goal here is to give two different perspectives and approaches towards a design.
Throughout the post, we have scattered in photographs of prototypes of Hamlet in a somewhat chronological order, so that you can see how everything changed as the game grew and bumped around in the cauldron. Enjoy!
Last-minute update: Copies have started to ship to Kickstarter backers, so Hamlet: Founders' Deluxe Edition will be available for purchase at SPIEL '22 in limited quantities for 65€.
Designer Diary: The Thing About Sense of Space
Ever since I started dabbling with making games, a village builder was always a fascinating prospect for me to model. My formative experiences with games in general were deeply rooted in the RTS genre — games like The Settlers, Age of Empires, and WarCraft. I absolutely adored those games, but the thing I loved the most about them was not the battles or tech trees; it was that opening twenty minutes when you are presented with a town hall and a few peasants, and you start forming, shaping a thing from scratch.
I enjoyed the management of the workers, the movement of the workers, the placing of the woodcutter close to a forest so that the workers don't have to walk too far. I enjoyed the fact that without much thought and almost out of necessity, my village starts organizing itself: houses next to each other, the wood production area, the mining area, the farms placed in a location where I know I can expand it later. All of this, the necessities of the mechanics, combined with the randomness of the map, the sense of distance between areas, their segregation, and a touch of my own desire for pretty organized things eventually allowed a "place" to emerge, a place that I later gave a name — often funny, ridiculous, or childishly lewd, knowing tween David.
And then I zoomed out a bit and just watched my village be alive. The villagers walking, from one cute building to another, carrying things.
This was my favorite part. The other arcs that often accompanied games like these — discovering other villages, the race for building a stronger army, the defense and the opportunistic counter offense — were all secondary for me. I often would bring the village to its operating state, then abandon that save and start over, just to do the build-up again and see what will emerge this time.
This, at its core, is the biggest inspiration for Hamlet. In March 2021, after four years of on-and-off development, through grueling AAA video game work, I had the Hamlet I wanted to publish. By October 2021, I had what I thought was a "finished" version of this game. The game was balanced, smooth, streamlined, short, competitive, easy to explain — it looked pretty. It had the elements that made a good village builder... Yes, of course there is a "but".
In November 2021, we delayed the Kickstarter for Hamlet. We wanted to re-do some art, we wanted to work a bit longer on the video, we wanted to refine the page. I found myself with a game that I had written off as finished, but also a game that was in some way not fully satisfying me. With a few extra months of time bought thanks to the Kickstarter, I sat down to figure out why.
In David Lynch's "Catching The Big Fish", I remember his insistence on servicing the original idea. Making not always the "best" decisions, but ones that service the original idea the most. In media that require a creative process that involves reduction or distillation — like games or film — this adherence to the inspiration becomes both more important as well as harder to achieve.
With the extra time the Kickstarter delay granted me, I locked myself in the "Hamlet" room at the Mighty Boards office and sat for a few weeks. It was a strange time as I barely spoke to anyone, and I think people were afraid to interrupt me. After thought and a few discussions with the people who had access to the game at the time, and a few deep discussions with my dear friend and fellow designer Gordon, I pinpointed the issue: At some point in its streamlining and fat trimming, Hamlet had become a better game, but it had stopped creating "places" — you know, places I can give names to.
A Place with a Name
Why this was happening was not so difficult to figure out. In the process of streamlining the game, we had cut the majority of distance restrictions that the game had, which removed a lot of clunk. This meant that all workers could go pretty much anywhere rather easily, downplaying the importance of buildings that need to be close to each other to be effective. If where you place something does not matter, then even with the engaging spatial puzzle, the different tiles and buildings and their multitudes of effects, they all become mostly symbolic. A sense of place emerges from questioning the "where". Where will I place this? Where is the timber? If the "where" does not matter, then there is no place.
Movement is likely one of the oldest or most basic of mechanisms in board games. It's also one of the most rhetorically efficient — I move a piece from one place to another. It is a clear image generator, one that anyone can relate to. It is also, rather unfortunately, sometimes the most annoying, especially in Eurogames.
Since in board games we often abstract our spaces into segments, moving pieces frequently devolves into an exercise in counting. This is fine when limited to a few spaces — "You can move one or two spaces" — and mapped to a timeframe and space that is thematically resonant, perhaps market stall to market stall in Istanbul, or room to room in a mansion in Mansions of Madness. It also makes sense in much larger spaces, say, city-to-city or area-to-area in an area-control game.
But what about that middle ground?
What follows is my thought process.
Worker Placement Is Traversal without Movement
I always imagined worker placement to be the natural response to this movement problem. Most of the early classics of worker placement mapped out spaces that are around the size of the places I wanted Hamlet to generate. I'm thinking Stone Age, Caylus, Agricola. They showed us traversal, while skipping the movement, shifting the restriction instead to the "occupation" of a space rather than the distance between places. Hamlet needs distance — in fact, it needs distance more than it needs movement itself. What else?
Then there are rondel and mancala games, which are worker-placement games re-introducing a touch of movement, with restrictions that dodge the abacuses of counting spaces. These games are a nice middle ground and are usually clever ways of mapping distance with restriction. They are, however, heavily designed, tight systems in which the sequence and distance between possible actions are carefully calculated. Hamlet is largely a sandbox game in which every village is completely different, and the locations of the buildings are all based on the emergent economy and the players' decisions of placement.
These types of games also usually have an issue with opacity of plan, where one needs to make significant effort to plan a series of actions correctly, resulting in the movement/action-selection mechanism being quite forward and focused-on. In Hamlet, movement is important but cannot interfere with opacity of plan as there are already quite a few moving parts: emergent economies, organic and grid-less village building, spatial puzzles, roads.
At this point I turned my attention to less directly "active" modes of restricting space. Perhaps something that's slowly built, something that's a bit clearer to plan. Something that makes sense for medium-sized spaces. My attention turned to train games and network builders.
Games such as Brass and Steam achieve a sense of place not through the movement of their "active" element — in the case of Hamlet, the worker — but through the slow development of their networks, and consequently the movement of goods through said networks.
Enter the Donkey
The solution in the very specific case of Hamlet was to separate the active element from the movement, as many great designers have done in the past when they came up with worker placement. Then introduce the sense of place and movement in a more passive, slow-building manner.
Hamlet now has two different workers: the villager and the donkey. The villager is the fast and active action taker, giving all the good things that come from reducing clunk and restrictions: speed, agility, and clarity of choice. The donkey is the slow network builder and mover of resources, giving all the great things that come with that: slower long-term planning, a sense of distance.
The synergy of the two then constructs the rhetoric in the mind as well as the strategy in Hamlet. The direct actions of the villagers rely on the donkey network for delivery of the resources needed to build, refine, and fulfill deliveries, and the growth of the donkey network relies on the efficient action planning of the villagers to fund their expansion. This forms a satisfying incremental cycle of growth, and suddenly our arrangement of tiles comes alive into a bustling living village — one I can give a name! Perhaps a more creative one this time.
"DAVIDTOWN!"" — ahhh, the creativity.
I'll pass on the baton to John now. My approach to design and this diary has been very much experiential, so I asked John to chime in with a more technical breakdown of process of how the experience I created was slowly refined to what it has become today.
Developer Diary: OSHA Approved — A Hamlet in Working Order
Do not let David's light tone fool you. He put a lot of sweat and blood into Hamlet. He chiseled the game's marble into something very complex, yet elegant. Eventually, when it was time for me to involve myself in the project, all we had to do was polish the marble and make it shine. In this part, that is what I'd like to talk about, sharing my playtesting process and discussing what I felt went well — and perhaps less well — during the Hamlet development process.
There is a lot that goes into developing a game, and external playtesting is definitely a significant part of it. It's tempting to just over-playtest, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. However, I often find this to be under-productive. I think what's more important is that each playtest is asking an answerable question; make the question small (so that other people can also help you answer it) and trackable / documentable (if you can't record an answer because it's too vague / speculative / grandiose, then there is probably a better question to ask). In this post, I hope to show you how I (and Mighty Boards in general) try to make the most of our playtests.
We divided our Hamlet external playtests into three waves. Dividing tests into waves accomplishes quite a few things. First, it makes the workload manageable; saying "We need to just test, test, test" is daunting because it's unachievable – there's no final test in sight! Second, it allows us to make each wave have its own unique question. Now, not only do we have a goal (answer the question), but we also have an end in sight. (The tests are over when the question has been sufficiently answered.) Third, it allows us to push major changes in bulk. This is important as each change will affect both questions and answers; it also allows us to process any testers' suggestions and concerns appropriately (by placing feedback in their correct development version), it helps give natural deadlines (next changes need to be done by the time this round of tests are over), and consequently it makes the project more manageable as it sets milestones both for testing and its dependencies (such as design changes, production, graphic design + art, and so on).
We're not as organized as this post might make us seem, so these waves aren't set in stone, but they're reasonably accurate representations. Additionally, I am including only external tests. I played the game (a lot) by myself, as did David (the designer) and Nick Shaw (the solo version designer). Additionally, by now everyone at Mighty Boards (and our friends and family at other adjacent companies) has played some version of Hamlet. Some takeaways from this post will stand for these internal playtests, but the marketing manager asked me to keep this post under a 15-minute read, so I am going to talk only about external playtests.
So, we divvied it all up into three core waves (with each wave having its own little tides):
• Focus Group Wave
— Feeling tide
— Balance tide
• Mass Wave
- Concept tide
- Break tide
• Blind Wave
- Rulebook tide
- Ease of play tide
Focus Group Playtests
Once we got through the internal playtests, it was time to start reaching out to players outside of the company circle. We kept the sphere of influence small because Hamlet was still in its early stages: the art was largely not there, the written rules were tentative, and so on. We didn't want a large group of people to get a bad impression of our game just because it was unfinished, so we stuck to groups we know and trust, with two large questions we wanted to answer:
The first question was "Does the game feel balanced?", which we sectioned into more manageable questions about individual parts, such as "Does the church give too many / too few points?", or "Which flag buildings score the most points on average?" We had an Excel sheet that we used in real time during the playtests. (We never played in these sessions; we just observed, filled out cells, and nodded our heads pensively.)
The Excel sheet recorded each worker action in each round, how many points that action made, and how many times each action was taken. From a balance perspective, I am really glad we set this sheet up as it allowed me to calculate point efficiency across players, point efficiency across actions, opportunity costs gained through early worker investments, and many other metrics. A lot of numbers changed here, which would not have been obvious had we been playing the game only internally. Each player tends to be set in their ways, so having a few extra hands moving the pieces around showed which numbers needed to be bumped up or down.
It also allowed us to start shipping minor updates during the same wave. If a flag building is too good in the first playtest, we can up the cost a bit or reduce the final point tally a bit, then see what happens. An individual flag building won't muddy the overall results, but these small changes still gave us the opportunity to figure out the little things before we went to larger groups. This said, each individual change was still marked in our internal change log and feedback forms, so we still kept track. If something broke, we'd know.
The second question was "How does the game feel to play?", again sectioned into more manageable questions such as "How did you feel about the donkeys?" or "How did you feel about connections?", or "Was the game length good?" The Excel sheet helped here, too. For example, there was a clear correlation between the actions that felt good / felt intuitive and the number of actions that were taken. This sounds obvious at face value. If making buildings feels good, players will do it more. However, there is always value from having numbers because it allows us to see whether an action is starting to feel better in subsequent tests because the number of times it is taken increases.
We also gathered feedback from the playtesters through Google forms as well as focus group discussions after the playtest. Honestly, we were quite floored by the reception. Usually there is a gigantic hiccup for the playtesting process at this point as there's often a mismatch between internal playtest feelings and external ones. Internal tests have people you know very well, so the teach is much easier as you can cater to people, not groups. Moreover, people in board game companies are often quite proficient at playing board games, so the weight-tolerance range isn't as wide as it would be for an external test. Finally, internally, people get you, which gives a larger communication tolerance. External playtesters won't always understand your intentions for the game.
Hamlet had one big thing going for it: We had already shown an early internal version at SPIEL. I will let someone else discuss whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. One good thing it did was that during the demos we ran for people, we had already quite a bit of information on how the game felt (although not as much about the numbers). However, the bones of contention for player feelings were clear, and before we started these focus groups, we already had a good idea of what worked and what did not.
In this wave, the first question we looked at was "Are players getting the Hamlet experience?" I know this question seems quite vague, but I'm going to explain.
At the time, Hamlet was the first game David and I had worked on together. He's a very talented designer, and I think I'm decent at the whole development thing. However, we still came to frequent impasses on the project. He would give me a design, which was interesting, but clearly had something a little off. In one iteration, I overhauled the economy injection; in another version, I suggested a different bag-building mechanism; another time, we played on and off with the idea of individual player boards; and so on.
After the nth iteration of me removing something and him adding something else, it became clear that our issue was a concept issue. As a developer, I want Hamlet to be a functional game: fair, clean, simple to learn, no rule overhangs, etc. However, as a designer, David had a vision for Hamlet; he wanted to make a game about sharing, about a sprawling town where logistics become harder as the town grows, about organic growth where everything happens because it is time for it to happen. I think we got a version that we were both happy with only when he managed to communicate this vision. From then on, development really started to go smoother, and I could focus on easier things like numbers and game flow.
So, the first question was a very clear one. I finally got David's intentions, but when external players finally started getting their hands on Hamlet, would they get his intentions, too? Had we cleaned and directed the experience well enough that, while each player might have their own direction (donkeys, roads, refining, building, or something else), all of them will feel the joy of a shared communal board, while managing the burden imposed by a sprawling town. It was tricky getting feedback on this at first, but we were ultimately able to gather some very useful data.
The second question we focused on was "Can the game break in any way?" Games can break in really drastic but also more subtle ways. Sometimes, the game state can become unplayable; an earlier version of Hamlet had a game state in which getting money was impossible if players were playing antisocially. This is an undesirable state, which we thankfully spotted quite quickly.
However, sometimes a game state can simply become less enjoyable to play: is the game dragging on too long, does it ramp up too slowly, are we injecting resources into the game at the right pace, does adding more workers add mental load in an undesirable way, and so on. All these cause cracks in the game, but if having no way of making money is the equivalent of a flat tire, then these latter conditions are more like a slow puncture: air's going out, but you'll notice only after the tire has been used for much longer. The best way (maybe even the only way) to find out whether a game is slowly letting out air is through stress testing — playing as many games as possible with as wide a variety of people as possible until the tire goes flat! That's what we were trying to accomplish with our external tests, and we were very successful in this regard.
There are two main questions we look to ask during our blind playtests. The first question is "Is the rulebook understandable?" We think Hamlet is at its core a really simple game that is complicated by players' interplay as well as an unconventional mechanism. A good rulebook is paramount for Hamlet especially; it can make a 3-weight game feel like a 2. If we manage to communicate the core experience to the players in a clear and efficient manner, then we truly believe that any player can hold their own.
The second question we want to ask during the blind playtesting is "Is there information that players need to be reminded of during gameplay?" This is already something we have kept an eye on, but only within the context of us being there (so questions can be answered easily and concisely). What happens when we're not there? Will players be able to answer the questions as easily? While we feel the rule overhang is light to non-existent, it'll be good to gauge whether others feel the same way. Board games are at their core about communication; blind playtests are there to help us make sure that we can communicate our designs even when we're not physically present in your living rooms (yet).
For both these questions, we met new focus groups and did the hardest thing for us as designers: Shut up and let them play. For the first tide, we have to zip it from the moment they get the box. Let them pick up the rulebook, read it, then time their learning process. We looked at whether they got anything in the rulebook wrong and tried to figure out (after the playtest through questionnaires) what phrasing caused the misunderstanding. For the second tide, we let them read the rulebook themselves, but we clarified any misunderstandings that arose. Then, we stay silent during the playtest to see which rules fall through the cracks during the gameplay.
As opposed to the previous waves, these two tides ebbed and flowed with each other. Board games, especially closer to their release, end up in a lot of people's hands, whether reviewers or publishers, other designers and developers, and even distributors. Each of these parties want to deal with our game in different ways. Some want to have a pure unadulterated experience (and so, we ask whether we can at least watch), while others want to get a grip by themselves, but also not spend too much time on something unfinished (in this case, the rulebook). Denying ourselves any rules feedback (whether clarity or retention) because the tide has gone definitely felt like folly.
To this day, we are still getting feedback from blind tests, whether we are physically there or not. After all, as soon as players get the game into their living rooms or leave nice comments on BGG, that is another informal blind test under our belt. As recently as last week, a good friend of our company and an even better designer played the game and gave blind rulebook feedback, even though the games are on boats on the world's seven seas (or at least two of them). This feedback won't make it into the first copies, but we believe in Hamlet, so we will keep updating both the rolling online rulebook, as well as the rulebook in future copies (perhaps ahead of exciting expansions in the future?). Even so, our most recent changes to the printed copy still feel very definitive. Thanks to our blind testers as well as the great people on our Discord, there are so many QOL changes to not only the rulebook, but also the graphic design, that hopefully your experience with the box will feel smooth like butter made from high-quality milk.
Playtesting could be a book chapter, if not an entire book, so I didn't go into too much detail here. However, this post hopefully provided some key takeaways:
• Every playtest needs a question (but not every playtest will necessarily give a good answer)
• Help people give you the answer (Guide them, but don't lead them. Good questions are open questions, with necessarily closed answers!)
• Playtest in waves, and keep your big changes for the end of these waves (minor changes are often fine – if a Sharpie stroke solves it, then it's probably not a big deal)
• Time your playtests to match with any dependencies
• A game that takes long is an expensive game (your time is an expense too, fellow designers)
• Make your development workloads manageable
• Have easy questions
• Have multiple questions
• Have recordable questions (waves and tides, waves and tides)
That's it from my end. If you would like to help us playtest our games, you can join our Discord to get in touch with our current testing coordinator. We're always looking for feedback as well, especially from the sort of people who enjoy reading long BGG posts about playtesting.
- [+] Dice rolls
Gen Con 2022 was filled with teasers for me. I was equally, if not more, excited to get sneak peeks of SPIEL ‘22 releases as I was to check out new Gen Con releases. I especially couldn’t wait to get to Devir’s booth to get a glimpse of Lacrimosa, a Mozart-themed game that I heard just enough about to know that I wanted to play it. Devir had a single copy of Lacrimosa in shrink at their booth, so a glimpse was exactly what I got, until they were able to send me a review copy so I could actually play it and see if it resonates with me.
Lacrimosa is SPIEL '22 release from designers Ferran Renalias and Gerard Ascensi, where 1-4 players take on the roles of Mozart's most generous patrons after his death to help his widow, Constanze, employ the right composers to complete Mozart's unfinished Requiem in D Minor. Over the course of the game, players tell their stories of travels with Mozart across Europe and the works they funded, while financially supporting the musicians to complete the Requiem, all to appear most impressive to Constanze, in hopes to be mentioned in her memoirs as Mozart's most significant patron.
A game of Lacrimosa is played over five rounds, each of them corresponding to a different creative stage in Mozart’s life. Each round begins with a Main phase where you take actions, followed by a Maintenance phase where you clean up and prepare for the next round. At the end of the fifth round and endgame scoring, whoever has the most victory points is the winner of the game.
Each player starts the game with a deck of 9 Memory (action) cards and an Opus card in their tableau. At the start of each round, all players simultaneously draw Memory cards from their own deck until they have 4 cards in their hand. Then starting with the first player in turn order, each player takes a turn playing 2 cards from their hand into their personal player board. One card is placed in the Experiences section at the top of the board, and the other is placed in the Story section at the bottom of the board. The dual-layer player boards and Memory cards are well-designed, so when you slide a card into a top or bottom card slot, you only see details relevant to where it’s positioned. After 2 cards have been played in the respective areas of your player board, you perform the action on the card you placed in the top slot, then draw new cards based on the number showing on the leftmost empty slot of your personal board.
In Lacrimosa, there are five different actions available and each has its own associated icon. I’ll describe each action as it relates to the main game board from the top down. At the top of the game board there is a card market with two different types of cards: Opus and Memory cards. You can acquire a new Memory card to modify your deck by performing the Document Memories action. When you take this action, you choose a Memory card that’s in the card market and pay its cost in ducats (money) and story points (resources) based on the space it occupies in the card market. Then you remove the card you just played in the Story (bottom) section of your player board, and replace it with your newly acquired Memory card.
The Commission an Opus action is similar, but slightly different. When you Commission an Opus, the cost of the card is on the card itself, but depending on the space it occupies in the card market, you may have to pay an additional cost. Or, if you're lucky enough to snag an Opus in the rightmost slot of the card market, you gain a bonus story point resource, which can be used to help pay the cost of the Opus card. Either way, after you pay the Opus card’s cost, you gain an amount of victory points (VP) as indicated on the card. Then you place your new Opus card in your tableau above your player board and refill the card market. Similar to the Memory cards, the Opus cards get juicer from round to round, making them progressively harder to ignore.
The next action, Perform or Sell Music, is the only action that is independent from the game board as it only impacts your personal tableau of Opus cards. When you Perform or Sell Music, you are performing or selling one of the Opus cards in your tableau. Each Opus card has a cost and reward for performing it, as well as a cost and an even more powerful reward for selling it.
When you perform an Opus, you rotate it 90 degrees, after paying the cost and gaining the reward, to indicate it has been performed this round. Each Opus card can only be performed once per round and resets at the end of the round during the Maintenance phase. Alternatively, you can sell an Opus card which removes it from the game, but gives you a much stronger reward.
Each Opus card also has a type (Opera, Religious Music, Symphony, and Chamber Music), and there are mid-game and end-of-game benefits to collecting the same type of Opus card. Thus, deciding the right moment to perform versus sell your Opus cards is one of the decisions you’ll be wrestling with throughout the game. You’ll also want to watch your opponents and make sure they’re not going overboard with one type of Opus card so you can prevent them from taking advantage of the various set collection benefits.
Jumping back to the game board, in the center, there’s a map of Central Europe which relates to the Travel action. When you perform the Travel action, you decide which city or royal court you’d like to move the Mozart’s Journeys marker to. The paths connecting the various spaces each have a ducat value. You can move the Mozart’s Journeys marker to any space you’d like, but you have to pay ducats based on the route you choose. Once the Mozart’s Journeys marker has reached the destination, you must also pay the cost in Journey story points that is shown on the destination tile, then remove the tile from the board.
At the bottom of the game board, you’ll find staff paper for five different movements in the unfinished Requiem score. When you take the Requiem action, first you choose an empty instrument space in a movement of the Requiem that you wish to commission. Then you remove the matching Requiem marker from your player board, receive the corresponding reward, and place the marker on the empty instrument space with the side matching the composer you wish to hire facing up. As you would imagine, the composers don’t work for free. You also need to compensate them by paying the cost on the top corresponding composer tile in the movement where you placed your Requiem marker.
During setup you randomly choose two of four different composers to include in the game. For each movement, each composer has a set of composer tiles which are stacked in ascending cost order such that the cheaper ones are on top, and they get more expensive as players acquire them. Each composer has a varying number of tiles for each movement. For example, for one movement, a composer may have three tiles stacked, whereas the other may have five.
After you pay the corresponding composer tile costs, you collect the reward on the tile and place it face down on your player board where you removed the Requiem marker you just placed. The rewards may be one-time, immediate benefits, or in some cases, ongoing special abilities. There are composer tiles that allow you to perform a particular action a second time, some that give you an extra story point during the Maintenance phase, and others that give you victory points whenever you gain, perform, or sell certain types of Opus cards.
At the end of the game, there’s an area majority scoring for each movement based on which composer made the greatest contribution. Each movement has two VP values, a higher value and a lower value. To score it, determine which composer contributed the most to that particular movement, then all players with matching Requiem markers score the higher VP value for each of their Requiem markers matching that composer. Any Requiem markers matching the other composer are worth the lower VP value. If both composers are tied, then all Requiem markers are worth the lower VP value.
When you're taking the Requiem action, there can be a lot to think about, especially later in the game. You need to decide which movement, which instrument, and which composer makes most sense for you to contribute to at that moment. There are times where the instrument you choose is based on the reward you get, which can help pay the composer tile cost, or set you up for something on your next turn. You might also want to pick a particular instrument to block out your opponents if there's only remaining space for that particular instrument. Then when deciding on a composer and a movement, you'll often need to decide if you want to help the rich get richer and get in on some of that richness, or go against the grain and pick the underdog to stir up some composer competition in a particular movement. There's also a race to get the composer tiles before they get super expensive or run out. I really like all the competition that stems from the Requiem action and how the pressure you feel is player driven.
Players continue taking turns playing 2 cards from their hand into their player board and taking actions until all players have played 8 of their 9 cards, completing 4 turns. The 9th card is held over as part of your starting hand for the next round. Then there’s a Maintenance phase for income and cleanup to prepare for the next round.
During the Maintenance phase, the first thing you do is return your story point tracks on your player board to zero, then you update them according to the cards you played into the Story (bottom) section of your player board. This is something you'll be thinking about when deciding which 2 cards to play each turn. You have to consider the actions you want to take along with what resources you want to start with next round. It makes for some interesting hand management decisions that make you think, but also give you plenty of flexibility. You may also have composer tiles that give you additional advancements on your story point tracks as well.
Next, depending on the position of your purse marker on the Finance Track, you may receive money, story point track advancements, and victory points. Throughout the game, you’ll be working to get your Finance Track purse marker as high as possible, but there are times you’ll need to also drop it down as part of the hiring costs for getting the composer’s to contribute to the Requiem. It's a constant struggle. Every bit of income is important since money can be so tight in Lacrimosa.
To clean up the game board, you flip over any city and royal court tiles on the map which aren’t on the side with the gilded frame. Then you fill any empty slots from the appropriate deck, with the gilded frame face down. In this way, new tiles show their starting side with weaker rewards, and all existing tiles are on the gilded frame side with more enticing rewards. Then you clean up the card market by removing some cards, and changing to the next round’s deck to refill the market.
Once you’ve completed the fifth round of the game, after getting your player board income in the Maintenance phase, perform endgame scoring by tallying up victory points for any royal court tiles you fulfilled, then you score points for each movement of the Requiem, and for your remaining story points and ducats. Whoever has the most victory points wins the game.
Lacrimosa plays well at all player counts, noting I only got a small taste of the solitaire module. The main deck of Memory/Opus cards is adjusted based on player count, as well as the number of composer tiles, and the amount of instrument spaces that are blocked randomly during setup with Constanze counters.
In the solo mode, you set up a 2-player game with a few modifications. The Soloist bot you compete against has its own deck of cards and three difficulty levels. Your turns are performed the same as they are in a multiplayer game. When it’s the Soloist’s turn, you draw the top card off the Soloist deck and place it in the Experiences section of the bot’s player board, then draw a second card to place in the Story section. The top of the card indicates an action the bot will perform, while the bottom of the card is divided into three columns to indicate how the action should be performed.
The leftmost column indicates which of the available Opus or Memory cards the Soloist will take when performing the Document Memories, Commission an Opus, or Perform or Sell Music actions. The middle column indicates which direction Mozart’s Journeys marker will move and the number of royal court tiles to visit with the Travel action. The rightmost column indicates which movement and the instrumentation priorities when performing the Requiem action.
The Soloist earns points and adds player interaction throughout the game from performing revised versions of each action. At the end of the game, the Soloist also scores points for royal court tiles, and the Requiem is scored as normal. I found the Soloist bot to be fairly easy-to-learn and smooth-to-run. Plus, I love that the Soloist scores throughout the game similar to human players. You really feel the competition and an underlying tension since the Soloist bot is scoring points often and snatching up precious tiles and cards that you'll often want.
I really dig Lacrimosa; everything from the theme, to the gameplay, to the components, feels smooth and well-crafted. I found the art to be lovely and very fitting as well, so kudos to Jared Blando and Enrique Corominas for their contributions. Plus, it's great that you can play Lacrimosa with four players in less than two hours, and it doesn't overstay its welcome.
I didn't delve too deep into the resources, but besides ducats (money), you have three different types of story points: Mozart's Talent (black), Journey (red), and Composition (white). Each type of story point fits logically and thematically with the actions in the game. It's also interesting that you have story point tracks on your player board which reset each round based on the cards you play into the Story section of your player board, but there are also plenty of opportunities to gain wooden disc story points. When spending story points, you can spend your discs or tracks, but the beauty of the discs is that you can can also exchange a story point disc for 1 ducat at any point on your turn, so they can be very valuable when money gets tight.
Besides its refreshing theme, one of the things I appreciate most about Lacrimosa is the abundance of player interaction. You're always hoping someone doesn't take the Opus or Memory card you have your eyes on in the card market. Or better yet, it's exciting when your opponents buy other cards so the card you want slides down and becomes cheaper for you. Meanwhile, you'll be itching to grab a particular city tile on the map, hoping no one beats you to it. Or even worse, your opponents may decide to perform the Travel action ahead of you and move Mozart farther away making it more expensive for you to get to the city you were hoping to move to. Plus, you can't sleep on contributing to the Requiem. Once people start filling in instruments and claiming composer tiles, you might miss out on getting the higher scoring composition placements. Or perhaps you want to block the last timpani space and deny your opponents from placing their timpani Requiem marker at all. There's so much player interaction, but it feels more subtle than aggressive.
I picked up On the Origins of Species from the same designer duo when I attended SPIEL for the first time in 2019, and I really liked it. Unfortunately, I never got it to the table aside from a 2-player learning game, so I eventually (regretfully) sold it. After playing Lacrimosa, I definitely want to revisit On the Origins of Species and I'm also looking forward to checking out 1998 ISS, another SPIEL '22 release from Gerard Ascensi and Ferran Renalias, published by Looping Games.
- [+] Dice rolls
German publisher Clemens Gerhards releases a few high-quality, all-wood games each year, and its newly announced games have now joined more than 1,060 others on BGG's SPIEL '22 Preview.
• WaldMeister is the newest game from Andreas Kuhnekath-Häbler, who also designed Kulami, Micro Robots, and Rukuni, which will always be "the game I played in Florence with my son because we were too tired to do anything else". Funny how games pick up monikers like that...
Anyway, here's how to play this two-player game:Quote:In WaldMeister, you want to shape the forest to suit your own ends.The game board has 64 holes, so not all spaces will be filled at game's end — which means you need to fence in your clusters to keep points from slipping away.
Each player starts the game with 27 pegs, with the pegs coming in three heights and three colors, and with three pegs of each combination, e.g., short and yellow-green.
Players take turns moving and placing pegs on the game board, with one player trying to create clusters according to height while the other wants clusters according to color.
To begin, the first player places one of their pegs in a hole on the game board. On each subsequent turn, the active player chooses any peg on the game board, moves it in a straight line as far as they wish to a new empty hole (not jumping any pegs), then places a peg from their reserve in the hole just vacated.
Once all the pegs have been placed, each player counts the number of pegs in each type of cluster they score, whether short/medium/tall or yellow-green/leaf-green/dark green. The player with the higher sum wins. (The rules suggest playing two games, with players swapping goals since recognizing "height clusters" is more difficult.)
• Marco Teubner's Laniakea features a board-changing mechanism akin to the classic children's game Labyrinth. (Kuhnekath-Häbler's Hollerith⁵ from 2020 also has this tile-sliding feature, albeit with nothing else being similar to this new game.)
Here's how to play:Quote:In Laniakea, you want to move across the Hawaiian beach, but you can't disturb the turtles...who keep moving and possibly disrupting your plans.• The final new release from Clemens Gerhards — Sisal from Oliver Schaudt — is a solitaire logic puzzle, so it's not listed in the BGG database, but I include information anyway because I enjoy these puzzles myself and like to talk about them:
To set up, place your eight colored tokens on your side of the wooden game board, then select 25 of the 28 domino-style wooden tiles and place 24 of them in the six rows of the game board, four tiles per row. Each tile depicts two sandy spaces, two turtles, or sand and a turtle.
On a turn, first move two of your tokens one space each or one token two spaces. Tokens move orthogonally and can land on other tokens, whether yours or the opponent's, but you can never land on a turtle. After movement, slide the remaining tile into either side of the row where your last-moved token landed, ejecting another tile from the game board. Any tokens on this tile are returned to their respecting starting zone.
Tokens can be stacked up to three high; when a token moves from the top of a stack, it moves 2-3 spaces depending on the height of the stack and can jump turtles while moving.
If a token reaches the opponent's starting zone, it remains there, and the first player to cross the board with five of their tokens wins.Quote:In Sisal, you're given a pattern of empty spaces in a 4x4 grid and some conditions that must be fulfilled, e.g., a yellow disc to the left of a red one. To solve the puzzle, place the 1 disc in an empty space, then the 2 in the first empty space in an orthogonal direction, then the 3, etc.
Can you place all the discs while also meeting the required patterns? The puzzle comes with 35 challenges.
- [+] Dice rolls
Thomas Jansen, designer of Eleven. Together with Ignacy Trzewiczek and his development team at Portal Games, we have worked on Eleven for a very long time. We hope you will enjoy it as much as we did designing it.
How It All Started
Back in 2016, I decided to design a football manager board game. I was on a holiday. I sat down at the table with this empty paper in front of me and started writing and drawing my first ideas.
The most important thing was the theme. It had to be a real experience, with lots of events and decision-making to give the player the feeling of being a real club manager. I had enjoyed so many football manager games on my PC. If you ever played one, you know how addictive it can be. I used to play for hours and hours until 3 o'clock in the morning. I remember calling the police one night after observing a burglary attempt at my neighbors — not good, although my chosen club went for promotion that night. Life's full of ups and downs.
I wanted the player of my game to have that same feeling. After many months of development and playtests, Club Stories was born. Only two hundred copies were made for my Elven Ear Games. Players were very positive about the game, and soon there weren't any copies. I still receive emails from people asking me whether I have a copy left.
I went to the Dutch convention Spellenspektakel to demo Club Stories. Kurt van Hoeyveld (a.k.a., The Vitrivian Gamer) was demoing for Portal Games. He liked Club Stories very much and promised to deliver a copy to Ignacy Trewiczek, owner of Portal Games.
I knew Ignacy is a football fan. He once did a YouTube video about football games he enjoyed. After a while, I received a short message from him: "I really enjoy your game. I want to publish it worldwide."
That’s how it all started. I went to SPIEL where I met the guys from Portal Games. I ate a lot of their Polish cookies and went back home to start a new phase for Club Stories.
Club Stories is a solo game, and we had to change it into a 1-4 player game. A lot had to be done. Ignacy, his development team, and I went to work.
We never met in real life during the process of development. We live ten hours apart. We did many video calls; sent thousands of emails, WhatsApp messages, gameplay videos, etc. Some of the changes we introduced, I will discuss below.
First the name changed: Club Stories became Eleven.
Club Stories has a press-your-luck dice system. This system works very well in a solo game as it's very thematic and adds to your story, your adventure. Of course, you won't succeed at getting Messi to your club every time you try.
But we soon found out this system isn't perfect when playing multiplayer competitively. It can be quite frustrating when you don't succeed at an important action and your opponent does just because of the result of a die roll.
This is why Ignacy introduced a big change.
Club Stories has four tracks. The budget track produces cash, while the other tracks (fitness, morale, fans) don't. Instead, they are used during certain tests: low fitness means an increased chance of injuries, low morale will cause suspensions, etc.
Ignacy kept the idea of the cash-producing budget track. He introduced the same system to the other tracks. Now, every track produces its own resources, which you can pay to do certain actions. You need fitness tokens to activate your players, fans to fill up the stands, operations (previously morale) to give you additional actions.
This approach reduces the important dice-rolling moments to a minimum. You still roll dice at the board meeting and match consequences, but you are allowed to re-roll as many times you want if you have enough fan resources to do it.
But still, sometimes...you are just unlucky. It happens. A suspension, a two-week-long injury. That's football.
Another thing that changed was the match system. PC football manager players know this is only a small part of a good manager game, but we put in so many hours to get it right.
I will start by telling you the history of the match system.
When I designed Club Stories, I wanted to make a football manager game, inspired by the great manager games on the PC. I did not want to make a football game. Don't get me wrong; I was a huge fan of the Fifa series. I even managed to become a national top 50 player on the PC about ten years ago, but I wanted this board game to be about running a football club.
That doesn't mean matches aren't important, but I had to find a quick system for the match-resolution part that didn't take too much time and was interesting enough, so I came up with a system that worked well. There are three zones on the pitch: forward, midfield, and defense. There is room for four players in each row. You can place player cards there, or use the strength 1 player already there. You select your players by putting cubes on them. You must give a player one out of two possible tasks: try to score (ball) or press (shield). You assign these tasks simply by placing the player card onto a ball or shield space. The forward section has 3 balls and 1 shield to choose from, the midfield has 2 balls versus 2 shields, and defense has 3 shields and 1 ball. Each zone is compared to the opposite zone of your opponent. For example, your defense zone is compared to the forward zone. Your players who try to score (ball) are compared to the players who are pressing (shield), etc. You choose which players meet. The scoring attempt of a player is successful if his strength is higher than the pressing player. For full details, check out a Club Stories playthrough on YouTube.
Club Stories was successful and also the match system was liked by the players. It fits the type of game Club Stories is.
So that's where Eleven took off. Ignacy and his team quickly came up with the jersey tokens. You can flip the tokens to change the tasks of the players. You are also able to put more players in a section. I used nine sections, instead of three, for faster resolving. It also gave more options for the flanks. How cool would it be to have these jersey tokens on your pitch and be able to move them wherever you want like a real manager right before this match on his whiteboard? We also wanted to make it harder for a defender to score a goal, and we had some other ideas.
These new ideas made it so much cooler. Instead of just going for the fixed Club Stories system that already worked well, we started a much more open and free idea that gave many options and choices for the players — but because of this freedom, the chance of the system being "hacked", i.e., finding a way to always win, increases as well.
We had so many cool ideas, and we also got a lot of suggestions from you guys, but every single good idea needed to be tested thoroughly. We didn't want it to be hacked! We had several playtesters (usually Munchkin players, according to Ignacy) who broke a new idea. They let their teams play in systems that football fans like us never thought of. Remember, we could have had a system ready before the Gamefound page went live, but we didn't want to. We just wanted the perfect system, the perfect experience.
There was no goalkeeper in Club Stories, but right after the start of the Eleven campaign, a lot of people were asking for one. Some were referring to the name of the game. How could we have only ten players on the pitch and call the game Eleven?! Can't argue with that, of course.
So we've added goalkeepers. Keepers can make saves. The better they are, the more and better attempts they can stop. They may even grow into the coolest players on the pitch, in my opinion. Thanks to your requests.
The match system was the hardest part to develop. It took a lot of time, but we wanted to do it well. If we made a PC football manager, we could have released the game and sent you loads of patches afterward that fixed problems, but we are making a board game. And besides that, we just want to bring you a very, very great football manager experience.
For a more detailed explanation, check the manual here on BGG.
Eleven is more than a dry football manager. It's an experience. After a game of Eleven, you will be able to tell the story of your season as if it happened for real, so let’s give you an overview of a week (round) at the club.
What's Eleven about?
Eleven is a competitive strategy game for 1 to 4 players set in the world of football. In the solo mode, you play against different scenarios.
Your task is to manage and grow your own football club over the course of a season and outperform other teams. It's always good to end up higher in the league than your opponents, but don't forget there is more to it. Don't forget you are not playing Fifa 23. You're a manager; there are different strategies to become the best one, so don't be surprised when your friends' club ends up in mid-table and wins the game, while you took the title.
When you've set up your first game of Eleven, it feels a bit like your first day as a manager at the club, so let me give you a tour:
Every player has three boards in front of them that represent the stadium, the boardroom, and the pitch.
This is where the magic happens. What a view, right? Here's where you put your fans. If you have enough of them, you may sell out the stadium. You can use sponsor cards to fill up the ad boards for extra income, or make them become your kit sponsor. There's also room to expand the stadium. If you think your club is way too big for your stadium, why don't you expand it with a couple of stands? More fans will bring you more money each round, or build new training grounds for better performance and team fitness. Just a couple of examples.
Welcome to the boardroom. See those empty chairs? There is room for three directors. They will make important decisions for your club. Yes, they do, not you — although there are ways to influence them. Below it are four tracks where you track your popularity, operations, fitness, and finances.
Let's go outside. Mmm, rain. On the pitch board, you create your line-up with the jersey tokens. Move them across the board until you are satisfied. I can tell you, you will feel like a real coach when moving these pieces.
There is also room for the current opponent card. You are working at a professional club. Scouts provide you with information about the upcoming opponent. Based on this, you can select tactics and choose a line-up. On this board, you also find the match score and the match consequences table, which you use after a match. It's basically used to see how the players got through the match. Injuries may happen, stats may change.
In the middle of the table is the transfer area, available to all players. Here you can hire staff, buy players, contract new sponsors, and learn new tactics.
On a smaller board you keep track of the league table. There are eight AI clubs in the game. You play against them, but they play their own matches, too. Some are top clubs, some average, and some are fighting against relegation. Don't be fooled as they have several ways to play and may choose a different line-up next time you play against them.
In a four-player game there are no fewer than 13 boards on the table!
Every round is called a week. From Monday to Thursday, events may happen and actions can be taken. On the weekends a match is played.
Are you settled? Let's start working then.
First thing in the morning, you get your resource tokens for the week. You check your four tracks and gain that amount, so if your budget track is at 2, you gain 2 cash. If your morale track is at 4, you gain 4 morale.
You can spend these tokens in different situations later during the week. For example, use your fan tokens to fill up the stadium, or use your fitness tokens to make players perform special actions on the pitch.
Then, you head off to the board room for a board meeting. A club has three directors, and they all have different opinions. For example, some see the club mainly as a business. Most of all, they want to make money. I won't call out any real clubs here, but you probably know one or two that fit the description. Some directors think the club belongs to the fans; some will do anything to have the best team. Got one in mind? All these different opinions influence the decisions they take, so you should be careful which directors to put on those chairs.
Every player takes a board meeting card that will influence their own club. There always is a dilemma to be discussed with three different possible outcomes, for example, "Shall we raise ticket prices?" You can imagine it brings in money, but won't make you popular with the fans. The board will decide, but you may want to join the discussion and try to influence them.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
From Tuesday to Thursday you may perform actions. You can hire players who range in quality from 1-4, but note some of them have special abilities that are just as powerful as a high-quality player. Besides, players can be trained.
You can contract a sponsor. They will bring you money and raise your stats on the four tracks. You can train tactics to make your team better. You can invest in infrastructure. You can hire staff. They give you many more possible actions. For example, if you have a first coach, you may train your players, which makes them better — at least, in most cases. Or hire a doctor to get rid of injuries. There is so much to do during the week.
In the meantime, you check your objectives card again. They give you extra victory points. Or go for the perfect achievement for double the points. For example, you may have to win the match against your local rivals because they beat you last season. Can't happen again, of course.
You probably are used to a free weekend. Forget about that. As a manager, you are always on. You need to study your opponent. It can be very helpful. Learn their system, discover their qualities and weaknesses.
Then you select your players and choose tactics. All tokens are players with standard quality of 1, but you also have player cards. These represent the token with the same kit number. They often are better or have special abilities. Then the match is resolved. If you have enough fitness resources, you may be able to select enough players and make use of player abilities as well. Don't expect to win your first game as you're just starting your career.
Now let's see what the other players did, not to mention the 8 AI teams. After you adjust the score track, you roll for the match consequences. Injuries may happen, fans may have had enough and leave, team morale may change, etc.
Now you may get some sleep. There is another board meeting tomorrow you may want to attend. Time flies.
As soon as the base mechanisms of the game were finished, we continued working on creating content: designing more cards, scenarios, etc. We also focused on the expansions. During this phase, I worked together with game developer Janek Maurycy a lot. He is a very talented designer who brought in many creative ideas.
Solo Campaign expansion. I can't wait to hear of your experiences with it.
I always started with a lower league English team while playing on my PC, then tried to work my way up. I also liked to move to another club and continue my adventure there. Buying players, selling players, discovering new talents, expanding the stadium, always, always out of budget after two or three seasons... Season after season went by, starting a new campaign only when the current year got too "science fiction" for me.
But that's exactly what I adored: the campaign. The story of a career you created yourself. It was like a good RPG game. I bet a lot of football manager freaks love games like Skyrim as well. I know I do.
That's why the solo campaigns are perfect to give you the same sensation. The base game already has a great solo mode, but the expansion takes the next step. It has eight scenarios — fourteen if you count the backs as well — that are linked in a unique way to make a great story. You start at a lower league club. After playing a season, you have different options depending on how well you did. You can stay at the club: You flip the scenario card and go for another season. If you did well, other clubs might be interested in you. You may want to continue your career at another club. This system allows you to roam the league pyramid. This can give you a real sandbox feel. You can play the game for many seasons, just like you did on your PC back in the day. Your decisions really matter and have an effect on the next scenario.
Your ultimate goal is to reach the big top league, so get ready to build yourself a great career.
A special solo deck of 36 cards was created for this expansion. They affect gameplay and your progress in the campaign. There are 14 new cards for the multiplayer mode including new objective, director, and board meeting cards, increasing the overall variability in the base game.
Of course, the solo campaign is not required to play Eleven solo, but it enhances solo gameplay from the base game making it more strategic.
I think you can't get closer to that PC football manager feeling than this. I'm really looking forward to the release of Eleven and hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Thanks!
- [+] Dice rolls
Matt Leacock's Pandemic has plenty of viral properties of its own, as evidenced both by the continuing sales of this game around the world and by the release of numerous spin-off titles, the most recent of which is Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a design from Alexandar Ortloff and Z-Man Games that's labeled as part of the "Pandemic System"
Here's an overview of this 1-5 player game:Quote:Traverse a galaxy where iconic Jedi heroes utilize the familiar gameplay mechanisms of the Pandemic series in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.The announcement from Z-Man Games names the seven Jedi that players can become — Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, Yoda, Aayla Secura, and Luminara Undula — as well as the villains behind the Separatists: Darth Maul, General Grievous, Asajj Ventress, and Count Dooku. Jedi and villains each have their own unique power, and each villain has a unique scenario to give you different challenges.
Planets under siege populate the game board as players take on the role of legendary Jedi traveling from battle to battle, teaming up and fighting off the Separatist threat. Battle droids attack on sight, and a planet invaded by too many will fall under a blockade, hindering Jedi from liberating it from the enemy or accomplishing missions.
Players must work together to confront the onslaught of droids by moving into their spaces and engaging them in combat, utilizing dice and squad cards to deal damage and push back the threat. In between battles, players move from planet to planet, battling more droids, crushing blockades, completing missions to turn the tide of war, and facing off against iconic villains.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars is due out in October 2022 and carries a US$60 MSRP.
- [+] Dice rolls
• Multiplayer — Carnegie, by Xavier Georges and Quined Games
• Two-player — Ark Nova, by Mathias Wigge and Feuerland Spiele
• Solo — Cascadia, by Randy Flynn and Flatout Games
The IGA committee is comprised of gamers from around the world, including BGG owner Scott Alden and yours truly, although I do not vote.
The details of the nomination process and the voting used to determine the winners is detailed on the IGA website, and it's a very gamey process that I wish more governments would adopt so that voters could better express their desires at the ballot box.
Anyway, congratulations to the winners, who will receive their awards at SPIEL '22 in October!
- [+] Dice rolls
"Next release in 9, 8, 7..."
We are Ferran Renalias and Gerard Ascensi, the designers of 1998 ISS, a game that will be presented this October at SPIEL '22. With this diary, we'd like to share the design process and experience that has made this game evolve since its inception.
Starting Point: The 19XX Line of Games
In 2019, Mont Tàber published On the Origin of Species, our first game. We started to work on our next game a few months after SPIEL '19. We wanted to make a game for the 19XX series from Looping Games. This collection is known for offering good Eurogames in a small box, and Looping has excellent development work, from which we could learn a lot.
We had to find a 20th-century theme, with mechanisms to support it. The first idea was "The Prohibition", a fixed-size deck-building game (any new card substitutes another) in which you had to create an alcohol smuggling and distribution gang. It didn't work mechanically, and the theme was so good that Looping Games had already signed 1923 Cotton Club with this theme.
So we left that game in a drawer, and maybe in the future we could use some of it for another game.Remote tests of The Prohibition
Looking for a Theme
We needed a new theme. On December 19, 2019, Gerard attended a work conference where there was an astronaut who had visited the International Space Station. We exchanged a couple of messages, then Ferran consulted Wikipedia to ensure that the ISS was created in the 20th century. We had a theme, so we started to compile information on the ISS construction that could help us to decide what the players would be asked to do.The day we decided on the theme, during a dinner in Barcelona
Who Are We, and What Is Our Purpose?
Our first step was answering these two questions for the thematic base of the game. We concluded that we would be the different space agencies that collaborate to assemble the ISS, but at the same time, we're competing to get the most prestige out of it.
The game would happen in the command centers of space agencies, with them giving the orders for the different processes. The game had to reflect that most of the space work is done from Earth, with the space activity a consequence of good planning.Very initial proof of concept, and starting to work in TTS
What Do We Do During the Game?
We thought a selection of actions would be a good fit, so we outlined several: On Earth, building the modules, and preparing the material and training the astronauts; and on the ISS, doing experiments, experiencing the effect of weightlessness on humans, and going on spacewalks.
We looked for interactions to avoid getting a multi-solitaire game:
1. Thematically the game was asking to have launches. We use them mechanically to drive the tempo of the game.
2. We introduced shared resources, the fuel load in the shuttles to trigger taking off, and energy from the solar panels to block actions in space when finished.
3. We added the majority mechanism in module construction that thematically reflects the enormous work in their design and manufacture.The game with the structure of eight actions and the construction of the ISS
We used the lockdown at the beginning of 2020 to test with several people online.The theme fit, and the general mechanisms worked smoothly enough.
In June 2020, we presented an initial prototype of the game to Looping Games. They were convinced that the game could fit the collection, and we signed the contract.
Working with Looping Games
Perepau Llistosella, partner and developer of Looping Games, worked his magic. He kept the game for a few weeks to test it with his group. He solved certain problems of the prototype, which were difficult to see from the position of the designer, and proposed a list of changes to polish the game.
His main change was merging fuel and solar panels into a single concept: the launch countdown. This solved in one go several mechanical problems of the game: "That's one small thematic loss for man, one giant leap for gameplay."
Perepau developed an alternative way of scoring majorities for the Soyuz spacecraft since they do not transport modules into space, and he refined the game, making minor adjustments to unlock some actions not available on the first turn. (Lesson learned: Any action in a game should be available from the start.)
The changes improved the flow of the game, greatly improving the design and creating a much more fun experience.One of the few physical tests of the game (in Caldaus)
We worked in parallel with the editorial development, polishing details and balancing the game. We adjusted the costs of experiments, and the game was practically closed in November 2020.
The last discussion point between us and the publisher was the long-stay score. Obviously the editor was right. We leave it to the reader to find the strategy that breaks the game when the long-stay score increases.
With the game mechanically finished, Perepau asked us to work on something else as we tend to be a bit too "enthusiastic" when polishing the games. We moved to work on a game about completing Mozart's requiem called Lacrimosa, but this story should be told another time...
FEDOR, The Solo Mode
We considered adding a solo mode to the game. The main issue was that neither we nor Perepau played solitaires, and we had never designed one — but a year later, in the middle of 2021, the situation had changed. We learned a lot from Dani García, and we had also designed the solitaire mode for Lacrimosa.
In our research, we discovered F.E.D.O.R. (Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research), a Russian robot created to automate the tasks astronauts perform in space. Nothing further from the truth, the robot spent just a few weeks in orbit as its reliability was not as good as expected.
We like a solitaire mode that recreates the actions and interaction of other people at the table but with a simple maintenance. We created a deck of nine automa cards to randomly determine the action and which of the two countdowns should move. We decided that FEDOR would take actions only on the ISS, simplifying the game flow.Fedor, that friend who wants to help you
The Final Product
Pedro Soto is the illustrator and graphic designer from the 19xx series of Looping Games. He mixes thematic research, product design, usability and coherence of components, and the ability to fit a huge amount of material into a small box.
We were impressed with the first sketches: modules that can fit together when assembling the ISS, the abstract illustration of the themed experiments in a computer, the eight main actions... We loved the solutions to graphic design problems of the prototype. He improved the usability of the final product, and we will try to incorporate his ideas into future prototypes.Action cards; Russian and American ships; experiments; modules and long-term goals
Now we need only to wait for the launch of the game in October 2022. We wish it may land on your table, and you enjoy it, but with space missions you never know. Let's hope we don't say, "Looping, we have a problem..."
Gerard and Ferran
- [+] Dice rolls
16 Sep 2022
David ThompsonUnited States
"How many lands have my feet trod and my eyes seen! What terrible scenes of desolation of death I witnessed in those years of continual war. Adverse circumstances had made us, anti-militarists, the most battle hardened soldiers of the Allied armies."
—Murillo de la Cruz
In mid-2020, Gonzalo Maldonado from Salt & Pepper Games reached out and asked whether I would be interested in collaborating. Historically, Salt & Pepper has licensed games for Spanish-language editions, but they wanted to start publishing their own designs. In addition to being a publisher, Gonzalo is a reviewer, and over the years he had reviewed many of my games. We shared a love for historical games, so he wanted to see whether I would be interested in designing something for his company.
The offer was flattering, and I was very much interested in working with Gonzalo and Salt & Pepper Games, but at the time I was swamped with deadlines. I let Gonzalo know that I was absolutely interested in collaborating, but that it would be a while before I was able to get started.
We stayed in touch and occasionally brainstormed possible ideas. Then in May 2021, Gonzalo reached out to me again and presented the idea of including Albert Monteys. Albert is a famous illustrator who has been nominated for the Eisner and won quite a few other awards. The timing of Gonzalo's email was perfect. I was just finishing some work on a design with one of my design partners (Roger Tankersley), and I was on a brief hiatus on a couple of projects with my other design partner (Trevor Benjamin).
I thought about Gonzalo's proposal and brainstormed a couple ideas. I was inspired especially by Albert's work on the Slaughterhouse-Five graphic novel adaptation, and I also wanted the game to honor Spanish military history. I settled on a couple possible themes: La Nueve, and the Spanish Maquis. La Nueve was the nickname given to the 9th Company of the Régiment de marche du Tchad, part of the French 2nd Armored Division (also known as Division Leclerc). La Nueve fought during the liberation of French North Africa, and later participated in the liberation of France. The Spanish Maquis were guerillas exiled to France after the Spanish Civil War. They fought alongside the French Maquis during the Second World War, but they are better known for their continued fight against Francoist Spain until the early 1960s.
I prefer to design with a partner, so I reached out to both Trevor and Roger and asked whether either would be interested in collaborating on the project. I presented the thematic concepts and also sketched out an extremely rough idea for possible mechanisms in the game. This is how I proposed that the game might work:Quote:The player takes the role of a "commander" and has a deck of maybe 20 or so cards representing their fighters. At the beginning of the game, the player shuffles their entire deck together. There is also an opposition deck of cards. The goal is to remove the entire opposition deck from the game. On a player's turn, they draw X cards from their deck (probably four or five) and X cards from the opposition deck. The goal is to remove the drawn opposition cards. Each opposition card has a defense value (and some sort of attack or special action).To my surprise and excitement, both Trevor and Roger replied that they were interested in working on the design. We almost immediately settled on the topic of the Spanish Maquis. Although I had assumed a Spanish Maquis game would focus on the group's exploits during the Second World War, Roger rightly pushed us towards focusing on the post-WW2 counter-Franco time period. That time period is what the group is better known for, and it provided for a more wide-ranging and interesting thematic backdrop.
Each of the player's cards has up to three elements:
• Attack value
• Special action
• Special action that requires the card to be removed from the game
I envision there being a few (maybe four or five?) "levels" to the game, which consist of thematic concepts and escalating difficulty in the composition of the opponent deck. Theoretically the idea could be that players play through a chronological campaign of these handful of scenarios.
We each began to take on roles in the design. In general, I proposed most of the gameplay elements, Roger led the thematic integration, and Trevor concentrated on development and refinement.
One of the earliest and most impactful thematic elements Roger introduced was the way in which we represented the Maquis fighters. My original concept was that each fighter would have two special actions: one weak and one strong. When fighters used their weak action, they would be discarded and could be used again. If they were used for their stronger action, they were removed from the game. This mechanism was inspired by card-driven games (CDGs) as well as deck-destruction games, such as Martin Wallace's Lincoln. Roger proposed that the weak action represented the Maquis operating covertly, or "hidden", while the stronger action represented the Maquis "revealing" themself and operating overtly against the Francoist forces. It was a great thematic framework that we would use to craft all of the Maquis fighters. This is how Roger initially described it:Quote:So I think this could maybe fit what you've laid out as well. Each maquis card has a "minimal risk" plain-clothes action that is less powerful, and a "high risk" militarized action that is powerful.The next major shift in the design was the way in which the enemy worked. It was the least refined concept I had in my initial gameplay pitch. Trevor proposed an alternative that improved the theming, provided more interesting decisions for the player, and improved the overall game structure. Rather than a single enemy deck, there would be a set of "location" cards (which would later become missions) and an enemy deck. Enemies would be distributed among the locations, and the player would have a choice of which location to attack. Here's how Trevor described it:Quote:Instead of a single, amorphous deck for the enemies, what about this: In addition to the enemy deck, each game has a prescribed set of "location" cards that are laid out on the table. These would minimally have a "defender" value, though they could also have special abilities / conditions. During set-up, you distribute the enemy cards face down to the locations, according to this defender value (so three cards if the value is 3, etc.) On the player's turn, they draw their hand and then choose which location to attack.This was an instrumental change to the game. It allowed for interesting decisions by the player, the integration of special effects for the locations, and greater variety across plays. It was the last major tweak to the core gameplay concept before the three of us really got to work on the game design. The next step was to create the initial set of Maquis fighters, enemies, and missions.
As I mentioned earlier, Roger led the research and thematic integration for the game. During his research, he identified three general timeframes that encapsulated the Maquis' battle against Francoist Spain: The Re-invasion of Spain (1944), Splintering of the Maquis (1945-1948), and Hunting the Maquis (1949-1952). This is how he described those periods:
1944: Re-invasion of Spain by Spanish Maquisards in France. Franco had fortified the Pyrenees with 4,500 fortifications in anticipation of armed resistance both from former foes (the Spaniards who had fled to France) and other Allied powers when Germany fell. There was direct, large-scale conflict between returning maquisards and Franco forces.
1945-1948: Splintering of Maquis. By 1947 hopes of large area control were gone. Franco forces easily repelled the re-invasion of Spain. Remaining Maquis took to the mountains and entered a phase of industrial sabotage, assassinations, and bank robberies. Lots of small scale conflicts, many bands of maquis operating in the mountains.
1949-1952: Hunting the Maquis. Franco responded by training and fielding an incredibly capable force of counter-guerillas, dressed and operating like the guerillas and sowing terror on their home ground. These counter-gangs even attacked local populace in the guise of maquisards to discredit them. Franco forces were hunting down and scattering remnants, with many maquisards trying to flee back to France. Lots of missions to try to rescue their fellow maquis, get needed supplies, rob banks to give money to guerilla families, and continue to harass and disrupt the military, communications, smuggling weapons, etc.
These three time periods formed the thematic background for the three mission decks in the game. We also drew from these concepts to identify the types of enemies in the game.
From Design to Development
Next, we refined how the Maquis were handled. Originally, I had envisioned a single Maquis deck of about twenty cards. You'd start with the entire deck in each play, and your choice to play cards for their weak or strong actions would drive the composition of the deck. In order to increase variety and replayability across games, we shifted to a model in which you'd have access to only half of the Maquis in each game, and early playtests drove us to reduce the number of Maquis in play from twenty to twelve.
Now we had the framework of the game that very much reflected the final design. The next order of business was development. We focused on balancing the Maquis, missions, and enemies; developing consistent terminology across the game; refining the gameplay structure; and better integrating the theme.
Throughout mid-2021, Trevor, Roger, and I worked through this process of refinement. There were a couple critical decisions we made during this period, perhaps the most important of which was "How does the player win?"
In the early versions of the game, we used a win condition similar to what is in the base game now, that is, the player is trying to achieve different victory level thresholds as determined by victory points. However, we also started designing alternate win conditions as scenarios. For these, winning was binary: You either won or lost — but players had special, specific goals rather than simply trying to achieve more and more victory points.
We enjoyed both models, and the system supported both. It was at this time, with the core gameplay refined and us at the point of making subjective decisions, that we launched our playtest.
In September 2021, we launched a massive organized playtest. I reached out to three communities: The 1 Player Guild on BoardGameGeek, specific groups on Facebook (the Solo Board Gamers and Solitaire Wargamers groups), and Twitter. The response was overwhelmingly positive. In the end, we limited the number of testers to 75, with about one-third of the testers coming from each community.
We were confident going into the external playtest that the core game design for Resist! was strong, but what we really needed was extensive data collection so that we could gauge overall balance and difficulty for the game. We needed to test a number of variables (individual mission strength, Maquis, etc), but primarily we were concerned with these questions:
• What was the level of difficulty for the core game when using a random set-up of Maquis?
• What was the level of difficulty for the core game when when you drafted Maquis?
• What was the level of difficulty for each of the eleven scenarios when using a random set-up of Maquis?
• What was the level of difficulty for each of the eleven scenarios when you drafted Maquis?
While there were some subjective and open-ended questions we also asked, it was objective data collection that we needed in order to properly answer the four questions above. Fortunately, because of the size of the playtest pool and the amazing responsiveness of our testers, we were able to collect hundreds of individual game results. That allowed us to make data-driven decisions about balance tweaks across the core game and the scenarios.
Of course, our amazing playtesters helped us in many other ways. Throughout this process Trevor primarily led the effort to refine all of our rules text, especially to ensure consistency, based on tester feedback. To say the responses were critical to the development of the game would be a massive understatement.
The organized playtest ran for about two months. At that point we had collected enough data and feedback to lock down the design. During this same period we had already been meeting with the publisher (Salt & Pepper), artist (Albert Monteys), and graphic designers (Meeple Foundry). But now with the game design and development complete, we could transition into art and graphic design integration.
Art and Graphic Design
We met with Albert to discuss the artwork, and with Diana Toma and Samuel Zaragoza to discuss the graphic design as we were running the organized playtest. I already mentioned how enamored we all were with Albert's gorgeous art, but we were just as lucky to be working with Diana and Samuel.
To give you an idea of what the game components looked like in their prototype form, here's a sample Maquis card, followed by the final version:
And here's a comparison of a mission card:
And an enemy card comparison:
As you can see, somehow Albert, Diana, and Samuel were able to take our rough concepts and turn them into something truly magical. The art is evocative and beautiful, while the graphic design is a perfect blend of functional and elegant. I couldn't be happier with the final look of the game.
Resist! starting shipping to backers in August 2022, one month ahead of schedule, which is a minor miracle in the current state of production and shipping in the board game world. The game will be available to buy at SPIEL '22 in Essen, Germany in October.
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Days of Wonder releases only a few games each year, and most of those titles are spin-offs or line extensions for existing games such as Small World of Warcraft or Ticket to Ride: San Francisco.
With Heat: Pedal to the Metal, Days of Wonder is releasing its first original game since 2019's Deep Blue, and the designers of that game — Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen — are also responsible for Heat, which I played at Gen Con 2022 on mock-up components and summarize for you below.
Heat is a racing game, and the goal is what you might expect: Cross the finish line first. If multiple players cross the line the same round, then go farthest past the line.
Your race car in Heat is controlled by an engine that consists of a fixed deck of cards — three copies each of 1-4 speed cards, a 0, a 5, stress cards, and one Heat card. Additional Heat cards are placed in an engine block space on your player sheet, and when you take certain actions, you add Heat to your engine — that is, your deck — which gums up future action until you cool down. Essentially, Heat is a management game, with you managing the flow of Heat through your deck and hand, while also taking risks (or not) as you race around the track.
On a turn, everyone simultaneously adjusts their gear, then plays face down as many cards (1-4) as their current gear. If you shift two gears on a turn, move a Heat from your engine block to your discard pile. In game terms, I pay one Heat.There's Candice (blue) in front...then everyone else
Then in order from front to back on the track, everyone reveals and plays their cards. In the image above, I'm in fourth gear, so I'm playing four cards: two 4s and two stress cards. For each played stress card, you flip cards from the top of your deck and discard them until you reveal your first speed card (value 1-4), which is then played.
This turn, my green car is going 10-16 spaces depending on what's revealed, which could be a problem since a corner awaits after the 14th space. (The track spaces are numbered between corners to help you plan your moves.) That corner has a speed limit of 3, and if you break a speed limit, you must pay Heat equal to the difference between the speed limit and your speed — and I wouldn't have enough Heat to pay, which means I'd spin out, paying all available Heat, adding more stress cards to my deck, and starting in first gear.
However, if I've been paying attention to all the cards that I've played (because I can't look through my discard pile), then I know what's left in my deck, which means I'm not gambling with the stress cards as much as it might seem. Ideally I'll move 10-14 spaces, then drop two gears next turn (paying one Heat), then manage to play cards from my refilled hand that keep me close to that speed limit. Heck, depending on what I draw, I can even stay in third gear and keep the Heat out of my deck.Mock-up components
In addition to tracking what's been played and what's in your deck, you're managing stress and Heat.
Before you refill your hand to seven cards at the end of your turn, you can discard unwanted cards, but not stress and Heat. To discard Heat, you need to drive in second gear (which lets you discard one) or first gear (discard three). (If you're the last player or two to move in a round, you get an adrenaline bonus of one extra movement and one Heat discard.)
Note that you discard Heat not to your discard pile, but to the engine block, giving you the resource needed to shift gears twice, break speed limits, and take the boost action. (To boost, after your movement, you can pay one Heat to flip cards until you get a 1-4 speed card, then you move that distance.)
The only way to rid your hand of stress cards — which represent moments when your focus slips, so you hit the pedal (or not) unexpectedly — is to play them. If you have a hand of nothing but stress and Heat, then you have to play stress cards, so who knows where you'll end up.
The resolution of each stress card is a bit of a gamble since you discard everything that's not a speed card, i.e., anything other than 1-4. To expand on my previous example, if I know that my 5 is still in the deck, then I actually hope to reveal and discard the 5 since I need to keep my speed low on the next turn. If I know that my deck still has lots of Heat in it, I'm fine having that Heat move directly from my deck to my discard pile so that it doesn't hit my hand. Playing a stress card when you have a full deck increases the variability of what you'll get compared to playing it when you know you have only a 3 and a 4 left in the deck.
Candice and I played quite differently in our six-player game — her boosting like crazy, then managing extra Heat and me managing my cards to hit limits as closely as possible and stay Heat-free — yet we were neck-and-neck at the finish, with her edging ahead for the win as I foolishly didn't keep a Heat in reserve for a boost on the final move.
Beth spun out on an unlucky stress play in a corner, which added more stress to her deck, which caused more randomness on future turns. It was a nice representation of a driver losing control as more bad things kept happening.Expansion components
After the game, Days of Wonder's Franck Lefebvre showed off the upgrade cards in the Garage Module, the weather cards and road condition tokens in that module, the Legends Module that puts one or more automated drivers in play, and the Championship System that makes use of many of these modules as well as sponsorship cards in a multi-race game. I don't recall Days of Wonder including expansions in a game previously, and these elements, along with the two double-sided game boards (giving four different tracks) means the Heat box is about 50% thicker than a normal DoW release.
Heat: Pedal to the Metal will debut at SPIEL '22 in October, with a worldwide release scheduled in Q4 2022.
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