Prev « 236 , 237 , 238 , 239 , 240 Next » 
W. Eric Martin
A year after announcing Blood Bowl: Team Manager in the middle of 2010, Fantasy Flight Games has finally put a release date on the game – October 2011 – and provided more information in the form of a game announcement in its news section and a dedicated page on the FFG website.
FFG notes in its game re-announcement that Blood Bowl: Team Manager - The Card Game shifted away from being solely a deck-building game as it went further through development. I've updated the game description and other details on the BGG game page; visit the FFG site for even more details.
W. Eric Martin
No, German publisher Lookout Games is not releasing 2,011 games this year – although you might get that sensation when you check out all that is coming, both from Lookout Games itself and from its co-publishers, primarily Z-Man Games.
First are German editions of two games: Ruhm für Rom (Carl Chudyk's Glory to Rome) and 1830: Schienenleger & Spekulanten (Francis Tresham's 1830: Railways & Robber Barons). Ruhm für Rom, due out August 2011, uses the same new graphic design and illustrations found in the Spanish version of the game from Homo Ludicus and the Polish one from Boat City Games and apparently never to be found in English. The German edition of 1830 bears a Q4 2011 release date – officially "Herbst 2011" or Autumn, but for our friends in the southern hemisphere I stick to quarterly dates. Mayfair Games currently has a Q3 2011 release date on the English version of 1830.
In the realm of Uwe Rosenberg's Agricola, Lookout Games is on its seventh edition of the game, which features completely revised card texts to remove ambiguities with no changes to the actual rules. The Niederlande-Deck, comprised of 120 cards, is listed as a September 2011 release, while a Weltmeisterschaftsdeck (or "World Champion Deck"), also consisting of 120 cards, is listed for release in November 2011. No details beyond a card count at this point.
Finally – at least it better be final unless you want to be unable to play games the rest of the evening – is AgricoLAVA, the newest Agricola-themed alcoholic beverage (5.8% alcohol). This limited-edition brew will be available both at Spiel 2011 and the Österreichischen Spielefest (Austrian Games Festival) in November.
Two other August 2011 releases from Lookout Games – both coming out in English from Z-Man Games – are Tom Wham's Feudalherren (Feudality) and Torsten Landsvogt's Die Gnome von Zavandor (The Gnomes of Zavandor). The German rules for Feudalherren are available on the Lookout Games website (link on the game page), and Wham has noted on BGG that he's editing the English rules and hopes they'll be available soon as well. Lookout's Hanno Girke said in June 2011 that "with some luck" copies of Feudality would first be available at Gen Con.
Die Gnome von Zavandor is set in the same fantasy world as Die Minen von Zavandor. Here's a brief description of the game play:
Back to Zavandor! Gemstone deposits have been discovered near the city of Diamantina, and 2-4 players will slip into the role of zealous gnomes who mine precious stones, then buy and sell them on a stock exchange, and eventually transform them into powerful artifacts and precious gems.
German rules (PDF) are available on the Lookout Games website.
The final three games are labeled as "Herbst 2011" releases, so let's call them Spiel 2011 debuts. These games are Uwe Rosenberg's Ore et Labora, Welcome to Walnut Grove from Finnish designers Touko Tahkokallio and Paul Laane, and the inevitable Bohnanza-themed expansion/spin-off, this one being Bohn Camillo from Uwe Rosenberg and Sascha Hendriks. Z-Man Games will release Ora & Labora in English; Lookout will release Walnut Grove in English; and Bohn Camillo appears to be German only.
Ora et Labora already has a page on BGG with a long description, so let's look at the other two games. Bohn Camillo, a Bohnanza variant for two players only, is a take-off of the movie Don Camillo e l'on. Peppone, with the title characters having a love-hate relationship in which they fight each other, spy on each other, and steal from each other – all while trying to thwart their antogonist's plans. Only the "Bohn Gottes" – the Bean God – who hangs on the cross stands between the two and can prevent the worst, although when the situation warrants they can be generous to one another.
Welcome to Walnut Grove (1-4 players, 30-60 minutes, 10+) is a cross between jigsaw puzzles and worker placement, with the players as farmers who find their plots merging into a single landscape as time passes and their holdings grow. Come fall they must head to the city with their goods as winter will soon return.
W. Eric Martin
Designer Ted Alspach is debuting two expansions for his Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition at Spiel 2011 in October through his own Bézier Games.
First is Ultimate Werewolf Artifacts, which despite the name can be used with any version of Werewolf. Artifacts includes forty unique artifact cards, and each player receives one before the game begins. Some provide a useful special power turn after turn, others a one-shot effect, still others affect everyone else in the game.
Says Alspach, "One of the things that werewolf detractors (and by this I mean the players, not the villagers in the game) dislike about the game of Werewolf is that players have very little information to go on when determining who might be a werewolf, especially early on in the game. Artifacts directly addresses this issue."
"Another area that Artifacts addresses," continues Alspach, "is that if you're a plain vanilla villager, you sometimes feel a little left out. There's the seer being all clever helping the village, the werewolves plotting together to kill everyone, and a variety of special roles that are having an impact on the game. But as a plain villager, there's very little going on. And as you probably know, you pretty much have to have a bunch of plain vanilla villagers in each game of Ultimate Werewolf. Artifacts makes vanilla villagers into rich ice cream sundaes!" All the better for werewolves to eat them, I suppose...
Second is Ultimate Werewolf: Night Terrors, which is in the vein of Alspach's Ultimate Werewolf: Classic Movie Monsters from 2010 as it contains six new roles that can be added to UW. Alspach describes the roles as follows:
First is the Insomniac. Here's a villager who just can't sleep at nighttime, try as he might. The good news is that in his hazy non-sleep time, he learns if one or both of his neighbors was up during the night doing something. He's not alert to know if it was indeed just one of them or both, and if only one of them which one it was, but he knows if someone was up and about during the night. Each night. It might be a werewolf out looking for prey. It might be the helpful Seer who is trying to find werewolves. Or it might be any other number of nighttime active roles in the game.
Much more alert at nighttime is the Beholder. She wakes up the first night and sees who the Seer is! What she ends up doing with that information is anyone's guess, but hopefully she'll figure out how to help the village and prevent the Seer from being lynched by the crazed mob.
And then there's everyone's favorite numerically-aware goth, The Count. He's got his spreadsheet open, and he's, well, counting all night. He knows how many werewolves are on each side of him in the village because he counted. "One Werewolf. Two, two scary hairy werewolves...ah ha ha ha. Three, three three evil lycanthropic werewolves...mwa ha ha ha."
Night terror? Or merely OCD?
Possibly the most mysterious creature of the night is the Thing (that goes "bump" in the night). This nasty, furry, slightly smelly creature is helping out the village by bumping people in the wee hours of night. What will those people do with the information garnered from the Thing? What is the Thing's ultimate purpose?
But not everyone is out to help people at nighttime. There's a new werewolf in town, though she's a little...sleepy. The Dreamwolf takes it easy, not bothering to wake up with the other werewolves unless one of her sister werewolves is killed. Then she's all about taking out her revenge on the village. Watch out!
Finally, the most feared night monster of all, the Bogeyman, rounds out the roles in ''Night Terrors''. Take too long at nighttime and the Bogeyman gets to kill someone. He kills indiscriminately, with a winning condition that totally fits his role.
Both Artifacts and Night Terrors will be available at Spiel 2011 with the expansions shipping in October 2011 for those not at the show. Preorders are possible at the Bézier Games website.
W. Eric Martin
Stronghold Games has announced that it will release David Ausloos' Panic Station in North America in cooperation with White Goblin Games. Officially Panic Station will be the first title in Stronghold's "Ally Line" which will consist of projects undertaken with publishers outside North America. Ausloos has previously provided artwork for the Stronghold titles Survive and Confusion.
White Goblin Games plans to have Panic Station at Spiel 2011, and the WGG version will include rules in English, German, French and Dutch. Stronghold Games will have the game available in North America in November 2011 with rules in English, in addition to having the game at Spiel 2011 and preorders likely starting in September.
[This designer diary, possibly the most requested for reprinting, first appeared in Polish on Games Fanatic.pl, then in English as a thirteen-part series on BoardgameNews.com from July 4 to October 3, 2009. While BGG News (unlike BGN) limits diaries to a single post so that readers can more easily catch everything, this diary had to be spread over two posts as the BGG blog system can't handle posts more than 10,000 words long. Get yourself a drink and a snack before you dive in...—WEM]
#1 – The Founding of Stronghold
I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was in a pub, the Kredens, with the slowly developing gamers' circle in Gliwice, a city in southern Poland with a population of 200,000 and part of a metropolitan area with more than five million residents. Goor, Tiju and Bors were all new acquaintances, and I didn't know them very well at the time. As part of our "getting to know one another" efforts, I brought Neuroshima HEX! to one of those meetings. My new acquaintances looked at it, shook their heads and said, no, they'd rather play something else. They perceived the game as exceptionally uninteresting. Many months later they became great fans of the game, taking part in tournaments and regular matches – but back then, that first encounter with NS HEX had been extremely negative: Some tanks, some mutants, whatsgoin'on...? Let's play something else.
At the time I discussed NS HEX at length with the head of Rebel.pl, Piotr Katnik, who would argue as follows: "Trzewik, it's a great game, but its subject puts off a great majority of customers. No one will buy a game about mutants fighting gangsters, about future robots and some partisans. Convert it to wars of elves versus dwarves, make a new printing, and the sales will go up 300%."
Hardly anyone remembers such conversations now because Neuroshima HEX! is the biggest and best-known Polish game, but three years back the game had two distinct features: great reviews (reviewed by Pedrak and Folko; praised by Bazik and Pancho, among others) and practically no sales. It took many months of hard work promoting the game and traveling to visit conventions and organize demonstrations to finally bring boardgame fans around. Suddenly the sales soared, suddenly the print run sold out in no time, and we could start considering a reprint – but the beginning was terrible.
Our hard times with Neuroshima HEX! gave us a lot to think about. When you look at the shelves in a game store, what hits your eyes are boxes of Pirate's Cove (game with pirates!), Galaxy Trucker (game with space smugglers!), Ghost Stories (game with exorcists!) – games with such theme that you grab the box without even thinking about whether the mechanisms are innovative, whether the game comes from a recognized author, whether the price is $20 or $25. You look at the shelf, see a game about zombies, and automatically think: "Braaaaaains!"
I won't say that the subject matter of a game is most important, that it's more important than the mechanisms, but I have no doubt today that the two are equally important, that if you have two solid games with well-written rules, you'll pick the one with Formula 1 and not the one about goat grazing.
Somewhere around the beginning of 2008, when we knew we would be releasing Witchcraft that year, we sat down in Portal and discussed our plans for 2009. We decided we needed an interesting subject for a game, one that we believed in ourselves, one for which we could create cool rules, test it all nicely, and balance it all, too. But before this could happen, before we'd launch into creating cool rules, we'd have to find a good, interesting theme. I remember saying to Michał Oracz, "Listen, let's take a piece of paper and put down all the cool, colorful, adventurous themes we can. There are loads of games about Vikings and pirates. We need something similar, something associated with our childhood and things that used to fascinate us. Days Of Wonder does it this way and has an impressive list of games, from gladiators to Cleopatra to King Arthur's knights."
It was the beginning of 2008, so we didn't hurry as we knew we had a lot of time. We explored the childhood memories in our heads and wondered which of those could be converted into a board game, a game that would bring positive feelings just by standing on a shelf in a store.
"Stronghold!" I said one day as I entered the Portal office – "a stronghold." A few moments passed before Michał and Multidej got it, with me standing in the doorway, awaiting their reaction in suspense. Finally I saw in their eyes what I felt myself. That was it: Stronghold.
"Sounds good," admitted Michał.
"This can be done nicely," I thought. "We'll make a Westerplatte" – the peninsula in Gdansk where the Germans launched the invasion of Poland and World War II by sending thousands of troops against a Polish garrison holding only 182 soldiers, a garrison that still held off the attack for six days despite the lopsided numbers. Westerplatte is the first thing that children in Poland learn at school, and it is a huge symbol of courage and patriotism in our country. "The defenders are few, and they defend a stronghold, surrounded by enemy forces. The attacking player will have an unlimited number of forces, simply heaps of troops, so he doesn't care about losses. The defender has only a dozen or so on the walls, so every fallen man on the wall means carnage to him. And you know, siege engines and lots of them, catapults, ballistas, trebuchets, projectiles flying and smashing the walls, defenders pouring hot oil onto the enemy forces, but it won't be enough because there's just too many of them. A section of the wall gets knocked down by a catapult, and more forces are required there, but there are no more soldiers to send. The defender's lost three men, and he can't fully man the wall, there are gaps to be filled, and the invader storms relentlessly, another catapult's volley is launched, targeting the hospital in the castle..."
I stood there in the doorway, or maybe already inside, I don't remember. I know I was in that castle, I saw that encounter, I saw the swarm of attackers and those desperate defenders, that handful of soldiers, redirected from wall to wall by their commander, responding to a threat in one section, then going somewhere else because the invader broke through from the flanks, and the rear, and there and here... I felt the emotions. I imagined the evil consequences of the attackers' actions and the desperation of the defenders.
A castle siege. Catapults, cauldrons with oil, heroes fighting on the walls.
That was it. We had a theme.
The first publicity image for Stronghold
#2 - Through the Eyes of My Soul
The initial stage of a game design is extraordinary. I have no idea how other authors create games, how the process goes in the case of Knizia, Kramer or Faidutti. I know how I do it. It's a peculiar occurrence: I imagine people playing my game.
In the beginning I'm not worried about the mechanisms in the slightest. I don't make a draft for a nice bidding idea, nor do I take notes regarding an interesting way of drawing cards. I drive my car, listen to some nice music, and imagine people playing a game. I think about what emotions I want to achieve, I think about what I'd like them to be doing during the game. I imagine the whole match. Afterwards I will come up with rules, which will provide the sensations and emotions that I dreamt about.
How did the first images of Stronghold look? How did I imagine the game?
In the first part of this series I used the word "Westerplatte", and with good reason. This is how I imagined the game: Enormous invading forces on one side, and a few defenders on the other. A wave of faceless troops, a huge mass of soldiers on one side and a handful of soldiers supported by a few special characters on the other. On one side successive regiments of the attackers, on the other something similar to the Fellowship of the Ring, with a charismatic Aragorn, a brave Boromir, a wise Gandalf. I wanted a sense of inevitability of the castle falling, I wanted the attacking player to have an ominous smile on his face, to be certain that he'll eventually enter the castle, it's just a question of time. I wanted him to flood the walls, to build catapults and siege engines and thwart the desperate defender's efforts with a cruel satisfaction.
On the other side I imagined this defender, a player with four or five heroes on the walls who are helping the defender's troops persevere, who thanks to their unique skills enable the defenders to resist the enemy's pressure. I imagined the defending player declaring that Aragorn is now speaking in front of the troops, with every soldier on the wall now sporting a strength bonus +1, I imagined Boromir charging at a throng of enemies and taking out all of the invader's markers on one of the wall sections. I imagined the invader acknowledging that setback with a smile of contempt and whispering: "This is your last turn. You stood well, but now it's the end..."
In those initial, hastily imagined assumptions I wanted the defender to win by surviving ten turns, or lose if the invader breaks into the castle. Eventually this condition changed, but this was the approach in the beginning: A realized plan and the pressure of constant forces versus improvisation and the constant patching up of holes. Enormous invading forces against unique, powerful defenders, each having only a few ability points. Catapults smashing walls turn after turn, fighting on the walls, where ten invaders and two defenders fall – for the invader ten corpses is a piece of cake, whereas two fallen men for the defender puts him one step from defeat.
This imagining of a game is a fascinating adventure. It's a stage where everything is possible, a moment when I can paint the coolest scenes in my head and imagine that the game rules will manage to carry my dreams and make them come true. And that I'll be able to create game mechanisms that will provide the emotions and impressions I dream about. And that in a few months, when the players sit down to play the game, there will be that cruel smile on the face of the self-confident invader, and the defender's face will be of a courageous commander who has only a few soldiers, but who wouldn't surrender the castle for the world, a man who will bend over backwards to use every rule created by me to hold the castle until the tenth turn.
I went to Warsaw in December 2008 to meet my friends, and we played, had fun and discussed games. At some point a question was asked: "Trzewik, you know a lot of games. Listen, I'm looking for a game which doesn't place players in the same position. You know, whenever I buy a game, every player starts with exactly the same stuff, players pursue the same goal, to eventually learn who, considering the same starting position, did best. I'm looking for a different game. A game with different goals for different players, or with different starting points, I don't know, something that would make me feel that each person at the table implements a different tactic. What would you recommend?"
Poor me, what am I supposed to do? The guy takes me for an authority, flat out asks for advice, and I stare at him with a blank mind. "You know, I don't know. In StarCraft as far as I know the races are very differentiated. In our NS HEX the armies differ completely, too..."
It wasn't what he had hoped for. "But you know, it should really differ, not that one player has a different ability, but each of them plays differently. The board is their clashing spot, but their goals and the tools for achieving them are completely different."
I was looking at him, looking at the wall behind him. I was mentally browsing through all the boxes on the shelf in my house, and he was right. In those games the players have the same starting position, the same goal, and in the course of the game it comes out who achieved the goal more effectively. Eventually I recalled Stronghold. "You know, I don't know if there is such game, I can't recall any. But next year there will be one. I've been working on a game for some time now, a board game with a castle siege. The players there are in totally different situations, and have totally different tools to achieve different goals. It may be what you're looking for. And I can tell you that working on it until now I haven't realized how innovative this is. I've never noticed it."
Ever since that conversation I have consistently made sure to make the fun for both the Invader and the Defender differ as much as possible. Maybe this will be the feature that makes the game a success.
#3 - The Prinz Track
Peter Prinz entered the boardgame history books by creating Jenseits von Theben, later republished as Thebes, and giving us all a terrific design tool in the form of a time track around the game board. In his board game about archaeologists, the players take various actions which, depending on their type, take more or less time, and those actions are recorded on the time track. One player goes to Moscow, wasting four weeks in the process, while another stays in London, listening to lectures during that time and even managing to go to Paris. One player goes to Egypt, spending five weeks there and moving along the time track by a large number of fields, while in that same time another player will manage to do many short actions, jumping only one or two fields at a time. It's a great invention – and I stole it with pleasure. It's been with Stronghold right from the start.
In Prinz' game the players turn over cards and pick the one that interests them most, devoting a certain amount of time while keeping the card. In Stronghold there's even more stress put on time, making Prinz' time track work even better. Both the defender and the invader have all the options in front of them. They don't wait for a card to come, they don't assess its value. Everything on the table is available straight away, plain to see. The attacker has a whole range of actions: He may choose to build a catapult or train his soldiers, he may decide to move his troops out and attack the walls. It's up to him what he wants to do. He makes a decision, and one of the most important factors in this process is the answer to the question: "Do I have the time to do it?" Let's imagine the following situation:
The invader builds a catapult, which is a lengthy process; let's say forty time units. Now the defender has the ball, and he decides what to do: He may reinforce the walls twice in that time. He may start building a ballista. He may move to a section of the wall and even manage to train two soldiers. He decides, he has the choice. He decides to build a ballista, so the ball goes back to the attacker, who chooses to push, not giving the defender any time. He abandons the plan to build another siege engine and heads for the walls straight away. This takes him only two units of time, so the defender has now only one square on the time track for his use. He can do something short, simple, before the invader's turn starts again...
Prinz' track seems to have been created especially for Stronghold. The emotions the players feel when deciding on the next step have to be enormous. Do you take a short, weak action and stay in play all the time, or freeze, declare something big and powerful, but give up active playing for a long time and observe how the opponent romps around the board taking action after action? Achieving this took only giving the players an interesting, differentiated selection of available actions, then looking at how they rack their brains, how they change tactics, how they take the risk of starting a lengthy action, condemning themselves to helplessly observing how the opponent freely gets ready to defeat them.
What's more, rather than every player having one pawn which moves on the time track, as in Thebes, I took that pawn and broke it into several pawns – one for each character in Stronghold. After all, the defender has a few characters, and each of them can take special actions: The sorcerer can cast various spells, the officer can do several things on the wall, etc.
The whole thing was starting to take the shape of an epic novel, and to see the course of the game all you need to do is close your eyes for a moment. The sorcerer decides to cast a powerful spell, so his pawn moves eight squares on the time track. The castle defender will be without his support for a long time, but after those eight "hours" have passed the invading forces will be screwed. The priest in the hospital decides to heal four wounded, which will take him four "hours". The officer in that time runs along the walls solving problems using the simplest, cheapest means. The invader's pawns have also spread across the whole time track. The engineer devoted himself to the construction of a siege tower and has disappeared for ten "hours", the warrior throws himself onto the wall and consistently cuts down the defender's weakest soldiers, devoting one "hour" to each of them...
You can see the passing of time. You can see the men spread across the battle, busy with their actions, you can see the efforts of both sides to encompass and contain the confusion of battle. You can see the invader trying to take advantage of the "eight hour absence" of the enemy sorcerer. You can see the defender's officer, now realizing that he has to do everything possible to hold the castle, using even the smallest game rules to survive those bloody eight "hours", in the absence of the sorcerer, who's busy with his spell.
I saw it all with the eyes of my imagination, and I knew it would work brilliantly.
And then I added some more plot and emotions to the track. I painted part of it black, marking it as night. During the night the invader received a +1 strength bonus to all his units. The frightened defenders knew that when the time markers reached the dark squares, the attack would commence. They knew that only five, then four, then three hours separated them from nightfall... I gave them a reward, too, a hope with the coming of daybreak. With a new day, all defending forces would get a strength bonus, their fatigue would drop, the wounded would heal faster. A new day, a new hope, a new strength.
The Prinz track seemed to be an invention which in a ridiculously simple way would turn the whole game into an epic tale.
Obviously, it didn't.
The first sign of trouble appeared when I was playing Bruno Faidutti and Jef Gontier's Red November. Faidutti, like me, fell in love with the Thebes' time path, and like me he wanted to use it in his game. I played Red November four times and every time there were problems with the Prinz track. The players didn't get who can do what and when, how many actions they can take, when they should stop, whose turn it is. Something disturbingly inconceivable was happening. The excellent working of the Prinz track in Thebes somehow wasn't convincing in Faidutti's game. It got in the way and forced the players to read the manual again to make sure what was allowed and what wasn't.
A while later one of the very first Stronghold prototypes was ready to play. I was playing with Salou, the owner of the shop "U Zyrafy" in Gliwice. We were sitting with the first version of the board in front of us, lots of pawns, notes. The characters had their actions written down, we started playing.
It hung quickly and it happened like this:
The officer took an action and moved four squares. The sorcerer took an action and moved six squares. The priest... I didn't want him to take an action just yet, so the priest didn't move. But it's his turn now. But I didn't need him to take any action. But it's his turn now, so he had to do something. But I didn't want to...
A quick patch was created. A player could say "pass" and that character's pawn would move on the track towards the nearest character. This seemed to work.
It didn't. After ten minutes we agreed that the game wasn't supposed to look like this, that Prinz' wonderful track was shaky in Stronghold. The game turned into constant "passes" because very often a character didn't need to take an action.
Many months of imagining the course of the game, of making notes, sketching rules – all based on Prinz' track. It seemed I could pack it up and bin it.
I was crushed.
Game authors' drawers are full of various, more-or-less interesting ideas for games. Their bins are full of excellent mechanisms, which didn't seem to work in any way. I know something about it...
#4 - Hourglasses
The Prinz track didn't meet my expectations and it seemed that Stronghold would be paralyzed for weeks. Salou and I were playing the second or third round, and we could clearly see that the time track was not working, with no possible patches working either.
Luckily the solution took only a moment's thought from my opponent: "Why do the pawns move around on the time line? It only causes problems. When I take an action, I'll give you a few points. You'll spend them whenever you want, done." Sometimes finding solution happens like this: Someone has to convince you of their idea. You have a plan in your head, you're used to it, you're attached to it, and you only reluctantly listen to the opinions of others. And sometimes someone says two words, and you know immediately that they're right. You finish the sentence with them – as happened in this case. In one moment I understood that Salou was 100% right. Moving the pawns along the time track caused unnecessary confusion. There had to be another way of implementing the passage of time. I rolled up the prototype. "I'll think it over. We'll play next week – with points."
A week passed, and we played again, with this game working much better than the time track. And so the Hourglasses were born. Prinz' track was soon forgotten, pushed back into Thebes, where it works so well. The details and specific solutions have changed at different stages of the game, but the basic, fundamental rule of Hourglasses has stayed unaltered. And although tens of game elements would fail, the Hourglasses never did. They worked incredibly simply and that's why they were so effective. The attacking player would declare his actions and, depending on their type and number, hand over a certain number of Hourglasses to the defender, who in turn would spend them on his actions. This is how it should be. The Invader has the initiative; he is the one deciding how many actions to take. Nothing limits him, and everything is in his hands. The Invader has the grim satisfaction of deciding the defender's fate, which is exactly how I wanted the game to work. He can build catapults and ballistas and give the defender ten Hourglasses with which to develop a defensive strategy, or he can say "pass" and give him no points at all. The Defender can do only as much as the Invader allows him, taking as many actions as the number of Hourglasses he receives. Desperation is his state.
One of the wishes, one of the images of the game I had in the first weeks of work on Stronghold was thus implemented on the rules' level. The Invader was confident in his actions, he did what he wanted, he had the initiative. The Defender was in, well, defense. He depended on the attackers, he prayed for every Hourglass, prayed for every moment of time that would allow him to prepare the stronghold's defenses. I could now concentrate on the next batch of problems to solve...
#5 - Playing with Pillars
I remember how I learned many years ago, that one of my favourite fantasy book authors, Feliks W. Kres, does not read any fantasy literature. None. He's not interested in what others write; he doesn't like the style and has no intention to start reading it.
In our gaming field Reiner Knizia gave me a similar shock. I learned from Jacek Nowak's great article, printed in Swiat Gier Planszowych (Board Games' World), that Doctor Knizia doesn't play other authors' games. While Machina (Machine) and Zombiaki (Zombies) were created exactly like Kres' books, meaning that I had no other board game experience at the time, Witchcraft and Stronghold are titles created by a conscious Trzewik, an author with some gaming experience who knows many solutions used in games, an author who is able to find ready solutions in other games and implement them in his own prototype in order to achieve a particular result.
I already wrote about being influenced by Prinz' track, and now we'll throw in the craftsmen cards from The Pillars of the Earth. I tried to borrow those, too, and use them in Stronghold as a tool in the Invader's hands. The player attacking the castle needs to take various actions. Some are standard, like building a machine, resource collecting, or troop movement. Some are special, like sending a saboteur or calling in reinforcements.
This division of actions quickly brought The Pillars of the Earth to my mind, as that game includes craftsmen cards, with players picking a few standard ones and adding two special ones as well. It seemed like an interesting trail. I created eight standard cards and a bunch of special cards, so let's go to battle. Among the standard ones were "resources collection", "machine construction", "moving forces to walls", and "assault on the walls"; among the special ones were such nasty toys as "poisoned water" and "fury on the walls". From those eight the player would pick five at random, adding one special one, and this would comprise his deck of actions for that turn. He would know what he could do by looking at his deck. Advantages? It was quick. Simple. The deck told the player straight out which actions he could take in his turn.
There was some randomness, but it was potentially interesting. You know, sometimes he would be without machine construction, sometimes without resources. His life wouldn't be easy. He'd have to pick his way, wheeling and dealing how to best use the cards he just picked and how to secure himself from an unlucky future draw. The theory was very tempting as we'd be forcing the player to plan for the future – "I need a lot of wood to start some serious machine building from the third turn on" – rather than allowing him to create short term plans: "In the next turn I'm going to collect wood and construct a catapult."
No such luck. The system didn't work. The attacker would get his cards and not plan anything, but just do what the cards dictated. The randomness was extreme. When the number of standard cards was reduced, the randomness would disappear, but the game would become boring (through the small choice of actions). When the variety of cards was increased, the game would become more interesting because it gave more possibilities of play, but it would also become extremely random. We took the actions that we had drawn, not what we had planned. We didn't make decisions. Fate decided what we got and what we played.
Transforming the craftsmen cards into action cards in Stronghold didn't work. The idea of using six standard cards and a few special action cards didn't provide what we had expected. No planning was possible, and there was no satisfaction in the multitude of available actions. With an aching heart I packed the cards into an "Archive" folder and started thinking about another solution. Completely unexpectedly I then invented something that became one of the main engines of Stronghold's mechanisms. And it wasn't borrowed from any other game. Well, maybe slightly...
#6 - Choices Appear
The action cards inspired by the craftsmen cards from The Pillars of the Earth wouldn't work in Stronghold, so they went to the archive and I started from scratch. I took a sheet of paper and listed all available actions. I listed the resources, the catapult, the siege engine, saboteurs, the siege... I looked at the resources and thought: "Okay, the player can go and collect resources."
I was one step from a cool solution, but I didn't know it then. The idea was approaching slowly, gracefully. So it took a good few seconds before I drew four squares next to the "Resources" list, each of them with a pointer and an hourglass. Thus, if a player wants to get a resource, he'll put a soldier on that square, and the Defender will receive an Hourglass, which as I explained previously, is a point to spend on castle defense. If the player wants two resources, he'll put two soldiers on the squares and the Defender will receive two Hourglasses... Such a simple thing. The player devotes as many of his troops as he wants and gets exactly that many resources, giving the Defender that many Hourglasses by doing so.
The good idea was close, literally round the corner.
I drew three squares and colored them red, blue and white. The first represented a troll with strength 3, the second represented an orc with strength 2, and the third stood for a goblin with strength 1. (The good idea was already sitting next to me and letting itself be noted.) If the player devotes a troll and sends it to the forest, he'll get three resources; if he sends an orc, he'll get two resources; and a goblin will bring back only one piece of wood. "This is good," I thought.
This idea surprised me a lot. It was good because it generated choices. It forced the Invader to make decisions. The player had to think whether to devote his best warrior (a troll) to get lots of wood, while at the same time giving the defender only one Hourglass, or send a weak fighter (a goblin) and receive only one piece of wood. He could send three weak goblins to get three pieces of wood, but at the same time he's giving the defender three Hourglasses.
The set-up is apparently just about resources – supposedly nothing that important – but it's quite a lot to consider. This idea nicely exposed and supported the primary foundation of Stronghold: The Invader has the initiative and decides how much the Defender is allowed to do. The attacking player may send a troll to the forest, get a lot of wood, and the Defender gets only one Hourglass, one action point to prepare the castle defense. The attacking player may instead send three goblins to the forest. He'll get lots of wood, and he'll save the troll (who'll be available to march for the walls), but the Defender will get three Hourglasses. Three Hourglasses is plenty; you can build a hot oil cauldron. The attacker may decide to send one goblin to the forest. He'll have one piece of wood, almost nothing, but the Defender doesn't get much either.
Nay, the invader may say pass and send no one. The defender receives no Hourglass points for defense. The initiative is on the Invader's side. Choices and decisions. The Defender's desperation. I was heading in the right direction. I followed this trail...
#7 - Invaders' Camp
The rule I created for gathering resources seemed very interesting. I followed that trail and planned all of the Invader's actions, each of them in various versions, on a big sheet of paper. Examples? The catapult could be built by devoting one troll, or two orcs, or three goblins. Siege tower? Built by two trolls, three orcs or six goblins. One of them would get inside and start to sabotage the Defender, while the rest would die when attempting to break into the castle.
There were choices at every stage of the Invader's game. At every stage the player had to decide whether to lose a good warrior on construction so that the Defender would suffer from the lack of Hourglasses, or to build using those weaklings, the goblins; the Defender would get lots of Hourglasses, but I'd be able to throw a unit of trolls on the walls. It'll be eventful.
We played two or three short games and the solution worked. Salou, my Stronghold co-player since the beginning who was helping me test the game, would choose and decide in which turn and at what stage he'd devote trolls or goblins; he plotted and decided. The game wasn't working yet – it was a big makeshift tent, a big construction site with dirt in the air – but this element, the idea of devoting different troops to generate various numbers of Hourglasses, was. I was heading in the right direction.
After a few games I started playing with the plot. I was trying to cook up a way to give this resource idea plot potential, aside from giving it elegant mechanisms. The artillerymen appeared on the sheet. The player could train an orc to become an artilleryman. There was no choice here. Trolls and goblins are too stupid to be trained. I added shamans' rituals, for which only goblins could be sacrificed; orcs and trolls would refuse to give their blood for the rituals.
These little flavors forced Salou to plan his moves better. He had to watch the numbers of goblins sent to the forest, lest he have no one left to ritually murder. He had to put aside those orcs trained into artillerymen. I didn't add any new rules. Everything was based on one sentence – "To take an action, place a certain number of troop markers on the board and give the opponent an equal number of Hourglasses" – but this one sentence provided huge possibilities. It forced decision-making in every moment of a turn.
I won't hide it; I'm obsessed with decisions. I've been making games for many years. This obsession has been with me since 2001, ever since we started designing the role-playing game Neuroshima together with Michał Oracz. We had analyzed tens of role-playing games, then we created Neuroshima's character creation system – a mighty tool, which became the game's success and gave the players lots of fun.
I know that board game fans don't necessarily have any interest in role-playing games, so fear not, I won't bore you. I'll just state a few numbers. When a player creates a character in Neuroshima, he has the choice of 12 different races, with three features in each of them. That's 36 options. Then he picks one of 26 professions, with one of the two special features in each of them. That makes for 52 options multiplied by 36 options. Then he picks one of five specializations...
Obsession with choices. Decisions. To make the player sit and conceive. The sheet with the listed Invader's actions was slowly turning into an attacking troops' camp. Soldiers could be sent to a nearby forest to provide resources. Siege engines were built in workshops. The most capable warriors, who could tip the balance in the Invader's favor, were trained in tents. Spies, saboteurs and artillerymen were all leaving the tents. Next to them, in a chapel, a shaman kept goblins in cages for the purpose of dark rituals. In the center was the commander's tent, full of maps and plans. March out, and wall assault orders were given there.
Stronghold was coming to life step by step. Dreams and visions were being forged into reality.
#8 - Thanks
The playtesters – if they're lucky – will see their names mentioned toward the end of the manual. Small print. Somewhere next to the copyrights. Nobody reads that. It's bloody unjust.
To start producing a game you need a man who invents it, and people who will test it. Before it reaches the stores, countless rounds have to be played, boring, limping, frustrating rounds, which – let's be honest – are a waste of time for the tester. The guy could play Race for the Galaxy. He could play Neuroshima HEX. He could play Tikal. But he won't. For one-and-a-half hours he'll be wrangling with real time rules and sitting over a scribbled board that will change three times in the course of a round. Instead of the components, he'll have pieces of paper, three versions of the game rules, sheets with rules from previous prototype versions that are being reworked with new, as yet unwritten, rules. And if he does manage to win and has the chance to feel a tiny fraction of satisfaction, he'll always hear: "Yeah, the game is unbalanced. I need to weaken the effect of your actions..." It's a terrible job, but there wouldn't be games without testers.
So if this journal is supposed to be a report on game creation, on how Stronghold came into being – and a more-or-less useful pointer for other authors – I need to mention the people who agreed to play Stronghold with me, people who have devoted many hours to poring over the disjointed, malfunctioning game; getting bored; and seeing how I constantly make up the rules. I can't imagine how I could start working on a game without someone who would sit with me, patiently playing and indulgently suffering all inconveniences; without someone who will flood me with genius ideas at every stage, someone who won't pull the game in his own direction, but will settle for observing how the game hangs and breaks – while waiting for my moves, my patches. It's a job for a saint.
As far as Stronghold is concerned, the biggest acknowledgement goes to Salou, the guy who played many rounds of this worst, most unrewarding state of the game: when it didn't exist, didn't work, when I would come to him with some fragments of rules and ask him to play. We played many rounds and talked a lot. His influence was great, for although I rejected many of his conclusions and ideas, I also took many remarks to heart and tried implementing them in the game. My name will be on the box, yet many ideas contained within Stronghold are not of my authorship. I think it's the case with every game. Well, let me at least make a nod toward all those friends who had devoted their time, and pay them some respect.
Salou? At some point you could give three marching orders in the game. For many years to come, I will remember Silent's face when he lost in Stronghold on the first (!!) turn. Salou rode in the castle like a speeding battle car. After that round you could give only two orders. At some point the defender got only as many Hourglasses as the Invader generated. Well, I will remember my frustration for a long time after Salou said "pass", didn't generate any Hourglasses, and walked into the castle. After that round, the defender got two Hourglasses, even if the Invader did nothing.
Silent? He co-authored the catapults rule. You need to know it's one of the most climatic rules in the game. We sat in MDK and debated because the catapult rules didn't work the way I wanted, the machines were either too powerful or too weak. A minute or two of conversation, and bang, there's the solution. Silent didn't make the catapults; Silent is the catapults.
Obi? He fixed the character rules because they were limping. He played, waited an hour, then walked to me with a ready set of Officer and Warrior rules. Simple as that. They got into the game unchanged. They were perfect.
Michał Oracz and Multi, two people from Portal, put a countless number of ideas into the game. It's hard to mention them. Testers' remarks, their whining, their indications, information, that they have no chance, that their opponent is too strong... Tens of notes, ticked results, checking which round the game finished in.
I tried just now to remember whether I forgot anyone. (It's possible.) There were 25 people taking part in testing Stronghold. I didn't send out the prototype around Poland; it wasn't tested "theoretically", "allegedly", or quickly by people I don't know. I was there during each game. I was observing how they play, looking at their reactions. I saw how they learned the rules, how they used the game's potential, how they used strategies to try to surprise and defeat the opponent. And I listened. I kept listening to what they were saying. I put emotions aside, averaged out the opinions, and checked whether they were repeated. If they were recurring, I corrected the rule in question as suggested.
Therefore I'd like to thank all those people for devoting a few hundred hours of their time to me, sitting and playing with me a game which wasn't that cool at the time. Thanks to their sacrifice Stronghold was created. And it's a cool game today...
#9 - Crowded Walls
In one of the first parts of this series I mentioned how I had initially imagined Stronghold: On the Invader's side a wave of armies, a faceless line of opponents; on the walls a few defenders, an extraordinary bunch, gifted with various qualities. My dream was to have The Fellowship of the Ring defend the castle. That's how we started the testing. There were pawns on the walls marked "Hero", "Officer", "Sorcerer", and I worried that it wasn't enough as I still had a "Scout" and "Engineer" in my mind. Each of them received a unique ability, which enabled the Defender to resist the Invader:
-----• The Hero would kill the opponent's strongest unit on a given wall section.
-----• The Officer could make a speech and increase the strength of the troops on a given wall section.
-----• The Sorcerer could cast a spell to strengthen a given fragment of the wall.
-----• The Priest could heal the wounded.
-----• The Scout destroyed siege engines.
-----• The Engineer repaired destroyed walls and built oil cauldrons.
A wave of armies would approach from the Invader's side, would flood the walls trying to break through, to defeat the handful of soldiers standing on the battlements, fighting for the future of the castle. There were heroes among them. There's trouble somewhere, so the Defender sends the Officer there. The Officer says his Speech and the troops resist the Invader. There's trouble somewhere else, the Hero rushes in, drops a troll and things look better from then on. There are wounded somewhere, the player sends the Priest and the boys are again ready to fight. And so forth, and so on.
The player has twelve sections of the wall, and he has four or five heroes and has to manage somehow. This was the initial concept. It looked good – at least until we started playing. There were heroes' pawns standing on the walls, next to ordinary soldiers, and it was crowded.
Soon it became clear that the crowd was unnecessary. Moving those pawns along the walls was arduous, costly (a lot of wasted Hourglasses were spent walking alongside walls), and in many instances completely useless. Instead of concentrating on which actions to take, I was concentrating on where to move a pawn, where it should stand, and how much it will cost me. The cost of moving a hero was so high that it practically wasn't worth it. When I reduced the cost of running on the walls a question became relevant: "Why represent where they actually stand, if moving somewhere else costs next to nothing?"
It was malfunctioning. If the Engineer stood on the left side of the stronghold, the Invader would use the catapult to attack the right side. It wasn't worth it for the Engineer to run that distance to repair the wall. The Priest would run along the walls to heal people, while he should be in a hospital doing it there. Similarly the Sorcerer – why run if he could repair any section with his magic...?
I did a mini test, a tiny tryout. Unfortunately for the concept of heroes running along the walls, the trial was successful. I drew a hospital, a Sorcerer's tower, a workshop on the board, inside the walls. For two Hourglasses you could heal in the hospital, for four Hourglasses you could magically strengthen the wall from the Sorcerer's tower; you could build oil cauldrons in the workshop. I had the available actions, I had the variety of actions, and I didn't need to wrangle pawns running on the walls.
Unfortunately for the Fellowship of the Ring, it all worked rather well. Maybe I didn't like that step too much, maybe I was stepping off the path I had imagined and dreamt of, but I knew I was heading the right direction, whether I liked it or not. A serious work on the revolution inside the walls had begun...
#10 - Cleaning the Castle
The concept of heroes running alongside walls, solving ongoing problems, started to wobble. It was troublesome, inconvenient, and most importantly the experimental alternative solution – placing central locations in the stronghold – worked elegantly and ably.
Clearly, this was a point where I had to give up my initial vision and apply a more practical, elegant and simple solution. I started cleaning the castle. In the hospital building I drew spaces for three wounded soldiers. If more soldiers than that are wounded in a round, the hospital will not manage to treat them all, and these soldiers will die. Plotwise it was interesting, heavy; rulewise, simple, perfect – only three spots. You may put three markers there and not one more. When the Priest ran along the walls earlier, there was no possibility to introduce such a rule. Thanks to the concept change, it became possible.
It looked good on the Sorcerer's side, too. Previously he could only strengthen a section of the wall, but since I had a few square centimetres of the board, not only did I draw a beautiful tower, but also a few spells from which to choose. The Sorcerer would sit in the tower and could cast this spell, or that one or... The player had a choice. As you know, I'm obsessed with choices. I liked the choice.
I followed this trail and added more options to the workshop, too. Previously the Engineer could rebuild the wall; now it turned out he could also build an oil cauldron, put a ballista in the tower... The player would choose which action to take and... it happened. I knew there was no going back to the heroes concept, that the original idea was going right into the archive.
Making a few buildings inside the castle available for the player, where he can take various interesting actions, is a far better solution than my romantic ideas involving Gandalf running alongside the walls. Moreover, the further it went, the better it looked. Next to every action I drew spaces for the Hourglasses which the player would get from the Invader. Building a ballista took four Hourglasses, an oil cauldron took three. One spell cost two Hourglasses, another took four. The player had a range of possibilities, a small town full of buildings and possibilities to explore. There were choices, decisions; there was room for a castle defense plan.
During one of the first test games an event happened which buried the initial idea and made the castle locations win the battle to stay in Stronghold for good. At some point Salou generated five Hourglasses for me. I spent three building an oil cauldron, and the remaining two went to the Sorcerer's tower, where he started preparing a spell. I didn't have enough Hourglasses to finish it, so I just left those two there. "Can you do that?" Salou asked. "Of course, the guy is preparing a spell," I answered. "As you can see, he hasn't finished yet, but he will. You can be certain of that." I beamed.
Plotwise it was wonderful – epic, colourful, vivid. During the game the Hourglasses went to different buildings and represented the crews working like ants on building and creating whatever they could. The player had under his nose whatever was happening in the castle. You could see builders constructing a ballista here, a Sorcerer working on a spell there. Here I put another Hourglass and phew, he's finished, I have a ballista; there I still need to wait, I need two more Hourglasses, to have the Sorcerer finish...
I knew there was still a lot ahead of me, many weeks of creating actions that could be taken by the castle crew. I knew there would be the whole fun with balancing it all, and tens of details that will come out of this fun. Nevertheless I could proudly say: "This is ready. This will be in Stronghold. It works. Now we only need to polish it."
These rules meant breaking with the original vision. They were an initially painful, but inevitable step into the unknown. They were created because the original assumptions didn't work, and forcing them into the game would break it. I could pass up, I could throw an idea over board and go look for another one. I could be wrong, but I think it's important not to be bound to one thing, to have an open mind and always look for better solutions.
In any case, I won't fool you. Although I introduced the buildings, actions and Hourglasses to the castle, I left a trace of the original vision, a romantic touch from the very first picture of Stronghold. Aragorn and Boromir would still fight on the walls. There was their place, on the walls – not in the buildings inside the castle...
#11 - Victory Points
I could go on and on about the victory points. Working on this part of the rules took me a huge amount of time as I devoted more strength and energy to them than I could ever have anticipated. I suspect this stems from the fact that I approached the matter from the wrong angle. I suspect that the masters of the genre do it differently, do it better, smarter, and that if Kramer or Lehmann read this here article, they would gasp and shout: "Young man, you've chosen a terribly long way to get to your destination!" Maybe.
Or maybe not? Maybe the victory points are a piece of heavy toil, and we don't even realize how much effort this part of the rules costs the authors. I don't know myself. During the first Stronghold matches, when the players sat down to play, they would hear: "You are the Invader; if you break into the castle, you've won. You are the Defender; if you can defend for ten turns, you've won." The game was about breaking into the castle, so the rules were pretty straightforward.
This idea didn't pass the reality check though. I remember that in one of the first matches, Maciek Janik managed to defend the castle until turn 9, and only then did he fall. "You've lost," said his opponent. I was watching the game intently, and while you could say a lot about it, you couldn't say that Maciek had lost. He had fought like a lion. He had defended the castle like a demon. He was all over the place, surprising me with the way he would use the first, original rule outlines to keep the castle. He stood his ground until the bloody turn 9. He deserved a bit more than the cynical and blunt "You've lost". The victory conditions required modifying.
I introduced the gradual victory: Entering the castle in turn 8 meant a draw. Entering it in turn 7 meant the Invader's victory, and entering in turn 6 and earlier meant a crushing victory. On the other hand, entering in turn 9 meant the Defender's victory, and entering in turn 10 meant a crushing victory for the Defender. Such graduation seemed interesting. The Defender saw that he had to hold out until the 10th turn to win big; that he had to hold out until the 7th turn to avoid a crushing victory for the Invader; that he had to hold out until turn 8 to draw. He had a reason to fight for one more turn, one more...
A few days later I improved the mechanisms and introduced victory points. The Invader would start the game with 12 points and give one point to the defender after each turn. By turn six the point score was 6:6 and every subsequent turn meant even bigger victory for the Defender. I liked this mechanism an awful lot. It was like a ticking clock – the Invader could see how his Victory Points disappeared with each turn, he could see that he had to hurry for otherwise the victory would slip from his hands. It looked sensational. Excitement guaranteed.
At some point I added a plot by turning the Victory Points into Glory Points and happily telling the players that the GP represent how the battle would be reported in the chronicles. The analysts are prepared for the castle to fall, ready to write twelve volumes on the victorious Invader's army. Unfortunately, after each turn it turns out that the analysts instead note how bravely the Defenders fought, how they stood on the walls, heads held high, how with each passing day the Invader's army could not break the castle defences. Yes, what the players fought for was how they would be remembered by history. It sounded convincing.
The reality check was for me very surprising, as usual – this time, the role of a blacksmith hammer, which hit me in the head, was taken by Michał Oracz. In the sixth turn of one of the beta games he stopped playing. "Okay, since I failed to enter the castle, I'm not playing anymore." I was in shock. I didn't understand. "Why should I play? To learn whether I simply lost or lost utterly? No point. I can't win anymore, so I'm not playing." I stood there in the middle of the office and couldn't believe it. But what about the Defender, why are you taking the right to taste the victory away from him? "I'm not playing a game that I can't win anymore." Unfortunately, Michał was serious. "Besides, I don't like the fact that I'm losing points. It can't be like that. Let the Defender gain points, but don't make me lose them. It can't be that a player loses points."
Great. Just great. I had no idea how many loonies like that there are, how many will leave the table after seeing there are no chances to win. I knew, though, that Michał was giving a clear sign: There is a bug in the game, and it needs changing. I didn't agree with him on disappearing points – it's a question of taste. I considered this rule to be flexible, showing nicely that the winner feels the victory slipping from his hands, and I didn't intend to introduce any changes to this mechanism. What was worse was this surrendering of the game. This was a problem. It was a content-related allegation, it was a fact – if a player has no chances of winning, why should he play? Michał was right.
It was Multidej who saved the day. One day he brought a table to the Office. "These are the goals, and the players can receive additional victory points for achieving the goals. This way even in those later turns the Invader has additional means of earning some points." The table looked insane: If the Invader breaks into the castle, he receives 1 VP; if he builds four machines, he receives 1 VP; if he kills at least ten defenders, he receives 1 VP; and so on. There was a similar table for the Defender: 1 VP for defeating three trolls, 1 VP for setting three traps, etc.
This concept created a clear sign for the Invader: In turn 7 you're building your fourth catapult, man, you're killing the tenth defender, you're breaking into the castle screaming and smiling. You're winning! Glorious deeds have improved the mechanisms and added another bucket of atmosphere to the game. The analysts gave the Invader Glory Points for the fact that his siege was legendary due to the number of siege machines or due to the number of killed defenders... Yes, the Invader now has something to be remembered for, as does the Defender.
There was still a problem with turns 8 and 9, however, under the disappearing points' mechanism. If, for instance, the score on turn 8 is 7:5 for the Defender, it's incredibly difficult for the Invader to earn enough glorious deeds to win. Luckily the solution was found quickly: The Invader would receive +1 victory point for every wall section he manages to break in the castle. Now in the situation above, don't fret – just raise a mass assault and break through three wall sections simultaneously, with groans, moans, screams and begging from the Defender's side. You earn +3 points for breaking in at several wall sections and there you go, the score is 7:8, you've won...
"It's okay" Michał acknowledged. Sure, it was okay, I could see it with my naked eye. The mechanism of time running out and tipping the scales in the defender's favor were successfully instilled, and at the same time the Invader was given the chance to win, even in the last, 10th turn – although admittedly, he would have to practically raze the castle to the ground. He had a reason to stay at the table and play. Mission accomplished.
Everything was rolling nicely. Glorious deeds, disappearing points, the whole thing had tons of atmosphere, plenty of story potential and it worked pretty well. I would constantly change things here and there, improve, substitute goals to achieve, the system was being polished in subsequent matches and step by step it headed towards its final shape.
Prototype game board showing VPs that can be lost by the defender
And then I had a brainwave, and a revolution came – I got rid of the Defender's goals. I introduced a Royal Council into the castle. The Council had the right to assemble and take dramatic decisions, perhaps by starting to negotiate with the Invader. The Defender receives three Hourglasses of time, but loses Glory Points since such negotiations are a disgrace. The Council could decide to open the dungeon gates inside the castle; the Defender would receive two soldier cubes to fight with, but would also lose a Glory Point since having prisoners on the walls is a disgrace. The Council could decide to send tables, chairs, all of the furniture to the carpenter to save the castle. The Carpenter receives four hourglasses, but the castle is vandalized, and the analysts write this down, costing the Defender Glory Points...
Today, after many, many months of polishing these rules I can say mission accomplished. The Invader starts the game with nine Glory Points. He could have had ten to match the number of turns, but no, the analysts have taken one, right at the start. They wrote that the castle crew did not open the gates. They showed courage and prowess by taking the battle. The score at the start is therefore 9:1 for the Invader. The Invader has four different goals that he can accomplish to earn four Glory Points: he can smash the castle walls, he can attack with trolls, he can complete glorious deeds. The Defender, on the other hand, doesn't gain; he tries to preserve, he has to endure. He has four Glory Points inside his Royal Council. If the council doesn't gather, the Defender doesn't lose them. Sadly, the fight will be tough, and the council will surely gather. The question is how many times, how many of those four points will the Defender be able to keep until the end of the game.
Finally, there is the third pool of points: The Invader receives three Glory Points for breaking into the castle, plus one Glory Point for every captured wall section. The Defender receives one Glory Point for the banner, a banner held by two soldiers in the middle of the castle who don't fight. They don't rush to the walls to rescue, but hold what's dearest to every soldier: the banner. If the Defender keeps them from fighting and makes do without them, if he can afford to keep two "idle" soldiers in the middle of the courtyard with the banner, he will receive one Glory Point at the end of each turn from the sixth turn on. I don't have to add that by the sixth turn the Defender is so screwed that keeping soldiers with a banner in the middle of the courtyard borders on suicide. Then again, everyone tries to keep them still and make them hold the banner as long as possible. It's the castle banner after all. A sacred thing...
(This designer diary concludes here.)
[Part two of Trzewik's massive designer diary for Stronghold, originally published in thirteen parts on BGN and divided into two on BGG only due to the size limit on blog posts. Check out the first part here if you haven't already. Now, to wrap up this tale... —WEM]
#12 - Replayability
March 2009, Gliwice, a boardgame convention: I sit with Nataniel and Widlak from the Rebel.pl store, and we play Stronghold. They're testing. They're assessing. They'll tell me what they think. They'll say whether there's potential in here. They'll say whether it's worth putting a lot of cash into this game. After all, they work for the biggest games store in Poland, and they have a good perspective.
Nataniel is complaining about the catapults hitting with six, Widlak is commenting, the game runs in a cheerful atmosphere. "The catapults definitely need to change. I'm worried about replayability, the invader has this board with actions: catapult construction, ritual, dispatch, after a number of matches it's going to be a pain. Otherwise it's okay, this may become a hit," says Nataniel after the match.
Phew... I wasn't worried about replayability. I've been fascinated for years with the idea of the "plots" used in FFG's A Game of Thrones. Players use one special card from the plot deck, and this card changes a piece of the rules for that turn. Everyone receives more gold, for instance, or duels become more lethal, or no duels are allowed, etc.
I had similar plans regarding Stronghold, so a few days later I brought two sets of cards to the office, one for the Invader, one for the Defender. Each of them would draw three cards before the game, and they could use them anytime during the game, each time changing the game itself. "Poisoned water" in the castle caused the hospital to stop working. "Riots in the barracks" meant all the goblins in the Invader's camp were killed. I feel – I've always felt – that I'm strong plotwise. These cards showed the life inside both players' camps, events which were unexpected and demolished strategies and plans. Exactly.
The cards introduced chaos. They changed a serious, static strategy game into mutual incident swapping right out of a card game. A game about siege planning, a game about planning a castle defence, a serious game – and then bang, a card from the sky and your hospital is out. Bang, and a bleak fear falls on the men on the walls, and a few soldiers have to be sent back to the barracks... A discord. A dissonance. Wrong fairy tale.
This screwing each other up with cards didn't fit the game at all. Plotwise it was interesting, plotwise it gave the game a kick because it told about events in the castle and the enemy camp in a colorful manner, but in terms of game mechanisms it was artificial, awkward. If that was supposed to be a means to ensure replayability, well...it was bad. I took the cards home.
A new day, a new idea. The same set of cards. The same rule of each player drawing three of them, but with one change: You don't keep the cards in hand; instead they lay face-up on the table. The opponent sees what's up your sleeve. He can prepare, he can expect that at some point you may play one of them and slap him. Plotwise? Much weaker, for how do you explain that the castle Defender knows a "Fire in the Chapel" is about to come? Mechanism-wise it was a bit better, with no sudden bangs, but instead something you can prepare for.
And Stronghold-wise? In the case of this particular board game?
Another failure. The players would paralyze each other with cards. Instead of thinking Stronghold-like, as in previous games – building cauldrons and catapults, preparing for the fight – they would wheel and deal to defend themselves from the cards. Stronghold slipped into the background. The main course was trying to screw up the opponent with an event card. We're not going to play this way. I took the cards home.
A new day, a new idea. A new set of cards, specifically one set of cards instead of two. Instead of cards designed to screw up the other player, I now had a set of Events with a capital E. "Mighty Downpour" – the archers in the castle can't shoot; what's more, the roads have softened up and troop movement toward the castle costs an Hourglass more. These plot events affected both players, and plotwise it was splendid. The world around the castle has come alive: black clouds would gather above and the sun would shine through, armies of mercenaries would wander around, and a sound of distant earthquakes could be heard. Rule-wise it was good enough in the way that it didn't boil down to hitting the other player like in a card game. The events were huge – epic! – thwarting both players' plans.
And how did it affect Stronghold? Better than all previous solutions. Good enough for us to grind the game with these rules for over two weeks. Eventually, tired of the whole card mess, we gave it up.
Big events turned the game upside-down and made the whole work on game balancing worthless. Three months of balancing the speed of troop movement together with the archers' firing effectiveness on the walls went down in the mud as soon as we drew the "downpour" card. When we weakened the events so that they were interesting plotwise but without too big of an effect on the rules, we questioned why we bothered with them in the first place; they didn't ensure replayability at all because their effect on the game was minor. It was bad either way.
Days and weeks passed, with tens of versions and types of event cards created – they'll make a mighty interesting showcase one day – and we in the office felt that the cards were malfunctioning, that they were artificial. These cards were beside the game, beside its basic engine. I threw the cards away. Brain restart. I'm looking for a new idea. It's a day-to-day routine when working on a board game. Restart and again from scratch... Restart and again from scratch...
#13 - Replayability Replayed
I believe that every game has at its core a rule representing the concept of the whole game, a philosophy which can be presented in one or two sentences. Tens of lesser rules are built around it to enrich the fun. Citadels? "On your turn you're building a district; additionally you're using your character's special ability." Samurai? "On your turn you're positioning the troop tiles on the board, fighting for an advantage around the towns." Settlers of Catan? "On your turn, you roll dice to see whether you gained resources, then you trade them and use them to build roads, settlements and towns."
In Stronghold such a sentence would probably be: "On your turn you assign your troops to take actions like machine construction and troop training. Depending on the number of assigned troops, your opponent receives an equal number of action points for his defensive actions." The event cards I had tried to use to strengthen replayability were an addition to the actual game, not its integral part. I had to ensure replayability on the core level, the game's main part – not by using an extension. I'd wheeled and dealed. The solution was born eventually by damn accident.
The Invader's actions, as I've said before, were written down on a sheet with the Resources field, the Machine Construction field, the Rituals field, etc. This sheet annoyed me for various reasons, such as when a rule changed, because I then had to hand copy the whole sheet. Or a new rule would appear, so I had to rework the whole thing to make it fit the sheet. Or beta testers would whine that once a phase (e.g., Machine Construction) was completed, it couldn't be marked.
So I finally waved the A4 sheet, which was supposed to represent the Invader's camp, and split it into separate cards: the Resources card, the Machine Construction card, the Training card, the Rituals card, and the Dispatch card. This change allowed me to make quick modifications based on what came out of test matches, and the cards were much clearer for the players at the same time. They had six cards in front of them and could tick one as completed after each phase. It worked.
And then bang! A revelation came. I had the Machine Construction card together with a Catapult and Ladders in front of me: "Hmm, maybe I should do another, alternative card, with a Trebuchet and a Ballista...?" I looked at other phases like Training and Rituals. If I made the effort, I could think of more additional options for each of them. Then, before a Stronghold match, a player would draw one card for every phase. One time he would draw Catapults, another time it would be a Trebuchet. One time Saboteurs, another time Marksmen. One time Blood Stones, another time Possession. A different match every time.
Multidej was the first person to hear this new idea. He listened and immediately got enthusiastic about it. "It's like there are different commanders and engineers in the game. Their profiles could be drawn on the side, such as some bloodthirsty shaman with his murderous rituals, or a different shaman – the tactics master – with completely different rituals on another card... These cards could be given a human face to show there are different commanders with different ideas for war..."
Oh, yes, Multidej fell in love with this idea straight away. And I fell in love with his vision of different people representing different concepts and attack philosophies. You draw an engineer who believes that the castle should be taken by building trebuchets, or one who likes to build ballistas. Superb. Arduous fun had begun...
Phase one, resources. I took coloured pencils and went wild. I drew a lake on one card, a thick forest on another, a forest and quarries on yet another. It would represent the setting for the siege, one time by the lake, another time in the forests... Each card would give different resources, one time a player would have lots of wood, another time a bit of wood and stones, or lots of wood and food. This set-up would determine the whole course of the game.
Similarly the second phase, War machines, was changed. Ballistas, Trebuchets and Ladders were added to the already existing Catapult. The work took long weeks. I created seven different options for one of the phases, seven different war machines, seven types of training, rituals, seven different dispatch types. I divided them into basic and special. Basic, like the Catapult or the Saboteurs, would appear on three out of five Invader's cards. Special ones, like the Trebuchet or the Quartermaster, would appear on only one card. Those additional options appeared gradually. Their numbers were increasing. One time the testers were playing with a battering ram, another time with a siege tower. At one point someone moaned: "C'mon, I didn't draw any Saboteurs. How am I supposed to win?!"
Separate matches started to differ significantly from one another. There was a moment, sometime in early June, when at last I started hearing what I had wanted to hear for long months: "Shit, unlucky. I made a few mistakes in this match. I would play it differently now, and I really want to play again."
I smiled and said, "But you do know that each phase has five different cards, so you're sure to have a completely different set next time? Today there was no siege tower, there were no saboteurs, no bloodstones in the game. There are seven different machines, seven different equipment types, seven types of training in the game... There's a lot for you to learn; you need to learn how to play with the Towers, the Ballistas, how to use the Battering Ram... You will be making mistakes in many coming matches, before you learn it all."
Eyes wide open. Dreamy face. A question: When's the rematch? I had worked for that for seven long, tough months. I was in heaven.
Stronghold demo table at Spiel 2009
W. Eric Martin
• Nominees for Juego del Año Tico 2011 – the Costa Rican game of the year – were announced in late June 2011, and they are 7 Wonders, Baltimore & Ohio, Caylus, Chaos in the Old World and Maria. I love seeing nominee lists from countries that are off of most gamers' radars as they present a kind of parallel world similar to my younger years when my best friend and I would contemplate cross-universe comic book series: Batman vs. Captain America, Superman vs. The Hulk, and so on. Of course I know zip-all about the Costa Rican gaming community, so I won't hazard a guess as to which game might win.
• Continuing the award posts, Spiel Portugal's 2010 Jogo do Ano is Troyes.
• From mid-June we have the nominees for The Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming, with the nominees being two board games and three RPGs:
-----* Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space
-----* The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game
The winner will be announced August 3 on the eve of Gen Con 2011.
• And finally, another list of award nominees, albeit from May 26, 2011 and overlooked by me until now, comes from the Deutscher Lernspielpreis. Four lists actually, as the Lernspielpreis jury chooses games appropriate for children ages 3, 6 and 9, in addition to a separate list of games meriting mention that have yet to be released. Matt Leacock's Forbidden Island picked up yet another award nomination.
• And speak of the devil, Derek Thompson at Meepletown interviews Matt Leacock who talks briefly about the Pandemic expansion that he and Tom Lehmann are designing, among other things.
• Designer Matt Worden was interviewed by the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. Despite his debut title Jump Gate being named Game of the Year by GAMES Magazine, Worden notes that he's yet to break even on the game:
Matt estimated he invested $10,000 to $12,000 to publish it and have the game's materials produced.
"We filled up our garage and part of our basement with cards, boxes, chips," he said.
On a more positive note, the article mentions that Jump Gate has been picked up by a German game publisher for a new edition.
• Pete at The Superfly Circus highlights a few titles from Travesty Games.
• In his BGG blog, Patrick Carroll writes about personality types and gaming, both Keirseyan temperament theory and the nine Enneagram types.
• Old link but previously overlooked by me: Matt Stevenson of Board Game Back Room interviewed designer Antoine Bauza in mid-June 2011 before 7 Wonders had been announced as the Kennerspiel des Jahres winner. (And the interview is a good reminder that I should reprint my translations of those design diary posts from Bauza!)
• Another 7 Wonders item: Asmodee's Stefan Brunell has noted on BGG that he's now seen the replacement decks for Age III – to replace Age III cards of varying colors in some printings – and has notified U.S. distributors about the availability of these cards.
• And another article I previously overlooked – seriously, I should never move again – is a "Hey, look at this wonderful Settlers of Catan game" write-up in The Globe and Mail, a national newspaper in Canada. (HT: Jacob Lee)
• Gamewright interviews Hayden, the seven-and-a-half-year-old reviewer from Games With Hayden. An excerpt:
Q: Do you get recognized at gaming conventions?
A: Haha... well that's funny. While I was at Gen Con last year people actually stopped to take pictures with me. Silly people.
W. Eric Martin
Curt Covert at Smirk & Dagger Games has passed along the publisher's plans for the next few months.
August 2011 will see two release from S&D, the first being Sutakku, a push-your-luck dice game that will debut at Gen Con. Says Covert in a press release for the game, "We're known for our 'stab a friend in the back' style game play, but in Sutakku, there's more of a 'screw yourself' vibe as you try to pull ahead or catch the current leader." Here's a short game description:
The general rule: Roll three dice and add two of them to an ever-climbing stack of dice. You can choose to stop rolling and score your stacked dice at any time, but pushing your luck will net you more points if you succeed. Continue as long as you dare. But like the Stonecutter of legend, who was never satisfied, you may find yourself with naught, right back where you began. The wise will distinguish ambition from reaching beyond one’s means.
And more from Covert from the press release: "We felt it was important that we really up the ante on game components – to craft the game with classic Japanese design aesthetics and authentic art. Chiyo Nagahara Romei is a very gifted brush artist and painted the Japanese and English letter forms for the logo, box art and the dice themselves. Speaking of the dice, we made our own and went all out. They are engraved with Japanese brush character numbers and are much larger than most dice. They are a hefty 3/4", which makes them ideal for stacking into towers reaching 12 dice high (which sounds easier than it is). But Sutakku isn't a dexterity game. The difficulty in stacking them comes from the laws governing your ability to do so. Still, smaller dice just didn't have the same appeal or stability."
Sutakku's back cover
The other August 2011 release is a new adventure module for Cutthroat Caverns with "The Daggers of Strife" from Jonathan Lavalee and two mini-adventures from Covert.
Arriving in September/October 2011 is the second edition of Run for Your Life, Candyman!, which is somewhat changed from the first edition. Says Covert, "You can look forward to shorter game play, a few updated/added rules, sexy new die cut tokens with art unique to each cookie character, and 18 new cards. The box will be labeled as Second Edition and is graphically covered in black licorice, so you can easily see this is the new game."
He adds, "For those who have a copy of the original and just want the extra card set, I'll have a limited supply of cards for sale."
W. Eric Martin
• Asmodee has posted a page for Claustrophobia: De Profundis in English and French noting a mid-October 2011 release date due to effort of getting the painted miniatures to look the way they want them to.
• Want more Quarriors? WizKids wants you to want more, so the publisher is releasing a set of three "exclusive promotional cards" if you preorder the game by July 31 from "your local store". The announcement includes a link to a store locator on the WizKids site. (HT: DeckBuildingGames.com)
• In a post about the nominees for Costa Rican game of the year, designer Antoine Bauza mentions that he's working on the second expansion for 7 Wonders with a working title of "Armada".
• Designer Richard Launius has announced that he's working on a quest/equipment deck for Defenders of the Realm and gamers will be able to submit ideas for the expansion at some future date.
• Cryptozoic Entertainment has posted several card images for The Penny Arcade Game: Gamers vs. Evil, due out September 2011.
• Fantasy Flight Games has released English rules for both Rune Age (PDF) and Ventura (PDF).
• Designer Martin Wallace has said that "if all goes well" A Few Acres of Snow will start to ship from the UK on Wednesday, July 13, 2011.
• Steve Jackson Games notes that Munchkin Axe Cop is headed to print and previews both a card from the game and a mock-up of the game box. Note the "October 2011" print date on the box and you'll now when to expect the game on shelves.
• Flying Frog Productions has a page for Fortune & Glory: The Cliffhanger Game, with lots of character pics and a dozen wallpaper images. The game is due out September 2011.
Listen to the Chaos Publishing Podcast!
I have spent the last 18 months working on, playing and developing my games Brave the Elements and Medieval Mastery along with my colleague and good friend David Inker. We created Chaos Publishing Ltd. to publish these games (and more), initially starting out by producing limited print runs consisting of a few hundred copies.
Originally, we had planned to release both Brave the Elements and Medieval Mastery at the 2011 UK Games Expo but due to delays we decided to put Brave the Elements on hold for the time being and push forward with Medieval Mastery. As for that game, let's get into its history...
History & Initial Thoughts
The idea for Medieval Mastery came to me after one night in which I first played the games Cosmic Encounter and Wings of War. This confluence of games made me think of creating a short historical wargame in which players could manoeuvre their forces on the field of battle, vying for control over the land, so I did.
I really liked the combat system in Cosmic Encounter, but thought I could take it in a new direction by giving each of the players their own decks from which to draw. One thing I disliked about Cosmic was the inconsistency of both the card distribution and length of play. In fact, one of the games I played ended on the first round before I had even taken a turn! This was the result of one player repeatedly attacking a single player who had a pretty bad hand. Sure, that was an exceptional circumstance, but with all players having the same distribution of cards in their decks, this aspect would not be an issue in Medieval Mastery. I would then go on to solve the issue with length fully by balancing the board layout and variable player powers.
Having played Dominion, I thought I'd make use of a similar card drawing system where players always redraw up to a certain amount of cards in their hand each time they are involved in a battle.
Also, having played Risk and Warhammer 40,000, I wanted a light-medium weight wargame which didn't fall into the usual patterns of games such as these. Therefore I set out to design a game which:
-----• took less than an hour to play,
-----• could accommodate up to six players,
-----• would have little to no downtime,
-----• would be easy to learn (i.e. no large rulebooks), and
-----• would keep all players in the game with a chance at winning.
Now that the foundations were in place, I soon began to develop a working prototype...
Initially the player decks were comprised of three artefact, seven conflict, three support, one mastery and four resource cards, with each having its own particular strengths and special abilities. This, though, was quite unbalanced and there were decks which had a definite advantage over the others.
The mastery cards – yes, that's how the game got its name – could be played only when you were either the attacking or defending player and could be used only once per game, but they usually granted players an immediate victory in battle as well as another largely beneficial effect. Then again, these were removed from the game after playtesting revealed that...well...it just worked better without them.
In addition, in the early stages, the defending player could choose to retreat from battle if he thought the attacker had a trick up his sleeve. This added a bluffing element to the game, but as the game developed and it became much more tactical, this was effectively dropped.
In terms of the game board, I realised straight away that the board should be split up to best allow for the varying number of players. Originally, I had thought of some abstract board before realising that the areas would just be better captured using a simple hex map layout.
Now, what led to using dice to represent each of the players' knights? Well, with a minimum budget and the areas not being very large, I chose dice. This worked incredibly well and has stayed as a constant throughout the whole process.
This was only very early in its development, but it was clear that even though there were a lot of balancing issues, we really liked the concept and decided to prepare the game for publication.
To assist with balancing the cards, we went back to basics and made each of the six player decks the same; this played much better and we realised that, due to the distribution, the different card types couldn't be balanced against one another effectively - which would result in a particular deck being stronger than the others, which we didn't want. From there, we started to focus on getting the different artefacts balanced with one another. This alone was not an easy task and, even though some artefacts didn't really change, the majority went through much iteration.
Of course, we also went through multiple designs for the cards:
A card design summary, showing the main design changes I made along the way
Medieval Mastery 2.0
After discussing a few details of the game with its playtesters, I suddenly had a "light bulb moment" - Medieval Mastery was about to dramatically change...and for the better! I thought of redesigning the board layout so that it consisted of a number of single hex tiles, each with their own special abilities and victory point values. From this point, the game has completely transformed from what was referred to as an okay game to what could be defined as a great game! Then again, there was still a lot of work to do...
A board design summary, showing both original and final six-player maps
Shortly into further development, we decided to re-invent how the artefacts worked. We removed them from the decks and proceeded so that each player was given a random artefact of each of the three types at the start of the game. Furthermore, the card distribution had changed a multitude of times, but we finally settled on ten conflict, four support and four resource cards.
I also came up with an alternate system for drawing cards in which you chose to either draw cards or advance your knights. After taking this idea to playtesting I realised how foolish this idea was and immediately returned to the original Dominion-style draw system without much hesitation. Then again, this act of foolish redesign highlighted other key issues in the game to do with the effects of artefacts and territories.
We then worked to resolve these issues with more playtesting until we were finally happy with the results.
That's where the Medieval Mastery development cycle is now – finished! What started out as a small bluffing game of medieval conquest has developed into an engaging, thematic tactical experience that can be enjoyed in less than an hour's playing time.
An example set-up of a six-player map - picture taken by James Sutherland
UK Games Expo 2011
The game had a great response at the UK Games Expo, selling forty copies in 14 hours; in fact, every group that played the game bought a copy! We are now looking to the future to make larger print runs of the game, but for now you can buy Medieval Mastery through our website...check it out!
Thank you very much for reading, and I hope you pick up and enjoy playing Medieval Mastery in the near future. If you have any questions, please post a comment below or send me a Geekmail.
All the best, and have fun gaming!
Chaos Publishing Ltd.
 Prev « 236 , 237 , 238 , 239 , 240 Next »