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W. Eric Martin
The Spiel des Jahres juries have spoken, issuing the nominees for Spiel des Jahres (SdJ, Germany's game of the year award), Kinderspiel des Jahres (KdJ, children's game of the year) and the new-for-2011 Kennerspiel des Jahres (KndJ, enthusiast's game of the year). The nominees are:
Spiel des Jahres nominees
• Asara, by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling (Ravensburger)
• Forbidden Island, by Matt Leacock (Gamewright, Schmidt Spiele)
• Qwirkle, by Susan McKinley Ross (Mindware, Schmidt Spiele)
Kinderspiel des Jahres nominees
• Da ist der Wurm drin, by Carmen Kleinert (Zoch)
• Die kleinen Zauberlehrlinge, by Thomas Daum and Violetta Leitner
• Monster-Falle, by Inka and Markus Brand (Kosmos)
Kennerspiel des Jahres nominees
• 7 Wonders, by Antoine Bauza (Repos Production)
• Lancaster, by Matthias Cramer (Queen Games)
• Strasbourg, by Stefan Feld (Pegasus Spiele)
Apparently the juries decided to mix things up for 2011. (I say "juries" instead of "jury" as one panel of jurists handles the children's games, while another handles the other two awards.) From 2004 through 2010, the juries have named five nominees for the SdJ and KdJ, while also issuing a list of recommended games and the occasional special award, but for 2011 the juries have reverted to the format used from 1999 to 2003, that being a list of three nominees. For the SdJ, that choice makes sense as a list of five nominees of varying complexities has effectively been split over two awards. For the KdJ, well, now your odds of picking the winner have improved...
Here's the list of recommended titles from the SdJ jury, which includes both simple and more involved games:
• Die Burgen von Burgund
• Skull & Roses
• Sun, Sea & Sand
The SdJ and KndJ winners will be announced on June 27, 2011, while the Kinderspiel des Jahres will be award on July 25, 2011.
W. Eric Martin
• Designer Touko Tahkokallio has posted a rules draft for his Eclipse, due out in 2011. Tahkokallio is also up to designer note #9 in his history of the game design. Links to the earlier notes are included at the end of #9.
• Ystari Games has posted two-player rules for Philippe Keyaerts' Olympos in English (PDF), French (PDF) and German (PDF). Ystari's Cyril Demaegd notes that Olympos is "now nearly printed". As for the two-player rules, which won't be included in the box, Demaegd says, "Our goal here was to find a good variant, without changing too many things, but with all the challenging aspect we like so much in the 3-5 players versions."
• Eagle Games has announced that it will publish Richard Launius' Dragon Rampage sometime in 2011. In this dice game, players are adventurers trying to fight/run away from a dragon, while collecting treasure and gold along the way – possibly from other players.
• Pegasus Spiele is releasing a small expansion for Michael Schacht's Mondo in June 2011, a ten-card pack called Mondo: Das Duell. Using the components of the base game, two players reveal one of the duel cards, which shows a challenge like "most forest" or "largest desert". The player who wins this challenge claims the card; the first player to claim two cards wins the game. This expansion is intended to be a giveaway to people who purchase Mondo in game stores. Schacht notes, "At the moment it is unclear if there will be also an English version."
• In the category of "not really new, but perhaps new to most people" we have three titles distributed by Fantasy Flight Games that will be released in the U.S. in late May 2011, according to Alliance Game Distributors. Those titles are Olympus, from designers Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco, A La Carte from Karl-Heinz Schmiel and the A La Carte: Dessert expansion. Both of the latter games, retailing for $50 and $30 respectively, are the German editions packaged with English rules. Olympus was released in an inadvertantly limited Italian/English edition at Spiel 2010, but the game will be more available – or will it? For all three of these games, Fantasy Flight's hobby market sales manager Tim Huckelbery says, "They are expected to sell out fast."
• Valley Games has announced an expansion for Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage called Hamilcar: First Punic War with Hannibal designer Mark Simonitch teaming with John Rodriguez. The expansion consists of 25 new generals – nine who fought under Hamilcar, nine Roman generals and seven generals for use in the base game – as well as a double-sided game board. Rather than announce a release date, however, Valley Games is inviting people to place a no-obligation preorder and when enough folks preorder the expansion – "enough" being undefined – Valley will bring the game to print, offering those who preordered a 40% discount of the $60 MSRP.
I've always liked the concept of "pie division" in a game, and the only real example of that kind of mechanism that I had ever come across was in Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum's San Marco and the two-player card game version Canal Grande. In both games, the pie division takes place between two or three players, however, and I had often wanted to design a game in which one player divides the "pie" into multiple offerings for more than two players.
One of the challenges, of course, was to avoid making the game so complicated that the task of dividing the pie would induce "analysis paralysis" in the players. The other challenge was to make sure the game was not too chaotic. Each player needed to be able to make meaningful choices each round that had some influence on the outcome of the game. At the outset, I was not certain this was even possible, especially for up to five players.
Finding the Right Ingredients
I mulled over the abstract idea for a pie-division game for quite some time before I finally decided that a theme might help flesh out a playable design. That's when I settled on the obvious choice of dividing an actual pie and collecting the slices.
However, I always like to have multiple strategic options in the games I play, so I needed an option other than set collection and majority battles. That's where the theme informed the design by providing the option of "eating" slices for guaranteed victory points. This game mechanism not only presented players with an interesting choice for each slice they took, but it also made the majority battles into a kind of perfect-information poker. I also liken it to "playing chicken": Are you going to challenge my majority in chocolate pie with that slice you are taking, or are you going to play it safe by "eating" the slice?
The theme also helped solve the potential problem of analysis paralysis mentioned earlier. Since the offerings that were to be divided were pie slices placed in a circle, it was only natural to keep the positions of the slices fixed, while deciding where to cut the pie. This limitation was vital in keeping the options manageable, and served to add excitement as the new pie slices were revealed each round. If players could have moved the slices around however they wanted (as they can with the cards in San Marco and Canal Grande), the dividing would have taken too long, and some of the challenge would have been missing.
The name of my prototype was also an obvious choice for me, having enjoyed the song American Pie in my youth (and, for the record, I have no desire to ever see the film). Pie is also something my wife enjoys making for our German friends to give them a taste of America.
Putting It in the Oven
After thinking about the idea of the game for so long, it all came together rather quickly when I finally had the theme and these two mechanisms written down. I made a quick prototype and brought it to our playtesting group, but I was almost too embarrassed to bring it out because I had not tried the game by myself yet and honestly didn't know if it would even work. It did, of course, and Bernd Eisenstein especially liked it, which is always a good sign – every game of mine he's been excited about has landed a publisher now! I did not need to make any changes before showing it at the Game Designers' Meeting in Göttingen in 2007, where Winning Moves Germany snatched it up.
It was such an intuitive design, but I was still surprised at how everything fell into place. Because I had written the rules in such a relatively short period, playtesting the game was a voyage of discovery, exploring the different ways one could play the game. All of it worked smoothly from the start. And although I usually like to design through the prototyping process – often making mock-ups that are seen by no one but me – this one was mostly developed in my head.
Adding the Whipped Cream
After Winning Moves playtested the design, however, they requested that the number of slices be increased so that there would always be unequal divisions, even with two and five players. With the original ten slices, for example, players would often feel pressured in a five-player game to divide the pie into five portions of exactly two slices each. Since my original intuitive design was so well balanced (between majority points and guaranteed points), I now had to "do the math" to maintain that balance while adding more pieces to the game.
The theme and name were also slightly changed to reflect German cakes and a popular song here titled …aber bitte mit Sahne ("but please, with whipped cream"). The eating points were then cleverly symbolized by dollops of whipped cream on each slice. When Rio Grande Games picked up the title for U.S. distribution, I was asked to brainstorm English names and submitted a list that included my original American Pie. They chose Piece o' Cake. Local publishers chose the titles for the French and Dutch versions.
I was also asked to work on some bonus slices with special effects that might be given away at Essen or other promotional events, or used as future expansions. The basic game can very easily be added onto, and even a powerful special action tile can be balanced out by a skillful divider. One of those, the Joker Slice, was later released in Spielbox magazine.
I almost forgot to mention a nice suggestion from Eric Martin, my former editor at Boardgame News. Before I was offered a contract for the game, Eric and his wife came to visit me after the Essen game fair in 2007, and he gave me his copy of Qwirkle for being their Berlin tour guide. I wanted to give him something in return, but I knew that he did not have a lot of extra luggage space after the fair, so I gave him an American Pie prototype. After playing the game many times, he was the one who suggested dividing the pie into four sections in the two-player game, giving each player two turns to choose each round.
Many thanks to Michel Matschoss and Uli Schumacher at Winning Moves, Bernd and my playtesting group, and Eric for their input during the development of the game!
Jeffrey D. Allers
Editor's note: This diary was first published on Allers' Berlin Game Design blog on October 1, 2008.
W. Eric Martin
• Catan.com reports that The Settlers of Catan app is "almost ready" for Android, with an expected release date of June 2011.
• Hans im Glück has posted a six-part video tutorial in German for Michael Tummelhofer's Pantheon, due out mumble-mumble in the U.S. Here's a link to the [url=Einführung ins Pantheon]intro episode[/url].
• As part of his "Conversation with a Gaming Innovator" series, Pete at The Superfly Circus interviews Chad Hoverter, sculptor for the miniatures in Plaid Hat Games' updated edition of Dungeon Run.
• And speaking of Plaid Hat, Tom Gurganus at Go Forth and Game interviews PHG's Colby Dauch about production, design and more.
• Opinionated Gamers has an interview with Bernhard Löhlein about the nature of the Kennerspiel des Jahres, the new "enthusiast's" game award from the Spiel des Jahres jury. Nominations for these two awards, along with the Kinderspiel des Jahres, will be announced Monday, May 23, 2011.
• The documentary Bobby Fischer Against the World is due out June 6, 2011 in the U.S. and July 15 in the UK. Here's a trailer for the film. (HT: Thomas L McDonald)
• French site Jedisjeux notes that issue 2011/3 of Spielbox magazine will include a bonus leader card for 7 Wonders, featuring the leader "Stevie" who lets you build your wonder for money instead of resources. Very clever, you Belgo-Mexicans you... Update: In addition to appearing in both the German and English editions of Spielbox, "Stevie" will be a freebie in the French magazine Jeux sur un Plateau.
For those of you that do not know, Eminent Domain raised $48,378 on Kickstarter, the most ever raised for any game (board or otherwise), and it will likely hold that record for awhile. This is the story of how I remember that happening.
Eminent Domain – The Concept
It all started on the way back home from BGG.con 2009. I was flying home with Seth Jaffee, designer of Eminent Domain, and after a great time playing games, I said many things, including:
-----• "I would really like to play Twilight Imperium 3 in less than an hour."
-----• "Dominion is doing really well. Maybe Tasty Minstrel should have a deckbuilding game."
Don't be impressed that I remembered my exact quotes because I don't. However, from those two thoughts, the idea that became Eminent Domain was born. Well, not exactly – Seth had been thinking about how to utilize the deck-building mechanism in a more fulfilling game experience. He felt that it would apply well here.
What I really should have said is, "I want a game that gives me an epic and immersive sci-fi experience, takes less than an hour, and utilizes deck building." That would have been an impressive vision of the future.
Eminent Domain Is Ready
Fast forward almost a full year to September 2010, and Eminent Domain was the only game I wanted to play. As an amazing and finished game, I wanted to see and publish the final product NOW! I can deal with and wade through a lot of crap, but patience about optimistic possibilities is not a strong suit of mine.
The problem was that Tasty Minstrel did not have the money to publish Eminent Domain, and it would not have the money for at least a year. Based on how far along we are now, it probably would have been more than a year!
Seth suggested that we use Kickstarter. I objected...mainly out of fear, fear that the Kickstarting would fail. In my mind, failure meant that the game would be permanently tainted, and thus unpublishable. I was also scared about what this meant for the future of Tasty Minstrel Games. I was scared that it would be the harbinger of ultimate failure for Tasty Minstrel Games and the shattering of my dreams.
Coming to grips now with how I felt, it seems silly to have such fear.
Still, there was this paralyzing fear. Then a fellow publisher that I respect emailed me about promoting his Kickstarter project. After learning why he wanted to use Kickstarter, my opinion changed, the fear lessened, and the project was on. However, the fear of failure was still there.
Knowing that the best way for me to defeat and eliminate fear is to be properly prepared, I devoured all of the information I could find about running a successful Kickstarter project. I reviewed every game that was successfully funded and most of the games that were not successful. I sketched up a plan, let people know they should be watching for something, fought back and forth with Seth about some aspects, and eventually it came time for the project to start on October 24th, 2010.
Eminent Domain On Kickstarter – The Beginning
The first couple of days of any project will be a huge indicator of success in the end. The immediate social proof of supporters is amazingly important. There is nothing that convinces you not to support more than a project that has seven days left and is 10% funded. Plus, the very early supporters will likely be your best promoters. The first five days looked like this cumulatively:
-----• 36 Backers @ $1,813
-----• 50 Backers @ $2,788
-----• 72 Backers @ $4,985
-----• 86 Backers @ $5,785
-----• 98 Backers @ $6,785
A great start and 33% funded after five days. WOW! There were two big things that I did to get there: (1) I sent an email on the first day to everybody subscribed to the Tasty Minstrel Games list and (2) on the third day I sent another email to the people who did not open the first email.
These first 98 backers were instrumental in spreading the word. They were excited about the game and hoped to see something other than a sketch of a cover idea by Seth and a video of me talking about Tasty Minstrel Games not having the money to publish Eminent Domain.
Come to think of it, it is amazing that anybody supported the project considering the lack of information we had to provide early. It is great to know that people out there trusted us.
Eminent Domain – The Hotness
Then the first (and eventually only) step of the cover art became available, and it became the first part of the "Hotness Bomb". Within two days, Eminent Domain ended up #1 on the hotness and stayed there for nine straight days.
While Eminent Domain was #1 on "The Hotness", we went from $7,910 in funding to $24,696. People even started complaining in the Eminent Domain threads about how Eminent Domain took over the BGG home page. There were several images, reviews (based on print-and-play copies), and session reports in that short period that were quite popular.
After that we kept getting more funding until the project ended. Once you get a project that receives an additional $2,000 or so a day in funding, you'll be wishing that you made the project go just one week longer...
Now we needed to buckle down and get everything about the game finalized, including the artwork, illustration, layout, rulebook, absolute final rules, and preparing the existing rulebook for potential expansions.
I distinctly remember arriving at BGG.con 2010 as the first words out of Derk's mouth were, "You created a real problem for me." Uh oh, I had just leveraged the BoardGameGeek community like nobody before, and I was worried that I had upset the powers that be. Then, Derk continued, "People are emailing me now asking me how I can help them make $40,000 for their board games."
Whew! Relief came back to me. "I told them that BGG didn't do anything to help," continued Derk, "So, how did you do it?"
How We Raised $48,378 To Publish Eminent Domain
Well, it really is quite simple, and I will tell you:
-----• I had an existing fan base and a method to communicate with them at will. Email marketing is amazing...
-----• I asked the TMG fan base to support and spread the word. People that love your company and what you are trying to do are amazing...
-----• I fostered communication about the project, asking people what they wanted, then proceeded to give it to them. Asking people what they want, listening, then giving it to them is amazing...
-----• I leveraged the excitement about Eminent Domain coupled with amazing cover art to get significantly more exposure on BoardGameGeek. Tapping into a community is, you guessed it, amazing...
-----• Seth provided prototype files for print-and-play as requested by supporters. The #2 rule of sales: Get the product into their hands.
-----• Seth and I actively answered all questions posed on BoardGameGeek about the project. I like to think that some people supported Eminent Domain with a little fear, but trusted us to follow through with a great product based on our devotion.
Questions About Kickstarter
W. Eric Martin asked me specific questions about Kickstarter, so it is time that I get some value out of my college degree in Philosophy.
WEM: What are the pluses of using Kickstarter?
MM: There are numerous pluses to Kickstarter. The most obvious of which is getting money in advance of production. Others in no particular order:
-----• Determining the sales viability and popularity of your game prior to production.
-----• Determining the total quality (MONEY) that should be invested in your game. For example, thanks to Kickstarter, Eminent Domain looks at least ten times better than it would have.
-----• Supporters get emotionally involved in the success of the product. If they want it, then they place it upon themselves to make sure it becomes fully funded. In turn, they promote the project for you.
-----• Supporters become vested in the quality of the final product. If you want somebody's 100% honest opinion about what to do, then ask them what they want after they have paid!
-----• The process of Kickstarting can be used to create a microburst of popularity and excitement which can be leveraged over time into an even greater success.
WEM: What are the drawbacks of using Kickstarter?
MM: Almost none. For an existing publisher, I thought it could be seen as evidence of a lack of success. If a game fails to be funded, then you might decide to not publish it. (Which is maybe a good thing?)
For a game designer or aspiring publisher, then the biggest possible drawback would be the result of a failed Kickstart. It might be difficult to get somebody else to publish the game with the evidence of failure there. Knowing this, I suggest you prepare thoroughly for the Kickstart of your game. There is no sense in working on a design for years, then flushing it down the drain because you failed to prepare to properly market it.
WEM: Is this a model for Tasty Minstrel Games in the future?
MM: Having grown wiser in the area of publishing board games, Kickstarter will be very important to TMG in the near future. There are three reasons for this:
-----• TMG will be reinvesting most revenue into the support and expansion of inventory of successful games.
-----• I will be taking money back out of TMG to recover the initial investment and reap some financial rewards. As a financial advisor, I have seen too many people fail to take money out and watch their bussinesses essentially fail.
-----• With all of the benefits stated above, how could Tasty Minstrel not utilize Kickstarter often?
All of this is with the caveat that if we see ridiculous success, the need for Kickstarter moves to zero. If we do not need Kickstarter and we move to use it, then this would probably be damaging to our brand and the trust we value with our customers and fans.
WEM: Is this a model for other small publishers?
MM: Definitely. Right now, there are lots of projects on Kickstarter. I imagine that the perceived quality of a Kickstarted game will go down over time as more half-baked games get published through Kickstarter. However, there will always be room for proven publishers (yet without immense financial resources) and designers to raise significant support through Kickstarter.
WEM: What is the future for Eminent Domain?
MM: The next big thing will be the Eminent Domain preview nights at participating retailers, then hopefully selling out the first print run before it gets to the United States, an SDJ win after being released in Germany, and catching up to and surpassing Dominion to be the best-selling deck-building game.
For the record, I do not expect win the SDJ or outsell Dominion.
[Editor's note: Just a few hours ago, while preparing this diary, I received a newsletter update from Tasty Minstrel Games announcing that the first printing (5,000 copies) of Eminent Domain has sold out, with more than 6,000 copies ordered. Thus, Mindes has achieved goal #1 and the game will likely be allocated among retailers unless the print run can be increased without delaying shipment of the game. Get it while you can... —WEM]
W. Eric Martin
If an idea is good enough, expect to see it repeated. Thus on the same day – May 19, 2011 – two publishers announced board games based on The Walking Dead, with Z-Man Games releasing The Walking Dead Board Game based on the comic book series created by Robert Kirkman and Cryptozoic Entertainment releasing The Walking Dead Board Game based on the AMC television series – which is, of course, based on the comic book series created by Robert Kirkman.
Same name, same theme, same source (essentially) – what's more, both games include scenarios as well as a solitaire option. Expect some confusion until both games are released and fans get their undead hands dirty. The Z-Man Games release, which retails for $40, is due out late Q3 2011 and designed by Keith Tralins. No word yet of a release date or designer info for the Cryptozoic title.
W. Eric Martin
And here's the hazard that comes from compiling a news overview with links to many different things – sometimes the news ages more quickly than you'd expect. (It doesn't help that I'm preparing to move to a new house, which is sucking up oodles of work time.) Let's look at the first two items below:
• Days of Wonder teases a forthcoming Ticket to Ride iPad app. Update: Less than 48 hours later, the Ticket to Ride app was live on iTunes. I tried out the app that same evening and was surprised to discover that the app is integrated with Days of Wonder's online version of TtR. Very nice!
• Winsome Games is reprinting Han Heidema's Wooden Shoes & Iron Monsters as a $25 game kit that gives you the bits for cutting and assembling at home. Details in the Winsome Games Yahoo group (log in required). Update: In less than a day, all of the kits had been claimed, and Winsome's John Bohrer is compiling a waitlist for interested parties. As compensation, however, or merely coincidentally, Bohrer has uploaded complete files – "map, rules, Rail Link cards, stocks, stickers and consortium markers" – for the 1997 Winsome release Veld Spoorweg.
Okay, that's the old/new news out of the way. The items below should be fresher...
• Twenty writers for Opinionated Gamers have pooled their knowledge/half-assed guesses to take a stab at which games will be nominated for the 2011 Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres, the nominees for which will be revealed on Monday, May 23. Their choices: 7 Wonders and Die Burgen von Burgund. Yours?
• In an editorial titled "Ockham's Razor", designer Bruno Faidutti reminds wannabe game designers to keep it simple.
• Designer Ignacy Trzewiczek unpacks the thematic elements of his 51st State.
• Speaking of which, Wired's GeekDad reviews 51st State, giving the game a lot of space and pics.
• Alf Seegert's The Road to Canterbury gets a write-up in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a trade journal for college and university faculty members and administrators.
• Mayfair Games has a card editor for The Rivals for Catan that allows you to upload images and create your own cards.
• Newsletter #2 from the International Dungeon Twister League is now available in English and French from DungeonTwister.org.
• Purple Pawn reports that the Texas House of Representatives has approved a bill that would designate the partnership domino game 42 "the official State Game of Texas".
• Thomas McDonald at the blog State of Play spotlights a sculpture series of female nudes by artist David Mach, including Myslexic (composed of Scrabble tiles) and Dominatrix (composed of dominoes). Disappointingly, the Scrabble tiles do not seem to spell anything.
I have been working on and playing Eminent Domain for more than a year. Since the game is finally in production and due out July 2011, I thought people would be interested to read some of what went into the game's development. For more info you could check out my game design blog on the subject, but here's a summary of the design and development of Eminent Domain.
Roots and History
In 2008, I saw this thread pop up on the Board Game Designers Forum. Evidently Queen Games was looking for designs utilizing its patented cube tower. Near the end of that thread is a post of mine from late 2009, more than a year after the thread started:
I never did work on the ideas I had for the Queen cube tower – as I recall my favorite idea was to use the tower mechanism to resolve actions at which you could get better... the better you are at the action, the more of that action's cubes you throw into the tower... the more cubes that come out, the more potent or effective your action!
I really liked the idea of taking training actions or getting better at parts of the game over time. The concept of getting better at the actions that you do comes from Dungeon Siege, a video game I never played but that was explained to me as follows:
Dungeon Siege is a role-playing game, but you do not have a character class to start off. Everyone can cast spells, pick locks, and swing swords, though none of it terribly well. Every time you fight something, you get a little better at melee, and every time you cast a spell you get a little better at casting spells.
So a player who likes to hack and slash will become a fighter-type in no time, neglecting his spell-casting and lock-picking skills in lieu of using his fighting skills. Once that happens, as you come to more powerful monsters, of course you're going to continue to swing your sword at them rather than casting some low-level spell! Similarly, if you spent your early game casting spells, then later it will seem much better to cast more spells because your fighting skills would be weak!
I have wanted to capture that dynamic in a board game for a long time. When Eminent Domain came around I realized I could use this dynamic in it, and I think it worked out beautifully! The cube tower thing could be represented by a deck of cards, which seemed a lot more convenient – especially if not designing a game specifically for Queen.
Originally I thought each action would have a standard effect, and you would flip some number of cards (two to start) to see whether your action was bolstered by the correct type of card turning up. For example, an action could be "Collect Wood: You get 2 wood, plus 1 wood per Wood card flipped." or "Fight with strength X, plus 1 per Attack card flipped."
You'd have basic cards such as "Wood" and "Fight" in your deck to start, and you could get better cards such as an Axe, which would have both a Wood symbol and a fight symbol (because you could use it to chop down trees to collect wood, or to hit some guy in the face). So if you flipped the Axe, it would help boost EITHER the Wood action OR the Fight action.
One type of action you would be to train one of your action types, thereby getting better at it. When training an action, you would take a card of that type and add it to your deck. Another thing you could do would be to train in general, allowing you to flip additional cards when taking any action (potentially getting better at all actions).
When I started thinking about really using this mechanism in a game, I realized that flipping cards was the same as having a hand of cards (that is, you flip them before you choose your action), and I liked the sound of that better as it allowed a player to plan ahead – knowing which cards would "flip" allows you to make more interesting choices. If, say, you flip two Stone cards and no Wood cards, you could choose between collecting the standard two wood and collecting four stone. If you really need the wood you might want to take them, while if you don't need them too badly you might choose the stone because there's more of it. Rather than taking a specific game action in order to "train" your actions, I figured you could simply get better at the actions you do, as in Dungeon Siege.
Creating a game in which your deck of cards changes over the course of the game is similar to the deck building from Donald X. Vaccarino's Dominion. But I never intended to re-invent the deck-building wheel – I was trying to do something different here. I wanted to use deck building as a mechanism in a larger game that is not simply about building your deck. It was important to me that some specific, significant things worked differently in Eminent Domain than in Dominion:
• In Dominion you decide which card you want in your deck, then you put it in your deck. In Eminent Domain your deck changes as a result of an action. Sure, you could Survey just to get a Survey card into your deck, but more often if you're Surveying it's to get a planet, and your deck changes as a result. Sometimes this is a drawback – you want another planet in your empire, but taking the Survey role means YET ANOTHER Survey card in your deck, which may already be heavy with too many Survey cards!
• In Dominion you must discard your hand every turn and draw five new cards for next turn. Nothing ties one turn to the next except the overall configuration of your deck, limiting the ability to plan ahead for next turn and the ability to build up to a bigger action later. In Eminent Domain you may discard any of your cards at the end of your turn (holding onto any cards you want) before resetting your hand. This allows you to build up to a big Role, such as storing up a couple Research cards while waiting to draw one more to afford that juicy technology card you've had your eye on.
• In Dominion when you buy a card it goes into your discard pile, and you will not be able to use it until your deck cycles through and you draw the card. In Eminent Domain, when you use a Research role to obtain a Technology card (with a fancy new action on it), it goes directly into your hand, allowing you to make use of it right away if you like, or giving you the option to discard it at the end of your turn if you don't plan to use it until later.
• In Dominion, useful cards in your deck are not worth points, while things that are worth points are generally useless and make your deck less efficient. In Eminent Domain, there is an element of "useful stuff being worth fewer points", but it's generally not tied to your deck. If you concentrate on deck management, then in the late game you don't have to be drawing poor hands chock full of VP cards. Of course, if you neglect deck management, then in the late game you may have trouble drawing the cards you really want, but at least the cards you draw will have useful action on them. (This last point was not one of my big considerations, but I thought I'd include it anyway.)
So you see, I don't feel like I've made a "deck-building game" so much as a role-selection game with deck building in it. Choosing your action every turn, then boosting from your hand evolved fairly quickly into a Lead/Follow mechanism as in Glory to Rome, but I thought it was important that you be able to choose any Role you want rather than needing to have a particular card in hand.
"Remaking the world..." – artwork for Terraforming
Entering the Space Race
While I had thoughts about this "training actions, getting better at actions as you do them, cube tower" idea rumbling around in the back of my mind, I was having a conversation with Michael Mindes, owner of Tasty Minstrel Games, about Twilight Imperium (Third Edition). Michael loves that game, and I would like to love it, too, but it's far too long and fiddly for me to enjoy playing it. We joked that I should make a TI3 card game, and I went home thinking about how I would do that. That's probably the moment that Eminent Domain was actually born. I thought maybe I could make a card game that felt like what I wanted TI3 to feel like. This is why Eminent Domain is set in space, and why it includes roles called "Warfare" and "Politics".
Any game that attempts to be a Twilight Imperium card game will likely share a lot of similarities with Race for the Galaxy. TI3 is a role-selection game not unlike Puerto Rico, and Race for the Galaxy is sort of a card game version of Puerto Rico. I knew going in that comparisons between Eminent Domain and Race for the Galaxy were inevitable. I tried pretty hard not to use the same terms as Race for the Galaxy because I didn't want to feel like I was ripping off that game, but in the end there are clearly some similarities, a result of a similar theme. I originally used the term Harvest instead of Produce, because I didn't want to associate as closely with RftG, and because I liked the sound of it – thematically you would harvest resources from the planets into your Empire, then you would trade them to gain Influence. Many people seemed confused by the term "Harvest", saying that to them it implied taking a resource OFF of a planet, not putting a resource ON it. RftG designer Tom Lehmann agreed that "Produce" was a better term and told me I shouldn't worry about using it.
Unlike Race for the Galaxy, though, I didn't want the planets to be inherently worth more or less than each other, so the resources had to all be equivalent. This has been a source of confusion for players who haven't yet read and digested all of the Technology cards in Eminent Domain. They often ask, "What's the difference between Food and Silicon?" The answer is, "Food comes from Fertile Planets and Silicon comes from Advanced planets". A deeper answer could be that Silicon is more rare than Food, which is discernible if you study the planets a little bit but not really very important to know. But until you get some specific level 2 technologies, all the resources in Eminent Domain are equivalent. The following technologies which make the resources matter:
-----• Genetic Engineering – extra points for each TYPE of good produced
-----• Diverse Markets – extra points for each TYPE of good traded
-----• Specialization – choose a resource, that resource trades for 2vp this turn instead of 1.
I intended this all along, allowing a player with diverse planets to do strong trading, or in the last case, a player with a bunch of the same planet to pursue a trade strategy. There will inevitably be comparisons to RftG, but I think the Role/Follow mechanism in Eminent Domain feels significantly different than the simultaneous role selection in Race for the Galaxy, and I believe the games play out completely differently.
A Fertile planet worth two influence, with a Production icon in the upper left and two resource slots (Food and Water) in the lower left.
I had planned from the beginning to have six different Roles in the game, each with its own icon. Three planet types would each specialize in two of those roles, meaning that those icons would appear only on those particular planets. There are Metallic planets with Warfare icons and with Survey icons; there are no Metallic planets with Trade icons. Originally the Planets had abilities on them, but that seemed a little too crazy. I wanted the planets to be incrementally good, not crazy good. I moved the abilities to the tech cards, which were too weak and disorganized originally. They're much better now...
The tech cards were always intended to be like that "Axe" card in my example above. I remember being in the shower and working out the combinations of icons on the cards and how they should be distributed. Originally the tech cards were in one big pile, and you would research them the same way you Survey for planets. That seemed very poor in practice because the technologies are intended to shape your strategy, and as such it's important that players have access to the one they want when they want it rather than having to choose from some subset of cards to add to their deck, which could theoretically be a BAD thing. ("I don't want any of these cards in my deck!")
So I decided that there would be a tech deck for each planet type, and that deck would have cards in it with the "native" icons for that planet type. Every card in the Metallic tech deck has either a Survey icon or a Warfare icon, etc. I figured there would be one card for each combination in the deck. Later, when I added the Action effects to the tech cards (instead of the planets), some were more strong than others so I decided to create three tiers or levels of technology. Like a tech tree, the level 1 techs would be more generally useful but not too powerful, like better versions of the standard actions in the game. The level 2 technologies would be a little harder to get and would be more powerful. Level 2 techs are the ones that really help define your strategy, so I tried to supply ones that would be good for all types of strategic paths I could think of. Because they were harder to get, I wanted a player to be rewarded for going after the tech cards, so I added a small number of points to the level 2 cards.
Level 3 techs were intended for the player who really concentrated on Research, and for their big, late game play they get a level 3 tech into play. I made them 5vp, which is a lot, so they could act as a late game scoring opportunity, but I also thought it would be fun if they had a really good ability on them. You wouldn't get them until late in the game, so you'd be hard pressed to abuse the powerful ability. In thinking of really powerful abilities, I decided these tech cards could stay in play and have a static effect. All of the level 3 tech cards are very strong.
About Those Double-Sided Techs
Originally I wasn't going to have any double-sided or stay-in-play techs, I was just going to have them all go into your hand and therefore your deck. Then some of the first draft level 2 techs were pretty weak and never chosen. The level 2 techs are the ones that define and support strategies, so it was important to me that none of them be so bad they're never bought. I also didn't want any of them to be bought first every time at the exclusion of all else. The only one that was like that was Data Network, but once everything else was adjusted I didn't think that one was too good anymore. In an attempt to improve the bad ones I thought it might be good if their effect were static, so I made them come into play and stay there. I rearranged things a bit so that three techs stayed in play, one of each type. That worked very well and I liked it. I already had the Level 3 techs coming into play, so I didn't feel it was a stretch to have one of each level 2 techs also stay in play and in fact maybe it makes the level 3 techs feel less different. I played with it that way for a while and was happy, thinking the techs were basically done – but I always wanted to revisit them and make sure they were all good and interesting. I started putting the stay-in-play techs in clear sleeves so they didn't get shuffled into decks accidentally.
At some point I started thinking about the level 3 techs and whether the first drafts (which I was still using) were all appropriately good. I talked to some people and came up with potential alternates... and I ended up with more than three that I liked, so I thought about making two of each. Two problems with that: I was already at a card count maximum – we wanted to use three sheets of cards, so I couldn't add more – and also if there were two Level 3 techs, the guy who gets the first one can probably easily get the other and that would be a lot of VP, I didn't like the sound of that. So I decided to put them on the backs of the Level 3s, making them double sided. I liked that. Once the level 3s were two-sided, I decided to think about three more level 2 techs to put on the backs of those other cards. The ones with the icons were basically, "I can't think of anything else right now. What about some icons?" I thought they might be too good, but after playing with them I thought they felt appropriately powerful.
I would have liked to add a political aspect to the game – every good civ game needs a political aspect, right? – but I ended up keeping my ideas for it out of the game, mostly because they didn't seem necessary. The game worked fine without them.
I did include a Politics card as a sort of "wild", so I could pretend like there was a political aspect at least thematically. I took my thoughts about politics and reserved them for a potential expansion. I finally got around to trying that segment of the game out, and I think it may eventually work the way I'd like it to. In a future expansion, the Politics aspect will likely add Agendas to the game which will affect each player equally, and each player will have some say in whether it comes into play or else what effect it has. As inspiration I may look to Warrior Knights – I like the how that game handles politics.
W. Eric Martin
• In a May 13, 2011 post on the Wizards of the Coast website titled "New Frontiers: D&D and Board Game", Bill Slavicsek writes about a few titles that gamers will likely already know about – the cooperative-play trio of Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon and Legend of Drizzt (due out October 2011) as well as the June 2011 release Conquest of Nerath (with pics of that game) – then goes on to write: "Conquest of Nerath and the Adventure System games are just the beginning. We're experimenting with games for younger fans, Euro-style board games, and other fun ideas that take the D&D brand to places it's never been before."
• In the category of "unexpected promotional opportunity", I present this post on The Puzzler, which features designer Louis Perrochon soliciting event card ideas from readers in exchange for a chance to win a copy of his Startup Fever, currently active (and fully backed) on Kickstarter. Now that's an original marketing approach...
• Colby Dauch has posted rules (PDF) for the new edition of Dungeon Run being published by Plaid Hat Games.
• Seth Jaffee gives an overview of Phil Eklund's Bios Megafauna, an October 2011 release from Eklund's Sierra Madre Games that's current available for preorder.
• Steve Jackson has posted an update on Ogre, 6th edition, with the summary being that the game will retail for $100, be published in an edition of 3,000 copies, be available through distribution and be released at some undetermined date.
• Gamewright will launch its new Port-a-Party line of games – no, really, Port-a-Party – in May 2011 with the release of Joe Name It and Who Would Win, the latter game first having appeared from Gorilla Games in 2009.
• Alliance Game Distributors has a May 2011 release date for the English version of Richard Garfield's King of Tokyo.
• Mayfair Games has announced a June 2, 2011 release date for The Struggle for Catan,
the English-language reboot of Klaus Teuber's two-player Catan card game the new Catan-themed card game for 2-4 players.
• A revised edition of Arcana is coming in Q3 2011 from Fantasy Flight Games with two new guilds (for a total of six) and six new rule options.
• Airlines Europe has been released in the U.S. from Rio Grande Games. Ascending Empires and Junta: Viva el Presidente! from Z-Man Games are at distributors and heading to U.S. stores.
• The 2011 card game Eat It! has simple game play that seems to stall in practice – at least in the online version, which has rules that are terribly lacking – but perhaps the time needed to figure out how to explain the game was instead spent making this promo video:
A few weeks ago I finally finished – and I do mean finished – PostHumous Z. I packed up the pre-orders and shipped them out myself. There was much rejoicing.
For those of you new to this whole project, PHZ is a team-based zombie survival horror game designed to scale from one-on-one play to five against five, with one side playing the human survivors, and the other controlling the zombies. The game is massive, containing enough stuff for ten players, including 120 zombie playing pieces, player aides and 295 cards, each with unique artwork...
And the kicker: This was a solo project from inception to finish. It's been two years from alpha to playtests to artwork to publication. And now that I've thoroughly earned this designer tag under my name, I'm writing this diary. The question is, what do I want to say?
Well, if you just want to read about the game and what you do in it, you'd be better off visiting the game page here on BGG. I don't have nearly enough space to detail the titanic task and all the little issues I've had to deal with, such as getting the Boss mechanism to work, designing the look of the H and Z cards, and finding an ever elusive box. Besides, I've already told that winding, long-winded tale in this thread over multiple posts.
So I'm going to take this opportunity to talk about my favorite parts of the game. The Top Five begins now!
1. Random characters and themes
Okay, this usually ends up first on everyone's list, and I'm no exception.
Posthumous Z has two distinct teams: the humans and the zombies. Players on both sides get three cards to make up their character or zombie theme. Humans get a YOU, WITH, and BUT card, generating something like "You are a beat cop" "with a gun" "but you have an alcohol problem," or "you are a hot waitress" "with a sweet ass" "but you have a stupid kid." Similarly, each zombie player has a THEY THAT and HUNGER card, making combinations such as "zombie ninjas" "that just appear" "and hunger for destruction" or "zombie cheerleaders" "that scream" "and hunger for control."
So every game starts with its own randomly generated teams, with their own strengths, weaknesses, and amusing names. It adds an incredible amount of variety when compared to having, say, a list of characters. Additionally, the players (myself included) get more attached to their particular character or theme. Rather than forcing a pre-existing name and history onto the player, the player is naturally inclined to explain whatever combination he gets – sort of like a bad B-movie version of word association.
Making a random generation system that was thematically appropriate, balanced, and simple was a challenge, and I'm quite happy it turned out so well.
2. Distinct teams, but balanced
The human and zombie teams function completely different from one another, but all their elements are connected and ultimately balance.
The humans play sort of like an RPG: They get a single character, some starting gear, and a set amount of life, but must scavenge the town to get any more. The zombies play more like a strategy game. They don't start with much – just some zombies on the board – but they accumulate resources and numbers for free over time. The zombie players' perception quickly shifts from individual to one of time, opportunities, and hordes.
A lot of games get their balance by putting everyone in the same boat. Everyone has the same starting materials or pulls from the same pot or deck, with maybe a little push going to whoever gets to go first. Making two completely different kinds of teams balance was not simple; it took me a good year of dedicated work to make happen.
3. The cards all look like stuff
PHZ has 295 cards, which are used for character generation, plot twists, items, random events – well, just about everything. Each is unique, with its own artwork, and this is what took the other year.
The graphic design of each type of card looks like something. The YOU, WITH and BUT cards look like Polaroid shots with Post-it notes, while the THEY, THAT and HUNGER are various types of manila folders with a "secret government file" look to them. The items are all on flattened shipping boxes, the events are on scraps of a newspaper (appropriately titled "The Event", which is a great name for a newspaper), and so on.
The line between card art and the card's graphic design is blurred. For example the "BUT screwed everything up" is splattered with blood, covering the "art" area of the photo, plus dripping down and staining the "text" part of sticky note. Likewise, the "BUT you have a stupid kid" has a crinkled five-year-old style drawing of a stick figure kid, savior, and zombies taped over the photo itself.
A couple of Z cards, themed as blood-splattered missing posters. The face side often has a composite photo or something busting through; the "On Fire" card is one of my favorites.
Many of the cards have little Easter eggs, for those OCD enough to look for them.
We could go into a big spiel about theme and immersion and other psycho-design babble, but let's just call it cool.
4. Low downtime
Nothing kills a game like downtime, especially a game designed to scale up to ten players. People get bored during downtime, pull out a smartphone or some other kind of apparatus, and dink around. When it finally gets to their turn, they're completely lost and have to spend more time catching up, then deciding, then acting – ballooning the downtime for all the other players, who then pull out their phones...
PHZ was designed to keep things moving. The game play is near simultaneous. The actions of a turn are quick, unfiddly physical movements, with most of the time being strategy discussions between the members of one team, while the other team watches closely for an opportunity to exploit.
One of many five-on-five games
There aren't time wasting elements such as deck searching, deck shuffling, "special" tokens that get used in only one particular instance (I'm looking at you, Fantasy Flight!), cards that make you draw a particular other card, etc. What's more, the game comes with a player aid, and the cards re-explain common terms to reinforce the rules and reduce the need to flip open the rulebook.
A big portion of that year of playtesting was spent watching – and timing – the people playing. If ever a rule, card, or other element caused confusion, slowed down the game, or was physically tedious – e.g., stacking three tokens and putting a playing piece on it to make a "big zombie" was a stupid idea – that element was reworked or culled.
The end result is fantastic – a fast-paced game that's easy to pick up and learn and that can have as much going as most "big" games have in six hours, while playing in only two.
5. I actually still enjoy playing it
On my journey, I studied and tried to learn from other designers. One thing I picked up as a common thread was that most designers, after finishing a game, are bored of it.
I've worked on this project for two years, and now finished, I'm taking it around to conventions and trying to show it off, which means I have to play it often. Heck, at the last convention, I ran 27 hours of games over three days.
Even after countless games, playtesting and demoing, the game still plays differently. Even if I'm not playing, I still set up, explain, and watch. And even in this passive role, the plot of the game ends up better than most horror movies.
I think it's pretty cool that even after the thousands of hours spent with this game it can still surprise and entertain its creator.
That said, I don't want to draw more zombies anytime soon. I've had my fill for a while.
for the love of the game
This Is a Cow
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