In the mind of a game designer

What is a good game? What is the history behind a good game? What does it take to design a good game yourself? With the intention to find answers to those questions, I set out on an exciting journey in the world of game design. The more I travel, the more I learn how much that remains to discover, and I cannot claim that I have found the answers yet. Nevertheless, I would like to send small post cards along the way, sharing my experience both with you and with my future self. All comments will help me on my journey because there is one thing I have learnt: no game is better than its players.

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Designing Turn of Time

Nicholas Hjelmberg
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This is the twelfth of hopefully many blog posts where I reflect upon my first tentative steps as a game designer. If you find my games interesting, do consider backing one at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/82740830/iconoclasm-a-g...



The inspiration to Turn of Time came partly from Iconoclasm, partly from The Game Crafter Time Challenge (https://www.thegamecrafter.com/contests/time-challenge). The latter was a design contest with time as a mechanism. There are several games that use time as a resource but to me, time is something that you turn back or forth. So what if you take the circular relations of Iconoclasm and add a time mechanism that lets player not only play their colors but also turn time to trigger "seasonal battles"?



With that idea in mind, I took the hexagonal game board of Iconoclasm and split it into smaller parts connected like cogwheels in a clock. Each wheel had two connections to other wheels so each turn of a wheel would affect two other wheels. Add to that a "battle system" where the later season always wins over the earlier season and you have a very clean and simple game using only two types of components: tiles and mats. Could a game really be that simple?

Some initial "proof of concept" testing indicated that the game idea could work. The number of tiles, the number of mats and the number of hexagons in each map were tested first, victory conditions for different number of players tested later and they all pointed towards a solid game. The artwork built on the Iconoclasm artwork with Earth rather than a void background (in Iconoclasm, the world was being created, while in Turn of Time, the world is complete and only the seasons remain) and the symbols were found at Openclipart (http://www.openclipart.org). The logotype, with the four colors of the season interrelated to each other, was inspired by the Asian Ying and Yang symbol and simply created from commas from the curly font Curlz MT. In almost no time, I had a simple game with simple artwork that hopefully is both gamewise and visually appealing. I will leave to the players and the contest jury to determine.

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Sun Jun 21, 2015 10:30 am
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Designing Knights & Damosels

Nicholas Hjelmberg
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This is the eleventh of hopefully many blog posts where I reflect upon my first tentative steps as a game designer. If you find my games interesting, do consider backing one at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/82740830/iconoclasm-a-g...

The influences to Knights & Damosels came from many sources. Already when I designed Christina Regina: The Queen's Path, I had an idea about creating a faction game where the factions would have to both fight and rely on each other but never managed to realize it. Later on, I happened to come across two Arthurian games, The Resistance: Avalon (where the players play on hidden sides, one aiming at succeeding in quests and one aiming at losing) and Arthur's Realm (a combination of a role playing game and a board game), and although none of them were about the factions the way I wanted, they gave me the missig piece of the puzzle: the relation between a knight and a damosel. How about a game where the knight wants to build a card deck (like in a traditional deck-building game) and the damosel wants to influence a knight (by giving him as many cards as possible)? The fact that I have loved the Arthurin legends triggered my imagination further and from there on, the road to Camelot lay wide open for me.



The simple faction mechanism combined with the rich Arthurian legends may serve as the foundation for an epic game where I could weave in other Nova Suecia mechanisms, such as production (rebuild the ruined country), cooperation against a common enemy (barbarians) and finally treachery (Mordred and Arthur's death). However, at the same time I had begin thinking of creating a cheaper card game to attract buyers that may otherwise refrain from my more expensive board games. My first attempt was a card game version of Christina Regina: The Card Game but the idea of Knights & Damosels is even more suitable for a card game. Besides, by going in the opposite direction this time and create the card game first, I would be able to test the mechanism and potentially build a small fan base before proceeding with a larger board game.

How to turn this game mechanism into a game then? First I felt that I needed a motive. Why do the knights want to collect cards? Obviously to build up their knighthood. What kind of cards then? As often in my games, the number 3 felt appropriate so I came up with 3 groups or services (arms, virtues and vassalage) with 3 kind of cards (chivalries) in each group. So far, so good, but the motive needed to be more concrete and give room for more actions.

How about letting them use the cards to earn worship points (which, by the way, is the name of the victory points in another old Arthurian game: Excalibur)? Arms could be used in wars and virtues in quests while vassalage could be used as a mean to earn less but safer points. Also important is that the opportunity to earn worship points would give the knights an incentive to collect specific cards in a turn, something that the damosels may use to their advantage. The idea of the event cards and their match to chivalry cards was thus born.

To add more action into the taking and placing of the cards, the theme gave me the idea of letting the knights joust for their damosel or their King, that is the right to play a specific cards. Another idea from the theme was a final battle where all the players would use their cards and points earned and fight Arthur's and Mordred's last battle at Camlann. The cards could be used for the actual battle while the worship points could be used to tell the survivors apart and declare a winner. All mechanisms fit so well with the theme that the game seemed to beg to get designed!

To simulate all the different ways of oppositions that the cards may engage in. I did not want the outcome to be completely random so I investigated variations on the rock-paper-scissors mechanism.

1. Wars/Quests were played by having the participating 3 knights choose 1 of 3 possible cards each and try to choose the same as a randomly drawn card. The challenge here is to choose a card different from the other knights so that it is certain that one of the knights chooses the right card. On the other hand, a knight may want the war/quest to fail to be the last knight standing and earn all the worship points himself...

2. Jousts were played by having the participating 2 knights choose 1 of 2 possible cards. Like in a tennis game, only one of the knights would have a match point at the time: the first round, the first knight would have to choose a different card to win and the other knight the same card to draw, and in the second round, the roles would be the opposite. By letting the challenged knight start, he would be given an advantage big enough to deter "unnecessary" jousts but small enough to make jousts a tactical opportunity. (With 50% victory the 1st round and 25% loss the 2nd, he can expect to win 2 out of 3 jousts.)

3. The battle of Camlann was played in a multi-player rock-paper-scissors style where a well-chosen card may beat several opponents' card in one blow. Statistically, a player should only need 1 or 2 cards more than the 2nd strongest player to be equal, if he or she faces several players so by giving the winner of the basic game (who is likely to have 1 card more than the other) 1 extra card, he or she would have a benefit that is fair but still leaves the field open, no matter of the odds. To prevent too large imbalances in the 5 and 6 player game, I added a rule that the weaker side gets 1 additional card if completely alone.

Attention also had to be given to the handling of the cards. The damosel behind each card had to be kept secret so I literally placed the damosel's name and symbol on the back of each card. However, how will practically handle the cards and find out when a damosel have given a knight enough cards to win? The solution was to introduce Merlin, a role that is the players take turn to play and that gives the wisdom to handle and see all the cards. To give Arthur a role as well, I introduced a role with power to choose which cards to be affected in critical situations (war losses etc.) and thus got rid of some random mechanisms at the same time!

For a card game like this, I thought the artwork was very important to convey the Arthurian atmosphere to the players so I read literature (Le Morte d'Arthur) and watched movies (Excalibur of course but also Monty Python's Holy Grail) for ideas. At last, I fell for Howard Pyle's wonderful illustrations and since they were free even for commercial purposes at Oldbookart.com, I used them as a basis, surrounded by Celtic knots and completed with symbols in the upper corners. As far as possible, I created own symbols, using parts from Openclipart where necessary and connecting either to the game purpose (a grail for the Quest cards and so on) or to the theme (coats of arms as described in the books).

Colors were another important part of the artwork. The match between for example the event of War and the Arms card to be played at wars was high-lighted by making all symbols red. The knights became silver and the disasters and the neutral cards black to connect to the game's color theme of silver against a black background. The damosels on the other hand all got bright colors as a contrast against the knights they try to influence. After all, although they have few visible actions in the game, they are literally behind most of what happens in the game.

I get emotionally attached to each one of my games but with Knights & Damosels, I feel that I have managed to get a lot of game in just one deck of cards, and I hope that other players will feel the same.

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Sat Jun 20, 2015 10:22 am
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Find the Treasure!

Nicholas Hjelmberg
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This is the tenth of hopefully many blog posts where I reflect upon my first tentative steps as a game designer. If you find my games interesting, do consider backing one at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/82740830/iconoclasm-a-g...



Game ideas may pop up anywhere. When discussing Find the Bug! with a colleague, I casually commented that the game could have had a completely different theme, such as finding a pirate's treasure. A few days later, the idea of a new game had taken form. Find the Treasure! would use a similar analysis mechanism as Find the Bug! but instead of placing many testers, the players would move around one pirate that must stay away both from cursed treasures (false bugs!) and from the other pirates who want to steal his or her maps or treasures. Just like Find the Bug!, Find the Treasure! would be aimed at a younger audience and attempt to bring the players back to childhood adventures like Treasure Island. The rest was simply about creating the additional elements necessary to realize this simple mechanism.

So which elements were needed then? Obviously a board to move around on. I abandoned the idea of fixed paths early in favor of a modular board where the players move 1 tile at the time, provided that they are connected by paths.

I also needed maps, showing the way to the treasure. Find the Bug! made use of bags to store both bug information and actual bugs, since each of the 9 intersections may hold 4 testers. However, in Find the Treasure!, I simplified this to allow each intersection to be dug at only once. Thus, it was enough to use 3 longitude maps and 3 latitude maps with 1 white diamond (genuine), 1 empty chest and 1 black diamond (cursed) each. A pirate who would dig at a spot would not have to physically pick up a treasure but rather look at the coordinate maps to see how many diamonds he or she found and leave a dig marker as "proof". Since each pirate would start by looking at 1 map only, nobody would know at which spot the 2 white diamonds intersected until either digging randomly (and risk finding a black diamond) or fighting each other for the right to look at each others' maps. A clean and simple solution.

Finally I needed a battle system, so that the pirates could fight each other for maps and treasures, and chose the simple rock-paper-scissors mechanism (but used the more pirate-like gun-sabre-hook instead - don't ask me how a hook beats a gun).

As with my previous game Bake the Cake!, I used free clipart images from Openclipart to make the island tiles and other images as pirate-like as possible.

During the design of the tiles, I also came up with other ideas that could make the movement across the island more interesting. Rafts were introduced as a limited resource that may help some pirates across a swamp and leave other stranded. Caves were introduced as a way to randomize movements (but not completely - I still refrain from using random mechanisms in my games and let the players choose which directions should have a higher probability). Bridges were introduced to allow two paths cross but not connect (but let one pirate fight with the advantage of a higher position - don't ask me how this is possible now that the paths do not connect). Finally I designed some predefined islands that the players may set up rather than creating an island from scratch.

The end result was an action game that still has room for tactical tricks as maps need to be interpreted and digging and moving planned. I would have liked my childhood games to be more like this and I hope other kids think the same.

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Fri Jun 19, 2015 1:43 pm
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Designing Bake the Cake!

Nicholas Hjelmberg
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This is the ninth of hopefully many blog posts where I reflect upon my first tentative steps as a game designer. If you find my games interesting, do consider backing one at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/82740830/iconoclasm-a-g...

When I started designing games, I made a joke about how irrelevant the theme is for a game and how a game about acquiring goods to build a colony just as well could be made into a game about acquiring ingredients to bake a cake. Later on, my attention was captured by another contest at The Game Crafter about games to a younger audience, which may serve to introduce them to heavier board games. However, although I love the 17th century theme of my early games, I don't expect 8-year-old kids to do the same. So why not return to the cake idea?



The idea was to create a game that, both figurely and literally, was messy, just like a kitchen full of young bakers. The ordinary value chain of acquire-refine-build, familiar from many other games, would be presented in a playful way but to add an extra dimension, I would allow the players to take what they need from each other. As an additional "take that" mechanism, I would even allow the players to eat each others' ingredients!

With the game foundation established, I began to work out the details. 3 is a good game number so I organized the game elements in sets of 3:

1. Each cake needs 3 parts (layer, filling and topping)
2. Each part needs 3 ingredients (depending on the recipe)
3. Points are earned in 3 ways: Ingredients, preparing and baking

The actual "production" was kept simple so instead of allocating workers or paying gold, the players simply take what they need, 1 at the time. However, I did introduce kitchen tools in the middle of the value chain (for the preparations of parts) as a limited resource and a way to block each others' progress. Finally, and as an extra twist to the end, I introduced the "Reiner Knizia" style scoring of a cake contest where only the cake where most players have points is used in the final scoring. This created a game where a player who tries to add too many points to a cake will get nothing in the end, just like the famous Pythagorian Cup!

For the art, I used free clipart images from Openclipart together with bright colors to create a comic style to the game. My old art of simple symbols and old paintings worked well for my historical games but certainly not for a cake game and I can't deny that my art skills are far inferior to that of the many good artists at Openclipart. However, I did add some extra flavor (pun intended) to the rules and the box and made then in the style of recipe book and a cake. I even wrote the rules as if told by a grandmother to her grandchildren! This was fun and, I hope, an improvement compared to my previously rather formal rules.

The rest of the game design was simply testing and tuning to get the optimal number of ingredients per person (2), number of kitchen tools (1 more than the number of players) and number of cakes to be baked before the game ends (2 to get a reasonable playing time of 30-45 minutes). The end result was game which looks simple on the surface but with a surprisingly huge tactical depth. I honestly don't know how to play best to win this.

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Thu Jun 18, 2015 5:42 pm
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Designing Find the Bug!

Nicholas Hjelmberg
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This is the eighth of hopefully many blog posts where I reflect upon my first tentative steps as a game designer. If you find my games interesting, do consider backing one at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/82740830/iconoclasm-a-g...

The idea to the game Find the Bug! was born when I gave test lectures to newly hired colleagues. I was a bit dissatisfied with the lack of hands-on practice and thought of alternatives. After all, testing is not very different from gaming with a hidden objective (unknown bugs) and different ways to achieve it (test strategy). The work with the Nova Suecia games helped me develop various game mechanisms and finally I had everything I needed.



The main idea is to find unknown bugs and that was also the main challenge: how to simulate a test environment with random defects and still allow the players to deduce where the bugs may be? Initially, I thought of placing tiles in certain patterns but eventually I rationalized this to letting the players pick tiles from bags instead. By adding a colored gem to each bag depending on the number or severity of the bugs and then shuffle them, I also gave the players a way to make deductions about the content. The two-dimensional game board with modules and tiers, where both must have a bug tile to count as a bug, makes deductions more difficult and also simulates risk-based testing with its assessment of business criticality and technical complexity.

This is enough for the basic game but I wanted to include more test concepts, such as regression test and test automation. The solution was to add fix markers. For each fixed bug, a corresponding module and tier marker are placed in a bag, out of which new bugs are drawn for the second round. The test automation was then simulated by letting the players place a tester on an entire module or tier, but not until it is mature, i.e. is free from the bugs in the first round.

The rest of the game basically follows the normal test process:

1. Plan: Set up game board
2. Analysis: Check gems to assess which tests to prioritize
3. Test: Pick tiles to find bugs
4. Fix: Remove bugs but add random new bugs
5. Retest: Remove new bugs
6. Report: Count score
7. Close: Summarize game

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Wed Jun 17, 2015 6:50 am
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Designing Mare Balticum

Nicholas Hjelmberg
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This is the seventh of hopefully many blog posts where I reflect upon my first tentative steps as a game designer. If you find my games interesting, do consider backing one at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/82740830/iconoclasm-a-g....

With three simpler games developed, I felt that I wanted to connect all my game ideas and create a bigger game again, without compromising with simplicity. The idea was to combine the economy of Nova Suecia, the military of Bellum se ipsum alet: Conquest and Devastation, the factions of Christina Regina: The Queen's Path, the building of Vasa Regalis and the connections of Tre Kronor Infernum: Fire to Ashes into one game. Would that be possible? I first went to the theme for inspiration and studied the dramatic period when Sweden rose to a European major power. All game mechanisms were there, although I removed the faction mechanisms as they would not really contribute to the game.



Left was a game where players produce goods; use goods to build fleets, armies and forts together or acquire titles individually; connect to overseas provinces; and fight battles against simulated enemies. To make all those game elements work smoothly, I had to minimize the complexity of each. Subjects, goods and gold are all using the same tokens. Production is simply adding one token to each already existing token (or two for overseas provinces), buildings require only three goods, connection is the dependency where armies require a fleet first and forts require an army first. Battles are fought by the players simply choosing an attack or a defend card - if all attack they win but if one defends, only the defender wins, and if all defend they lose. Enemy actions, finally, are simulated by choosing an enemy card and if adjacent, the enemies attacks on those fronts. Yet, all those game mechanisms have interesting cooperation/competition balances.

1. A produced good may be used in short term (as a new subject) or in long term (to build).
2. A build usually requires players to cooperate to be completed.
3. Armies need fleets to be placed but once placed, they deny the fleets the production and the similar applies for forts and armies.
4. The prisoner dilemma-style battle system encourages players to cooperate but also gives an incentive not to cooperate.
5. The enemy simulation allows players to steer enemies towards opponents with the risk that enemies spread out of control.
6. Titles are required to win but requires that investments are forsaken and must also be defended, thus acting as stop-the-leader mechanism.

As this wasn't enough, the testing revealed another unintended mechanism: the balance between subjects, goods and gold. The decision to use the same unit for all three was initially a component decision (it was cheaper!) but turned out surprisingly well. A player throwing out subjects on the board will face "inflation" as he or she doesn't have enough units left to collect the production or pay for the investments. This also led to the specialized one-good-provinces instead of the mixed provinces, forcing the players to move from province to province in search for the right mix of resources and moving the game away from the static placement game to a dynamic manoeuvre game. Perhaps I subconsciously thought of Advanced Civilization, with its famous balance between stock and treasury?

Another "component mechanism" appeared when I converted the wooden units to the new cardboard chits offered by The Game Crafter. Since they were bigger, I couldn't fit the old matrix-style build decks, where there were squares for several fleets/armies/forts and several players. They had led to individual builds, as the first player to build also claimed the leadership, instead of the cooperative builds I wanted. The new mechanism changed this in two ways:

1. Fleets/armies/forts builds removed the first-player leadership in favor of a a rotating leadership, where the leftmost unit is the leader one turn and then switches places with the next. This worked thanks to the specialized provinces, since all farm circles now generate the same kind of unit and the relative positioning within a province can be used for other game purposes. This also encouraged other players to join a build since all will get to lead the fleet/army/fort eventually.
2. Title builds removed the many individual builds in favor of one cooperative build. Now titles are awarded when the total goods reach a level, but only to the player contributing with the most goods. This added a new cooperation/competition dimension to the simple race mechanism used before.

I guess the conclusion is that game creativity has many different sources and that the important thing is to dare trying out new paths.

All those mechanisms give a game with plenty of strategic options and players constantly seeking for the right time and place to abandon their co-players. Is it too much? Some reviewers think so while others are intrigued by the game. I guess it depends on player style but among my three complex game, Mare Balticum beats both Nova Suecia: The Last Letter Home and Bellum se ipsum alet: Conquest and Devastation.
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Tue Jun 16, 2015 11:56 am
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Designing Tre Kronor Infernum

Nicholas Hjelmberg
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This is the sixth of hopefully many blog posts where I reflect upon my first tentative steps as a game designer. If you find my games interesting, do consider backing one at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/82740830/iconoclasm-a-g....

I had intended Vasa Regalis to be the last game in the Nova Suecia series but also thought that there remained a dramatical event from the Swedish 17th century history, namely the fire that destroyed the castle of Tre Kronor. When the game idea came to me, it contained elements from the two previous games, Christina Regina and Vasa Regalis. The objective of the game would be to reach specific squares on the game board, not by moving one piece but by placing several and build chains, and the victory conditions would be ambiguous, depending on whether a room is saved or not. This gave the balance between cooperation and competition that I strive for in every game.



The cooperative element is the chains set up by the players together that then may be used by any player in the chain (to extinguish a fire). The competitive element is the option to secretly saving or stealing a possession in the room. This gives each player an incentive to save the room or let the room burn down, an incentive that must be kept secret so that the other players cannot play against that.

A novel game mechanism introduced in the game was the simulation of the fire. It reminds a bit about the storm in Forbidden Desert but by having the players choosing coordinate for the spread of the fire, I could not only simulate the raging fire but also give the players an opportunity to steer the fire towards parts of the castle they want to burn down. However, since they can only choose one coordinate, flames may very well spark in parts not intended.

The rest of the game development aimed at determining the board appearance (9 rooms with both inner and outer corridors) and the score options (where I settled with the simple options of saving or stealing only). After the tuning and testing, I had a very visual game where each player has an own agenda as the fire spreads in front of the players' eyes.
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Mon Jun 15, 2015 10:16 am
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Designing Vasa Regalis

Nicholas Hjelmberg
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This is the fifth of hopefully many blog posts where I reflect upon my first tentative steps as a game designer. If you find my games interesting, do consider backing one at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/82740830/iconoclasm-a-g....

With Christina Regina, my games had found their place in the Swedish 17th century and I began to think of dramatic events to weave games around. One such event was the failure of Vasa Regalis. How about letting the players cooperate and/or compete to build the ship? And if they fail, let the entire Vasa ship fail? That would force the players to collectively contribute to a common goal, but individually as little as possible, a bit like in Nova Suecia. But as an extra challenge, the victory conditions would be ambiguous and dependent on success or the failure of the ship.



The main game mechanism does not have to be complicated. The players acquire goods (wood, cloth, iron and sculptures fit the theme) and combine them into higher values (1-3) that are secretly placed on the ship. If an area reaches a certain value, the ship succeeds and the player benefits from having most goods left, otherwise it fails and the player benefits from having placed most goods.

The idea was intriguing but which other game mechanisms to include? I already had a production game in Nova Suecia and the essence of Vasa Regalis would not be the production but the use of the products. How about a trade game, where the players trade combinations? OK, but trade games tend to take time. I finally settled with a role-based game, where the player selecting the role gets the most benefits and the last player in the turn no benefits (similar to Puerto Rico). This also ensures an asymmetrical distribution of goods. With the addition of limited resources, there would be plenty of tactical opportunities in the role selection.

After that, the game was basically ready. I just had to test and tune some details concerning the number of roles (4 for acquiring goods, 2 for combining goods and another 2 wild cards for replacing goods on the ship) and the succeed/fail level (number of players +1). I also added an opportunity to sneak-peek on other players' placements to assess how much that has been placed and adapt their own placements accordingly.

Like its predecessor, Christina Regina, Vasa Regalis is a simple and straight-forward game. The strategic depth may not be as big but the ambiguous victory conditions ensure that all players participate in the victory race until the very end.
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Sun Jun 14, 2015 2:15 pm
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Designing Christina Regina

Nicholas Hjelmberg
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This is the fourth of hopefully many blog posts where I reflect upon my first tentative steps as a game designer. If you find my games interesting, do consider backing one at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/82740830/iconoclasm-a-g....

Christina Regina started with the ambition to create a political game, where cards would be played to create influence. A fitting theme for such a game is court intrigues and the best example I could find from the Swedish 17th century history was the court of Christina Regina.



However, I'm really not fond of card games, where a player's knowledge of cards and their effect determines the outcome, and started to think in terms of boards instead. Why not let the influence be symbolized by a Queen piece moving around on a board? With that idea in my mind, the rest went so quick that my third game was completed and tested while my second (Bellum se ipsum alet) was still being tested!

The game idea is very simple. The players take turn to move the Queen and score if the Queen is moved to a tile bearing their color. There are other games with that idea, where you have to move a piece so that it benefits you more than the others. (The first that comes to mind is Leo Colovini's sadly underrated Alexandros, although it was unknown to me at the time.) But what if the player colors were secret? And if you have an incentive to keep your color secret? That was how the assassination mechanism was born.

The assassination mechanism forces a player to a careful balance: move the Queen in a way that benefits your color but not so obvious that the other players can guess the color, otherwise you will be assassinated and lose. The rule that forbids the Queen to enter already entered tiles enables a player to indirectly have the Queen moved in a certain direction without being too obvious. The additional mechanisms (persuasion to prevent a move in a certain direction, agitation to remove a tile and manipulation to switch two tiles) were added to provide more options than the movement but besides them, the game really does not need more.

Christina Regina has the shortest playing time of my games but in spite of that (or perhaps because of that) it is one of my favorites. The simple rules have a strategic depth where everything from detailed calculation to cold-blooded bluffing may be applied. Due to its mental challenge, it may not be suited for playing several games in a row but thanks to the short playing time, belongs on the table of any game evening.
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Sat Jun 13, 2015 11:20 am
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Designing Bellum se ipsum alet

Nicholas Hjelmberg
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This is the third of hopefully many blog posts where I reflect upon my first tentative steps as a game designer. If you find my games interesting, do consider backing one at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/82740830/iconoclasm-a-g...

Following Nova Suecia: The Last Letter Home, I took up another old game idea of mine. As an old war gamer, I had always been disturbed by the infinite stacks of armies in otherwise great games like War and Peace and wanted to introduce a supply dimension. The strength of your army would be directly - but only gradually - dependent on your supply.



Continuing the Swedish 17th century theme, the Thirty Years' War was a natural choice for the setting. But I wanted to make a Euro game, not a game with huge stacks. The solution was to only have leader tokens, not army tokens, and let the leaders represent the entire army. With only two leaders per player, game turns are swift and down-time low.

A tactical game relies on two main game concepts: means (battles) and ends (objectives). For the battles, I did not want dice to be used but let player skills rather than luck determine the outcome. The solution was to have the players secretly choose how much strength to spend in the battle and let the strongest player win. The more you spend, the greater are your chances to win but the greater are also your cost. Obviously, the winner must get some strength back from the loser (otherwise the loser will always lose less than the winner) and after some simulations, I came up with 2 as a reasonable value. That meant that a player who spends 1-3 strength more than his or her opponent will win the battle AND lose less strength.

The second game concept concerned the objectives. Instead of the common negative objective of elimination, I chose the positive objective of strength and supply, whereby the game ends when one player reaches 0 in any of the two and is won by the player with the most strength or supply. Both strength and supply are limited by influence in cities and on the countryside, as marked by influence tiles. They are placed simply by the leader passing by and also give a visual representation of the players' positions.

Also, I did not want the common static positions but rather dynamic positions, where a player's conquests can actually be lost not only to another player but to the game. The solution was the resistance marker, where a city will revert to neutral state after a while. This adds a time dimension to the game since a player cannot lean back and reap the fruits of his or her gains but must quickly utilize it before it is lost again.

The rest of the game more or less wrote itself. I needed movement rules (friendly land allows more movement and vice versa)), siege rules (the quicker a city is taken, the more it is damaged) and other small details. Finally I had to test and tune the game to get the proper levels for the map size, the number of cities and the number of influence tiles (less than you might expect).

Many nuances were inspired by historical literature, particularly the absurd war economy where money accumulated in the cities was plundered by the armies and returned to the countryside as means of payment for supplies (since plundering would in the long run undermine the economic foundation of the army). Gamewise, a player must first increase his or her supply by occupying cities and then increase the (up to the supply level) by tilting influence tokens on the countryside. A simple abstraction of a complex phenomenon, which challenges the players to balance between the two and allows tactical measures to starve each other (or themselves if they don't watch out!).

The end result is a fairly straight-forward tactical game but some parts of the rules had to be detailed to handle special situations, particularly around when a hex is influenced or not. The game's nature allows for a lot of variation and replayability but that is to the price of symmetry and cleanliness. If that is good or bad is up to personal taste but for the next game (Christina Regina: The Queen's Path), I took on the challenge of creating a simpler game.
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Fri Jun 12, 2015 6:54 am
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