Trevor HarronUnited States
Hello everyone, welcome back to another design journal on Who Wears the Crown? It has been a while since we have last updated you all with the progress on Who Wears the Crown? and we would like to first apologize for that. You deserve to have a good insight into the progress of this game and how we are progressing on that. There are a number of reasons for this delay, some are that other projects took priority and helped us move forward as a company and the other big reason is that Trevor (me) took some time to get a master’s in game development (specifically in Computer Science).
Now with all of this time having passed that does not mean there was no work done on Who Wears the Crown? and we want to share that with you! Starting with the latest thing first, we now have a print and play copy of Who Wears the Crown? Available on our site (https://www.blueherongames.com/store/wwtc-pnp)! This uses the artwork we decided on made by the wonderful Kaitlyn Castellow. For this aesthetic, we did not want to focus on a hyper realistic representation of the game world for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, realistic art is expensive and would be outside the budget we could afford at this time. This first reason is practical but also lends a more specific way to present Who Wears the Crown? differently than a number of other political and/or fantasy games out there. While not required, it certainly helps with the recognition that players would hopefully have seeing our game.
Second Who Wears the Crown? at its core is a abstract representation of political power focusing on the mechanics of king-making. By having the art be abstract players can focus more on the game itself while having the ease of clearly being able to tell apart the different pieces. Also, this abstraction allows for players to assume the role of the royal houses they are playing as without assuming a specific persona (other than the one they put on themselves).
Now at this time we are still working on refining the rule book so if you get a chance to get a Print and Play copy of Who Wears the Crown? then feel free to send us your feedback!
In the vein, we have also taken a lot of effort to ensure that the rules of Who Wears the Crown are well written and as clear as they can be. For this we have looked at a number of well constructed rule books ranging from our success with Affectionate: Cats and Cuddles, to Villainous, and even looking back at some of the features lacking for Collectors and Capers. Part of this massive effort on our part comes from the realization that Who Wears the Crown? is a different game than what most folks are expecting. There are concepts in the game that to some seem antithetical to the conventional understanding that folks have about games.
This leads us to the biggest area of change in Who Wears the Crown? the mechanics improvements. Again we are going to start with the Endgame since it has had some of the biggest changes to it. As we continued to play-test we were finding that the constant confusion and use of both a point end game and claim tokens was overly confusing and could lead to wildly variable game times. This would create confusion in players who were not aware of the end of the game coming up and meant that the learning curve of the game was more difficult than it needed to be. So to combat this we ensured that the game would have 6 rounds of play. A round is every player having a turn to sell an action (more on that in a second). This evened out the game play time as well as provided a clear indication into how far we are in a given game. With this change there was a minor scoring change as well to the number of claim tokens simply giving a flat point boost to the player(s) with the most.
The cards: one comment we got multiple times (and a thorn in our designing side) was the want that players had to remember or have indication of what cards were down on the table. Basically players wanted a way to track which cards they gave to who and a way to understand the math of the support and betrayal cards. To this end we decided to create 5 suits suns, swords, feathers, rings, and horses. In the base game for each value and suit there is always one betrayal and the rest or supports. This allowed players to figure out if they may have been given a betrayal and track the cards players had more effectively. A few minor drawbacks to this is that the setup procedure became more complicated and the card count back up to 75 but that is manageable especially once a number of cards are removed from that deck. Also the betrayal cards now are negative crown points. This means that they have more of an impact and thus are used more as a disruption tool than just a wasted play for influence tokens.
Now in terms of the actual game-play there have been major changes for the better implemented here. First, the spy action was eliminated entirely, if players want to negotiate looking a a card when they receive it they can. The spy action was rarely if ever used and constantly was ignored no matter how powerful it was. With this we also made a change that was long requested and finally realized the full utility of it: you can always offer the steal action. Now the core change here is that there are the two actions that can always be offered (Score for an Opponent or Steal) and that to skip the negotiation phase entirely you pay the 3 unique token cost. This allows for players to feel powerful offering to steal while not feeling that they paid for someone else to benefit. With the payment change players also felt more in control of what they wanted to do and were more encouraged to trade for the tokens.
Trading was also loosened up to help provide more creative trades (though a table of players can vote down a offer they find ridiculous for that group). It is hard to litigate the complex and varied trades that could occur in a game of Who Wears the Crown? Instead we decided that placing a few key rules on the offers themselves would leave the majority of the offer up to the players to decide what is valid or not. Some would say that this is an abdication of the responsibility of rules writing but we are trying to foster the intricate deals that could be made that we may not be able to think of. Part of this decision is also an acknowledgment that the players would enforce/ignore different rules as per their groups inclination and we want to focus on groups repeatedly enjoying Who Wears the Crown?
To speed up the initial stages of the game, players pass some of their influence tokens to their neighbors (just 1 token to the next 3 people) this helped players not only establish some early goals in terms of influence token collection but also ensures that at some point players could pay 3 unique tokens to take the action they want to without worrying about the initial trades. We were also finding that some of the early game stages were simply set up for gathering tokens and were not meaningfully moving the game forward.
At this time we are now looking to work on refining the rule book, start with getting the word out, and some final blind play-tests. If you want to help out at all feel free to join us on Facebook and send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts, suggestions, feedback, or interest!
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04 Dec 2020
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We have been hard at work refining Who Wears the Crown since our last Design journal and we have a number of exciting improvements to share with you! Last time we focused on some core aspects of the game including the intrigue actions, the end game, and finally a few other minor considerations. With these aspects polished, I have turned my focus to a number of other areas that needed refinement to bring Who Wears the Crown back to its design intent of being a simple political intrigue, king-making game with deep gameplay. The impediment to this goal is twofold: first, the number of components can overwhelm a new player and secondly games would last too long leading to player fatigue in a game. To solve this problem, there were three main issues addressed: extra components, too many cards, and too long of a build up to the end game.
What was Worked on
As I was working on trying to make Who Wears the Crown? easier to understand I found that a number of components only had a single purpose towards the end of the game. These tokens included a token for marking a player who triggered the end of the game as well as a formidable deck size. This extra token, while it appeared to be a small change, had a massive impact on the player’s focus and understanding of Who Wears the Crown? not only was it cumbersome to explain but I found that players were distracted by this token. As such, the token to mark the player who started the end game was removed and replaced with the claim tokens that track the endgame. Not only does this provide a clear understanding of how many rounds are left but it also eliminates a need for a token that only has one purpose.
Second, it became more evident that the deck of cards was too big for the number of cards that were being used in a given game. As a result, I revisited the ratios of Support to Betrayal cards for each of the values (1, 2, and 3 points) and cut down the deck to its smallest size possible (11 cards) based on their ratios. This tiny deck was insufficient to play with so I split the difference between the original size of 86 cards and the tiny size of 11 cards and came to a deck of 36 cards and found that even in 7 and 8 player games there are enough cards to trigger the end of the game. This smaller deck will not only create a more affordable game due to less cost of components but also means that players are not left wondering what cards remain in the deck and that there is less variability in what players will draw in a game and provide for more consistent game lengths.
Finally, while the tension while players play Who Wears the Crown? is desired for a feeling of political intrigue in a royal court, it can lead to players feeling exhausted and reluctant to play again. On top of this, players seem to like the end game a lot more than the set up to the end game. To help fix both of these problems the point value that starts the end game has been changed from 10 points to 7 points.
While we have fixed and continued to refine Who Wear the Crown? we still have a few things we are working on and playtesting. We are continuing to see if the change from 10 to 7 points as the endgame trigger while help brings Who Wears the Crown? to its design intent. A few other things we are thinking of also include the number of rounds for the end game, the usefulness of the spy action, and how to handle bluffing. We are also in the process of getting some fantastic art done and the world of Who Wears the Crown fleshed out.
While this is a minor design journal, we hope that you find these improvements to be interesting and show that we are getting closer to start the release process.
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15 Oct 2017
Last post I talked about some of the challenges that I would have to try to fix with Who Wears the Crown? specifically the challenges of properly costing the Intrigue actions and handling the Endgame more gracefully. Today I will go over some of the things that I did to try and smooth out these rough parts, what worked and didn’t, and then go over some of the coming challenges still to come for Who Wears the Crown?
The Intrigue Actions
Since the shift to using an opponent's favor (favor is the currency of Who Wears the Crown?) to pay for the intrigue actions, the actions have been used more effectively but the cost of the actions is still a question I am trying to smooth out. Previously, the three actions of Draw, Spy, and Steal had been costed at zero, one, and two unique favors respectively. This was a relatively low cost to promote interactions around the greater use of intrigue. This in some ways initially worked but also meant that the incentive for controlling other players favor was reduced as well. To promote more want for another player’s favor I increased the cost of these actions to one, two, and three unique favor instead. This slight change did improve the player interaction in wanting more diverse sets of favor thus keeping more players involved in the game. Now one of the things that I am seeing is that the Draw and Steal actions are being used but that the Spy is being neglected. There are a couple of ways that I will playtest addressing this. The first way will be to try and increase the effect of the Spy action. Currently, a player can only look at 3 cards and so to try and balance this, I will increase it to 5 cards. If it appears that this is too much of a boon then I can try and reduce the effect down to 4 cards and check again how often the Spy action is used. If it appears that the spy action is still not being used after all of that then the question becomes if it adds anything to the game or if it should be replaced with another action?
Previously, I found that the endgame was too short for Who Wears the Crown? and by extension, games were ending too quickly leaving players happy with the game but wanting more. So I fell back on a pattern that I had used for Collectors and Capers to make sure the endgame is the correct length, have the Endgame be 3 rounds of play long. In Collectors and Capers, I tracked this with the box of the game which fit with the get out clean vibe of a heist but would not work with someone trying to claim the throne. To then work with this idea I introduced two new types of tokens: Claim tokens and the Endgame token. The Endgame token is given to the player who triggers the endgame and the claim tokens are used to not only to track the three rounds but also counts for points.The idea being that whoever has the most Crown Card value will gain a claim at the end of the turn of whoever has the Endgame token. From this change not only was the endgame increased but the game overall without having to increase the value that would trigger the endgame. With this set of mechanics in mind I can simply increase the number of claim tokens to lengthen the game or decrease the number to shorten it.
Other issues to work on
Now while the intrigue cost and the endgame are some main concerns of mine, I have also noticed that if players find themselves without being able to trade (either by not being assertive or are new to the game) might find themselves feeling left out. So as I continue to try and playtest Who Wears the Crown? I am trying to find ways to mitigate that without disrupting the core of the game or the main flow of play. Some considerations that I have range from changing the way Intrigue Actions are paid for to providing multiple people offering cards/actions at the same time. For now though, I am simply trying to smooth out the core of the game and will keep an eye on these issues.
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This morning I want to talk about a game I am currently working on called Who Wears the Crown? (Boardgame Geek) and the process that has lead it to its current state. This blog will go over the the design Intent, a bit of history of this game, what the largest points of challenge are, and what the current design is like. The point of this initial blog is to give you wonderful readers some insight into a game that I am very excited about and want to share with you all.
Even before I started working on Who Wears the Crown? I wanted to experiment with some of the parts of gaming that are common. I was reading through the book Rules of Play and it occurred to me while reading about the phenomenon of kingmaking that there is not a game that focuses on this ‘issue’ in gaming. For those not familiar with the term, kingmaking occurs when a player who has no chance of winning intentionally makes a move to cause another player to win. I want to make a game to examine and (hopefully) solve this problem in game-making and make the game fun too; that is the intent of Who Wears the Crown?
Now, at this time I started thinking about the problem of Kingmaking and why is it despised? As I observed more games I noticed that the most frustrating thing is that the Kingmaker had no in game logical reason for their choice of who the winner would be (other than spite). This led me to an idea, what if there was a second win condition? What if being the kingmaker was a way to also win? This idea stayed with me in my early designs had two winners (one of the things that has stayed constant while designing) the king and the king maker.
With this intent in mind I saw an opportunity late last year, I was wrapping up with Collectors and Capers on Kickstarter and was done with the design of Affectionate - Cats and Cuddles. Initially, I wanted to make a resource collecting, tableau building, trading, and negotiation game where players can trade resources for influence or use a player’s influence to to force a trade (calling in favor) and use resources to accomplish goals. The influence would also track who was the kingmaker (and thus the other winner).
This idea quickly became more complicated with trying to balance the difference kinds of resources, how they were collected, etc. The simple act of trying to write up the different cards and make it balanced was massive even before playtesting and balancing. From this idea there were two important parts that became clear to me: the trading and use of influence were key to the idea that players would work together.
So in order to try to make this idea work, I had to try to simplify the rules to just the bare essence that was trading and using influence. The first thing that I simplified was removing the tableau and resource aspects of the game and just focusing on the trading. This was manifested as just a deck of cards with different backs depending on the potential point value of the card or if the card would be an intrigue card or not. The intrigue cards were one of 6 different actions that could be taken by playing the card. With the trade focus, every target of every play became a subject of negotiation and that the negotiation would be relevant open like in Catan.
Since the change to a negotiation card game, the core concepts have stayed relatively the same but there were some design challenges to overcome.
The first of these challenges was in how to word the trading rules themselves. What became clear quickly was that there needed to be some natural way to limit what could be negotiated in a trade. Some of the more hilarious offers that I witnessed included offers with items (like drinks or money) from outside of the game. With this in mind, I had to limit the trading to just using influence tokens and targets of that play without opportunity for future promises. In addition to this, with the rules as they were there was little incentive (aside from hard, unintuitive limits) for players to trade with multiple players. This left players out of the trading and game.
The second thing that has consistently been a challenge are the intrigue actions. Initially these actions were cards in the deck which led to a few problems: 1) the actions were situational meaning that they could just take up space in a player’s hand leaving players frustrated. 2) the actions were not being used. When designing a game and an element of the game is not used it means that there is little reason for the players to use it. To solve the first problem I took all of the Intrigue cards out of the deck and made them actions that could be paid for with Honor (a separate mechanic that also allowed for lying). Even with this change though some actions were not used and thus I limited the Intrigue actions to the three most used actions: Draw, Spy, and Steal.
Finally, a friend of mine was disgruntled with the experience and proposed an interesting mechanic based on Eurogames: have the cost of the Intrigue actions be based on the Influence from other players that a player has. This solves a few problems: first it eliminates extra mechanics and ensures that the rules are more streamlined. Second this provides players with a natural incentive to collect influence from many players so that they can use these actions and keep the influence of players that they are trying to back. Many thanks to this friend who gave me what every designer should look for, honest, candid feedback.
Currently, there have been major changes to streamline Who Wears the Crown? ranging from the previously mentioned fixes to design to even eliminating different phases of the current player’s turn to promote the use of different intrigue actions. This has resulted the game which was originally an hour to play to 30-45 minutes depending on the group. The basic gameplay emphasizing trade is still key and I am focusing on some of the finer points of design instead of the basic mechanics.
Some of these tweaks range from the cost of Intrigue actions to the triggering of the end game condition. As I see the game so far, it is polished to the core experience of trading but the biggest challenges to come is to explain how open that trading can be. Most confusion seems to originate around the fact that the game breaks most conventions that are normally in games. To start with the cards have different backs to convey their value to other players (and to help keep track of who is where) this makes people confused on which side is the face of the cards and which is the back. Then there is that to counterbalance this oddness you can draw from the top or bottom of the deck. Finally, the whole concept of Intrigue actions are confusing to most including how to pay for them and that the targets of the action are still up for negotiation.
As I keep working on refining these elements, I am also looking to eventually Kickstart and am in the process of getting an artist to help bring this idea to life. Eventually, I want to have this game on Kickstarter with a lore behind it to help explain the theme and motivations of the players. In the meantime, however, I am going to keep playtesting with differing ideas on cost, end condition, and explanation to help crystallize the experience of Kingmaking and thus the design intent of Who Wears the Crown?
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