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Designer Diary: Rossio, or How to Fill a Void

Orlando Sá
Belgium
Brussels - Belgium
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Microbadge: Porto fanMicrobadge: Parent of a Boy and a GirlMicrobadge: I am Portuguese!Microbadge: Sporting Clube de Portugal fanMicrobadge: San Francisco Giants fan
I've always wanted to create a board game about building Portuguese calçada. You see, it's a thing I've grown up with, all those nicely paved squares in Portugal with black-and-white patterns that almost no one pays attention to.

From gallery of orlopesdesa

A game about calçada would naturally have a big abstract component since it would revolve around building tiles with abstract patterns. Plus, in reality, they are all black and white, so we had to find a way to make them more understandable on the board from a functional point of view, which is why each pattern has a color. It's an abstraction within the abstraction.

Mechanically it made sense for this design to be a tile-laying game since you are thematically building tiles in a square. Plus, the square needed to be an actual void where pieces could fit in, you know, like the real stuff. And also it had to be modular, increasing in length with higher player accounts. It made sense that the game would end when the square is completely built. All of those were givens, so we cruised past these initial premises.

Board Game: Rossio

Then came a long development. We wanted to make a family-friendly game with interesting decisions every turn, decisions similar to what happens when pulling the blanket towards your face uncovers your feet, and pushing the blanket down uncovers your chest. By now you might have realized that I've just awoken and I'm still in bed writing this text. Fear not, I have coffee by my side.

Rossio features two premises:

• Everybody is building in the same square.
• Everybody is trying to profit from what is built in the square.

On your turn, you recruit one of the stonemason cards in your hand. You can play the card face down (which is free) or face up (which costs money, and sometimes you won't have enough money). Then, you activate all the cards you have in front of you under your player board; you will never have more than three cards because the played card enters on the rightmost space of the player board, pushing all other cards to the left, with some eventually dropping out. Face-down cards give you 1 coin each, and face-up cards give you points for each time the depicted pattern appears on the square.

From gallery of orlopesdesa

Then, you will build on the square. Bohnanza-style, you must build the leftmost tile of your board — and if you build it orthogonally adjacent to a similar tile, you can build the next, and so on. You want to build as much as you can because that will gain you more money, but you are probably helping opponents by building patterns that they will score.

You then draw one of the four cards available on the market — but the catch is that if you built only one tile, you have to take the first card; if you built two tiles, you can choose between the first and the second card; and if you built all four tiles on your board, you can choose any of the cards. That is crucial in the game since the "newest" card on the market can be grabbed only if you cleared your board. How much do you want to help others score their cards versus how much you want to get money and get better cards? That's the blanket analogy once again. I know it's not perfect, but please bear with me; I'm only on my first cup of coffee.

From gallery of orlopesdesa

As you can imagine, the scoring grows exponentially as the square is built. More patterns appear on the board, and players have a clear idea of what's most valuable. You have a chance to shape the square according to the cards you plan to recruit face up in later turns, but timing is crucial. Recruit that card face down too late, and it will score only once or twice. Recruit it too soon, and it will score only a few points since the square has fewer patterns to score. (You know I'm gonna talk about the blanket effect again, right?)

This exponential growth of scoring — in which two-thirds of your score comes on the final two turns — proved to be quite effective for newer players or players with less experience with board games. On your first two turns when you're learning the game, even the biggest mistake won't have a big impact in the overall performance. You won't be splottered with an initial bad move. Heck, you can spend your first three turns just recruiting face-down cards and shaping the board, then drop the bombs later in the game.

Board Game: Rossio

Even the possibility of ending the game sooner or letting it go one more round can be difficult because you feel you are ahead, but you don't know which card your opponent has in hand. Yes, you have seen them recruiting cards, but they started with three cards in hand at the beginning of the game, and if they're hoarding since the beginning of the game a card that will score a lot of points? Do they have enough money for that? What are you going to do? End now? Build less and extend the game?

If that was the wrong call, you can play it again. You can play the game with four players in 45 minutes — except if you have just awoken, and in that case, join me on the second cup of coffee.

Rossio will be out from PYTHAGORAS before the end of September 2020. Thanks for reading!

Orlando Sá
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Porto, or Building an Iconic Riverfront "Co-operatively" Against Your Opponents

Orlando Sá
Belgium
Brussels - Belgium
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Microbadge: Porto fanMicrobadge: Parent of a Boy and a GirlMicrobadge: I am Portuguese!Microbadge: Sporting Clube de Portugal fanMicrobadge: San Francisco Giants fan
From gallery of Photodump
I love Porto! I think it's one of the most beautiful cities in the world, filled with history, culture, and dramatic cityscapes. When I studied there, I would often just sit near the river and contemplate how painfully beautiful it was — because I knew one day I would have to leave it behind.

I Love Ideas

The day I had the idea for Porto, I was seated on a terrace in Porto on vacation. I had been designing games for the last two years, games with sprawling thematics and mechanisms. However, I had never thought to design a game about Porto or even experiment with tile placement. On that day, though, I started thinking about it.

Later that day, on my way to pick up a friend at the airport, while stuck in traffic, it seemed obvious to me: A game about Porto should emphasize its iconic riverfront, so we would be building colored houses — and if you build floors, then it seemed logical to me that I should experiment with tile placement or floor placement (which is what I usually call it when explaining the game).


Board Game: Porto
Early prototype (photo by Fábio Lima)

Board Game: Porto
Prototype with final art (photo by Fábio Lima)


Design Checklist

I wanted the game to be a family game, yet fresh.
I wanted the game to be fluid, engaging and fast.
I wanted the game to be simple, yet filled with good decisions.

This was my design checklist.

But you know how sometimes you enter the supermarket with a shopping list and leave with more than you need in your bag? Well, that also happened here! During the development process with the team of MEBO Games, I was able to cross reference my initial checklist to make sure we wouldn't leave the store with more in our bag than we wanted.

How can a game be fresh?! I always ask myself that. How can I use mechanisms that we often see and combine them in a way that makes it interesting? What are good decisions in a family game?

We toned down the design to only two choices on your turn: Draw cards or build floors. There was nothing new here, though, so how could we make it fresh?


From gallery of Kelariten
Photo by Hugo Oliveira


To Draw or Not To Draw, That Is the Question

We determined that when you draw cards, you can draw any number of cards, taking into account that the total value of the drawn cards cannot exceed 3. (Cards have values between 1 and 3.) You can draw three 1s, or one 1 and one 2, or one 3. In theory, higher numbers are better, but you need to spend two cards when you build, so taking a 3 means you don't have enough cards to immediately build in your next turn.

What you draw is your choice, as is when you draw and when you build. Wait one more turn, and that card may not be there. Take that 2 value card that you need, but take only one card because the market is filled with cards of value 2. Once again, it's your choice. It's a simple choice, but it has consequences.


Board Game: Porto
Photo by Hugo Oliveira


To Build or Not To Build...Is the Difference Between Scoring or Not Scoring

You can build by spending two cards from your hand, but we wanted to give you options, so when you build you use the number of one of the cards to determine how many floors you build, and you use the color of the other card to determine the color of those floors. (Every card has a number and a color.) Suddenly, with only three cards in your hand, you have up to six possible options, and with four, up to ten options, so it's your choice. You don't need to have a lot of cards in hand to have options. You can build...or draw because those options on the market really suit you. Once again, it's up to you.

When you build you shape the city. Building is intuitive, so you always start from the ground floor and build up to the top. When you arrive there, you place a roof tile and the game end comes near. There can never be two houses of the same color side by side, and all tiles in a house have to have the same color. Simple and straightforward.

Big decisions arrive when you have to decide where and how to build because the houses belong to all players, which means that you can start a house that someone else will finish. Will you open that opportunity? If so, where? In theory, you want to add on to buildings that already have floors built because when you build you get 1 point for each floor that exists on that building including the ones you have just built. Plus, the floors that you have built, if adjacent to other floors, give you extra points.

That said, four public contracts always lie face up in the middle of the board that you can claim when building, with those contracts giving you extra points if you meet their requirement, e.g., build two yellow floors, or use a red and a blue card when building, or finish a green building, etc.


Board Game: Porto
Four public contracts on display (photo by Hugo Oliveira)


So maybe instead of finishing that house and getting those juicy points, you will be building in another plot because by doing so you can meet the requirements of two public contracts at the same time. I guess by now you already know what I'm about to say: It's your choice; we just give you options.

Why wouldn't you always capitalize on the houses started by other players if by doing so you even meet the requirements of some public contracts? Well, you guessed it once again: There are other good options. Let me present to you the private contracts.

From gallery of Kelariten
Private contracts (photo by Hugo Oliveira)


Haven't I Said We Wanted to Give You Options?

At the beginning of the game, you receive five private contract cards; from those, you keep three. These cards give you extra points at the end of the game if their conditions are met, e.g., completing a pair of houses of a certain color on the board, completing all all houses on one side of the board, completing 1-3 houses of the same color, etc.

Because these cards are secret, other players don't know what your plans are for the end of the game. They may guess it when you pass a great opportunity to score by building in a certain house or when you decide to start a new house of a certain color in another part of the board. You can even entice players to finish houses that will score your private cards; you can do that because when you build a ground floor, you collect and score the points of the token sitting there, then you place that token in an empty roof space. Thus, if you want to guarantee that that red house you have just started is finished by the end of the game, maybe you should place that 3-point token you just collected on the empty roof of that house and let others do the job.


From gallery of Kelariten
Photo by Hugo Oilveira


Porto Is All About Positive Player Interaction

As you can imagine, Porto is a game in which your actions deeply impact the other players. However, this interaction is not destructive because if an opportunity is taken from you, another one will open up before your own eyes. Nothing is granted in this game. At the same time, you are never completely "eliminated" from the game.

After 45 minutes of card drawing, card playing and tile placement, the end of the game is triggered (after a certain number of houses are built, based on the number of players) and you'll have built the iconic riverfront of Porto. All those points you have secured can be boosted by your private contracts. Very often, players switch places when they score their private contracts because if you did extremely well by taking advantage of all the opportunities on the board, probably you have ignored your private contracts and it's at this moment when you'll discover whether that was a good or foolish strategy.


Board Game: Porto
Photo by Fábio Lima


Building Porto in Essen

It was a long ride to arrive here. Despite the design being simple, we had to work and rework every single rule of the game in order to guarantee that it was fluid, engaging and, above all, filled with good decisions every single turn.

Let me finish by praising the work of Luís Levy Lima, who has done an amazing job with his illustrations (which you can see in full scale on the back of the main board), bringing to the board several iconic elements of Porto and its rich culture.

I hope to see you all in Essen at SPIEL '19 when we launch the game. I look forward to teaching and playing Porto with you in MEBO's booth!

Orlando Sá


Board Game: Porto
Box and components (photo by Fábio Lima)
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8 Comments
Wed Oct 9, 2019 1:00 pm
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