Archive for Hector Flores
This post continues a series I started a few posts back about inspiration for Cultures of Man.
So far we have:
1. I wanted a 'civ' or light-civ game.
2. I wanted a modular board so that every world/game would feel different yet familiar
3. I wanted simple rules with deep gameplay.
And now, Advanced Civilization(or simply 'civ' for the rest of this post). What's so inspiring about civ?
There's lots to love here, but I want to focus on one specific element: natural rise-and-fall of civilizations
In game terms this means your civilization gains stuff and loses stuff, stuff usually being population. Gains are done through natural population growth and movement phases (your population reproduce and expand your territory), while losses are typically due to:
Overpopulation - poor (or intended?) mismanagement on your part
Conflict - another player decides to wreck your population with theirs
Disasters - You drew a bad card or had a bad card traded to you resulting in population losses.
A conflict! Image credit to TracerBullet
Over time your population growth and decline may cause your territory to be shift in unforeseen ways, and you may end up with colonies of tokens split up on the map (I'm thinking of you Civil War disaster card!). It's entertaining to watch and an appealing aspect of civ.
So what about Cultures of Man? The original idea was less ambitious. Populations take on cultural aspects and when sufficient culture was obtained your population would transform themselves... for a time. For example, if your population does enough farming, you become a people focused on farming becoming super amazing at it. But after a fixed amount of time being awesome your population would lose their culture (i.e. go into cultural decline), and a collapse would occur that would be culture specific (e.g. rats would invade your grain stores and cause commodity loss). I remember specifically thinking of civ when I dreamed this up.
It didn't work in play tests. First, the culture effects, while ultra-powerful and interesting were too complex (broke the simple rules desire above). The culture-specific decline effects were even worse rules-wise. Furthermore, play tests revealed that while players understood the culture decline effects and how to mitigate them, they were ultimately annoyed by them. Disasters work just fine in civ because it's a long game and everyone ends up dealing with population loss at some point - but for a shorter game decline was annoying enough that players didn't want to pursue culture at all - which defeated much of the purpose of the whole damned design!
So what did we settle on? After several iterations, we figured out how to make gaining culture interesting, becoming a culture a strategic decision, and decline is now simply losing the powers you gained by becoming the culture (no devastating population losses). We also implemented a rule where you cannot be two cultures at the same time, which makes decline desirable - something akin to Smallworld as you are eager to become something else.
I did sneak a little 'decline' in there though to help players catch up.
As you may or may not know, Cultures of Man is a game won by achieving objectives. All public objectives, when achieved, either force you to do something (lose stuff) or grant your opponents a boon (i.e. a catch-up). In this way, as a civilization gets closer to winning the game their opponents surge a little bit as well. A sample public objective is below (the top part is the achieving condition - the bottom is what happens to the achieving player).
In the end, I didn't get the rise-and-fall that I wanted necessarily, but we did empower players to choose cultures that meet their needs, transform their populations for a time, and then switch to another culture that suits them. So it's more of a rise-and-change-and-rise-some-more I suppose.
Thanks for reading.
If you're keeping score at home - you'll know that I'm discussing inspiration for the design of Cultures of Man, cataloging the things I wanted out of the design. Just to refresh:
1. A 'civ' or 'civ'-light game.
2. A modular board (if possible make it feel like a 'living world')
And now, more inspiration - Go. How about a picture to get started (image credit to SiskNY):
You've been living under a rock if you're on this website, reading this blog, and haven't heard of Go. Maybe you've heard and haven't delved deeply. The board is a grid (19 lines x 19 lines is the standard). Your pieces are identical stones, either white or black. You take one color, your opponent takes the other. The player with the black stones starts the game by placing a stone on an intersection of lines, then the player with the white stones follows (see picture above). And on and on, with the goal of surrounding more territory than your opponent.
One way it could work out is like this (image credit to msaari):
[These pictures were taken by two different users - the second picture didn't necessarily follow from the first!]
Some look at this second picture and feel overwhelmed, like the weight of the complexity threatening to shatter the mind and body. I'm such a person. But I find beauty in it as well.
There's more to Go than what I just mentioned - there's rules for capturing opponent's stones, rules for Ko situations (where repeated capturing of the same stones threatens to throw the game into stalemate), scoring rules that vary slightly depending on country of origin, and rules to deal with the perceived first-player advantage. If you dive deeper you'll find hundreds of books on Go with exercises, tactics, theories, and ideas that seem philosophic in nature. You'll find the same in Chess of course, and both games have spirited followings. Sounds rather complex actually.
But at it's heart, simplicity. A game you could teach a child that naturally becomes more complex without rules machinery to get in the way. And there's the heart of the inspiration. Go is, to me, the ultimate example of a game with simple rules that empowers my imagination. I wanted to create a game like that.
Did I succeed? Not at first - and even now not to the level of Go. But at every step I kept coming back to Go thinking to myself, "look at how effortlessly Go does it! It doesn't need a lot of extra rules, dice, cards, tokens, etc. and yet it's so damned interesting!". My co-designer, Edgar, who is my occasional Go opponent got really tired of hearing me talking about it I'm sure.
Last time I asked the readers a question to spark some conversation - and I think I'll continue that trend. What other games can you think of that offer both rules simplicity and yet still spark your imagination?
If you've wandered over to my collection you'll notice that I have few 10s. Magic Realm is one of them.
What? How can you say Cultures of Man is a civ game and draw inspiration from an adventure game? While there are any number of ways Hamblen's game design has influenced me over the years, I focus on one thing - a modular board.
Many games have modular boards - but I've found few games that create a world that "breathes" and feels alive. For example, Twilight Imperium (Fourth Edition), Eclipse, and Clash of Cultures all have modular boards - but the worlds they create, while creating game variability, just don't feel very different to me. Twilight Imperium and Clash of Cultures have fixed board configurations for a particular player count - and these configurations feel rigid and stifling. Eclipse, while not fixed creates a mass of black space whose only features are the planets or lack thereof that as a whole doesn't feel alive to me (Eclipse players I must ask for forgiveness! I have little experience with Eclipse - I hope these universes live for you).
Heroscape is another game that deserves it's own blogpost - but I'll say this: The worlds created with HeroScape tiles feel alive to me - but they take a long time to build. I enjoy building these worlds, but I knew I couldn't design a game that required such intricate (and beautiful) terrain.
In Magic Realm, creating the world at the start is a joy. In each game I'm exploring a strange new (yet familiar) world. What's more, the game is robust enough to allow this kind of board creation - it just works! I wanted that for Cultures of Man. Magic Realm also has fairly simple world building rules:
1. Each tile must be placed adjacent to two others (exception: first and second tile played)
2. At least one road on the newly place tile must connect back to the Borderlands tile (exception: a 6-clearing tile must have all clearings connect back to the Borderlands tile)
That's essentially it. Here's a lovely example (image credit to wsmithjr):
In Cultures of Man, building the map is similarly simple:
1. Each tile must be placed adjacent to at least one edge of any existing tile (exception: first tile played)
2. If the tile placed contains a water space, it must be placed adjacent to an existing water space (if possible).
That's it. Here's an example from the image gallery (for a 5-player game):
In one play test of Cultures of Man, a player indicated that building the map was her favorite part of the game. I've noticed that as I play test, I also enjoy building the world even though my board features are much simpler compared to the other games I mentioned. What's more, it works to create a unique puzzle for players to solve every game.
What other games have modular boards that you love that feel alive to you?
In this, my first post, the second point must come first.
I'm writing this blog to discuss Cultures of Man a 'civ' game that I co-designed. Herein I'm hoping to sort through my thoughts on how the game come to be and the journey that it's been. What was the first inkling of it's existence?
Dreams - hence the title of the blog.
We all have dreams I suppose - but I seldom remember mine. This one I did remember - a civilization that rose and fell, rose and fell. Then upon waking, the rare lingering idea of a game. I love civilization (or 'civ') games, and the light civ game (epic feel in a short playtime) has been sought by many. My dream was leading me to what I would eventually offer up. A game that I've now spent a good part of the last 2 years on.
So who am I? Just another gamer with a dream. But rather than let this dream pass by I put pen to paper and pushed out an initial rule set in a day and a night, with a prototype soon to follow. It was an overly complex mess, but it was a start. I also had a good friend read my mess of rules, think critically about them, and offer me honest feedback. Edgar would go on to help me design this game in every stage. More on him later.
So what can you look forward to reading about in this blog? My thoughts on the games (civ or otherwise) that inspired me, some notes on previous versions of the game, and a discussion on hard design choices Edgar and I had to make. Is this just another game design blog? Perhaps. You'll have to read to find out!