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Archive for Mario Sacchi

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Lockdown in China: The Consequences

Board Game: Shogun no Katana
[Editor's note: Mario Sacchi, CEO and lead developer of Placentia Games and Post Scriptum, regularly blogs about game development and production on the Post Scriptum Games blog on BGG. This article was first published on May 6, 2022 on that blog. —WEM]

We have to say that this article is gloomier than usual, covering the worst accident that has ever happened to Post Scriptum in seventeen years of business, with this being only the latest of a long series of accidents that have hit all the supply chains in the world. Nevertheless, in the end you'll find a sparkle of hope which confirms that we are determined not to give up or get discouraged; we will continue to do our work, which we love very much.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Here we go again.

The finish line was in sight: Shogun no Katana's launch seemed near, possibly even in time for the Play game fair that's scheduled to take place in Modena, Italy at the end of May. Everything was planned for the delivery of the boxes, and we were looking forward to touching our years' worth of work, admiring the miniatures, getting a whiff of the freshly printed cards...

When this happened –> From CNN: "Hunger and anger in Shanghai's unending lockdown nightmare".

From gallery of W Eric Martin

As you might imagine, we had entrusted the production of most of Katana's materials to a Chinese company, one with its offices in Shanghai, a region that is now in complete lockdown.

Obviously, we are first and foremost devastated for the drama that our Chinese colleagues are living, colleagues who are being forced to live in fenced houses to prevent them from going out, but even though we can't compare our situation with theirs, we are also experiencing serious problems.

First, we have no clue as to when this situation is going to be over. Then, even if they reopen shortly, we can predict neither when production will return to a normal pace, nor when our games will be produced or when they will actually be shipped. (You won't be surprised to hear that Katana is not the only game in queue to be printed.)

It's not sure whether we will manage to publish it by SPIEL '22, and this is horrible news for us as we had already planned a great stand, and we now must completely change our plans.

We are sorry about this situation, and we completely understand how frustrating it is for our backers and for those who are looking forward to buying it in their favorite shop. We, as boardgame enthusiasts and as Katana's "parents" couldn't wait to play a game on which we have worked so hard and so passionately, from game development to the obsessively thorough care for the materials.

For us as entrepreneurs, this unforeseeable delay has presented a serious blow to our business, which relies a lot on this game. We can keep going thanks to a diversified strategy and many collaborations, but we must admit that we are living a time of discouragement and worry for our business.

As I mentioned in this article, games that are launched on Kickstarter are almost exclusively produced by Chinese companies. This is true for almost all boardgame publishers in the world, not only because it is more affordable, but because the companies that we work with have a highly structured business with high-tech solutions specifically for board game production, especially for the creation of miniatures.

The downside, as you probably already understand, is that we rely completely on one or two suppliers — for Katana, we have one for the miniatures and one for the rest — and when something like this happens, there's nothing you can do.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

But here's the sparkle of hope: Post Scriptum is the dream of a lifetime, and we won't let a production delay, no matter how serious, bring us down. We know that the delivery is guaranteed; the advance payments have been paid, and the funds for the balance are secured. We need only to be more patient.

That said, it is time for us to find more sustainable alternative solutions, such as new European (or, why not, American) suppliers, even for more complex materials in our games.

This is not an easy choice because the costs are higher, the technology is less advanced, and because our Chinese colleagues have proven to be extremely professional, and we have built a relationship of mutual respect and trust.

This is also part of managing a business: predicting how the wind is going to change, and unfurling the sails in the right direction to expeditiously advance towards future projects.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

We would like to ask you a question: In order to produce somewhere else, we have to use fewer plastic miniatures and more cardboard and wood. What do you expect from our games in this sense? What entices you in a game that doesn't have miniatures? Printed meeples, paper goods, many boards on the table? We would like to hear your opinion in order to create your ideal game, with the highest quality in reasonable times, so please comment here or hit us up on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Telegram) as we can't wait to hear from you.

And please subscribe to our BGG blog not to miss any of Post Scriptum's articles!
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Mon May 9, 2022 1:00 pm
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Publisher Diary: The Art of Balancing Games

Board Game: Florenza: X Anniversary Edition
Editor's note: Mario Sacchi, CEO and lead developer of Placentia Games and Post Scriptum, regularly blogs about game development and production on the Post Scriptum Games blog on BGG. I invited him to submit this article from February 4, 2022 to BGG News to highlight one aspect of game development.

Together with his associates Marco "Tambu" Garavaglia and Matteo Panara, they are credited as a game designer and developer under the pseudonym P.S. Martensen. —WEM

From gallery of W Eric Martin

In this diary, I want to go into more detail about the development process for our games. We believe that balancing games for Placentia is extremely important work — work that we love doing — and we consider this one of the strengths of our publishing house. In light of this, when I saw this very interesting article from Chris Backe of Entro Games in January 2022 about how to use Excel for game development, I thought, "Yes, let's talk about it!" So:

How do we balance our games?

To answer this question, we are going to look at the Excel tables that we created to balance workshops and artworks in Florenza: X Anniversary Edition. It all starts by finding a normalized value, an X factor, which you can see in the last column. This value is not shown in any way in the game; we need it only to understand the impact that each workshop has on the development of the game.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

You can also find this value in the sheet dedicated to artworks in the Piazza. You'll see that the value of these artworks is considerably higher; building Duomo decorations is a great idea to ensure victory!

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Looking at the formula to find the value, you'll notice that each prestige point is worth exactly 1 and achieving a specific resource rewards a capped value, depending on the importance of that resource in the game. For example, marble and wood are the most precious materials because they are needed to build many buildings, so their value is higher.

While it is true that to win you need to build artworks that assign prestige points, artworks are expensive! Owning a shop that automatically generates resources offers a great foundation to snatch victory — and all this must be somehow quantified.

How do you calculate the value of every single resource?

First, Matteo drafts a table, and based on some initial data, he creates the first stress test, that is, a test aimed at discovering whether there are any dominating strategies. As soon as he manages to create a "flat" and balanced structure, we start the real playtests. Tons of playtests!

We need the first few playtests to empirically verify whether the values assigned to the resources correspond to reality or whether they should be limited, or even exaggerated, to create an imbalance.

What? Our Eurogames are imbalanced? The horror!

The end of the first development stage is when the game works flawlessly, without any imbalance, but if you happened to try one of our games at this point, you would find it particularly monotone because all the moves would be equally effective, with the risk of the game "playing by itself".

Our game developer experience has taught us that you need resources with better actions than others, so long as under equal conditions all the players can benefit from them. It is important to give gamers some sort of direction in order to start a convincing game strategy. If that weren't the case, a choice would have the same effect as any other choice, and it wouldn't make any difference. By adding some small aleatory elements, we reach conditions that push players to think turn by turn, adjusting their plans bit by bit to reach the planned objective, thereby giving the game a decided edge. All in all, a bit of imbalance is good for your Eurogame.

Doesn't a complex game like Florenza have too many elements to consider?

The only way of looking at every possible strategy in detail is to create software that simulates thousands of sessions of your game. Luckily, Matteo is a software programmer, and we have benefited many times from his skills in order to make more complex considerations. We have never created software for an entire game, but we have tested specific moments within a game. For example, we have tested all the possible game conditions of the solo version of Shogun no Katana to determine in which conditions the virtual player would more easily win.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Even without developing software, other IT tools can help us solve problems. Here we are talking about model testing and integration testing.

That's where it gets difficult, doesn't it? What are they?

Model testing means testing each element of the game, such as an action or a specific phase: You extrapolate it from the overall context and carry out some specific tests, then evaluate the results. For example, in Florenza: X Anniversary Edition, in order to evaluate the importance of the workshops that make it possible to perform more than one action for each turn, we carried out some specific tests to understand the value of each earned action. To do this, we could play without artworks, Captains, the Bishop, and so forth...

Integration testing means verifying that all the game parts that have already been tested are well integrated. Thanks to model testing output data, we can carry out targeted tests, skipping some actions altogether so that we can evaluate the overall game. It is complex!

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Is it worth it?

Of course these tests are not enough to understand whether a design is a good game, but they're an important starting point and might suggest interesting ideas. Along those lines, here's another piece of advice to make your next Eurogame as bubbly as a glass of champagne: Make it impossible for players to achieve everything they had planned.

In this way, at the end of the game, they will be pushed to try new strategies next time; on top of this, a limited number of actions helps solve possible problems of balance and dominating strategies. For instance, in Florenza you won't manage to complete your workshops quickly and earn good income from the artworks placed on the board at the same time because the results of either path are maximized only if carried out from the beginning, with you ignoring the other one. You can choose to invest in one of the two or try to find a good balance by partially developing both — not to mention that at the same time you can choose to try to be the Bishop or not, or focus on the production buildings or those that offer many workers. All of this depends on your skills!

Developing a game doesn't exclusively consist of calculations; experience, creativity, and awareness are equally important. If you think about it, it's the same for all the creative products.

Mario Sacchi

P.S. Are you curious for more articles about game design, game production, or opinions on the game industry? You can follow us on our BGG blog!
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Fri Apr 8, 2022 4:00 pm
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