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Designer Diary: Cupcake Empire, or Frosting, Fans, and (Find something else that starts with F before you post this)

Board Game: Cupcake Empire
Cupcake Empire was designed by Al Leduc and Yves Tourigny. Al is currently visiting his mother in the Yukon, so I have been tasked with writing this diary. It was supposed to be a dialogue between Al and I, so I'll be writing both our parts.

Al: I'm very happy with the result and will henceforth let Yves write all my designer diaries, whether we co-designed the game or not! Great job!

[Al's note: I didn't write that. Anybody can type "Al" and then a bunch of nonsense. That doesn't mean I wrote it. W. Eric Martin, can we please use a different color to indicate when it is really me?]

[W. Eric Martin's note: Sure! I'll even put it in italics. Just to be clear, however, Yves is writing this and wrote both the preceding notes, so this might get confusing.]

[Al's note: Got it!]

[Editor's note: We will call Al "Alan" throughout because otherwise it looks like I'm, I mean, Yves is conversing with an artificial intelligence.]

Yves: Cupcake Empire started off as something ridiculous, which, if my memory is accurate (and I believe it is) was called "Wizard Race".

Alan: Well, to be clear, it was about wizards racing...

Yves: Right, as opposed to a species of magical people.

Alan: ...but it wasn't called "Wizard Race" or "Wizard's Race". That's just what you called it. It didn't have a title.

Yves: I should probably keep this offline, but I do find it very annoying that your prototypes never have a title. I'll edit this out because I don't want to embarrass you.

Alan: (weeps uncontrollably)

[Al's note: Please delete this.]

[Editor's note: I tried, but it wouldn't save properly! I'm very upset that we weren't able to take this out. Grrr.]

Yves: "Wizard Race" was a game about wizards racing around a color-coded landscape, and it used your DICE POOL ENGINE mechanism (patent pending). A bunch of dice are rolled and sorted by value, then you use a value, and roll those dice, and sort the result, and so on.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Alan: I like dice.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

[Yves's note: I should mention that Al had dice in his mouth the entire time we were talking.]

Yves: We both do, buddy. So, "Wizard Race". Most of the dice were white, some of them were colored, and the colored ones allowed the player to go through the corresponding colored terrain spaces or to gain a bonus of some sort when the pool in which they were embedded was chosen. It was already an engine-building game, where adding dice of certain colors to your mix would guide your strategy into certain directions.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Alan: It worked, but it needed a bit of pizzazz — or so I was told. As soon as my back was turned, Yves took my game and redesigned it.

Yves: Yes. I did. I gave it a much more compelling theme and added some thematic flesh to the skeleton.

[Yves' note: This was in January 2016, according to file creation dates on my hard drive. You can tell we didn't work on that version for too long because there are only 45 files in the "Electric Fan Co." folder. There are 629 files in ten subfolders in the Cupcake Empire folder. That's a lot of iteration.]

Alan: You made the new game about fans. Like, the portable ventilation devices.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Yves: Well, not every game has to be about wizards and space goblins. I think a game about the manufacture and sales of fans set in 1950s Canada is overdue.

Alan: I did like some of the additions you made to the gameplay, like tying each pool to a specific action and having the strength of each action increase when the number of dice in a pool was greater than certain thresholds.

Yves: It was an homage to Seth's Clyde Fans graphic novel!

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Alan: I don't think anyone cares. That looks super depressing. Is that old man on the toilet?

Yves: Anyway, I'll have you notice that the "Fan Factory" player board looks remarkably like the Cupcake Empire one, so clearly I was on the right track. Specific actions are linked to each column, there's a break room, special actions, and a warehouse inventory track. There are some pretty major differences, though, if you look closely. The first is that the actions on the columns could be upgraded. That was replaced by the innovation tokens that could be added to any column. The next is that one of the columns gave you grey innovation cubes...

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Alan: Grey innovation cubes. (puts on high-pitched whiny voice) Oh, I've been looking for a game about the exciting world of fan production and distribution, honey. Look, it even has grey cubes to represent my grey withered soul!

Yves: (puts on higher-pitcher whinier voice) Oh, look, why don't we get this game about generic space wizards racing across blank landscapes? I don't think I could handle something with as much gravitas as the fan game. This game with no theme about moving pointy-hatted people is much more to my liking!

[Al's note: I've never put on a high-pitched voice in my life! Why are you arguing with yourself? I'm going to have to rewrite all of this. Is this libel? I think this might be libel.]

[Editor's note: It isn't libel.]

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Yves: Grey innovation cubes, which are clearly the equivalent of the "bright ideas" from the Cupcake version. There are also the machines.

Alan: Those were my idea.

Yves: Okay, buddy. There are also the machines, which permanently occupied a spot in the columns, allowing the actions further down the column to be reached with fewer dice. Those were Al's idea. We removed them because it turned out to be a bad idea.

Alan: It wasn't bad; it just wasn't right for what we were trying to accomplish. In fact, I think they could easily be incorporated into some sort of expansion to Cupcake Empire.

Yves: We did away with them and made the employee dice specialists in their own column instead, giving them the ability to jump to the next highest action space. Another important difference was the spatial dimension. It was a much more important factor, and I think your sales were tied to your position on the various boards. I honestly don't remember too much about that aspect, and I can't find any written rules or notebooks.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Yves: Anyway, I think Al was grumbling about the theme, so I tried to spice it up a bit with some color:

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Alan: Those were nice, but the issue wasn't color. It was fans. It was always fans.

Yves: Well, judging from the email record, I emailed you these on Feb. 2, 2016. On Feb. 3, 2016, I emailed you the first Cupcake Empire stuff, so clearly I'm a responsive and flexible co-designer.

Alan: ...I'm not going to comment on that.

Yves: So, this is the first player board for Cupcake Empire, from early February 2016:

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Yves: Several things jump out at me. First, the order of the columns is all wrong, at least in terms of the final version. Second, most of these actions were heavily modified, if not entirely changed, during development. Clearly this is still a "produce inventory, then convert into money" model of scoring. We still have "machines", and there is no dedicated space for improvements.

Alan: You can see a lot of the final version in there, however. The break room and morale track are already in their final form, and so is the once-per-turn special action, even if the actions will change. Those characters stuck around until the end of the prototype era, except for that hand. The size of the columns and the distribution of action spaces stayed consistent, except for the boss lady column.

Yves: I think people were expecting more snark from you, just then.

Alan: Oh, uh, you spend too much time making elaborately illustrated prototypes, and it makes me look bad.

Yves: Right. The geographical component was still a stumbling block. They changed the most, and the most frequently, during development.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Yves: That's February 4. Gross.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Yves: That's literally two days later, February 6. This is clearly inspired by the Raymond Biesinger map of Ottawa I have on my wall. I wouldn't be entirely surprised if I picked it up on February 5.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Alan: (silently mouths the national anthem, weeps, and hugs a beaver)

Yves: It is a powerful piece of design, which I shamelessly copied for my prototype. It has a nice Seth feel to it. Look at Seth's scale model "Dominion City", in comparison:

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Alan: This has nothing to do with Cupcake Empire.

Yves: Well, the reader may be interested in what inspires the designers, and this is a thing that inspired me. If you hadn't crushed my dream of making the "Electric Fan Co." game, perhaps I wouldn't have to bore you with culture! If it helps, imagine that the foundations of the city are built on a mass grave of space goblins or whatever you like.

[Al's note: This is what I deal with every day.]

Yves: A month later we had these bigger tiles.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Alan: Are you just going to upload your entire drive? That would be quicker. *slurp*

[Editor's note: Al was drooling uncontrollably because of the dice in his mouth and frequently had to pause and slurp up the saliva cascading from his mouth.]

[Al's note: This isn't as funny as you probably think it is, you know. It's actually pretty unprofessional.]

Yves: Finally, in April 2016, we start to see the city tiles turn into something like their final form.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Yves: We've got the sales values in red on the bakery and counter spaces, and the three colors — start, green, brown — but we still have a spatial arrangement. The next breakthrough came in August 2016.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Alan: Oh, that's essentially the final version, with the customers. It's so weird to think of the game without the little customer meeples.

Yves: Yeah, this is more or less the final version, with a few differences. The customers further away from the bottom have money bonuses associated with them in the final version, and there is a variable number of counter spaces for different player counts.

Yves: We can chart the changes in the player boards also, but first the improvement tiles.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Yves: These were the earliest Cupcake Empire ones. Strangely, they were tied to specific columns (which explains the colors), and there are large ones which give you extra VP (represented by $). There are still those damned machines.

Alan: Those machines were a good idea. *sulks*

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Yves: The next version of improvement tiles and player boards made some important changes. First, the improvements are column-independent. Next, they are all placed in the columns, and they are all activated when dice reach the level at which they are placed. We're still working on the "produce, then sell" model.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Alan: Oh, snap! That's it!

[Al's note: I have never said "oh, snap" in my entire life, gosh dang it.]

Yves: Yes, this is April/May 2016 when we did a big redesign. The columns are in the correct order, and the actions are...well, the actions. The correct ones: Baking, Icing, Sales, Marketing, and Managing. There are spots for the improvement tiles, which are now circular. There are customers! Strangely, the customers are not tied to specific positions on the board; you just claim them from a central supply.

Alan: Wait, what's that book in column 1?

Yves: Never mind, that's what.

Alan: Oh, those were the recipe book tiles that gave you bonuses. That didn't last too long. Whose idea were those? Let me see...

[Al's note: They were Yves' idea.]

Yves: More importantly, there are two major new elements (both probably my idea) that are central to the final version of the game: recipes and production/sales tracks. You assemble cupcake bottoms and tops to form cupcake recipes (which can be used to attract customers with matching preference), which increases your production value (top track). Your bakeries, counters, and customers increase your sales value (bottom track). At the end of each turn, you score VP equal to the lowest track.

Alan: That is a much better way of doing things. Didn't you steal that idea from Knizia?

Yves: I don't think so. I mean, I think a few games of his use similar ideas, but I don't think he does it exactly in this way.

Alan: With cupcakes, you mean?

Yves: That's right. Knizia does not have a cupcake game.

[Yves' note: Look up whether Knizia has a cupcake game...]

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Yves: The new improvement tiles are essentially the same as the final version of the game, with the $2 changed to $3, and the customer given a range of 2. This is from April 2016.

Alan: Look at those cute little books. Oh, and machines!

Yves: Moving on. The next big step was in July when the customers were placed on the city tiles we saw earlier and when the bonus cards were added. These are in the final version in essentially this form. Even the values are identical. The only difference is that the final version uses tiles, and there are five in each of the four sets, instead of three.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Alan: There wasn't much left to change after that, just the endless process of small adjustments that game design seems to consist of. Overall, it was fairly painless for Cupcake Empire.

Yves: We played it a lot. Thankfully, the length of the game was consistently in the under-60 minute range. We tried different targets for the game-end trigger — 60, 70, 80 points — and we experimented with giving the bonus card points during the game or after the game. Oh, I guess I haven't shown the score track. For a long time we used a square one.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Yves: Then in 2017 we switched to a track going around the outside of the terrain since the game was more of a ra...since, uh, to save table space.

Alan: More of a what? What were you going to say?

Yves: A race. An ECONOMIC race in which you build your dice engine and try to outsell your competitors. It's very cutthroat and not at all wizardy. Incidentally, I should mention that the cupcake theme was inspired by the cutthroat vegan bakery business in Ottawa. Run and staffed by women, mainly, which is why I went for the skewed gender distribution in my prototype. Ludonova didn't stray far from our original concept and art direction.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Alan: They do make great vegan cupcakes in Ottawa, but you're trying to distract from the point that we came full circle, going from a race game all the way back to a race game. Checkmate.

Yves: That's not how Chess works, first of all, but also, I'm really hoping that some of the bakeries will see this free publicity and send us some free cupcakes.

[Al's note: I know that isn't how Chess works, and I would also like some free cupcakes, so please email us with offers for free cupcakes.]

Yves: In conclusion, we worked on this game like we do on most games. You had an interesting idea with no flavor to it, I redesigned it more to my liking, then we eventually hammered out something that pleased both of us. It's like you baked a bland little cupcake and I added a bunch of colorful icing to it!

Alan: Can we make this analogy a little less insulting?

Yves: You know, this is already much better than my original analogy in which your cupcake was made of sawdust and dog hair.

Alan: ...well, let's not forget to mention all the times you sulked for hours because I wanted to make changes that turned out brilliantly.

Yves: Fine, let's not forget to mention all the times you, uh, made... When... Um. Oh, when you failed to appreciate how much better the prototype looked than what you would have brought to the table, and how it not only made playing the game much more enjoyable for us, but it attracted a lot of prospective players who might have been turned off by a generic wizard footrace.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Alan: Or fans!?!

Yves: ...

Alan: I think we're done.

Yves: Yeah.

[Al's note: This is just about the worst designer diary I've ever read. On the other hand, I didn't have to write any of it, and it seems to have taken you 4-5 hours. Thankfully, no one reads these.]


Addendum by the actual Al Leduc

The plan was for us to write the designer diary together, so I got started by starting at the beginning. My delightful co-designer had other plans — other plans and an entirely unreasonable deadline that would have been totally reasonable if he'd told me more than a day before and had not tactically chosen it to be enacted while I was out of town helping my poor dear mother move from her home of thirty years to a little apartment.

So below is as far as I got before the rug was pulled out from under me!

Many thanks to the amazingly understanding and sympathetic Eric Martin for listening to my pleads and tacking this on without Yves' knowledge.

It all started with a dream of treachery

I'd been struggling with a dice-drafting idea for a while (which I called "dice pool drafting" as players took all the dice of a certain value, not just one at a time; Yukon Airways uses this method). I awoke from a dream in which I was playtesting my good friend Yves' new game about trading in the Mediterranean when I suddenly realized with a flash of rage that the sneaky little stinker had stolen my idea! Even worse, he'd improved on it by giving each player their own set of dice, thus mitigating a number of the issues I'd been running into. I promptly started working on a new game, while silently fuming at Yves' treachery.

It's got great potential

Players used their different colors of dice to traverse different types of terrain, while ending their turn on good spots to acquire bonuses. The players were wizards so that I could handwave the weird ways they could move. It worked well enough, and as games do, it improved over several iterations. The key elements were a central board that allowed the players some interaction, a race-style score track, the idea that rolling 6s was something special for all players, and most importantly, that each player had their own player boards, dice, and improvements.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
November 2015: Even the earliest player board featured only five columns

More treachery!

One otherwise perfectly fine day I got a text from Yves: "we need to talk about your game. I have an idea you'll love. Starbucks at 7:00. You're buying"

The long and short of it was that he'd completely reworked the game to be about door-to-door salesmen selling electric fans in the 1950s. More significantly, each column of dice had a specific function, like making fans, advertising, or selling to a neighborhood on the game board's map. I liked the mechanical rethinking so much that I asked him to help me co-design it, which basically meant he got to do 85% of the rest of the work.

The double-cross

So I show up for playtesting like the innocent lamb that I am, and bam! Yves throws down a game about making cupcakes that used 70% of the mechanisms from the fan game. "Fans are boring, and cupcakes are amazing," he says. "Heck, yeah", I reply, like it wasn't the most obvious thing he's ever said. It's not that I'm a huge cupcake fan, but fans are just so dull. Fan salesmen were still better than wizards racing around a lake as themes go, so who am I to criticize? I'm not really that fussy about theme as long as the mechanisms are solid and work with it, but it matters to Yves, so I let him do whatever he wants... It's better than hearing him complain about it week after week.

Okay, now it's starting to smell really good

We'd run into a few snags with the fan theme, but the general idea of running a small business was solid. The dice were your workers, and colored dice were specialists. The dice from each column on the player board represented a certain business activity, with more dice being a stronger action. When you take an action, all the workers (dice) there pull together to get the job done, then they go off to work on other tasks. (That is, the dice are rolled and go to the task that matches the number rolled.)

Making cupcake bottoms, icing tops, advertising, and enacting business improvements (i.e., engine-building) were the four obvious tasks, but we wanted five jobs. We knew we wanted something to take place on the map to represent sales areas and to give players a good way to interact with each other, but it took a long while to figure out a really satisfying way to do this.

Oh, for crying out loud!

So that's it. I've run out of time to set the story straight. Take what he says with a few grains of salt!!

Please reply with Team Al (TA) or send me a cupcake to show your support in these trying times.
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Tue Nov 12, 2019 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Of Ice and Isomorphism, or The Story of Expedition: Northwest Passage

Board Game: Expedition: Northwest Passage
In 1845, Sir John Franklin led a British expedition which undertook to find the Northwest Passage. He had two great state-of-the-art ships — the Terror and the Erebus — 128 men, and provisions for several years. They sailed into Lancaster Sound, then promptly disappeared forever. Understandably worried, numerous British and American expeditions were sent to look for survivors — eventually simply to figure out what happened — and to find the Northwest Passage.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

This diary isn't about them. If you're curious about what happened to the Franklin Expedition, this sums it up nicely (**spoiler alert**):

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
"...and then I said: Send more expeditions!"

Let me instead introduce you to a friend of mine: the isomorphism. It is no exaggeration to say that without his constant companionship, I would not be designing games. He was instrumental to the process of designing Expedition: Northwest Passage, for example, so I'll tell you some pertinent and interesting things about him, and then about the game.

Isomorphism is derived from iso, meaning "same", and morphism, meaning "shape". Two objects are mathematically isomorphic if there is a one-to-one mapping of their elements, or if they are indistinguishable when considering certain features. This is an incredibly powerful idea from mathematics that can be broadly applied to many different aspects of game design. Before I tell you any more about it, we'll have to take a little detour into combinatorics first. It won't take long.

Say you are designing a tile-laying game, which is a commendable idea. For instance, you want tiles of a certain shape with certain features on them. In the case of Expedition: Northwest Passage, I wanted tiles that were rectangular (2:1), and I wanted each of them to have six different areas which could be either water or land. In order to refrain from taxing your imagination too much, I have generously provided a diagram showing how the tiles tile:

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

How many tiles would be necessary if I wanted to exhaust all possibilities? It seems like a straightforward question: Each of the six areas can be either water or land, therefore for each of the areas there are two possibilities. The Rule of Product tells us tha...

Oh dear. You don't know the Rule of Product? No, I won't tell a soul. It is a basic principle of enumeration. Enumeration can refer to counting the exact number of elements in a set, and to creating an ordered list of those elements. It should be clear by now that this is the task that I faced. The Rule of Product simply states that if there are ''x'' ways of doing something (no, it doesn't matter what) and ''y'' ways of doing another thing, then there are a total of ''x'' times ''y'' ways of doing both things.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

To put it in terms you can relate to, if you have two flavors of ice cream, there are two ways of choosing the first scoop and two ways of choosing the second scoop. That makes for four different cones. Yes, sometimes the order DOES matter. No, I don't have any ice cream.

So, to get back to it, the Rule of Product tells us that if there are two ways of filling the first area, two ways of filling the second, and so on until the sixth, there are 2x2x2x2x2x2 (2^6) ways of assigning land and water to the areas on a tile, that is 64 ways. Pretty straightforward.

Ah, but this tells us only about the content of the areas. It tells us nothing about how these areas are connected. Yes, it does matter! In Expedition: Northwest Passage, you see, you are leading an expedition into the maze of the Arctic Archipelago. You are looking for a navigable passage for your ship, so the connection between the areas matters very much. For instance, you would much rather encounter the tile on the extreme right, assuming that the dark areas are water.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
Matagot decided to go a different route with the art

This complicates things — unless we simply rule that all water areas will always be connected. Yes, that's much simpler. Now each of the 64 permutations of water and land correspond to one and only one tile. One-to-one mapping? Yes, now we're approaching the isomorphism, and we're moving on to the second type of enumeration: creating an ordered list.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Each tile can be described using a string of zeroes and ones in which "0" is land and "1" is water. If you are familiar at all with binary notation, you know that any number can also be written as a series of zeroes and ones. Each position in the number represents a power of two, just like each position in a number written in our everyday decimal notation represents a power of ten, e.g., "10" in decimal notation is a shorthand for one group of 10 and zero groups of 1, whereas "10" is binary for one group of 2 and zero groups of 1 (2 + 0 = 2). There is a one-to-one mapping between the tiles and the numbers 0-63 (which is 000000 to 111111 in binary).

Board Game: Expedition: Northwest Passage
Hand. Drawn. I am available for commissions.

So what? Quality control. When making the tiles and laying them out for printing, they can be ordered numerically. This makes spotting errors and omissions simpler. Not simple, mind you, but simpler. Is that it? Not at all. If you license your game to a publisher, you may be asked, periodically, to check the work of the artist for errors.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Go ahead, I'll wait. Not easy, is it? You could simply give them a quick look over and write back saying, "Looks good!" but that would be risky. Further complicating things is the fact that these tiles are double-sided, and some of them are identical under rotation or reflection. This means that while tile 1 of the middle row and tile 14 of the top row seem like duplicates, they are in fact part of a set of four tiles which, when rotated or reflected, are identical. They are literally isomorphic, that is, the same shape. They are 101000 ("40", top row tile 12) 010001 ("17", top row tile 14), 010001 ("17", middle row tile 1), 000101 ("5", middle row tile 15). The second "17" is actually "10" (001010) in disguise.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Each of the tiles is isomorphic to one or more other tiles — with very few exceptions, which are identical to themselves under rotation and reflection. I'll let you discover those for yourself. Without a good way to enumerate the tiles and a clear understanding of their features, you might find mistakes where there are none or fail to see the mistakes that are there.

The process of checking and double-checking the tiles occurred on several different occasions, not least of which was when the final proofs were being sent to be printed.

The theme of a game is also an isomorphism, broadly speaking. (Recursively, that would mean that there is an isomorphism between themes and isomorphisms. If that doesn't delight you, then you and I are very different.) A good theme makes an abstract system comprehensible in terms of real-world phenomena.

In Expedition: Northwest Passage, for example, you explore the Arctic Ocean. In reality, you are doing no such thing: You are actually moving a wooden token in the shape of a boat on cardboard tiles with pictures of an ocean on them. If you consider the appropriate features, however, you can see interesting similarities. The ships move on water, and the sleds move on ice, obviously enough. The sled is stored on the ship until it is needed, at which point it is deployed. Nothing groundbreaking here.

Board Game: Expedition: Northwest Passage

Consider the ice. One frustrating and deadly feature of Arctic exploration was that, before global warming seriously curtailed it, the ocean surface was frozen for most of the year. This left a very short season during which navigation was sometimes possible. In the game, the Sun token moves once per round in a graceful arc along the edges of the board, from East to West. As it moves North along the arc, the ice moves along with it, leaving a greater portion of the board ice free. At its zenith, the entire board is navigable. When the Sun starts moving — excuse me, when the Sun token starts moving South along the arc, the ice returns. Ships caught North of the solar disc are trapped in the ice, leaving them stranded until the Sun returns. The crew may still explore using the ship's sled, but progress is slower and more treacherous.

Now consider the crew. The crew as a whole performed the work necessary to navigate the maze of ice and land, to survey their surroundings, and to investigate the disappearance of the Franklin Expedition. Rather than give you a large crew to manage, feed, and discipline, you need only worry about seven crew members on your expedition.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
"Hold on, do you think these skeleton people know where Franklin went off to?"

Each round, you use your crew to perform actions. Many of the actions require a single crewman. The players take turns executing these actions until they choose (or are forced) to pass. When all players pass, the round ends.

You may decide that time is of the essence and may want to perform more than one action on your micro-turn. Your crew is willing to oblige, but each action after the first requires one extra crewman to perform. There are limits to how much any man can endure, after all (or woman, but women were spared the horrors of Arctic exploration and had to endure instead the horrors of Victorian life).

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
"The last journal entry reads 'too many... actions... in one turn...'"

I will grant you that playing Expedition: Northwest Passage is not the SAME as physically being a prisoner of the ice, putting on plays in the eternal darkness of the winter months and praying to whatever deity is willing to listen that the ice will break up in the summer. It is not as cold, for one thing. The risk of scurvy is also greatly reduced. The isomorphism is not perfect, but I think you will agree that it is rather satisfying.

Yves Tourigny
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Mon Oct 14, 2013 2:00 pm
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Structural Integrity: The Blueprints Designer Diary

Board Game: Blueprints
Blueprints is a quick, simple drafting game in which dice do double-duty as building materials and randomizing elements. Each round, players draft six dice to erect a building. On a turn, each player drafts one die from the dice pool, places it on his personal blueprint card (hidden from other players), then adds a die randomly drawn from the bag to the dice pool by rolling it.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
Second prototype player screen

The placement rules for the dice are equally simple. A die can be placed on the blank spaces of the blueprint card or on top of another die with lower or equal value. That is, a "5" can be placed on a "1", "2", "3", "4", and "5", but not on a "6".

The different colors of dice, which represent different materials, score in different ways. "Glass" dice score their pip value. "Recycled" dice score as a set. "Wood" dice score for each adjacent die. "Stone" dice score based on their height in the building. Bonus points are awarded to players who conformed to their blueprint. The highest scoring building is given the Gold Award (worth 3 victory points), the next highest scoring building is given the Silver Award (worth 2 victory points), and the third is given the Bronze Award (1 victory point).

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
The value of the Recycled dice has changed to 2-5-10-15-20-30

The buildings can also win Prizes, each worth 2 victory points, if they meet certain criteria. A building with a height of five or more is given the Skyscraper Prize. A building with four or more dice with the same value receives the Structural Integrity Prize. The Geometer's Prize goes to a building that includes all values 1 through 6. Finally, the Materials Prize is awarded to a building that uses five or more dice of the same color. One of each Prize is given out each round, if any buildings qualify. "In-Demand Materials", drawn at the start of each round, are used to resolve ties.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

After three rounds, the player with the most victory points from Awards and Prizes wins.

The development process for Blueprints was remarkably — and uncharacteristically — quick and painless. The idea was hatched during a long car ride back from a convention with fellow Game Artisan of Canada Al Leduc. Al had many prototypes which used dice drafted from a common pool as a mechanism. We have differing approaches to game design, and those perspectives enrich our conversations and collaborations.

I was interested in finding a concrete, theme-driven way of using a dice-drafting mechanism. This would naturally involve using the dice as physical components rather than as abstract markers for some other resource. The main idea presented itself fully-formed all at once: The dice should be used as building components in an architectural game. The second principal idea — that the players should feel torn between the sometimes conflicting goals of conforming to their Blueprint, winning Awards, and earning Prizes — was also conceived in that initial discussion.

The details worked themselves out rather quickly, and were rather insistent that they should be given shape in cardboard and plastic as soon as possible. The first prototype was ugly, but functional.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

While the aesthetics have been polished considerably, the differences in gameplay between the first prototype and the published game are negligible.

Due to its quick playing time and simple rules, it was easy to playtest the game frequently with my weekly design group, friends, local game groups, conventions, and my children. Adjustments were made mainly to the point values of the different materials, to the drafting process itself, and to the two-player game.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
Al Leduc pictured at left; the designer was deemed too handsome to appear in the photo

The graphic design was updated. After more than three years of generating illustrations and layouts for my games, I've gotten to the point where I'm able to make my prototypes look nice. The advantages to doing this are considerable. A nice presentation is attractive to players, and it gives prospective publishers an idea of what the final product may look like.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

I made a Vassal module of the game in order to make cross-continental playtesting possible with fellow designers and with potential publishers. Having a "digital" version to play with can save shipping costs, and allows for painless updates to the prototype in response to publisher feedback.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

Within a few months, the game felt ready to present to publishers. As this requires a completely different set of skills than those required to design games, and as I much prefer spending time on the latter than the former, the game was first submitted to my agents, ForgeNext. They presented the game to many publishers at Spiel, and several of those were interested in receiving a prototype.

One publisher, Z-Man Games, had recently been purchased by the owner of a Canadian company with offices less than 160 km from my house: Filosofia. Because my agents operate from France, it was only natural that I present the game to Filosofia in person. At least, this was the argument used to convince me to pitch my game to them in person. With great relief, I found that the game sold itself, and the capable folks at Z-Man offered to license it.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
The finished product, with a prototype for another game in the background

As a member of the Game Artisans of Canada, I'm proud that a Canadian publisher is bringing the game to market. That being said, I can boldly assert that players of all nations will find it agreeable. There is something universally pleasing about stacking blocks and rolling dice, and Blueprints is one of the rare games that encourages you to do just that. It is being released at Spiel 2013.

Yves Tourigny
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Fri Sep 20, 2013 6:00 am
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Designer Diary: Top This! – In which I drive recklessly, teach you some math, and do a bit of boasting

Board Game: Top This! A Pizza Flicking Game
I get a remarkable amount of game design work done while I'm busy doing something else. In this instance, "something else" involved driving home at 120 kph (72 mph) after meeting with a publisher, while balancing a notebook on the steering wheel. Like a crowning baby, or maybe a less polite bodily function, the game was ready to come out NOW.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
Quality of handwriting decreases as car velocity increases

Games sometimes make themselves known to me in feverish sessions which, once finished, expunge all trace of their passage. If I don't write the ideas down, there's no guarantee that I'll remember them later. Headed back to Ottawa, I sketched out the basics for a game inspired by a child's wooden playset I had purchased a few hours earlier in a discount store. I'm a flicking game fanatic, so it was natural that my mind would turn there when presented with a bunch of discs.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny

The first step in any design is to work out the math. The playset came with 54 discs in three types. I decided right away that I would use five types of toppings instead, with ten copies of each topping. It was clear from the start that players would be flicking toppings onto a pizza, trying to place specific combinations of toppings onto slices to claim order cards. How many combinations could be made with five toppings?

A knowledge of basic combinatorics is essential to a game designer. Combinatorics is the branch of mathematics that deals with counting without counting, or finding out how many members are in a set without having to identify and count each individual one. Thankfully, combinatorics is mostly intuitive, and it allows you to play with factorials, which is the shoutiest of mathematical notations. "n factorial" is written "n!" and equal to "n (n-1) (n-2) (n-3) … (n-n)". For example, 5! = 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1. It is also the number of different ways you can line up five items in order, which comes up more frequently than you would think.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
There are 119 other possible posters, is what I'm saying

If I used two toppings on each card, how many order cards would that make? There would be five cards with double the same topping (because there are five toppings). How many cards with two different toppings? I have five choices for my first topping, and for each of those I am left with four choices for my second topping. Easy enough: 20 cards. There would be duplicates in those cards, though, because "Pepperoni - Mushroom" and "Mushroom - Pepperoni", which are the same for game purposes, is being counted twice. In fact, each combination is being counted twice, so we end up with ten different cards, making a total of 15 cards with two toppings.

With three toppings, things get slighly hairier. There are still only five cards with the same topping repeated three times. For two toppings, I have 20 different cards now, not 10. Why? Because the order is actually important; the first topping is being repeated twice, so "Pepperoni - Mushroom" means 2x Pepperoni and 1x Mushroom and "Mushroom - Pepperoni" means the opposite. For three toppings, I have five choices for the first topping, four choices for the second topping, and three choices remaining for the third one. That's 60. I could divide by two because I'm counting the same combinations more than once, but that would lead me to the wrong answer. In fact there are six different ways of lining up the same set of three toppings in order (see two paragraphs ago for the exciting reason):

-----• Pepperoni - Mushroom - Peppers
-----• Pepperoni - Peppers - Mushroom
-----• Mushroom - Pepperoni - Peppers
-----• Mushroom - Peppers - Pepperoni
-----• Peppers - Pepperoni - Mushroom
-----• Peppers - Mushroom - Pepperoni

Sixty divided by six leaves me with ten cards with three different toppings, for a total of 35 different cards with three toppings. This is what I was writing down while barreling down the highway, dodging cars and large Canadian mammals. (In order to keep the game lean, I ended up losing the five cards with the identical toppings.)

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
The Honorable Minister of Highways and Berries

Meanwhile, back in Ottawa, I made my first prototype of the game and started playing it. The first version of the game was enjoyable and worked well, but a good designer doesn't stop when his game is merely "okay", and neither do I.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
Collector's edition – price negotiable

I'm fortunate enough to be a member of the Game Artisans of Canada, a national collective of game designers with local Chapters across the country. In Ottawa, we meet on a weekly basis to playtest, dissect, and critique our designs. Online, members from other Chapters weigh in with their opinions and suggestions. Additionally, the game was played regularly with my two sons and with other local game groups. A few basic but ultimately crucial changes were made to the game, to add some excitement while retaining a dead simple ruleset.

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
Game Artisans of Canada

First, the discs were made double-sided, which removed the need for actions which allowed you to exchange your hand of toppings for another, or for a "market" where you could trade toppings. Second, I ruled that discs flicked off the board became property of the player to your right. Third, I ruled that the discs on the board – all those of one type chosen by the player – could be flipped to reveal the topping on the reverse side. Taken together, these all but eliminated the frustration of not having the right topping.

Next, to emphasize the boasting that typically occurs in dexterity games, we added Tip cards. These are bonus points awarded when a player either completes more than one order card on a turn, or when a player takes a "Top This!" turn. To do the latter, the player has to call out which specific order card he will complete, then add a single topping (instead of taking the usual two actions). If he succeeds, he receives a Tip card; if he doesn't, he is jeered by his opponents. Finally, to add a bit of a challenge, I ruled that a topping added to the board needed to touch a disc already on the board to be legal. These little touches took Top This! from "good" to "delightful". I think you'll agree.

Yves Tourigny

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
The latest prototype, which is close to what the final production will look like

P.S. Incidentally, when you ask your local store whether they have my latest game, the name is pronounced "TOO RINGY".

From gallery of Yves Tourigny
Much, much too ringy
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Sat Jun 23, 2012 6:30 am
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