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Designer Diary: Race for the Chinese Zodiac

Christina Ng
Singapore
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designer
publisher
aka Auntie
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Microbadge: Click to see my homepageMicrobadge: Starting Player fanMicrobadge: My lover is also a BGG userMicrobadge: 三國得志愛好者 (Three Kingdoms Redux fan)Microbadge: 生肖決愛好者
It has been more than five years since we shared our thoughts in a designer diary for Three Kingdoms Redux, and now we are back to discuss our second game design, Race for the Chinese Zodiac. In this designer diary, we will share some of the decisions behind its design. We hope you will enjoy reading it!

HOW THE IDEA COME ABOUT

Our first game design, Three Kingdoms Redux, happened to be a heavier board game. It is also language dependent, primarily due to the 69 generals and 42 state enhancement cards. That unfortunately made it inaccessible for my parents. They were unable to try the game even after the final product was launched, though we did share the progress of artwork with them. They also helped us with the logistics as we had chosen to self-publish our first board game. I always felt it is a pity that they could not get to try our first game design...

During brainstorming for our second game, we decided to aim for something family-friendly so that my parents could join in, too. In addition, my dad retired a few years ago, so I thought it would be a good idea to involve them in the playtesting of our second game. That was when my Significant Other thought of designing a game based on the Chinese Zodiac. It sounded like a fun setting and therefore suitable as a family game. That was how our second game design started...

INITIAL PLAYTESTING

Brainstorming led to preliminary ideas. Since the game was to be based on the Chinese Zodiac, which in turn was founded on an ancient folk story about a race between the animals, it seemed natural to us that the design would be a racing game.

Other design objectives included a low rules overhead so that it would be easier for my mum and dad to understand and a shorter playtime. With these in mind, our initial plan was for a pure card game.

Here are the core game mechanisms behind these initial ideas:

Number of players
The initial plan was to have a different player count from our first game (which was for exactly three players), preferably with a player count range. We penciled in 4-6 players. As the race revolved around twelve animals, we pondered whether all twelve animals should be included in each play of the game. However, that implied some of the animals would have to be non-player controlled and require certain dummy player rules to control their movements.

The twelve animal sign tokens

Different skills for each animal sign
Each animal sign featured in a different part of the folklore, but with a different twist. This offered us the opportunity to design a different special ability for each animal sign, thereby enhancing the theme and improving replayability. However, these were not included in the initial playtests as we wanted to playtest the core game mechanism to ensure the heart of the game was working before making any further improvements.

Simultaneous card play
With 4-6 players in mind, downtime may become significant. To reduce downtime, we included simultaneous card play as a core game mechanism. The initial idea was for the active player to play an action card while other players played the benefit cards, which would together determine the amount of benefits gained by the active player. Some of the actions available include move, rest, seek karma, cheat, and strategize. The benefit cards are also divided into different sections, including an associated animal sign and the amount of benefits associated with each action.

Special card effects
To enhance the Chinese theme in the game, we tried to include other Chinese-related ideas or philosophies, such as the stars under the Purple Star Astrology (紫微斗數 or Zi Wei Dou Shu). These are special effect cards that players can purchase during the game.

PLAYTEST RESULTS

Players felt restricted in their choice of benefit cards to play for the active player. The play of the benefit cards also felt somewhat random as players didn't have much information with which they could deduce the possible action cards that may be played by the active player. Similarly, the active player also found their decisions to be uninteresting as they did not have much control over which benefits they would receive. Overall, the playtesting results were negative, and we went back to the drawing board for other ideas.

The next idea involved blind bidding. After much discussion and a few playtesting sessions between ourselves, which seemed to click, we tried this second idea with my parents.

INTENSIVE PLAYTESTING WITH MY PARENTS (FOUR-PLAYER VARIANT)

Here are the core game mechanisms behind the blind bidding idea:

Movement and resource cards
There is a stack of cards representing different movements (either forward or backward) and/or energy collection. As each of the animal signs is associated with either yin or yang, we also tried to incorporate this aspect onto these cards to add an additional dimension to the game.

Closed economy blind bidding
There are two types of resources in the game, namely energy and karma. Energy is used to bid for movement cards, while each karma token doubles the amount of energy used in that bid. The energy used by the successful player in the bid is then distributed among the rest of the players who failed to gain the movement from the cards.

One of the playtests involving the closed economy blind-bidding mechanism

PLAYTEST RESULTS

We playtested the closed economy blind-bidding mechanism fifteen times. Between these playtests, we made numerous changes to improve the game mechanism as it seemed promising initially. My parents were very supportive of us and offered their time willingly for the playtesting sessions, often trying out the game multiple times in a single session. (At times, we even made minor adjustments on the spot and tested them out immediately.) On the flipside, my parents were reluctant to make negative comments on the game. Each session almost always ended with them commenting that the game was fine as is and therefore ready for publication, though both of us felt otherwise.

Thus, we relied on our own intuitions to assess the state of the game. We discussed what we enjoyed and disliked openly after each playtest, making tweaks along the way. During one of these playtests, my Significant Other and I commented that the game felt boring and repetitive after numerous plays. That was when my mum and dad also professed that they had felt the same way all along. My Significant Other and I looked at each other and chuckled when my parents finally broke the truth to us.

We explained to my parents that they could have been upfront with us about their thoughts on the game, instead of worrying that we may be upset. That would help us greatly to improve the game play experience for players since our aim is to design a family game that can be enjoyed by all. With a unanimous vote, we abandoned the blind-bidding idea and were back to starting point once again.

To be honest, both of us had thought designing a simpler board game would be easier than a heavier game. It turned out otherwise. With Three Kingdoms Redux, our initial idea sort of worked, and we had to make only progressive changes to it. In the case of Race for the Chinese Zodiac, we found ourselves having to throw the entire idea away — repeatedly! Many a time, I found myself running out of ideas, and it was my Significant Other who encouraged me. He would often tell me, "At least we found out what doesn't work. This is also useful information for us."

MORE DISCUSSIONS AND PLAYTESTING BETWEEN OURSELVES

After yet another unsuccessful attempt, we tried a few other ideas, but none of them lasted beyond two or three playtests before we discarded them. However, in one of those ideas, we felt a sub-idea relating to the play of an action card coupled with an energy card was worth salvaging, so we kept that for further consideration.

Nonetheless, we struggled with how to assign rewards and penalties to the actions. As mentioned, we were aiming for an interactive game with a lower rule overhead. On numerous occasions, I was tempted to include more game mechanisms to solve this issue, but that would defeat the purpose of our initial goal, and my Significant Other would often point out these loopholes to me...

The breakthrough came during one of the days when my Significant Other and I were idling and chatting on the bed. He suddenly asked, what if we had a rewards track for each different action and the reward would depend on the total energy played for that action? This concept tickled my interest, and after thinking about it over the next few days, I proposed the track length for each of the actions in the initial prototype.

MORE PLAYTESTING WITH MY PARENTS, THEN WITH CLOSE FRIENDS (FOUR-PLAYER VARIANT)

Here are the core game mechanisms behind the action card and energy card idea:

Action card with energy card
All players start the game with the same number of action cards and energy cards. Players play an action card and an energy card from their hand each round.

Energy cards with traditional Chinese wordings for the numbers 1 to 6

The actions available to all players are (number attached to each action is shown in brackets):

• Run (1) – Movement action card
• Walk (2) – Movement action card
• Cheat (3) – Movement action card
• Co-operate (4) – Movement action card
• Help (5) – Non-movement action card for karma collection
• Copy (6) – Depends on which action card it is copying
• Rest (7) – Non-movement action card for energy collection

Different reward track for each action
Every action has a corresponding reward track that players refer to in order to assess the potential benefits of that action.

Karma
Karma has to be paid when players play a smaller numbered action card than the previous played action card. No payment of karma is required when a higher numbered action card is played.

Karma token with the endless knot design

Exchange to strengthen your energy cards
Players may exchange their lower numbered energy cards for higher numbered ones.

Prototype with different reward track for each action

PLAYTEST RESULTS

Things certainly looked more positive with these changes. We continued to playtest with this version while making minor tweaks along the way. Some of the feedback that came up during these playtesting sessions were:

1) Confusing reward tracks
The reward tracks had too many numbers on them, and it was difficult to take in all of them at the same time. In addition, the distribution of the rewards on each track affected greatly how players played their action cards and nudged them towards a certain order or style of play.

2) Replayability
Replayability gradually became a concern with every completed playtest because the reward tracks remained the same in every game.

3) Karma
Karma had limited usage.

4) Energy cards overly abundant
There were too many energy cards available for exchange. As a result, players did not experience any urgency to change for higher numbered energy cards.

5) Numbering of the action cards
The numbers on the action cards may affect how players played their action cards. Coupled with the rewards available for each action card, there were certain action cards that were favored by the players and others that were shunned.

6) No differentiation for movement cards
The movement action cards were not differentiated. Although they have different names, i.e. run, walk, cheat and co-operate, they differed only by each of them having a different reward track.

CHANGES MADE

1) Simplify the reward tracks
The various reward tracks were combined into an inner wheel and an outer wheel. The inner wheel contained the actions and total energy played for the corresponding action while the outer wheel reflected the reward available for each action.

On the outer wheel, the initial change was for two bands, with one band for non-movement actions and the other band for movement actions. This was subsequently simplified to a single band based on playtesters' feedback. The inner wheel would turn at the end of each round so that the rewards for each action would shift. With one combined wheel, this made it easier for players to assess potential rewards. Furthermore, the rewards change after each round, lending a stronger story arc to the game.

One of the initial versions of the inner and outer wheel

2) Increased replayability
Special abilities were added for all animal signs.

3) Increase the usage of karma
An additional use for karma was introduced. Besides using it to play a smaller numbered action card, a few of the reward spaces on the outer wheel were based on payment of karma, i.e., players could discard karma in exchange for additional movement.

4) Limit the number of energy cards available
The number of "2"/"3"/"4"/"5"/"6" energy cards available in the game was now limited, though the number of "1" energy cards remain unlimited. We hoped players would have an increased urgency to exchange for higher energy cards due to the "while stocks last" effect. The energy "6" cards were limited to one per player.

5) Changing the number associated with each action
With the various reward tracks, some of the action cards were favored by players due to more movement potentially being available via those actions. After the implementation of the wheel, which rotates by one segment after each round, the rewards became more dynamic. Game play now depended largely on the position of the wheel during a particular round and the cards played by other players. Players also have a bigger incentive to look around the table to check what other players have played before deciding what they should play.

Previously, players had preferred to focus on movement instead of collecting energy and karma. We therefore re-numbered the movement and non-movement action cards, spacing out the movement action cards, with non-movement action cards associated with karma and energy collection being assigned smaller numbers. If players would like to go for the higher numbered movement cards but do not have any karma or limited energy cards on hand, they would be restricted in their choice of actions in later rounds.

The re-numbered action cards are (number attached to each action is shown in brackets):

• Cheat (1) – Movement action card
• Help (2) – Non-movement action card for karma collection
• Run (3) – Movement action card
• Rest (4) – Non-movement action card for energy collection
• Co-operate (5) – Movement action card
• Walk (6) – Movement action card
• Repeat (7) – Depends on which action card it is repeating
• Strategize (8) – Non-movement action card to collect previously played action and energy cards

6) Differentiating the movement action cards
We made small revisions to each of the movement action cards to differentiate them from one another and also to add to the theme.

Cheat
Only the player with the single highest energy card receives the reward on the wheel. Other players move back one step, which is thematically associated with the penalty for being caught cheating!

Run
Only the player with the single highest energy card receives the reward. Other players move forward one step (thematically associated with moving forward a little bit, since an attempt to run was made).

Co-operate
The player or players with the highest energy card receive the reward (thematically associated with expending the same amount of effort to receive the same amount of reward). Other players receive no reward or penalty.

Walk
Only the player with the single highest energy card receives the reward. Other players receive no reward or penalty (thematically associated with not moving, since only an attempt to walk was made, as opposed to running).

Action cards

SUBSEQUENT IMPROVEMENTS

Subsequent playtests with the above changes yielded favorable results. We therefore continued with this core game mechanism, and playtests were now geared towards game balance and replayability.

1) Increasing replayability 1: Breaking up the inner wheel
During one of our playtest sessions, my brother commented that the planning aspect of the game felt a little similar after numerous plays. My brother is an excellent player of the game and would often plan several moves ahead, i.e., envisioning how the wheel would turn during the next few rounds and planning which actions to go for in those rounds. This aspect of the game felt samey for my brother after many a playtest with us.

From that feedback, the idea of "dismantling" the inner wheel by breaking it into separate pieces was broached. Specifically, each action would be a separate piece, shaped like a slice of pizza; these pieces are then placed together to form the inner wheel. For the purposes of our prototype, we purchased soft magnetic strips and pasted them on the underside of the pieces as well as on a circular inner wheel. That way, it is easy to change the set-up for each new game.

After implementing the above change, the order of the actions on the inner wheel became different for every game, and the replayability of the game was greatly improved as a result. My brother now had to plan in a different way from game to game.

Four-player version wheel, with inner wheel pieces broken up

2) Increasing replayability 2: Variable starting positions
Every player had until now started the game on a clean slate with nothing in the play area and with a fixed number of karma tokens. This gave the start of every game a somewhat familiar and repetitive feel. We therefore tried to make the starting position of every player different instead.

Our initial idea was for each player to play an action card from those numbered 1 to 6. The player with the highest number would collect the largest number of karma tokens, but the cost of doing so would be starting the game with a high-numbered action card in their playing area.

This certainly improved the repetitive issue at the start of each game — until my dad started playing the highest numbered action card allowable — 6 "Walk" — almost every time. He explained that it was "riskless" anyway. We reasoned that the penalty of having a high-numbered action card as the first card was not high enough, and therefore came up with an improved version that builds on the initial idea. After collecting the karma tokens, all players who played the highest numbered action card (6 "Walk") had to give one karma token to all who played the lowest numbered action card (1 "Cheat"). Similarly, whoever played the 5 "Co-operate" has to give one karma token to all who played 2 "Help", and whoever played 4 "Rest" has to give one karma token to all who played 3 "Run". There was now really no gain without taking any risks!

3) Reduction in energy while in river
We observed after many playtests that the actions giving energy cards — "Rest" in particular — became progressively less important as a game developed. (After players have exchanged up to the higher energy cards, they would focus only on the movement actions and the collection of energy became less important.) To maintain these actions' relevance, we added a rule whereby one energy card has to be returned to the general supply each time a player plays 8 "Strategize", which allowed the player to collect all of their played action and energy cards, while in the river section.

Four-player variant set-up with finalized prototype

Playtests with these subsequent improvements went well, and we knew that we were firmly on the right track. These developments made us feel comfortable enough to affirm the core game mechanisms for Race for the Chinese Zodiac, and we could then move on to playtest other aspects of the game.

All of our playtesting sessions thus far were with four players. Upon settling on the core game mechanisms, we started keeping track of our playtest results. This was for the purpose of testing the power balance of the animal sign cards. The four-player variant ultimately saw a grand total of 124 playtests with many different players. A large portion of those were played with my parents.

With the core game mechanisms nailed down, we were ready to expand our horizons and ponder other player counts, e.g., five or six players. We were both skeptical about playtesting with three players due to the suspected lower player interaction but still kept our options open for that possibility.

PLAYTESTING WITH MY BROTHER FOR FIVE-PLAYER VARIANT

We fully expected that minor tweaks to the four-player variant would be required to cater to different player counts. For the five-player variant, we roped in my brother to help, starting without making any changes to the four-player variant to identify any potential issues.

PLAYTEST RESULTS

1) Exchange of energy becomes tougher
The first thing we observed during the initial playtests with five players was that exchanging for higher energy card(s) became much tougher to accomplish. You had the same number of ways to get an energy exchange action, but now one more player was competing for it.

2) Tighter resources
Resources also felt tighter due to the non-movement action cards providing an additional benefit only to the individual player who played the highest energy card. As before, with competition from an additional player in the game, it became more difficult to receive this additional benefit, thereby reducing the number of resources per player in the game. For the same reason, collection of all previously played action and energy cards also became more challenging because only the individual player who played the highest energy card with 8 "Strategize" would collect their played action and energy cards.

3) Balance of animal sign skills
The balance of the special abilities of the animal signs was affected. Some of the special abilities became more powerful with the higher player count, while others became weaker. This implied more playtesting and rebalancing of the special abilities would be required.

An example of this would be the monkey's special ability, which gave the monkey player an additional "1" energy card if they resolved the same action as another player. With an additional player, this special ability is strengthened.

CHANGES MADE

1) New outer wheel
A different outer wheel with one more way to get an energy exchange was designed to cater for the five-player variant. The four-player variant's outer wheel has three energy exchange icons while the five-player variant has four.

Five-player version wheel

2) Reducing the resource tightness
We did not have a solution for this issue initially. Indeed, this issue was to remain the main reason for my Significant Other's dissatisfaction with the five-player variant for a substantial period of time. The eventual solution came as a by-product from our playtesting for the six-player variant, but I will jump the gun and elaborate on that change here.

A different set of non-movement action cards was designed for the five-player variant. The additional benefit would now be awarded to all players who played the highest energy card and not only the player who played the individually highest energy card. This not only reduced the tightness of resources, players would also experience less difficulty collecting their played action and energy cards with 8 "Strategize".

3) Balance of the animal signs' skill
The five-player variant was ultimately playtested over 83 times to ensure that each animal sign was adequately powered. After these playtests, we adjusted animal sign special abilities fairly frequently (and the rules less frequently) to ensure the game balance.

Returning to the example with the monkey, we eventually included a hand size limit of twelve energy cards per player. This naturally limited the strength of the monkey's special ability at higher player counts.

Five-player variant set-up with finalized prototype

PLAYTESTING THE SIX-PLAYER VARIANT

Playtesting continued for both four-player and five-player variants every week. We also planned to give the six-player variant a try to test the limits of the core game mechanisms, but the main challenge was finding a sixth playtester who was able to commit their time to repeated plays instead of simply a single play. After all, only with repeated plays can we get a better feel of the feasibility of the six-player variant.

Our hope was answered when my brother introduced his girlfriend to us! We started by introducing other board games to her to test her interest in gaming because if she didn't like those, we wouldn't want to bother her with a playtest. Happily, she did enjoy the board games we brought to show her. My brother then helped us check whether she was keen to participate in playtesting, and she readily agreed to the prospect!

PLAYTEST RESULTS

The problems that existed in a five-player variant were amplified greatly in the six-player variant. Everything felt tight, so much so that we introduced another action card to try to address the issue. This action card, which we named "Sprint", is a separate movement card and does not appear on the inner wheel as we didn't want to create a new outer wheel if we could help it. With two outer wheels, we could use the two sides of the same board, but three outer wheels would not enjoy such synergy.

The additional action card seemed to work initially, but we soon realized that its reward was too situational. We went on to playtest the six-player variant 11 times, but decided not to force the issue in the end. We concluded that the game design could not support this high a player count unless we upsized every single game component, but that would make it technically a different game.

We don't think it's fair to the end customer to add an additional player count to the box for the sake of more easily marketing the game. Being board gamers ourselves, we often found ourselves questioning the player count claimed to be supported by a particular board game (in our humble opinion) and do not wish to repeat such an error ourselves.

PLAYTESTING FOR THREE-PLAYER VARIANT

What remained for us to playtest was the three-player variant, which you may recall both of us were skeptical about. We had earlier playtested the three-player variant a few times, but it turned out rather bland, with a strong multiplayer solitaire feel due to reduced player interaction. This removed a big part of our enjoyment in the game.

In between these playtesting sessions, we approached Capstone Games (publisher of the second edition of Three Kingdoms Redux) to assess whether they might be interested in publishing Race for the Chinese Zodiac. Initial discussions with Clay Ross, president of Capstone Games, indicated that he preferred a game with a wider player count range as a 4-5 player game would be a much harder sell. We understood his stance and told him we would give the three-player variant another try.

Our main challenge was to retain most of the core game mechanisms and make only minor adjustments to accommodate the different player count. For the case of the three-player variant, we needed to increase the player interaction between the players as well as to tighten it up. We first tried one of the obvious ideas, i.e., removing one of the movement actions (we chose 6 "Walk") from the three-player variant.

Three-player version wheel

PLAYTEST RESULTS

1) Reduced tension
The removal of one of the actions helped in tightening the game play. Nonetheless, players were still able to avoid each other a little too easily. Certain decisions also became a lot more obvious with the current form of the three-player variant. In short, part of the tension and excitement in higher player counts was now missing.

2) Balance of animal signs' skill
As before, the animal signs' special abilities would have to be playtested and potentially be rebalanced.

CHANGES MADE

1) Increase the reward for outbidding other players on the same action
In the four- and five-player variants, whenever a player played a higher energy card than someone else for the same action, the player would gain one additional movement for each person who played a lower energy card. With the three-player variant, we increased this bonus to two additional movements to make the reward of outbidding other players much more attractive.

Based on feedback from players, this was a favorable change, so much so that my brother declared the three-player variant his favorite as we wrapped up playtesting. The three-player variant was ultimately playtested over 33 playtest sessions.

Three-player variant set-up with finalized prototype

•••

With the completion of the playtesting across all viable player counts, we are happy to introduce Race for the Chinese Zodiac as a 3-5 player board game. We have worked on the game for over four years, playtesting it a total of 279 times with our family and friends. As with our first game design, we are very grateful for the time spent and the valuable feedback from all playtesters!

We had initially set out to design a board game that my family could enjoy together, especially my parents. We are happy to declare that we have achieved our goals because my parents would still routinely ask to play the game — and get really aggrieved when they narrowly finished second. This is despite them having played it over two hundred times with us over the four years of game development. How cool is that?!

Her animal sign
His animal sign









Game set up (four-player version) and ready for play!
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Tue Jan 14, 2020 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Three Kingdoms Redux

Christina Ng
Singapore
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
aka Auntie
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Microbadge: Click to see my homepageMicrobadge: Starting Player fanMicrobadge: My lover is also a BGG userMicrobadge: 三國得志愛好者 (Three Kingdoms Redux fan)Microbadge: 生肖決愛好者
We have read a number of designer diaries on BGG. Each diary walks us through the designers' thought process during the game's development, allowing us to develop a finer appreciation of the game.

Similarly, we hope to share some of our key considerations during the development of Three Kingdoms Redux via our designer diary, which is complemented by valuable input from our playtesters. We hope that you will enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed the game development process.

HOW THE IDEA COME ABOUT

My Significant Other has been a fan of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story (三國演義) and history (三國志) since he was a teen. He has read the novel, has played almost every edition of the famous Koei series of PC games, owns a well-drawn series of comics, and has watched the China made drama series several times.

In terms of Three Kingdoms knowledge, I was his direct opposite, knowing next to nothing about the story and history. He has a big collection of books and I recall browsing through his collection and coming upon a set of Three Kingdom comics. This was during one of my visits to his home before we got married. Curiosity got the better of me and I started reading them. That was how I started to develop an appreciation of the story.

While surfing and researching via BGG, my Significant Other found a GeekList of Three Kingdoms-themed board games. Sieving through the list, he found some general similarities that hinted at a gap in the current crop of Three Kingdoms-themed board games. One of the most important and intriguing themes of the story was the natural balance of power between the three states of Shu, Wu and Wei — power not only in the military sense, but also from the economic and social perspectives. The emphasis of many of the Three Kingdoms-themed board games he found on BGG was on the military aspect. He thought the Three Kingdoms theme could be enhanced by including the other elements. These considerations led to some initial ideas, which ultimately formed the backbone of Three Kingdoms Redux.

A series of events, which I will not repeat here (as we've relayed the full story on this GeekList), led us to deciding to develop those initial ideas, with the ultimate goal of publishing the board game. The rest of this post discusses the development process.

PLAYTESTING BETWEEN OURSELVES

My Significant Other worked on the preliminary set of rules for much of 2010. The first draft was ready in December 2010, upon which we started on the first playtests. Here is a brief description of the initial ideas for the game:

Three-Player Game

The as-yet-unnamed game started life as a card game for three players.

The initial part of the three kingdoms era was marked by civil disorder and chaos as many warlords fought for power. This soon stabilized as the three states of Wei, Wu and Shu emerged. The second half of the three kingdoms' era was marked by the intricate balance amongst these three states.

Most if not all board gamers prefer games with a well-integrated theme; the term "pasted on theme" is often used for the opposite case. We wanted our game to explore the balance of power between the three states, so with theme very much on our minds, we gravitated towards a three-player game (akin to why Twilight Struggle is a two-player game). While we appreciated that it limited the number of players, theme was of greater importance to us.

The game was to undergo a whole host of changes during its development, but the three-player premise was maintained throughout.

Asymmetrical Starting Positions

Each state starts the game with a fixed list of generals, with Wei having the most generals to demonstrate its higher strength relative to the other two states. The starting generals are:

• Wei: Cao Cao, Cao Ren, Cao Hong, Xiahou Dun and Xiahou Yuan
• Wu: Sun Jian, Huang Gai, Cheng Pu and Han Dang
• Shu: Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei

The asymmetrical starting positions and identity of the generals are in line with history. Wei was the first state to develop, followed by Wu and Shu. The above generals are also the ones who joined Cao Cao, Sun Jian and Liu Bei respectively at the earliest stage.

Cao Cao, Sun Jian and Liu Bei

More importantly, we wanted to increase the replayability of our game via asymmetrical starting positions. Players playing with different states enjoy a different playing experience. With three states in our game, this should hopefully imply three times the replayability.

The asymmetrical starting position idea was also retained throughout the game's development. We were to experience significant difficulties balancing the asymmetrical starting positions, which led to lengthy discussions and we did consider dropping it on occasion. My Significant Other was the more persistent of us and we kept plugging on. I am glad we did! Nonetheless, we did make changes to the starting list of generals subsequently.

General Attributes

Each general possesses a number of attributes, namely intelligence, war, hit points, development phase skill, engagement phase skill, and battle skills.

Two Phases

There is a Development phase occurring over five years with four seasons each year:

• Spring: Tax collection by players depending on the marketplace level and payment of salary for general.
• Summer: An event occurs (which may be good or bad).
• Autumn: Harvest by players depending on the farm development level and payment of upkeep for army unit.
• Winter: Nil.

During the Development phase, players use their generals to carry out actions. There are common actions available to all players as long as the pre-requisites are met and costs are paid; there are also limited actions which are on a first come, first served basis. The number of limited actions available increases as the game progresses through each year.

The list of common actions available to all players if pre-requisites of intelligence or war are met:

• Search talent
• Recruit general/official
• Develop farm
• Develop marketplace
• Recruit armies
• Train armies
• Manufacture weapons (spear or crossbow)
• Rear horses
• Build vessels

Here's the list of limited actions available to all players on a first come, first served basis, which appear at different stages during the game:

Year 1
• Trade rice

Year 2
• Trade weapons (spear/crossbow)
• Trade horses
• Trade vessels

Year 3
• Build city wall
• Build barrack
• Build armory
• Build stable
• Build harbor

Year 4
• Sabotage
• Technology: Repeating crossbow
• Technology: Combat ship
• Technology: Catapult

Year 5
• Build Palace
• Alliance: Loan of generals between allied states during Engagement phase

The Engagement phase follows after the Development phase. During the Engagement stage, players take the military forces and resources built up during the Development phase into battle against one another other at selected battle locations.

The game features a total of fifteen battle locations with different terrains, and terrain awards military advantages to different army types. Each pair of states — Shu 蜀–Wu 吳, Shu 蜀–Wei 魏 and Wei 魏–Wu 吳 — has five battle locations and they select three of the five locations to engage in battle. Every general has hit points and skills that can be used against the opponents during the battle. The player who manages to defeat the other two players in battle wins the game.

PLAYTEST RESULTS

1) Game Duration
The game took too long to complete, easily taking more than three hours.

2) Interaction
There is insufficient interaction among the players as the common action spaces are available to all. It felt like a solitaire game as the mechanism does not enhance the theme of the game. Players would like to experience more conflict between the states.

3) Development Phase
Some of the Development phase action spaces felt unnecessary and are too similar to one another. The Alliance action space felt awkward and alliances were not easy to form.

4) Engagement Phase
The Engagement phase did not work well because it was too cumbersome. Many rules and components were required, but they did not add much to the game. We also learned our first painful lesson in board game designing: Not to spend too much time writing out detailed rules until the main mechanism/ideas have been playtested. As this was our first attempt at designing a board game, we learned this the hard way.

5) Generals
The attributes of generals, in particular their skills, helped to differentiate between each general and gave each general historical flavor. This part will be retained in the game.

CHANGES MADE

1a) Reduce Game Duration
Removed the Engagement phase. This shortened the game, and also simplified the rules significantly.

1b) Change General Attributes
Reduced generals' attributes to administration, combat, military strength and one skill (instead of two previously). This was due to the removal of the Engagement phase. "Intelligence" and "war" were renamed "administration" and "combat" respectively. The term "military strength" was eventually replaced by "leadership".

2) Bidding
Bidding was introduced into the game as a core mechanism.

The player with the highest bid (based on administration or combat) for each action space gets to take the action. The idea of common action spaces was removed. Bidding introduced more conflict and interaction among the players throughout the game. With the change, players have to now decide which action spaces were of a higher priority and concentrate their generals on those. This is in contrast with the previous version when all players could take an action as long as the pre-requisites were met.

Bidding was to become the cornerstone upon which we built our game.

Administration and Combat criterions used for bidding

3a) Streamlined the action spaces
Build armory, barrack, city wall, stable, and harbor action spaces were replaced by a Construct Military Enhancement action space that can be used to build these enhancements. The bidding criterion for this action space was combat.

Technology: catapult, combat ship, and repeating crossbow were also replaced by a Research Technology action space that can be used to build these technologies. The bidding criterion for this action space was administration.

Similar actions were also grouped together as one action. For example, Trade weapons, horses and vessels were grouped together.

3b) Alliance
Previously, a separate action known explicitly as the alliance action space was available that must be taken by twi states before an alliance can be formed. It was difficult to form an alliance with this format.

We turned the idea on its head and came up with something radically different — the idea hit us one late morning when we were sitting side by side on our sitting room couch and staring out of the window — as follows:

An alliance is automatically formed between the two states that took the fewest number of actions in the current round. An action space is chosen by the two states and that becomes the alliance action space in the next round. Both alliance players can bid for the alliance action space and their bids are summed up. If both alliance players win the alliance action space, then both players may take that action. The two players making up the alliance changes from round to round, depending on which two players took the fewest number of actions.

Alliances were a key feature of the three kingdoms' era. The two weaker states, usually Wu and Shu, would protect themselves by forming an alliance with each other. The alliance make-up changed occasionally depending on the relative strengths of the three states.

The new alliance mechanism was conceived to replicate this part of the three kingdoms' history and to increase the theme factor. It also gave the two weaker states a leg up against the strongest state, helping to address the imbalance brought about by the asymmetrical starting positions.

This new alliance mechanism went on to survive the rest of the playtests, without any changes.

4) Battle
We made major changes to how battles were fought. Players may deploy generals and army units to the same battle location(s), where their military strength are compared. Bonus military strength can be earned from terrain or technology or from being the first to occupy a battle location. The player with higher military strength at more battle locations than the opponent wins that border. The player who wins both borders wins the game.

An initial playtest session, just between the two of us

After numerous rounds of playtesting between ourselves, we felt comfortable enough to introduce the prototype to friends for their feedback.

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FIRST PLAYTEST WITH FRIENDS: LIP GHEE and KENG CHIONG

Two of our friends, Lip Ghee and Keng Chiong, became the first playtesters of our game (not counting ourselves). Their first playtest took place on June 23, 2011. Lip Ghee was to continue on as our main playtester for the initial part of our game development.

PLAYTEST RESULTS

1) Set-up time
Set-up time was a little long, due to the number of cards involved.

2) Insufficient Conflict
There was insufficient conflict between players at the battle locations because both players were allowed to deploy generals and army units to the same battle location at the same border. Players were not allowed to block off the opponent from a battle location. This failed to bring out the theme of Three Kingdoms in which the states would engage in battles with one another to expand and control new territories.

3) Game Duration
Playtime was still too long. This was primarily due to the number of generals recruited during the game. In addition, the game ends after twenty rounds of play, i.e. four seasons for five years.

4) Tedious Computation
The computation of military strength towards the end of the game became tedious, especially during the last round since it was the only winning condition. In addition, other action spaces were ignored in the last round since gaining military strength was the only way to win the game.

5) Imbalance in Generals
There was still significant imbalance between the three states, with Wei much more likely to win. Shu starts the game with the fewest generals and appeared significantly weaker.

Initial playtest with Lip Ghee (center) and Keng Chiong (right)

CHANGES MADE

1) Game Board
A game board was introduced to replace the action space cards, thereby changing our card game into a board game. This simplified the setting up process and reduced the number of cards required.

Version 1 of our game board, which was made of mahjong paper; the prototype game board underwent a number of changes and was eventually upgraded to a cardboard version

2) Battle Action Spaces
Three battle action spaces were added. Players have to bid and win the corresponding battle action space before they can station generals and army units at battle locations. Bidding was based on the total of administration and combat. This change added conflict for the battle locations. It also ensured the battle action spaces were consistent with all other action spaces, i.e., all action spaces require bidding.

3a) Recruitments
The number of general recruitments was reduced, and the smaller number of generals in play should shorten the playtime.

3b) End Game Condition
An end game condition was introduced. The game ends when any two of the three borders are totally occupied, i.e., no empty battle locations along two borders. The maximum number of rounds was reduced to twelve, i.e. four seasons for three years.

4) Scoring Categories
Alternative scoring categories were introduced, as follows:

• Number of battle locations occupied (which was subsequently renamed to border locations to avoid confusion)
• Winning a border
• Marketplace development
• Farm development
• Military enhancement
• Technology
• Players may score VPs via some events if certain conditions are satisfied

Military strength at the battle locations of the borders was no longer the sole factor to winning the game as now players had other avenues to achieve victory. The nature of these scoring categories underwent substantial changes in subsequent playtests, but the core idea of multiple scoring categories was retained for the rest of the game's development.

The multiple scoring categories was aimed at improving replayability and reducing the repetitive feel during late game when players would deploy generals and army units to battle locations as that was the only victory condition, while ignoring all other action spaces. This was also a conscious change to expand on the non-military aspects of the three kingdoms' era.

It is also worth noting that the inspiration for the military enhancement and technology idea came from Agricola. We are huge fans of Agricola and thought the minor improvements (and occupations) increased its replayability tremendously. We wanted to achieve a similar impact with the military enhancement and technology cards.

5) Generals' Skills
Skills of some generals were adjusted to address the balance in strength among the three states.

Adjusting/inventing general skills (and state enhancements) was to become a task we repeated after nearly every playtest. The only generals whose skills remain unchanged from the beginning until the end of the game's development are Cao Cao and Sun Ce. We did not throw away the old general "cards" (printed on normal 80 g/m² white paper), as the reverse side could be used for future games' development. That stack of old general cards now measures 10cm thick.

Stack of old general cards

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INITIAL PLAYTESTS WITH REGULAR PLAYTESTER, BRANDON

As elaborated upon in our GeekList, Lip Ghee was unable to continue with the playtesting after a couple of months of helping us. We started to look for alternative playtesters.

My Significant Other had met a young chap by the name of Brandon during his annual in-camp-trainings. Brandon was nearing the end of his two-year stint, after which he would be waiting for enrollment to a local university. We contacted him and asked whether he was interested in a part-time job of playtesting. He replied to the affirmative, and we were able to resume our playtesting after a delay of a few months. The first playtest with Brandon took place on March 4, 2012.

Playtest with Brandon (left); note that the game board has been upgraded to a cardboard version.

PLAYTEST RESULTS

1) Events
Events sometimes widened the gap between the stronger and weaker states. We tried to introduce events that help the weaker state, but that resulted in the turtling of resources and was also deemed an unfair penalty to players who had played well.

2) Predictable Start
Actions taken in starting round were predictable as the identity of the starting generals were fixed.

3a) Timing of Some Actions are Fixed
The timings of the harvest and tax collection were fixed in spring and autumn. Players who failed to develop before those seasons tended to suffer, which gave rise to the inclination to develop farm during summer and to develop marketplace during winter.

3b) Action Spaces
Some of the action spaces were not popular, in particular Sabotage. The Construct Military Enhancement and Research Technology action spaces were not clearly differentiated from each other.

4) Scoring Categories
Scoring categories were not balanced, resulting in certain categories being ignored by players.

5) End Game Condition
The end game condition of two fully occupied borders was never achieved, which made it redundant.

6a) Military Enhancement Cards
Military enhancements were too costly.

6b) Generals' Skills
The generals' skills were not differentiated sufficiently.

CHANGES MADE

1) Events
Events were removed from the game. This removed the undesirable effects, i.e., turtling of resources and unfair penalty, and simplified the game.

2) Starting Generals
Players chose their starting generals via card drafting. This improved replayability greatly and starting moves became less predictable, but at the expense of a small decrease in theme.

3) Changes to Action Spaces

a) Timing of Harvest and Tax Collection
Timing of harvest and tax collection were left to players' discretion. This was done by introducing both as options on the develop farm and develop marketplace action spaces respectively. As a result of these changes, the idea of "seasons" were removed from the game. This change increased player flexibility and led to less restrictive decisions.

b) Introduction of Control Han Emperor action space
The power of the Han throne declined alarmingly towards the end of Eastern Han Dynasty. A number of Han emperors ascended the throne at a young age and governing power usually rested with the regents, often the emperors' older relatives. As the young emperors matured, they experienced great difficulty in regaining control of the government from the regents.

During the initial period of the three kingdoms era, warlords took over the roles of regents. The Han emperor was often kept under control by a powerful warlord, e.g., Dong Zhuo, Li Jue and Guo Si, and Cao Cao, under the pretext of supporting and protecting the Han emperor and the Han dynasty. The true motivation of doing so was to gain promotions and the legal authority to control the other warlords.

The Control Han Emperor action space mechanism was designed to mimic this aspect of the three kingdoms' history. Resources and manpower was required to control the Han emperor, but it gave the player additional authority via the Han emperor token to complete tasks.

The inspiration of this mechanism came strangely from a Xiang Qi variant known as San Guo Yan Yi Qi. It was Xiang Qi for three players, but included the Han emperor and some Han troops. Whoever controlled the Han emperor would be able to control those Han troops.

We were quite excited when the action space was first conceived as it was another aspect of the three kingdoms history captured in our game and a scoring category in its own right.

c) Introduction of Maintain Tribal Relations action space
The three states of Wei, Wu and Shu not only faced the threat of war with one another; they also suffered from incursions/rebellions from various border tribes. The main tribes residing in or near the states of Wei, Wu and Shu were the Xiong Nu, Shan Yue and Nan Man respectively. These tribes enjoyed an uneasy peace with the three states, frequently challenging their authority in a bid to reclaim sovereignty. The lords of the three states had to maintain a balance in their military allocations between the internal and external enemies. Zhuge Liang of Shu, in particular, spent much effort in quelling the Nan Man rebellions.

As with the Control Han Emperor action space, we designed the mechanism for the Maintain Tribal Relations action space to mimic the above described aspect of the three kingdoms' history. It was a further enhancement to the theme of the game, as well as another scoring category.

Wei, Wu and Shu's tribe markers

d) Replacement of Sabotage action space with Win Popular Support action space
We found ourselves disliking the Sabotage action space with each playtest. It was an action space that was detrimental to an opponent but carried no real benefit for one's own state. Players also tended to take the action as a defensive measure. Espionage was certainly part of the three kingdoms' history, but the idea did not translate well into a game mechanism.

We therefore replaced the Sabotage action space with something more positive: a Win Popular Support action space. Many of the wise leaders and their able advisors, e.g., Cao Cao and Xun Yu, espoused on the need to win the hearts of the people as a precursor to earning the right to govern.

The Win Popular Support action space mechanism was designed to incorporate winning the people's support into the scoring of the game. We also wanted to provide players with the means of increasing their bids and the popular support tokens were a logical way to achieve this. It is always easier to achieve national goals with the people's support.

e) Combination of Trading Action Spaces
Rice was harder to collect than gold in the game. The two trading action spaces were also not popular compared to the other action spaces. We combined both trade action spaces to increase the attractiveness of the trading action space; this change also provided players with an alternative avenue to collecting resources.

f) Combination of Military Enhancement and Technology Cards
As the Construct Military Enhancement and Research Technology action spaces were not well-differentiated, we combined them into a single Construct State Enhancement action space. The respective cards were also combined and renamed as state enhancement cards.

We eventually added more state enhancement cards, included drawing additional cards on one of the action spaces, and separated the state enhancement cards into two decks. One deck served to provide resources while the other offered alternative means of earning additional victory points. The two decks gave players some control over the card draws, based on what they needed at that point in time.

4) Scoring Categories
Adjustments were made to the scoring of each category. After much tinkering, we were eventually to settle on the 5/3/2/1/0 scale.

5) End Game Conditions
More end game conditions were introduced, which certainly led to more interesting playtest experiences. Players had to be alert to the possibility of any of the end game conditions being triggered by other players during late game. Later game rounds became more tense and exciting.

The end game conditions were also to go through much tweaking before we settled on the five generals stationed, full development of farm and marketplace, and achieving the Emperor rank format, in addition to reaching round twelve.

6) Adjustments to State Enhancement Cards and Generals' Skills
Further adjustments made to generals' skills and state enhancements. The costs, pre-requisites and benefits of each state enhancement gave us much headache at one point in time. They were reviewed and adjusted time and again before we were happy with their balance.

FURTHER PLAYTESTS WITH BRANDON

Further playtests with Brandon gave very promising results. For one, issues and concerns were starting to decrease in magnitude. In particular, the various scoring categories were bringing out the feel of the three kingdoms well. Players had multi-faceted concerns to contend with, much akin to how a warlord must have had to go through running a state.

PLAYTEST RESULTS

1) Popular Support Token
Popular support tokens were not used to increase the bid. Instead, players tended to retain them for end game scoring. As a result, there was usually a popular support accumulation race throughout a game.

2) Bidding Criteria
Bidding for the Control Han Emperor action space was based on combat while bidding for the Win Popular Support action space was based on administration. A player who chose to recruit combat or administration-heavy generals will have a high chance of winning the respective action spaces, thereby improving the chances of winning the corresponding scoring category. This led to some predictability in the game, i.e., a "samey" feel from game to game with respect to these two categories.

CHANGES MADE

1) Introduction of Upkeep
An upkeep cost was imposed on the popular support tokens on hand. This was designed to reduce the propensity towards accumulation and to encourage its use during bidding.

2) Bidding Criteria
The bidding criteria for the Control Han Emperor and Win Popular Support action spaces would alternate between administration and combat from round to round. This made winning the corresponding scoring categories less straightforward. Recruitment also became more balanced, with both administration and combat-heavy generals required to do well. This was also thematic in an indirect way, as a successful state needs both wise administrators and strong generals.

As a result of this change, combat-heavy generals were viewed as weaker than administration-heavy generals. To address this imbalance, the bidding criteria for battle action spaces were changed from maximum of administration and combat plus number of army units to combat and number of army units. This came with the added benefit of a small thematic improvement; we always thought it was a tad strange for the battle action spaces' bidding criterion to include administration.

•••


Playtesting was progressing well with the regular sessions with Brandon. Based on the feedback and results of each session, we made adjustments until eventually arriving at what we felt was a stable game backbone. From then on, we did not expect major changes to the game mechanisms and and just tweaks to the generals' skills and state enhancement cards. These adjustments would be based on the winning statistic of each state as well as the likelihood of generals being recruited or state enhancement cards being played.

As our game's playtime is reasonably long, averaging between 135 and 150 minutes, we took extra care about approaching friends or other boardgamers for playtesting. It was not until we were satisfied with the results from the playtesting sessions with our regular playtesters that we started to approach our friends and local boardgamers for additional playtesting or blind playtesting sessions.

PLAYTESTS WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY

We joined a local gaming club at the beginning of 2010 and made quite a number of board gaming friends there. We approached some of those who preferred heavy Eurogames to playtest our game and they acceded! A few of them (Weiliang, Tatu, Jeffrey, Ashleigh, Favian and Michael) have since tried our game for a number of times, playing with different states.

Ashleigh (left) and Favian (right) playtesting our game

My brother had also just graduated from his university course at around this time. While looking for a job, he volunteered some of his spare time to playtest our game.

My brother playtesting our game on a mahjong table

A number of other friends outside of the gaming club also volunteered their time to playtest our game and provided us with valuable feedback.


PLAYTEST RESULTS

1a) Tightness in Resources
Resources (gold and rice) were tight in the game. This limited the actions a player could take and hindered the player's ability to station army units at border locations. One such feedback we received was that the tightness made gameplay feel like "work".

1b) Stationed General
It was penalizing to station a general with only one army unit since a general is unavailable for future bidding.

2) Blocked out from Recruiting/Training Armies
A player might be blocked out from recruiting untrained armies and/or training them as only one action space existed for each.

3) General Recruitment
Recruitment for each state at the start of the game: Wei drew six general cards and chose four, Wu drew five and chose three, Shu drew four and chose two. Since Shu started off as the weakest state, there was concern that Shu does not have significantly more options than the other two states during the initial general recruitment.

4) Insufficient weapon differentiation
There was not much differentiation between the four weapon types. Players commented that it did not matter to them which weapons they are producing during the game.

CHANGES MADE

1) Reduce Resource Tightness
Reducing tightness of resources via introducing the granary and treasury spaces, adding another option into the harvest and collect tax actions and including border location tokens.

When taking the harvest/collect tax action, each flipped farm/marketplace token on the state's farm/marketplace development space could either be converted to five rice/four gold or be placed on the granary/treasury space. Each flipped farm/marketplace token on the granary/treasury reduced the state's stationed armies upkeep by one rice/gold token at the end of each round.

This translated into a significant amount of savings in resources, especially when the flipped farm/marketplace tokens were placed on the granary/treasury early in the game.

Having occupied new territory in the form of a border location, it was reasonable to expect that the new territory would produce some resources. We needed another mechanism to reduce the upkeep. More importantly, it had to reduce the upkeep by a greater percentage when deploying generals with only one army, which meant some camouflaging of the mechanism was required.

The border location tokens were created with the above considerations in mind. Placing the border location tokens on a state's granary or treasury was akin to receiving some form of regular income from the occupied territory. They also provided the perfect camouflage of decreasing upkeep by a greater percentage for deployment of one army: Upkeep for deployment of one army was now halved, whilst that for deployment of two armies was reduced by only 25%. Players are therefore faced with the choice between upkeep payment and victory points earned.

Developed farm, developed marketplace and border location tokens

2a) Alternative Avenues for Recruiting Armies
Other avenues to recruiting untrained armies were introduced. The demand tribute action space doubled up as a lesser recruitment action space. State enhancement cards and generals' skills were reviewed (again!) to provide other means of obtaining untrained armies.

2b) Alternative Avenues for Training Armies
An additional action space was introduced for training of army units. Bidding for this action space was based on administration, in contrast to the other training action space which was based on combat. The drawing of additional enhancement cards action was eventually added to this action space.

3) Recruitment
All states drew six general cards at the start of the game and recruited 4/3/2 generals accordingly. This boosted Shu's initial options. Wu's initial options were also increased, but to a smaller extent.

4) Army Type Specialization
Army type specializations was introduced as a new attribute for each general. If the generals were deployed with their corresponding army type specialization, they would earn 1 victory point from the border location token. The border location token was still placed on the treasury/granary and still reduced stationed armies' upkeep by one gold/rice.

This addition was made to differentiate between the different weapons and army types. We already had a number of state enhancements that gave bonus victory points for different army types, but these were deemed insufficient by our playtesters. The army type specializations meant weapon production planning was vital to earning the victory points from the border location tokens.

We researched and tried to make the generals' army specializations as historically accurate as possible. Unfortunately, this was not always possible as we also needed to make sure the total number of army specializations was balanced with the number of border locations requiring each army type for each state.

The four weapon types in the game: spear, horse, crossbow and vessel

5) Flavor Text
There were suggestions to include some form of flavor text for the general cards to enhance the theme of the game. We adopted the suggestion by including flavor text to the three lord cards. Besides enhancing the flavor, it also served to differentiate the lord cards from the rest of the general cards.

BLIND PLAYTESTING

We attended a local gaming convention to seek feedback from the local gaming community. A number of them (Alexis, Adrian, Bohan, Ou Yang) volunteered their valuable time to try out our game.




In addition, we were invited by a local game reviewer, Eric Teo to playtest at his home with a few other local boardgamers (David Chiu and Kok Hian).


We also received help from Juan M. Medina, Ana Forero and their daughter Sara Medina. They took the time to produce their own prototype (which consists of quite a number of components) to playtest and provide us with feedback. We are very grateful for their time and effort! Their feedback led to much improvement to our rulebook.
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We received much valuable feedback from all blind playtesters and due consideration was given to all suggestions. Much of the feedback received pertained to the rules. Observation of the game play also gave us a better idea of the areas in the rules that needed further clarification.

FEEDBACK RECEIVED & CHANGES IMPLEMENTED

1) General Cards
• Some general skills were reworded to make them clearer and a compendium has been uploaded on our website for players' reference.
• Adjustments were made to the layout of the cards, e.g. enlarging the icons on the cards
An example of the changes made to the layout for Liu Bei's card

2) Rulebook
• Most Chinese wordings were removed from the rules to make for smoother reading.
• Replacement of some of the terms used in the rules, mainly to avoid confusion.
• Certain rules — e.g., alliance action space, improve tribal relations action space, and military VP earned — were misinterpreted by the players. We extended the explanations of them and included pictures and examples as further clarification.
• Cosmetic changes were made to the domestic development mechanism to remove the clutter on both development action spaces, thereby improving the flow of the game.

3) Gameboard
• Some action spaces on the prototype game board have lengthy descriptions and were not easily understood by players. The final version of the game board comes with icons instead of wordings to describe the actions. There is a strong preference among our playtesters for the icons, which can be understood easily.
• The wordings on our prototype game board were facing all directions and some players experienced difficulty reading them. The main suggestion received was to have a game board with all information facing in one direction. We kept this in mind when planning the layout for the game board. All the wordings and icons on the final game board face the Wei player. The Wu and Shu players flanks the Wei player and are able to read the wordings and icons easily as well.
• We also received many suggestions from players regarding the design of the game board, such as not to paint the board too dark and not to include too much frills that may overwhelm the functionality of the board. These were kept in mind when we worked with our artist on the design of the game board.

Picture of the actual game board

4) Additional Suggestions
Players thought it would be useful to include the following items:
• A list that summarizes the use of the tokens, especially those which are for one-time use vs. repeated usage.
• Tips for players to shorten their learning curve and help new players to formulate effective strategies right from their initial plays.
• An example play, e.g. one full round, to aid new players' understanding of the rules.

PLAYTESTING BETWEEN OURSELVES FOR A TWO-PLAYER VARIANT

Like us, many boardgamers play board games mainly with their spouses/partners. For this reason, we thought it would be worthwhile to attempt a two-player variant for our game.

Objectives of the Two-Player Variant
• Retain the theme of the three kingdoms, i.e., the tension between players is maintained and the alliance action can still be implemented effectively.
• Make it simple to implement and learn, i.e., do not need to include too many additional rules nor involve too many changes to the base game.
• Maintain the fun factor of the base game.

Observations
We spent a few months playtesting various possible ideas between ourselves. The results were unfortunately not satisfactory.

We found that we needed to include quite a number of additional rules for the dummy third player, which felt cumbersome. Another unfortunate development was the loss of a huge chunk of the base game's theme. The natural balance between the three states was no longer there, largely due to the arbitrary rules we had to put in place for the dummy player. As a result, much of the fun from the base game seemed to have gone missing.

After more thought, we concluded that no matter how "smart" we make the dummy player, we will not be able to replicate that delicate balance between the three states when played by three human players. In the end, we decided to stop work on the two-player variant. We do not wish to include a two-player variant for the sake of making our game seem more scalable when the variant wasn't really that viable.

•••


The above playtests were interspersed with our regular playtests with Brandon. We are grateful to all playtesters for their time and feedback as they offered us different perspectives upon which adjustments could be made for the betterment of the game. We would also like to thank all BGG users who have supported us, via their advice and feedback as well as proofreading our rules. We are very grateful to all of you! BGG is indeed a supportive and helpful community!

After four years of hard work, Three Kingdoms Redux has finally become a reality. We had set out to replicate the experience of a lord governing his state during the often chaotic three kingdoms period via our game. We hope we have succeeded and that you will enjoy the game as much as we do!

Christina Ng Zhen Wei and Yeo Keng Leong

Game set up and ready for play!
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Fri Dec 5, 2014 4:00 pm
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