Asger Harding Granerud(AsgerSG)DenmarkEarly Flamme Rouge prototype
Daniel and I have been designing games for quite some years by now, and it is extremely rare that you feel you "know" you have a hit. Moreover we have had that feeling a couple of times when we just end up being flat out wrong, so "knowing" might also be somewhat of an exaggeration. (The reality = you never know.)
Normally we shop our prototype designs around at fairs to lots of great publishers, but Heat: Pedal to the Metal just had something about it since the very first tests in the summer of 2018. Thus, we have pitched it to only a single publisher, and we even contemplated publishing it ourselves if that fell through. Thankfully Days of Wonder agreed with us not long after we pitched it at SPIEL '18. They even wanted to proceed with our artist of choice, Vincent Dutrait, whom we had already contacted.
Obviously that brief introduction makes it sound like a smooth ride to the present day. It never is smooth, and it wasn't here. Though some very core elements never really changed, the number of iterations that have been tested are staggering. We will try to take you through this journey today.
Daniel: It has been a long journey indeed, and Covid didn't help. Over the years Heat: Pedal to the Metal has been tested hundreds and hundreds of times by us here in Copenhagen, online, and traveling with it to Los Angeles, New York, London, Warsaw, Aarhus, and Paris to name a few places (and Franck Lefebvre from DoW has done the same with even more travels). One of many memorable test days was playing with Quinns and Matt from Shut Up & Sit Down at the Danish con Fastaval in 2019. At the time we thought the game was pretty close to completion. Oh, the naïveté — we still had the turbo die back then. Quinns and Matt shared their experience in episode 95 of their SU&SD podcast. Heat was called "Auto" back then.
Through Flamme Rouge we had seen that an accessible racing game had the potential to gain an audience, including a dedicated fan group on BoardGameGeek. We figured that there could be a similar market for a car-racing game. Obviously the market is already saturated with such games, but personally I'm not a huge fan of the roll-and-move element of the biggest one out there (Formula D), and many other games in the category are racing themed, but combine racing with betting elements or similar. We figured it was the right time for a new racing game to take pole position. From the beginning it was a clear premise that we wanted a pure racing game in which the first across the line wins. I wrote some similar thoughts in my designer diary for Flamme Rouge in 2016, and most of that also applies here.
What Makes It Different?
The elephant in the room that is already being discussed is what makes Heat: Pedal to the Metal different from Flamme Rouge. The simple answer is hand management vs. deck management. For me, the most fundamental design dogma of Flamme Rouge has always been that a card is only ever played once. As soon as it has been played, it is permanently removed from the game. This represents the fact that energy is being depleted as you race towards the finish line, and it is why I have described the design as a deck-thinning game in the past. The remaining cards are discarded and eventually become available again. Flamme Rouge is essentially about managing your energy over time, and jockeying for positional benefits along the way. Draw four cards, play one, and save the rest. It's hand management from turn to turn, about current priorities and chances, with decisions that always have consequences down the line.
However, a car obviously doesn't get "tired" in the same manner as a bicycle rider. Even so, these early racing cars could overheat, malfunction, have tires run down, and encounter a number of other issues. Thus the fundamental design dogma of Heat: Pedal to the Metal isn't about thinning your deck; it is about managing it as the same cards cycle past your hand again and again, with your engine overheating and cooling down. The large hand size allows more immediate control as you don't discard the round's leftover cards. The timing of how you handle the cycling of the deck represents the various mechanical issues that you have to react to, as well as preparation for the corner or straight coming up. The cards you choose not to play don't represent energy you are saving for later in the game; they become part of what choices you may have access to on the very next turn or subsequent ones. Should I hold on to a high-speed card when there are still two corners to navigate before the long straight, or should I discard it for more flexibility in the short run? My mindspace requires more than just clearing the next corner/straight; the hand- and deck-management forces me to constantly prepare and look further ahead.
We felt that using a card deck per player coupled with simultaneous play could give us a unique racing experience, which crucially should deliver a full playthrough within the hour. From these simple premises and all the inspiration around it, lots of elements flowed naturally, and never really changed:
• We knew we wanted to implement gears and decided that the gear determined the number of cards you had to play. A higher gear would equal more cards, resulting in a higher speed — perfect to gain momentum on straights.
• Corners would obviously force you to lower your speed, depending on how sharp they were.
• In between corners, we would need straights where you could really reach peak speed.
• Different cards would have different speed values.
• We wanted some way of "pushing" the limits of your car, so that deciding when to time the push would be interesting.
Our expectation was that the above should create tension between when you would want to be in lower gears (corners) or higher gears (straights), and that the different speed values would result in both hand and deck management, causing additional tension. All this within a streamlined and intuitive card play that made sense thematically.
Daniel: The gear = the number of cards mechanism was always part of Heat: Pedal to the Metal. This image is from SPIEL '18 while first showing the prototype to Days of Wonder.
Left Along the Roadside
During that initial process, several elements we thought would be essential ended up being removed. Initially we had different types of severity of "damage", as well as brake cubes as a separate element. Eventually all of these were streamlined into the abstracted "Heat" card. Pit stops were also an initial design goal, which proved to be too cumbersome to implement. The rules for a pit stop could be pretty straightforward, but balancing it for an interesting experience inside the two laps that a race lasts proved outside our capabilities and/or the design's boundaries.
Initially we had a die that we used for the turbo boost before removing it and using the draw deck as a randomizer. Even that feature went through iterations in which all cards had a "flip value", until we simply just tied it to the core speed cards. Often when we design we are looking for the simplest rule to implement that still achieves the desired results, but just as often there are several contradictory dilemmas in what is "simplest". This design is a great example in which we initially wanted the game flow to be as fast as possible (roll one die), then changed it along those lines (flip one card). The result was that in order to avoid flipping many cards for the sake of game flow, we added new values to all cards. When we eventually ditched that ambition, the new rules removed graphic complexity and rules confusion from ALL cards, while the "cost" of occasionally flipping a few extra cards actually became a feature, not a bug.
In many ways this change ended up adding more randomness to the consequence of the boost, and even changed our stance on whether you could check what was in your discard and draw piles. (You cannot.) In all versions the actual boost to your speed had almost identical consequences from a pure mechanical point of view, but even small developments sometimes end up having cascading effects.
Daniel: The flip speed made so much sense...until we removed it and nobody missed it.
The corners are probably the single design element that went through the most iterations. We wanted a solution that slowed down players but also allowed for creative play and ways to sometimes break out of those restrictions. Considering the simplicity of the final implementation, this may seem surprising. We have tried to show many of the different versions in the photo below, but we are sure we have missed at least a few. There were a lot of minor and major iterations, and even some we can't remember the rules for! Often we find a rule that we are happy with, but still try to deconstruct it in as many ways as we can. For a car-racing game, there really couldn't be a feature we needed to consider more thoroughly than the corners. We even tested versions we assumed would not work, just because we have found our assumptions to be wrong more times than we can count and wanted to be certain.
Daniel: Let me see whether I can remember these old corner designs. A) A very early design. You had to stop in the corner zone and lower your speed to the required number, either as you enter or exit. The marker is there to help you remember when a corner is cleared. Not very elegant! B) I had completely forgotten about this iteration. One speed limit for entering and another for exiting. C) I am not sure what is going on here, but it is obvious from the huge exclamation mark that this corner is super dangerous. D) Two separate lanes. The inner lane is shorter but requires a lower speed to not spin out. E) Here we are close to the final design but with an orange spinout zone where you move your car to slowly re-enter the circuit. F) The final design. Just a number and a line.
Each player has a deck of cards, and each deck has 12 speed cards with three each of the numbers 1-4. The deck also has three Stress cards, which add uncertainty because their speed will be decided by a flipped card from the top of your speed deck. Normally cards can be discarded at will at the end of your turn, but the Heat and Stress cards are exempt from this, meaning you have to consider how and when to get rid of them. Time it well, and you are driving smoothly.
Daniel: I love how Vincent Dutrait expresses speed across the numbered cards. It was an idea we played around with in early hand-drawn prototypes that I am really happy survived to the final product.
Speaking of Heat cards, not only are they so central that they became the name of the game, they are also the central mechanism used for breaking the core rules. Want to move a little faster with a boost? Spend a Heat card from your player board. Want to speed through a corner? Spend Heat cards. Want to skip a gear? Spend a Heat card. Once you start tuning your own cars, several of the upgrades will also require you to...spend Heat cards.
The trouble with Heat cards is that spending them isn't a freebie. Once spent, they move into your discard pile, and when your draw deck runs out, your discard pile becomes your new draw deck. Thus, eventually these Heat cards end up in your hand, and when in your hand they can be neither played nor discarded. This means they stay in your hand as a "dead" card, reducing your effective hand size, and thus reducing your control.
So how do you get the excess Heat that keeps building up out of your hand? Through the lower gears or specialized upgrade cards, you get access to cooldown. Cooldown allows you to move Heat cards from your hand back into the available Heat reserve, ready to be used again. The trick is not to avoid using Heat cards; it is to use them cleverly and as much as you can without overheating. Time them well, and you will be driving fast and breaking boundaries.
Unsurprisingly this effect entails that timing once again matters. If you have just shuffled a lot of Heat cards into your draw deck, you could be in big trouble. You could draw several Heat cards into your hand at a moment when you want to be in a higher gear playing many cards. On the other hand, if you're heading towards sharp corners and would be using the lowest gears, this might be a great opportunity for you to actually replenish your Heat reserves. Managing how and when you push your car that little bit extra is a big part of the game.
Daniel: I have often described Heat: Pedal to the Metal as 13 Days the racing game, and only half jokingly. In 13 Days you aim to push your agendas during the Cuban Missile Crisis more so than your opponent, but without going to DEFCON 1 and starting a nuclear war. In Heat: Pedal to the Metal you want to drive your car faster than your opponents around the track but without overheating and spinning out. The Heat cards are there in front of you to be used, but be careful!
Daniel: When things go wrong, you end up with a handful of Heat cards. This is extremely unfortunate on a long straight section when you want to go in high gears (insert evil laughter).
Daniel: This is where I step in and admit that I preferred player powers over upgrades for the longest time. I saw player powers as an opportunity to create stronger in-game characters. If the blue race car is always Tango Silva, then he'll be racing regardless of a player or the bots being in control.
So how did the game end up with 48 unique upgrade cards and no player powers? The big push came when we visited Days of Wonder in Paris in late 2019 to work on the game in their office. We saw several people being frustrated by playing a character that didn't perform well on the chosen track, even though it would outperform the other characters on the next.
We always take it seriously when people start blaming the game for their ill fortunes and want to address any underlying issues. The issue at hand was that player powers couldn't be both unique and mechanically interesting, while also being fairly balanced across the different race tracks. We had all these thoughts as we walked back to our hotel. The next morning we had decided to go all-in on upgrades and had sketched the first 20-25 rough designs before we left Paris the next evening.
The final game has 48 unique upgrades (two of each for 96 total). You draft three upgrades before each race in the advanced game, giving players thousands of combinations to explore across the various race tracks. I reckon we have probably tested twice as many upgrades and selected the best, thinking that many of these would only ever be introduced in a future expansion if the game were successful enough. When DoW decided to publish the big box, we were ready with a lot of true and tested concepts.
Daniel: During development we often laid out all upgrade cards on the table, using colored cubes to mark cards we considered too strong/weak/not interesting enough (left image). To the right, the 48 upgrades that made the final cut.
As soon as we settled on a 1960s car-racing setting, we knew we wanted to create circuits where you can race multiple laps. We also knew we wanted a modular component to keep the challenge fresh if you play the same track twenty or fifty times. The solution: the weather and road condition tokens that modify corners or straights and provide a new randomized set-up every game. For example: That 4 corner you used to speed through is suddenly extra dangerous, or one sector provides more slipstream opportunities to overtake other cars, or it is raining and you shuffle Heat cards into your draw deck at the beginning, giving you a car that is harder to manage from the start line.
There are four unique race tracks in the box. The design goal for each of them was to offer the best play experience, which is why we have created our own tracks from the ground up and not modeled them around real-life tracks where our game system did not fit. They are asking you different questions, like:
• USA: Can you go into the last chicane still in contention and with four Heat cards in your engine?
• Great Britain: Will you time your speed and slipstream to clear multiple corners in a turn?
• Italy: While it is tempting to shoot through the corners, be careful not to end up with a handful of Heat cards on the very long straight.
• France: Can you cycle through your deck fast enough to be able to reuse Heat cards multiple times?
I am sure there are loads of ways to explore new track designs in the future — and hopefully there'll be a community who can challenge and inspire us.
Daniel: The very first prototype used Flamme Rouge tracks (lazy designers), but we quickly concluded that our game would need a proper game board in which you could run laps.
Daniel: How do weather and road condition tokens affect gameplay? Here's an example. Weather forecast is rain. You may draw Heat into your hand early game (bummer), but you can always cooldown Heat on the very long straight (left image). Bad asphalt in the corner. The speed limit is reduced to 1! But on the sector leading up to the corner you may slipstream extra spaces, allowing you an advantageous position as you approach the corner (right image).
From early days we knew we wanted to create bots to allow for more cars to compete against at both low and high player counts. We were also looking for a solution in which one player could easily control several bots without having to manage multiple decks and flow charts, that is, playing the game of the bots and not their own, which isn't much fun. Solution: A single deck of cards for all bots. Reveal a single card each round.
The second design goal was for the bots to behave like a human player in its most simple sense. (We had to cut a few corners.) That means if they are close enough to the next corner, they'll attempt to clear it, but only sometimes making it through. If they are on a straight, they want to move as fast as possible towards the next corner, but their top speed may vary.
The third design goal was for the bots to actually be playable by others than the two of us. More than once we made a new iteration for the bots only to have it fail miserably when met with real-life testers. In theory that bot design should work fine, but since players didn't understand how to run them, we had to come up with a better solution. Slowly we made them simpler and more intuitive with the above constraints.
The final design goal was to balance them. We wanted them to be a real challenge, while also controlling their performance to avoid having too many outliers of very strong or very bad play. A friend of ours helped us program a bot simulator so that we could tweak values and run hundreds of thousands of tests to tune their performance on a given track, tracking the distribution of rounds they would take to complete a race.
The bots are still designed primarily for players of some experience — which is why they belong to the advanced rules — as we want new players to think only about learning to drive their race car. But anyone reading this is likely to be completely fine using them from game one!
Daniel: I have run countless solo tests against bots to get the feel of opponents right. The bots are, of course, a bit stronger on some tracks. (I'll let you discover which ones for yourself.) Luckily, the difficulty level can be adjusted by increasing or decreasing their top speed.
We made an expandable core system, and from the get-go DoW was interested in making it possible for potential fans of the game to dive deep, if they felt inclined to do so. This is why so much content was ready.
For a long time we thought it would be an almost simultaneous release of two boxes, but once DoW decided to go with a single bigger box from the beginning, we and the team ended up having to decide what should go in it and what shouldn't, while trying to keep the price point as accessible as possible. Never perfect for everyone, and always hard to find the right balance.
However, the idea of adding a campaign-style experience to the game was possible without being too costly. We knew that a series of games could be linked as in the real world, with a points system based on your finishes across several races, but we wanted the experience to be a little grander, so we didn't stop there. Each such race would have an event that adds a race-wide special rule to the game, and the ten such events in the game can be shuffled and played as you wish. However, they can also be played in order across the 1961, 1962, and 1963 seasons, combining the three championships into a tailored campaign to see who would be the GOAT.
When playing in the campaign mode you gradually improve your car from race to race, starting off worse than the cars in the ordinary races and eventually ending up stronger. You fight for points in the championship, and you aim to please potential sponsors by catching the press attention when racing. Sponsorships provide single-use bonus cards that can help you win if used at the right moment.
Combine the variability of the upgrade cards with the weather and road conditions, and you've already got millions of potential playthroughs. With events and sponsorships on top, that number moves into the trillions before you would expect a repeat set-up.Daniel (l) and Asger at SPIEL '22
The official U.S. release date for Heat: Pedal to the Metal is November 25, 2022. We hope you will enjoy playing the game as much as we have enjoyed making and playing it. We truly believe in it, and the job DoW has made on production value is, as always, through the roof. Finally, we leave you with two quotes from some of the early days of racing. Quotes that we think fully apply to the spirit of Heat: Pedal to the Metal:Quote:Any car which holds together for more than a race is too heavy.Asger Harding Granerud
If everything seems to be in control, you're not going fast enough.
- Mario Andretti
Daniel Skjold Pedersen
To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Archive for Asger Sams Granerud
Fri Nov 25, 2022 7:00 am
- [+] Dice rolls
Asger Harding GranerudDenmarkEarly Flamme Rouge prototype
I apologize up front, but I'm going to start with a quick personal detour, a detour very much made possible by the BGG community. You see, back in February 2018 I was lucky enough to go full time into game design, something that just three years ago I wouldn't have thought possible. Even after the initial release of Flamme Rouge, I still didn't really dare to dream of it, and if friends or family asked I would deflect by simply saying it was a hobby that could earn some nice pocket change. Two years after that release, we have now released the second expansion, and the base game has snuck into the top 250 here on BGG! It's even in the top 30 family games!
The road here had its bumps along the way, and in some ways it is still an uphill struggle. Sports games just aren't easy sells in our market — not to gamers, not to publishing partners, and not to retailers. However, here on BGG a community of gamers formed and embraced the game. I had put out a few variant "expansions" of the base game, available here in the files section, but today those are drowned out by variant stages, alternate rider types, and many, many more things created by gamers from this community. A fan in France even made (and still updates!) a free app that can be used to track the Grand Tour campaign style which Flamme Rouge can be played with!
It is my sincere belief that those gamers here, and the lasting attention they've given to Flamme Rouge, is what has pushed publishing partners to give it an extra look because it hasn't been an easy sell, with a fast sprint for the game to be available everywhere. But such partners are still coming on-board, and as they localize it, the game also starts to appear in retail across the world, and I give a huge part of that credit to this very community. In the glut of releases, this title could easily have disappeared.
Since 2016, I have had about ten games released, and several of those have already slipped into the back of the pack, unlikely to recover. That is the name of the game, but it is also why I think it is important to thank you all because the success of Flamme Rouge is the single item that has allowed me to make that jump into full-time game design. I am loving every minute of it and hoping to bring you many more laughs and joy in the years to come!
"Meteo" means weather in France, and for this second expansion to the base game, that is exactly what we are covering. If you know anything about cycling, or simply if you have played the base game of Flamme Rouge, you will know that the sport is basically about air. Air is hard to move. This is why you will be exhausted if you're trying to push at it for too long, and why you can save your energy if you let someone else in front of you push it out of the way.
You do not need to know anything about cycling to know that air also moves. It is called wind. Unsurprisingly this fact is an important element of professional cycling. The direction of wind can really impact a race!
A strong headwind means that while you are pushing forward into the air, it is also pushing against you. This makes the race harder for everyone. However, if you're riding in a big pack you can still take turns leading it and thus reduce its impact by sharing it. If you're riding on your own, there is no one to share it with. In real cycling races, this often means that breakaways get caught easier as their exhaustion will show sooner.
In Flamme Rouge: Meteo, a rider exposed to headwinds draws only three cards a turn as opposed to the customary four cards. This reduces your choices and increases the impact of each exhaustion card you have. This change shows most clearly if you have a sole breakaway rider with lots of exhaustion and 10-12 cards in their deck as opposed to a sprinter approaching the sprint with only 4-5 cards left. The impact of drawing one card less is much greater for the former than the later.
If you're experiencing a tailwind, then the air molecules are moving in the same direction you're already traveling, lessening the speed with which they impact your body. A breakaway with a tailwind can be very hard to catch, even for a large pack of riders.
In Meteo, this is represented by making riders in a tailwind draw five cards, making it more likely they will find that last bit of energy in their deck, keeping them ahead of any chasers.
When the wind is blowing strongly across the road, rather than along it as with head and tailwinds, the benefit of riding in a pack diminishes. You are not as protected by the rider in front of you as the wind is propelling air in between you from the side. In real life cycling, this often leads to even tiny gaps extending to become large gaps; the slipstream provided simply isn't strong enough. Often these provide opportune moments to attack.
In Meteo, this effect is represented by a straightforward rule with which players are already familiar: On a section with crosswind, slipstreaming does not apply. As a result, small gaps open up, and attacks become more likely. Just take a look at these before/after photos of a large peloton entering crosswinds.
The final piece of weather included in Meteo isn't related to wind, but rather to the surface condition of the roads. Heavy rains, loose gravel, or even snow and ice can pose a real threat to any cyclist. If you are in such conditions, and you try to brake, you may crash. If a big pack is moving quickly, then one cyclist crashing may cause several others to do the same.
In Flamme Rouge, you often end up braking because it's what happens when you get blocked. You went forward with a certain amount of energy and speed, but since the road was too congested you had to brake and stop behind those riders. In Meteo, if the conditions are wet and you are blocked and thus forced to slam the brakes, then you crash — which again may cause others to crash.
But WHY Weather? Really?
Weather in cycling is part of what keeps any given race fresh. As an example, we can look at Paris-Roubaix. This grueling cobblestone spring classic, which was first raced more than 120 years ago(!), obviously hasn't retained the exact same course throughout history. In fact, small changes are made almost every year. However, those changes do not matter nearly as much to the spectacle as the weather does. A race day with fine weather and calm winds is a very different experience than one with pouring rain and strong crosswinds. (I can't post the best images demonstrating this, but you can search for them yourself by typing "Paris Roubaix Mud" into Google images — or just click here.)
And this is why I wanted weather to be the second expansion for Flamme Rouge. It is a small expansion, but it ensures you can ride the same stages over and over again and get a slightly new experience each time you play because the weather on that particular day changed.
The game comes with premade stages, but the interlocking pieces also allow you to build your own tracks. However, I know that a lot of gamers do not want to invest the time to build their own tracks. It isn't easy doing so, and if you lay them out at random, you might get something close to unplayable. With this expansion, you can easily play the twelve official stages — six from the base game, six from the Peloton expansion — forever.
A small personal note is how the weather also affects the Grand Tours. In my own gaming group, six of us run a full 21-stage Grand Tour every year. Stages are presented ahead of time so that you can study them and plan your strategy to ensure that riders are ready for the stage in which you expect them to pounce. Weather throws a curveball at you, though, and no matter how well you plan, you cannot predict exactly how it will act out on race day.
When testing the initial expansion, I tried a couple of different solutions to depict the weather, and one element shared by all of them was that they were easy to forget. Either a token was lying on the table, or a card was showing it, but whatever the case people forgot it — even I did during testing because Flamme Rouge is such a fast flowing game. A token across the room in bad lighting just wouldn't cut it. This is when we decided to create standees: to help draw attention to the weather, to summarize its rules, to minimize people forgetting about it, and to look great, of course!
Testing, Testing, Testing
All four types of weather started out being tested with alternative rules. Of course I had "no slipstream" in mind for crosswind, but I wanted to test some of the variants suggested here on BGG. I especially remember trying to reverse the order in which to slipstream in a crosswind: front to back rather than the base back to front. Head and tailwinds both had movement increasing/decreasing alternatives put in, or an increase/decrease of exhaustion, or a change to the length of slipstream provided. Crashes were also hard to get just right, so as to not be too punishing (it is a game, after all), while still ensuring they created the tension a good crash risk should create.
What all the weather rules I ended up choosing have in common is that I thought they would create the right feel when playing, the feel of actual cycling — not necessarily in the rules being read out, but when the game was played. In the spirit of Flamme Rouge in general, I also wanted to create rules that were easy to understand with no barrier to entry. Overall, I am happy with how they turned out, and I think this addition creates that abstraction of real life, just enough for players to believe in it and fill out the gaps themselves.
The weather forecast, or the randomization of the weather effects, is probably what ended up being tested the most. At least five different systems were tested, but shared by them all was that their "realism" didn't add to the experience. Rules can so easily become convoluted if you're not careful minding your objective with them. The final solution is as accessible as it gets and easily delineates where the effect starts and stops.
For the last year or so, I have been testing new rider powers/types and new track types. I am hoping we will release yet another expansion in 2019, making it four boxes in four years. Currently we are considering making this expansion based on a cityscape so that the tiles would show towns from that era, and of course some of the problems those conditions offer. I would love to share more, but as the decision to publish it isn't even final, I'll leave it at this tease.
You Made It to the Finish Line!
If you made it so far, thank you very much. If you have any unanswered questions, please do not hesitate to ask. I've tried to cover everything, but I am bound to have left something out. If you liked what you read and want to read more, consider reading my designer diaries about the Flamme Rouge base game and about the Peloton expansion.
Asger Harding Granerud
Mon Dec 24, 2018 1:00 pm
- [+] Dice rolls
Asger Harding GranerudDenmarkEarly Flamme Rouge prototype
Flamme Rouge's life here on BGG, it should come as no surprise that an expansion would be coming. From before the base game released in late 2016, I had released extra print-and-play expansions in the files section. Since then, fans from around the world have helped develop these things and provided lots of input that has inspired me — not least the awesome Benoît Gourdin from France, who contacted me out of the blue and asked whether he could turn the Grand Tour campaign mode into a completely free companion app (Android and IoS). This is just one example where a fan vastly improved upon what I was doing, and personally I haven't looked back. However, the community has also worked on solo play, lots of stages, velodrome rules, mountain and sprint jerseys for the tours, and much, much more.
Therefore, the hardest choice was to decide what to include and what to cut (for now!) in the Flamme Rouge: Peloton expansion — and I am certain that whatever I chose, there would be some who wished I had prioritized otherwise. Nonetheless, I decided early that I really wanted to expand the player count of the base game. I hated the idea of Flamme Rouge staying on the shelf simply because five people had turned up for game night. If you like the game, I want to give you as many opportunities as possible to bring it to the table, so we added two new teams: white and pink.
We didn't stop there, though. We also added official solo rules with two different types of AI directly developed by ideas from fans here on BGG. It is fantastic to see how the solo community here has embraced the game! These AI teams can be added to other player counts, too. Add a peloton team to a two-player game, or add two different AI teams to your four-player group and experience the full twelve riders on the road.
The official variant included in the expansion also allows you to play with up to twelve players, all playing free for all! This twelve-player game still plays in 30 minutes because each player has to consider only one rider. Since you can't coordinate your two riders, this variant emphasizes that you have to second guess what everyone else is doing. Of course twelve players also means that on average you will win only 1/12 of the games played, so as in real-life cycling, you have to learn to lose MUCH more than you win and still love it just for the chase! WARNING: You might need a very large table or have all players stand for the entire game.
When I first designed Flamme Rouge, I actually had it as a 2-5 player game — so why was it released as a 2-4 player game? The explanation is quite simple. During the first year, I introduced the game to a lot of people. If there were 2-3 of them, I almost always joined (because I enjoy playing it myself, and still do!). If there were four players, I started skipping and staying out simply to watch. To me, the game got a little worse at five players for a primary and a secondary reason. First, breakaways were harder to pull off, and they provide a lot of the game's tension. Second, congestion meant that riders could end up losing several movement points out of the blue.
These are what I see as the key design challenges in expanding the player count here: congestion and randomization.
CONGESTION: In Flamme Rouge, the road is only two lanes wide. This means that any third rider trying to access a square is blocked and loses movement. Each point of movement is important, so this is a big deal, particularly because losing movement can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and can escalate. You start at the back, try to leapfrog ahead, get blocked, and find yourself in the same position. The issue increases just at the foot of ascends as that terrain feature further blocks your move. With four players and eight riders (two per player), this effect is already present, but at this player count it is a feature, not a bug — something occasional that catches unaware riders out.
However, with twelve riders on the track at the same point, this effect greatly increases, and the risk of chained blocks where you can't even fit on the next free space but end up losing 2-3 squares at once explodes.
Solution? The first solution to this problem is pretty straightforward. Widen the road with a third lane, and the risk of blocking declines dramatically. We tested and found that having these at the start of the stage where riders are most bunched, then at a few key other points of the stage, was again enough to make this congestion a feature and not a bug — well, once we included the solution to the randomization issue explained below.When you are used to seeing at most eight riders on the track, twelve looks intimidating
RANDOMIZATION: I'll explain the main crux of this problem by first exaggerating it. If you roll a single die, there is a 1/6 chance any result will show up. If you roll one thousand dice, the average will be very close to 3.5. Why is this important in Flamme Rouge? Because the game needs random outliers or else breakaways will never happen. Regardless of how wide we make the road, if we gather one hundred riders in a pack, then breaking away will be almost impossible because somebody in that sample will play (or be forced to play) a card that catches you immediately.
The game lives off the tension created by chases, with the chased trying to stay ahead, burning high cards to do so and knowing they now can't compete in a sprint, and with the chasers trying to spend just enough energy to catch them, but save enough to beat the rest in the sprint. Tipping that balance one way or the other can quickly remove some of the key tension.
Solution? The idea I came up with is to reduce the number of dice I roll, or rather reduce the number of riders in the pack. That idea goes counter to the stated goal of the expansion, which is to increase the riders in the pack, but what if we split the pack from the start of the race by taking 1-2 of the riders that would otherwise add to the congestion problem and moving them ahead of the pack. We do this from the start when the congestion problem is largest, and thus minimize it. In a 5-6 player game, up to two riders can go into a breakaway, but the rules also transfer to lower player counts where you send only one rider ahead.
Of course this idea needs balancing to ensure the breakaway has a shot at winning, but not too big a shot. Initially I tried to brute force this balancing, which never quite worked 100%. Then the game's graphic designer Jere Kasanen suggested the perfect solution: Bid for it! This means that the "correct" bid can change based on the stage layout (as some are more suitable for breakaways than others), your starting position, or any starting exhaustion (from handicap or Grand Tours). If you've ever seen the start of a cycle race — and I don't mean when the broadcasting normally starts two hours into a race — there can be quite hectic "bidding" to get away. This solution was less clunky than my first attempts, and it also benefits from mimicking the existing round structure, now just translated into a two-stage bid/auction.Whenever I do get into the breakaway, the lead always seems so fragile, and the peloton so large
Regardless of whether or not you envision Flamme Rouge as only the last kilometer or as the last one hundred, the narrative holds, and all we've done is to speed forward a few turns from a normal race in which a breakaway succeeded.
However, the best part of these breakaways to me is that they also create tension from the beginning. Yes, they help solve a mechanical problem of occasional congestion at larger player counts, but they always add drama at any player count by injecting asymmetry from the first round. I've seen breakaways hold all the way because the peloton didn't agree to chase or split up into multiple minor packs themselves. I have also seen breakaways fail to cooperate or attempt to get greedy with low cards initially, then be caught within the first round or two.
The Peloton expansion also includes two new tile types, aside from the breakaway tile, namely the cobblestones prominently featured on the cover of the box and the supply zones that are also three lanes wide to accommodate the congestion issue. I enjoy how I have been able to change gameplay just by manipulating the tiles and using the already introduced rules in slightly new ways.
SUPPLY ZONES: Supply zones in the Peloton expansion introduce a new rule, or rather an old rule as it has a minimum speed of 4. They work almost exactly like the descends, but the reduction in speed is much more important than you would think at first glance.
From a micro-level perspective, these zones are an abstraction, but only in timed delay. The effect of supply/feed zones in a real race is that you get a small burst of energy if exhausted. In Flamme Rouge, the effect is immediate, whereas in real cycling the effect is in the following kilometers. Despite the delay, these rules achieve just that, and everything in Flamme Rouge is already compressed timewise.
Second, feed zones open the possibility for unsportsmanlike attacks, while everyone is predictably taking supplies. These rules also achieve just that. The peloton is going slow and predictably enough that an attack can be easy to get through — unless of course someone else reads your move.
Finally, these rules slightly favor the sprinters over the rouleurs. This is not super important in the base game, but in Grand Tours or in the three square extended 5-6 player stages, it is a good counter balance. (Yes, the 5-6 player game is longer than you're used to.)
I can understand how it can look like "just" a slower descent, but it was one of many solutions considered, and it was picked because it achieves the macro level feel of real life supply zones in the smoothest way. I hope you will agree once you try it.
Crashes, Why Are There No Crashes?
The last tiles we have in Peloton are the cobblestone tiles. Again, these use existing rules — no slipstream, but any max speed allowed — and otherwise "just" manipulate the number of lanes. So far we've done a lot to minimize the issue of blocking by widening the road, but cobblestones are their own beast.
The cobblestone sections range from 6-11 squares of length and are mostly just a single lane wide, with a few exceptions of two lanes. This dramatically increases the chances of getting blocked, and though there are no added rules for crashes, the macro level effect is almost the same. I've seen sprinters shoot off a nine (their best card) and end up moving only 3-4 squares, effectively removing them from contention.
As a result, much like in real-life cycle races, everyone is quite eager to zoom ahead and be the first to enter the cobblestones as that effectively eliminates the risk of "crashing" too hard. This also means that once entering cobblestones, players seem to get a little more timid for fear of riders ahead of them slowing down, which opens up the possibility for riders in the lead to break away (taking advantage of the lack of slipstream). Cobblestones can make or break your chances, and sometimes it breaks simply because you get unlucky. For me, they are usually some of the most uncomfortable sectors of a stage to navigate, sweaty palms and all.A shot from testing, illustrating how cobblestones can split the peloton into fragments
We have included six new double-sided stages as well, with each side slightly different as one is adapted for 2-4 player games and the other for 5-6 player games. Of course you can always build your own stages; my only concern is if you attempt to overdo it. The more I play, the more I'm growing fond of the simpler stages with just 1-2 sectors of hindering terrain features.
The Finish Line
As you have probably guessed by now, I can keep talking about Flamme Rouge indefinitely. I still love playing it to this day and have played 67 games so far in 2017 — and that accounts only for physical games; the awesome Play By Forum organized by Almarr here on BGG isn't included, nor are stages 14 to 21 in our six-player 21-stage Grand Tour that I finished on the Saturday just before SPIEL '17.
The new expansion has only added to my and my friends' enjoyment, with the breakaways creating tension from the start and the new terrain types providing new challenges. I love playing the game at twelve riders because the pack becomes so massive that it really starts feeling like a peloton. I tend to root for the breakaway, but nonetheless there is something satisfying about seeing a ten-rider peloton charge after them on the final finish, with most of their riders having no exhaustion and plenty of energy. It just feels right, too...
As always, I think Ossi the illustrator has done an outstanding job catching a tense moment on the cover of the box, and it tells a story that is easy to find in the game.
If you're attending SPIEL '17, you can find me signing copies of the base game and expansion in the Lautapelit.fi booth on Thursday (13:00-14:00) and again on Sunday (10:00-11:00). Do come say hi!
Asger Harding Granerud
P.S.: Of course I'm lobbying the publisher to commit to a 2018 expansion, too, as we've already tested new tiles, new card distributions for the riders (including special abilities), Grand Tour rules, weather, and much more! If you are as enthusiastic about the Peloton expansion as I am, then it should be easy getting them on our side...In this shot, the crashes are just looming in the air...
Wed Oct 25, 2017 1:05 pm
- [+] Dice rolls
Designer Diary: A Tale of Pirates, or Isn't Turn-Based Real-Time Play an Oxymoron?
02 Oct 2017
Asger Harding GranerudDenmarkEarly Flamme Rouge prototype
A Tale of Pirates was planted. It was Easter 2012, and I had attended the Danish board and role-playing game convention Fastaval for the first time. While sitting around relaxing, I had a chat with Martin Enghoff, a fellow game designer and participant in the convention. He brainstormed an idea he had had for using sand timers as a "cooldown" mechanism in a board game. Basically you would place your timer on your intended action, but not get to activate it until the sand had fallen. I was immediately sold on that idea!
Disclaimer: Before anyone beheads me for misusing the term "cooldown" mechanism, I'll add that I'm well aware it isn't really what is happening. It was just the initial thing that came to mind!
I love working as part of a team in games, whether fully cooperative designs or other team games. Among my favorites are Captain Sonar, Hanabi, Magic Maze and Flick 'em Up! These four examples all take different approaches to handling the dreaded "alpha player" syndrome through a combination of limiting communication, adding time pressure, or emphasizing dexterity. When done successfully, such games can lead to the elusive and patented "high five moments", moments when upon the achievement of some goal the team erupts into...wait for it...high fiving!
Celebrating achievements in groups brings the pure unadulterated joy of gaming to the forefront. I literally love it! A Tale of Pirates is exactly such a game for me, and I hope you will find it is for you, too. I've played it hundreds of times and seen it played almost as much. When Daniel Skjold Pedersen and I sit down and play it together on the hardest difficulty, we almost move together as one silent well-coordinated machine. A few sharp commands to coordinate the crew's actions can be heard across the deck, but aside from that there are just the waves crashing against the hull. And we still high five after beating a tense mission!
The sand timers add the time pressure that is needed to curtail the alpha players, but does so without the full-on franticness that we've seen in other time-based cooperative games — and frankly a franticness that has previously scared away many "serious" gamers. I can't tell you the number of times we've heard testers say something along these lines: "I normally dislike games with time pressure, but this..." The 30-second wait allows just enough room to breathe, making it possible to talk and coordinate rather than just react. Moreover each scenario is (typically) divided into several chapters, which means you stop at key points throughout, again allowing you to take an even deeper breath and coordinate the next burst of actions. This is why I call it turn-based real-time gaming. It feels turn-based, and it feels real-time. Magic. Pirate magic!Timers and everything else ready for the first mission
But before the magic happened, hard work happened. This is without comparison the most complex design project I've been involved in. The game itself is fairly straightforward, but the ten distinct gaming experiences designed in each mission pulled out some teeth. We have worked hard to ensure that you aren't simply getting slight variations on the same theme, but actually giving varied experiences. I've been quoted as claiming that the basic scenario (#2) is something you could release as a game in its own right, but let's not stop there. Let's add that ten scenarios had to be balanced at three different difficulty levels? That each player count also poses a different balancing challenge? That testing this game became a nightmare because we wanted fresh eyes on the campaign and thus burned through testers faster than you can say "YAAAARGH!" Did I mention that all this had to be baked into an app that we didn't have access to for most of the design period? I've never had as extensive a Google docs sheet to keep track of these multiple overlapping layers, and all for the sake of what is at its core an extremely simple game. All that said, I'm super proud of what we've built and of how Cranio Creations lifted the challenge.
Ten mission packs, a sneak peek at one of them, and the insert for holding cards after a mission has been openedNotes from the development of the app, scenarios, and more (A3)
The journey to get to this point took many years. It involved bursts of intense design, long period of waiting, crazy ambitions, and much more. At the top of the list it also involved Daniel and I for the first time collaborating with a third designer: Daniele Tascini. Daniele is best known for Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar and The Voyages of Marco Polo, but has designed many other games. Note that those two games are very different from A Tale of Pirates; I want to state that loud and clear before anyone buys it hoping to find a heavy Eurogame. Tzolk'in is one of my personal favorite Eurogames, so getting the opportunity to learn how Daniele designs was a great experience!
If you want to read more about the passages we had to navigate and the rocks we hit en route, then please proceed.
A Tale of Pirates is a cooperative game for 2-4 players, ages 8 and up. Inside the box you will find a big 3D pirate ship, cards, and lots of counters. In addition, you get a free downloadable app, which will help you along! The game takes about 20-30 minutes per scenario, but you might not succeed at first. (If you do, consider picking a harder difficulty.) Of course we hope you want to play all ten scenarios, as the narrative, complexity, and craziness evolves at each step. The app will be available for both Android and iOS, and you can play using either a phone or a tablet.Three screenshots from the app
This Is NOT a Legacy Game
Though A Tale of Pirates evolves, it is NOT a legacy game. Changes aren't permanent, and they CAN be reset at any time. However, as the campaign progresses, you DO open envelopes with new content: upgrades, enemies, and more. Each of the ten scenarios are unique, and the app helps handle the bookkeeping, introduces events, and manages reveals as you go deeper into the story. We compare it to a classic computer game in which you can always go back and replay previous levels, but you can't jump ahead until you've finished the level currently in front of you. (Well, you can, and we can't stop you, but we do recommend you try them in order as they wasn't chosen at random.) If you get far enough, you might even encounter whatever lurks beneath!The Kraken is (almost) always lurking beneath the surface
Getting from 2012 to the Present Day
When the initial spark of an idea first happened back in 2012, a whole year passed before I even considered starting the design. Martin Enghoff, who had shared his idea, wanted to build a game for the Fastaval convention the following year. I was so fascinated by the idea that I even proposed a partnership with him to codesign the game, but he declined. As it turned out — and as it almost always turns out — the idea that Martin brought a year later was nothing like what I had in mind. I've since learned not to worry too much about parallel designs as they rarely end up being parallel at all. Slightly different takes on the same idea typically result in vastly different outcomes after the many iterations a board game goes through, at least in my experience.
The spring of 2013 was also the year that Daniel and I started designing 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis together, and since then we have never really looked back. He was thus onboard from the first prototypes and ideas.Three pictures from Fastaval 2012: Me in the white shirt playing Third Person Shooter,the central hall where I first heard of the idea for cooldown, and my first boardgame design: [Mental]-Football
Is It Just a Gimmick?
The pirate theme had solidified one step at a time in my mind. We already had the core mechanism chosen, which was cooperative real-time worker placement. I figured that a ship crew having to cooperate under time pressure was an ideal fit. Pirates face lots of different challenges, so we wouldn't run out of material midway in the design.
The next thing this meant was building a 3D pirate ship. At a quick glance, this could look like a gimmick, but it actually had to be done for game design purposes. The ship is in the middle of the table, but is being swung around when you turn it. The sand timers fell over on early prototypes of the game, so making holes in the deck to hold the sand timers became a practical necessity to ensure a minimum of fiddliness. This is important in any game design, but putting fiddly in the corner is a prime concern when a game is played under any type of time pressure. We want players focused on the game and its choices, not lunging after bits and having their plans thwarted by a fallen timer.
Once decided, this also allowed us to use the 3D feature for a number of other things. The mast was installed as an intuitive place to set a sail, which helps keep track of speed. Hearts were attached to the ship as hit points (or rather hull points in this game), so everyone could see at a glance how good a shape the ship was in. And, assuming you get far enough in the campaign, you might discover other features that can be added to the ship at a later point.
It has been a fantastic journey to get here, and I am proud of the final product the team has delivered. I think you guys are getting an innovative, eye-catching, and fantastic game with a bucket full of content. Of course I am also terribly biased, so for now I can only cross my fingers and hope to see you all make this a runaway hit at SPIEL '17.
P.S.: Daniel and I will demo and sign the game on both Friday and Saturday from 14:00 to 15:00 at SPIEL '17. Come see us at Hall 1: A118!
Mon Oct 2, 2017 1:05 pm
- [+] Dice rolls
Designer Diary: Frogriders, or Leapfrogging from 1687 to the Present Day
24 Sep 2017
Asger Harding GranerudDenmarkEarly Flamme Rouge prototype
Frogriders was Peg Solitaire.
Before I'm beheaded by internet warriors, I am aware that Peg Solitaire is probably closer to a puzzle than a game, by any modern definition. However, I'll posit that at its core Peg Solitaire has a couple of features that makes it ideal to use as a template for a modern game. I firmly believe that Daniel Skjold Pedersen and I have expanded upon these core strengths of Peg Solitaire to make it a viable 2017 title. I hope you will agree, and if you want to learn why I believe so, read on!•••
Frogriders is a 2-4 player family game for players aged 8+ that takes 20-30 minutes to play. Each player is a member of a different tribe of elves that also ride frogs. The game takes place around the elf's tribal pond, and represents a mock battle, reenacting the bold maneuvers of times past.
At its core, though, Frogriders is a straight forward abstract, with some modern mechanisms added: shared and hidden scoring, set collection, and light engine building. Its weight lends itself to a fast filler for the hardcore gamers (best at 2) and a full game experience especially for youngsters (best at 3-4). The gameplay is straightforward, and even if you can't spot the best move, you can always jump a frog and keep it.
The first time I remember seeing Frogriders was on a Thursday evening after bouldering (climbing), which is when Daniel and I had our weekly design session. He turned up with this new game called "Frog N Roll" and a very rough prototype. We went back and forth on the game for a couple of weeks, without any major breakthroughs. There were too many different card decks, and they weren't in use quite often enough, plus the game ended with some analysis paralysis because 95% of the scores were open.
Despite all of these initial troubles, we had a gut feeling we were on to something. We have a few playtesters in our family who aren't actual gamers like the vast majority of our testers. In general, when they get hooked on one of our early prototypes, despite all its flaws at that stage, we know we have to push through with it. For this game it was Daniel's cousin Martin Holst. For Flamme Rouge, it was my wife Malu — though it should be said that Malu asks more often for Frogriders than Flamme Rouge, with the finished copy on our shelves.Different stages of the prototype board, as it evolved; making changes is faster if we stick with pen and paper
The next thing I remember was having a 70-80 minute car ride with Daniel in which we had decided to brainstorm solutions/changes. I can't remember exactly what was decided in this car, or more generally in the following weeks, but from there the game clearly had the identity it maintains today: a stripped back focus on set collection through the basic action of jumping the frogs.
We definitely cut away some of the different card decks, and we also introduced hidden objectives. This last part both helped reduce AP, as the score couldn't be calculated precisely at any given point, and created the "reveal" at the end, ensuring there is excitement in the wrap-up — and possibly even surprise winners! That was the right direction to go with Frogriders as it is now much more of a fast-flowing tactical game for families than a brain-burning experience for gamers.
In the first iterations of Frogriders, the direction you jumped in each turn also mattered, as did four zones on the board. The current version focuses your attention on your main goal much more clearly — which frog is best to collect this round, and how do I mess with everyone else — whereas the first ones simply had too many differing agendas fighting for your attention."The first evidence of the game can be traced back to the court of Louis XIV, and the specific date of 1687, with an engraving made that year by Claude Auguste Berey of Anne de Rohan-Chabot, Princess of Soubise, with the puzzle by her side. The August 1687 edition of the French literary magazine Mercure galant contains a description of the board, rules and sample problems. This is the first known reference to the game in print."
Earlier I claimed that Peg Solitaire had some features that were ripe for use in a modern board game. The features are the board and the basic move that removes a piece each turn. (There aren't many other features left...) As the board starts full of pieces, there are few legal moves and hence you are eased into the gameplay. A couple of turns into the game, the options explode, and each move creates numerous new options for the next player. Towards the end, however, the pieces become so scarce that legal moves start decreasing again, and you are likely looking for that one frog you need to complete your collection. It even becomes feasible to calculate a couple of moves ahead, if you're so inclined.
This simple core mechanism allows for three distinct phases when you play Frogriders. It naturally and gradually changes from opening game through midgame and onto endgame. Now I don't want to oversell this point as the game moves so quickly that you might miss these phases if you blink, but they are certainly there. On the first move, only four options are available; on the second, six moves; then eight, etc. It doesn't actually progress in a linear fashion, though, and then there is the tipping point. When you get into the endgame, the options start decreasing, and thinking ahead to influence how rapidly is certainly feasible.
When the basic action you're doing each turn is the same, it is important that the game evolves in other ways to keep it interesting and varied, and Frogriders (in my opinion) achieves that without introducing extra rules to force the issue. I also think it is a huge plus for a family game that when you're trying the game for the first time, the options up front are quite limited.
One of the things Daniel and I are most proud of with Frogriders is the pace at which it plays. Of course there might be gamers out there for whom analysis paralysis becomes an issue, but we haven't quite experienced it yet. When we pitched the design to publishers at SPIEL 2015, we played a three-player game in all the meetings where we showed it, despite having only 30 minutes AND showing other games. The first review that was live on BGG also shows this well as it has both a brief rules explanation, a two-player playthrough, and a mini-review in under 15 minutes!We don't linger on making changes — cross it out, replace it, and move on. Pretty is for published!
Frogriders is published by Eggertspiele, and the game wouldn't have been anywhere near as polished without the work of their excellent lead developer Viktor Kobilke and illustrator Alexander Jung. They did an outstanding job on both the illustrations and the graphic user interface, and we are proud to work with these talented people on new projects. Of course, the ever fantastic Stronghold Games is the U.S. publisher.
Asger Harding Granerud
Sun Sep 24, 2017 3:34 pm
- [+] Dice rolls
Designer Diary: Flamme Rouge, or How Magic: The Gathering and Dominion Inspired a Racing Game
05 Oct 2016
Asger Harding GranerudDenmarkEarly Flamme Rouge prototype
Snow Tails, Ave Caesar & Tales & Games: The Hare & the Tortoise. The simplicity of the goal is something everyone intuitively understands: Get. There. First.
Yet this simplicity also hides a tough design challenge. You have to balance accessibility and game length (since races are rarely slow cumbersome affairs) with a catch-up mechanism: too strong catch-up and early stages of the race don't matter; too weak and the game can be a foregone conclusion sooner than you want. Decisions clearly need to matter throughout the race, and as a designer you still want a good race to end in the tension provided by a close sprint. A single minor misstep shouldn't put you out of the race completely. Moreover in a pure racing game, you can't distract players by adding engine building or side quests. You have to keep players entertained simply by the tactics of the race at hand, while making it engaging enough to keep people coming back.
This is the story of the making of such a racing game. I have been told by people with real credentials that I succeeded in meeting this challenge, and Flamme Rouge has earned a sweet spot with hardened gamers from Australia, over the U.S., and across Europe. Hopefully I've even created a game that could become one of THE classics of the genre, but only time will tell if you agree. Suffice to say, I'm immensely proud of Flamme Rouge, and I hope you will enjoy it. I still do every time, even though I'm more than three hundred games in!•••
"Flamme Rouge" (red flame) is the name of the red triangle flag that marks the last kilometer of all grand tour stages. It was first introduced in the Tour de France in 1906 and has been a staple ever since. It helps riders know exactly when they should be 100% ready for the sprint.
Note: I am not a hardcore cycling fan, and it is by no means required to enjoy Flamme Rouge. It is first and foremost a great game, though I will challenge anyone to find a better theme to match the mechanisms!
Why Dominion & Magic: The Gathering?
It started on a cold weekday in December 2012. My apartment had been invaded by a horde of carpenters and plumbers, and thus I found myself exiled to my childhood home for some weeks.
There was no one else at home that particular evening, thus I found myself sitting in the dark on a bench just outside the front door, having a smoke. As happens so often in those situations my mind drifted to board games, and on that occasion it drifted to Dominion. What made Dominion such a success? Why had everyone gone crazy over the innovation of deck-building, when years ago I and thousands other people had clearly been doing it in Magic: The Gathering?Outside the front door of my childhood home in Copenhagen
I don't want to detract from the success of Dominion or MTG (nor CAN I!), yet the thought stuck in my head: Dominion isolated a single aspect of MTG, and subsequently expanded it to become a fully fledged game in its own right. That formula should be possible to apply to other games: isolating one aspect and creating a game around it. My mind still circling on Dominion, which single element could be expanded into a game on its own? The element I personally enjoyed the most was the feeling of optimization involved in deck-thinning, specifically buying the Chapel card to facilitate it even when it wasn't the best strategy. Seeing as your deck in Dominion "recycles", having few cards means you get to see each card more often. Thus, if you remove cards from your deck and ensure only the best cards remain, it eventually creates a lean, mean, VP-buying machine. Why were there no games (that I was aware of...) designed to focus solely on this deck-thinning concept!?
The idea for Flamme Rouge had popped into existence just then. Still in the same sitting, I pondered on what would thematically fit a deck-thinning game. What would fit a game in which you started with a deck of cards and gradually depleted it, while striving to have the leanest-meanest machine at the end? The analogy that came to mind was spending energy, which once spent would leave the deck and thus thin it — yet a player would also need to preserve key doses of that energy for the finish.
Energy consumption and preservation. Energy consumption and preservation. Energy consumption and preservation. Cycling! Racing! Cycle Races!!!Various stages of early prototypes
Once that connection had formed in my mind, it felt as if everything fell into place in short order. Cards would have numbers that represent how far you move. Each rider in your team would have a distribution of different numbers, and that rider's entire deck (15 cards eventually) would be the total energy reserves for the whole race. In cycling, you don't want to be leading the race throughout as the wind resistance exhausts you in short order. Two simple rules were introduced to simulate this: slipstreaming and exhaustion. Exhaustion adds cards with a low average to any rider ending a turn leading a group, effectively diluting their energy reserves by filling up their deck (a milder form of the Curses from Dominion). Slipstreaming provides bonus moves to well-positioned riders hanging back in larger groups. This created interaction en route to the finish line. You want to hang back, but not too far back, and want to lead, but not all the way up front.
Cycling being a team sport, I decided to include two riders per player, with different characteristics defined by their distribution of energy cards. The Sprinter has a low average but a high top speed, which was reversed for the Rouleur, a tempo rider with a higher average but lower top speed. The other advantage of two riders is that you could now use one to screen the other.Early sketches of the miniature cyclists
The whole process had taken 30-45 minutes, and I vividly remember having a feeling that this should work! My gut feeling was that strong. In theory, whether there would be interesting choices should be a matter of adjusting the total energy per rider in relation to the total distance needed to cover. If the distance is too short, then the best strategy would simply be to play your highest card each time. If the distance was too far, then you would almost never have an incentive to play the high cards, but simply hold back. If the distance was just right, then small gains and losses each turn would accumulate to help find a winner at the end.
I decided to try to make Flamme Rouge a game that as many people as possible could enjoy. To make it "family friendly", I removed all unnecessary complexity by picking the most streamlined variants of slipstreaming/exhaustion/tiebreakers/etc. I also added simultaneous play to create a faster game flow and reduce the room for analysis paralysis as the game moves from calculation to second-guessing, risk-taking and a little bit of bluffing — much like real cycling!
At the first live tests, I tried a few different slipstreaming variants and a couple of different deck configurations. Some ideas worked, some did not, but I had a strong notion about where to go. Already from the second prototype the game was 95% of what it is today. My then girlfriend (now wife!) isn't a gamer, but was the first victim of the second prototype and I knew I was on to something when she asked to play it three times straight. (This has never happened since...) Hundreds of playtesters subsequently reinforced that impression and revealed the same semi-addictive nature of the game. Strangers asked to buy it, and fans even made huge and elaborate versions for themselves!A fan-made mega version (I'm on the left)
The many playtests also proved that Flamme Rouge had lots of room for expanding the game play. Each time a new group tried it, they returned with ideas. Different track and rider types were the most common ideas. From the start I wanted to include mountains to ensure players could pick different stage profiles to ensure replayability. I'm very proud of how smoothly they integrate in the core game and how intuitively they alter gameplay in accordance with real life cycling. The rules for mountains can be summed up to "a capped move of 5 and no slipstreaming". That is it. Though simple, such climbs really change the dynamic of the game and shift the advantage from the Sprinter to the Rouleur. More exhaustion cards are handed out, less slipstreaming occurs, and breakaways are more likely to get away. In turn, this means there are many points of tension throughout a race, even sprints to be the first to reach a climb. In conjunction, going downhill simply makes your card count as a minimum of 5. They are slightly harder to activate because you have to start your turn on them, and you can still expend energy to make a break on a downhill section when everyone else is relaxing.
I don't know how many thousands of possible stages can be made, but there are 21 double-sided tiles that can be strung together in numerous combinations. We have included six pre-designed stages in the game that we have tweaked and tested again and again. Several of them have been made by guest designers that enjoyed the game enough to assist by developing these. (Of course they've been bribed with beers and promises of a copy of the game.) Thanks to Anders Frost Bertelsen, Max Møller, Hans Lerche, and Daniel Skjold Pedersen. A particular big thank you goes out to Daniel since he also came up with the name.Prebuilt stages: not all in the box as one is a promo
I think that the publisher Lautapelit.fi went above and beyond the call of duty on this game. They've previously done well known games such as Eclipse and Nations, and I'm thrilled that they've taken me on board with what is essentially a much lighter Euro. Not only with the artist they've hired, but the amount and quality of components they've put in the box is excellent value for money. I just got my hands on the first production copy the 30th of September 2016 (days ago!) and have laid it all out on my dining table for you to see.There is just SOOOO much stuff in this box!
In most racing games, there is a natural push towards being in the lead. After all, that is how you eventually win. However, the combination of mechanisms in Flamme Rouge means that you actually don't want to be in the lead until "the right time". This creates an interesting situation in which positioning in relation to the other riders (your own and others) becomes paramount, and results in tension from start to finish. Naturally the positioning is most important at the end, but if you neglect it early on the incremental gains and losses that are handed out each round, your actions may favor your opponents instead of yourself.
As a result, the race naturally takes on distinctly different phases based on distance to the goal line, geography of stage and potential breakaways, much like real cycling races. (I feel I've said that phrase a lot.) First there is a build-up phase, then positioning, and finally a head-on sprint. An emergent narrative arc, if I may call it that. Executing your strategy, coordinating your riders, and second-guessing your opponent becomes integral to succeeding. Breakaways sometimes win, but more on mountain stages than flat sprints where the pack very often catches rogue riders, when they eventually have exhausted themselves.
I am extremely excited to show the world Flamme Rouge! It holds tension throughout the game, escalates towards the end, and has simple and accessible mechanisms that fit the theme incredibly well. I'm not personally a big cycling tour fan, nor have the playtesters been, but it doesn't detract from the experience since it is first and foremost a solid and engaging game.
Kind regards, and check my BGG design blog for more details on this game and others!
Asger Harding GranerudSniffing the first production copy ever. Absolutely thrilled!
Wed Oct 5, 2016 4:21 pm
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Designer Diary: 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis, or Blowing Up the World, One Card at a Time
03 May 2016
Asger Harding GranerudDenmarkEarly Flamme Rouge prototype
Asger Sams Granerud and with Daniel Skjold Pedersen, we are the designers of 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis. We want to share the journey of our game from idea, through development, into a game that you can now get your hands on! We hope you will enjoy the read...
What You Will Experience Playing 13 Days
13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis is a 45-minute game for two players highlighting USA vs. USSR during the most dangerous tipping point of the Cold War. Players take the role of either President Kennedy or Khrushchev. You have to navigate the crisis by prioritizing your superpower's influence across many different agendas. You want to push hard to gain prestige and exit the crisis as the perceived winner. But there is a catch as there always is: The harder an agenda is pushed, the closer you get to triggering global nuclear war which will lose you the game!
13 Hours: Driving Home from Essen
It was Monday, October 27, 2013, somewhere close to midnight. The massive board game fair in Essen, Germany had just finished, and the road trip back to Copenhagen was well under way. Sitting in the car were three tired aspiring game designers: me, Daniel (my co-designer) and a shared friend. Daniel also happens to be the guy who introduced me to Twilight Struggle a few years back. Unfortunately, we rarely get to play that brilliant game due to time constraints, which is doubly a shame as the game also improves with repeated play. It is not an easy game to pick up, but it offers a rich experience when you do. Though tired after a long week of talking about little other than games, we started discussing design ideas. The prolonged drive revealed that we had both had the same basic idea: How can we imitate the core experience of Twilight Struggle in a readily accessible package, lasting less than an hour?
The rest of the trip was used to flesh out this idea, and several design goals were locked in place before reaching Copenhagen later that night. The game had to be short and intense, with a constant threat of losing. We settled on the Cuban Missile Crisis as this was probably the highest profiled conflict of the entire Cold War. It also happened to be short and intense, which perfectly suited our narrative. We wanted to retain the constant agony of choosing between lots of lesser evils that Twilight Struggle does so well through its card-driven dilemmas.
13 Days: Building the Game
Almost half a year passed before Daniel and I managed to sit down and design the game. It was our first ever co-design process, so lots of things had to be learned from scratch. We discovered over time that we have different skill sets and experiences, but aligned goals and preferences. If you can find a co-designer like that, I can't recommend it enough!Very early prototype drafts of the game board...DEFCON track......and agenda cards
The following design sessions are almost a blur for me. So many things happened so quickly, and the exact chronology escapes me because most of them fell into place within a very short timespan. We wanted to work in multiples of 13 where possible, so we ended up deciding that the game should have 13 turns. Moreover there are 13 Agendas, and 39 Strategy Cards divided into 13 USA, 13 USSR, and 13 Neutral cards.
We actually ended up cutting some corners for the sake of gameplay and accessibility. The better game must win over dogmas when they collide! As a result, the 13 turns became 12 turns and a special Aftermath turn. Twelve was easier to divide into three rounds of 4, which lead to a hand size of five cards. (The fifth card isn't played but is fed into the 13th Aftermath turn.) One small thematic decision ends up having lots of unforeseen ripple effects. My experience a couple of designs later is that simply locking in a few aspects early on is a great way to get started. Assuming you are capable of killing your darlings, it is easy enough to change such dogmas at a later stage!
By this time we knew we would be using the dual nature of event cards from Twilight Struggle (i.e., the card-driven games or CDGs). All cards would be divided into three alignments (USA, USSR and Neutral), and each card would have the option of being played either for a basic Command (value 1-3) or for a unique Event that broke the core rules in different ways. If you played an opponent's event, he could get some benefit, despite it not even being his turn. What makes this experience work so well in Twilight Struggle is the fact that every play of a card is a dilemma. Their dual nature, and sometimes detrimental effects, means you often feel like you're doing an impossible balancing act. Often the winner ends up being the person timing card play to minimize negatives. It sounds simple but really isn't! Compared to TS we reduced the hand size and forced all cards to be played one way or another, ensuring that this core dilemma hits you from the first card in your first hand!The first *pretty* prototype we created when our own test had confirmed the potential of the design and we needed outside playtesting
The scoring mechanism is central to any game. We wanted the entire feeling to be evocative of the tension from both the Cuban Missile Crisis and Twilight Struggle. Unfortunately we had few turns to achieve this since we also wanted a game playable in 45 minutes. This meant we couldn't rely on reshuffling the deck and having the same scoring cards surface several times as that would require too many turns to be feasible in a short game or such a small deck that it would hamper replayability. We therefore made three distinctive choices:
-----A) Each player picks a secret Agenda for the round, creating a partial bluffing game.
-----B) All scoring was based on pushing ahead on either Influencing specific Battlegrounds or Dominating DEFCON Tracks.
-----C) If your DEFCON Tracks are pushed too far, you risk losing the game immediately by triggering global nuclear war.
To make matters worse, the DEFCON tracks automatically escalate each round towards an end-game crescendo, and the Command action (the bread and butter of the gameplay) further escalates DEFCON. If you make small "non-threatening" Command actions, DEFCON stays put; if you make big heavy handed actions, the DEFCON track responds with equally wild swings. This can be beneficial if you rapidly need to deflate the DEFCON tracks, but more often it will be dangerous.
Ahead of the first design session, we agreed that we should be playing the game by the end of the evening. This forced us to do quick and dirty prototyping, knowing full well that all we had to test was the bare bones core mechanisms. No chrome, no nothing. We used a deck of playing cards to simulate the basic Command action, drew some different locations on an A4, and started pushing cubes around. By the end of that first evening two things were clear: 1) there was a worthwhile game to pursue and 2) testing further without the tension of the events was futile.
Thus, the ambition for the next design session was created. We had to make and test different events. We deliberately made more than we needed and removed some along the way, adding others. The events added the asymmetry and dilemmas we were hoping for, and experiencing the agony involved in deciding which cards to play when was a clear indicator we were on to something. You have only twelve cards to play during the entire game, so each decision is important. By that session, we were pretty sure that this game wasn't just interesting to us, but also relevant for a larger audience waiting to scratch that Twilight Struggle itch!
For the design interested people reading this, there are two things I really can't recommend enough:
I) Get yourself a design partner. Actually, any creative endeavor in life I've participated in benefits if you have someone you can throw ideas up against. An internet forum is a poor man's alternative as it can never be as responsive or involved as a co-designer who knows the ins-and-outs of the project as well as you do. Testing the core game also becomes much easier (assuming it isn't min. 3+ players). If you find the right person to co-operate with, I can't see any negatives to working in pairs!
II) Rapid prototyping. Try to play your game as quickly as possible. Find out whether your core idea has the spark to be interesting. Don't think about it; try it. Forget about balancing, artwork and UI. Instead try to define what you consider to be the core mechanisms, and test whether they are fun at all. Satisfaction from playing games is more psychology than mechanisms, and you have to be much more talented than I am to figure that out from the sketch board, so try it!
13 Months: Pitching and Developing the Game
Obviously that was just the game design. The development took much longer. Even though the core game hardly shifted from the design established in March 2014, the cards were continuously tweaked and the user interface was updated to make testing with outsiders more feasible. We physically kept track on each card, making marks on how often they were played for Events vs. Command as well as looking out for an opponent's willingness to play the card or delay it for the Aftermath. This proved to be immensely valuable as it allowed us to continuously monitor which cards were fine and which needed tweaking or removal. Taking notes on the physical prototype is another lesson we've brought to our later designs.
All events were tied to a historical event from the period, and short texts setting the mood were added. Card effects were aligned to fit the new event, and lots of streamlining happened.
The biggest design "problem" that pursued us throughout the project was how to handle the secret Agendas and the scoring mechanism. We've tried more than five different variants as we wanted to find a version that ensured the bluffing didn't become blind guessing. We needed enough revealed information to create informed choices, without giving away so much that it was meaningless. Some of our variants became pure guessing, others became almost full information, and naturally we wanted the sweet spot in-between.Playtesting from different stages of development of the game
Thankfully a fast-paced two-player game is very easy to playtest when you're co-designing. Daniel and I could easily play a game in 30 minutes or less, and we thus managed to get many tests done. Obviously we also had to find external playtesters. We brought the game to two local conventions as well as several gaming groups. Finally, members of the Nordic Game Artisans also tested it and eventually gave it their seal of approval.13 Days has received the Nordic Game Artisans seal of approval
Around that time, we started preparing for Spiel 2014 and contacting publishers to set up appointments. We brought a couple of other games as well, but knew that this game would likely require a niche publisher. Hence, we targeted our pitches at a much smaller group. One of them was Jolly Roger Games, which unfortunately wasn't attending Spiel. On the plus side, JRG's Jim Dietz wanted to review the game anyway and asked for rules and other relevant files. He consulted none other than Jason Matthews, co-designer of Twilight Struggle, and with his glowing endorsement proceeded. We sent a copy and his testing started, but he quickly asked that we reserve the game for him to decide by year's end!
We still ended up bringing the game to Spiel and pitching it to a few select publishers, with all involved parties being informed of the current situation, just in case. Thankfully Jim was impressed by the blind testing he had been doing himself, and after some consideration ended up pushing the big red button!Prototypes assembled and packed for Spiel 2014
Both Daniel and I are really proud of the game we've designed and developed for you. Obviously it isn't a perfect realistic simulation of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 45 minutes, but we do feel it simulates core elements of it very well. Each player has to participate in several interconnected subgames: both a poker bluffing game of trying to mask which agendas are really important to them while uncovering your opponent's and a real world chess game of applying political, military and media influence across the globe. The conflict is constantly escalating and even though you don't want to slow down, you will often find yourself backpedaling to avoid the threat of global nuclear war. Finally, the stressful choices available to each president are effectively mirrored by the dilemmas forced upon you each round in which all cards must be put to use one way or another — even the bad ones.
13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis turned out exactly as hoped, providing a great introductory political conflict game. The classic fans of the genre in general, and Twilight Struggle in particular, will find a meaty filler. Meanwhile, newcomers will find an accessible introduction as the bluffing, the luck of the draw, and a capped scoring ensures that you're never too far behind to make a comeback — and even if you fail, you can always rewrite history in another 45 minutes!
If you're interested in hearing much more about the game, read our Sidekicking blog on BGG, which includes a series of mini-designer diaries (MDD) written while the Kickstarter was running in 2015 that delve into the nitty-gritty details of the design process!At the Spielwarenmesse fair in Nürnberg, Germany, with the first printed copy. Look at that footprint!
Tue May 3, 2016 1:00 pm
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