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Design Diary: War Chest: Siege, or Buildy-Buildy, Smashy-Smashy

Trevor Benjamin
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From gallery of TrevormBenjamin
Hi, all! After much delay, War Chest: Siege, the second expansion for War Chest, is being released on March 19, 2021. Like War Chest: Nobility, it adds an entirely new element, plus four thematically and mechanically integrated units. This diary explores the design and development of this new content.

The New Element: Fortifications

Barring the core distinction between spaces you can control (locations) and those you can't, War Chest's board is featureless and invariant. This fits perfectly well with the game's abstract roots, but we knew that there was room to experiment here. Siege's fortifications (henceforth, forts) are our first attempt.

From gallery of TrevormBenjamin

The Siege expansion includes seven fort coins (chunky plastic poker chips!) and six map cards. During set-up, you randomly draw one of the map cards, then place forts onto the four indicated locations. Forts can also be built by the new Sapper unit when it enters a location.

As you'd expect, forts offer an extra level of protection to locations and the units defending them. Here's how they work: You may not enter enemy locations with forts, and you may not attack enemy units in forts. In both cases, you must attack and destroy the fort first. This is done in the same way as you attack units.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

We wanted forts to introduce additional planning and risks, but we had to ensure that the game remained dynamic and balanced. This took quite a bit of development. For example, we initially had map cards with three forts on each side (six total). This slowed the game down a tad too much and favored some units more than we liked. [**No spoilers! We'll leave it up to you to figure out which ones!] We also had maps with asymmetric configurations. Unsurprisingly some playtesters complained of imbalance and so, reluctantly, we dropped them. As a final example, the Sapper could initially build forts in any space (not just locations). This introduced a few fiddly rules, but perhaps more importantly made forts feel too much like bolstering (which made the Sapper feel too much like the Herald).

The New Units

You won't be surprised to hear that War Chest: Siege includes siege weapons, three of them in fact: the Trebuchet, the Siege Tower, and the War Wagon. Like real siege weapons, we wanted these units to be powerful but lumbering. They should be slow to set up, fragile to counterattack, but can wreak havoc if left unchecked. After much experimentation, we settled on a very simple rule which achieves this quite nicely. Siege units must be bolstered in order to use their special abilities, which we've called "siege tactics".

From gallery of W Eric Martin

We also wanted the siege weapons to actually help players overcome (siege!) the forts. We began by explicitly coding this into their abilities. An early version of the Trebuchet, for example, could attack any fortified location up to three spaces away. This led to some weird dynamics — players simply abandoned their forts — and became totally useless once all the forts were destroyed. In the end, we had to be a bit more creative. The siege weapons remain effective at attacking forts, but their abilities are general enough to make them useful in other contexts as well.

Oddly enough, the only unit which explicitly references forts is the fourth and final new unit: the Sapper. As mentioned previously, the Sapper has an attribute that allows it to build a fort in any location it enters. It also has a tactic which allows it to move, then destroy a fort, so just like a real sapper, it can both build and destroy forts. A useful resource for a siege to be sure!

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Conclusion

We are incredibly excited about the Siege expansion and the continued success of War Chest. Big thanks to AEG (the publisher), Mark Wootton (lead developer), Brigette Indelicato (artist and graphic designer), all of our playtesters, and to everyone else who has helped us bring this game to life.

And now let's go play Siege!

Trevor and David
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Tue Mar 9, 2021 1:00 pm
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Design Diary: War Chest: Nobility, or Making the Royals Relevant

Trevor Benjamin
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Board Game: War Chest: Nobility
David and I have been incredibly happy with War Chest's reception since its debut in 2018. Following the reviews, the comments, and the discussions has been a real treat. One thing that came up again and again was how expandable people thought the game was. Of course we agreed — we had lots of different ideas rattling around in our heads — but we had to wait to see how well the game did. When AEG gave us the official thumbs, we couldn't have been happier. This diary explores the design and development of War Chest: Nobility, the game's first expansion.

Royal Coin

Of course Nobility would add new units. That much was obvious. But we wanted it to include something else — some new element that would add additional choices and texture through its interactions with the existing content. Our starting point for this was the Royal Coin.

In War Chest, each player's bag starts with a slew of Unit Coins (Archers, Cavalry, etc.) and a single Royal Coin. Despite its flashy name, the Royal Coin is strictly inferior to the others. You can't place it onto the board, and you can't use it to maneuver your units. Like the Estates in Dominion, the Royal Coin's sole purpose is to encourage you to build your bag. The more coins in your bag, the less often you have to draw it. While this is an important function, it's not a particularly fun one. With Nobility, we set out to change this. We wanted players to be excited to draw the Royal Coin, and this would happen only if the Royal Coin created choices, rather than removing them. Enter the Royal Decrees...


Board Game: War Chest: Nobility


Royal Decrees are a new type of card that introduce generic (non-unit specific) powers into the game. Three of them are dealt face up during set-up, and each player (or team) gets to use each one once during the game. To do this, you discard your Royal Coin face up, then place a Royal Seal onto the Decree. So three times during the game, your Royal Coin gets to do something cool. The king say-eth, the people do-eth!

The core mechanisms for the Decrees came quickly, but it took us quite some time to get the powers right. On the one hand, we wanted them to be as varied as possible, interacting with each other and with the units in interesting ways. On the other hand, we had to ensure that the Decrees weren't too powerful, either individually or in the aggregate. The Royal Coin still needed to promote bag building, and this simply wouldn't happen if the Decrees were too strong. Our solution was to create powers that were both situational and more powerful in the mid and late game than in the beginning.

The Royal Decrees achieved what we wanted. They made the Royal Coin interesting, while also giving us a mechanical and thematic hook for the expansion. The next step was to design some units to run with this.

New Units

Nobility includes four new units. The Earl and the Herald have abilities that interact directly with the Decrees. The Bishop and the Bannerman are thematically linked, but explore other types of abilities.

Along the way, we tried out lots of different ideas that just didn't make the cut. Inspired by the Royal Guard, for example, we tried out a variety of units that had Tactics powered by the Royal Coin ("Discard the Royal Coin to do X"). These "Royal Tactics" were a great fit thematically, but they caused some pretty severe issues. First, they competed directly with our new Decree Cards. If you were using your Royal Coin for a Royal Tactic, you weren't using it for a Decree (and vice versa). Second, there were power issues. The stronger the Royal Tactics, the less likely you were encouraged to build your bag. This was much worse than what we encountered with the Decree powers as Tactics can be used again and again. Speaking of which...

Board Game: War Chest: Nobility


Royal Guard

Confession time: While certainly not unbeatable, we felt that the Royal Guard as it appears in the base set is something of a problem. We knew it was a strong unit, but we didn't realize just how strong until after the game was released, and people started posting strategies and discussions of those strategies to various threads. The problem is that its Tactic — Discard the Royal Coin to move — is too versatile. Moving a unit is something you can always do, and something you pretty much always want to do. This makes "small bagging" with the Royal Guard extremely effective, particularly given the nature of its attribute (When attacked, you can remove a coin from the supply rather than the unit). In a small bag, a Royal Guard becomes a tank that can move quickly!

In turn, this reduces the variety of game play on offer when the Royal Guard is in the draft mix as its tactic dominates the game flow. We pride ourselves on how differently the game plays with different units and different army composition, and we felt it was important to get back to that feel.

To address this, the Nobility expansion includes a new version of the Royal Guard card. The attribute is the same as before, but the Tactic now reads: Discard the Royal Coin to move the Royal Guard up to two spaces to a location that you control. So its effect is larger (you can move two spaces), but more limited (you have to move to a location you control). This resolves the issue with small bagging, while also making much more sense thematically. (The Royal Guard should be running around to guard your locations, not to cause general havoc and destruction!)


Board Game: War Chest: Nobility


Control Markers

The Royal Coin and the Royal Guard aren't the only things that we've "upgraded" in Nobility. While overall people have been extremely happy with the production of the game (how couldn't they be!), there have been a lot of comments that the Control Markers were the same size as, and hence got covered up by, the Unit Coins. Some people forged their own DIY solutions (gotta love gamers!) but for those of you who didn't, we've included a set of hexagonal Control Markers. Hope this helps!

Conclusion

We're so excited about the Nobility expansion and the future of War Chest. One of the greatest things about the experience was getting the whole team back together to work on this project. Mark Wootton served as the lead developer for the project and always pushed us to make the expansion the best it could be. And we are thrilled that Bridgette Indelicato was able to bring Nobility to life with her graphic design and artistic skills. Now let's go play Nobility!

Trevor Benjamin

This diary first appeared on AEG's website. The rules and additional information can be found on AEG's War Chest product page.


Board Game: War Chest: Nobility
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Mon Oct 14, 2019 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Light & Dark, or The Power of Constraint

Trevor Benjamin
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Board Game: Light & Dark
Constraint breeds creativity, they say. Well how's this for a constraint? My five-year-old daughter regularly pulls games off my shelf — Kingdom Builder, Splendor, For Sale — and tells me she wants to play them. These are not children's games, of course, so as I pull pieces from the box I have to figure out how to turn them into children's games — and quickly! (Patience is not a virtue shared by many five-year-olds.) This high-pressure design challenge has led to many awful games, but it has also led to the flick-and-flip mechanism that became Light & Dark.

In this case, the game on my shelf was Ding!. Ding! is a trick-taking card game in which players can opt out of a hand if they don't feel they can make the required number of tricks. This decision is tracked through a set of player-colored plastic disks that say "in" on one side and "out" on the other. My daughter and I had just finished playing a stripped-down version of the trick-taking game itself when she said, "Okay, Daddy, now I want to play a game with these", pointing to the disks. So my challenge was to create a child-friendly game using only a set eight double-sided disks, all in different colors. Fun!


From gallery of TrevormBenjamin


As I fumbled with the disks and slid them around the table, inspiration struck. "Okay", I said, "each turn you flick one of the disks. If you hit any other disks, you flip them over. My job is to flip all the disks to their 'in' side; your job is to flip all the disks to their 'out' side." Three rules. That was the game. For the next twenty minutes, we played and, rather surprisingly, it wasn't terrible. It needed work of course, but there was something there.

A few days later I met Matt Dunstan and pitched him the idea, and we quickly hammered out the details. There should be two types of disks, one which you can flick (what became druids) and one which you can't (torches). To win, you need to flip only one type of disk to your side. This sped up the game and added some tactical variability and depth. We also added special power cards for additional variability and texture. Playing on a bar table with condiments and glasses also inadvertently alerted us to how much extra variety you can get from simply changing the amount of clutter in the playing area!

From gallery of TrevormBenjamin
Theme was the next hurdle. It was clear that there were two factions, but who were they and what were they fighting over? Once we recognized that flipping could be "conversion", the rest came quickly: the druids, the torches, and the name. (Bonus points if you can identify the character we borrowed for our prototype druid!)

We brought Light & Dark with us to SPIEL 2015, pitched it to a few different publishers, and got very positive feedback. Perhaps not surprisingly, the best comment came from AEG. After finishing his first game, CEO John Zinser said, "If I can have this much fun with just eleven disks, I definitely want to publish this game!" We were very happy to sign with AEG on the spot, and we love what they've done with the game. (Rita Micozzi's artwork is wonderful!)


Board Game: Light & Dark


So that's the story of Light & Dark. It is an incredibly simple game, but it's a game with a heart. We've really enjoyed making it and hope you enjoy you playing it!

Trevor Benjamin & Matthew Dunstan

Board Game: Light & Dark
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Mon Jan 30, 2017 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Dice Heist, or Art and Other Accidents

Trevor Benjamin
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Board Game: Dice Heist
In 2014 we — that is, Brett Gilbert and Trevor Benjamin — began working on a push-your-luck dice and card game. Dice Heist is not that game.

In that other game, players took turns making a run at a single ladder of cards. They would roll dice to move down the ladder, one rung at a time. After each roll, they could call it quits, taking all the cards on all the rungs traversed, or — in classic push-your-luck fashion — they could roll on, with the hope of winning more but at the risk of losing it all. After each run, regardless of the player's success or failure, a new card was added to each rung and the next player would take their turn.

While that game wasn't without its charm, it suffered from some pretty severe problems. First, the outcome could be swingy — really swingy. The size of the "pot" increased quickly, and winning a big one could net a ridiculous number of points. And if the player before you won big, you'd be faced with a very small pot — a pot that you were nonetheless forced to make a run at since the game offered you no other choice. And to top it all off, the extended nature of the dice rolling made individual turns too long — and in a short game players got too few of them — all of which made a "bust" feel devastating.


From gallery of TrevormBenjamin
Early prototype of "that other game"


Enter Dice Heist. One evening, on the way home from our weekly playtest session, the spark of a new game emerged from the ether — a spark that, as it turned out, contained a cluster of solutions to the problems we were having with our original game.

First, what if players weren't forced to make a run if faced with a weak pot? What if they could pass instead? And what if passing meant they could increase their chances of success on a later turn? This binary choice — to pass or play — became the core, driving mechanism of Dice Heist: Each turn you either "recruit a sidekick" (that is, take a die and add it to the number you can roll on a later turn) or "attempt a heist" (roll your dice).

Second, what if there weren't a single pot? In Dice Heist there are four separate museums, each accumulating their own separate stocks of exhibits: cards representing paintings, artifacts, and gems. When you attempt a heist, you must choose which of the four museums to target. If you succeed, you win only those cards. By splitting the pot in this way, a single good turn doesn't necessarily sweep the whole board and leave nothing for anyone else. The next player is never left just fighting for the scraps; they can always choose to take another die and improve their chances for next time.

Finally, what if the gut-wrenching risk-reward decision was condensed into a single moment? A single choice followed by a single roll? In Dice Heist you don't keep rolling and re-rolling, each time calling it quits or pushing on. Instead you choose your level of risk — which museum to target and how many dice to roll — then roll those dice once. If at least one of your dice beats the museum's "security level" (a simple pip value from 2 to 5), you succeed and grab all of that museum's loot; if none of them do, you fail.


From gallery of TrevormBenjamin
Final prototype of Dice Heist


That's the story of how we made Dice Heist: the happy accident. We didn't intend for it to replace our original game, but we're very pleased that it did — and we hope you are, too!

Trevor & Brett


From gallery of TrevormBenjamin
From gallery of TrevormBenjamin
From gallery of TrevormBenjamin
From gallery of TrevormBenjamin
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Sun May 15, 2016 1:00 pm
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