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Designer Diary: Sunrise City

Isaias Vallejo
United States
Seattle
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Sunrise City was a fluke. No, seriously. Let me explain.

I loved SimCity when I was younger – heck, I still love it to this day – but back then, with an awesome game and a lot of time on my hands, I thought the coolest thing in the world was to start a new game on Easy Mode and spend the $10k on laying out the grid of a new city. It took only a few sim-years after I had spent all of my money to make me realize that managing my little city was not my passion. I'd quit each city and start over.

Before I started fiddling with the idea of creating a city-building game, I was actually in the middle of designing a modular dungeon crawl game with my design partner, Drew Sayers. Something about letting the player create his own play area fascinated me. I entered our dungeon crawl game to the Quick PnP Design Challenge here on BoardGameGeek.com. I followed the forums for a while, then Jack Neal, who was running the contest, decided not to submit his city-building game. This bummed me out since I was looking forward to trying it. I messaged Jack and asked him whether it was okay for me to enter a city-building game of my own. He gave me the green light and that night I sat at my desk pulling together old ideas.

Believe it or not, Sunrise City started out as a puzzle game. I had blank cards and divided them into four sections, then colored in each corner with one of five unique colors. I tried assembling neighborhoods (Districts) as you see them now in Sunrise City using these cards, but I hated it. I wanted to use the standard playing card size because it was cheap to prototype, but that night, for some reason, I just said, "Screw it. This will probably never see the light of day." So I created a tile-laying game instead, making square tiles for zones and rectangles for buildings. I quickly wrote up rules and posted them.

I got great feedback and suggestions, and the game quickly evolved into something that had promise. It was only by luck that David MacKenzie from Clever Mojo Games happened upon my little game. David realized that I was close to Clever Mojo HQ and invited me over to playtest the game. When I went over, I was lucky enough to have David's full attention. We played the game and it was, quite frankly, a disaster. David suggested a lot of changes and we quickly rewrote rules and threw things out and gave it another try. This time, it actually felt like a game and we were excited by the possibilities.

A few playtest sessions went by like this until David finally asked whether I'd be interested in having Clever Mojo Games publish the game. I immediately jumped at the idea and with David's help we began tweaking Sunrise City into what you see today. Here are a few of the key design points we changed to make Sunrise City a fun game:

Skyscrapers

The idea of stacking buildings and making skyscrapers is awesome! All of us wanted to do this, but it was a lot easier when the building tiles were slips of card stock. We could stack them any way we wanted. When the thicker tiles were produced, this created real problems with keeping things level, so we adopted a "no tipping" rule which meant that buildings could stack only on two sections that were on the same level.

Also, we decided that at every odd floor, you should be rewarded with bonus points. To keep track of the floor levels, we put markers on the skyscrapers that corresponded to the number of bonus points you'd get for placing the next floor on top of that building.


Districts

In order to encourage a true city-like feel to the game, we decided to give players bonus points for placing zones of the same type next to each other. This created what we called Districts and gave order and structure to an otherwise chaotic game flow.

Community Tiles

These tiles added scoring variables to the game and dramatically changed the way you place your buildings. Community Tiles give you bonus points for adding certain building tiles around them. So instead of dropping in a building anywhere, you have to plan the placement to maximize (or minimize) the number of points you'd get.


Role Cards

Originally, the game included only four Roles as that seemed enough for a print-and-play game – but David challenged us to come up with 16 unique cards to increase replay value and make sure we had plenty of strategies to take in each game. A unique design point from the Role Cards is the turn number at the top of the card. In order to vary turn order and make sure over-powered cards were nerfed a bit, we balanced out the cards by giving weaker cards lower numbers so that those players had a higher chance of going first in the next round.


Bidding

The first inspiration for the bid mechanism came from Metropolys. This quickly changed to a blind bid wherein players would have bid markers with the numbers 1-6 on them. After placing your bid markers, you'd reveal them to see who had the highest number. As you can imagine, this took quite some time during the game.

So I came to David and asked him whether we remove the Bidding phase from the game. He was not enthused by my suggestion, so Drew, David, and I sat around for a bit and came up with the new "capping" system of bidding. Essentially, players all have the same chance of winning a zone tile if they are aggressive enough but this is balanced with the chance of not winning any zone tiles at all. It's an elegant solution that we all immediately liked and it changed the game for the better.

Score Tracker

This is a truly genius idea that I can't take any credit for! We had a looping score track at first that looked ugly and took up lots of space on the table.

One of our main problems with the design was a player running away with the game. Once you were ahead, it was more than likely that you would win. To curb this, David came up with the idea of hitting a certain number to double your actual end-points – which changed the game dramatically from a "score points as much as you can" game to a "score points strategically" game. After implementing this Score Tracker, we played a few games and players always came within a few points of each other. Plus, the psychology of the game had changed from aggressive expansion to methodical growth. In my opinion, it's the best part of the game and why I'm so happy that David is my publisher.


So, there you have it. Sunrise City has shaped up to be a unique tile-laying game with a lot of replay value. The art by Chip Nixon and graphic design from Chris Kirkman have elevated Sunrise City to a level I never dreamed of. David, Drew, and I are truly proud of this little game that, were it not for a couple of lucky strokes, would never have seen the light of day. We hope you and your family will enjoy giving it a play when it comes out in March 2012.

For more details on the game play, a non-final version of the rulebook and a video demonstrating game play, head to the Sunrise City Kickstarter project, which ends on October 1, 2011.

Isaias Vallejo
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Thu Sep 15, 2011 6:30 am
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