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Designer Diary: Rossio, or How to Fill a Void

Orlando Sá
Brussels - Belgium
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Microbadge: Porto fanMicrobadge: Parent of a Boy and a GirlMicrobadge: I am Portuguese!Microbadge: Sporting Clube de Portugal fanMicrobadge: San Francisco Giants fan
I've always wanted to create a board game about building Portuguese calçada. You see, it's a thing I've grown up with, all those nicely paved squares in Portugal with black-and-white patterns that almost no one pays attention to.

From gallery of orlopesdesa

A game about calçada would naturally have a big abstract component since it would revolve around building tiles with abstract patterns. Plus, in reality, they are all black and white, so we had to find a way to make them more understandable on the board from a functional point of view, which is why each pattern has a color. It's an abstraction within the abstraction.

Mechanically it made sense for this design to be a tile-laying game since you are thematically building tiles in a square. Plus, the square needed to be an actual void where pieces could fit in, you know, like the real stuff. And also it had to be modular, increasing in length with higher player accounts. It made sense that the game would end when the square is completely built. All of those were givens, so we cruised past these initial premises.

Board Game: Rossio

Then came a long development. We wanted to make a family-friendly game with interesting decisions every turn, decisions similar to what happens when pulling the blanket towards your face uncovers your feet, and pushing the blanket down uncovers your chest. By now you might have realized that I've just awoken and I'm still in bed writing this text. Fear not, I have coffee by my side.

Rossio features two premises:

• Everybody is building in the same square.
• Everybody is trying to profit from what is built in the square.

On your turn, you recruit one of the stonemason cards in your hand. You can play the card face down (which is free) or face up (which costs money, and sometimes you won't have enough money). Then, you activate all the cards you have in front of you under your player board; you will never have more than three cards because the played card enters on the rightmost space of the player board, pushing all other cards to the left, with some eventually dropping out. Face-down cards give you 1 coin each, and face-up cards give you points for each time the depicted pattern appears on the square.

From gallery of orlopesdesa

Then, you will build on the square. Bohnanza-style, you must build the leftmost tile of your board — and if you build it orthogonally adjacent to a similar tile, you can build the next, and so on. You want to build as much as you can because that will gain you more money, but you are probably helping opponents by building patterns that they will score.

You then draw one of the four cards available on the market — but the catch is that if you built only one tile, you have to take the first card; if you built two tiles, you can choose between the first and the second card; and if you built all four tiles on your board, you can choose any of the cards. That is crucial in the game since the "newest" card on the market can be grabbed only if you cleared your board. How much do you want to help others score their cards versus how much you want to get money and get better cards? That's the blanket analogy once again. I know it's not perfect, but please bear with me; I'm only on my first cup of coffee.

From gallery of orlopesdesa

As you can imagine, the scoring grows exponentially as the square is built. More patterns appear on the board, and players have a clear idea of what's most valuable. You have a chance to shape the square according to the cards you plan to recruit face up in later turns, but timing is crucial. Recruit that card face down too late, and it will score only once or twice. Recruit it too soon, and it will score only a few points since the square has fewer patterns to score. (You know I'm gonna talk about the blanket effect again, right?)

This exponential growth of scoring — in which two-thirds of your score comes on the final two turns — proved to be quite effective for newer players or players with less experience with board games. On your first two turns when you're learning the game, even the biggest mistake won't have a big impact in the overall performance. You won't be splottered with an initial bad move. Heck, you can spend your first three turns just recruiting face-down cards and shaping the board, then drop the bombs later in the game.

Board Game: Rossio

Even the possibility of ending the game sooner or letting it go one more round can be difficult because you feel you are ahead, but you don't know which card your opponent has in hand. Yes, you have seen them recruiting cards, but they started with three cards in hand at the beginning of the game, and if they're hoarding since the beginning of the game a card that will score a lot of points? Do they have enough money for that? What are you going to do? End now? Build less and extend the game?

If that was the wrong call, you can play it again. You can play the game with four players in 45 minutes — except if you have just awoken, and in that case, join me on the second cup of coffee.

Rossio will be out from PYTHAGORAS before the end of September 2020. Thanks for reading!

Orlando Sá
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