Martyn F on Cities and Non-Citrus Limes
Interview with Martyn F about his newest game Limes (pronounced: lee-mez), a game based of one of his older games Cities. Limes was just recently released in Germany by ABACUSSPIELE.
Martyn, could you introduce yourself and tell us how you got into tabletop gaming?
Martyn: I am a game addict for about 20 years now. And not hoping to be cured!
I play regularly with different groups here in Nijmegen and a bit less frequently with my brothers in Eindhoven. My wife and I live in Nijmegen (Holland). She works at the government, while I work at home - developing games.
In 2007 I published my first game Wadi. The years thereafter, I published Cities, TWRS andWadi - The Watchmen. Then there was a bit of a silence and now Limes is there. And... I just took the first steps for a crowdfunding project, aiming at doing a card board version of TWRS.
How I got into tabletop gaming? Well, as a kid I used to play a lot of the standard games. No need to mention names, I think. I really started playing however when I met a German friend at university. He introduced me to a lot of new games and Spiel in Essen. From then on I was hooked.
What are some of your favorite games?
Martyn: I like a lot of games. Ranging from abstract to very thematic, short to long games. Most of all I like tight games. Games where everything fits together. Theme, actions, game board, character and rules.
There are of course also games I dislike. I am not a huge fan of cooperative games. Feels a bit like we are playing a game I could have played alone just as well. I don't like party games very much or games with a large amount of luck.
I am not a big fan of 'mechanism' games either. With that I mean games where you have to combine a lot of mechanisms in the right way to win the game. Even the good ones fail to capture me. Partly that has to do with themes being pasted on, but the main reason is that there is no real goal. You don't build, race, chase or explore.
Among the games I think are really good rank: El Grande, Mage Knight, Dvonn, Agricola, Gift Trap, King of The Elves, Go, Kingdom Builder, Hansa Teutonica and Pitch car.
What is your favorite part of designing games?
Martyn: The first stage, where your idea is still immature and every new version is exciting (and flawed).
What is your least favorite part?
Martyn: I have to actually think about that really hard. But I guess it would be finishing off the last details. Not because it is really tedious, but because it can take quite a while to have played a game often enough with enough different people to phase out all the little errors in game rules and reach the maximum potential of a game.
This year ABACUSSPIELE is releasing Limes (pronounced: lee-mez), a reworking of Cities (released by Z-Man Games). Could you explain what the game is about and how you play it?
Martyn: In Limes each player has his own deck of cards. One player shuffles his deck, then places a card at random on the table; each other player takes this same card and places it on the table in his own area. Each player can optionally place one of his figures on this card; once a figure is placed on a card, it cannot be returned to the supply. The second card played (and all subsequent cards) much be placed adjacent to or touching the corner of an already-played card. After each card placement, a player can either place a new figure on this card or move an already-placed figure; a figure can move from one territory to an adjacent territory, e.g., from woods to lake or from grain fields to woods.
The game ends as soon as a player has placed 16 cards in a square (4x4 cards). Each player then receives points as follows:
• Farmers receive one point for each connected grain field.
• Fishermen receive one point for every hut situated directly adjacent to their lake.
• Watchmen receive one point for every patch of woods they can see in a straight line (north, east, south, west) from their tower; other watchtowers block their view, so they can't see woods behind those towers.
• Woodcutters receive one point for every territory to which they can deliver wood, e.g., every different adjacent territory.
The player with the most points wins, with ties being broken in favor of the player who has the highest score with a single figure.
Aside from being just 2 players (in the box) and the new art, what are the difference between Cities and Limes?
Martyn: More than you'd think at first glance.
First off, you can place your meeples on water now.
Second, every different kind of territory scores in a different way. So that means four different ways of scoring (as opposed to 2 different ways of scoring in Cities).
Third, I have introduced huts to the game (important for the fisher man).
Fourth, the layout of (and more important) the distribution of different kinds of territories over the tiles differs a lot from that of Cities. I was reluctant to change this, because now you can't combine Cities and Limes. But there was no way around it. The game wouldn't have been as much fun as it is now.
Fifth, you can't pick up meeples anymore, once placed.
Sixth, they can still move. In Limes they move from territory to territory in stead of from square to square.
Seventh, the meeple on the water can also be a ferryman in stead of a fisher man. A nice addition for the game, a must for the new 'heavy' variant I am developing, right now.
Both Cities and Limes only use 16 out of the 24 tiles. Why is that and what do you think it adds to the gameplay over using 20 or all 24 tiles?
Martyn: Well, the answer to that question is really simple. If you were to use all cards in the game, you could try and construct the same landscape, that brings most points, time and again. The one that constructed the best landscape at some point (or gleaned it from BGG) would almost always win the game.
Now though, you don't know what cards come into play and when. You know there are 2 cards with double grain and double water, so one of them is likely to be drawn. . You can take that card into account when planning your landscape, but you're not a 100% sure it will actually be drawn. And that makes the game a lot more interesting than if you were able to use all cards.
Do you have a favorite game between Cities and Limes?
Martyn: Ow, very difficult question. Limes is based on Cities level 2. If I compare those two, I like Limes a lot better. It's more interesting, has more options, without being more difficult to play. But, I also still love playing Cities level 3.
If you like Cities Level 3 better than Cities Level 2, why did you base Limes off of Level 2 instead of 3?
Martyn: Why base Limes on Cities level 2 you ask. Well, there's only 1 reason: the players. I myself might like Cities better at level 3, but most of the players play level 2.
So when I started discussing Limes with Abacus, we immediately agreed the new game should be based on Cities level 2, because that way it would be attractive for most of the players. Abacus found it to be a perfect 'gateway game'. A game that you can play with people new to gaming, but also with 'Vielspieler'.
Of course I also like to cater for the players who like it a bit more difficult, but we decided to keep that out of the rules and put it as a variant on the website and BGG.
Why did you decide to dust off Cities and rework it?
Martyn: Well, actually I didn't decide to dust it off. First contact with Abacus dates back to 2010. But because I licensed the game to Z-Man and because Z-Man was merging with Filosofia it took some time to clear the way for this version. And then once we got everything cleared, Abacus wanted another theme and more difference in scoring options. So then I had to get back to work and it took another half year. Abacusdidn't want to release it in Essen, but in Nürnberg. And then it was 2014. Publishing isn't always as easy as it looks.
Could you share with us the story behind how Cities came to be?
Martyn: More or less. I remember I wanted to make a game that could be played by a lot of people. I though the easiest way would be if everyone would play simultaneously. As a theme I chose city building. In the earlier versions you were placing pieces with houses, parks and industries on it. Of course the industries shouldn't be build right next to the houses and parks made houses more attractive. Somehow the industries were phased out and I only kept the 'nice' parts.
How did you pick the theme, and why call it Limes. In many parts of the world, that refers to a type of citrus fruit. What exactly is Limes, for readers that do not know?
Martyn: I understand that Limes might be a bit strange for english speaking people. Limes does not refer to the citrus fruit, however. Instead, it refers to the border of the Roman empire. Running from Great Britain via Holland, Hungary to the Middle East and Africa. Actually, it wasn't me who came up with the title. That was Abacus. But the moment they let me know, I knew it was the right title. It really fits the theme with the watch towers, that were standing alongside that border. To be honest, I hadn't even thought about a title. Mainly because I thought Abacus would probably change the theme I had picked anyway. Publishers have lot of reasons to (not) pick a certain theme. But in this case they liked my theme and kept it. That happens too.
What was your first reaction when you saw Claus Stephan’s art for the tiles?
Martyn: Cool! I really like what he did to the game. It enhances game play.
Do you enjoy other games like Limes where every player is placing the same puzzle piece to compete for high score?
Martyn: Yes, I do. E.g. Qwixx or High Score are games I like playing.
Did any games inspire you when you were making Cities/Limes?
Martyn: I think the correct answer is no. And yes.
I can't say that other games don't inspire me, because I play a lot of games and that all gets mashed up in my head and certainly adds to my games. People often tell me what my games remind them of. And sometimes it astonishes me that I myself didn't see the resemblance. But that's probably also due to the fact that I'm too deep into it from the beginning, to see the end product clear and fresh.
When I'm working on a game, I always start with a theme I want to use and go from there. Unlike some other developers, I don't try to use a certain type of mechanism in my game (No judgement intended, it's just not the way I work). The theme somehow has its own mechanism in it. And I take it from there.
Then again, other games do tell me what does work and what doesn't. So I certainly use that knowledge. Especially in the end phase, if there is a part of my game that is not working as intended, I might look at other games to see how they solved the problem. Though that seldom helps, it sometimes does give a new insight, that leads to new ideas.
What is your favorite variant found in the rules of Limes?
Martyn: If we are strictly talking about the variants in the rules: variant 1, laying out on the digital. This variant gives you more freedom and flexibility. Somehow the test players from Abacus never missed it, but I use the option of placing a tile corner to corner at least once almost every game.
I know that you are planning on posting some variants on your website for Limes. What is your favorite one and could you tell us how to play it?
Martyn: I'm not sure yet, what my favorite one is. But I am really starting to like the 'Brain teaser'. This is a variant I am developing now, especially for BGG-players. (Well actually, the more demanding player. I know that not every BGG-player is a player of heavy games.) I know from experience that most people play Cities on level 2 (total: 3 levels). This new variant however will be more like the level 3 Cities variant and have every meeple scoring in 2 ways. E.g. the farmer will not only score for the grain fields, but also 'deliver' food to the other meeples in directly adjacent territories. I would ike to give you the complete rules, but I want to do some final testing before putting them online. I hope to have them ready next week or the week after that.
How many Limes variants do you hope to have published on your website?
Martyn: About 4. Not all of them will change play in a revolutionary way, but they will certainly be fun to try!
You seem to enjoy making variants for your games. What draws you to creating them?
Martyn: The thing I like about variants is that you can experience the same game in a different way. Sometimes it is also a bit of a spin-off from the development phase. In the end phase I often test different versions of the game. Most of the time there are a few versions that are good. But in the end you can publish only one. The variants make up for that.
It also happens however, that something comes up later on. A player that makes a remark about something, that puts my mind spinning and before you know it, a new variant is born.
But the most important thing for me is, that my fans like playing my games. Variants give players a way to fine-tune the game to their own needs. The more variants I can come up with, the more fun they can have.
Have you thought of running a variant contest - where you ask fans of the game to design a variant of Limes, just using what comes in the box?
Martyn: Nope, haven't thought of it. Good idea though.
What was your favorite part in developing Limes?
Martyn: Figuring out two extra ways of scoring, that were different from the ones I already had. The new ways of scoring would have to be interesting, add to game play and (very important) be balanced against the other ways of scoring. So e.g. scoring a lake by multiplying the breadth and the width would be a big mistake. That's why I came up with the huts.
What was your biggest challenge in designing Limes?
Martyn: To come up with 4 different ways of scoring that were both logical and interesting for the players. It might seem easy, but it wasn't. Only when I came up with the idea of the huts, (well in my prototype they were piers, but Claus Stephan changed them to huts) did things start to work out.
What was the best piece of advice you received from a playtester when you were still prototyping Limes?
Martyn: I tried hard, but I can't recall. This is probably due to the fact that I didn't change anything else but the number of huts on the cards after playtesting with other players. I mainly used their input to see if the scores of every type of figure would be balanced. I had all other 'problems' already solved by playing alone. This is also due to the character of Limes, which can be played solo. I could never do it this way for games with interaction between players.
I do remember however, when playing an early version of Cities, that my wife asked me, why there were 3 different kind of meeples. She asked, because I hadn't explained. But I interpreted that remark a bit different and thought by myself: "Yes, why?” So from then on there was only 1 type of meeple.
When you look at the published version of Limes, what makes you most proud about it as the games designer?
Martyn: That everything fits so nicely together. With that I mean that the theme really fits the game. The game rules are logical. Nothing is contra intuitive. The graphics enhance the game and the gaming. The box looks nice. Everything as it should be.Does this sound too smug? Because that's not meant to be. And mind you, the fact that everything fits so good together is not only my doing, but just as much that of the people at Abacus Spiele and Claus Stephan.
For the player that already owns Cities, why should they also pick up Limes?
Martyn: If you like playing Cities level 2, you will love Limes. Limes has more and different ways of scoring that, in my (unbiased) opinion, make the game more interesting.
In 12 words or less, can you finish this sentence: Limes is _____.
Martyn: a great game that you can (and should!) play everywhere.
You mentioned at the start of the interview, that you will trying to put out a cardboard version of TWRS. For those that don't know - could you tell us what TWRS is and how it is played?
Martyn: In TWRS each player possesses 3 T(o)w(e)rs. Each turn you must move one of them.
After this, you can "activate" the tower you moved to place marking stones on the game board. You try to use these to lessen the freedom of movement of your opponent's towers , while maintaining your own . The marking stones based on the game board start dividing up the game board in different areas.
As soon as there are only towers of the same colour in a closed area, those towers can not be moved anymore. That area now belongs to the owner of the tower(s).
The player that secures the largest territory (all his areas together), wins the game.
Is there anything else we should be looking for on the horizon from you in 2014 or early 2015, besides Limes and the new TWRS?
Martyn: Certainly nothing else in 2014. In 2015 I hope to release 1 or 2 new games.
But honestly, I don't plan that far ahead. So ask me again at the end of the year.
What game releasing in 2014 (that isn't yours) are you must looking forward to?
Martyn: Difficult question. I am not a person who keeps ranking lists. And I don't get to play as many new games as I would like, mainly because a lot of the time I am playtesting my own games. But I am curious how Burgenland (Inka & Markus Brand) plays, what Greed (Donald X. Vaccarino) is like and how Han plays (I really like a lot of Michael Schacht's games).
Is there anything you like to add, as we wrap this up?
Martyn: If you want, you can follow me on Facebook or Twitter: Look for @OriginalMartynF or use my website (www.martynf.com) to get there.
Thank you Martyn for doing this interview.
Martyn: My pleasure.
What's that you say? Inquiring meeples want to know more?You may want to check out these links:
• Marytn F official website
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