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Designer DAILY Diary: Castles of Mad King Ludwig I

Ted Alspach
United States
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Castles of Mad King Ludwig Collector's Edition on Kickstarter January 19th
Castles of Mad King Ludwig Collector's Edition on Kickstarter January 19th
Microbadge: Castles of Mad King Ludwig fanMicrobadge: Castles of Mad King Ludwig fanMicrobadge: Bézier Games fanMicrobadge: Bézier Games "Maglev Metro Maps: Mechs, Monorails & More" Contest ParticipantMicrobadge: Maglev Metro fan
Board Game: Castles of Mad King Ludwig
This is going to be a slightly different read than the typical designer diary. As noted below, as I started to design Castles of Mad King Ludwig, I just had one of those feelings that it was extra special, so I wrote down my progress almost daily for about four months. (Coincidentally, I had just gone "full time" for game designing/publishing a month earlier, so I did have more time available to do this.) Looking back on it now, it's really interesting (to me, at least) how the game evolved.

The diary stopped in August 2013 as the game was probably 90% "designed" but still only 50% developed. Castles had been playtested over three hundred times when it made it to the printer in mid-2014.

With that said, I hope you enjoy what is probably the most detailed (and longest) designer diary I'll ever write. (I'm pretty excited about future games, too, but I haven't chronicled their development like I have here.) I've gone through and indicated items that made it to the published game in RED so that you can see when different aspects of the game appeared during the process.

Friday, May 3rd, 2013
Woke up at 2am with the base idea. I've wanted to do a micro or macro version of Suburbia, but I had (for the Micro version) been thinking more along the lines of infrastructure: roads, electric, sewer, water, trash, etc. But I woke up thinking what if, instead, players could build their own buildings? Most buildings would be boring, but a mansion...oooh, that would be really interesting. Fell back asleep with a mental post-it note stuck to my brain about the idea.

At 6am, woke up and ran to my computer to write up the first concept/rules/overview document (see document from 5-3-13). Working title is "Mansions of Suburbia."

Then I started futzing around in Illustrator with different rooms and connections. Sized everything to fit in an 11" high by 22" wide playing area. You can build a pretty awesome mansion in that space. Here's an image of what I ended up with:

From gallery of toulouse

Researched all the types of rooms you might find in a contemporary mansion and in mansions from medieval times.

Wrote up a giant list of all the rooms I came up with. About 200 in all. Then categorized them by type: living, sleeping, eating, outdoor. Split living into five sections: living (relaxing), activity, corridors, utility, and basement. I like eight categories. It's double that of Suburbia.

Started making initial buildings in Illustrator. Basic, no real art, just different colors/symbols for each type. Each building that's at least 2x2 has a "star" value, which I'm calling Prestige right now but I'm thinking of it as "Awesomeness". How awesome is it to have each type of room in my mansion? Kitchen, just one. Bedroom, one. Throne room? Five. Dungeon? Five.

Came up with different criteria: Adjacent, connected, each of your. Every doesn't make sense since I think I will have all unique rooms except for hallways, stairs, bathrooms and bedrooms, and rooms never get flushed. I want it to be 2-5 players out of the gate. I think there will be a solo and/or bot game in there somewhere, but for now I'm going to focus on the multiplayer game.

Thinking about goals and how they would work here. Lots of ideas, including public goals similar to Suburbia, private goals similar to Suburbia Inc (expansion) stack bonuses/challenges, and tiered goals. The latter feels better for this kind of game.

Saturday, May 4th
Finished creating buildings in Illustrator. Printed them out, pasted them up via Xyron to cardboard and cut them. 210 rooms to start with. Here's a sample of the first set of test rooms.

From gallery of toulouse

Designed a "contract board" where the rooms are placed in order to auction them off.

Came up with a deck of 32 room cards that represent all the shapes and frequency of those shapes in the game. That's what the start player will use to determine what room values are and how much he'll get paid for them.

Created a new version of the rules, this time more rule based and less conceptual.

Mansions of Suburbia
A building game for 2-5 players

Updated Rules: May 4, 2013

MoS is a tile laying building game in which each player is trying to build the most opulent, large, and over-the-top mansion possible. Players are contractors, looking for the best deals on rooms.

160 Room tiles of all shapes and sizes
50 Hallway/Stairway tiles
32 Shape cards
1 Contract Board
$XX in money
Start Player token
20 End Game Goals
10 Player Challenges

Each player receives one Foyer and $30 (thousand) in cash. Place the Foyer in front of each player. Randomly determine a Start Player.

Place the Contract Board in the middle of the table, and place the hallways/stairs on their spaces there.

First Round:
The start player draws cards equal to the number of people playing, and places a building tile of the sizes drawn on the Contract Board at whatever prices he chooses.

Each player (including the Start Player), starting from the player to your left of the Start Player chooses one of the rooms or a hallway/Stairs and pays you for it. If they pass, they receive $5 and you receive nothing. When it comes to your turn, you pay the bank for the tile/upgrade you choose. If you pass, you receive $5 from the bank. Unselected tiles get $1 placed on them. Then the start player moves to the person on the left.

Subsequent Rounds:
The start player draws cards equal to the number of people playing or the number of empty spaces on the contract board, whatever is less, and places a building tile of the sizes drawn on the Contract Board at whatever prices he chooses. If there are buildings on any of those spaces, he may move them to a different price before placing.

Placing Rooms:
When it is your turn to take a room, you have the following choices:
• Buy a room and place it.
• Buy a Hallway/stairs and place it.
• Pass.

If you buy a room or hallway/stairs, you must place it in your mansion using the following rules: A door from the new room must align with another door of a room already in your mansion that can be traced back to the Foyer. New tiles may never overlap each other. You may align doorways to walls, as long as you follow rule #1 above.

Game end
The game is over immediately after the round in which the last room has been purchased. Players determine the value of their Mansion plus any cash on hand. The player with the highest overall value wins!
Ran through a simple two-player mini-playtest of placing rooms one at a time based on a limited selection. No money, no score...yet. Not particularly compelling, but I did discover that hallways need to have doorways...that was really frustrating. Not looking forward to redoing all the hallways. All hallways should have doors on every available space.

This is when I decided to write a live diary. I wrote all of yesterday's entries and today's just now. I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep this up, but hopefully I will and the game doesn't sputter and die. (Most designs do, but this feels extra special.) ‘Cause if this game never sees the light of day, writing this won't be nearly as useful. Now I'm wondering if writing this will spur me on to work on the game when I might have shelved it otherwise. What would have happened to Suburbia if I had never shelved it and let it gel in the back of my mind for a few years like I did, but instead went full speed ahead with it? Would it simply have been out sooner in a form very very similar to how it was published, or would it have been dramatically different? I wish I had my thoughts and notes from the early days of its development...for my BGG designer diary I had to go back and piece a lot of it together from old files and their "last modified" dates. I got most of it right, but there's no way I could remember it all. If MoS makes it, this'll be an incredible reference tool. And now I'm back to wondering how much this particular diary will influence the design/development of the game. Heavy stuff.

Realized I need some time away to recalibrate, so took twelve hours off (from 6pm Saturday to 6am Sunday).

Sunday, May 5th
Up at 6am, redid hallways. Yuck, just busy work but needed to be done. grabbed a Suburbia scoreboard, some small ceramic stars, Suburbia 5s and 1s and headed downstairs for a "real" playtest. Spent four hours doing a real self playtest with four players. With money and having the Start player choose the values, and keeping score (still no goals though), it's very engaging. Set the game length to (tentatively) three times through the deck (96 cards), about thirty turns. Found a few issues with various tiles, but nothing game-breaking. This is going to take a long time to balance correctly. Stopped after playtest for a nap to recharge (after all, it is Sunday).

After a relaxing two-hour nap, I worked on goals. I'm going with Tiered goals (first gets X, second gets x, etc.) for things like most rooms of a type (8), and most bathrooms/halls/bedrooms. And also most square feet of each type (8). That's 19 there, but also most total square feet and most money. That's 21. I'm making them 16/8/4/2/0, using the top X number for each player type. That way first place is always a bonus of eight stars, regardless of the number of players. I'm happy with that bit of cleverness. Those are the public goals.

For personal goals, they are following Suburbia challenges: They are "at least" challenges, so you have to have "at least" X in order to get 10 stars at the end of the game. You'll get to pick between two of them at the start of the game, so you have a better chance of not conflicting with goals on the public board (more important for 2/3 players than 4/5).

Did a real four-player playtest with Toni, Gage and Dakota (they're awesome for trying stuff out so early on), and it went well. Feels a little long, and there are things to work on, but it's a good, solid start.

Monday, May 6th
Up early to do a bunch of little fixes. Foyers need built-in player colors. The main scoreboard needs to be changed: There need to be places for the goals, and I'm removing 1x2 and 2x5 hallways and their designated areas from the Contract board. I also had to redo the Long Hallways and change them from 1x7 to 1x6, and make more of them (since there are no more 1x5s). Also added "steps" to the stairs to show them going from light to dark. For production, it makes sense to make the hallways double-sided, with one side white (main floor) and the other side darker (basement).

Tuesday, May 7th
A bit of a setback today as I came down with a nasty cold that essentially had me bedridden. I needed to do more testing in order to refine (which definitely can't be done in bed), so I took the opportunity to work on Suburbia Inc and other Bezier Games items, and spent some time refining the rules, including trying to shore up the downstairs rooms concept.

While I'm writing this, it might be a good time to write up the similarities and differences between Suburbia and "Mansions":

From gallery of toulouse

I also put out some feelers to get a graphic designer to work their magic on my ridiculously lame design for the rooms. That'll help a lot!

Wednesday, May 8th
A big self playtest (three-player) today, with the goal of taking lots of notes and addressing certain issues, number one being the length of the game. The first way to solve the length issue is by taking out some of the cards used to populate the contract board with rooms: Removing four of the 32 cards (two 100 sqft, two 200 sqft) results in saving 1/8th of the game time. Another way to solve the issue is to remove one of the eight choices on the contract board; now there are only seven spots (the 8 and 6 spot have been combined to become a 7 spot). Yet another way is to change the "number of players or empty spots on the board, whichever is fewer" for cards being dealt: only in the beginning of the game did that matter, so now it's always the empty spaces, even on the first turn.

Removing cards means I have to remove 20 of the 160 buildings. Most of these will be bedrooms (ten) and bathrooms (five) along with five other 100sqft buildings.

Another thing that I don't like is that there are too many room sizes. There are twelve right now, along with two different sizes for hallways and stairs. I want to get that down to ten room sizes. It probably makes sense to get rid of the in-betweens, moving them to other sizes. So I'm thinking about making some of the 2x3s into 2x2s, 2x5s and 2x7s. (There are already 25 2x4s.) And then making all the 3x4s (ten) into 3x5s and 3x6s.

During this playtest I discovered that the goal of total sqft is NOT fun to compute — it's hard enough to add up the sqft for one type, but all would be painful — so that goal has to go away. And I came up with a good idea for what to replace it with: External doors (most).

During the first four-player playtest on Sunday, one of the playtesters mentioned what would happen if they ran out of doors to connect to? Of course, that would break the game because nothing could be added to the mansion. So I've added a rule to always have at least one door that can be accessed from the outside (not from an enclosed "outside" space). Of course, it's still possible for a player to hose themselves by making that door in a spot where they can't fit any rooms or by making the only door outside on an edge of an outdoor room's last empty edge (though I have a fix for that upcoming, see below).

I really like the attributes of downstairs and outside buildings: I like that they have certain restrictions (downstairs must be played downstairs, while outside must always have at least 1 edge empty). I'm thinking I should double-down on those attributes and make it more clear on the tile. (Right now there's no indicator on the downstairs tiles, and the outside tiles each have text on them, as some of them require more than one edge to be empty.) I think I'll make ALL outside rooms have one edge empty, and I'll designate that edge right on the tile. That might hurt connectors, so I'll have to check on each of them and see whether I need to add more doorways. I think I might be able to do the same with Downstairs iconography...on the stairs as well as the downstairs tiles. I'm thinking that the other room types might also benefit from some kind of attributes too, but there are six other types to work on. Yikes.

One of the chief complaints with Suburbia is it's hard to remember that you have a tile that is impacted by "every" tile of a type in the game. Well, Mansions doesn't care about tiles that aren't in your mansion, but it does have a lot of "each of your" conditional statements. Those should be different than the connected/adjacent ones. Maybe I could add a halo around those to make them show up better.

I'm also thinking that the "connected" conditions should always be bonuses, and the "adjacent" ones should always be negatives. But the "each of your" conditions could be either.

I really need to make some dark hallways for basements: double-sided is a pain, but for now I can make separate ones that are dark.

Also, the corridors that you get points for can't be hallways. They can be halls, which is much nicer sounding. Also, they shouldn't be completely wide open. They should have fewer doorways than hallways (but still a lot of doorways).

This evening I finally found the right term for the "star points": Luxury. I think that totally works. Luxury Points. It's just the right amount of over-the-top.

I contacted Dale Yu (who did the dev work for me on Suburbia) to see whether he'd be around at Origins so I could show this to him as a possible dev work project for him. He's open to it. I didn't give him details on anything yet except that it was a "spiritual successor to Suburbia" which I think is apt.

Thursday, May 9th
Woke up thinking that Luxury isn't the right term. What I'm really going for is "awesomeness" points. That sounds silly. Maybe if I put it in the rules it'll start to sound better.

Here are the eight rooms and their defining characteristics:
Outdoor: one edge is always empty
Downstairs: must be downstairs. Has two doors unless it's a pit (which must be connected directly to stairs)
Activity: Always has three doors
Sleep: Always has two doors on adjacent sides
Utility: Always has one door (special bathroom exception)
Food: Always has two doors on opposite sides
Living: Always has four doors, one on each edge
Corridors: Halls have multiple doors, stairs have two doors

I redid the vast majority of the rooms, and now all of them follow the above criteria. That means I have to print them out again in order to test them. Yuck!

I've gotten in touch with a few graphic designers to see whether they can put some magic into the current design.

I've updated the look of the shape cards to be blueprints. (I think that might be a nice theme for the "back of the tile" look as well.)

Friday, May 10th
It's going to be longer than I had hoped for the updated room artwork, so I printed another set of rooms (six 11x17 sheets) this morning (full set #2, if you're counting). Now I have to apply adhesive, mount them, and cut them. Yuck. But I'll have a totally updated set, albeit with the old graphics. But in order to move forward, I need to continue to test what I have. Besides, it's not like I'm not going to make changes to the rooms anyway.

I think I will print out stickers to put on the back of each tile with their sizes. I think I'll use Avery sheets for this, so they are consistent.

Renaming the game to "Mansions" for now because every one thinks it's an expansion for Suburbia with the old name. I'd like to take advantage of the Suburbia name, but not at the expense of people thinking it's an expansion.

Printed out all the tiles again and new stickers. Added "Most and fewest external doors" to the goals and a new eight external doors challenge.

Did a Real two-player playtest w/ Toni, going through the now 27-card deck twice, and it was again, too long.

Saturday, May 11th
Started the day with a four-player self test, and determined that the player challenges are too hard and too random...a few players never saw their needed tiles come up hardly at all. Midway through put in a new rule: When taking $5, you also take two new challenges and look at them, and keep 1. It worked for one player, but for two other players, they just got screwed. Seemed too random as well.

Redid the challenges to be about 1/2 of the requirements for rooms/sqft, and half the points (5/6 instead of 10/12). Will keep the new "take two when you take $5" rule, but will now add the rule that you get NEGATIVE points for missed challenges. I'm concerned about everyone using their last few turns to churn through the challenges, but the negative potential should offset that. And the game won't end until all the cards have gone through, so maybe it's not too bad.

For now, I'm removing the fifth player. I think it would be unbearably long.

Other changes: $2 per unused tile in a four-player game instead of $1.

Played another four-player self playtest through with the updated challenge rules, and it was pretty compelling. I'm not sure about the Take $5 *AND* one of two tiles; that seems harsh, but then again, if you can't buy anything on a turn because you blew your stash on something, you KNOW you don't have anything for the next turn (unless you are start player next turn, then you might).

The $2 per tile worked pretty well for four players. I'm thinking that maybe I should keep it $2/tile for two and three players and make the difference that for three players you don't use the $1 spot, and for two players you don't use the $1 OR $2 spot. Gotta do the math there, but I think that works.

The length of the game seems better now: I set it for four players so that you run through the deck twice, but you take seven rooms out randomly first. That was a good length. I think. We'll see with real people.

Sunday, May 12th
I'm still struggling with a way to make the game the correct length for different player numbers. Going through the deck twice for four players (plus an initial seven room placement) is a good length for four, but that's too long for two, and probably for three as well. Today will be a three-player self test to see whether it is indeed too long. There's a tradeoff of good game length vs. giving players the idea that they are actually building a mansion (and not just a big house). You need a lot of rooms for a mansion.

Self playtest with three worked; it's a reasonable length. But it's still missing something. What is that mystery ingredient?

After a dip in the pool and a long hot shower (good ideas often come in the shower), I had an idea: Each of the room types don't just have physical attributes, they give you a special power when you COMPLETE them. Completing them means that all their doorways lead somewhere: another room or corridor. (Note from August 2014 Ted: This aspect was the turning point in the game. The room completion rewards are awesome.) Here are the ideas I came up with:

Bonus points
Double regular room points
Extra buy (on the turn the room is completed)
Free Basic Corridor (for corridors, of course) to be placed immediately
Ability to move any (other) room, keeping of course the basic rules intact (must be able to get from Foyer to the room, etc.
Get to pick up Challenge tokens (see below on my change to this)

Now to assign them to each type!

For challenges, the issue continues that if you get them late in the game, they're really random how much they help/hurt you, so I am going to change them to much smaller amounts, and make challenges PER instead of a larger total. For instance, 1 point PER every 200 sqft of each room, or 1 point PER each room of one type. I could also do other smaller things like 1 point PER each completed room, 1 point PER each room TYPE you have, 1 point PER each specific size room (oooh, that's a good one), 1 per each size you have.

As I was typing up the bonuses, I realized that #5 above would cause total chaos with scoring: moving a room. Would you have to subtract scores? If a room was complete, would it be completed again or should the completeness bonus be taken off? Any time I see the potential for a rules nightmare, I'm pretty fast to shut it down, unless the feature/mechanism is incredibly huge. This one isn't. But now I'm at six out of eight. Gotta think about those other two.

For now I have Utility and Downstairs without completed bonuses. Utility rooms have one door, so that's weird, because it happens as soon as you place it.

Monday, May 13th
I created the player aid for the room type bonuses. Still don't have one for sleep. Changed the Utility bonus to be get one challenge (no looking through the stack). Seems a little more random, but faster and not guaranteed to be as much of a bonus if the player got to look through each of them.

I created all the updated and new challenges. There are now thirty of them (compared to seventeen before).

Updated the Contract board to show the tiering of the goals...It has space for the goals above, the rooms below and the stairs and hallways to either side on top. Keeps the board really small.

Tuesday May 14th
Started the day with a four-player self playtest. Lots of great ideas, and giving the room types bonuses for completing has worked really well. In addition, I came up with something for the Sleep rooms: Completing a Zzzz room allows the player to sort through a single pile of rooms of their choice and rearrange the order of that stack in any way they choose. I don't want to make it too complicated, but in order to prevent two players from doing the same stack on the same (or even subsequent) turns, I want to put a token on a "viewed" stack that comes off only when a room from that stack goes to the contract board.

Lots of other ideas and changes:
• I'm changing all the prices so that they are 1/2 of what they were: once I started going to $2 per untaken room, this was probably inevitable.
All the downstairs rooms are now changed to EACH OF YOUR and they don't have a completion bonus.
• No other room types will have EACH OF YOUR, which will, I believe, SOLVE the Suburbia "I forgot I had that" problem...if you have a downstairs room, you have each of yours; otherwise you don't. Simple.
Activity rooms will all have -1 for being next to certain room types. It's a good tradeoff from the +7 points you get when completing them.
Utility room bonus will be take two, keep one challenge. (It was just take one, but that's lame and too random.)

Successful two-player game (with Toni) this evening. She's very excited about the game now. (This was her first play with the new "completed" bonuses, and she likes them a lot.) Also, the game length seemed about right. (After the initial five room display, the cards were reshuffled and we went through the deck once.)

Rules are now two pages in Pages with two columns each as I've added lots of text for each room type.

Still waiting on artwork...the folks I've hired haven't quite gotten it yet.

Wednesday May 15th
I've given up on the artists for now. It appears that room design for boardgames is a skill that most designers just don't have. One already sent me a note telling me it just wasn't working (it wasn't), while the other continues to give me substandard stuff.

I've come up with a solid design for the rooms that should take me all the way through most playtesting. I'm calling it 3rd Gen, since it's the 3rd generation of my design (though 1 and 2 Gen were pretty similar).

From gallery of toulouse

All day has been spent redoing tiles. Each room is a separate file, which means that making changes to individual rooms for updates will be much easier. Had a setback midday when I realized that doorways weren't lining up.

The good news is that as I'm doing this I'm creating a much better set of rooms that match better.

As I'm working on redoing the artwork, I've also made a change to the structure of the sets of sizes: Most sizes will have three or four room types in them, and that's all. This should reward multiple plays of the game as users will have a better idea of what is in each stack (and it gives a little more oomph to the Zzzz bonus of going through a room size and reordering). So lots of rooms are being moved around from one size to another.

I'm also working on the theme a bit more for connections, trying to have them make as much sense as possible. It's still not as clear as Suburbia, but most of the time it makes sense.

Thursday, May 16th
More work on the redoing of the artwork. I finished 100, 200, 250, 225 and 350 sizes yesterday, so today I did the rest: the 375, 400, 450, 500 and 800 sizes. Jeesh, there are a lot of rooms. But this was finished and printed, and I redid the backs (before I had just been using printed stickers that had the blueprint grid with the size). Now the backs are consistent and cover the entire back of the tile, with the sqft in the center of the tile.

Printing, sticking and cutting the tiles took me about two hours. Not too bad, but I don't want to do this that often. Hopefully this set will last a long time with only minor tweaks.

One little adjustment is that larger living areas now have two types of rooms connected for bonuses.

As I was going through the process, I decided to remove all of the outdoor "courtyard" room types and replace them with other names. I want to call any internal empty surrounded area in a mansion a "courtyard," which could be a goal as well as a challenge.

Another change is that there are no more "pits" 'cause they just weren't fun.

Played a pair of two-player games with Toni today, and both were very compelling. Toni also did a runthrough of the rules and marked up lots of stuff. The second game was the first really competitive one, with Toni coming in three points behind me at the end. (I had been winning by 10-20 points in most previous playtests.) The designer advantage is wearing off the more Toni plays. Rats.

Friday, May 17th
It's hard to believe it's been a full two weeks of pretty much daily improvements/playing/testing/design for Mansions, but it has been, and the game has evolved pretty dramatically. I like the spot it's in right now, so today will be a day of rule fixing and a three- and a four-player self test.

{later) Well, I didn't get in any self testing; instead I played three two player games with Toni and one three-player game with Toni and Gage. I'm still undefeated, though the last game we played had me eking out victory by a single point. Lots of good ideas were tossed around during the game. Gage tried a unique "hallway stacking" strategy where he obtained about six hallways on a single turn by completing them one after the other. It's not game breaking, and it's probably not that great of a move — it takes at least three turns to pull off, not including the initial hallway you placed — but it's cheap and reminded me why playtesting with real people is important.

Saturday, May 18th
After yesterday's playtest sessions, a few things were apparent:
• The Yellow Chain isn't very thematic. I will be removing Food connection bonuses (to other Food rooms) as a way to partially solve this.
• The Sleeping room completion bonus is still lame. My idea to fix this is to change it: now the person completing the Sleeping room picks up a stack and places one room on TOP of the room card stack. It's much more powerful that way, and it does away with Sorting cubes/tokens, too.
• The backs of rooms need to show what room types are available in those stacks. Since I just did a whole printing, I'm going to create stickers for the rooms that have their type icons, and place them on the back of each room.

Did a four-player self playtest with the new Zzzz rules and it's better, but it's still weaker than most of the other bonuses. Maybe that's okay...not every bonus can be super exciting. I wish it were though. I'll have to think about it some more. One thing is for certain...the room completion bonuses totally give Mansions a different feel and increases replayability tremendously. That's a great addition to the game.
Finished the day with a two-player playtest with Toni. She won her first game against me, by about 12 points or so. Now that she knows the tile distribution (and things haven't changed too much since the completion bonuses are in place), she'll do better.

I added a fancy-looking Mansions logo as a placeholder as I didn't have one since the name change, which is now a long time ago.

Sunday, May 19th
Updated all the bonus tokens to be cards; since we're going to have cards in the game, having the bonuses as cards is probably cheaper from a production standpoint, and makes a lot of sense once you have thirty or so in a stack. (That many cardboard tokens are hard to shuffle, and difficult to read being so small, and even with my large hands I often couldn't pick up the stack with one hand in order to place a token under the stack after choosing one of two.) I had to redo the tokens anyway because they had the old icons. As I was doing so, I set them all to max out between 7 and 12 (14 for Sleep rooms since they have a lame completion bonus right now) for two players. There's more variability and a chance for a higher score with four players since more rooms come out, with max of 8-28 (though for 28, the player would have to place ALL 14 sleeping rooms, which seems just a little bit unlikely since they also have to pick this bonus when they place a utility room). I've been thinking about this for a while, and even though there's twice as many rooms that come out with four players, meaning higher potential bonuses, the chance of being able to obtain the rooms you need for the bonuses is more difficult because you have more people picking rooms ahead of you each turn.

In order to come up with these values, I used the data from my Numbers (yay! down with Excel!) file that lists all the rooms and their values/types/etc. and created a new sheet that lists out each of the bonuses and their potential values. It took me about 45 minutes, but it's a really useful tool (though in all honesty, dozens of playtests would get me there, too). Playtests will validate those points in real world conditions, and I'll adjust as needed, but this is a great mathematically-true starting point.

Added "Enclosed Courtyards" as a bonus. Those are difficult, so they are worth 7 points each. The logic is that you rarely create one unintentionally, but you can. They're reasonably easy to create with Hallways but they'll take you at least a turn per Courtyard to go out of your way to create with Hallways, so that's a good tradeoff.

After going through the exercise of creating the Courtyard bonus, I took it right back out for two reasons: 1) It's fiddly in that players have to understand a new term just for this bonus, and it's hard to define in a few short sentences. 2) It makes 33 bonuses, and I am printing the prototype cards 16 to a sheet. I might revisit the concept later, but for now it's out.

And as I am creating the bonus cards, I realized that I had 31, not 32, so Courtyards are back in....for now. We'll see how it plays. Very wishy-washy today...hahaha.

Two 2two-player playtests with Toni today, with us each winning one. On the second, I had the opportunity to get the Courtyard bonus. I got it about 2/3's of the way through the game, and already had one completed Courtyard. I was able to make another one by the end of the game, but I'm concerned that getting that card early might allow a player to create several by placing hallways between two columns. It's potentially game breaking as is. A fiddly rules fix, that I'm putting in place temporarily is that while a hallway can be an edge of a courtyard, the same hallway may not border more than one courtyard. That'll stop the hallway strategy (mostly) while still allowing a player to use a hallway to create a courtyard (which I think is fine). I don't particularly like it, and it goes back to my initial reason earlier today for taking it out.

Monday, May 20th
The two decks of cards are working well, but they do take up lots of additional table space. (The room deck needs a discard pile, so it's three full-size spaces.) I could make the cards the "small" size which both takes up less space and also is a little cheaper to manufacture. I typically don't like the small cards as much as the larger ones, but there's very little info on each. For now I'll keep the large ones, but I'll be thinking about the smaller ones for real production.

I added a clarification to the Sleeping room bonus: If a room is already on the Room deck (because someone else has completed a Sleeping room before you), you place a room on the TOP of that room (or rooms). Last in first out usually won't make a difference, and this is a cleaner rule than placing on the bottom of the rooms, but the top of the room deck. In fact, the rule won't come up very often anyway (as it means that two or more Sleeping rooms have to be completed the same turn, or on consecutive turns where the first one resulted in no rooms being added to the Contract board).

I'm working on updating the Contract Board...I've been playing with crossed out numbers on the board (when I went from $2 to $1 placement for untaken tiles). I also condensed it down to 11.5", which is the size it will need to be in order to fit in a Suburbia-sized box without making it a foldable board. We'll see if that's so small, it seems like it really should. Of course, I'm also thinking that maybe we should have a board that has spots for each size tile...right now they are all over the place in stacks, and it's hard to remember where they are...that would make things a little easier, and force organization of them.

After a solid hour of monkeying around with the Contract Board, I ended up making it exactly the same size and shape as the Suburbia Real Estate Market. That's good and bad: Good 'cause it's familiar and links the two games. Bad because the way tiles come out are different, and how goals are scored is different. But I think the good outweighs the bad in this case...It's familiar yet different.

I also redid the goals with the new icons and removed the word "most" from all of them. Goals in Mansions are always "most", so it is not necessary. I also added Completed Rooms and Courtyards as two more goals, bring the total to 20, just like Suburbia.

Played a four-player self test today, and found it very engaging again. No major issues going through the deck twice.

Played a two-player game with Toni at the end of the evening. Very solid, very compelling.

I believe it is ready for "real" playtesting with external testers. I've set up something tentatively for tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 21st
First thing this morning I played through a three-player selftest. No issues, but I need to clarify the "1 1/2 decks" rules. I'm going to go with doing the 1/2 deck to start, then the 1 deck to finish.

Today is a day of polishing the components and getting ready for playtesting:
• I created stickers for the backs of each of the tiles that shows which types are in each stack (useful for when Sleeping rooms are completed).
• I updated the Player Reference cards that show what the room completion bonuses are.
• I switched out the Suburbia blue "skyscraper" icon for a large (1") yellow cube. Ideally I would like the start player (contractor) token to be a yellow hard hat. That reinforces the "I'm the builder this turn" theme.
• I created a scoreboard: 0 to 100, similar in style to the Suburbia one (which I had been using), but bigger to fit the nice glass stars I have been using as player scoring markers.
• I created a box top from an old Suburbia box. It's all white with the purple logo and a nice image of a mansion on the front. Good enough for prototype purposes.
• I created a box bottom, too. It's really not necessary, but one thing EVERYONE does when they see my prototype boxes is pick them up and turn them over, so it has placeholder text as well as a few pictures.

Played a two-player game with Toni, and she won AGAIN. Hmmm.

Bit the bullet and made double-sided hallways and stairs to replace the ones I had made a week ago. Because they're thin, it's a challenge to get them lined up perfectly, but this time, the first attempt was a winner.

First real playtest tonight with J & B. Here is the feedback from them (* items are ones I definitely am interested in addressing):

*100 is too small of a score
Sleep completed bonus seems weakest

"connected" vs. "adjacent" is confusing. Wants a better term for "Connected"
*Jungle Garden should be "Gazebo"

Doors should be more obvious
*Icons should be bigger
Make a money spot on the room tiles
La-Z-boy instead of fire for living rooms
*Bigger Reference card

Otherwise, the game went well; they were very engaged. B is a/p prone...her choosing a room would often take five minutes and setting up the tiles would take ten. The result was a three hour game. I don't think that's typical, but I'll keep it in mind going forward. Even without that, I could see the number of cards being reduced to 25 from 27 (would result in one fewer turn for a four-player game). Alternatively, in a four-player game the initial seven cards that are dealt could be put in the discard pile instead of being placed back into the deck.

I'm also thinking about getting rid of either the 200 or 250 size tiles. They're really close in size. If I go down to 25 cards, I can get rid of ten rooms (as there are fifteen in each of the 200 and 250 stacks). For this batch of playtests, however, I will keep these in place.

Wednesday, May 22nd
Confirmed game for Friday in Phoenix with the North Valley Boardgamers. Will be bringing both Mansions and the Suburbia expansion there.

Thursday, May 23rd
Travel day: driving to Phoenix for Memorial Day weekend.

Friday, May 24th
Played a four-player game with Chris B., Eric and Nick at the North Valley Boardgamers meet. They all liked it a lot, but I'm definitely sure the game is too long right now. Went over 100 again (top score was 103)

Saturday, May 25th
One of the comments from last night's play session stuck a chord with me...they said it was difficult to get the rooms lined up correctly. I know that's going to happen due to the nature of the rooms and entranceways. I had an idea for that: What if doors were placed in the middle of every ten feet instead of every five feet? The catch? All rooms would have to be in increments of ten feet 'cause things would go bad for a 15x15 room...where would the doors go?

If I did this, room sizes would be much larger if I were to have ten sizes:
10x10 (100 sqft...exists today)
10x20 (200 sqft...exists today)
10x30 (300 sqft)
10x50 (500 sqft...dupe of the one below)
20x20 (400 sqft...exists today)
20x30 (600 sqft)
20x40 (800 sqft exists today...this is the largest room in the current set)
20x50 (1000 sqft)
30x30 (900 sqft)
30x40 (1200 sqft)

Of course, I could have non-rectangular rooms, too. On second thought, if I kept things the way they are today, I could still have non-rectangular rooms. That might make things more interesting. I'll have to play around with that to see what it would look like.

After monkeying around with some shapes, non-rectangular rooms certainly are more interesting, but they're going to cause a lot of issues when it comes to placing those rooms. I might print out of a few sample rooms when we return home from Phoenix, but my gut feeling is that unusual shapes (an L, Z or C) will cause frustration and not really provide much benefit.

Sunday-Monday, May 26th-27th
Memorial Day weekend. No Mansions playing or updating. Did see Fast & Furious 6 at Studio Movie Grill, shot a few dozen rounds at Ben Avery, played three games of Ultimate Werewolf.

Tuesday, May 28th
Drove back from Arizona, but got in a two-player playtest of Mansions with Toni. Tried to work out the game length thing by theorizing how many cards would be needed since going through the deck twice is too long for four players. Top score in the game was 119 (Toni) to my 116. Her $30+ made the difference.

Wednesday, May 29th
New players: Playtest at Game Kastle in Fremont with Audrey, Ray (the owner) and Dean. They played a three-player game, and for the first time, I did not play as part of the playtest. I also had Ray learn the game from the rules, which he wasn't entirely on board to do, as he had just learned a bunch of other games over the he skimmed stuff and then "taught" the other two.

This was useful for clarifying things in the rules, and one item that needs to be updated instantly in the rules is the lack of icons next to the room types. That's an easy fix.

Everyone enjoyed the game. Ray said it was easier than Suburbia, while Dean said there was more thought involved. Audrey thought it was easier as well. Final score was Ray's 92 to Dean's 81 to Audrey's 79. Even though Audrey lost, she was ahead for most of the game (by 22 points at one time). Ray's "types of rooms" bonus and "200" size bonus won it for him in the end, while Dean (who had been in last place most of the game) made it into second with a 350 size bonus card. Ray and Dean each won one goal and came in second on another, and all three players tied for Courtyards (three each). That has me thinking that the current seven points per courtyard value is too high. (Maybe it should be four points each.)

Oh, and they all liked Awesomeness Points.

Thursday, May 30th
Mansions has been alive for 28 days today, four full weeks, and has dramatically evolved over that time.

Today I reprinted the Bonus cards at the new, smaller size. There are now 33 as I've added a "stairs" bonus (two for each). Each of the cards is now a separate file.

I also reprinted the deck of room cards. There are now 52 cards (about double the original number), and they're also the smaller size I've been threatening to do for a while.

I updated the rules with minor changes, including adding icons to the room descriptions and adding the new playtesters from the past several sessions.

I updated the player "completed room" quick reference cards to make them bigger and to clarify a few things that were misleading on the original cards.

I've changed the Foyers to be Utility rooms. This gives everyone the chance to get a Bonus card, even if no Utility rooms come up.

Played a four-player playtest by myself with the new cards/foyers. The deck seems like a good size. Scores were quite a bit lower (top was 70). It may be hard to play well when self testing.

Ended the evening with a two-player game with Toni, who won yet again, this time 103-92. Now using 32 cards in total (same as before, when it was five for set-up and a runthrough of the 27-card deck). Good length.

Friday, May 31st
Updated the rules after a solid read-through. Added a background color to the (still in) Pages document so the icons show up better. Reordered some things in the rules, including putting the Game End up after the main rules. (It was after the room descriptions.) That keeps the main rules really tight. I still have to go through and do the InDesign version of the rules.

Started a playtest, and after just a few turns in, decided it was time to update the tiles. The trigger? I didn't like the 375 size. It's hard to get your head around the math, and it's very close to the 450, so I decided to change them all to 300s. At the same time, I got rid of four of the eight 350 halls...they're boring and they always found their way to the cheapest spot. The remaining Halls now have alternating entrances on their wide sides, and all four are now +1 for connected Yellow rooms (food).

I made the walls thicker, added a "floating" shadow to the instant Star in the upper left, and took the outline off of the sqft symbol so that the size is easier to read. It took several hours just to update all the rooms, but they're better!

To keep the playing area smaller, I've changed the locations of some of the doors on the longer's now less likely that they'll be on both "long" ends.

Getting rid of five 350s (the Weight Room is gone, buh-bye) means there's two fewer cards in the deck, so now there are fifty room cards instead of 52. I'm keeping the length 32, 42 and 50 (just changing the four-player number).

Bonus cards need updating for the new sizes (argh, just printed them out), and I need to replace the 375s with 300s for the Room cards, too.

That reminds me that I need to look at the sqft bonus cards because they seem weak relative to the room cards. I'll do that another day...this was a good deal of work.

Saturday, June 1st
Updated the rules with the new tile/card numbers, then set about the creation of the fourth generation of room tiles. I printed them last night, so all I needed to do was to stick them (via Xyron) and cut them. Sounds easy, but it took about two hours to do. Here's a sample of what the fourth generation of components looked like:

From gallery of toulouse

Did two three-person self playtests. First with 42 cards, which resulted in about 18-19 rooms each, and 1:20 playing time, and then 40 cards, which resulted in about 15-16 rooms each and 1:00 playing time. Of course, the first game had more blue tiles in it, which lengthen the game (each completed blue room=1 extra card).

Toni and I did a two-player playtest at the end of the day, with me (finally) winning with a score of 82 to 74.

I'm still trying to figure out how many stairs and hallways are needed. Right now I am saying ten hallways and five stairs, but I don't think that's enough. I don't think they should be a limited resource, but at the same time, I need to come up with a reasonable number that will fit on the board that's unlikely to be exceeded.

Sunday, June 2nd
Finally put the rules into InDesign, but just the text. Doing the contents/setup is a bit of a task that I haven't had time for yet.

Played two two-player games with Toni. She won the first one 105-98. I had FOUR courtyards for a 20 point bonus at the end — I had the 5 point courtyard bonus card — but it wasn't enough. Second game I won by a lot 93 to 75. No big Utility bonuses on either side in that one.

Monday, June 3rd
Created the set-up page for the InDesign rules and updated the design of the rules. The rules (not counting setup) are just over one page, with no illustrations. That should be two pages once images are in place. Contents still has to be created.

Played a two-player game with Toni. Use the Courtyard bonus cards to get 20 points again, but this time it was enough for me to win: 105-101.

For the fourth gen tiles, many of the long rooms had doors repositioned to avoid long sprawling mansions. That seems to have worked, though you can always create them if you try hard enough.

Tuesday, June 4th
Finally did the Contents for the InDesign (formatted) rules. It looks good...the front page of the rules is very colorful, and I think somewhat easy to follow.

Also went through and fixed some of the issues from the fourth gen: the 300 bonuses and room cards, and a few misprinted tiles.

Did two four-player playtests early in the morning, clocking in at just over an hour each. Interesting that four-player games are still scoring fewer than 100 points for each player when self tested. It could be that I'm not focusing enough on each player and they are making suboptimal moves.

Two more modifications: One somewhat cosmetic, but important, and the other a bigger change.

The "cosmetic" change is putting the icons on the back of the room tiles in order from most frequent in the stack to least frequent. That'll help newer players when completing blue rooms. While I made that change to the files, I'm not going to have it in place until I redo the tiles for the fifth Generation (not for a while right now).

The bigger change is bumping up the Bonus card points for room types (colors). Right now they feel weak...the values were determined by doing the math, but as is often the case in games, math doesn't give you the whole story. So all rooms will be 2 or 3 points instead of 1 or 2. I think that'll make those room cards more of a realistic choice. They're a little streaky, especially mid to late game, as you either have 'em or you don't at that point, and you can do less to control their appearance (it seems) than size cards.

There are 14 Utility Rooms. If they all come up and are placed in a game, as well as the four Foyers, that's 18 of the 25 Bonus Cards in play. The first run through the deck will be the first 12 rooms. Then there are 13 cards left for the remaining six rooms (two cards per completed room), so the deck will never be "gone through" twice (though by putting the unused card on the bottom of the deck it never seems depleted). Even in the rare event that all the utility cards are placed, that leaves seven unused cards.

Played two games with Toni with the new room bonuses. On the second game, I had five courtyards with the Bonus, for 25 points. Toni says it's too powerful, but it took a lot of time to set up all those Courtyards. The first game was standard two-player, but the second one was each of us playing two players. There's some funky stuff with that, and it doesn't work without some changes. The nice thing was the four-player game we did with two took us only 1:10 to play.

Wednesday, June 5th
Started the morning by going through and counting (via Numbers) how many playtests have taken place so far, and here are the results:

• 15 self tests: 1 2-player, 5 3-player, 10 4-player
• 25 playtests: 19 2-player, 2 3-player, 3 4-player

For a total of forty games played in 33 days. (I've played in all but one of them.)

Tonight is a scheduled two game playtest session with two gamers: Karen and Mike. The first game will be just the two of them, and the second game will be a four-player game with all four of us.

Following the Numbers spreadsheet creation, I did a three-player game, and after a few turns, I decided to experiment with a different set of prices on the Contract Board. It turns out the game was tighter and more interesting with 15 10 8 6 4 2 than it was with the 10 8 6 4 3 2 I have been playing with for weeks now. Add to that the benefit of making the Outdoor tiles more desirable (completion bonus gets you $10), and a little boost for the Contractor, and it's a change for the better.

I've reworked the Contract Board now so that it has the new numbers, but also made it double-sided. Side 1 contains numbers for two and three players, while side 2 contains numbers for four players. Technically I could leave it one-sided, but it's easier to play three (and two) players with fewer "slots" for tiles as well as fewer goal spots. I also did some tweaks to the layout and added a background pattern.

I reprinted the rules with the updated boards, and had Karen read the rules initially. We found some issues in the rules as a result, which I'll be updating tomorrow (Thursday).

The two games went over well, with both Karen and Mike thoroughly enjoying the game. The two-player game seemed to go long (about 1.5 hours), but neither Karen nor Mike felt it was that long. The four-player game took about 1:15.

It was very noticeable how different the game plays with two than it does four. Mike said the four-player game felt more chaotic, but I don't think that's the right term. It has more elements you can't control, but they can be factored into your decision-making process.

Karen said that Mansions was much easier to grasp than Suburbia.

Notes from the playtest session:

• Rules: Currently don't say to place the goals face up. done 6/8/13
• Rules: Should say "room TILES should not overlap." done 6/7/13
• Rules: Define Courtyard in the rules - in fact, add a section for the Goals and Bonuses that describes each of the unusual cards. done 6/8/13
• Rules/Reference card: There's a limit of one completion bonus for Corridors per turn (prevents the "ladder" move for hallways). reference card done 6/7/13
• Reference card: Change the completed room description for Blue (zzzz) cards to be more clear. reference card done 6/7/13
• Reference card: The Living (purple) room completed room bonus should say "re-score all room points" instead of double room score. reference card done 6/7/13
• Reference card: Should have the names of the icons (room type) reference card done 6/7/13
• Room Cards: The back of the Room cards should be labeled (right now they are just plain blue). The label will be the sqft symbol and the word "room" under it to match the Bonus cards. Though it will be landscape instead of portrait, since the room cards are landscape. - done 6/7/13
• Contract Board: It was confusing to have the three-player icon on one of the spots. Maybe a two-player icon with a slash through it would be better. done 6/7/13
• Green tiles still seemed weak relative to the other types. They should have higher values.

Thursday, June 6th
Played two two-player games with Toni. I won both of them for a change.

We had a discussion about keeping similar conditional effects in the same piles, so that, for instance, all the 500 sqft basement tiles would be +2 for each X tile, instead of some being +1 and some being +2.

It's interesting as doing that actually helps Zzzz (sleep) room completers as well as repeat players...they know what to expect, especially in a four-player game where the combination of rooms can be determined ahead of time.

For the nerds out there: Money Flow at the Macro Level
When you're playing a game that has various resources, you might be aware of how the resource amounts change during the game. In Castles of Mad King Ludwig, you really have two resources: Money and Rooms. Money (indicated here in $, though technically in the game it is German Marks) appears to be in constant flux, with three out of four turns (in a four-player game) resulting in cash outflow, and the turn when you're a Master Builder resulting in inflow (though not always). There are some exceptions to this, such as if you decide to forgo purchasing a room and instead take $5, or when you complete an outdoor room and bank an extra $10 that turn. As a player, you have to budget correctly during your outflow turns so that you have money on the third of those turns to be able to purchase a room, with the assumption that on your inflow turn you'll make up the difference.

As a game designer, I have to look at both the player's money flow experience as well as the overall game's money flow. The overall game money flow is more important initially because it will impact the players' money flows directly. What I need to know is how much money is in the game each turn. There are quite a few variables, but all of them are fairly manageable and reasonable assumptions based on averages can be made.

First off, there is (in a four-player game) exactly $60 available. At the end of turn 1, there will $60 - whatever the Master Builder pays for his room (since his money goes to the bank). The average spent by the Master Builder is not necessarily the average price of the seven available rooms ($15+$10+$8+$6+$4+$2+$1, or $46, divided by seven spaces is $6.57). Instead, the average skews up slightly, with an average of $16 given to the Master builder, for an average of $30/4, or $7.50. But the Master Builder spends more than this, averaging about $9 for purchases on their turn (partially because buying expensive rooms on your turn as Master Builder is better strategically than giving that higher price to a competitor). So an average of $9 leaves the game each turn, which means at the end of turn 1 there is $51 left (on average...of course that actually amount is impossible on the first turn, as only one room can be bought and $9 isn't an option). But there's also the addition of money that is placed on unbuilt rooms, which typically on the first turn will be $3 ($1 on each of the three unbuilt rooms). So the money at the end of turn #1 is $54, down $6 from the opening amount of $60.

If that's all the game did with money, the cash would slowly siphon out of the game until at the end of turn 10 there would be no money left in the game (which would be bad). However, two other things bring money back into the game: completing Outdoor rooms (at $10 each) and players who skip building in order to get $5. There are eleven Outdoor rooms available, and assuming a typical game where each player builds twelve regular (not hallway/stairs) rooms (for a total of 48 rooms out of the available 75 built), seven of those outdoor rooms will be built each game, for a total of $70 put into the game. An average game has 14.5 turns, which means ($6*14.5) $87 is taken out during the course of the game, but $70 is put back in, for a net loss of $17 during the game, resulting in $43 between all the players.

Of course, players always have the option to take $5 on their turn instead of buying/placing a room, so each time they do that it adds $5 back into the money pool. Players average one "skip" turn like this every two games, or .5 per player per game, or two skip turns for all players each game, resulting in an additional $10 each game...or so it would seem. However, a skip turn brings $6 into the game, not $5, because each player, in skipping her turn, leaves another un-purchased tile which receives $1. So now we're at $12 for skipped turns, which is added to the $43 above for a total of $55, still $5 short of the $60 players started with.

There's one other variable at work here: the purchase of stairs or hallways instead of a regular room; each one of these purchased results in an additional $1 entering the game, and wouldn't you know it, but an average of five stairs/hallways are purchased each game (more enter the game via the Corridor reward when the Foyer or a set of stairs is completed, so this number might seem low at first). Add that $5 to the $55 and you end up with...$60.

Real world conditions will quite often jump in the way and make each game's total cash available by the players less or more than this amount, and as you might expect, an abundance of cash in the Master Builder's hands will often result in more money leaving the game. But this is auto-correcting, just like the money that stacks up on various rooms throughout the game. (Keep in mind that the $60 includes any money sitting on rooms under the contract board.)
Continued in part 2
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