We are Asger Sams Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen, the two designers of 13 Days. We want to share the journey of our game ‘13 Days - The Cuban Missile Crisis’ from idea, through development, into a game that you can now get your hands on.
If you have read the blog so far, you know a lot about the nitty gritty thoughts that went in to all aspects of the design. If you're new to the blog, this post is intended as a catch up.
We hope you will enjoy the read. Please consider leaving a comment if you do!
THE MAKING OF 13 DAYSThe Kickstarter is LIVE and running till the 2nd of July
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13 Days was made with my co-designer Daniel Skjold Pedersen and through this Designer Diary you will learn more about the specific design challenges we faced, how we approach working together as a team, how our publisher Jolly Roger Games became involved, and thoughts on working with the artist to create the final product!
We will first talk about the making of 13 Days. What will follow is 13 mini diaries - one posted each of the next 13 days - each taking on a different design concept that is core to the game play. Like "why are you playing 12 cards during the game and not 13?" The mini diaries may be rather geeky, but let's be honest that is why were are here in the first place. If you've followed the blog for some time, you might want to skip the second half, as some of the material is reused The next bit is all new though!
What you will experience playing 13 Days
‘13 Days - The Cuban Missile Crisis’ is a 45-minute game for 2 players pitching USA vs USSR during the most dangerous tipping point of the Cold War. Players take the role of either President Kennedy or Khrushchev. You have to navigate the crisis by prioritizing your superpower’s influence across many different agendas. You want to push hard to gain prestige and exit the crisis as the perceived winner. But there is a catch, there always is. The harder an agenda is pushed, the closer you get to triggering global nuclear war which will lose you the game!
13 hours - Driving home from Essen
It was Monday the 27th of October 2013 somewhere close to midnight. The massive board game fair in Essen Germany had just finished and the roadtrip back to Copenhagen was well under way. Sitting in the car were three tired aspiring game designers; me, Daniel (my co-designer) and a shared friend. Daniel also happens to be the guy who introduced me to Twillight Struggle a few years back. Unfortunately, we rarely get to play that brilliant game due to time constraints which is doubly a shame as the game also improves with repeated play. It is not an easy game to pick up but it offers a rich experience when you do. Though tired after a long week of talking about little other than games, we started discussing design ideas. The prolonged drive revealed that we had both had the same base idea:
How can we imitate the core experience of Twillight Struggle in a readily accessible package, lasting less than an hour?
The rest of the trip was used to flesh out this idea, and several design goals were locked in place before reaching Copenhagen later that night. The game had to be short and intense, with a constant threat of losing. We settled on the the Cuban Missile Crisis, as this was probably the highest profiled conflict of the entire Cold War. It also happened to be short and intense, which perfectly suited our narrative. We wanted to retain the constant agony of choosing between lots of lesser evils that Twillight Struggle does so well through its card driven dilemmas.
13 days - Building the game
Almost half a year passed before Daniel and I managed to sit down and design the game. It was our first ever co-design process so lots of things had to be learnt from scratch. We’ve got different skill sets and experiences, but aligned goals and preferences. If you can find a co-designer like that, I can’t recommend it enough!Very early prototype drafts of game board, defcon track and agenda cards
The following design sessions are almost a blur for me. So many things happened so fast, and the exact chronology escape me, because most of them fell into place within a very short timespan. We wanted to work in multiples of 13 where possible, so ended up deciding that the game should have 13 turns. Moreover there are 13 Agendas, and 39 Strategy Cards divided into 13 USA, 13 USSR and 13 Neutral cards.
We actually ended up cutting some corners for the sake of gameplay and accessibility. The better game must win over dogmas when they collide. The 13 turns became 12 turns and a special Aftermath turn. 12 was easier to divide into 3 rounds of 4, which lead to a hand size of 5 cards (the fifth card isn’t played but is fed into the 13th Aftermath turn). One small thematic decision ends up having lots of unforeseen ripple effects. My experience a couple of designs later is that simply locking in a few aspects early on is a great way to get started. Assuming you are capable of killing your darlings, it is easy enough to change such dogma’s at a later stage!
By this time we knew we would be using the dual nature of event cards from Twilight Struggle (aka. the card-driven games or CDGs). All cards would be divided into three alignments (USA, USSR and Neutral), and each card would have the option to either be played for a basic Command (value 1-3) or for a unique Event that broke the core rules in different ways. If you played an opponent's event, he could get some benefit of it despite it not even being his turn. What makes this experience work so well in Twilight Struggle is the fact that every play of a card is a dilemma. Their dual nature, and sometimes detrimental effects, means you often feel like you’re doing an impossible balancing act. Often the winner ends up being the person timing card play to minimize negatives. It sounds simple but really isn’t! Compared to TS we reduced the hand size and forced all cards to be played one way or another, ensuring that this core dilemma hits you from the first card, in your first hand!The first *pretty* prototype we created when our own test had confirmed the potential of the design and we needed outside playtesting
The scoring mechanism is central to any game. We wanted the entire feeling to be evocative of the tension from both the Cuban Missile Crisis & Twilight Struggle. Unfortunately we had so few turns to achieve it, since we also wanted a game playable in 45 min. This meant we couldn’t rely on reshuffling the deck and having the same scoring cards surface several times, as that would simply require too many turns to be feasible in a short game, or require such a small deck that it would hamper replayability. We therefore made three distinctive choices:A) Each player picks a secret Agenda for the round, creating a partial bluffing game.
B) All scoring was based on pushing ahead on either Influencing specific Battlegrounds or Dominating Defcon Tracks.
C) If your Defcon Tracks are pushed too far, you risk losing the game immediately by triggering global nuclear war.To make matters worse the Defcon tracks automatically escalate each round towards an end-game crescendo, and the Command action (the bread and butter of the gameplay) further escalates Defcon. If you make small ‘non-threatening’ Command actions, Defcon stays put. If you make big heavy handed actions, the Defcon track responds with equally wild swings. This can be beneficial if you rapidly need to deflate the Defcon tracks, but more often it will be dangerous.
Ahead of the first design session we agreed that we should be playing the game by the end of the evening. This forced us to do quick and dirty prototyping, knowing full well that all we had to test was the bare bone core mechanics. No chrome, no nothing. We used a deck of playing cards to simulate the basic Command action, drew some different locations on an A4 and started pushing cubes around. By the end of that first evening two things were clear: 1) there was a worthwhile game to pursue in there and 2) testing further without the tension of the events was futile.
Thus the ambition for the next design session was created. We had to make and test different events. We deliberately made more than we needed and removed some along the way, adding others. The events added the asymmetry and dilemmas we were hoping for, and experiencing the agony involved in deciding which cards to play when, was a clear indicator we were on to something. You only get 12 cards to play during the entire game so each decision is important. By that session we were pretty sure that this game wasn’t just interesting to us, but also relevant for a larger audience waiting to scratch that Twilight Struggle itch!
For the design interested people reading this, there are two things I really can’t recommend enough.I) Get yourself a design partner. Really any creative endeavour in life I’ve participated in benefits if you have someone you can throw ideas up against. An internet forum is a poor man’s alternative, as it can never be as responsive or involved as a co-designer who knows the ins and outs of the project as well as you do. Testing the core game also becomes much easier (assuming it isn’t min. 3+ players). If you find the right person to co-operate with I really can’t see any negatives to working in pairs!
II) Rapid prototyping. Try and play your game as fast as possible. Find out if your core idea has the spark to be interesting. Don’t think about it, try it. Forget about balancing, artwork and UI. Instead try to define what you consider to be the core mechanics, and test if they are fun at all. Satisfaction from playing games is more psychology than mechanics, and you have to be much more talented than I am to figure that out from the sketch board, so try it!
13 months - Pitching and developing the game
Obviously that was just the game design. The development took much longer. Even though the core game hardly shifted from the design established in March 2014, the cards were continuously tweaked and the user interface was updated to make testing with outsiders more feasible. We physically kept track on each card making marks on how often they were played for Events vs. Command as well as looking out for opponents willingness to play the card, or delay it for the Aftermath. This proved to be immensely valuable, as it allowed us to continuously monitor which cards were fine and which needed tweaking or removal. Taking notes on the physical prototype is another lesson we’ve brought forth to our later designs.
All events were tied to a historical event from the period, and short texts setting the mood were added. Card effects were aligned to fit the new event, and lots of streamlining happened.
The biggest design ‘problem’ that pursued us throughout the project was how to handle the secret Agendas and the scoring mechanism. We’ve tried more than 5 different variants. We really wanted to find a version that ensured the bluffing didn’t become blind guessing. We needed enough revealed information to create informed choices, without giving so much that it was meaningless. Some of our variants became pure guessing, others became almost full information, and naturally we wanted the sweet spot in between.Playtesting from different stages of development of the game
Thankfully a fast paced 2 player game is very easy to playtest when you’re co-designing. Daniel and I can easily play a game in 30 minutes or less and we’ve thus managed to get many tests done. Obviously we also had to find external playtesters. We brought the game to two local conventions as well as several gaming groups. Finally, members of the Nordic Game Artisans (www.gameartisans.eu) also tested it and eventually gave it their seal of approval.13 Days has received the Nordic Game Artisans seal of approval http://www.gameartisans.eu/games/13-days
Around that time we started preparing for Essen 2014 and thus started contacting publishers to set up appointments. We brought a couple of other games as well, but knew that this game would likely require a niche publisher. Hence we targeted our pitches at a much smaller group. One of them was Jolly Roger Games, that unfortunately wasn’t attending Essen. On the plus side Jim wanted to review it anyway, and asked for rules and other relevant files. He consulted none other than Jason Matthews (co-designer of Twilight Struggle) and with his gloving endorsement proceeded. We sent a copy and his testing started, but he quickly asked that we reserved the game for him to decide by years end!
We still ended up bringing the game to Essen and pitching it to a few select publishers, with all involved parties being informed of the current situation. Just in case. Thankfully Jim was impressed by the blind testing he had been doing himself, and after some consideration ended up pushing the big red button!Prototypes assembled and packed for Spiel 2014
Final thoughts on the making of
Both Daniel and I are really proud of the game we’ve designed and developed for you. Obviously it isn’t a perfect realistic simulation of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 45 min, but we do feel it simulates core elements of it very well. Each player will have to participate in several interconnected sub games: both a poker bluffing game trying to mask which agendas are really important to them, while uncovering your opponent’s and a real world chess game of applying political, military and media influence across the globe. The conflict is constantly escalating and even though you don’t want to slow down, you will often find yourself backpedaling to avoid the threat of global nuclear war. Finally the stressful choices available to each president are effectively mirrored by the dilemmas forced upon you each round where all cards must be put to use some way or another. Even the bad ones.
‘13 Days - The Cuban Missile Crisis’ turned out exactly as hoped. It provides a great introductory political conflict game. The classic fans of the the genre in general, and Twilight Struggle in particular, will find a meaty filler. Meanwhile newcomers will find a very accessible introduction. Finally the bluffing, the luck of the draw and a capped scoring ensures that you’re never too far behind to make a comeback. And even if you fail you can always rewrite history in another 45 minutes!
If you're interested in hearing much more, just read on. A series of Mini Designer Diaries (MDD) will delve into the details of the design process. If you've followed the blog from the start, you will have seen most of this already!
If you haven't backed yet, remember you only have till 2nd of July! You wont be disappointed
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MINI DESIGNER DIARIES
These Mini Designer Diaries (13 in total) are written in an attempt to deconstruct the design choices of the game, by adressing one component at a time. Or sometimes specific elements of e.g. the game board. These are meant for design interested people, so proceed at your own peril
MDD 1: FIRST IMPRESSIONS DSP
Has anyone counted the number of photos on the 13 Days box cover yet? Go ahead, I know you want to now.
Meanwhile, I’ll reveal that there are of course exactly 13 photos. How could there be any other number?
The 13 photos represent some of the important Strategy cards and events you will discover in the game. There are influential personalities like JFK, Khrushchev, Fidel Castro and U Thant whose personal appearance greatly influenced the outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Also you will find iconic photos of Cuban missile sites and nuclear missiles being paraded on both sides of the superpower divide.
The layout of the front cover is reminiscent of a dramatic documentary of a time when the Cold War world was at its tipping point. The two superpowers walked into the ultimate showdown. Global nuclear war was an ever-present risk. And the entire world awaited their very next moves in anxiety. These were stressful times in world history.
The suspense and tough decisions of the Cuban Missile Crisis is central to the game: push your hidden agenda as far as you dare but not so far that you trigger a global nuclear war!
MDD 2: WORLD WAR III DSP
During a recent playtest one of the players asked me: “Why is the board for a game about the Cuban Missile Crisis a world map?” He wasn’t born in 1962 (neither was I) so I forgive his mistake The answer is simple: Because we want the map and play experience to reflect the fact that the crisis was global (in scope and consequences) and part of the larger Cold War context of two superpowers going toe-to-toe. The layout of the map has been made to give the illusion of you sitting around a table (which you probably do) starring at a 1960’s world map with Cold War battlegrounds highlighed (you do that as well) sweating over how to best use your scarce resources and time (though likely, I cannot promise sweating).
When Asger and I first sat down to create the game we had two components in front of us: 1) a deck of regular playing cards and 2) a very ugly A3 print of a world map. On the map we drew some square boxes to hold cubes at locations that were - or could have been - important battlegrounds during the crisis. The defcon tracks were added in a corner. Though so much has happened to the game since then the core layout of the map owes a lot to that very first sketch.
MDD 3: BATTLEGROUNDS ASG
The main scene might be Cuba, but Fidel was at best a supporting character when compared to the lead roles of Khruschev & Kennedy plus the prequel of the Cold War!
Berlin was a central point of conflict at almost all times of the cold war, and US missile launch sites in both Italy and Turkey later proved to be part of the ‘behind the scenes’ negotiations involved in eventually deflating the crisis (and in originally escalating it...). The remaining three ‘geographically fixed’ battlegrounds all relate directly to Cuba. The Atlantic battleground represents the blockade, and Cuba is represented twice (once political and once military).
This distinction between military and political battlegrounds is there to distinguish between the cold and hot parts of the ‘war’. The blockade in the Atlantic ocean, Cuba and Berlin were all prime candidates to turn ‘hot’ during the CMC, while Italy and Turkey were clearly ‘cold’, and of a more political nature than armed forces. Cuba is also represented politically to underscore both the importance of Cuba and its complex character.
The remaining three battlegrounds are the World Opinion battlegrounds. These all represent that, as much as the conflict was about counting tanks and allies, it was clearly also about influencing the world opinion. The United Nations is the only of the three that may score (though relative weak scoring), and it also represents some of the formal tit-for-tat negotiations. Hence whichever player controls it at the end of a round, gains the initiative of holding the Personal Letter mentioned in a previous blog post. The Alliances battleground represents both superpowers investing influence (foreign aid?) in handling their allies. This obviously doesn’t give a large immediate effect, but is part of the long tail cold war. Hence the bonus for controlling the Alliances is better control of the end game Aftermath scoring, a long term investment. Finally there is the Television battleground, and the correct leveraging of this power can both make an aggressive move seem weaker than it is and thus making it harder for your opponent to blame you for any potential escalation. On the other hand a weak move can also be blown out of proportion by media, and thus make you look stronger than you are. In the game this is therefore represented by granting the player dominating the Television battleground control to escalate or deflate one of his defcon tracks.
Now I’m sure there are people out there much more knowledgeable about the CMC than I am. But before ripping me apart, please bear in mind that we’ve never set out to attempt to simulate a conflict as complex as the CMC in just 45 minutes!
I’m a firm believer that you build an illusion by highlighting the right 10 bricks from the 1000 piece brick wall. We’ve thought about all these mechanical concerns, and I truly believe we designed a game that isn’t just mechanically sound, but also makes strong integrated thematic nods to the CMC. Naturally it is an illusion, and if you focus on the 990 blank spaces, that is what you’ll see. On the other hand, if you accept the premise and let yourself be drawn in, the magic of the illusion might just hold true!
MDD 4: THE MAIN STAGE ASG
Cuba is at the center of the conflict, and though we wanted to show it was global, we also wanted to emphasize the importance of Cuba. Hence three of the six geographically founded battlegrounds relate to Cuba. The country is represented both as a military and political battleground, the third being the Atlantic battleground representing the blockade at sea.
Naturally there are several events on Strategy Cards relating to Cuba, but the scoring of it also differs slightly from the other battlegrounds. They either have a flat or no bonus, but to illustrate the interlocked and complex nature of Cuba, the bonus to scoring here is based on your positioning in the other two connected battlegrounds (something that shall be further emphasized graphically on the gameboard). The potential bonus is therefore +2 and higher than anywhere else.
In effect this means that both player’s have to keep an extra eye on the Cuban battlegrounds. If either of the three has been drawn as an agenda, all three can potentially affect scoring! Even if they haven’t been drawn (unlikely), positioning yourself in Cuba in early rounds, may give you added flexibility in later rounds.
It is a minor tweak to the scoring rules that in practice creates that extra little sensitivity concerning Cuba.
MDD 5: PRESIDENTS & PRESTIGE ASG
Lets start with the name! We envisioned that both presidents really didn’t fancy leaving the confrontation looking like the weaker part. Both wanted global nuclear war even less, but if that happens prestige is ignored regardless, so isn't really relevant for this Mini Designer Diary!
Obviously the motivation behind the actions made in the CMC are far more complex (and important!) than boiling it down to a simple game of prestige. But the term does help emphasize that we really want both players to put themselves directly in the shoes of Kennedy & Khrushchev. Neither want nuclear war, they certainly don't want to be blamed for causing it and both want to exit the conflict without losing face. Prestige was an element before, during and after the crisis.
We even removed the self explanatory 'Points', from 'Prestige Points' to make it seem less 'game' and more 'theme'. Not sure if it matters to you folks, but it matters to me
The scoring on the prestige track is capped at 5, and going beyond that doesn’t win you the game. 13 Days is already a short enough game, so we saw no reason to cause premature endings unless they were dramatic and based on global nuclear war. Moreover the capped scoring ensures that there is almost always something to play for, regardless of how far behind you are. This was specifically added as part of the point to making the game accessible to newcomers. In my opinion, there is nothing more uninteresting than having to go through the motions of a game you feel you have lost. This holds doubly true for newcomers, which then again scares them of playing.
If you want to play a game where you want to be awarded 110% for the best play regardless of how far you're ahead, then this isn't for you. We want a game of the Cuban Missile Crisis to hold tension from start till finish. In the first two rounds you can build up a substantive lead, but the conflict ain't over till the fat lady sings
MDD 6: SECRETS, BLUFFS & DOUBLE CROSSING DSP
Asger recently talked about why gaining prestige is one of the goals of the game (the other being avoiding nuclear war). I think it is time to reveal why we have chosen Agenda cards as the primary way you will score prestige. For the impatient reader the answer is suspense (a rather unsuspenseful move to reveal the conclusion, I know).
Remember that 13 Days puts you in the shoes of either President Kennedy or Khrushchev. I hope the fit is a good one. The crisis could explode anytime and be taken to specific hotspots of the Cold War. As the president you have the national interest and your own legacy to think about. And that is the Agenda cards on your hand. As the President your hands will be tied somewhat due to national politics, the opinion of advisors surrounding you and the public interest (think two-level games). And that is why you cannot pick freely among all Agendas but choose one out of the three you are dealt each round.
We wanted suspense in 13 Days. Lots of suspense. And thematically embedded into the game. What we did not want was you micromanaging your own little objective I me doing the same with few reasons to interact and counteract. As President you have your own Agenda to pursue but you need to carefully assess your opponent’s objectives as well. If you want to exit the crisis with the most prestige you cannot concede hotspots to the opposing superpower without a fight. And that is why, before you pick your secret Agenda, you first reveal the three on your hand. 13 Days is as much about playing your opponent as it is about playing the game. The game provides you with some information from where to bluff and outguess your opponent. Does he go for the obvious Agenda, or maybe a more risky alternative that you would not have guessed?
I reckon the most important design decision for creating suspense was the first we settled on when we sat down to create the game: separating the Agenda cards from the deck of Strategy cards. That very decision made all of the above possible. In 13 Days you know your opponent has a hidden Agenda each round but you do not know exactly which one. This is a different dilemma from a game like Twilight Struggle where you rarely know if your opponent holds scoring cards but if he does you have a pretty good idea which one it is.
By the way, there are 13 Agenda cards in 13 Days in case anyone REALLY wondered...
MDD 7: WHAT'S YOUR STRATEGY? DSP
Playing 13 Days is 45 minutes of agonizing decisions. Much of this comes from managing the hand of Strategy cards you are dealt each round. Which cards do you play? In what order? And how do you pursue your own secret Agenda without revealing your true intentions too soon?
13 Days is a card-driven game and inherits the basic structure of card play from classics like Twilight Struggle and We the People. Cards represent events that happened or could have happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis, or past events that influenced the political decision-making.
You will draw a mix of cards with your own events, your opponent’s events or neutral events (13 of each of course!). You can always play a card to place/remove Influence from Battlegrounds. You may instead opt to use the event on the card for more specific and powerful actions. But the deal is you cannot play your opponent’s cards as events. However, when you play you opponent’s cards he may trigger the event himself. Suffice to say you should be careful not to play good cards into your opponent’s hand. This is the constant pressure you are under in a game of 13 Days.
Why is this dual nature of Strategy cards perfect for a game like 13 Days?1) Because the crisis was a short and intense. You only play 12 cards during the entire game. Each single one is important.
2) Because there is so much interaction in this system. What you do affects your opponent. You are not just playing cards to optimize actions and moving cubes around on a map. Just like Kennedy was not just sending some ships to the Atlantic Ocean to block Soviet ships carrying nuclear weapons. You WILL play events your opponent could very well take advantage of to win the game.
Let me end this chapter on a concession. The attentive reader noticed I wrote above that you play 12 cards during a game. That was not a typo. We tried to make that number 13 but streamlining and the better game won over dogma. You play 4 cards each round (there are three) and save one for a final scoring of Prestige at the end of the game called the Aftermath. This is our reintroduction of the final day of the Missile Crisis. More about the Aftermath below.
MDD 8: GETTING PERSONAL DSP
The Personal Letter card is the odd card out in 13 Days, but quite a powerful one.
At crucial points during the Cuban Missile Crisis Kennedy and Khrushchev wrote directly to each other to harden the position or suggest a negotiated settlement. The Personal Letter card allows you to do the same in 13 Days.
When you hold the card you may play it along a Strategy card to increase the amount of Influence you can spend that turn (+1). This is important because one extra Influence cube on the board at the right time may win you the game. But here is the catch. When you play the Personal Letter you hand it over to the opponent. The letter has been sent and now you must wait for him to return it. Now your opponent has the initiative and dilemma of when to play the card to its full effect.
During the playtesting of 13 Days it has been quite interesting to observe how some games have seen the Personal Letter card being played several times, while rarely used in others. This is not a no-brainer. You must cleverly evaluate when it is truly worth it to play the Personal Letter and when keeping it in possession is the wiser choice.
MDD 9: THE LOOONG VIEW ASG
Before jumping on with the final element of how you score Prestige in 13 Days, the Aftermath, I'd like to add a little extra to Daniel's MDD6 on the Agenda cards.
While Agenda cards was an early design choice, the specific means to handling them is the design choice that haunted us the longest. It was also the last to be settled. Playtesting showed us that the game could function with a number of different variants, so it wasn't paramount to the overall design, but we just couldn't decide which one was best.
After a lot of back and forth we settled on the most streamlined one, to stay in touch with the ambition of making the game accessible. This means it had to be both easy to manage and easy to explain. We also needed one where the bluffing game didn't become blind guessing, or so easy as to be void. The solution we ended up with accomplishes this (I reluctantly admit, as I was originally advocating a different one to Daniel). Draw three random Agendas, reveal them to your opponent, then secretly pick one. This means you constantly have to watch out that you don't tip your hand and look for similar clues with your opponent.
We also decided to mark the drawn cards directly on the board, to avoid people misremembering which Agendas were in play. Another component based decision to keep the game flowing, and accessible.
The Aftermath is the place where you 'bury' a card each round. You do not get to play the buried card, hence you can put your opponent's card there to avoid a potential crippling event. On the other hand, at the end of the game you tally up the Influence on US vs. USSR cards, and whoever is in front gets a Prestige bonus. So you don't want to bury your opponent's cards after all...
Dilemmas are really at the core of every decision you're making in 13 Days, but nowhere is the point made as bluntly as with the Aftermath. The bonus you get is a flat 2 Prestige for having the most Influence, regardless of how far ahead you are!
The result is that ideally you want to win with just 1 Influence, while 'burying' as many of your opponent's events as possible.
Psychologically we also wanted a potential big 'reveal' to end the game on. This ensures that the game never feels foregone (due to hidden information), and thus keeps the tension till the end. A round 3 turn around is always possible, if potentially difficult.
Thematically the point of the Aftermath pile is to determine the more longtail outcome of the CMC. Which way did the international allies tip towards, based upon the recent show of strength, and thus who emerges as the 'winner'. Not on the 13th Day, but eventually. Hence the card you bury also represents the surplus 'resources' you've managed to invest in your allies, both diplomatically and economically.
Physically the card is 'tucked' beneath a designated area on the gameboard (see picture). This might seem like minutiae, but I think these things all add up. The obvious advantage is that it saves space on the board, while keeping the cards in place so you don't mix them up. But it also signals that it happens later and that some of these deals are 'behind closed doors' stuff. I did warn you that this was minutiae!
I've previously commented on the naming of terms/effects, and with the above reasoning in mind, I feel that 'Aftermath' does it justice. Both mechanically and thematically!
MDD 10: THE MANY FACES OF POWER ASG
I now want to drag you through tedious design choices, such as why 17 cubes is better than 15, and why even having the 'hard limit' makes sense.
We needed something to mark the ongoing influence each player had on the various battlegrounds across the globe, and really the most obvious components we had lying around was cubes. Unlike in Twilight Struggle, at most you needed to track influence across nine different battlegrounds, hence we didn't need chits for production concerns, nor for quick assessment across countless locations. An added benefit is that adding/removing cubes is a lot faster than finding and replacing one chit with another.
Initially we tried playing the game without any hard limit on cubes available. The main reason we moved away from it was that a hard limit is an easy mechanical way to add decision points and rising tension from round 2 onwards without increasing rules complexity. Plus it keeps production costs down, which is never a problem!
We tested with as few as 13 cubes per player to stay in line with the dogma of 13, but it was quickly apparent that for the game we had designed at that point, this reduced decisions and bluffing as each cube became so valuable that you couldn't really afford to 'waste' it. The real tension lies in worrying about running out of cubes, not actually having run out. Once you're out of cubes the decision to remove or place is pretty straightforward (only removing being possible…), hence we wanted people to skirt on this line as long as possible.
We even tried with 15 cubes total, 13 in hand and two on the board from start. A roundabout manner in which to try and sneak in the number 13. Alas to no avail! 17 cubes is the sweet spot we identified, and obviously game play was prioritized over arbitrarily sticking to dogma. 17 means that in most games both players will have to start considering this dilemma from Round 2 onwards. This might only be relevant twice or so per player each game, but those are two seamlessly integrated decision points added. Moreover you also have to keep an eye on your opponent's available Influence Cubes!
The final piece of information I can squeeze out of this component is its name. As you know by now, I'm a firm believer in trying to pick non-obtrusive yet thematic naming conventions for games. It eases the learning along, and adds to the theme. Gamers are fairly used to the term 'Influence Cubes', and even without that, the name is almost self explanatory. Thematically we were aiming to imitate Kennedy and Khrushchev leveraging their influence across the globe (military, political and world opinion). Hence influence seemed like a good fit, and certainly better than the original abstract choice, Command Points.
MDD 11: SKIRTING ON THE BRINK ASG
In 13 Days you use strategy cards. To place influence. On battlegrounds… And that will affect the Defcon tracks!
We have tried to achieve a few things with the Defcon track. We wanted a constant escalation of the crisis, and both players to be concerned about nuclear war at least once per game. Moreover some games should end in global nuclear war, and that risk should potentially be relevant from the first round.
From early tests we had strategy cards that pushed the game very directly towards escalation. We soon discovered that since novice players would not know or understand the full extent of such cards, the end result was that they often felt random and game changing. Considering one of our stated design goals being the creation of a game that was accessible to new players we decided to reign in those ‘surprise’ cards. The ones we kept in the game are more of a ‘calculated risk’ nature, though some surprises may still happen, and card knowledge cannot be ignored. It is still a fact from playtests that the more inexperienced the President leading the nation, the higher the risk of nuclear war. Thankfully presidents don't walk in off the street in real life (or handle these issues as inebriated, as some playtesters have...).
We divided the Defcon track into three different categories, one for each battleground type. The rationale is that at any given time the Defcon level is determined by a series of very different factors (political, military & world opinion) all working together to paint you (the President) into a corner. If any one of these arenas are pushed too hard, that alone could trigger global nuclear war. Yet also if all three arenas were alarmingly high, the combined risk assessment would cause the breakout. The mechanical benefits of dividing the track into three was that the players got a much more granular scale to manipulate, and asymmetric game status to force decisions into.
The overall vision is that Kennedy & Khruschev were making both grand intimidating gestures, and smaller diplomatic ditto. We wanted the Defcon track to reflect this and behave accordingly. If you make a massive military deployment to the Atlantic Ocean and talk about it across the news, your military defcon track will increase dramatically. If you simply deploy an extra cruiser in the middle of the night, nothing will happen. We achieved this by a simple X-1 formula, where X is the number of cubes placed/removed.
MDD 12: 13 INTENSE DAYS DSP
I sat down to write about the round track on the board and why it is there. Then I realized that was the wrong question to answer. I should be talking about what it represents and why the game is divided into rounds at all.
13 Days is a fairly short game so why is it even divided into rounds? And why three of them?
Nobody has ever asked me the above questions. As gamers we take the round structure for granted, especially when the game is of some complexity. But I think it is worth asking questions like these. As a designer I do. And I will answer them here.
Hand and brain size
The practical answer to “why rounds at all” is that you cannot play a hand of 15 cards and have a reasonable expectation to understand and sequence them all. That is certainly true for a game like this where cards may be played for one of two actions, and potentially benefit your opponent. We need a cap on information and a mental break from time to time.
You can never do it all
How many cards then? We thought five were a good number so that is where we started. You play four and save one. You can do plenty of stuff with four cards but never quite enough when you consider countering your opponent’s moves and must keep an eye on the defcon. A lot of hard choices and tension comes from this very fact. With more cards on your hand I am not sure that fine balancing act would remain. At least we saw no reason to change the basic numbers during playtesting.
The story you tell
In 13 Days things happen between rounds. New hidden Agendas are selected and later revealed. The defcon track escalates towards the tipping point. The game uses the round structure to tell an emerging story and build towards the final crescendo.
You tell that story as you evaluate your position and react accordingly. The three rounds offer an early game, a mid game and a late game. In the early game your options are plentiful. In the mid game your hands are likely more tied due to the defcon tracks and decisions made in the first round. In the late game your are either defending your position, making calculated risks to turn the game on its head or making great efforts to not blow up the world while pushing your opponent in that direction. That was just an example of a typical arc. It may evolve differently in your next game but the evolving story is there for you to tell.
Whereas each card played represents one day of the crisis, the Round structure represents the key points where the crisis was reevaluated. New information and events happened throughout, and naturally they were constantly assessed, but the abstract form of them has been boiled down to early/mid/late.
Fun fact: In the first prototype we drew the round track as a Soviet ship closing in on Cuba. While it later evolved into the Atlantic Battleground and specific events I still think the ship was a good handle to communicate the build-up of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
MDD 13: A HELPING HAND DSP
When you take a look at the 13 Days gameboard you will find the 'round order' box just above the defcon area. Look for the white piece of notebook paper. Why is it there and not only in the rulebook? Because you shouldn't have to open the rulebook when you come back to 13 Days after a couple of months playing other games. Plus it also adds to the accessibility of the game for new players, as they don't have to reference the rulebook to the same degree for their first plays. Obviously all assisted by a number of other minor cues built into the gameboard.
As much as I love reading rulebooks for fun I hate actually having to do so during a game. As soon as you are familiar with 13 Days, the round order will provide you with the needed information to play. Simply follow the seven phases step by step.
Thinking about it seven phases sounds like a lot for a simple strategy game like this. We could easily have pooled them if the goal was a lower number. It wasn’t. Our goal was to communicate in the form of a to-do list (hopefully an enjoyable one!). One of the phases is as simple as: move the round marker one step forward...
Here is another to-do for you1) Take a look at 13 Days on the Kickstarter page. We are 350 backers and counting. The campaign ends on July 2nd and this is your best bet to get the game. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1649598142/13-days-a-ga....
2) Spread the word if you know somebody who would love playing 13 Days.
3) Thumb reviews and pictures on this site to raise awareness of 13 Days in this great community.
4) Subscribe to our blog. It will live on after the 13 Days campaign (two more games are to be released just this year). https://boardgamegeek.com/blog/4588/sidekicking
For all the crazy people still reading, the ones that just can't get enough information from us, below you'll find some of the Random Ramblings (RR) we have posted about 13 Days. These pieces don't relate to the actual components of the game as the Mini Designer Diaries do, but are are mixed bag of goods. Thoughts on replayability, depth, origins, etc.
RR 1: HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE THE SIGH! ASG
I have seen more than a few comments on BGG and elsewhere, from people that seem to ‘vary’ of the fact that in a game of 13 Days you just play 12 cards from your hand. The comments seem to imply the question: “How much meat can there really be to a game where you only play so few cards?”.
The easy answer is: "A lot of meat, actually". I’ve played 13 Days more than enough to know this for myself, and I’ve seen just as many playtesters grapple with it. In fact one of the aspects I love the most about gamers taking on 13 Days, is when they inevitable emit a loud distinct sigh from looking at their hand of strategy cards. Not rarely is the sighing happening on both sides of the table. Simultaneously!
But, you are probably not so terribly interested in the designers' vested and subjective opinion. You guys want some facts on the table. Thus, we decided to give it a go, outlining the different potential distinct decision points in the game. Carry on reading for the hard facts.
Once per round you draw hidden agendas and pick one of them (3 tricky decisions / game)
* During each of these decisions you potentially have to factor in a number of things.
* Which is easiest to achieve given the current board position (defcon tracks, prestige, cube count on and off the board)?
* Do you need to gamble because you’re far behind?
* Are there any synergies between your agendas? Or between your agendas and the agenda your opponent would most likely choose?
* Can you pick an agenda that will simultaneously allow you to defend against your opponent’s options?
* Where is your opponent most vulnerable? Often defending can be severely hampered by being tied in to an escalated Defcon track, limiting elbow room.
* All the above have to be weighed against the fact that you can’t just blindly pick the ‘best’ option, as you have to disguise it from your opponent.
* This could count as two decision points per round, as you really have to try and guess your opponent’s agenda, not just pick your own. Even if you do get to evaluate your guess continuously.
Initiative is determined once per round (1½ tricky decision / game)
* Usually playing last is best making this a pretty straightforward decision. But you do need to take a closer look at your 5 strategy cards and compare to the current board position. There are cards that you want to get out there as early as possible, despite playing first. And if you do not, your opponent may hold one of those.
Each round four cards are played from your hand of five (12 tricky decisions / game)
* First I want to note that the 5th card is also used brcause you play it to the Aftermath pile that scores at the end of the game. I haven’t counted it as a decision point, but it should ideally form part of your plan from the first card played.
* You’ll have to consider how soon you want to tip your hand.
* Or if you can make a bluff that will make your opponent tip his, or waste effort chasing your bluff.
* For each card you hold you have to consider if you want to play it as an event, for influence or completely avoid it and save it for the Aftermath.
* You also have to consider the sequence in which you play the cards, particularly your opponent’s alignment. Correct timing may cancel his potential benefits from his events.
* Do you have to backpedal on one or more defcon tracks? When is opportune?
* Are you running low on cubes, and how will that limit you?
* Which events should you prepare for (I rarely card count, being the designer I don’t mind losing at all, but the potential is there).
* Can you setup plays for coming rounds, stacking the odds in your favour later?
Whenever your opponent plays one of your cards, you get a decision (2½ tricky decisions / game)
* This might be a cop out, as the decision is probably not THAT hard more than 2-3 times per game on average. The potential span is another 0-12 decision points though.
* When they are hard choices, you typically have to worry about bluffs, cube limit and defcon tracks.
Of the three World Opinion bonus, only Television holds a decision point (1½ tricky decision / game)
* Which of the three defcon tracks do you want to affect?
* Do you want to deflate for the long game, but risk losing points? Or escalate to gain more or preserve an opponent’s potential hidden agenda?
I am pretty sure I forgot to mention some of the outliers that do affect your decisions from time to time, but none the less, this is probably still a pretty good summary. The conservative estimate adds up to ~20 distinct and tricky decision points per player each game, with a pace of 2 or so minutes on average. Upkeep etc. probably puts the actual decision time lower than that.
If anything came out a wee bit convoluted, please don’t hesitate to write a question or comment!
RR 2: PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM? ASG
First a disclaimer. In terms of 'years of play' I have no ambition that 13 Days should be as long lasting as Twilight Struggle. The added complexity of a 2-4-6 hour game will obviously hold much more replayability, and the fact that you can't quite get it to the table as often, will also make it last longer.
In the number of plays you can get out of 13 Days, I've got no doubt that you can easily exceed 30+ without growing tired of it, nor having identical experiences. Why am I so sure of this? On top of having seen the game played 100+ times without being struck by deja-vu, we've also built a number of things into the design to make sure it stays fresh!
Strategy Cards: In a standard game players will hold 30 strategy cards in their hand. This leaves 9 cards out of hand. As each card is unique, the variation not just from which 9 cards are left out, but also if the US or USSR holds them, is really, really large. As is the difference between holding two cards with synergies in one game, and not in another. Or drawing a card in the 1st or the 3rd round. I'm not claiming this is an academically sound way to represent it, but any specific starting hand only occurs at a rate of 1 in 575757... (unless my math is off ).
To summarize, having 39 unique cards, not all of which are used, really adds a lot of variety!
Hidden Agendas: This is probably the core mechanical reason the game is replayable. Once you've learned the 'ebb & flow' of 13 Days, you really have to 'play the opponent' to get ahead. A complex, multifaceted combination of RPS and Poker. The Aftermath pile, also adds to this feeling. For me; the joy of fighting an intelligent opponent is an experience I keep coming back to. It is the reason I still play chess on a weekly basis!
Complexity: Despite us labelling 13 Days as a simple introductory game, bear in mind that this is compared to the genre at large. It is still a complex game with lots of moving parts. There are 9 different battlegrounds, that are also intrinsically linked to 3 different defcon tracks (if you ignore the link you lose outright). The exact same hand of strategy cards should be played very differently depending on the board situation. Assessing prestige, defcon tracks, hidden agendas, aftermath, battlegrounds and cube count on and off the board is vital.
Accessibility, Time & Difficulty: These three things are very 'macro level' design choices, but I also believe they are extremely important for the ultimate replayability of a game. With 13 Days you will be able to find new opponents and draw them in, precisely because the game is short and accessible. The 'experience to difficulty' curve has deliberately been kept somewhat at the random end. We wanted to make a game where new players quickly got a sense that they 'had a chance'. At the reverse end of the scale; I almost NEVER get to play chess in person anymore. Not because I'm particular gifted, but due to the fact that you need two almost evenly matched players to have a good time. The internet, my smart phone and an Elo rating system ensures my perfect chess opponent is never more than 1 minute away. But we simply can't recreate this as easily with physical board games!
Summary: At the macro level I feel fully confident that Daniel and I have made a game where the design is conducive for it hitting the table often. With a wide variety of opponents as well as when you have either 1 or 3 hours.
At the micro level each individual play holds so many recombined unique elements, moving parts and bluffs that two games are extremely unlikely to unfold in a manner that even superficially seem identical.[person=80521][thing=177590][/thing][/person]
RR 3: LOOK AT ME, A 'FESSOR PLAYED MY GAME DSP
"13 Days superbly recreates the inherent Cold War trade-off between flexing your superpower muscles and the ensuing risk of detonating global nuclear war."
Anders Wivel, Head of Studies, Professor MSO, University of Copenhagen
One of the reasons I am so happy to share my thoughts on the design process of 13 Days is because the game unites two of my interests: board games and international relations.
That is also why I rode my bike to the Political Science Department at the University of Copenhagen a sunny morning in early spring. Coming back to the place where I finished my master’s degree not too many years ago with 13 Days was thrilling. Arriving there I sat down with two professors and 13 Days laid out on the table between us. They were ready to battle it out like true Cold War superpowers. I had shared the basic premise of the game with them beforehand so I ran them through the gameplay, which was kind of an odd situation. I have teached the rules what feels like a million times and I am pretty confident I am doing a decent job, but this time it felt different being the teacher and reversing the roles from my student years.
Well, off they went and I was impressed how soon they were drawn into the Cuban Missile Crisis world chatting about important events as they appeared. No scientific detachment at all. After the game they remarked how the game really captured the tense Cold War feeling and we talked about how to incorporate 13 Days into a future foreign policy workshop.
Does anyone dare to guess how a game between two levelheaded professors ended?
[size=18]RR 4: ORIGIN STORIES[size=18] ASG
Daniel & Asger's Origins story
I met Daniel first time back in 2010, in the local climbing gym. In fact our first shared hobby has nothing to do with games We've been doing regular indoor 'bouldering' ever since, and try to meet twice a week at the gym (we're a group of 8-10 folks going). Denmark is one of the world's flattest countries, and Copenhagen is no exception, so doing actual rock climbing isn't really an option.
I do think there is a certain physical 'puzzle' aspect to bouldering, that might have some strenuous correlation with boardgaming, but I'm not going to push the analogy too hard.
But the sport is very much one where you exhaust yourself, then relax. Exhaust, relax, exhaust, relax. This means that many climbing sessions nowadays also turn into coordinating, brainstorming, design sessions for our latest boardgame projects!
It took a few years for us to start talking designs regularly, and we both went to Essen for the first time together (along with 60+ other Danes). Back then there was no co-designing though, and we got our first contracts on our own. However once started it really felt like we were on to something good, with different skill sets, but similar mindsets. Since then we've stuck together on these projects, and lately we've tried to up the game by adding a weekly dedicated meeting to the endeavour (though real life probably still kills of 50% to be honest...).
That is all for now. If you made it this far... WOW! Shoot us a comment below, and I'll award you with a mighty 0.13 GG. More importantly, your comment will show me you read it (and hopefully enjoyed it), which is worth a whole lot. Both Daniel and I have put hundreds of hours into 13 Days, and these blogs. We'll keep doing it regardless, but don't hesitate to let us know if you appreciate it
Not sure if I managed to put in a link to our Kickstarter campaign. Even if it is finished, make sure to look out for its arrival in stores come December 2015!
DIRECT KICKSTARTER LINK
Asger & Daniel are two boardgame designers from Copenhagen. Neither of them are superheroes, yet both of them are sidekicks... On this blog they catalogue their designer diaries. There will be overall process oriented diaries, and there will be nitty gritty game design component fetischist focussed diaries. If any of this sounds interesting to you, subscribe. As of October 2017 the following games are either released, or to be released very soon: A Tale of Pirates, Panic Mansion, Iron Curtain, Gold Fever, Flamme Rouge, Frogriders, 13 Days, 13 Minutes and Ramasjang Rally. And then there are all the 2018 and 2019 titles we are forgetting or cannot disclose... :P
28 Jun 2015
- [+] Dice rolls