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Designer Preview: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
California
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Microbadge: Phoenicia fanMicrobadge: Civilization fan
Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition
Preview by Tom Lehmann and Wei-Hwa Huang

Ambition expands Roll for the Galaxy by adding fourteen factions, seven start worlds, two new types of dice, five game tiles, and optional objectives.

Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition

Originally, Roll was designed as a standalone game. Its popularity, plus customer demand for more start factions and home worlds, led us to consider doing an expansion in late February 2015.

With Success Comes New Challenges

A popular game faces the issue that experienced players want more complexity and new challenges, while many new players are just getting it but, in their enthusiasm, will also buy the expansion. How do you design it for both groups?

Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition

Having done Race and Pandemic expansions, Tom believes that a game's first expansion needs to offer variety in breadth — more of what caused players to like the game originally — plus a few new "twists". This keeps the complexity manageable for new players. Radical changes belong in later expansions, when more players will have explored the game's play space and not as many new players are just discovering it.

New Tiles and Dice

Ambition's development began with an exchange of lists. Wei-Hwa had a list of ideas that didn't make it into the base game: What if a world cost you a die to build? How about a faction that could effectively Scout for free?

Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition

Tom had noted down some interesting variations on base game tiles: What would an Uplift world or Contact Specialist (from Race) look like in Roll? How about an expensive world that scores a bonus?

Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition

We refined these ideas to produce a mini-expansion to begin testing. However, we also wanted something new. Wei-Hwa suggested adding two new types of dice, differing in how players got them. One would be quite powerful — the Leader die, with every player starting with one — while the other would be acquired normally, through factions, start worlds, and game tiles.

For these dice, Wei-Hwa added two concepts:

Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition

First, some faces would show two phases, so if a player assigned it to either phase and it didn’t occur — but the other phase did — then the die would shift after phases were revealed. This lets a player do speculative dice assignments.

Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition


Second, some faces would have both a phase symbol and $. If assigned to that phase — and that phase occurs — then after performing its task, the die goes back to the cup, not the Citizenry. (It effectively recruits itself.)

Finally, the Leader die has a wild face and matches all colored worlds, as either the shipper or good, for Consume tasks.

The Leader die was well-received by our testers, not only because it's more powerful than the white Home die it replaces, but also because it leads to more interesting early decisions when players don't have many dice.
Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition


The Entrepreneur die was designed as a "leeching" die for shipping players. Not sure whether a tableau-building player is going Develop or Settle? How about a face with both symbols? Wondering whether a tableau builder is going to Explore? How about Explore-Develop and Explore-Settle faces?
Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition


To ensure it would be useful for shipping, its other faces were Produce-Ship, Produce, and Ship. This gave us a die with two of every phase. To encourage its non-Consume uses, it doesn't match any world colors. Testing showed this was a bit weak, so we added $s to its Produce and Ship faces.

From Goals to Objectives

With limited design and testing time to produce an expansion in 2015, Tom suggested possibly adapting Goals (from the first Race expansion) to Roll. Wei-Hwa proposed that these objectives shouldn't just give VPs, but instead should provide 2-5 talent counters, "one-shot" wild workers who match all worlds for Consume. Any unused talent counters at game end are worth 1 VP apiece.
Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition


We tested this and found it worked well.
Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition


Easier objectives entice players into pursuing them immediately since once an objective is claimed, it is unavailable to other players on later rounds. This adds tension to early game rounds.
Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition


Harder objectives provide five talent counters apiece. Once claimed, these workers can allow a player to easily put out an expensive 6-cost development or ship a bunch of goods for many VPs in the final round. However, pursuing harder objectives can become a trap if a player spends too much time doing so and then is unable to use these workers before the game ends.

We devised twenty objectives, six of which are randomly in play every game, providing lots of variety. We made objectives optional, so that brand new players won't feel obliged to immediately add them.

Switching It Up

During Roll's development, Wei-Hwa did the design and detailed implementation while Tom offered high-level critiques. With Ambition's development, Wei-Hwa concentrated on new concepts while Tom designed tiles, with both of us sharing testing and revision duties.
Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition


Initially, we did a four-week design blitz, each week testing a new sub-system or tile group to make sure we were on the right track. We then reported to Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games that our design was sound, so he began work with the supplier to get production samples of the new dice.

After revising Ambition for a month, we took it to the Gathering of Friends to test it with lots of different players. Afterwards, we did two more months of stress testing, with both our main group and a blindtest group headed by Ken Chaney. By this point, we were recording game statistics and maintaining a faction spreadsheet to ensure that the new factions weren't too powerful relative to the base game factions.

The Art of Production

In early June 2015, we turned everything in to the art team. While we chose to reuse some Race art in Roll so that both games would exist in the same galaxy, over a third of Roll's art is original.
Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition


Most of Roll's reused artwork needed extensive touch up or was redone, due to being landscape, not portrait, as in Race. For example, if you compare the original card artwork for Pilgrimage World with the corresponding Roll faction, you can see how extensively the art was adjusted.
Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition


Similarly, the Ambition illustrations for Mining Robots, Destroyed World, and Rebel Colony above are all based on their respective Race cards, but are brand new.
Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition


Ambition features lots of completely original artwork. This takes time, so the art team — Martin Hoffmann, Claus Stephan, and Mirko Suzuki — had to work quite hard for four months to meet our intended press date. They came through, and I think players will like the results.

This was an ambitious project on many levels, but we are quite pleased with how it turned out. Enjoy!
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