Where to begin?
I spent a lot of time wondering how to open this diary. In the end I put my trust in the King of Hearts, who imparted this sage advice to the White Rabbit in Alice and Wonderland: "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop."
That sounded reasonable. But before I begin, let's ask: What kind of game is Hawaii? At its heart, it's a development game in which managing one's resources and timing one's opportunities serve as keys to success. Players assume the position of chiefs serving under the king. At the beginning of the game the king heavily "subsidizes" a player's income. As the game progresses, however, the king gives a player less each round – yet the demands on a chief by his villagers become all the greater. That's Hawaii in a nutshell.
Let's talk about when I first began designing the game; I remember it well...
It was a winter evening in February 2005. Snow lay on the ground. With my wife and kids asleep, I sat at my kitchen table by the picture window, feeling the cold air come off the glass. Instinctively my thoughts turned to warmer places, in this case Hawaii. I had spent a fair amount of time gathering books on the subject at the library, poring over them, and now I was thinking about that island kingdom.
It was not so much the modern tourist image: timeshares, folks dressed in sandals and loud shirts, the luau on the hotel patio.... Rather, I imagined a land abundant in taro, coconut, and other tropical foods; a self-contained society thriving under the temperamental eye of Pele, goddess of the volcano; a people worshiping Kane, Ku, Lono and the entire pantheon of Hawaiian gods. It was the land of the maka'ainana, the commoners, as well as the wise kahuna, and the ali'i, chiefs of ancient Hawaii. I spent a number of evenings immersing myself in their world. Before long I had pages of material and mechanisms in place.
And thus Hawaii the game was born – just like that on a cold winter's night. Couldn't be simpler.
Okay, not true. I had a theme, rich as it was, and some mechanisms, yes. But, truth be told, nothing developed that winter that I could call a game. Just a few nascent systems and pages of notes that after time I shelved for the greener pastures of the next big design idea.
So, when then? Okay, now it's coming back to me.
During the Christmas holidays in 2006, nearly two years later, I sat cross-legged on the floor at my in-laws' house working on a new game set during the Renaissance. I spent the entire winter on this design and I showed it to a publisher in the spring of 2007. He liked it enough to take it home with him and test it. Within a couple of months he had turned the game down, but one point of feedback stuck with me: my Renaissance game might in fact be two separate games. Two games? Hmm. Maybe so, I thought. That summer I split the game in half. I took one part and put it on the shelf to save for later (that same shelf), with the other I built a whole new world with supporting mechanisms and a shiny new theme.
And thus Hawaii the game was born....
Only, I didn't set my new game in Hawaii. I set it in ancient Rome.
All Roads Lead To...
So now I had a Roman game. Players assumed the roles of governors in the Roman Empire. The game had aqueducts, baths, the Colosseum, legions, senators – all those elements that one would expect when living the life of an ancient Roman leader bent on building his corner of the empire. I worked on the game for the next eighteen months. In this time it went through a number of dramatic changes and improvements, thanks to excellent playtesting and idea generating by a number of good folks. I couldn't have made it as far as I had without them.
And yet, the game was not exactly where I wanted it to be, and I couldn't figure out where I was falling short. I had been looking at it for so long that I knew I needed a spark, a way to see it with fresh eyes. My opportunity came in early 2009 when the publisher I had targeted to show my game released a Roman-themed game of its own. "Well, they won't be wanting Rome for a while!" I thought. This development was motivation enough for me to make a change. It was time to re-theme.
New theme, new theme. What to use? "Ah, yes," I said, pulling it from the shelf. I blew off the dust and thought, "This will do nicely." And thus Hawaii the game was born. Really. I'm not kidding this time.
From 2009 to 2011 Hawaii had what I would consider two distinct iterations. The first version began very much as a redressing of the Roman game. Making the change from governors to chiefs proved fairly smooth. Historically, each chief was provided a portion of the island to run. His allotment began in the higher, mountainous elevations and proceeded down to the shore. Essentially the king divided his island into sections as though they were slices of Hawaii Pie. So far, so good.
Here's a picture of the prototype board:
In terms of game play, players moved a pawn to different locations on the board, collecting tiles that looked like this:
A tile depicted three important elements:
1) Cost in cubes
The game had three currencies: red and yellow cubes that represented warriors and ordinary villagers, respectively, as well as green cubes that represented products of the fields. The green served as a "wild" currency. I aligned the cube colors to specific tile types. For example, building a warrior hut always cost red cubes, but a temple could be paid for only with yellow cubes.
2) What a player gets
The tile displayed something the player built or acquired as a result of paying the cube cost. Usually this item would be placed to an angle-shaped player board, similar to the player boards in Vikings – only in Hawaii each row of tiles represented a village under the player's care. The development of these villages was integral to a chief's success. In the case of the tile above, the player choosing it would be able to build and place a temple in one of his villages.
3) A contentment number
Finally the tile had a contentment number, which ranged from 1 to 7. At the end of a round, the contentment numbers on the tiles a player collected would be added together, with the objective being to reach a certain "threshold" value. Should the threshold be attained, it would indicate the villagers' overall satisfaction with their chief, and, more importantly for gamers, score them victory points. Players who had the highest and second-highest contentment sums (provided they reached the threshold) would receive even more victory points.
That was the main activity of the game, though there were other aspects of play that I haven't touched on here.
I found that one of the largest hurdles to this version was the restrictive strategies it could force players to undertake. By this I mean that the more extreme cube-color incomes (having mostly red or mostly yellow) would, as the game progressed, limit a player's selection to only those tiles with matching currency. I needed a system with a bit more flexibility.
In addition, I had a movement system in place that would allow players to effectively block others from reaching certain parts of the board, unless they paid a penalty. I liked this, but it also made the board constraining, perhaps too much so. I tried to open it up by providing another source for tiles, those to be found on other Hawaiian Islands. But to get there one needed canoes, and in order to have canoes one needed red cubes to build canoes, and if one didn't have enough red cubes to pay for them... Well, you see where this is going.
I had spent a year on Hawaii, Version 1. I had made it different from the Roman game, but only in subtle ways; they were tweaks rather than the radical shift I had been hoping to apply. To give you an analogy, if I were a chef and this were my recipe for soup, I had been making changes like this, "I'll add two cloves of garlic this time instead of one. That should be interesting!" when I should have been saying, "What this soup needs is a scoop of cocoa powder and where did I put that bottle of Tabasco?!"
Well, I don't know whether I ever got that "crazy in the kitchen", but I did come up with something that improved the game in my eyes. Namely, I changed to a randomized board, shaped like a volcano, with only ten locations.
An early Version 2 prototype
Each location allowed a player to acquire one or two specific things he might need: canoes were in one place, temples in another, for example. Another important change was the removal of a fixed connection between the item to be built and its cost. That temple you want for your village? It might cost five cubes this round but only two in the next round; it all depended on what cost tiles were drawn from the bag and placed on that location.
On top of that, the new board set-up created a tension as to when to acquire a tile. Since players' pawns started at the base of the volcano, it was more efficient for them to gather items at the lower levels first before making their way higher; however, if a player was willing to pay a premium, he could go as high as he wished. The tension of knowing when to jump higher or when to save resources presented players with a new challenge not present in Version 1.
I showed the prototype to Hans im Glück in early 2011. As luck would have it, the game has become one of its Spiel releases for 2011. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to work with them on the game; I feel privileged to have had so many great people playtest, provide input, and offer their support along the way; and I'm deeply appreciative of the time and artistry that Dennis Lohausen, the illustrator, has put into the look and feel of the game.
I've added some of his finished work here:
The main board has been redesigned into the shape of Hawaii!
Two sample pieces of the randomized board
And that's it, that's Hawaii – as best as I can remember, with all its beginnings and just this one end.
Thanks for reading.