Sands of Time development history

A blog about the development of The Sands of Time, from Spielworxx
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Sands of Time: The cutting room floor

Jeff Warrender
United States
Averill Park
New York
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This post summarizes some of the ideas (some have been mentioned in previous posts) that didn’t make the final cut, but that I still think are interesting or worthy of further investigation. If anyone wants to steal one of them to use in their own game, feel free!

1. Action board

I talked about this a fair bit, but of all the systems that have been part of the game at one time or another, I think I liked this one the best. Arrange the available actions in a grid, and players choose one of the edges between boxes and use the two actions on either side of that edge. It was a very nice way to give players a limited decision tree that narrowed as the turn progressed (you couldn’t re-use the same edge twice). It solved the common problem that single-action-turn games are susceptible to: you're often limited in your ability to set up multi action combos because all of the other players will act before your next turn comes around. The 2-action approach has been a nice improvement over this, and it was catalyzed by the action board. The board also had a balancing mechanism built-in, as the different edges could provide different bonuses or penalties commensurate with the “strength” of the action you were using.

One problem it did suffer from was the not-infrequent situation when you’d only want to use one of the two boxes you had claimed. This was actually the original impetus for the “caravan/trade route” action. If you chose not to take one of your two actions, you could instead place a caravan (for free). Now, of course, the trade route action works differently and is a full-fledged action because of its importance to the Heritage system.

2. Caravan

This one was pretty cool. Civhas a great trading mechanism. Mare Nostrum has a great trading mechanism. Sands of Time originally had a free-for-all trade system, in which almost anything could be traded at any time. This is a terrible trading mechanism. Open-ended trading adds considerable length to the game, and it doesn’t give the players enough guidance about what to trade, when to trade, or why to trade. It didn’t work (and I don't think it works generally). But I still thought the game should have some cooperative interaction and that trading made the most thematic sense.

The solution I came up with was this: there is a caravan piece that can move around the board. There’s a counter-rotating card that says “move the caravan”. If you start your turn with that card, you move the caravan. If the caravan is in one of your territories, you can upload stuff to it, or you can download stuff from it, by negotiating with the player who uploaded the thing you’re interested in acquiring. This restricted trade temporally and restricted the scope of trades, both of which should have been successful. Unfortunately, I don’t think we ever actually tested it so I’m not sure whether it was. And the game moved away from players holding commodities like cards that could be traded, so it wouldn’t make sense to try to add it in now. But I think it’s a promising way to implement trade.

3. Events

I really liked one of the event systems in particular that we used. Events are numbered 1-8, with the “worst” events having lower numbers. Every turn, you draw X event tiles, and then you discard the lowest number and return the remaining events to the cup. So, the most punitive events tend to hit and leave, whereas the weaker events tend to be annoying and keep coming up over and over again. The event system as a whole was more complexity than the game needed for the relatively minor role that it played, but in a civ game where avoiding and dealing with disasters is more prominent to the game’s theme, this system could work well.

4. Prefects

One of the earliest ideas in the game was that you were dealt a few cards, each of which had three special abilities and a strength in each of those abilities. You could use each card only once, which forced you to choose each turn, do you use the ability that best aligned with your strategy, or the ability on the card that was the strongest? I’ve already detailed why this was cut, but it has some things going for it and could easily fit into many other game designs.

5. Achievement tokens

This idea originated way way back in the early days of the design during a discussion at the Board Game Designer's Forum ( These were a currency that loosely captured the idea of having established a reputation for doing stuff in different categories. We've since replaced this with the Heritage track, but I think the core idea of a reputation currency that you can spend to get stuff done has legs. Maybe the most obvious direction would be in a political game, in which your actions earn you "political capital" and you can spend it to force things through, but can also lose it as a result of attacks from other players, scandals, etc.
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