Dear Jamey – expanding the worlds of Stonemaier Games

Keeping Jamey and the community in the loop on my work on making expansions for Stonemaier Games.
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Extended summary of our Burn a Bigger Dystopia meeting

Morten Monrad Pedersen
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As a follow-up to yesterday’s post with my preparation document for a meeting Jamey and I were going to have about the Euphoria expansion, I’ve written an extended summary of our meeting. Both to keep my partner David Studley in the loop and to let those of you who’re interested know what we discussed and decided.
So, if you found yesterday’s post interesting, then read on. If not, then skip this post.

Summary of our Burn a Bigger Dystopia Meeting on the 6th of September 2016

Participants: Jamey and Morten.
Writing this summary: Me (Morten)
Next meeting: 4th of October. We’ll deal with the then current revision of the expansion and discuss my tasks at Essen.

This document is a summary of the discussion we had at our meeting. Decisions regarding game changes are highlighted in bold.


For ease of reference the actions for each of us are listed here.

Actions for Jamey:
1) Playtest and update/give feedback on the next version sent by Morten.
2) If necessary, prepare for instructing Morten about his tasks at Essen.

Actions for Morten:
1) Update David and discuss changes with him.
2) Find a new name for the Acid Pit of Childhood Austerity.
3) Update the board and rulebook based on the rule changes we decided on.
4) Move the commodity markets to the left of the board.
5) Extend the board to be six-part instead of four-part, so that there’s room to turn the perpendicular elements the right way again and onboard the Bazaar, while hopefully leaving room for artwork to be shown.
6) Playtest the updated version and revise until arriving at a new and better expansion.
7) Avoid having heart carved out by David because of canning the treasured artifacts.

The road ahead

We decided that I’ll revise the expansion based on our talk, try it out and hopefully have David try it out. After that I’ll send it to you for playtesting and feedback/changing. Then we’ll continue iterating that way until we’re ready for external playtesting.

Stars and flame distribution

11 authority tokens make the game too slow, so we decided to lower that number. We decided to trying out an idea for making the oppressor aligned vs. rebel aligned players more clear cut and increase the asymmetry by doing the following:

* The oppressor players only get stars and start with them all.
* The oppressor players only get flames and have to buy all of them at the Flame Factory.
* The oppressor aligned players will start with 10 stars.
* By my very quick and dirty calculation on the economy of the game the rebel aligned players should then only need to place around 5-7 flames to win.

We discussed that this change would cause there to be too few authority tokens compared to the number of spaces for placing them so we decided to remove the Icarite territory as an experiment (more on this below in the section on the Icarite/Wastelanders balance).

This morning it occurred to me that we could stick to 11 authority tokens for the oppressor aligned players, without slowing the game down too much, since they no longer have to buy any of them. I’ve sent you a separate mail about this.

In the current revision flames are placed on the board before they’re purchased at the Flame Factory, but that might be bad UI design, since players are used to authority tokens placed on the board actually being placed on the board, that is they’re placed there towards winning the game.

A first stab at reorganizing the board.

Giving meaning to flames

Flames currently have no effect except that they must be bought. Other than that they’re exactly the same as stars. We discussed several different solutions for this:

1) Reintroduce the area majority mechanic. We both agreed that the mechanic is a bit clunky, hard to pull off graphics designwise, and might mesh badly with the idea of only giving flames to rebels.

2) Use the suggestion Kimberly Stout made after the GenCon playtests to allow at most 1 star on constructed markets, but allow players to place a flame in addition to the star. This is a nicely simple idea, but like the above it might not mesh with new star/flame split we just decided to try out (e.g. it would leave the oppressor aligned players vulnerable to the Department of Friendly Persuasion and would give more authority token room for the rebels who have the fewest authority tokens).

3) A favorite idea for both of us and some of the playtesters is to allow flames to be placed on specific benefits and/or costs on the board so that they would be ignored from then on. Thematically it’s a cool idea, but it’s very hard to pull off mechanically.
a) Covering benefits could allow players to take out the entire artifact or resource economy and could slow the game to a crawl.
b) Similarly allowing costs to be cancelled could make one part of the economy to be way better than the other parts and could accelerate the game to ludicrous speed.
c) We could use another geometric shape than the current squares and circles (which denotes costs and benefits) to show which costs and benefits can be cancelled.

4) Allow flames to be placed on top of stars:
a) On constructed markets this would make the star be ignored in relation to cancelling the market penalty.
b) On territories it would simply increase the capacity of the territories (this might not be what we want - particularly not if we’re giving the rebels fewer authority tokens).
c) On the Statue of Tribute: Maybe placing on top of stars should be disallowed here.
d) If there are more rebel aligned players than oppressors the oppressor aligned, then the oppressor aligned would likely have all their stars on the constructed markets cancelled and thus they’d suffer the penalty all the time. To solve this issue, we’d have to balance the number of players of each alignment (more on this in the section on this issue below).

5) If a rebel places a flame on all constructed markets and territories she wins instantly.
a) The other players can work against this using the Department of Friendly persuasion.
b) We could consider other ways that the other players could pay to stop a rebel from winning in this manner. Since it would be the game leader who’d be the most interested in doing this it would work as a thematically appropriate rubber banding mechanic.
c) We’d need to be very careful balancing the two ways of winning so that they’re both viable.

We both preferred solution 3, but for now we don’t have a way to make it work without breaking the game, so we’ll start by trying out solution 4.

Treasured artifacts

Should they stay or should they go? We decided that the treasure artifacts should go:

1) As argued out by Ben Horne they make it too easy to use the artifact markets
2) They add complexity.
3) They basically serve the same function as the Bazaar.

Note: David is sooo going to dig out my heart with a blunt teaspoon because of this change, so you should probably start looking for a replacement for me.

Resource limits

The rebels are hit very hard by their 3 resource and it makes it hard to make a strategy based on taking the same action multiple times and bumping your own workers. After much deliberation and a heated debate, we agreed that while Jamey’s argument, that we can form a really nice looking pyramid with 3 resource icons, but not with 4, was very good, then we should likely go with what makes the mechanics better. Therefore, we decided to increase the rebel resource limit to 4.

Player mats .

Asymmetric player mats

The asymmetric player mats for choosing oppressor vs. rebel alignment work well, but carry a big risk regarding balance:

* If we don’t get the balance just right, we risk everyone choosing the same side/alignment.

* Even if we get the balance just right we could still have the issue because of perceived unbalance and groupthink.

* Having a clear majority of oppressor aligned players cause no mechanical issue in the current version of the game, but would likely make playing less fun.

* Having more rebels than oppressors, on the other hand, can cause issues:
- As discussed above oppressor players would have their constructed market stars covered all the time and thus be penalized too heavily and thus cancel one of the game’s interesting mechanics.
- The increase in use of the rebel radio might cause knowledge to be maxed out all the time.

For now, we’ll continue letting the players choose their alignment, but we change it so that players choose their recruit(s) before choosing alignment, since that will influence their alignment choice and might overcome most of the issues mentioned above.

If that doesn’t work out, we’ll instead use CEILING(#players) oppressor aligned player mats and FLOOR(#players) rebel aligned player mats and distribute them randomly among the players.

A minor point we discussed was that rebel players need to choose a starting resource and commodity, but that will cause issues with some players demanding to see what choices the other players make before making their own choice.

To handle this, we could:

1) Remove the starting resource and commodity. This is a clean and simple, but also a bit boring solution.

2) The player mat could specify what resource and commodity you’d get:
a) Given that bliss is better than the other commodities this could cause a slight imbalance, so we’d likely need to limit it to the commodities of the earthbound factions.
b) UI-wise it might be a problem, since the icons in the storage could then make players think that the storage space for the starting commodity/resource is limited to contain the specific type instead of any commodity.

3) We could give the players only commodities and base it on the faction of the first active recruit.
a) This would only give rebels starting commodities as desired as they’re the only ones starting with an active recruit.
b) It would give Icarite players an advantage.

We’ll go with option 1 while we mull our options over.

The rebel radio

We agreed to simplify the allegiance balancing mechanic so that the radio only advances the hindmost allegiance token(s) and no longer also move the frontmost one(s) backwards (the latter was limited to situations that wouldn’t make the tokens go to an earlier tier). The reason for this change is that the previous rule added complexity and one of those abhorred exception rules and the benefit wasn’t commensurate with the benefit.

We also made this a default benefit of the Rebel Radio instead of it being dependent on the player being oppressor aligned, since it’s more likely to help another player than the oppressor player taking the action.

Sliding cost tracks

The sliding cost tracks are changed to this:

Internal playtest draft of the three sliding cost tracks.

Wastelands vs. Icarus

We agreed that Icarus is still more powerful than Wastelands, since for everyone except Wasterlanders bliss will do the same as food does and more. Bliss is even attractive for Wastelanders bliss, but food holds little interest for Icarites.

The current revision of the game has actually compounded the issue by making resources crucial for rebels in the beginning of the game before the tunnel allegiance bonus is unlocked and thus they’ll be using the Icarite Skylounge even more.

To counter balance this we do the following:

* One of the artifacts in the Bazaar can only be bought using food. (This not a change, but we had discussing the possible removal of this rule on the agenda.)
* We remove the Icarite territory.
* We remove the Icarite tier 2 allegiance bonus (which is convenient given the fact that the above change makes it pointless).

The bazaar

We decided to remove the option of drawing artifacts from the top of the deck, since at low player counts we could easily end in a situation where none of the players had any use of the artifacts in the Bazaar queue and thus they’d only draw from the top of the deck, thereby rendering the Bazaar pointless.

This also makes the Bazaar a bit simpler, but it might cause a small UI issue, because players are conditioned to draw cards from the top of a deck.

The new board

Move the commodity markets to the left, so that players will start taking actions from the left side and move towards the right as the game progresses. This should make it easier to teach the game to new players.

As an experiment we’ll make the board six-part instead of four-part, so that there’s room to turn the perpendicular elements the right way again and onboard the Bazaar, while hopefully leaving room for artwork to be shown.

We decided to let the allegiance tracks stay together instead of moving each to the part of the board that their faction action spaces are on, since that will make it harder to compare progress, which is an issue for the allegiance catch up/balancing mechanic on the Rebel Radio.

Department of friendly persuasion and Acid pit of childhood austerity

With the removal of the treasured artifacts the Department of Friendly Persuasion will be used at most three times per pass through the artifact deck. This is not enough, since it has a fun and important mechanic. To fix this we’ll allow DoFP to be used with a pair of teddy bears in addition to the current pair of baseball bats.

This means that we’ll have to remove the pair of teddy bears as a possible cost of the Acid Pit of Childhood Austerity, which is a pity given that they were actually the thematically most appropriate fit for the name. On the other hand, the juxtaposition of children and acid pits was unintentionally in poor taste so we’ll change the name to something that fits the use of balloons and board games.
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