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In June 2016, Cédric, Ian, and I — the three who comprise the Ludonaute team — first played Jeju Island, a game published by our Korean partner Happy Baobab in 2015.
We immediately felt in love with the mechanisms and the smart style of the game, which was designed by Gary Kim, Jun-Hyup Kim, and Yeon-Min Jung. It is an easy to learn and very interactive game, mainly intended for families and children, about traveling around Jeju Island — the most beautiful island in Korea — and gathering specialty items. The mechanisms are based on awalé games and are very smart. The art is cute and charming, very Korean-style.
At this time, we were starting to set up The Legends of Luma world and game line. The idea of this collection is to tell a big story through a series of games, with the same characters appearing throughout. We have six heroes (Moon, Lys, Siana, Red, Nostromo and Ulrich) who explore a new fantasy world, trying to figure out why they have been sent there. We had a story and a world, and we were looking for games that could be integrated into the collection.
We had the first game of the collection: Oh Captain!, which covers the arrival of our heroes on Luma's world. Oh Captain! is a bluffing game, fun and chaotic. We were looking for a more peaceful and quiet game to tell the story of their journey with the Nomads through the mountains of Luma. Play Jeju, to use another of the game's names, seemed to meet the main criteria we had for the range: a duration of less than one hour, not too many components, and easy to play.
But of course we couldn't just change the title. For the first time, Ludonaute worked on an adaptation of an already-published game. It has been a very interesting experience for us, and it's what I would like to tell you about in this post.
Moving from Jeju Island to Luma: Changing the Theme
We first thought that instead of traveling on Jeju Island, the players could travel on Luma. But the trip is circular in Play Jeju, whereas our heroes travel from Kokota to Wilango, two different places in Luma. Thus, the game board couldn't be a map of Luma. Despite finding another way to transform this game into Luma's world, you'll see that we did not completely give up this idea of traveling between locations.
Since the six characters are traveling with nomads, we assume that at night they set up camp and gather around the fire. Well, that is the perfect place to tell stories and legends. What if they sat around a huge fire with different groups? The atmosphere of such a background fits perfectly with the kind of feelings we wanted to pass on in this game.
Thus, the Jeju tiles became Story tiles and the point cards that players try to claim with Jeju tiles became Legend cards that you capture through stories. The game now tells of an evening gathering with the nomads instead of a tourist trip on Jeju Island. The game's name would obviously become "Nomads".
That was the easy part.
Party of Six: Changing the Number of Players
Since the "Legends of Luma" story has six characters, we first tried to increase the maximum number of players from four to six by simply adding 2x2 additional tokens and 40 tiles. Alas, this "simple" approach raised a big problem: The game became very chaotic with six players and lasted far too long, leading to them losing interest.
Looking at the game again, we saw another approach. Play Jeju has one special object, the Harubang statue, which moves on the board and sometimes triggers a bonus effect. What if the Harubang statue could be represented by one of our characters? And if so, which one? Well, Lys, the old and noble woman of the party, is the most calm and impressive character. She stands up and supervises the evening.
With Lys represented by the game itself, the other five characters would be player options, which meant that Nomads would be playable from two to five players. The gameplay, however, felt very different depending on the number of players. To prevent the gameplay changing this way, we tried to have different set-ups based on the player count, but doing so meant not only having different numbers of tiles, but also a different number of spots on the game board.
In principle, this wouldn't be an issue. We have a fixed box size and shape for this line, which means we're limited in the size of the game board that we can include, but we puzzled things out to have double-sided game board pieces that could be assembled in different ways according to the number of players. In this way, we could have six, seven, or eight spots around the fire.
The problem was that this set-up was complicated and laborious — which is not a good way to create an "easy to learn" game.
We then hit upon another idea that allowed us to make the set-up the same for every player configuration. The whole party travels with the nomads all the way through the story, so let's make all of the characters present for the storytelling in the game as well, but those characters who aren't being played have fallen asleep around the campfire. In game terms, the story tiles that they would collect are simply discarded. With this rule, the game lasts the same duration in any player configuration and has the same set-up. Elegant, isn't it?
Less Chaos, More Tactics
The goal of the game is to collect the appropriate tiles on the board in order to take point cards. To do so, on their turn, a player sows a stack of discs (that must contain one of their discs) on the various spots. After this move, every player who has a disc on the top of a stack collects the tile next to this stack, even during another player's turn.
Collecting the tiles can be very tactical since you have to try to stay at the top of the stacks as often as possible, while burying your opponents' discs under yours or under the neutral discs. This is the part of the mechanisms we did not change.
Regarding the point cards, in Play Jeju, they are revealed at random from the deck in a row of five cards, and you have no idea which card will be available next. Moreover, some cards have special effects such as refreshing all the point cards in play or acting as an everlasting Jeju tile. We felt that this part of the game could be frustrating. For the audience we aimed at with Nomads, we were looking for a little bit more control.
The first change we made was to have all the point cards available at the beginning of the game for all the players so that you know exactly what is available and when. This engages a race between the players.
In Play Jeju, the point cards require you to discard different tiles to claim them, and it was difficult to have a big picture of which tile would be of most interest for you at which moment in the game. What's more, because some point cards had joker spaces that could be satisfied by any tile, sometimes getting one tile or another did not matter, which seemed a pity.
So we changed the requirements of the point cards into identical tiles, with the option of upgrading a card worth few points into a higher point card during the game. This brought more choices to players: Should I get this low point card now before another player gets it, or should I wait to have more tiles of this type to get a higher point card, even if I am not sure that I can collect enough tiles?
Moreover, by creating legend tiles this way, we were able to have continuous legends with a beginning, a middle, and an end. We could really tell stories with the cards, so that is what we did.
The third change was to split point cards and special effect cards in order to create a dilemma over which to acquire, but this change created a pattern in the gameplay that was not so good; players simply took the effect cards during the first part of the game, then the point cards during the second part. Thus, we decided to have only point cards (songs and legends) and to instead place the special effects on the character cards.
Tension and Competition
Scoring in Play Jeju is nice and encouraging. At the end of the game, you count your point cards and every pair of remaining tiles.
We wanted to prevent players from collecting as many tiles as possible without thinking through a strategy, so we imposed a penalty of one negative point per remaining tile at the end of the game. This may seem nasty, but in fact it increased the competition and the tension at the end of the game — and we liked this change of mood in the game flow. At a certain point, players suddenly try not to get too many tiles. There is now a twist, and they play the movement phase differently from the beginning of the game.
We wanted to introduce progress into the game. Of course the tiles that disappear and the race for the point cards give the game a smooth progression, but we felt like the game was made of two parts: before and after the twist. Then came the idea of having this twist several times during the game. What if we do not attend one evening gathering, but several? After all, the journey of the characters from Kokota to Wilango lasts dozens of days, months even.
So we introduced new tiles, moon tiles that are now scattered among the story tiles. When four moon tiles have appeared, it's now the time of the full moon. Our characters do not change into werewolves, but rather they review their situation. There is an intermediary scoring that implies you can't afford to get behind with the legend cards too long. This new game rule brings a lot of tension and offers you choices.
The Cherry on the Cake
In Nomads, players are the heroes of Luma: Moon, Lys, Siana, Red, Nostromo and Ulrich. Each of them has their own personality, and we wanted to show this in every game of the collection. That means that a special ability for each character would be welcome.
For a long time during game development, the "special effects" were available via some of the point cards. At one moment, it seemed obvious that these special effects should be the special abilities of the characters. Thus, these effect cards became song cards, the only cards in the game that you can now acquire by discarding different tiles instead of identical ones. The game includes only four song cards, and each player can acquire only one. You might not want to get one too early in the game because they are worth less than the legend cards, but if you wait too long, you'll collect only a less valuable one or even none at all, which might leave you stuck with leftover tiles.
As for the special effects, it was easy to assign an effect to each character of the story:
• Nostromo has an extra disc: his pet frog.
• Siana is an acrobat, so she can jump over a spot.
• Red is a small boy, so he slips between the other characters.
• Ulrich is slow and heavy, so he can drop two discs at the same time.
• Moon is Lys' daughter, so she gets the bonus of the Lys token more easily than the others.
To conclude, after a year of playtests and design sessions, we are giving Play Jeju not a twin, but a brother: Nomads. Both come from the same family but they have quite different personalities. We thank Gary Kim a lot for his help and his kindness.
I think you did a really good job.
I like Play Jeju, but also like Nomads.
They have their own fun points!
Thanks to all of your efforts for this lovely game!