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Publisher Diary: Scientia, or Finding Something Unique from Typical Elements

Jade Yoo
South Korea
Seoul
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COMPANY OWNER
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Hello, my name is Jade Yoo, the owner of Korean board game company BoardM Factory. I want to introduce stories behind our new game Scientia. Of course, every game has its own efforts and stories behind it. I just leave it as our (publisher, designer and artist) precious records. I hope it will be the interesting article for you.

Evan Song — who designed Double Mission, Doremi, Slide Blast, and Rising 5 — majored in chemistry at university and was enough of a science maniac to subscribe to scientific magazines as a child. As such, he has always had the desire to create a game based on science.

Alongside that, he was interested in the game systems of two designs: Dominion and Splendor. These two games — Dominion, in which players use "used" cards to perform actions, and the simple and fast-paced Splendor — motivated him as role models for the type of design that he would like to create.

The Boardgame Exhibition of Amateurs Convention (BEACON) in Seoul, Korea has always been a showcase event for a designer, and at this convention Song unveiled "Science", the prototype of a game that would combine the ideas of science as a theme, simple and fast progress, and the combination of cards that he had been thinking about.


Evan and his games


In fact, "Science" did not come together until a week before the event, just after the designer was sick in bed. In the end, he started work with a renewed mind and three kinds of "flow" for the game came to mind:

1) Decide which topic to study
2) Take the time to study
3) Complete the study

The completed prototype was a way to do this, with cards to study in the center of the table. As soon as players took the desired study card, they placed the number of cubes displayed, with these cubes being removed over time to complete the card. The game had a lot of features that allowed players to take benefits when they completed their cards.

Following that, the way of playing changed so that players rotated cards rather than removing cubes from them. Cards had to be turned four times (360º) in order to be completed, and with this change the prototype of "Science" was born.


"Science", the previous version of Scientia


"Science" received a good evaluation at BEACON, with BoardM Factory offering a contract that evening after playing the game at the venue. However, the game needed to be upgraded in many respects, and the contract was postponed for almost a year. Evan Song was also the producer of the GATE, a BoardM project with designer Gary Kim, so he collaborated as developer there while collaborating on the other side of the table with "Science". By 2017, BoardM and Evan Song had decided that their "Science" project was coming together, and they settled on an anticipated launch date of the end of 2018.

BoardM was also interested in retaining the game's theme of science, but suggested change the game's title to Scientia, which in Latin means "knowledge' and is the root word of 'science".

While Evan Song was thinking of the game's balance and development, BoardM looked for an artist and decided upon Vincent Dutrait.

Teaming Up with the Master-Hand Again

Vincent Dutrait had worked on BoardM's game Sherlock 13 and exhibited good teamwork, so after Sherlock 13 ended, he half-jokingly said, "Let's work with different publishers/designers for the next project and meet again for a bigger one!"


Vincent and Sherlock 13, published by BoardM Factory


But BoardM felt again the need to work with Vincent Dutrait with this next project. Not only is he a superb illustrator, he is also an eminent professional in the implementation of icons and edits, and Scientia is a game that literally requires a lot of icons and editing implementation.

For Dutrait, Scientia was also a challenge because while he had attempted medieval, modern, and fantasy backgrounds and settings many times, topics such as pure science themes were largely unexplored areas. In the end, though, he decided to do the artwork and graphic design for Scientia. At the same time as the contract, BoardM requested two things:

1) Create an atmosphere through the cover and graphic design that is extremely cold.
2) Express such a sharp-edged feeling that no one who sees it would immediately think "This is Vincent Dutrait's style".

He quickly understood BoardM's request and started work.

Trial and Error

The progress of Scientia was more difficult than we thought. We had to think of a combination of cards, but we simplified as we didn't want a complicated game. The production team, who had thought that the progress time of the game was connected with its flow, monitored time with a stopwatch every game play and concluded that the game was almost done as it took about thirty minutes, even in the case of a four-person game. After that, we registered the game information and posted a rough summary on BoardGameGeek.


Cards of Scientia, each of which is double-sided


At this time, Scientia was a game that started with twelve cards in four scientific fields, three different cards from each field. Players could develop cards with two slots at the beginning of the game and advance technology cubes related to the completion of cards studied.

When a player reached the rightmost space of the field track, they took another tech cube — and even after card development was finished, the card was returned to its original position instead of discarding it. When the space for that card was empty, the card was turned over to use a new effect. After the end of the game, victory points were given to the four fields of physics, chemistry, biology and astronomy in a different way. It seemed to draw the strands of the game together to some degree.

But a trip to the Cannes International Game Festival in France in February 2018 gave us quite a dramatic change to Scientia. One of the biggest contributors to this was Sébastien Pauchon (Jaipur, Jamaica), who visited Korea during the Masters Class in 2018. Pauchon pointed out that the game was still unnecessarily long and difficult. It lasted only about a half-hour for a team of four players who played all the time, but the game was too complicated for a new player, and there was too much information to know at the start. In fact, in the field with new players, the four-player game suddenly lasted more than an hour.


Personal dashboard with tech and flask cubes


After the trip to France, Scientia has been simplified a lot. First, we eliminated the point obtained by reaching the rightmost space of the fields, as well as the use of both sides of the card. The game still starts with two slots and gradually expands, but we also simplified the expansion conditions for these slots.

In addition, Dutrait watched all this progress and thought about proper layout and artwork.

To Become a More Exceptional Game

Most of these steps were done early in 2018. By this time, the boom of "engine-building" games that Splendor had started was underway, so we developed and emphasized unique factors in the design by comparing it with other engine-building games such as Century: Spice Road and Gizmos (which is also localized by BoardM in Korea).

And ironically this emphasis happened by eliminating extra elements in the game. There were three major changes:

1) Eliminate random elements.

Scientia consists of twelve cards at the beginning of the game, and there are no cards to draw or dice to roll. This change began to crystallize by eliminating the rule of turning the card over during the game. There is no unfairness with the player who already knows the back of the card. Gameplay is, of course, simplified because players need to grasp only twelve cards during the game.

2) All cards have the same conditions for completion with no resource elements.

Unlike other games with different types and amounts of the resources of the card to complete, Scientia is completed by just four rotations. Therefore, there are only four rotations with the concept of "time", with no separate resource accompanying it. In the end, choosing and racing with a combination of the order of twelve cards can determine the outcome of the game.

3) Interaction of collaboration rather than interference.

The fact that there is no big interaction other than preempting the card is not much different from other engine-building games. On the other hand, Scientia has another interaction that gives greater benefit to a player who shares or gives a 1 VP flask cube to another. In fact, this is also connected to the theme — scholars studying science fairly — so the interaction of disturbing feelings is avoided in this game as much as possible.


Overview of the game


In addition, there is also a factor of replay apart from the playing of the game itself. While we don't use both sides of a card within a game, we allow either side of a card to be face up at the beginning of the game. Therefore, the combinations in the game change depending on which card fronts and which card backs are showing. Here, we increased the number of cards per field to six (and choose three for a game), maximizing the number of combinations that vary from game to game.

In the end, the game includes 48 kinds of cards, while using only 12 of them in a single playing. As a result, there are more than 20,000 combinations of cards in the game.

Efforts for Balance

After the rules of the game were decided, the effort for card balancing was enormous. Interestingly, designer Evan Song worked mostly on the train: on KTX to Busan to participate in the Busan Event, on TGV to Cannes Fair, and on the night train to China on business.

After all the rules and cards of the game were completed, the game seemed novel at the time of planning, but in 2018 we had a sense of déjà vu once again after seeing games pop up with a science theme and games with a white-toned look with a dry feeling, and most of all, quite a few engine-building games.

That said, all of this work seems to have born a novel game that is pretty beguiling, and we hope that Scientia will receive a good response at home and abroad while being demoed at SPIEL '18 and when released in Korea at the end of 2018 or early in 2019.


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