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Designer Diary: Terramara

Virginio Gigli
Italy
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In the late 2000s after the success of our first game, Leonardo Da Vinci, the four of us who make up the design group AcchittoccaFlaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, Stefano Luperto, and Antonio Tinto — started thinking about a card game version of that design.

The main idea was a worker placement game with the added twist of being able to place workers in stronger spaces that would become available on a later turn, thereby giving a player the choice of placing a worker on a weaker space that will resolve at the end of the current round or placing it on a stronger action that won't be resolved until the end of a future round.

In this first version, as in Leonardo da Vinci, every round players placed all of their workers first, then all currently active spaces were resolved in a fixed order.


The first version of the game; note the same resources as in Leonardo on the resource tiles


We soon realized that the new game was too complex to be produced as a card game, so we abandoned the idea of linking it to Leonardo da Vinci, changing the theme so that players are now chiefs of gnome clans (game title: "Gnomeland") who are sending their villagers to gather resources to erect the most beautiful buildings.


Virginio and Flaminia during a playtest with Piero Cioni


"Gnomeland" had five kinds of territories and buildings that provided only victory points, and these buildings were later been changed to artefacts with all sorts of functions.

We thought the base mechanism — placing in stronger areas that would be resolved in the future — was interesting and feedback from playtesting was positive. However, people playing the game were confused by the resolution timing and found that trying to time their actions across several turns was too complicated, and since the base mechanism was so challenging, we couldn't build a richer and more complicated game around it. Thus, the game was difficult to play, but at the same time not deep and variable enough. The game remained in our prototype drawer for many years, for that reason and because the Acchittocca invention team was dissolved.


The five types of buildings in "Gnomeland"


In 2017, we started working on it again by introducing one key change: Worker placements are resolved immediately, not at the end of the current or future rounds — but the retrieval of workers placed on action spaces in future rounds (which are thus stronger) would be delayed. At the end of each round, players therefore retrieve all workers placed in areas active in the current round, while workers placed in future stronger areas will be retrieved only at the end of the round when those areas become active.

This change greatly simplified a player's thoughts process and made the placement in future areas more interesting because one would receive the benefits of a current action immediately, making it easier to compare the action now vs. the action later. Having simplified the basic mechanism, finally we were able to enrich the game with other elements that would fit in a new theme we decided to use:

• The first new element we added was caravan travel to give players an alternative to resource gathering. To make it more interesting and original, we then linked it to the end-of-game scoring and allowed travel to unlock special areas where one could place workers.

• We then developed the culture track (the river), which grants the strategic advantage of picking artefacts before the other players and some immediate tactical advantages, the most important being an additional explorer.

• We finally added military strength to allow more freedom when placing an explorer, with a rebalancing mechanism when players use it. We also introduced the raid mechanism that allowed us to remove the static warehouse of resources, which originally existed in "Gnomeland".


Our final prototype of Terramara; beautiful, isn't it?


Terramara — the final name of the design — has reached its definitive form after working with the Quined Games development team. We're very happy working together with them and their choice for game illustrator: Michael Menzel; we're big fans of his, and we've been hoping for a long time to have one of our games illustrated by him.

After working for such a long time on this game, we cannot wait to have the final box in our hands and play it in its final version, which we think will be absolutely gorgeous! We are proud of the end result and hope players will like the game as much as we love it.


Close to the same game board layout other than variation tiles, but now with final art — much more beautiful...
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