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Designer Diary: Expanding Underwater Cities and Launching Monster Baby Rescue

Vladimir Suchy
Czech Republic
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Board Game: Underwater Cities: New Discoveries
After the publication of Underwater Cities, I was gratified by the players' positive reaction to the game, which was the first product of our new little game company, Delicious Games.

Seeing the positive reception and reading players' various opinions soon inspired me to create an expansion that would respond to fans' thoughts on the game and bring new possibilities. Because Underwater Cities is already a complex game with a long playing time, I avoided a sprawling expansion that would make the game more complex and longer. Instead, the expansion — Underwater Cities: New Discoveries — is made of several independent modules that add a variety of aspects to the game, such as greater variability, asymmetric starting conditions, and more interaction.

Some aspects of the expansion tie into ideas I had during the playtesting of the original game. I had left these out because they would make the game more complex and longer, such as the race to connect to particular metropolises or the asymmetric assistant powers, two ideas that we had tried in some of our earlier playtests.

The Modules

New Cards
Fifty new cards have been added to spice up the game for players who have already played it a lot. I designed them to be usable in all variants of the expansion and in the base game. None of the cards are dependent on a particular module as I didn't want players to have to add or remove cards when they added or subtracted the different modules. Some cards are designed to make certain actions more attractive. For example, there are cards that interact with the always-available action slot and cards that make laboratories stronger.

New cards can be found in every deck, including the special cards and the three-credit special cards deck. Some of these special cards were inspired by thoughts from Underwater Cities fan Henrik Larsson.

Board Game: Underwater Cities: New Discoveries

Assistants and Asymmetric Start
As I have already mentioned, the expansion gives players the chance to have different assistants. First, we tested various assistants with different actions. This led to the idea that every assistant would also have a second ability.

I combined the idea of strengthening the assistants with the idea of more-individualized starting conditions in which players start with some resources and structures. Players can now choose their starting conditions from a hand of set-up cards. This variant — getting more during set-up — makes it possible to shorten the game by one round without diminishing the interesting decisions. And it does not really prolong the time you spend choosing assistants and starting cards at the beginning of the game.

Board Game: Underwater Cities: New Discoveries

From gallery of sucd
I added ten green metropolises as an interactive element, replacing the randomness of drawing blue metropolises in the base game. In this variant, blue metropolises are not placed on the player board. Instead, blue and green metropolises are placed by the game board, and players choose their metropolis when they connect to it.

The positive reception this received during playtesting gave me the idea of using green metropolises on new player boards. These were designed with the idea that every board would be dramatically different and would require a different style of play. The new boards have a partially altered network structure and especially different starting metropolises, as shown below. On top of that, every player gets to choose metropolises to place on their boards.

Some players were asking for new brown metropolises. These turned out to be troublesome to develop because nearly every game element is already scored by a special card. Adding similar scoring mechanisms to brown metropolises would give a random advantage to players who received a metropolis matching one of the available special cards, so in the end the tested brown metropolis was not added.

From gallery of sucd

From gallery of sucd
Prototype, with the final version being a three-layer game board

The Museum
The idea here was to add more interactive elements to the game. By building on certain areas of their player boards, players make discoveries, which they can add to the museum. Essentially, it's a race to build on certain spaces of your board. It's similar to the original "government contracts" idea — build something faster than the other players — although that was much more open-ended than a race to build on specific sites on your board. The module adds more strategy to your choices of where to build.

The original idea was based on an area-control mechanism in the museum, but that didn't work as well, so I replaced it with a race mechanism, giving higher bonuses to players who make a certain discovery earlier.

From gallery of sucd
Test and final version of the Museum


Board Game: Monster Baby Rescue!
In 2018 in this space, I shared my thoughts on Eurogames and game design, saying that I develop the mechanisms first, and the theme grows as I explore the mechanisms during development — but Monster Baby Rescue! was quite different.

First came the theme. Inspired by playing with my daughters, I decided to make a family game that also had the potential to work as a filler for players who like more challenging games. The original idea was a game about caring for household pets, and that was what I worked with during development. In the prototype, it was rescue dogs and rescue cats, with players finding stray pets they must care for. They clean them up and buy them toys and beds. That version of the game is where I started using the time track mechanism and created the majority of the cards that allow one to care for pets, bathe them, and make them happy.

Gameplay is quick and simple. (The decisions aren't simple, but the gameplay is.) The player chooses a tile from a row of tiles that cost various amounts of time. Tiles slide in to fill the empty slot, thus becoming cheaper, and a new tile is dealt to the most expensive slot. The player pays for the chosen tile by advancing a certain number of spaces on the time track. The player farthest behind has used up the least time so far, and thus is the next one to play.

The chosen tiles are scored at the end of the game according to multiple criteria, while during the game, players can compete to fulfill various tasks — and because the tasks differ in each game, the relative values of the tiles will also differ in each game.

From gallery of sucd
Time track: final prototype and earlier prototype

There weren't any major changes after the first prototype. After the initial testing, I adjusted the costs, which were initially 1-2-3, when players told me that the cheapest cards were too advantageous. I replaced this with 2-3-4 so that the ratio between cheap cards and medium-cost cards was 2:3 instead of 1:2. There weren't any other substantial changes. I adjusted the scoring system and made it variable from game to game.

Because every player could have a different pet, it seemed logical that they would have different abilities or different goals — but when we tried it out, completing individual goals did not lead to interesting situations or interesting strategies. Instead, it just added more components and rules without improving gameplay.

Before deciding to publish this as a Delicious Games title, we decided to re-theme the game. Recently, there have been several cat-themed games, so we decided to use a fantasy theme, with the idea that various fantastical creatures have suddenly appeared in our world and the players need to take care of the babies.

From gallery of sucd
Prototype and final prototype

During the course of changing the theme and making the graphics, something occurred that I don't recall happening in any of my other games: I adjusted some mechanisms based on the game's new look.

The pet toys — represented by ball icons — were changed to diamonds (based on the assumption that dragons and other fantasy beasts like diamonds). This led to the idea of enlivening the appearance of the diamonds by representing them as a component instead of a tile. This allowed us to use a new scoring mechanism, adding diamonds to a tile to unlock its points (because the baby monsters like to decorate their playgrounds and sleeping places).

The game board was designed to hold the tiles in rows, which led to the idea that it made sense to award points for completed rows.

From gallery of sucd
Final prototype of the game board

Underwater Cities: New Discoveries and Monster Baby Rescue! will debut at SPIEL '19, and Rio Grande Games has licensed both titles for release.

Vladimír Suchý
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