Clans of Caledonia: designer diary
Juma Al-JouJou
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This diary has been written in order to provide you with an overview as to the contents and ideas behind Clans of Caledonia, the new game from Karma Games being released on Kickstarter in April 2017: http://karma-games.com/Clans-of-Caledonia-Kickstarter
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1. Board Game: Clans of Caledonia [Average Rating:8.07 Overall Rank:44]
Juma Al-JouJou
Germany
Berlin
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I, Juma Al-JouJou, designed the game Clans of Caledonia and Klemens Franz who already illustrated Isle of Skye, Caverna, Agricola, Le Havre and many more award-winning strategy games, illustrated it.

The philosopher David Hume wrote that anything new is a recombination of existing things or ideas. And I think he was right, anything novel is indeed a recombination. Like any attempt at designing something new, Clans of Caledonia is standing on the shoulders of big giants, namely the best board games out there that impressed and influenced me as a designer.

I’d like to highlight these influences to shed light on the creative process, to give credit to those great games and give you in-depth insights that might help you figure out if this game is for you.



I'd love to hear your thoughts and feel free to signup for my newsletter to get notified of any new designs I am working on:
www.karma-games.com
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2. Board Game: Terra Mystica [Average Rating:8.20 Overall Rank:11]
Juma Al-JouJou
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Clans of Caledonia is inspired by Terra Mystica in several ways.

Action Selection
In each turn, players can choose among one of eight possible actions. Like in Terra Mystica, each action can only be done once per turn.

I personally often dislike games that use an innovative action selection mechanism because it can feel artificial and introduces a bad kind of complexity where you are mostly busy wrapping your mind around the action selection mechanism rather than be able to focus on the strategies that are linked to the actions. That is why I prefer more straightforward action selection mechanisms.



Structure of the game
Clans of Caledonia ends after 5 rounds. Each round consists of an indefinate number of turns. After each round, players collect their income from the structures built on the map that reveiled respective icons on the player mats. Then there is a round scoring that give vps depending on how well players fulfill them at that moment.

Area control
The map does look a bit similar. There are lochs and rivers (they are not the same) and one can upgrade one’s shipping ability to expand across rivers and lochs.

There is no terraforming though and no home territory for players. Instead, certain production units need to be placed in the right landscape which thematically makes sense. The lumberjack can only be placed in the woods, the miner only in the mountain and the other units like factories, fields and animeeples need to be placed in the grasslands.

There can be several landscapes on one terrain which provides the players with greater flexibility what to build there. These hexes are more expensive to build on, though. If a hex only has wood I can only place a lumberjack on it but the hex is cheap to build on.



So this means that cheap hexes are attractive for all players and I feel the area control is thus a bit tighter (in Terra Mystica it could happen that one hex is cheap for me but expensive for you so the competition is not so high then). Furthermore, there are more hexes on the map than in Terra Mystica and players build on more hexes (units are not upgraded). In addition, players can lose control of hexes, namely if they slaughter animals to produce meat. Concluding, I think the area control is more dynamic in Clans of Caledonia.

Neighborhood
Neighborhood is a double-edged sword in Terra Mystica. On the one hand, you gain more power which you can spend on strong power actions. On the other hand, you are faced with stronger competition for terrain and the risk of being cut-off.

A similar mechanism is present in Clans of Caledonia (and also in my other design Green Deal: if you expand adjacent to another player (no river or loch in between), you can buy the resource of your neighbor’s production unit at a discount from the market. You can only do so in the moment of expanding, so it is not a permanent bonus. This neighborhood bonus is really powerful and not only saves you money but also at least one turn because you can buy at the market in addition to your build action.

Network scoring
The network scoring in Terra Mystica increases the competition for terrain, the tension until the very last round and the interaction between players which is great.

Since Clans of Caledonia is not a pure engine-building game but rather a hybrid of an engine-building and an economic game I didn’t just reward building as much as in Terra Mystica. Especially since you don’t upgrade buildings in Clans of Caledonia a network scoring à la Terra Mystica would be rather one-dimensional. So instead the best players get VPs for having most connected settlements. A settlement is any contiguous set of own hexes without any water (lochs or rivers) in between. So this incentivices expanding across water as much as possible which makes players spread out more and thus interact with other players, eg. through the neighborhood bonus. However, the single settlements must be connected via shipping at the end of the game to contribute to the scoring. So the settlement scoring is similar to the settlement scoring in the expansion Terra Mystica: Fire & Ice.

Meat plays a double-edged role with this regard: To produce meat one needs to slaughter cows/sheeps and put the animeeple from the map back on one’s player mat. The respective hexes become available for everyone. This mechanism can be used to split up a bigger settlement into two smaller settlements (which is good for the settlement scoring). However, slaughtering your cow or sheep can also result in deconnecting your settlements. So strategic placement of your cattle and sheep and slaughtering "in a smart way" impacts your settlement scoring.

The settlement scoring, the way players produce meat and the neighborhood bonus makes the area control very multidimensional and interesting. You might not always go for the cheapest terrain but rather for cheap terrain that results in an additional settlement and that allows you to buy resources you need at a discount (neighborhood bonus) or simply for terrain to cut an opponent off.

Scoring tiles in Terra Mystica
I love how the random scoring tiles add to the replayability in Terra Mystica! Nonetheless, there are three things I dislike about the way they work:

1. The scoring tiles are very specific, I get vps for building dwellings, trading posts etc. so I feel forced to do something very concrete. This feels too much of a strategic and static restriction to me. They allow little wiggle room.
2. Players only get vps if they build the respective structures in the very same round as the scoring tile. Thus, you need to adjust your vp marker each time you get points in a round. It adds administration, you can forget it and it just disrupts the flow of the game.
3. It feels weird that it often is smart to postpone investing your resources and pass early because building in the next round gives you more vps. This would feel even more unthematic in an economic game like Clans of Caledonia where you should avoid dead capital like the plague.

Scoring tiles in Clans of Caledonia
So these personal preferences of mine made me think of how the round scorings could work differently:

First, several round scoring tiles do award a group of things rather than just a specific thing. For instance, one scoring tile gives you 1 VP for each basic resource in your stock, no matter if woolen, grain or milk and no matter if produced or bought. Similar for the upgrade round scoring: you can get points for shipping, merchants and tech upgrades. This gives you more flexibility how to score.

Second, you get VPs for how well you fulfill the criterion in the very moment of the round scoring. This means if the round scoring at the end of the third round awards VPs for each deployed worker by then it doesn’t matter if the workers were built in the first, second or third round. This provides greater strategic freedom because you can for instance ignore one scoring tile in order to focus on another one that fits your clan strategy better.

Furthermore, there are more ways you can realize synergies between round scorings: the scoring of the third round might award points for hexes of yours on the edge whereas the scoring of the 5th round might award built workers. So I could plan to build all my workers on the edge by the end of the third round so these workers help me for the scoring of the 3rd and 5th round. It also has the side-benefit that players only have to move their VP markers five times in the game, namely at the end of each round. All other vps are put into the scoresheet at the end of the game (which is much faster and does not disrupt the flow of the game).



This resembles the way the scoring tiles work in Isle of Skye. It wasn’t an inspiration, though since I only played it after I completed the design phase for Clans of Caledonia.

Player mat
I love how the player mat in Terra Mystica simplifies gathering your income at the end of each round. So I adopted this system. What is different though, is that in Clans of Caledonia you do not upgrade buildings. Instead there are production chains: basic resources are processed (grain –> bread & whisky, milk –> cheese). So it makes sense to have a field if you have bakeries or distilleries.

 

 


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3. Board Game: Terra Mystica: Fire & Ice [Average Rating:8.49 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.49 Unranked]
Juma Al-JouJou
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Turn order
Seating order can be quite crucial in Terra Mystica and Navegador especially where the market can make big swings. Sitting left to a newbie is a significant advantage.

Thus, I chose to make the turn order variable, similar as in Terra Mystica: Fire & Ice. The order of passing determines the turn order of the next round. The general drawback with variable turn order is players have to pay a bit more attention to turn order because it is not the seating order per se. This is quite a small drawback in Clans of Caledonia because the game is only up to four players. With three players the turn order is either clockwise or counter-clockwise. The first round is always clockwise anyway.

So all in all Terra Mystica was a great inspiration for this game. I like Terra Mystica a lot but there are also minor things I dislike in Terra Mystica that I tried to improve upon when designing Clans of Caledonia.
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4. Board Game: Navegador [Average Rating:7.56 Overall Rank:183]
Juma Al-JouJou
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Market
I felt inspired by Navegador’s market mechanism. When I first played Navegador, I was intrigued by the simplicity, elegance and interactivity of the market. At some point during the game design phase, the market was very similar to the one in Navegador. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the game (although playtesters liked it quite a bit) so I didn’t touch it for 9 months. The way the market worked made the game feel a bit unthematic and abstract.

So I finally had the crucial idea how to make the game so much better. I changed the market from a pure seller market to a buyer & seller market. And instead of selling one resource per production unit a player would stock real resources that they could sell or buy (this results in a ton of wooden tokens which is a horror for any sane publisher). Another limitation on the trading volume are the merchants. One starts out with two and can hire up to five additional merchants.

Also, the price of refined goods are not influenced by the price of the basic goods anymore. So the market really is not that similar to Navegador anymore.



This makes the game a lot more expensive to produce with all these wooden resources but so much more thematic and haptic. Having separate market scales for the basic and refined goods also opens up completely different strategic options: you can buy the basic resource (grain) for your distillery to produce whisky.

So two key choices players constantly have to make in this game is to make or buy and to trade or export. If the price for grain is low and the price for whisky is high then having a distillery and buying the grain from the market results in big profits. If the whisky price is low and the grain price is high, this approach would result in very slim profits. Then, I’d much rather build a field to produce the grain for my distillery myself. If the whisky price is low I’d much rather buy whisky than produce it, then I don’t have to worry about the grain.

The market adds a lot of strategic/tactical depth and interactivity to the game.
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5. Board Game: The Voyages of Marco Polo [Average Rating:7.94 Overall Rank:42]
Juma Al-JouJou
Germany
Berlin
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Export contracts
I like the way the contracts in Marco Polo can give you a direct bonus like a free move or a black die and inspired me to add direct bonuses to the export contracts in Clans of Caledonia.

The export contracts require certain resources and give import goods on return. In addition, some contracts give free upgrades (which also saves you one or more turns), free terrain to build upon or cash.



The contracts add another level of complexity to the market strategies described above. If I have 3 whisky in stock, I prefer to sell those if the whisky price is high but prefer to export those if the whisky price is low. The prices at the local market do not influence the payoff of the export contracts.

The three main import goods sugar, tobacco and cotton reward three to five vps each at the end of the game. The least imported good by all players will be worth 5 vps each, the most imported good will be worth 3 vps each ( commodity speculation). Not only does it force players to pay attention to what other players are importing. It also incentivices players to acquire contracts that are not the easiest to fulfill for them but that contain a more valuable import good. This mechanism also introduces a certain level of uncertainty, tension and makes the market more important and dynamic because players will not always take export contracts that match their current resources.





Clans
The game features eight historic Scottish clans: MacKenzie, MacDonald, Stewart, Campbell, Robertson, Buchanan, Fergusson, Cunningham. Their abilities are very asymmetric and I derived these of the respective clan history or name and their respective strength suggest a certain strategy.

The simplicity, strength and asymmetry of the characters of Voyages of Marco Polo was inspirational in this regard. I was intrigued how a simple special ability that is comprehensive almost only via the icons on the character tiles, can make the game play feel so much different and make you try very divergent strategies with different characters.

Characters in Marco Polo vs. Factions in Terra Mystica: The simplicity of the characters in Marco Polo makes it easier for new players to the game to compete against veterans, compared to Terra Mystica with its more complex factions. The broad match strategy of the characters in Marco Polo is more obvious and actually makes the game less sandboxy. So I think the characters in Marco Polo actually reduce the perceived complexity.

 
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6. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.20 Overall Rank:319] [Average Rating:7.20 Unranked]
Juma Al-JouJou
Germany
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Modular board
Catan is a completely different kind of game but I love how the modular board increases the replayability. Analyzing the board before placing your first settlements is so much fun and adds a great deal of depth to this family game.
Clans of Caledonia comes with four modules with different maps on the backside. It results in 16 different map configurations.

Port bonuses
Building on the edge has several disadvantages in Catan that are mitigated by the port tiles.

In Clans of Caledonia I wanted to have a similar incentive to expand near the edge. I experimented with port tiles that offered permanent bonuses like in Catan. However, I quickly realized that either the port tiles break the game if you get them early on or they are not giving enough benefit in late phases of the game.

Thus, the eight different port bonuses give a one time benefit to players who reach them. Some port bonuses give a fixed bonus like 10 cash whereas others can have a stronger or smaller payoff, depending on how and when you use them. Some are better at the early rounds whereas others are relatively stronger in the mid or endgame.

 


So all in all, the map configuration in combination with the port bonuses in play is unique in each game and makes players analyze the situation for their first placements. This part is a lot of fun and and adds a lot to the replayability, like in Catan.
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7. Board Game: Hansa Teutonica [Average Rating:7.63 Overall Rank:119]
Juma Al-JouJou
Germany
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Upgrades
I really the the sense of progress I experience when I play Hansa Teutonica. By upgrading your abilities you get repeated gratification and it also slowly increases the complexity as your abilities improve. This experience inspired me to come up with the shipping, merchant and technology upgrades in Clans of Caledonia.
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8. Board Game: Brass: Lancashire [Average Rating:8.12 Overall Rank:23]
Juma Al-JouJou
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Theme
Thematically, Brass was inspirational for Clans of Caledonia. The latter is a very thematic, economic, interactive euro game that is set in England.

Clans of Caledonia is a few decades earlier and thus more agricultural than Brass. It portrays the transition of Scotland from an agricultural to an industrial country that heavily relied on trade and export.
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