I first met Esmeralda on a rainy wintry Wellington day. I was visiting the Hobby Stop, one of Cheeky Parrot Games’ retailers, on the day before an It’s Your Move event. Esmeralda was reaching for a goblet atop a pile of golden coins. Hoard, it said on the box. I was told that I had come across the last copy of a small self-published run. I scooped Hoard up and played it with a friend that evening.
The idea of Hoard, which has never changed through its iterations, is that you are an adventurer moving around a slumbering dragon, discovering, stealing, and securing as many treasures as possible before it wakes up.
My feeling about the game itself was that I’d stumbled across a treasure, albeit a bit of a diamond in the rough.
I started tweaking the design almost immediately and began an email correspondence with Tim Kings-Lynne and Beck Veitch, the designers, who worked for the venerable Weta Digital. They agreed to let me experiment with the game with the intention of it being re-issued under my Cheeky Parrot Games label.
Hoard included a roll-and-move mechanic, which excited me for several reasons. First, though it is much derided by gaming mavens, roll and move remains a popular mechanic, particularly for family games, in which Cheeky specializes. I think many players enjoy the physicality and gambling aspect of a dice roll. Frustration and boredom arise when dice are wedded to a static board, depriving players of variability as well as strategic choices. Hoard was halfway towards countering this weakness, as its board was made from 12 facedown cards, which could be removed and replaced in the course of gameplay. I was ready to embrace the challenge of making its dice-rolling even more interesting.
I decided to change the die from a standard D6 to one with a custom symbol in place of the six. Players rolling between one and five would be given the option of moving clockwise or counterclockwise so there would always be at least two possibilities. Rolling the symbol would allow access to all but one card. Of course, if there was no way to know what a down-turned card was, these movement choices would be meaningless, so I also added a rule that after you have taken a card, you could have a peek at its replacement, and eventually decided to allow players to also peek at the card where they place their pawn to begin the game.
Thus an element of memory was added to the game’s main mechanics of set collection, hand management, and press-your-luck. Other significant changes involved adding a fifth suit of treasures and doubling up the treasures on a few cards. Although this reduced the total number of cards per treasure from ten to eight, the number of available treasures, including the treasure chest wild cards, actually increased from 42 to 48 without adding to the card count.
The original game included six cards which, when landed on, immediately caused one of the dragon’s three cards to be flipped to the awake side. Subsequently, the card would remain on the board and represent a missed turn for a player unlucky enough to land there. There were also two cards a player could use during their turn that would flip a card from awake to back asleep. I decided to give players more control over the dragon, and combined these eight cards into one dragon action card that could be played to rouse or soothe the beast. With play-testing, these eventually became the three wake, two quiet and three choice dragon action cards now in the game.
Scoring was adjusted and simplified, with each treasure worth one point and a set of exactly three dragon action cards worth five. (Three points proved not to be enough incentive since it uses that turn’s action to play just one dragon action card.) Three or more matching treasures, and a player could lay down the set to score. A set could be expanded with two or more. Putting down treasure to score it would, like affecting the dragon, be the only action a player could take on one turn. The opportunity cost must be weighed against the possibility of the game ending while there is still treasure in hand, as each one counts one point against a player’s score.
The original game had score multipliers that didn’t seem to enhance the game, only to magnify the winner’s margin, so I turned these into swords and shields, three of each. A sword can be used to see an opponent’s hand and steal a plum card, but there is a risk. If the opponent is holding a shield, they capture your sword and score one point for the pair. That is the only direct player interaction remaining in the game. The original gave players the ability to attack if they landed on the same card, but that would have been happening far too frequently now that the players had more choice of movement.
Just as players had control over the dragon, I thought it would be better if players could have some control over when the game would end. Optimally, a player will build a lead and either run out of cards in hand or cause the dragon to fully wake to trigger the end. I’ve noticed that novices and children are less apt to realize how to press their advantage in this way and that their games can end the third way, when the last card is drawn from the deck.
As I developed Hoard, I took it to my regular board gaming and designer meetings and also to Board Games by the Bay events. Since more hard-core gamers frequent these, I was pleased their feedback was largely positive and that the game’s balance, flow, and length were deemed appropriate. Some testers were happy to play many rounds at once, which was another good sign.
Like Tim and Beck, I imagined that Hoard should be played in rounds. Although I was tracking results carefully, to eliminate the need for players to do paper scorekeeping, I introduced tokens giving the winner of a round two points and the second-place player(s) one point, and made attaining five points first the winning condition.
In January, I began testing Hoard to see if it would work as is with five and six players. Although the games had a different flavor and ties were more common, it seemed to scale reasonably well, especially for five. I developed a set of seven additional cards to make things more fun for six. This set included one more dragon action card so that playing three to score five points would still be possible and a desirable goal for players who came across the first one or two in the cards they were dealt. I also developed two other interactive cards (regal objects that give the person playing them an advantage, but they must also pick another player to get a favor) and a variation with a second die, so I'd be ready with fun stretch goals for a crowdfunding campaign.
Meanwhile, Tim was creating new artwork. It was always exciting to sit down at the computer and get a message that files had been added to our shared dropbox. We’d agreed to run a Kickstarter campaign for Hoard to get more copies made and into circulation beyond New Zealand. As the year progressed, preparations for the campaign got underway, reviews solicited, and final testing undertaken.
Since it is Cheeky Parrot Games' first Kickstarter campaign, we know Kickstarter success isn’t guaranteed and we may need to settle for a more limited print run. Esmeralda will still see the light of day either way, as this is one Hoard that definitely should be out in the open for people to enjoy.
WWG Con 2016!!!
Nice job Julia!