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Rockopolis» Forums » General

Subject: Designer's notes .. or "how we built this city (on rock 'n roll)" rss

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Andrea Sbragia
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Background

I am a son born on the Hills of Avalon; reading and collecting Strategy and Tactics, searching for wargames and boardgames during the 80s and the 90s in Italy … not an easy task.

My main background was formed in the mists of Kingamker boardgame, in Diplomacy struggles and most on the seats of the Senate in Republic of Rome; indeed my background, for an European, is more American focused than Euro oriented concerning boardgaming aspects.

Everyday, from the childhood I modded games and made games for my friends, sometimes those games were a “sort of” - tie in - from tv shows or movies, but being interested most in military history and foreign policy (a part of my career) I started making wargames and grand strategy boardgames, just for my fun, and … (sometimes) for my friends fun.

One first pivot was thanks to Matrix Games and Slitherine (pc games) that allowed me to work on many beta testing for pc wargaming, from Napoleon in Italy to Empires in Arms … to Field of Glory; the second pivotal period was working from the very beginning in the Napoleonic pc game called HistWar Les Grognards.

In the meantime I worked on some other boardgames and, thanks to Azzurra Eschini (my wife) there came the idea to work on an entry level boardgame concerning music, regarding rock bands.

This was not an easy task for me, designing an entry level, barely fast boardgame, this meant that I had to rework on my personal experience and designer background for I was totally founded with the heavy burden wargames bear, such as charts, many dice, rules and so on …but wargames did help me in analyzing a game not just as a mechanic but like a simulation for something, like a feeling that must pass from the designer, from the boardgame to the players.
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Andrea Sbragia
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Taste the feeling

So how to pass that feeling? Co-designer Azzurra Eschini supported me (and my worries) on mechanics providing inspiration and many ideas, focusing on the goals of the design:
Players should feel the growing of a rock band from the garage to the stage
Players should make choices based on real life bands experience
Players should face problems based on real life bands experience
Bands should have a genre
Bands should improve their synergy through rehearsal, training is everything
Bands should perform to have prestige (money for fresh new bands? … no way)
The goals were just what we lived as singers in a rock band, searching members, buying equip, rehearsal, performing live ….
Could we put those feelings in an entry level boardgame?
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Andrea Sbragia
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Rock around the clock

Timing, timing is important in an entry level boardgame.

I wanted to make a game to be played in a pub, or after dinner, something between 40 to 60 minutes.

The main aspect was to let the players feel the events in game without overstressing them with every single aspects of a band life, so there were choices to be made.

First choice: extensive map board or bigger locations cards? Well indeed map board might be cool, but I did not want to have a “monopoly” feeling nor I wanted players to think if they can have a table big enough to mount that board; i went on bigger cards as locations to let the player “build up” the table as they want to.
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Andrea Sbragia
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Second choice: winning the game. Players want to know ho to win in a game, and they want to figure out how they can do it fast and clean. We discussed if the game should portrait a “season” of live gigs , at the end of the season the rock band with higher prestige should win the game; or if there should be a given goal to let a player run for a game closing.

Considering we designed the game as a (simple) simulation of real life managing a barely unknown band in a small city, we found that recording a cd demo should portrait the very first goal of every wannabe band.

This goal helped a lot in managing flaws in balancing the game, such as “runaway leader” as the leading band in the game won’t always close the game immediately, while the runner ups should grow while the leading player will have to protect his/her band from bad events from others.

This, in addition, leads to the interesting simulation in reshuffling the deck of live gigs, thus giving the aspect of ending a season and beginning another one.

Follows .... locations explained ...
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Andrea Sbragia
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The Pub

The natural habitat for musicians to be hunted. For brand new bands is normal to have contacts for new members at the pub, or to spread the word of the band in a pub.

So it is normal to have a deck for the pub with other band members, but i wanted to leave some “fog of war” concerning cards in hand for players, so in the pub deck I decided to put some events that should be played for or against players.

The Shop

The shop, as the pub, is another natural location for musicians.

The shop location took some time for the design; should we opt for a “currency” ingame and players using it should buy, or at least bid for equipment? This was a solid option but it opened to a real different mechanics compared to other locations and it should avoid the “fog of war” as posted above for the pub (a player holding a card after selecting the pub deck would obviously have an event card in hand) .. . so I opted to mirror the Shop from the pub to let the play run smooth and the rules clear.

Rehearsal rooms

Anyone who want to play in a band should do rehearsal, otherwise the synergy of the members will decrease.

For real even a band of “not so experienced” members can play an excellent performance thanks to their chemistry.
When a band go do rehearsal can have a real good time, studying, testing and so on.. but sometimes it can have a real bad day, not founding the sounds, being overstressed by private life, some member should be late … and so on… ; so the die came as a natural element to portrait this “rehearsal randomization”.

It is obvious that an all star band (all 5 stars member) might avoid going rehearsal … or at least they should just not to let synergy going tremendously down. (it is a matter of strategy)

Continue ….
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Andrea Sbragia
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The Live

Rockopolis is based on gaining prestige, to "have a name" in city as a new band.
So we opted to gain prestige performing live gigs in town in many different location, from the litte pub to best reknown festivals.

In game design terms this opened some questions:

- how a band should perform during a live?
- should the players interact with the live of other players?
- should a band that performs bad gain no prestige at all?

in order:

- we opted to give a difficulty rating for every live, from the easy ones to the very tough ones; players should consider to perform live when their band is good enough for that live, but ... in real life, many many times bands just throw themselves in live even if they are not so good, so we opted for the die roll just to let some player to "press his/her luck" and to let players have choices.
Choices that are linked to the answers below

- we wanted to have an high degree of interaction between players, playing events during a live is a way to put some narrative while trying to hold down some "runaway player"

- the answer is simply No. A band that performs live, even if it performs really, really bad might find someone who like them ... so explained the lower prestige gained if a live is failed. In term of design it allows a player to build up a strategy of gaining prestige even if his/her band is not good at all ... the band is just "spreading the word"
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Andrea Sbragia
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The recording room

The goal ... ohh that simple question every new band must answer "hey guys when will you record an album? or at least a demo?"

In Rockopolis we are dealing with new bands, so the goal is to be the "Primus inter pares".

The way to design it was a matter of balance:
if the player in turn was just able to go in recording room and close the game, well that will be an enormous advantage for the first player in turn; so we opted to have this location with some "give and take".

The band should be invited in the recording room only when it is famous enough in Rockopolis, however the band should "spend" its prestige to let the owner of the recording room to let them try make a cd demo.

Doing so the player in turn that goes in recording room will spend 5 prestige thus enabling other players in next turns to fill the gap in prestige points, or to choose the recording room.
Say Player A has 25 prestige and decide to go recording, he will spend 5 so at the new turn he will have 20 .... and he will not be able to retry rercording.
Obviously this leads to the, eventually, recording failure.

Recording is a matter of good knowledge of the band, in terms of sounds, it is a real different things if compared to a live gig (i saw many good bands in real life performing super on stage and behaving awful in recording room).
So here came the choice of the "1" result as a fumble, so if the band goes recording with a total band value of 25 (being 25 the difficult rating of recording) it will fail only on "1" ... but if the player decide to go recording with a band of value 19 (not so tough to reach) he will fail on 1,2,3,4,5 ...

It is a matter of strategy (even if light), the game allows the player to choose the roll of a die, but the player has weapons to limit it.

(following .... strategies)
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Lorenzo Gatti
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I think a "Money" resource could be useful in several ways:

- A realistic "Day Job" worker assignment, giving a generous amount of Money and costing a little Synergy.

- Losing by running out of money, as a way to force extreme measures like selling off equipment

- If needed, heavy-handed negative feedback, e.g. every turn each band loses 1 Money for every band with less Money or less Prestige (due to expensive rockstar lifestyle).
A band with less money has less options, or is slowed down by Day Job choices, allowing the others to catch up.

- Differentiating gigs: they can cost Money to play (e.g. because of a remote location) and they can give Money instead of Prestige (e.g. a private party), or a combination of both (e.g. a "commercial" venue with little credibility, a large audience and plenty of cash).

- As a new tool for events, which could cost Money (e.g. "My first manager") or give Money (e.g. "Lucky backstage find: a stash of pipeweed").

- Paying to buy equipment, despite the fog of war objection: equipment cards can be kept in hand, and turning them into actual equipment can be similar to playing events.
Players would spend Synergy to keep Shop cards in hand as reserve and to take them out of circulation, and Money to actually obtain equipment, buying either face-up equipment in the Shop or equipment in their hand (e.g. after some equipment has an accident I reveal a replacement from my hand and play it after spending the appropriate amount of Money).
The cost of using the Shop might be made flexible: money only to buy previously revealed equipment in the shop (and revealing a few cards from the deck as replacement), 2 Synergy to look at three cards from the Shop deck, keep one in hand and leave the others face up in the store, 4 Synergy to keep two cards instead, etc.
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Diana Strauber
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Really interesting discussion:

On Money, i am not so good in design but, from a player point of view this could be heavy to remind all the money matters.

I remember that play was really fast and i had an easy control and view on what others did.

Just my opinion
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Andrea Sbragia
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Thanks for the interesting ideas and suggestions.

As i said above, a "currency" was indeed an option; but, considering Rockopolis tried to portrait barely known bands, we decided to put in the game the experience of such bands.

So, while, investing money, expensive costs for rockstar hard life, are more focused on professional rock bands, here, concerning wannabe bands, we opted for a synthesis of currency and fame of the banb, the prestige.

Anyway, while i can't unfold everything, there changes to some events that will portrait "money matters" and they will be available to test in Play Modena 2017, just couple of days from the Kickstarter campaign.

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