Providence is a game with plenty of moving parts. At the core it is a contest of decision making resolved through action selection. Worker placement (or action drafting) is a popular mechanism in modern board games. All are tailored to or from a theme. Some even manage to showcase some meaningful context from it.
In this swashbuckling contest, there are two important factors that set the game apart from most other worker placement games. 1) The workers (can we please call them colonists) need to be drafted as well as placed. 2) The colonists each have different classes/roles and these matter. Oh no they don't? Yes, actually they do! And I shall explain why.
1) Enlist & Dispatch
Keeping a workforce active is simple in most games. You just have X amount of workers each round to play with. Sometimes you need a pay an upkeep or in the case of "Snowdonia" from Surprised Stare Games they just sit in the pub!
My vision of how things work is built based on assembling a rotating cast of players. The colonists are the players in Providence. You as the player occupy the position of a black marketeer running the whole operation. I did not want players to draft pieces at random from a bag because planning is always important for strategy.
Formulating an ideal process for enlisting colonists became clearer after I played the game "Nippon" from What's Your Game. In that economic simulation there are meeples coloured differently for the purpose of calculating variable upkeep costs (referred to as consolidation). Workers are plucked from different spaces on the board to select actions. The colour of the piece has some bearing on the decision based on how costly it will be in paying upkeep after choosing the required action.
In Providence, there is a section on the board representing the streets of Nassau. It's from these spaces that a selection of colonists will fill at the beginning of each round. Players enlist colonists from the street to their operation. There are two considerations here. Firstly what type of colonist is being enlisted. Secondly where did the colonist come from because each location has a unique benefit.
The recruitment process of 'Enlisting' is offset against 'Dispatching'. In a player's opening turn they must always enlist. In the second turn the choice widens further. Do you enlist another colonist from the street or dispatch to the harbour the colonist you've already got?
The harbour is where the meaty actions take place! Dispatching is more like traditional worker placement, except that the colonists have special privileges when visiting certain locations on the harbour.
2) Theatrical Aesthetic
In the process of researching for my design I analysed games where workers could be enhanced or promoted, by being given special abilities. This process will be familiar to anyone who enjoys tabletop miniatures games as I do.
Two of the best examples I could find were "Archon Glory & Machination" by Artipia Games and a modular mini-expansion from "Tuscany" by Stonemaier Games. I now own and enjoy both of these releases although the process of promoting or training workers with special powers is different to my own design. Of key interest to me in Archon & Tuscany is that the special workers are not limited to performing a set role. They play a theatrical aesthetic in the game. This matters to me. Artipia and Stonemaier have recognised that the character aesthetic matters. It was welcomed by their customers too.
Through rigorous games development, specific guidelines within a rulebook will change a lot from the point of conception to publication. Purpose, meaning and intent all need considerable clarifications. The way colonists perform tasks in Providence has heavily evolved since I started out with a swift translation of job specs into gaming rules.
In addition to the colonists, I have added a set of 'Femme Fatales' as special colonists who return to the player's operation at the end of each round of play. There is also a horse!
I plan to bring more delicious context to what dry rules jargon follows (see below) by posting more about drafting actions. In the meantime try to imagine yourself as powerful black marketeer, wheeling and dealing ferociously between the backstreets and beaches of Nassau!
***The following section of text is extracted from the game rulebook. It has gone through a number of drafts already.***
Eight colonist types can be identified by colour. The colour of colonists bears no relevance to player colours.
1. Stevedores are Light blue. A Stevedore’s talent is to increase storage capacity in your operation’s warehouse.
Foreman: Starting capacity in your warehouse is 3 commodities. Each Stevedore in your warehouse increases capacity for storage by +1 commodity.
Privilege: Stevedores load +1 trade type of commodity at the Dock even when it is full. If the Dock is full then additional Stevedores being dispatched load one commodity type. They also move to the Saloon as round ends.
2. Buccaneers are Black. Buccaneers have two talents.
Racketeer: When dispatching a 2nd Buccaneer to the harbour, place an accord on any stored commodity belonging to another player. This accord represents a tithe. The owner of the commodity must pay its value from their cache to that player when it is loaded at the Dock. If the tithe cannot be paid then the commodity must remain in storage. Return the player’s accord if the tithe is paid.
Black Marketeer: When dispatching a 3rd Buccaneer to the harbour, the player may place two black dice and an accord in the Hub of Trade. Choose a resource for the accord. It allows the player to barter for it in any visit to the Hub. In addition, draw a new affair card, then choose and discard one of the affairs.
Privilege: Buccaneers launch up to two sloops onto sea-lanes at the Lagoon, with one crew conscripted to each.
3. Tycoons are Yellow. Tycoons have two talents.
Distributor: When dispatching a 2nd Tycoon to the harbour, the player may transfer any of the unreserved commodities between the Depot and Market before using the colonist talent to reserve, collect or add to cache.
Broker: When dispatching a 3rd Tycoon to the harbour, place an accord in the Market. Beginning now the player carries out an action twice per accord, with each visit to the Market by a Tycoon.
Privilege: Tycoons use two of the three different actions at the Market. Actions can be resolved in any order.
4. Artisans are Red. Artisans have two talents.
Wright: When dispatching a 2nd Artisan to the harbour, dispatch a second colonist after this one.
Engineer: When dispatching a 3rd Artisan to the harbour, restore a turret on your estate to secure one of the end game affairs. Your cache is increased by one per turret on your estate (1-4) when restored by artisans.
Privileges: Artisans add both cards drawn from the Yard to your cache. Discard both to add the next card drawn.
Artisans can be dispatched to the Haven space. If the player controls the island favour, restore another turret.
5. Diplomats are Purple. A Diplomat’s talent is to advance the player’s disc one space up the Political influence track when being dispatched to the harbour.
Privilege: Diplomats collect a triple commission disc from the Customs House if one is currently available.
6. Preachers are White. A Preacher’s only talent is to advance the player’s disc one space up the Spiritual influence track when being dispatched to the harbour.
Privilege: Preachers may sail as colonists along with a stowaway on the merchant passenger ship in the Bay. Place a smuggler token face down in a vacant space on the corresponding island for the same available route as the token used for your boarding colonist.
7. Officers are Dark blue. An Officer’s talent is to advance the player’s disc one space up the Naval influence track when being dispatched to the harbour.
Privilege: Officers recruit two colonists from the Saloon to your operation.
8. Courtesans are Pink. A Courtesan’s only talent is to receive the same privilege for any other colonist when being dispatched to the harbour.
Maroons are Natural Wood. Maroons are colonists without privileges or talents. Move one to your operation when enlisting a colonist from the Refuge. Any maroons dispatched to the harbour are returned to the supply when the round ends.