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Tribes: Early Civilization» Forums » General

Subject: Development diary of a twisted 4X game: Part 1 rss

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Rustan Håkansson
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As requested by Marwin here is a first diary entry about the development of Tribes: Early Civilization.

I have no specific structure to how I develop games. Most games start with some type of angle/theme/question/mechanic or thing I want to break. Tribes comes from the last concept, and the thing to break is the 4X concept

After working through the sketch I try to find the core of the game. Is it a theme, a mechanic, a type of interaction, a feeling players have? Whatever it is, focus on it more, test and refine until you are certain the game is as good as it can be.

I like 4X games in concept (4X stands for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate), but most implementations focus way too much on battles for my taste. Battles are constructed to be exciting, uncertain, the focus of the game. Everything in the game leads up to the battle: Gather resources, build, move, then fight. All of it takes playtime. Positioning and manoeuvring is somewhat interactive, at least in theory, but in practice I have often experienced most of what you do is automatic and not interactive or a real choice. Complexity just for the sake of complexity is not interesting to me, it is a design flaw that should have been eliminated.

I have trouble finding fun in long-term strategic games where you make a choice at the start, then mostly execute that choice for the rest of the game. If you did a bad choice you have no way to change your mind, your choices are limited to minor adjustments. 4X games can be like this in various forms.

I have been thinking about this for many years, done lots of sketches and tests. Most come to nothing, as normal. But a couple of them have been interesting. Tribes started with some mischievous sketching around what a 4X games means in theory and what is expected from a 4X game normally. How about fulfilling the 4X list in theory but breaking all the common rules? Would it be possible to create a game like this that was really interactive, really fast and that I would like playing? Because wanting to play the game myself is essential to me finishing a game. If I do not enjoy it, there is no forward momentum and it just dies. On the other hand, if I enjoy it I will continue thinking about tweaks and variations, test them out, see how the game can shine and become the best possible version of itself.

The most basic expectation I broke is that players each have their own map, instead of a common map. This was risky, as I dislike many multiplayer solitaire games. As soon as you have any major part of a game separated like this there is a big risk that it will start eating focus and the interaction will suffer. But in a way it was very liberating, there was no way to build up troops and to go and destroy each other.

Let's check how Tribes: Early Civilization measures in the 4X concepts:

eXplore: You draw randomly from the bag, place out new hexes, get access to them. Pass.

eXpand: You grow, become more efficient, the game speeds up. Pass.

eXploit: Resources can be used for what they are for free (think of Splendor card resources), but if you want to do something you burn the resource, you exhaust it (flip it over). This really feels like exploiting the land, shringing your possibilities, all for short-term gain and a better position compared to the other players. Pass.

eXterminate: Hmm, no, not really. You do not destroy stuff, you do not bring a horde of soldiers to ravage the carefully constucted kindom of your opponent. Prehistoric events are important in the game, they add flavour and interesting choices, and they use strength. Higher strength players feel powerful, can do more damage if an event comes up at the right time, but the actual negative impact is on the activa player or on all the other players. And the impact itself is not the interesting thing, it is very fast and clear. The interesting thing is how the players interact over what prehistoric event is drawn and added to the top, so they see it will happen and the game state is assessed. There are 2 events where players can cause other players to lose stuff (hexes in one, tribes in the other). That can feel a bit like destroying for each other, especially in 2-player games, but has been very well received by players. The notable exception is Rahdo and Jen, that like the game but not these two tiles. It is possible to remove them, but I firmly believe that the game is worse without them, for almost all players. Conclusion: 0.2 of a pass.

So, is it a 4X game in concept? Not exactly. Is it a 3.2X game? Not in practice, if players expect a normal 3.2X game (if any other such games exist ) then this will probably not be the game they expect. But it was a fun start for development and I am very happy with the game.

This is the first game from our own publisher, and our first Kickstarter campaign. Despite being in the hobby and in the industry for so long in so many roles, and preparing so much and trying to think of everything, I have done mistakes. We have done them as a company, and specifically I have done them as the one who knows the industry best of us 3. I should have done a more critical assessment of the layout of the game and seen that it was not good enough.

We have focused really hard on playability, with tons and tons of playtests. Always making things clearer, bigger, more streamlined, focus on the interactive core. Artwork and layout is tough to fund for a new publisher, but we were happy with what we launched the Kickstarter with. There is however no way to prepare and get feedback in the same way as a public release.

We have created the dev site ( ) as an open collaboration platform to make games development more open, accessible and fun for ourselves and the community at large. We used it together with our traditional private channels and groups for development of Tribes. It takes a lot of time to keep everyone interested updated. The site has helped a lot but I still wish I could have been updating it more frequently. We have done further improvements to the site and hope to do many more, and create a lot of value for many, especially new designers and players that want to be involved in the industry more than you are as part of a Kickstarter. The goal of the site is to add a new layer of openness and participation and use digital tools more efficiently than the hassle of mailing lists and updating schemes and feedback forms I have used myself over the years.

We are working on improving the layout. Some has been posted here on BGG already, we will update the Kickstarter continuously (but we try not to overwhelm with updates), and the dev site is still used to try to share how we are thinking and working.

If you like Kickstarters with tons of miniatures, heaps of stretch goals, delivery in a couple of years this is not for you. But if you want and interesting, tight, interactive game that gives you a constant stream of hard choices that actually matter then I hope you will like Tribes: Early Civilization (Kickstarter link). There is a short Civilization-style intro (8s, part of the project video), a preview by Rahdo and one by ConraDargo, images of the components that will be updated as the layout is worked through and a friendly community of backers. Welcome!
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