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Subject: Containers to the Stars: Designing Star Cartel rss

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Martin Boisselle
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As soon as I started playing modern games, back in 2004, I started thinking about making games myself.

The early prototypes I made were often way too complicated and over-designed, as I hadn't played a lot of games at the time.
I made several major errors in those earlier designs.
Yet, I continued designing, refining my style.

A friend of mine challenged me to design an economic game at some point, his favorite style of games.
I accepted the challenge and a slow winding path emerged in my design cycle where a lot of train games were created.
These were Winsome-esque train games, some really good, while others were dead-ends that teached me some finer points of game creation.

While designing these games and playing published games, I came across Container. It was a revelation for me.
It was sandboxy but not quite and that you could manipulate small levers here and there to stretch the gameplay was fascinating.

At some point, around 2013-2014, the craze was to make card games out of games, sort of express-type versions.
I thought it would be great to make a card game out of Container.
And so I started designing that game.



First Stage

I first analyzed Container for it was, mechanically speaking.
I think of Container as a series of zones where you cannot interact in 2 successive zones, leaving some of the transitions to other players.
The end goal either being that you get back what you sent or you got rich while doing it.

Ok, but how do you translate that to a card game?

First off, it needs to be simplified.

So I set off determining that I needed some sort of goods to exchange or transport.
If this is a card version of Container, why not just use that theme?

Ok, we've got goods.



So we need ships? Ok for that also.



So now, I knew that ships would load cargo and they should have a capacity limit, as determined by the cargo values (1 through 5).
After a rough test, I got the idea of obtaining new ships with larger capacity as the game moved on.

But what about the points, or money or whatever this game's goal?
That's when I decided to bring in a Market Board:



The Market would fluctuate with the cargo coming in.
But the first tests moved the board according to their value, which screwed up the Market Board and all values.
So instead, I decided to keep the cargo values only for the ship capacity, and not for the Market. A card delivered, no matter what the value of it, should raise or lower it's value on the Market board. 2 cards delivered could raise or lower the Market by 2 steps.

Now, at this point, players could decide to raise or lower each type of cargo on the Market. And it was a bit too chaotic.
So, 2 new edits were made:

1- If ever a cargo type should ever move past the "9" space on the board, it would drop to "1", a sort analogy to over inflation.

2- Not all cargo loaded and delivered should raise and lower the Market. Instead, the type with the most cards should raise the Market, and the type with the least should lower it. You could keep the other "middle" cards for later scoring.

After a few mors playtests, I had something that worked like I wanted it to.

A friend,
Robert Aube
Canada
Ste-Julie
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came up with the name Cardtainer and I kept it.

But the design was not finished.



Second Stage

I had the core of the game running but it didn't feel as close to Container as I wanted it to be.
In Container, you could set prices for the stuff you produced or sold and I liked that idea.
So, using what I had, I decided to test a variant where each player had her own Market.

The idea was to have cargo cards next to each player's Market.
Players would have to take cards from other players' Markets and not their own.
This would make the Markets move up for each cargo card taken.

Now, instead of sending their cargo to a main Market, you could choose to whom to sell.
Each player having a Market means each player has different Market valuations.
The largest and lowest sets of Cargo cards still influenced your Market but instead of stashing everything, you needed to sell the remaining types to other players.
And by selling them the cargo cards, that cargo type would lower as many steps as there were cards sold.
The small bonus for the "buying" player was the he kept the cards for later scoring, even though their value had dropped.

I had something emerging, something interesting.
I playtested it more and more.

It worked; and I still could go back and play the "family" version of the game with beginners by using only one Market Board.

I decided to present the game to my agent,
Gaetan Beaujannot
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He instantly took it with him to Paris for further evaluation.

Then he shopped it around. It finally came in the hands of
Duncan Molloy
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over at Osprey Games.

They liked it and the contract was signed.




Third Stage


Filip Falk Hartelius
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jumped in as developper on the game.
We exchanged a few emails about the game, its setting and some of the mechanics.

They decided to go with the easy version of the game, as it was less of a barrier to entry than the more complex version.
So only one Market board would be used by all players.

After a few plays, Filip and Duncan asked if the ships could have powers. I came up with a few of them and sent them an email with a list of possibilities.

At this point, the Star Cartel theme was set. I was excited to the possibilities that it brought to the game!


They also toyed with the idea of have the cargo types of varying quantities and numbering, which could give a bit more texture to the game. I sent them an email the next day that described each cargo type with the values of each card in its set.

Then came the first illustrations from Michal (sadly not on BGG) and they were stunning!



All in all, this was my first foray into a published game and it was a smooth ride.

Everything was done masterfully by all.

Can't wait to get my hands on my copy!









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Adam P
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Quote:
They decided to go with the easy version of the game, as it was less of a barrier to entry than the more complex version.

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Martin G
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Quote:
They decided to go with the easy version of the game, as it was less of a barrier to entry than the more complex version.


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Jason Mathew
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Just ordered the game and I'm so excited to play. I did read one reviewer that said the entire scoring hinges on the last round of the game and if one player manages to change your 8 or 9 value good to a 1, then that could really sour the experience of spending the entire game working on a specific goods strategy (especially for a new player). Without having played the game myself, this may be a stupid question, but was any thought given to whether or not scoring should be conducted throughout the game at say 3 different times depending on specific ships being revealed? That would seem to allow you to bank some points and shift your strategy throughout the game. Interested in your thoughts.
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Martin Boisselle
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It's a quick game.
There's no need to do tiered scorings throughout the game.

You can set yourself up with only one type of goods as an end goal.
But it's not the game for that. You need to diversify.
If everyone sees that you're hoarding one type, they are going to make it hard for you.
 
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Jason Mathew
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That definitely makes sense. Thanks so much for your response - really looking forward to playing this one!!!
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Greg Wilson
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bjx25 wrote:
I did read one reviewer that said the entire scoring hinges on the last round of the game and if one player manages to change your 8 or 9 value good to a 1, then that could really sour the experience of spending the entire game working on a specific goods strategy (especially for a new player).


Funnily enough, in our first game flora crashed on the final round, costing me thirty-something points since I had five of them stashed, but I won anyway; all of our goods ended up only worth two or three so nobody's stash was worth all that much, and I had the big final ship.
 
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