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Subject: Architects Designer Diary: Part 1: From Humble Beginnings rss

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Sam Macdonald
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I usually can’t stand ‘take-that’ mechanisms.

When a game has ‘take-that’, often the aggressor hasn’t earned the right to harm, and the victim doesn’t deserve to be punished. “I steal 3 of your gold just because I picked up this one card”. It just feels bad, man. It is surprising then, that my first game idea would ask the following question very early in the process:

“What if you could capture other players’ workers?”


This idea sounds like ‘take-that’, but truth be told, the game never gets near it. This is the story of the genesis of Architects of the West Kingdom.



From Humble Beginnings…

It was a boring day at the IT Service Desk, waiting for the next client to call and ask for a password reset. I had only recently plunged into the hobby of board games, and an idea came to mind. What if I could make a fun little board game? If my flat-mates and I played it a few times and enjoyed it, then that would be a ‘success’ to me.

For the next hour, in between calls, little sparks led to bigger brainwaves and by lunchtime I was scribbling away on pieces of paper – I was determined to be ready for a playthrough that night.

There were two things that I wanted to be core to the gameplay:

• I wanted players to have agency. I wanted to give players meaningful decisions and allow them room to express creativity in their strategies.

• I wanted turns to be short. I wanted to give players a greater quantity of short turns, instead of a low number of long turns. This way, people would remain engaged and interested in what other players are doing. This also makes each individual decision less punishing for those who are learning the game.

The early prototypes looked a little like the photo below. There were many areas to place workers, ensuring that people had freedom in decision making (agency). Players would use just one worker to take one action per turn, so turns were indeed short.



The trouble was, the game was virtually theme-less. Everyone was just gathering resources and trying to get points by constructing buildings using their resources. The first to build 4 buildings would end the game, and the person who had the most points from their buildings would win - hardly groundbreaking.

But there were intricacies in how resources were acquired. This is where the fun was hiding. A fresh style of worker placement (later to be coined as worker investment) was to be used.

You place one worker on the forest, you get one wood. Easy. However, unlike normal worker placement games, your worker isn’t blocking the entire forest. There’s more than enough forest for everyone! You place another worker in the forest, you now get two wood. Third worker: three wood… and so on.



In the early days, each player used all the ships of one colour from my Cosmic Encounter set. These worked perfectly to differentiate workers AND you could stack them, which made counting workers super easy to do. Naturally, it was 20 workers each (as that’s how many ships there were of each colour). That felt right. That number is still the same today.

I wanted to make sure that the game would keep flowing without having ‘rounds’. I also wanted to prevent people abusing the worker investment mechanism to get ludicrous quantities of resources. People’s workers would need to move somehow…

This is where capturing comes in. You were warned!
Garphill Games wrote:
“These are treacherous times. Rival architects will stop at nothing to slow your progress.”

In placing a worker on the board, you are allowing it to be there for the taking. Players can’t capture workers that you haven’t placed. Your personal supply of workers is off limits, so you can’t ever be prevented from having a turn. Players also can’t use your workers to have extra turns themselves. Rest assured, these hard-working men and women won’t switch loyalties on you that easily!

Players use a turn and pay silver to have the option of capturing all workers from a single location. They then use another turn to send them to prison - for a tidy profit. It’s not too mean. You can never lose the resources that you’ve already acquired. Your buildings will never get destroyed. The capturing just slows your progress, and more often than not, is a deterrent to prevent those who always want to push their luck.

The worker investment and capturing system create a push-and-pull between the players. The more workers you invest in a spot, the more likely it is that someone is going to want to capture them. So, do you boldly go about it and gather as fast as you can, and just let the capturing happen? Or do you sneakily invest around the map and let your options slowly grow strong?

There were many other ideas and mechanisms in the early whiteboard prototypes. I don’t want to bore you with those details. The gold was in the way these core few mechanisms work together. This was something that could be honed and built upon. I was certain there was a game in there somewhere.

It became clear that the next step was to show this idea to my friend. I used to be in a band with him, and he’s a genius with board games. He would have good advice.

You may have heard of him - his name is Shem.



If you wish to continue reading, you can read Part 2 here.

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Randy Bieri
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This worker investment/capture along with the good/bad traits track I heard about all sound exciting! I enjoyed this read and look forward to the next part on hearing how this creation unfolded.
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Knight of Anjou
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What a fun intro to the development of this game. I'm so excited to see everything this game has to offer, and how worker investment will turn worker placement on its head (Dice placement is so 2015...)! How lucky to have Shem as a friend to design a game with! Can't wait to see what'll be revealed next!
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Sam Macdonald
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Thanks for the encouragement buddy. I am certainly lucky to have a friend like Shem!

I'm not sure worker investment will replace worker placement, but I'm sure more intelligent designers than me could take these concepts even further. I look forward to seeing what happens in this space!
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Jarratt Gray
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Capturing folks in this game is one of the most fun things I experienced in gaming in 2017. Got to test the game a couple of times and it is a lot of fun.

Thanks for the insight Sam and love the term Worker Investment, though in reality you are just investing in the future profit of whoever captures your folks. ;-)
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Filipa Tato
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Inspirational! Really enjoyed the read, I'm very excited about this game, can't wait to see the campaign
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Holger Schmid
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Thanks for these great insights.
Using worker and their force as a kind of resource is so clever and thematic - most big mediaeval building projects like cathedrals actually took so long to be finished due to the repeated lack of work force (e.g. due to plagues or wars). The idea of keeping your opponent architects in check fits perfectly as well.

While "Stone Age" also had this worker allocation system where more workers were probarbly gerenrating more resources, I did not like the randomness of the dice rolls and that plaers could virtually be excluded from resource spaces. Your concept sounds so seemless and elegant and I'm really looking forward to try it.

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Tyler DeLisle
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Great, quick read! Really like what I'm hearing so far, interaction that isn't overly mean, quick turns, all good stuff. I'm not sure yet how it's fun to capture other people's workers but I see the merits of the push and pull on the board. There are other games where you can pass your turn to get a lot of money and it always seemed a bit boring, so hopefully there is something about stealing people's workers that makes it more fun here?
 
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Jérôme
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It’s always so nice if designers share their thoughts of the process they went through. Thanks!

On the game: I’m not convinced yet, that it plays well with two. An automated third player has been mentioned, and that causes alarm bells to ring. Then again, the neutral merchants work pretty well in Istanbul.
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Shem Phillips
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Hey Jérôme. Sam and I plan to run 3 livestream playthroughs during the Kickstarter campaign. We will showcase playing with and without the bot for 2 players.

The big different for 2 player games without the bot, is there will only be 1-2 different strategies being employed during the game (obviously a lot less than a 5 player game). So this can lead to certain aspects of the game not being utilized - like the Black Market or Cathedral. The bot is very easy to use and helps to keep that balance of strategies in the game.
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Jérôme
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shem84 wrote:
Hey Jérôme. Sam and I plan to run 3 livestream playthroughs during the Kickstarter campaign. We will showcase playing with and without the bot for 2 players.

The big different for 2 player games without the bot, is there will only be 1-2 different strategies being employed during the game (obviously a lot less than a 5 player game). So this can lead to certain aspects of the game not being utilized - like the Black Market or Cathedral. The bot is very easy to use and helps to keep that balance of strategies in the game.


Thanks Shem!

Looking forward to the playthroughs.
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Sam Macdonald
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TyDeL wrote:
I'm not sure yet how it's fun to capture other people's workers


People tend to really enjoy the capturing. The more workers you put on the Town Centre, the more you can capture next round. So it can be an effective little engine for clearing up the board. Handing the workers in for a big handful of those heavy metal coins? It's satisfying.

At the same time, you don't need to capture other peoples' workers to do well in this game. Some people avoid it the whole game - they just stay focused on what they need to do, and often do very well when it comes to the scoring.

Architects allows for many many different strategies. So many of these strategies can be viable, but they need to be well timed and executed.
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Sam Macdonald
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Part 2 continues: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1958685/architects-designer...
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