Fellow user 'kerning' had a unique chance to interview designer Uwe Rosenberg by email some time ago.
The interview consisted of some general boardgame questions, going into detail about Mr Rosenbergs biggest success, Agricola as well as an appendix which covers many interesting facts and details about the development process of Bohnanza.
You can find the english translation of the interview concerning Agricola here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/393540
As a native german speaker I volunteered to translate the appendix concerning Bohnanza and here it is.
While I consider myself to have sufficient command of english and tried to stick to what Uwe was saying in german as closely as possible, I am still no professional translator and even then there is still always a loss or change of information. So if you are a german speaker or want to put your skills to a test, you should probably read the original interview which I will post as well.
The History of Bohnanza
I would like to describe in which order I developed the mechanisms of ‘Bohnanza’. First of all, I have been taking successful mechanisms of two games, ‘Civilization’ (Avalon Hill, 1981, Francis Tresham) and ‘Freight Train’ (White Wind, 1993, Alan R. Moon), wondering which rules I need to add in order to get a working game. So in Summer of 1995 my prototype ‘Kolchose’ evolved, which preceeded ‘Bohnanza’. In the first version of the game you were still trading with different sorts of grain. The garden beans were named ‘millet’, the red beans ‘corn’, the black eyed beans ‘oat’ and so on. There was no real name for the game for quite a long time I called it ‘Silo’ for the time being. My friend Hagen Dorgathen, with whom I developed the two player game ‘Babel’ (Kosmos 2000) 3 years later, proposed the later name of the game ‘Kolchose’. Hagen was seeing a fitting satire to socialism in this game. ‘Kolchose’ is an abbreviated form of the russian translation of ‘Kollektivwirtschaft’ which describes the collective farms of the former soviet union - also known as agricultural production cooperatives in eastern Germany. The satire is rather subtle and does not show immediately. Imagine a chief of a Kolchose, who is ordered to store a new sort of grain. Unfortunately, there is no more room at the silos, but the Kolchose does not dare to confess a harvest which messes up with regular schedules either. So the chief sells all the grain of one silo and stores the new harvest there. This is made public as a huge economic success of course.
The History of the Bohnometer
In my prototype, players expenditures were silos first, later they were warehouses in which grain was stored. Today, the expanditures in ‘Bohnanza’ are planted bean fields, sticking to the agricultural reference.
I already decided to use different kinds of grain as wares at a stage of developement when I didn’t even have a specific game mechanism at mind.
During my school days ‘Civilization’ was among my favorites. Unfortunately each single of my total of 15 sessions was taking more than 8 hours. With such a playtime there was no chance of playing this game ever again during my whole time at university.
I wanted to shorten the game, focussing on the element of ‘Civilization’ which I favored the most: the trade mechanism.
In ‘Civilization’ there are wares with start values from 1 to 9. The more cards of one ware a player trades, the more points he gets.
Salt for instance rises from 3, 12, 27, 48, 75, ... the number of 3 being the start value. For a single card of salt you get 3 points. For 2 cards of salt you get 12 points, for 3 cards you get 27 and so on. For trading you have to give at least 3 cards to your trade partner. Of the offered cards, at least one has to be named while the sum of all values on the cards has to be announced as well. By this rule you may dispose yourself of unwanted cards. You can make your opponent pick up wares he does not actually want or you may pass on cards of misfortune, which have a value of 0 points for trading.
At the end of each round of trading, each player is only allowed to have 6 ware cards on his hand. The rest has to be converted to points. Thus it is not easy to get wares up to their highest level value. There are plenty of cards with small start values, but you actually need many of those anyways in order to create maximized values. With cards of high start values, players don’t run into difficulties with the 6 cards rule for the end of the round so much, but these wares are rarely assigned.
Just like I did for ‘Bohnanza’ the ware cards of ‘Civilization’ already contain information about how many wares convert to how many points. What I did not like about ‘Civilization’ were the high values though. As the game progresses the trading values may go up to 3 digit numbers. The points gained by trade can be spent on other things, so you need pen&paper or even a calculator in order to keep proper track.
I took the trading cards and gradually decreased the numbers even before having a first game mechanism at mind. I did not need one at that time at all, I just wanted to make ‘Civilization’ playable for students that lack of time.
After finishing a tabular draft of the ware cards I wondered once more if I could decrease the values even further. That was the time when I invented my own evaluation system, the Bohnometer.
Personally, I never imagined a name for the scaling system, still refering to my grain theme. It was Uwe Mölter who came up with the idea of naming this scaling system.
It was my goal to do a 110 cards game as this specific number of cards is convenient for production (double rummy deck plus jokers). I was doing the divisions which are still up to date: 6, 8, 10, ..., 18, 20 cards. One ware there are six cards of, the next one consists of a total of eight cards and so on, plus cards for the 3rd bean field.
There are six 3rd bean field cards, even though the game is made for up to 5 players only. This is due to technical reasons. During production it was noticed that each kind of beans is divisable by 2, but not the five cards for the 3rd bean fields. With six 3rd bean field cards you get your 110 cards just like in rummy while you produce an identical stack of cards twice for each game. Amigo had had to mark one card on the printing sheet for the cutting machine to sort out. Sorting things out comes with extra costs so the game would have been more expensive in the end.
The very first Bohnometers only differed from the final one in one point, the 14, 16, 18 and 20 bean sorts were valued less. You may wonder why in the published version there is a reward of 4 bean gold for 7 soy beans (barley for me at that time) as well as for 7 green beans (rye) - lacking imagination I simply called the bean gold/talers ‘monetary units’ at that time. For the first 20 test sessions this was actually different: four gold you received all nicely graduated for 7 soy beans, 8 green beans, 9 stink beans (wheat), ten chili beans (coleseed) or eleven blue beans (hay). The Bohnometer has been changed because rare beans turned out to be too powerful over the more plenty ones. The soy beans Bohnometer, which is characterized by a very bad rise in value was applied rather lately. Originally the Bohnometer of todays brandy beans was planned to make it to the game. One disadvantage was that the 3rd bean field lost abit of importance as players did not need to keep weaker beans out on the field so long anymore.
First Blueprints of Rules
With the newly created ware cards trading could have been started according to watered Civilization rules. Example: At the beginning of each turn, each player draws 4 new cards. Trade is taking place and wares are converted to points. At the end of the turn players may keep a maximum of 6 cards on their hands.
Such a mechanism would work but there are obvious shortcomings: There is no real pressure on the players. They would all collect cards in peace and see at the end of the turn how much points they gathered. Another flaw is the lack of variability in decisions. It would always be obvious what‘s the next thing to do: Every player collects cards of the same kind. He collects this kind exclusively, all other kinds he does not collect. The game would only be interesting if a player had to think about a sort of beans he does not need now but maybe later on, so he considered buying the bean already. You may achieve that for instance by assigning tasks to players like ‘Put down ware A this turn, next turn play ware B!’. For ‘Bohnanza’ though, I solved this issue differently.
Next, I’d like to explain how silos were born. I liked the rule of the game ‘Freight Train’ that the first card of each collection is put down hidden as the locomotive and only further cards count for points. This rule is an elegant way for the player to get rid of an unwanted card. If the first card of a collection is put down concealed on the table, all other following cards will have to go to the table as well. They are not allowed to be kept at hand like in ‘Civilization’ anymore. This was my first step to get away from ‘Civilization’ rules.
For my game the first card of a collection would be the silo. It would be indicated identical to ‘Freight Train’: the card would be placed back side up.
This mechanism was created by Alan R. Moons card game ‘Reibach & Co’ (aka ‘Get the Goods’) in 1996 which long bore the working title ‘Freight Train - The Card Game’. Freight Trains locomotives were the profiteers in ‘Reibach & Co’.
Since I wanted to limit trade to what players actually collect, I formulated the rule that traded cards have to be added to a collection right away.
Separating trading and playing of traded cards into two phases of turn order was again an idea by Uwe Mölter. By this, players can plant their traded beans in an optimal way without having to think about this before actually trading. The published rule of ‘Bohnanza’ does not mention this specifically, but it is still allowed to plant beans in phase 2 of the trading phase already.
First Test Game
My very first test game was a three player session with Hagen Dorgathen and Peter Lipp in April 1995. Each player had three depositions for his grain fields from the beginning. Thats why trading was far too easy and the game did not seem to work. We aborted the game. Hagen and Peter actually forgot about that session. Two years later - as the game was released - they really could not remember that session! That is surely excusable when taking into account how many ideas I confronted my friends with at that time. Most notably: how many bad ideas!
Development of Trading Rules
I abandoned the ‘Freight Train’ rule as the trading rules of ‘Bohnanza’ were finished because after a few test games with the newly developed trading rules it turned out to be not needed to play the first card of a collection backside up.
By the way, ‘monetary units’ were indicated by turning a grain card upside down instead of flipping it to its backside at that time. Originally I wanted everybody to know each players actual score, so monetary cards needed to be laid out diversified. I thought it to be important to know about the score at any time of the game. (Today I am fine with knowing at the end of the game that once again I did not win.)
What I did not like about the trading rules of ‘Civilization’ was that all players were talking at the same time in a clutter. You had to finish your deals quickly. I was experiencing that as a hassle. I was looking for a solution to this issue as well. So I decided pretty early for the rule that only the active player may be traded with.
I was also bothered by the rule that I had to constantly ask my fellow players what cards they have on their hand and which ones they were collecting, throughout the process of trade. By my concept of playing collected cards on the table it is obvious who collects what. As a trade offer, I had liked to allow dishonest answers as well. In ‘Bohnanza’ it is senseless to allege to have a garden bean when you do not really have one, because then trading cannot take place. In ‘Civilization’ you can cheat your fellow players.
On the other hand, trade deals are much simpler to handle in ‘Bohnanza’ than in ‘Civilization’.
It is very rare in peaceful ‘Civilization’ sessions anyways that a player promises to trade a ware which he cannot deliver. Having good trading relations is always important.
So I really liked about ‘Civilization’ how imaginative trade negotiations could be done, but I was bothered that there were no situations in which one ware you wanted to trade is worth more and other situations where the same ware is worth less. Usually a single ware is worth alot when a player already has alot of it. So it is with ‘Civilization’. However in ‘Civilization’ it is dubious how many cards of a trade goods your trading partner already has. Thus it is hard to estimate what your trading goods are really worth to your opponent. It can be better estimated in my game as collected cards are put on the table for everyone to see.
One finesse of the Bohnometer I realized pretty late. In case a player gets an additional gold with the next card, that single card is especially valuable for him. On the other hand, a single card is temporarily worthless if a player does not gain an additional gold by it. So unlike in ‘Civilization’ the worth of cards does not increase continuously but collections get more valuable in stages. This is actually influencing trading behaviour. Some players trade by roughly estimating the worth of a red bean by trading for a chili and a stink bean, others discount for each gold earned when trading: ‘This bean gains you one gold, so offer me something that earns my a gold as well!’. I did not discover to do trading negotiations like this by myself, Claudio Maniglio pointed that out to me.
Why the beans are not allowed to be transferred to another field
When big collections are especially valuable, being worth four gold at max, I needed a rule to prevent players from constantly getting their collections up to four gold. I wanted players to try to maximize their collections but I wanted some obstacles to master as well. My first consideration was to only allow a certain amount of time. However this specific amount of time would always be used to its max, so I was not satisfied with that as a mechanism.
Secondly I imagined the indicatory idea that a player is dictated to play a specific card in front of himself.
At best he can add this card to one of his collections, otherwise he has to dissolve one of his collections, turn his card to play on its backside and use it as a new silo. Such as I had initially planned in the style of the ‘Freight Train’ rule.
The dilemma: When revealing cards from the drawing pile, a player is delivered to pure randomness. On the other hand if a player would know his cards to play in advance by a secondary hand for instance he was pressed to constantly check these cards and have an eye on his trading cards at the same time. He would want to check his cards to play as often as his trading cards while maintaining two separate hands which need to be separated and distinguished from each other while constantly picking up and laying down his two hands. Another disadvantage is that a player could take no influence in the order of his cards to play.
A solution to this issue was close at hand: A player trades with the cards he reveals. He can still not change the order of his hand but he can take influence in the order of his hand by clever trading cards from his hand.
So what does a players turn look like ?
1. He plays his hands foremost card and if need be dissolves one of his collections.
2. He trades cards with his fellow players and adds traded cards to his collections.
3. He draws new cards and adds them at the end of his hand.
So I finished the basic structure of ‘Kolchose’ which is ‘Bohnanza’ today, however some questions remained unanswered.
- How is trade supposed to work in detail? I could encourage communication by letting the active player reveal two cards. All players could make offers on these trading goods to the active player. But what happens if noone wants the revealed cards? I added another element to trade by ruling that the active player has to add the revealed cards to his collections. It was a fortunate side effect of revealing that fellow players now had the option of leaving the active player alone with these cards if they want to, putting pressure on that player.
- How many collections should a player be allowed to have? One collection was too few. And with two collections already a player can keep dissolving one collection until he maximized the other. I introduced the rule that in case of doubt a player always has to dissolve his bigger collection. I realized in self-testing already that this rule was too harsh though. I was looking for a compromise. The solution was that collections that only consist of a single card are protected and may not be dissolved.
The following question came up after ‘Bohnanza’ was already published, I never wondered about that before.
- May only cards that are revealed be traded? For me, it always was: Any trade is allowed that does involve the active player. Thus also hand cards may be traded for other hand cards.
Another obvious idea is that the active player may trade on any traded card. An interesting effect with this: I get the black eyed bean that some fellow player wanted. He is changing his mind and lets me stick with that bean which I now have to plant. For me, this was never allowed, because traded cards should be added to a collection right away.
- How many times is the drawing pile played through? I had not planned for the drawing pile to be played through thrice. Playing through the cards just once was enough for the first 20 sessions. This detail was only applied after I changed the following rule. In the first 20 games always the first card of your hand had to be played and at the end of a turn you drew two new ones. In order to increase the pace of the game I tried with drawing three new cards. In return I allowed that a player may also play his second topmost card. What was intitially planned to increase the condensation of play experience, turned out to be an additional tactical element: ‘Do I play my first card only or the second one as well?’ Drawing three new cards meant that trading increased. The new rules proofed as a success. Unfortunately the drawing pile emptied way too quickly, so I let it play thrice.
The End of the Game
What happens to a players hand cards at the end of the game? It seemed as player friendliest to me, to allow a player to add all his hand cards to his collections, as far as they fit. Now there arised an additional question that needed clarifying: Is a player allowed to dissolve collections when playing his hand cards to play even more hand cards? My answer was ‘yes’. Here is an extract from my original ‘Kolchose’ rule (as an explanation: warehouses in ‘Kolchose’ are bean fields in ‘Bohnanza’).
‘At the end of the game all players may add their hand cards (without taking into account the order of the cards) to any number of warehouses. So it is allowed to assume you had eight warehouses or even more. No more trade is allowed though. After that all warehouses are dissolved and wares are converted to money.’
At my approval the publisher discarded this rule detail though and lets the game end with drawing the last card immediately. It is merely mentioned as a variant in the Bohnanza-Expansion-Set now. With this change, it is less worthwhile to hold back hand cards and players are forced to increase trade.
You have no Futura!
Thanks a lot for the quick translation! It reads quite well, great material from Uwe as well!
Re: The History of Bohnanza
Great insights into your game development. I enjoyed the details and especially how you described the progression of the game from its beginning all of the way to the end.