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Subject: an introduction to Oikodomos rss

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While the quest for Civ Light has occupied many game designers and players over the last two decades or so, my holy grail of game design has always been Civ Heavy: more detail, more complexity, and so forth. In a sense, I have been trying to create a board game that captures all the complexity of the Civilization computer games since the early 1990s.

Until 5 years ago.

Around that time I realized that even if I ever manage to create such a game, I would never find opponents or the time needed to play it. Since then, I have been pruning the overly complex collection of design ideas developed until then, trying to keep the elements that I personally like best, while eliminating what I found less interesting or important. Probably my favorite elements of the Civilization genre are exploration, and building/development. The part I always liked least is war (perhaps because I'm a pacifist). The name "Oikodomos", by the way, is ancient Greek for 'builder'.

In a much earlier prototype, exploration made use of small tiles with one kind of terrain each. That was horribly cumbersome, and although it worked (and even had some interesting effects), it was a design element that was replaced soon. There were a number of other variants between that and the current system, which makes use of hexagonal tiles divided in smaller hexagons, themselves divided in even smaller triangles. The hexagons are the areas in the game, while the triangles determine terrain. Each tile consists of one hexagon in the middle, and six half hexagons around that. If a unit moves into such a half hexagon a new tile is drawn and added to the map. Until that tile is drawn, the properties of that hex are partially unknown (because only half of it was visible). The six triangles that make up the hex area together determine its terrain: land, sea, coast; and if it is land, whether it is mountainous, hilly, or flat. This brief explanation may sound complicated, but it is not nearly as complicated as it sounds.

Because of the randomness inherent in exploration, I also tried to get rid of all other elements of randomness and chance in the game. Combat, for example, is entirely predictable, and so is everything else in the game. Except the behavior of (most) opponents, of course.

Another element of civilization games - and economic games - that I generally like is 'tightness'. There should always be much less resources (money, actions, etc.) than what seems to be needed, making all decisions difficult and many of them critical. There shouldn't be enough units to do everything you want to do; not enough money to buy everything you want; and neither should it be possible to develop all technologies.

In cutting down the design, there was one other key aim I kept in mind, something I learned from designing and creating print and play games: reducing the number and kinds of components needed. This aim led to the idea of using wooden cubes to represent all kinds of units (workers, soldiers, etc.), rather than using different cardboard chits for different kinds of units. This idea also added an interesting flexibility to the game, and it was also for that reason that it became the backbone of all versions the design went through since 2008.

Furthermore, the same wooden cubes are also used to represent buildings, and to track technology. Rather than cards (the usual option for technologies), technology is represented by means of seven tracks, and cubes show the level of development on those tracks.

The various (re-) design aims and goals lead to a rather abstract civilization game with a few twists. The main difficulty is that there are always less units available than you seem to need, especially if you go to war. Building your economy may remedy this if you use the optional rule of hiring mercenaries (which is recommended, unless you want to make war near impossible), but focusing too much on your economy may leave insufficient resources for technological development, and/or to keep your population from revolting. There is not much point in conquering an opponent's city if the added population puts your empire over the edge and collapse through dissent. Perhaps, managing dissent, while keeping a steady pace of growth (in all respects), is the key to winning the game.


Officially, Oikodomos is still a prototype. Most of my game designs keep the 'prototype' status for years, until I finally decide that everything works as it should. The files for the game are available at the game's page at my website (Papercut Games) and also here at BGG. (However, because of the slowness of the file approval process at BGG, the versions here may not always be the most recent.)
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