Monday, December 29, 2014


I've just signed a publication contract for Sands of Time with a German publisher.  I'll wait to say more until they've announced it; there may be some internal development that will take place.  But, a nice step forward for the game for sure!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The goal revisited

A discussion with Joe Pilkus over at BoardGameGeek about the new game "Historia" enabled me to revisit one of the earliest posts, about my design goals for the game, or my ideas of what a good "civ" game should, ideally, include.  Now that the game is closer to completion, it might be fun to look back and see how well the game achieves those goals:
- Growth:  Yes, certainly, particularly with the new population rules in which pop. growth is automatic rather than a turn option.  This is the kind of growth I originally envisioned, i.e., growth that creates pressure to expand although expansion for conquest's sake is also part of the game.
- Enhancement:  Yes.  The players achieve advances which provide upgraded capability, and build structures, which improve their territories.
- Differentiation:  Mostly.  The advance "trees" make it more likely that more than one player will acquire the same advances, but as players can have markers on more than one tree, and as players' scoring strategy isn't exclusively dictated by their tech strategy, there will still be room for some differentiation between the players.
- Specialization:  Yes.  It's easier to keep progressing along a single advance tree than to put a marker on another one.  Similarly, the more you progress along the Heritage track in a particular category, the easier it will be to keep advancing and keep scoring in that category -- and progress on the track is driven by selecting actions that promote that category.  So, the game definitely steers you towards specialization, while still allowing the possibility of diversifying.
- Multiple paths to victory:  Yes.  With 6 scoring categories, there's intrinsic diversity in the ways you can get points.  Even within a single category, there are often more than one way to go about meeting the conditions to get to the highest scoring cards, and more than one approach to resource acquisition and territorial control and unrest level management that enable you to meet those conditions.  Moreover, unless you're going for a purely monochrome strategy, it's frequently desirable to pursue two or even three different scoring categories, and this gives at least 30 combinations in scoring strategies.  Not all of these may be easy/viable, but we've seen a lot of different strategies in playtesting and I think every combination is do-able, even though some are certainly less effective.
- Cooperative interaction:  Not really.  This mostly went by the wayside during development, as the various systems that were built to achieve this either weren't used much by the players, or ended up replaced by something better.  The caravans, and the way they connect you to other players' cities, kind-of-sort-of looks like cooperative interaction, but there's no real deal-making or anything like that.
And the three opportunity areas:
- Self-aggrandizement:  Definitely, yes; this is what the whole scoring system is built around, the idea that you're boasting about your empire's greatness.
- Internal politics/management:  Sort of.  Your Unrest level sets your cost for several actions, so it's important to manage it; and, overcrowding or pressing on your populace increase it, so there's definitely a need to keep your population happy.  For better or worse, unlike other games, it's not about avoiding bad things (like a rebellion, e.g.) so much as it is about keeping your Unrest at a level that will still let you do stuff.  This fits with the theme of the scoring system:  you're trying to do stuff that will cement your status as a great civilization; if you do that by oppressing your people and having high Unrest, well, that kind of thing isn't completely unheard of historically!
- Cultural diffusion:  No.  There was an element of this when the game still had achievement tokens (you could use your connections to other players' cities to give you tokens, representing the idea that your reputation was being spread by your cultural interactions), and while this is still present in a small way through the caravan/heritage system, it's quite minimal and easy to miss.
So, overall, the game seems to have met most of the goals I had set, and the ones that it missed were probably part of the game at one point during development, but ended up on the cutting room floor.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


A recent playtest of the system discussed in the last post was a mixed result. 

On the one hand, the "tech trees", the idea of locked actions that become "unlocked" with advances, and the shorter number of turns were all received generally favorably.  On the other hand, the game was more difficult, and more complex. 

A particularly problematic source of complexity was the expanded role of caravans.  While in principle this seemed favorable, in practice the different meanings of the different trade good colors that your caravans touch was just too much; additionally, needing to combine sources (caravans +  heritage bonus) to see whether you advance or score a chronicle (but slightly different sources for each) was too taxing.  

We agreed that an improved system would be to have a single heritage track for each category (political, civil, and cultural), and you get to increase on a track when you (i) touch a trade good with a caravan, (ii) touch a city or capital with a trade good, or (iii) score a chronicle in that category.  Then, you just compare the heritage track to the chronicle value (if you're scoring) or your unrest (if you're advancing), so it's always easy to see whether you're allowed to do what you want to or not. 

One of the players suggested that the turns in a generation would be more engaging if there were more opportunities to create synergy between them, ie to invest in some sort of short-term boost that lets you be really effective in just one area for just this turn. This sparked an idea that I think I like.  In addition to the Action cards in your hand, you also have "emphasis" cards, probably one for each category.  An "emphasis" card costs a turn action to deploy, and it stays in place for the whole generation and does two things:  first, it "unlocks" all of the locked actions in that same category (eg, "political" emphasis lets you unlock aspects of the Raid, Conquer, and Muster actions that are otherwise locked); second, it gives you +1 on the Heritage track in the same category IF you complete a combination of 3 actions and/or buildings in that same category this generation. 

This makes you care more about generation length; ie a short generation in which you deployed an emphasis card would feel like a waste.  Long generations force you to reuse cards or produce, taking on Unrest, but there isn't currently a downside to short generations, so these "emphasis" cards would add one.  Although, since you don't really control generation length I'm not sure how much this matters.  

Maybe there should be, instead of the "generation" track, which is the same every time, a "lifespan" card, which has a generation track, and the numbers are different on each card.  That would give some variability to the expected generation length, and you may be more likely to invest an action in emphasis if it looks like you have a healthy ruler with a long life ahead of him.