Chrononauts, Alternate History RPGs, and the Discworld

This post is dedicated to Sir Terry Pratchett. My first PC was named Rincewind, and it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be writing this post if it wasn’t for reading his books in middle school and high school.

The March 5th #rpgchat discussion on Twitter focused on alternate history in campaigns. One particular element of the discussion, what pieces of the timeline to change, didn’t sit well with me, because it assumed that the DM was making conscious choices about how the world was formed prior to the campaign, and I’ve always been a fan of establishing a broad present world and filling in the history when it became relevant. Additionally, I felt like I wanted to see an option for “random” generation of a timeline.

Then my board game brain triggered. Chrononauts.

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Time travel board games are pretty hard to come by, and most of them deal with history either very specifically (your timeline is limited to an event, like in Tragedy Looper) or very broadly (you deal with ages, not events, like in Legacy Gears of Time). Chrononauts, on the other hand, deals with specific events in history in one of a number of established real-world timelines:
-1865-1999 (original Chrononauts)
-1865-2008 (original Chrononauts plus The Gore Years expansion)
-1770-1916 (Early American Chrononauts)
-1770-2008 (everything put together, aka uberChrononauts)

I suggested that a game of uberChrononauts might be a good way to run a “first session” of a game using real-world alternate history. It would get the DM and players on the same page about what the “new” timeline looks like, involve the players in world-building, and it could set up a metaplot for the game itself.

This probably works best for a d20 Modern or Fate game (actually, this would make a really interesting Dresden Files game, as the influence of magic in the world could be why the timeline ended up differently), but you can make it fit in any system where you’re able to use real-world history.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Decide what era you want your game to take place in: Post WWI USA (early American Chrononauts), recent history (standard Chrononauts or uberChrononauts without Gore Years), or modern day (standard Chrononauts or uberChrononuts with Gore Years).

Step 2: Get your game group together for the first session. If you can’t get the players to participate in this (or if you don’t want to), that’s totally cool; there is a solo variant called Solonauts.

Step 3: Play a game of Chrononauts. Try not to invoke the 13th Paradox (which ends the game by destroying all of time) or the UberParadox (which ends the world in 1962 with World War 3), unless you’re ready to include these results in your RPG campaign later.

Step 4: At the end of the game, record the end game state: final timeline, which players have which IDs, and anything else you want to make relevant in the campaign (possibly what Artifacts are in play if you want to give your PCs toys early on).

Full uberChrononauts timeline

Full uberChrononauts timeline

Step 5: Do character creation.

The game of Chrononauts you’ve just played sets up two very important things: metaplot and character backstories. There are a number of ways to approach these, but one way that stuck with me and is especially relevant this week is outlined below. Helpful reading in fleshing out this idea is Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett, as many of the ideas below are more or less directly stolen from this book or other Discworld novels.

Metaplot: Something very bad has happened to history. Not only is it not happening the way it’s supposed to, but there are literal holes in the timeline, as though events just vanished and there’s nothing to replace them with. Someone has to do something about this. Those someones are the Order of Wen the Eternally Surprised, better known as the History Monks.
The Timeline: The end game state of your Chrononauts game probably left you with a number of years that used to contain historical events but now contain weird swirly artwork (Paradoxes). You can resolve the Paradoxes either by saying that nothing important happened that year (that is, if you prevent Lincoln’s assassination in 1864 but don’t patch it with Lincoln’s impeachment in 1868, then 1868 is just a relatively boring year, history-wise). You can *also*, if you want to have some fun with things, make that an actual hole in history, a place where cause and effect broke down, the event between Collecting Underpants and Profit. Something *should* go here, because in 1867 Lincoln was President and in 1869 he isn’t, but nobody’s sure why he stopped being President. This is where the PCs come in.

Paradox and Patch for 1868

Paradox and Patch for 1868

The Event: At some point, somewhere in history, The Event happened. The Event threatened to destroy all of history, but due to some intervention, history was merely irreparably damaged. Through the efforts of the Order of Wen the Eternally Surprised, most of history wasn’t lost per se, there just ended up being some very creative anachronisms and parts of history that nobody really remembers that well. Which is necessary and acceptable losses; not that much actually happened in Europe the 13th century, so time could be wicked off of there and sent to where it was actually needed.
Gathering the Party: Some say that the Order of Wen the Eternally Surprised is dedicated to making sure that history follows some sort of pre-written narrative. While this is true of some monks – Lu-Tze in particular was a fan of guiding the progress of history in a desirable fashion, both in Small Gods and in Night Watch – the purpose of the Order is more elementary than that. Their purpose is to make sure that history happens at all. The PCs, either by upbringing or by the circumstances of The Event, find themselves associated with the Order of Wen and its efforts to preserve the existence of history.

PC generation: The game of Chrononauts gave each player a valuable tool in character creation: their ID card. The ID card the players ended the game can give them a basic starting point for any or all of the following: who their PC is, where they came from, and what they want (speaking of which, unless you want super wacky fun during your campaign, try to make sure nobody ends up with Crazy Joe or Squa Tront). It also gives most of the PCs two histories to work with – the history they knew before The Event, and the history the monks were able to establish after The Event. These differences could give the PCs clues as to what happened during The Event if the campaign goes in that direction.

Betty

Betty

Campaign Direction: Speaking of which, where is this campaign going, anyway? That all depends, I suppose, on what direction you or the players want to send it in…
The Order’s Mission: The Order’s mission is to preserve the existence of history. There are Things outside reality that want to destroy history out of malice, and humans who are stupid enough to destroy history just because they can. Sometimes the former guide the latter. The PCs, working with or for the Order, strive to preserve the best history they can.
Things Are Coming: More than once in the Discworld novels, the fabric of reality is weakened and Things try to get through. If The Event weakened the fabric, the PCs could start out as the Order’s damage control team, travelling across the world to keep the Things out.
Undo The Event: While history needs to be patched all the time, what happened after The Event wasn’t a patch. It was a Revision. While it’s working to keep time flowing now, the Paradoxes are leaking time, and eventually time will run out. The PCs need to work their way back in time to The Event, figure out what The Event was, and patch the timeline there and then to make sure The Event never occurs. Unfortunately, they’ll face resistance, both from the Order of Wen, who believes they’ve solved The Event the best they can, and the forces that were responsible for The Event in the first place.

Antagonists: Who stands to oppose the PCs as they support the Order of Wen the Eternally Surprised? The Discworld novels provide us with some ideas for this as well:
The Auditors: The Auditors of Reality are the scariest villain I’ve ever encountered. They are, metaphorically, responsible for the universe remaining stable, and they resent anything chaotic in the universe. Humanity is the most chaotic thing ever. In the Discworld novels, they’ve tried to end humanity by removing a sympathetic Death from power, killing mythology, and trapping Time in a glass clock (the second time; the first time was just a mad scientist). They loathe taking a direct hand in matters, and use humans as catspaws in their plan – you have to love a species that can be persuaded to shoot itself in the foot.
Humanity: Humans are, to put it kindly, more selfish than intelligent and more near-sighted than visionary. They also have a tendency to push big red buttons that say “End of the World Button. DO NOT TOUCH” just to see what happens. Sometimes humans like this even get into positions of power, learn things they shouldn’t learn, and try to bend the world to their will. To the point of breaking it.
Bureaucracy: Even an organization as serene and guided as the Order of Wen has people who forget that the organization is there to serve people rather than the other way around. Rules often get in the way of getting things done, and if the PCs are trying to do something that puts the Order’s carefully crafted history at risk – any risk at all – the Order could be an adversary rather than an ally.
The Gods: As shown in The Colour of Magic and Interesting Times, the gods of the Discworld do not play dice with the universe. They play a miniatures-based wargame with real people as unwitting miniatures, and they do not play fair. Direct or indirect intervention on behalf of their favorite pieces (hi, Rincewind!) is not unheard of. Some gods, like Fate or The Lady (do not invoke her true name or she will forsake you), have enough power and subtlety to control the destinies of other gods. They should not be messed with.
(Seemingly) Random Chance: It’s said that in the Discworld, million-to-one chances come up nine times out of ten. But sometimes Chance itself conspires against the denizens of the Disc, and if The Event was created out of Chance, it may use its 999,999 casting votes against the PCs’ million-to-one shot.

So, there it is. Seeds of an alternate history campaign using Chrononauts to establish the alternate history timeline and a combination of Chrononauts and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels to establish the story. I hope this inspires your games half as much as Sir Terry’s writing has inspired mine.

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UnPub 5 Aftermath, or What I Learned From 60 Playtests in 20 Hours

Last weekend, I got to attend the UnPub 5 convention in Baltimore. I was one of the lucky designers who pledged to their Kickstarter in time to get a designer table, and I brought short enough games that over the course of the twenty hours the convention was open for playtesters, my games were played sixty times – a new game starting every twenty minutes on average. Having the opportunity to experience four months’ worth of playtesting in two days gave me new (to me) insight into the design process, and I’m sharing some of what stuck with me, starting with an overview of the games I brought and following it with a list of lessons.

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Odd Socks is a 2-4 player card game in which players are trying to deduce which sock was lost in the laundry at the start of the game and get its match in their basket by the end of the game. At the start of the game, one of the socks, represented by cards, is secretly removed from the deck. The remaining cards are dealt out to the players. On each player’s turn, they can play a card face-up into their basket and take an action that helps them deduce the removed sock’s match, or they can play a card face-down into their basket, taking no action but hiding the card’s identity from the other players. Once all players have one card left, the removed sock is revealed, and the player who has that sock’s match wins.

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Avignon is a 2-player abstract strategy game in which players take the role of rival Popes trying to “influence that Masses” of the Catholic Church. Players gain influence by moving cards representing characters (Peasants, Cardinals, Bishops, etc) three steps toward their side by petitioning them and using their unique character powers. The first player to claim three characters’ support wins.

Lesson 1: Your Pitch Starts Before the Convention
Many of the playtesters who came to my table mentioned what drew them to my table instead of the seventy other designer tables at the convention. Some were just wandering through and saw an opening (it was really busy there on Saturday), some saw people having fun and wandered over, and some saw the sign on the table and were intrigued. But many of my testers responded to something they saw in the program – they liked the theme of laundry, wanted to try a new deduction game, or wanted to try shorter games. A couple players had even heard about the game on Twitter prior to the con. The lesson here (which isn’t a hard one to figure) is that the groundwork you lay before showing your game of is critically important

Lesson 2: Not all Feedback is Verbal or Written
To be clear: I got a lot of good feedback at the convention, from the Avignon players who argued about the utility of the alternate win conditions for a half hour to a fellow designer who, after playing Odd Socks, told me why this prototype was ready to pitch to publishers when previous iterations he’d played were not. But as important as that feedback was, the best feedback I got came from observations I made while others were playing. The faces that players made as they tried to determine Odd Socks actions that told me I needed to clean up my wording. The frustration players expressed when they were holding unusable actions told me that actions needed to be playable every turn. Avignon players pointing at cards as they tried to think multiple moves ahead on the second play-through. These were critical pieces of feedback that I hadn’t been able to get in previous playtests because this was the first time I’d been able to watch entirely new players play (usually, I’m playing or it’s a blind test).

Lesson 3: What is Meant When a Playtester Says Your Game is Ready
I got feedback from a lot of players that both Avignon and Odd Socks were in *very* good shape, from players asking when I was going to Kickstart (I’m not; more on that below) to a designer I have a lot of respect for finishing a game and saying, “Okay, this is legit.” BUT. This feedback did not, in the end, mean that I should be putting the games on Kickstarter or even pitching to publishers yet, as a result of the nonverbal feedback discussed in Lesson 2. What it does mean, however, is that the core of the game is solid and that the games are fun. This is an awesome start, and means that I’m on the right track, but it doesn’t actually mean the game is ready.

Lesson 4: How You Teach the Game is Very Important
Prior to this convention, Avignon has had a significant problem with one character card. The Noble doesn’t have a Petition ability, but has two alternate win conditions. Previously, when teaching the game, I explained the alternate win conditions in a very mechanical sense (“If you claim both the Peasant and the Noble, you lose, and if you claim the Noble and your opponent claims the Knight, you win”). This led to a lot of reading and forgetting about the Noble – to the point that I was starting to wonder whether I could keep the Noble in the game at all. For the first game of UnPub, I decided to switch it up and add some story to the explanation: “The Noble hates the Peasant, and won’t work with him. So if you claim both the Noble and the Peasant, you lose. The Knight works for the Noble, so if you claim the Noble and your opponent claims the Knight, the Noble orders the Knight to stab your opponent in the back and you win.” Suddenly, everyone cared about the Noble. To the point that one player went out of his way to remove both Noble from play – in three consecutive games. As a result, I’m going to be elaborating on the relationship between characters (which already exists in the rulebook) in order to draw players in.

Lesson 5: Prepare for Follow-Ups
As I mentioned earlier, a significant number of players asked about how they could buy Odd Socks and/or Avignon. Thankfully, I was ready with something to give those players, but I found it interesting that the materials that others were encouraging me to bring to hand out weren’t the materials that I actually needed. The big focus I’ve heard from multiple sources was the importance of bringing sell sheets to conventions to give to interested parties. This is probably the last convention I’m bringing sell sheets to. I found business cards to be way more useful. My business cards, which I handed out to any player who asked, had my e-mail address and Twitter handle as well as links to the UnPub page for both games, through which players could reach both feedback forms and updated Print-and-Play files for each game. I felt like this worked very well for players who wanted more information, and I think that I’m going to go with a business card as well when talking to publishers who are interested in the game, with the game’s name, picture, and my contact information on one side of the card, with sell sheet information on the reverse side. It’s easier to carry around and design, and I just haven’t had as much success with publishers, even at speed dating events, taking sell sheets over business cards.

Next steps
After UnPub 5, I’ve decided that both Avignon and Odd Socks are games that I need to accelerate development on.

Odd Socks needed some graphic design changes – in particular, the socks needed patterns and the text on the cards needed to be bigger – and a change to some cards so that there won’t be a risk that actions will be unusable. Below, you can see a sample of what was changed with the old card on the left and the new card on the right – the solid color and contrasting number have been replaced with a pattern, the text was made larger, and the action text was changed both to be easier to understand. I’m testing these changes this weekend.

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Avignon is in even better shape. Lots of feedback suggested that I needed a board of some kind, so I’m going to play around with low-cost options for that. I’m also going to test a suggestion that my last group of the convention had, which was that it require four pulls to claim a card instead of three. This would make it harder for someone to claim a newly revealed card in a single turn, although I had originally been thinking that such a possibility is part of the strategy of the game.

Once I’ve tested these changes, I’m going to start courting publishers. I’ve already got a publisher or two in mind to pitch to for each game, but if anyone knows of a publisher who might be a good fit, I’m all ears. In the meantime, enjoy Print-and-Play links to both games:

Avignon: tinyurl.com/AvignonGame
Odd Socks: tinyurl.com/OddSocksGame

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TableTop Day (Weekend) 2014

(Reblogged from my BoardGameGeek blog)

Last year, I helped a new local game store organize TableTop Day events for the store. To be honest, it was something of a bust – games didn’t go off as planned, the store ended up being a less than friendly place to play, and the store handled some game orders I made badly, to put it mildly. After that experience, I decided not to participate on the organizing side of things (the five-week-old baby may have guided this decision as well), instead going to a different local store as a player. That didn’t pan out either, so I ended up spending the weekend playing games with friends at home and working on some prototypes to get them ready for convention season in July.

Friday evening, we had friends over for our normal bi-weekly game session (it was Saturday in New Zealand, so that counts). We managed to get three games to the table:

  • We started off the night with Takenoko, a favorite since I won a copy at GenCon last year. This was probably the most lopsided game we’d played in a while, with one player scoring 44 points and the rest of us in the mid-20s. Even with this one-time flaw, this remains one of my favorite games, and one that hits the table almost every game day.
  • After the first game, my wife took a break to feed the baby. This gave me a chance to get my new prototype, Anansesem, to the table. The game went well in terms of overall mechanical balance, time of play (15 minutes for the first game, 5 minutes for the second), and overall impression. I’m hoping that I can get the cards balanced and art found in time to get it in for the 2014 BoardGameGeek 2-play PnP contest.
  • The final game of the night came at the request of our friends’ 9-year-old daughter, and was Flash Point: Fire Rescue. We are trying to slowly build up to all the Kickstarter expansions I’ve ordered, which is tough when the game comes to the table only every couple months. Today was our first play with the full game (roles, hot spots, the works). I’m not sure we did it correctly – we managed to get all seven required victims out without any loss of victims, and I don’t recall the game being that easy in the past. I guess that means we’ll just have to get it to the table soon to make sure 
Flash Point Fire Rescue

Flash Point Fire Rescue – no expansions

Saturday, we didn’t play games, but I spent most of the day getting design work done:

  • -I had gotten some professional editing work reserved as a perk from a Kickstarter campaign, and I decided it was finally time to cash in. I spent the first part of the day preparing Anansesem, Odd Socks, and Bread and Circuses to send out. Huge relief to get that big check mark off my list.
  • -My contribution to the new fantasy-themed Storyteller Cards project was due to go up next week, so I finished it up. The game, Scapegoat, can be seen athttps://www.kickstarter.com/projects/239309591/storyteller-c… (and the campaign is still open for pledges for 11 more days).
Odd Socks, with awesome new copyright-free art and graphic design!

Odd Socks, with awesome new copyright-free art and graphic design!

I also saw a big sale on games on Amazon, and we picked up a couple that we’d heard good things about, but couldn’t justify buying at full price. We haven’t played Tokaido yet, but we got Rampage to the table today. It was immensely fun and filled a hole in my collection, although it’s clear that entertainment value was a higher priority than game balance (unless we really misunderstood a couple powers.

RAAAAR!!!

RAAAAR!!!

Overall, while we may not have participated in the “visit a local game store or big game group” spirit of TableTop Day, we definitely filled the day and weekend with games and game development. If only I could make every Saturday TableTop Day, I’d probably be a lot more relaxed (and productive at game design) on a long-term basis…

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Designing Again: Drunken Meeples

So it has been a while since I updated either of my blogs. Taking a new position doing administrative work and getting ready for a baby can take a lot of the energy out, but I’m setting myself a goal of updating once a week.

Today, I’m sharing Drunken Meeples, a somewhat goofy combination of Wits and Wagers and Beer Pong that I designed last night. Grant Rodiek made a joke about “worker removal” games, and I made a retort about “worker displacement” games (both riffs on the worker placement mechanism in board games). Then, my nerd instincts kicked in, and I started thinking about displacement in fluid mechanics. Drunken Meeples, the first true worker displacement game, is the result.

You might also need more beer. Or more board games.

Beer and board games. Do you really need anything else?

How to Drunken Meeples:

You Will Need:

  • One shotglass, or container of similar volume
  • A bunch (10-20) Meeples, cubes, pawns, and/or other game bits. It works best if these bits are made of different materials (plastic, wood, metal, etc).
  • An opaque container to put the Meeples in
  • Index cards and pens
  • Poker chips, pennies, or another scoring mechanism
  • Access to at least one source of liquid. It’s better if you have more than one, and even better if they have different densities. Using jello shots is not recommended, though.
  • 3-8 players

Game Rules:

1. Someone picks a liquid and announces what the liquid is to all players. Then, someone fills the shotglass an imprecise amount (but at least half full) with the liquid.
2. Each player writes down on an index card his/her name and how many Meeples/bits he or she thinks will fit in the shotglass before it overflows.
3. Each player reveals his or her answer. Arrange these answers in numerical order (or, if you want to be mean to someone who’s easily confused, don’t).
4. Each player takes a poker chip and places it on the answer that he or she thinks is most likely to be accurate.
5. Put all the Meeples/bits in the opaque container. Randomly draw bits out of the bag and place them in the shotglass, counting as you go. Place the Meeples gently; the goal is to overflow the shotglass, not splash the liquid.
6. Once the liquid overflows, the player who had the answer closest to the number of Meeples it took to overfill the shotglass gets one point. Each player who placed a poker chip on that answer gets two points.
7. (Optional step if playing with alcohol) After removing the Meeples from the shotglass, the player who had the guess closest to the actual answer drinks the shot.
8. Continue steps 1-7 until one player has twenty points or until people don’t want to play anymore.

Resolving Rules Disputes: These rules are sort of vague. I wrote them when I was drinking. If a significant rules dispute emerges, remember that you are playing a game about dipping Meeples in beer and/or spirits and stop taking yourself so seriously.

That, friends, is a worker “displacement” game. Also evidence that I am prepared to start telling dad jokes to my daughter the second she emerges from the womb, and that I’m not afraid to include multiple obscure references in the same bad dad joke.

I promise that next week, I will write about a game design that I am pursuing beyond the next social event.

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I Will Stop Fighting Patriarchy In Fandom When…

Yesterday, I put a link to this post from Doctor Nerdlove on my Facebook page. I got a comment from a friend indicating that he was “over” the criticism that nerd culture gets for its sexism because nerds treat women better than the rest of American culture (not to mention what happens in some other cultures). Examples weren’t specifically given, but I’m sure they exist. That’s not the point, and quite frankly, I’m “over” seeing people use comparisons to justify their actions because they aren’t as bad as what’s happening elsewhere. Someone doing worse than you doesn’t mean that you don’t need to do better. Calling what I’ve observed happening to women in fandom “sexism” minimizes what happens to women in fandom. Period. Trying to argue sins of scale Does. Not. Work. With. Me.

With that being the case, I’ve decided to share my list of “When I Will Stop Fighting The Patriarchy In Fandom”. This probably isn’t an exhaustive list; just what I can think of off the top of my head. If you’ve got something to add to the list, feel free.

I Will Stop Fighting Patriarchy In Fandom When…

… people stop threatening to rape women for their role in content creation or their choices of what content to create.
… direct rape threats over Twitter not being a violation of TOS isn’t common knowledge.
… my concerns about my children playing Call of Duty on XBox Live is more about the glorification of violence than the communication culture of XBox Live.
… women stop staying home from conventions out of fear for their personal safety.
“Nothing to Prove” by the Doubleclicks doesn’t get nearly half a million views on YouTube in its first week because of how many people identify with it.
The Dice Tower podcast can’t comment that one of the biggest changes of moving board game days from a game store to another location is a significant increase in attendance by women.
… women can cosplay in Michigan in January without freezing to death.
… I can find a game store in my local area that treats my wife like a valued customer instead of my companion (if at all).
… I go one day without worrying that I will ever feel comfortable sharing my hobbies and their associated communities with my future children (especially any daughters).
… people stop referring to board games with a play time of less than one hour or lacking heavy mechanics as “wife games”.
… women working at convention booths, game stores, and comic stores are seen as (and employed as) content creators rather than eye candy.

In other words, not anytime bloody soon.

-John

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Building a Dice-Building Game: First Steps

With Bread and Circuses waiting on the USPS to get sent off to a publisher, I’ve been waiting for another game design idea. Such an idea was inspired by Episode 106 of the On Board Games podcast, in which one of the hosts laments that the term “dice building game” is used in reference to Quarriors. He argues that Quarriors is more of a “dice pool building game” than a “dice building game” since you aren’t actually constructing dice. The hosts discuss how they’d be interested in seeing a game in which you construct or rebuild the dice as the game goes on, which started my wheels turning.

Theme

For this game, the base game engine – players build or add to dice – lent itself easily to two themes. One of the themes, fantasy/RPG-style combat, seemed to already have something of a strong representation in the dice game market, most recently with two Kickstarter games – the currently-funding Dungeon Dice and the already-funded Dungeon Roll. As a result, I decided to go with my second idea for a theme, civilization-building. Civilization-building dice games are also not new – my favorite being Roll Through the Ages – but there don’t seem to be quite as many as there are in the fantasy genre, and I’ve been wanting to make a civilization-building game for a while.

Mechanics

My mechanical challenge is to get mechanics that are interesting enough, but also don’t violate basic tenets of the “X-building” genre (including deck-building and “dice pool building”).

From my observation, the most popular X-building games (Dominion, Ascension, and Quarriors in particular) use the same following basic mechanics:

Limited and equal starting resources. Each player starts off on the same footing, with the same elements in their resource pool (Copper and Estates, Apprentices and Militia, or Basic Quiddity and Apprentices, respectively).

More starting resources than you can use in one turn. Each of the three games start the player with two turns’s worth of resources (dice or cards), so that there’s a forced delay between when you acquire a resource – especially your first couple turns – and when you can use it.

Card gaining and removing mechanics. Each game has a way to add new cards to your deck and ways to remove (trash, banish, or cull) resources from your deck/pool.

Combo/engine building possibilities. Each of the games contains a set of cards such that skilled players can combine the available resources to get a large effect.

Multiple paths to victory. The available resources are diverse enough such that you don’t have to take a particular route to win the game.

Components

When I started thinking about components, I needed to make one fairly important decision – is this going to be a game where players upgrade dice by replacing one face with another or a game where players add to dice by adding additional elements? This was a decision that was partly decided by what seemed to be the easiest way to prototype – LEGO dice.

Using LEGO dice made my life easier in a few ways. First, if I decided to go with an “add” model, I don’t know how else I’d do it apart from tables and many, many cubes, which would be unwieldy, expensive, and counter-intuitive to the basic “dice building” concept. Second, if I ended up going with an “upgrade” system, I could model that with the four-peg faces of the LEGO dice.

This does lead to a problem later – particularly, I think that LEGO may own a patent on this. Still, I think I’m better off designing a good game and making modifications if there are patent issues than not designing a game at all because of fear of patent issues. If nothing else, I can try to take the path that Mobile Frame Zero took.

Engine

With the components set, I had to figure out an engine and overall “how the game works”.

The current plan (I’m waiting for parts to ship so I can start testing) is to start each player out with basic plots of land like farms, forests, and lakes, and use these plots to generate resources allowing them to build more advanced buildings, which would allow players to take different actions when those buildings are rolled. Each building would be a 1×1 tile on the die, and to diversify options within each game and keep costs down, each building would be tied to a color, and one building of each color would be in play each game. Points would be scored from the buildings purchased as well as some end-of-game bonuses, possibly related to set collection and/or the greatest number of buildings of a certain color. End game condition would be related to building depletion, to be determined with solo playtesting.

From Here

Once the parts arrive (some from eBay and some from LEGO), I’ll be designing some basic and advanced buildings and seeing how the basic engine works. Right now, it feels like the actions I choose for the buildings is going to be the critical factor in the game’s playability.

-John

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Design Update: Bread and Circuses Prototype H (New Print-And-Play Included)

It’s been a while since I blogged about Bread and Circuses, although I’ve been working on it quite a bit since then.

When I last wrote about the game, I had just finished Prototype D. This ended up being the last purely Print-and-Play Prototype, as the next prototype was printed and sent out as part of Grant Rodiek‘s Prototype PenPal Program. The external playtesters who’ve looked at this game (especially Chevee Dodd and Phil Kilcrease) have been really helpful in getting needed revisions into the game and preparing the current prototype.

Components from the current in-home Bread and Circuses prototype.

Components from the current in-home Bread and Circuses prototype.

The biggest change over the last few iterations to the game was to the Motivation cards. The entire Motivation mechanic in Prototype D (and in a couple subsequent prototypes) wasn’t very well balanced. Many of the cards gave too great an effect for too little cost. There was no way to get rid of a poor Motivation card. Someone with easy Motivation cards was able to get a number of Motivation cards completed quickly, making it extremely difficult for the other players to catch up. I started to address this by adding a “purchase” option for Motivation cards, which both reduced the ability of a player to rapidly accumulate Gold by meeting Motivations and allowed players to “buy out” of a Motivation they didn’t like. The cards themselves also got tweaked, with some unbalanced cards getting tweaked and others getting removed entirely. The revised Motivation cards were really popular with playtesters – to the extent that they wanted more cards in the deck. The deck of Motivation cards was increased to 20, and the general mechanic was left alone.

A second major change to the game was in the Negotiation rules. In very early playtesting, some less-than-social play made some restrictions on negotiation and bribery necessary. In particular, rules were created that required players to give *an* answer when asked about their selection and required players to play on promised bribes. The social negotiation part of the game proved to be very popular in external playtesting, and I’ve made some changes that opened up even more player options – with the original restrictions available as optional “regulated bribery” rules.

The third major change came about from an e-mail from a local friend who was doing some strategic analysis of the game. He pointed out that there was basically no reason to be honest when declaring what resource was being played – it only caused you to give up the only information advantage you had. I’m trying to resolve this with the addition of a Disclosure mechanic. Players have the option during Negotiation to openly declare what resource they’re playing by placing their selection tile (still face-down) on the Bread icon or Circus icon in front of them, and if they do in fact play that resource, they get extra Gold. This not only provides an incentive for players to play honestly, it also provided a game component that provided a visual reference that allows players to easily see which players are offering which resource – and which players are being deceptive.

Psst. The blue tile is lying.

Disclosure cards in use. The top card is declaring Bread; the bottom card is declaring Circuses.

Other changes were either cosmetic, addressing smaller elements of the game, or adjustments based on other changes. Currency changed from the chips from Prototype E to paper currency chits to decrease component costs. The rules were clarified in many places. The Gold-based end game condition changed from 4 times the number of players to 5 times (makes the game slightly longer and adjusts due to the addition of the Disclosure mechanic).

A lot of currency chits. Hopefully card money will be less expensive to produce.

A lot of currency chits. Hopefully card money will be less expensive to produce.

With luck, I’ll be able to generate another print prototype after this one for a final round of external playtesting before sending the game off to a publisher. If you’re in Southeast Michigan, I’ll be bringing my copy to the International TableTop Day at Stay and Play Games and Hobbies in Saint Clair Shores, Michigan, on March 30, 2013 (exact time to be determined). If you don’t want to wait that long, or don’t live in Southeast Michigan, you can download the rules, cards, and a playtest questionnaire. I hope you enjoy the game!

-John

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