Thursday, June 30, 2016

Deities & Demigods: It's been a while... I've made some tweaks but haven't tested them yet.

The last time I posted about Deities & Demigods I mentioned that Hades didn't make the cut... at least not for the base game. I intend to keep him round as an expansion module (maybe on of those so-called "in-spansions").

After that post I did excise Hades, and I've played a few games without him... and I'm happy to report that it works just fine. Great! Now the game is easier to teach and learn, and is still interesting to play.

I have created all the stuff needed to try out the Hades module, but I have yet to try it out. As I was updating my prototype I made some other changes that I've also yet to try out, but I think will be pretty good...

* Buildings and artifacts no longer have set collection scoring.
I kinda liked the idea of set collection scoring on buildings and artifacts, like the Exploration cards have in Goa for example. However, it may have been a little out of control (or not), and more importantly, it was annoying to have to count up so many things at the end of the game. The more interesting rewards were the ones that gave you gold, favor tokens, devotion bumps, or advances on the Zeus track. So I just replaced all the set collection icons with those, and added another: 2 Troop movement.

* Building costs vs incentive to spread out and build in different cities.
Originally, each player was allowed only 1 building per city, so if you wanted to build another building, you had to move to another city before you could do that. There was some bonus for being the first player to build in each city, to give you some incentive to race to build in the cities before anyone else did.

More recently I've tried instead allowing multiple builds in a single city, with the rule being that you pay 1 gold per building already in the city... so if you stay put and build, it'll cost you more and more. Then the incentive to spread out is cheaper building. That was OK, but I wasn't sure I liked it.

My new tweak is this... each city now has 6 spaces for buildings. 5 of them each have one of the standard icons, the ones you find on the building and artifact cards:
- Advance x2 on the Zeus track
- 2 Troop movement
- 1 Gold
- 1 Favor token
- 1 Devotion bump

The 6th space has a better version of one of those:
- 3 Zeus track
- 3 Troop movement
- 2 Gold
- 2 Favor token
- 2 Devotion bump

The idea is that the FIRST time you build a building in a city, you may choose any remaining space to build in and collect the bonus. Any further building you build in that city is placed on top of your first building marker, and earns you no additional bonus. I had intended to also keep the cost of 1 gold for each building already built, but maybe with this tweak that's unnecessary... instead of paying more, you're giving up opportunity cost of getting those bonuses.

There's incentive to spread out so you can collect more bonuses, and there's incentive to act fast as the first player to build in each city has first dibs on the better-than-usual space.

One of those icons will be marked, and when players choose their starting city they will get the marked bonus (which will be the weaker version of whichever powered up bonus is in that town).

* Virtual Zeus phase in cycle #1.
I was thinking that Zeus was kind of boring in the first cycle or two of the game, so in the last couple of games I have tried starting the game with a Zeus round before drawing any cards. This way Zeus would come up twice in cycle 1, but only once in cycle 2 (unless someone added a Zeus card). I've enjoyed this, but I don't know if it's necessary or not. Especially with the possibility of starting with extra Zeus track advances from your starting city this might not be important anymore.

* Simplifying the board to a simple hex board.
I've always enjoyed the movement rules where you move on the vertices of the hexes rather than from hex to hex. But since I made the Quests and Cities reside inside hexes, that line has blurred. Some players get a little confused by the movement rules. It's possible the troops should just move from hex to hex and NOT reside on the hex nodes after all.

This dramatically reduces the size of the board, but if I similarly reduce the amount of troop movement you get from Ares then everything should still work similarly... so instead if 3/7/11/15 troop movement, you'll only get 1/3/5/8, and instead of costing 2 troop movement to bring a troop from your supply into play, it'll only cost 1. This simplifies Ares a bit, and the lower numbers might make movement turns easier and faster to execute.

I hope to get a chance to try these changes, as well as perhaps adding the Hades module back in with experienced players!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Shameless promotion - a couple of non-TMG kickstarters (plus Yokohama Deluxe!)

I'm not big into promoting other people's kickstarters, and as such I don't ask people to promote the projects I'm involved in either.

But tonight I played a game that a couple of local guys have up for crowdfunding right now called Martial Art. The project is funded, so this isn't a plea to help them reach their goal. It's a pretty fun little game of double-think. A 54 card deck supports 2 players for $12, and apparently you can play with up to 4 if you have 2 copies. I didn't play with more than 2, and I suspect I'd prefer 2 players anyway. However I also suspect that with 2 decks you could play a variant where each player has their own deck, which could cut down on any luck of the draw (or perceived luck of the draw) if you like.

I usually don't love the "let's both play a card at the same time" type of games, but this one was kinda fun. If you like that sort of thing then maybe give this one a shot.

Speaking of kickstarter projects, another local guy who made 3D models of the genetic component pieces for the upcoming TMG game Chimera Station is running a project for some software to help design 3D models for things like D&D characters. The software is called Desktop Hero, and you can follow the link to see what that's all about. I don't know much about the project or the software, but Andrew was a really nice guy and did a great job on our Chimera Station pieces.

So if you are in the mood to do some shopping on Kickstarter (perhaps you're backing Yokohama Deluxe from TMG...), maybe give those projects a look and see if they interest you at all.

And for those interested in Yokohama Deluxe, I'm going to be involved in fixing up the graphic design for the English edition, which is something that's definitely needed - the game is great, but the graphics make it a lot less accessible than it could be. So if you trust me, then you can be sure the game will look awesome (and I've played a handful of times, the game really is a lot of fun!)

Monday, June 13, 2016

R.I.P. Hades?

For a while now there was some question as to whether Hades has been pulling his weight. It's been a bit of a struggle to keep him relevant. Initially I was OK with Hades being a sort of support deity, enabling players to pursue building, quests, and city control. However, as Matthew Dunstan pointed out, you could pursue scoring from each of the other deities, but not Hades:

Zeus: Collect deity cards for end game scoring.

Hermes: Collect gold to spend on favor when showing devotion to deities.

Ares: Score points for controlling cities (Matthew would like to see even more in the way of scoring for Ares)

Hephaestus: Score points for buildings (I am strongly considering ditching the set collection scoring and going with something simpler, but still worth points in some way)

Hades does not provide any path to victory, and as a result, there's often no reason to add him to the deck. As yet he's served only as a way to get more troops into play, and then recycle them after doing quests or building. For me that was working, but it's become more and more apparent that it's not ideal.

I've got a couple of friends who tend to think that in a game like this, with 5 deities, a player should just be able to pick one, concentrate on it, and be competitive with another player who picked a different deity. I've never subscribed to that personally - I believe it's fine for games to have early game actions and late game actions, and I don't think it's too much to ask of a player to consider the benefit of the choices they make, and whether they make sense at this point in the game. For example, buying a big building early in a game of Puerto Rico is not the best choice, though I'll concede that they did make those too expensive for players to build right away.

But in the case of Deities & Demigods it does make sense that there be reasons to add any of the deities to the deck, so I was interested in Matthews suggestion to add a scoring avenue to Hades. He suggested adding Trial spaces to the Underworld that you could spend Hades points to occupy with troops, gaining some kind of end game bonus at the cost of permanently losing those troops. That scoring could even be interactive, like majority scoring for devoting the most troops to the trials for example.

While that does sound interesting to me, I can't help but wonder if it's really necessary. Maybe it's just too much... the explanation of this game tends to take longer than it should (EmDo is similar), so anything to reduce that would be welcome. So if Hades isn't really necessary, then it maybe better to just excise him from the game altogether like I did Poseidon.

So next game I'll try that -- no Hades at all, and no Underworld per se. Your troops will either be on your player board or in play. 2 Ares points will bring a new troop into play, and of course 1 Ares point will move troops around the board as normal.


But to stay true to theme, rather than just leave Hades on the cutting room floor, I think he could become a sort of expansion module. It actually seems like adding Hades as a module would be fairly simple...

* Devotion track for each player
* Underworld board (with Trial spaces)
* Hades starting Olympus card and a stack of 6 Hades cards
* Hades monument, talisman, and shrine (maybe other artifact/building cards that deal with Hades)
* Potentially a couple more troops per player
* Rules indicating how Trial scoring and Hades points work

If playing Hades-less works out, then I'd like to give this expansion module a shot. If it works, then maybe I can find a way to add other deities (such as Poseidon) back in as modules too!

Side note on controlling cities:
I've been struggling with city control scoring, and how it's sort of all-or-nothing. I'm beginning to think that perhaps you should only count troops, not buildings, for control of cities. Furthermore, I think the scoring should be 1 per city you have troops in, and an additional 2 or 3 if you have the MOST troops in that city. That way you can pursue some scoring by running your troops around the board, and you can score better if you make sure to outdo your opponents. I've been thinking of adding a couple of troops per player for this reason as well, so you can reasonably fight for a couple of cities.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Deities & Demigods -- quick update

I just tweeted about Deities & Demigods with a link to this blog tag, so it seems prudent to post a quick update on the latest few plays of Deities & Demigods.

The Deities

In short, I deleted Hera, Poseidon, and boats altogether so there are only 5 deities now:

Zeus: 
No longer a turn order track per se... turn order is clockwise from a start player, and the leader on the Zeus track at the end of the cycle becomes the new start player and choose a deity to resolve and add to the deck.

There are now triggered benefits every couple of steps along the Zeus track (devotion bump, God card for scoring, a Favor token, and a minimum Devotion bump), and everyone resets at the end of each cycle.

Hermes:
No change here, Hermes continues to deliver gold which you use to show your devotion to the deities.

Ares:
With the removal of boats, Ares is the deity in charge of moving your units (just "troops" now) around the board. I upped the values at each level, and I've been liking the recent update tot he board: 4 board pieces at all player counts, and you move around the hex nodes, and into the hexes at cities and quest locations.

Hephaestus:
Buildings, artifacts, and monuments haven't changed (still using a separate deck for buildings and artifacts), but the level 1 reward has changed. Instead of 1 favor token (1vp), you now get 1 gold per building you have in play (minimum 1). Having removed Hera, it's nice to have some additional income opportunities, and I like the idea of building just a couple of buildings in the early game and then ignoring Hephaestus and just taking 3 gold whenever he comes up (juxtaposed with concentrating on Hephaestus and scoring off a lot of buildings and artifacts).

Hades:
I like the existence of Hades, who brings troops back from the underworld. After removing combat from the game it was questionable whether this would be relevant though. I think I've found a way to keep Hades relevant...

Currently you start with just 2 troops in play, 4 more in your personal supply, and 4 more in the Underworld. Hades moves troops from the Underworld to your personal supply, or from your supply to play. So you can use Hades from the outset to get more troops into play. Whenever you build a building, one of your troops goes back to your supply, so Hades will help you get them back into play. When completing a quest, one of your troops goes to the UNDERWORLD, so you can either consider them lost forever, or you can show some devotion to Hades to get them back into circulation. Considering that you only have a total of 10 troops to work with, this could be a big deal.


The Demigods

Since I've changed the game so dramatically, my sample player powers kind of fell apart. I tweaked a fe of them, but rather than worry about that too much I made some standard player boards (same for all players). In the end I'd like to have A-side and B-side player boards like you see in Kings of Air and Steam for example, with more interesting, unique B-sides

Herekles:
Obviously Herekles should have some benefit when doing quests, or some small incentive to pursue a Quest strategy. I've been using "whenever you complete a quest, increase devotion to any deity by 1" which seems like a good reward. I might offer a few extra points for having done quests, but that might be too heavy handed.

Perseus:
Perseus had the ability to put units directly into play during Hades, but now that's the standard so I need to figure out something better for him. Perhaps allowing Hades to add troops to play wherever you have a troop (as opposed to wherever you have a building) for example. I'm not sure that would be good enough, but it might be interesting. I could also give a small benefit such as a gold whenever you take control of a city, or whenever another player takes control of a city away from you, to make city control more of a thing during play.

Nike:
Nike used to have a benefit on the turn order track. After the changes I think his ability has to change to something like "when resolving Zeus, move 1 extra space on the Zeus track". I'm not sure if that's good or bad though. In any case, I'd like Nike's ability to have something to do with the Zeus track.

Jason: 
As captain of the Argos, Jason's original ability had to do with Poseidon and boat movement. Of course after removing that whole section of the game, this ability will have to change! Currently the board is just an array of spaces, I have been ignoring any kind of terrain (such as water). However in the end I would like the board to have some more texture, and I would like to see water being a thing. Probably I will just say something like "water costs extra to move over", and then Jason's ability will counteract or lessen that movement penalty. Until that's added though, I think there just isn't an ability for this player board.

I'm open to suggestions as to other demigods to use, and types of abilities they might have!

The next thing I will try is to expand the starting Olympus deck to 2 of each deity, rather than just 1.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

London, Paris, Deities, Demigods, Stained Glass, and Rock & Roll

LONDON

I just returned from a 12 day trip to Europe. An old online friend, Sebastian Bleasdale, got married in London, and he was kind enough to send me an invite. I suspect he didn't think I would come, but I called his bluff! I had a really good time at his wedding, and though I didn't get too much time to catch up with the busy groom, I was able to get some quality time in with a number of UK designers that I rarely see such as Matthew Dunstan, Tony Boydell, Brett Gilbert, Ian Vincent, and even caught a glimpse of big names such as Reiner Knizia and Richard Breese!

A gathering with so many designers would be nothing without a little playtesting and prototypes. I was able to play upcoming TMG title Pioneer Days (something like an Oregon Trail themed board game) with one of the designers (Matthew Dunstan), as well as test a drafting game by Tony Boydell, play an excellent mancala-rondel game by Sebastian and Ian based on my Crusaders rondel mechanism, see an interesting deck building (ish) game by Matthew, and even get my latest Deities & Demigods to the table.

DEITIES & DEMIGODS

I had some good discussion about Deities & Demigods with Matthew, who has expressed interest in co-designing that one with me, and I decided on some BIG changes -- some of which have been hanging around waiting to be tried, and some new ideas that came u in those conversations. The big changes include cutting out Hera, Poseidon, and boats altogether, and attaching the the manipulation of the Olympus deck to the initiative track itself. The original initiative track was intended to be for turn order, and there was supposed to be incentive to care about turn order. We decided that it may be easier to just have clockwise turn order from a start player, and we could reassign start player at the end of each cycle based on the initiative track. The new version has a few rewards that you get as you advance up the initiative track, and then the markers reset for the next cycle. Without Poseidon, there are simply troops that navigate the board. When we get the game working better we can add texture by saying things like "moving over water costs extra" or something. These changes worked out pretty well, as you'll see if you read on...

PARIS

After the wedding, I headed to Paris where I saw a number of touristy things including Notre Dame, the exterior of the Louvre, Ferris Wheel, Arc de Triumph, Eiffel Tower, and even Euro Disney. I enjoyed each (well, the Eiffel Tower was disappointing), even Disneyland was more fun than I expected. But I enjoyed Notre Dame most of all. In fact, looking at the stained glass windows, I came up with a new game idea... and in the following days I have pieced together a new game design, ready to be prototyped and tested! The game is a simple set collection game about building attractive stained glass windows. Watch for a future blog post about that one.

ETOURVY

When I found out that Bruno Faidutti was having a gathering during the time I'd be in France, I was excited at the prospect of attending. Bruno was kind enough to invite me, so I took a quick trip by train and got to see people like Ignacy Trzewiczek, Bruno Faidutti, Bruno Cathala, as well as other French gamers and industry folk. At the event I got a chance to play Crusaders with some folks, as well as Deities & Demigods with all the new changes. The players were great sports as I stumbled through the playtest with brand new rules, and they said they enjoyed the game a lot. The changes worked out alright, but were a little wonky, so when I got home I made a few adjustments, and managed to get two 2-player tests in on Tuesday which went very well.

ROCK & ROLL

In Etourvy I also played a pirate themed press-your-luck dice game which someone thought TMG might be interested in, and then I pulled out my press-your-luck dice game, Rock & Roll. The latest version of Rock & Roll (with changes based on Game Design Attack #4) has players rolling dice to play songs and satisfy the crowd. I had been allowing players to lock in more than 1 die at a time where possible, but there was something unsatisfying about that... after this test comments implied that a better format might be to allow players to lock in only 1 die at a time. So every time you roll the dice, you first lock all Gaffes, then you must be able to lock the next die in the song or else you bust. Even if you have more matching dice, you can only lock 1 into the song, then you must either stop and score, or roll again.

This new format makes a lot more sense, and if the songs are designed such that they start fairly flexibly then they'll naturally get harder and harder as dice get locked. Players may press their lock going for more crowd tokens, completion bonuses, and making it harder for opponents to "outperform" the song. Or they can play it safe and stop early, risking that another player outperform their song and take the card away from them.

I suspect this is the correct format for the game. All that remains now is to tweak the cards to fit the new format, redesign the songs, and see if it's really any fun :)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

What a difference a month makes... Deities & Demigods playtest, new version

A whole month ago at Game Design Attack #4 I had a test play of Deities & Demigods. I posted some notes after that play and updated my prototype, but never got the game back to the table... until tonight.

I've been very busy with Chimera Station, which will be on Kickstarter later this year, so I haven't been playing much in the way of other prototypes, but tonight I finally got back to D&D. For starters, I can officially say that lesson #1 is this: Don't let a month go by between playtests!

I rushed home from work to get my table cleaned up and get the game set up. I remember basically how the game is played, and I had a vague idea of the changes I'd made... but as it's been a whole month since I've even thought about the game, when my players showed up I found myself floundering and reading through my marked up rules to see what we were going to be doing. It might have been even worse because these players had played an older version of this game, so they sort of remembered how to play -- but half of what they remembered is out of date!

So the start was a little shaky, and I felt dumb not to be more prepared... but once we got going things worked alright... for the most part. I did have to audible a card that I'd forgotten to update, and a rule or two that didn't jive with the new changes. But at the very least we were able to successfully finish the game.

In my last post I outlined changes I'd made to the prototype, I'll go through those here and comment on how they went in play:

* Use only 4 boards (at all player counts).
I did use 4 boards, and it worked pretty well. I had a note that maybe 3 boards would be enough for a 2p game, but I guess I'll burn that bridge when I come to it.

* Put 2 cities and 1 quest on each city board (2 quests and 1 city on the back).
 This worked pretty well in conjunction with the previous point. This makes for 4-8 each of cities and quests. I made a note that as a rule during setup, make sure there are at least 5 of each... I think 4 would be too few.

* Rather than interacting with cities and quests from adjacent nodes, have players travel into cities or onto quest locations.
This was a little shaky because the board wasn't really designed with this in mind, but I think it worked. The players had some trouble with it, but I suspect most of their concerns could be alleviated with better graphics/presentation/explanation.

I think I'd intended for only troops to enter cities and only boats to enter the seabound quest locations, but in  practice that seemed weird (and our board setup had an isolated lake with a quest that no boat could get to), so I ruled that troops could get to the quests even in water hexes. And I'd drawn little rivers into the cities from the hex sides that were adjacent to water, so I rules that boats could enter cities, but only from where waterways were shown. After the game I drew similar land areas leading to the Quests on water hexes, but I wonder f that's going to screw things up.

* At the suggestion that a victory point for level 1 Hephaestus might be too much, I might try changing that to 1 gold (or, 1 gold per city controlled to help incentivize controlling cities in the early and mid game).
I tried "1 gold per city controlled", and maybe that happened once. I definitely would prefer "per city where you have a building" (or similar "per building you have built")... but I'm not really sure that's better than 1 VP. The designer that made the suggestion was very adamant that it need to change. He was comparing it to the level 1 abilities of the other deities, none of which score you points. But I'm not sure that's a fair comparison... I think the proper comparison would be Level 1 Hephaestus compared with higher level Hephaestus. But I will continue to try the "gold per city" thing, including the Home City which I will be instituting for the next game.
 
* I'm contemplating changing Hera's income to "1 gold + 1 gold per city controlled" to help incentivize controlling cities in the early and mid game.
I didn't try this, but did try it for Hephaestus level 1 (see above). I didn't like tying it to "control" of a city, might be better "per building".

I still might try upping the Hera income to "1 gold per building" as well (or instead), but that doesn't make much thematic sense, and I'm not sure if it should be both here and on Hephaestus level 1.

* I've had combat in the game from the outset because I figured it went with the theme, and I'd hoped it wouldn't be much different than area majority such as El Grande. However, I'm not a player who really likes direct confrontation in games, and I think this is not the type of game that would really go along with that kind of interaction. So I will try removing combat altogether, or at least make it expensive and rare like I did in Escalation.
I dropped the combat altogether and to be honest, nobody missed it. It had never really come up before anyway (maybe because the board was too big before).

Instead the rule is that you may pass through but not end movement on a node containing opposing units. Any number of units can co-exist in a city, and in fact control of a city is based on number of units there.

I had to change a couple of cards that dealt with combat. I changed them so they had to do with gaining or losing control of a city.

* I'm considering removing the deck of building cards, and instead allowing building tokens to count toward control of a city... it would be easy and intuitive to count control that way, just count up all of your wooden pieces in the hex. I'm not sure if I like that idea or not though, and I suppose if I didn't want buildings to count toward control, they could be punchboard tokens rather than wooden discs in the final game. It would reduce components and clutter to just cut the building deck though.
I liked the idea of cutting the building deck, but I'd want to reconfigure the bonus icons... to approximate this I just said A=D, B=E, and C=F... that part was fine, but changing the buildings like this was a big mistake.

You lose a unit to build (which I like, as it keeps Hades relevant), so making the building count toward control doesn't actually gain you anything. So without getting a building card, there's really not much incentive to build buildings over artifacts! In fact, I'm wondering if there ever really was such incentive... I think the Building Cards might be a little more powerful than the artifacts in some cases, but only in some cases, and only maybe (there ARE a number of building cards with end game bonus scoring opportunities).

If I'm going to remove the building cards, then buildings would have to be a whole lot better than they are now. But I think I want the building cards back. In addition to bringing them back, I might try counting the buildings as 2 units toward control, so they help you control a city AND they give you a powr and potentially set collection scoring. That will make them better than Artifacts for sure.

To parallel quests, maybe there should be a reward for the first player to build in a city... but what? I don't think a devotion or minimum devotion bump would make any sense. Maybe some gold? Maybe you get to place a 2nd building marker (counts as extra influence toward controlling the city)? Maybe you place the building token upside down, indicating that it's worth 3 influence instead of 2?

* If I cut the building deck, I'd have to adjust the scoring icons... instead of 4 each of 6 icons, I'd probably do 3 each of 4 icons. I could also consolidate the 12 best card effects I currently have between artifacts and buildings.
I didn't do this (see above). I would do it if I do end up ditching the building deck, but currently I think I'd like to keep it.

I suppose I could combine them into 1 deck, where a building gets you both the building marker and a card, and the artifact only gets you a card, but that might be tougher to swallow thematically.

* I keep going back and forth on the turn order track and what happens if you gain initiative and land on another player's marker. Currently you always go on the bottom of the stack, no matter which direction you were moving your counter. I might change that to top of stack if advancing and bottom of stack when losing initiative and see how that goes. I think I was trying to be consistent, and I liked always going to the bottom of the stack vs always going to the top, but maybe that consistency isn't necessary.
I did try it with top-of-stack if advancing and bottom-of-stack if descending, and I think I did like it better that way.

* I don't know if this will be necessary, but if I decide I need a fail-safe way to hard cap the game at 6 cycles, I could try this... take all the Hera cards out of the deck, and instead have a supply of 6 Hera cards. At the end of each cycle, add a Hera to the deck. When that stack of 6 runs out, that's the last cycle (6 total). The game end may trigger before that, but it would keep the max length to 6 cycles. This would make Hera come up less often in the first 2 cycles, and more often in cycles 4-6, which might actually be good to facilitate more opportunities to earn the favor of the god cards.
This is still a viable idea, but I don't know if I like it. I might try it some time. I'll note that I only really need 5 Hera cards for that, not 6... add 1 at the end of each cycle, and when there isn't one to add (after the 6th cycle), the game is over.

* With a smaller board it's possible that 4 cycles would no longer be too few, so I could even change the above idea to 5 Hera cards instead of 6 (for a maximum of 5 cycles).
Not sure about this (see above), but as I mentioned, this would only require 4 Hera cards, not 5.

Now that I have the game more fresh in my mind, and I've given those things a try, I am well armed to take the game with me to London tomorrow (er, today... in about 12 hours) and hopefully play it with some people while I'm there.

Monday, April 25, 2016

2, 3, 4, 5... That's the way we subitize!

 I learned a word a few years ago from a friend of mine -- a word that I don't use nearly enough. Not that it's a common word that would come up in conversation very often, it's actually a fairly obscure word that a lot of people probably haven't heard. But there's at least 1 context in which I think I will start to use it more often.

 And the word is (drum roll please)...


 The context in which I intend to use the word subitize more is iconography. I'm currently working on a game for TMG called Chimera Station, by League of Gamemakers member Mark Major. In Chimera Station, you employ a team of alien workers to build a space station, and in order to make your workers better at various jobs you splice brains, claws, leaves, and tentacles onto them. As you build the station you'll be adding numerous modules to the board, each one representing a new worker placement space:



 I've been working with graphic designer Daniel Solis, trying to express a lot of information onto these small tiles, with a little room for background art where possible. If you've played a game that has tiles like these then you probably know what I mean... there's a lot to convey, and a few different ways to try it:
  • Some games try to go language independent, replacing all English text with icons. This can lead to an overwhelming amount of hieroglyphics if the effects to be iconized are too complicated or varied.
  • Some games forego icons altogether and just use English text to convey all the information. The problem here is that text takes up a lot of space, especially if it's specific and thorough. Trying to abbreviate text to take up less space can be harder to read than the over-iconizing mentioned above!
  • Some games use a combination of text and in-line icons, which is what we decided to do for Chimera Station. On the down side it's not language independent... but on the up side, it offers the best chance at fitting the necessary info best and most clearly.

 It's that third option I'd like to talk about today. The first pass of the modules with in-line icons (see left images below) did manage to reduce the text, making the tiles more readable. However, the text is small, the space is compact, and most players will not even be reading it face up... so I asked Daniel to show multiple icons rather than a number followed by an icon ([coin][coin] rather than 2[coin]):

The parenthetical clarification was removed from the tile - it will be included in the rulebook. The right image shows a sample background, not the right one for this module.


 The new format looked great on tiles that only had 2 or three icons on them, but it introduced a different problem on modules with more icons on them. For example, Cryogenics allows you to trade a genetic component in for 6 coins...

Six coin icons is probably easier to read upside down from across the table. The cost (top) and VP value (bottom) on this tile got adjusted, but that's not relevant to this discussion.

 While I do think the version with 6 icons looks better than the original version, it's difficult to tell at a glance exactly how many coins you get. Which brings me to the whole point of this article... subitizing.

 The definition above indicates that humans are limited to being able to subitize about 7 items, but a more common or practical limit is more like 4 or 5 items. If you see fewer than 5 items, you can immediately know how many items there are without having to count them one by one. That's called Perceptional Subitizing.

 It could be that the 6 coin icons are too many for players to comfortably subitize, but I wasn't happy with the idea of going back to the original text version either. So I tried a simple tweak: I added a gap in the middle of the row of coin icons, separating the 6 items into two sets of 3 icons.

 Three items are easy enough for anyone to subitize, so breaking the coin icons up in to two sets will allow players to fairly easily combine 3+3 and identify 6 icons. This is called Conceptual Subitizing:

It's much easier to identify "6 coins" in the right image than the left one, isn't it? The tile also looks a lot better with the correct background :)

 There are only a couple of tiles in Chimera Station that have more than 5 icons on them, and for those I'm hopeful this format will work out.

 So, what do you think?

Were you familiar with "subitization", the concept if not the term?

In general, can we can count on people's ability to subitize in order to help create useful iconography in these games we play?

How have you used this concept in your games, even if you didn't know what it was called?