Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Recent Gaming: Keltis

At KublaCon in May Aldie had Keltis with him but he hadn't printed out the English rules. When he went to bed he left the game with me in case I was able to find out the rules... to no avail. So I had the game, but no rules.

Sunday Andrew and I figured out how to cheat the boarding pass printing station into letting us open a browser window, and I was able to print out the game rules... so now I had the rules, but no game!

I did not end up playing Keltis at the convention, and now it's gone and won the Spiel des Jars, so of course I thought I ought to give it a try. I was finally able to do so last weekend, as Wystan and Liz brought a copy back with them from their trip to Europe.

Keltis sounded OK, like multiplayer Lost Cities but with a little more going on than the card game. Generally speaking I like the idea of building a bigger game out of a smaller game which is basically just a mechanism by itself. I had my issues with the execution of Zooloretto, but in general I liked the idea of building a zoo using the Coloretto mechanic. I had had a similar inkling based on something Jim Cote had said, about making a bigger game out of the mechanism that is eXXtra, and I also was working on a game built on the basic mechanism of Liar's Dice with Boyan before he moved to Atlanta. So I think the idea of building a multiplayer game out of the Lost Cities card game is cool, and was anxious to see how it turned out. I like Lost Cities, but in general don't play a lot of 2 player games.

On Sunday I played 4 games of Keltis, and I must say, I'm disappointed. I will note that the rules we played by turned out to be incorrect (I found out by talking to Sebastian, who works with Knizia on a lot of stuff), but even with the correct rules I think the game is simply based too much on having to draw amenable cards.

In case you're not familiar with the game, there are 5 paths, each corresponding to one of the 5 different suits of cards in the deck. players have a hand of 8 cards, and on your turn you either play or discard one, then draw a new one. When you play a card, it goes into a 'stack' for that suit in front of you - there can be only 1 stack for each suit in front of you. When starting a stack, any card can be used, and there are 2 of each card labeled 0-10 in each suit. When adding the second card to a stack, the card added can be either higher or lower (or equal) in value to the previous card, but all subsequent cards must continue this ascending/descending trend. In other words, for each suit, once you start a stack, you must play cards in either ascending or descending order. When you add a card to a stack, you move one of your markers 1 space along the path on the board that corresponds to that suit. Along the paths there are tiles which offer small bonuses in points, extra advances, or stones. Each step along the path is worth some number of points as well - the first few steps are actually negative points, while later steps are worth more points.

Instead of playing a card and adding it to a stack in front of you, you can discard it - there is a separate discard pile for each suit. Then you draw a card, either one from the deck, or the top discard from any of the discard piles. The game ends when either the draw pile runs out, or when 5 markers advance past a certain distance on the paths.

Like Lost Cities, the idea is that you don't want to begin down a path without enough cards to get past the negative spaces, and preferably you want to advance to the further, higher scoring spaces. If you start down all 5 paths, you may not get very far in any of them, and your score will suffer. If you only start down 2 paths, you might run out of cards for them and be equally screwed. In theory the game sounds fine, but in practice it simply didn't work out.

In Lost Cities the discard mechanism is interesting, because as a 2 player game, there is a zero sum. If you don't use a card, it's possible your opponent can, therefore you want to discard only when it's "safe" (the opponent can no longer legally play the card, or it appears they wouldn't want to play it anyway) to do so. In Keltis, because (a) there are more players, and (b) you can play cards in either ascending or descending order, it is never safe to discard. Almost never anyway. Also, in Lost Cities it's good to discard because you can't afford to start new expeditions willy nilly - there's a severe penalty for not reaching a 20 point threshold. Sometimes you start a 'junk' expedition instead of discarding, when you are reasonably sure you'll hit the threshold before the game ends, but there's a risk involved there. In Keltis, the penalty for starting down a path and not getting very far is not very severe. It only takes 3 or 4 cards (and it doesn't even matter what they are) to get out of the negative point spaces, which means that instead of discarding 4 cards you could play them, and maybe come out a little ahead. Considering that any card you discard is very likely useful for at least 1 opponent, there's really very little incentive to discard instead of simply playing a card (even if it's to a 'junk' stack).

So the multiplayer game, and the distribution of points on the board (low barrier to entry on each path), effectively break the interesting mechanism of Lost Cities. The 2-player game uses that mechanism to get some back and forth play between the players - discarding and building up hands with which to go on expeditions. Holding cards you know an opponent needs, collecting a color until you feel it's safe to begin an expedition. In the multiplayer Keltis, without any discarding going on (as discussed above) there's no building up of a color in hand, you simply have to play the cards you're dealt, and the cards you draw - and there's no telling what those might be. In addition, there are rewards for getting out on the paths in the form of bonus points and stones. Admittedly this is where an incorrect rule might have made the game even worse for us - we were playing such that only the first person to get to a tile was able to use it, and then it came off the board. Incidentally, we also played witht he tiles face down, which Wystan and Liz enjoyed because it added a sort of Press Your Luck aspect to it... but in any case, there was urgency to get down the tracks first, exacerbating the "better to play cards than discard" issue. We did play one game with face up tiles (at my request), and I enjoyed that part of it better (though Wystan and Liz preferred face down). But there's still the main issue that you're simply either dealt cards in the same suit, or you're not.

So in the end, the game seems to be pretty much all luck. If you draw cards that are in the same suit, then congrats, you win. If you don't, then there's nothing you can do about it. the best thing I can say about the game is that it only takes about 15 minutes, so no matter what happens, it'll be over fast. I was unaware going in that Keltis, winner of the Spiel des Jars (Family Game of the Year), was intended to be a 'quick filler' game. Perhaps I expected more from an SdJ winner, or perhaps I expected something at least as interesting as Lost Cities. But I was let down by Keltis in these respects.

As a side note, I find it a little worrisome that the Spiel des Jars winning games are leaning more and more toward light, quick, filler type games. If the Family Game of the Year is like watching television (Sit at the table, draw some cards, and see what happens next), what does that say about families and gamers?

As an exercise, here's what I'd do to try and improve the Keltis game experience:
- Bigger penalty for beginning a track and not getting very far.
- Single discard pile, not 1 pile for each suit.
- I actually liked our incorrect rule that the tiles (for scoring and extra movement) are only for the first player to get there.
- Maybe a face up draw pool to draw cards from. Alternatively, maybe when playing a card you draw from the deck, and when discarding you draw from a face up draw pool or something like that.
- Maybe certain spaces let you draw and discard.
- Maybe force players to play a card AND discard a card (or discard 2) and then draw 2 (one must be from the deck).

Just some thoughts off the top of my head to give players some sort of say in what happens in the game.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Homesteaders status: "Recommended"

I'd mentioned that Homesteaders was under review by Rio Grande Games. I recently received word that Jay's freelance developers (Dale Yu and Valerie Putman) had finished testing the game and returned it to him. An email from them said...

"Jay asked us to look at several titles this summer that he was considering for publication and we did get to play (and recommend) Homesteaders. We enjoyed the game and would be happy to share our feedback with you."

I'm trying really hard not to get too excited about this, because it's still up to Jay to decide if Homesteaders is worth producing... it may prove too expensive, or he might decide it's too similar to other games he's published already, or who knows what. However this recommendation from his developers is certainly a step in the right direction, and I'm having trouble not feeling at least a little giddy!

Stay tuned, I hope to have good feedback from Dale and Val to digest, and I'm sure I'll post about it here.

Prolix - by Gil Hova

I received a package this morning from Gil Hova. It can only be a copy of his word game Prolix! I really enjoyed this game when I played it, and I'm anxious to play again and see what changes he's made... and then probably try to talk him out of them ;)

So who wants to play a quick word game this week?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Noblemen - 2nd (and 3rd) playtest

After chatting with the designer about the comments I made, I gave Noblemen another try with some rules changes. Here's what I did differently, and how I think it went...

Aquire Land action: One thing Dwight had said he didn't like, and something I too didn't like, was that once 1 player played an Acquire Land action, each other player had to do so as well, or get no land. Therefore there was no "opportunity cost" associated with that action, you would have all the same options as before taking it - the other players would not have taken any actions. Furthermore, it's obviously better to be first than later in the turn order to Acquire Land, so the obvious first play every game is to take that action. It's not necessarily bad to have an obvious first play - a "Settler-Quarry" as I like to call it - but in this case it didn't feel right. Most of the game was all about different races and the opportunity cost of taking an action (meaning you will miss out on other good actions).

To fix this, one thought was to make it one of the "all play" actions - when anyone chooses the action, everyone gets to take land in turn. This means that the player to take the action gets the benefit of choosing first, but all the other players get to take land as well without having to spend their action on it. Dwight had mentioned that spending an action was supposed to be a big cost, so a player might be less inclined to take this action automatically. However, another thing we had talked about was getting rid of all of the "all play" actions. Dwight didn't like the similarity to Puerto Rico, and I agreed with him that it would probably be better to structure the game so that it's not like a Role Selection game where everyone participates in each action, further emphasizing the opportunity costs.

I had made a couple of suggestions as to alternate ways to handle the distribution of land. The main thing I thought would be cool is if when you get land, you only get land of 1 type. This would start you down a strategic path, and differentiate you from other players (because they'd take a different type of land). One method was to set up exactly 2 of each land type on the board, and when taking the Acquire Land action, you take all tiles of 1 type, then "juice" all the stacks by adding a tile to each. So I might take a stack of 2 Woods, then the next player might take a stack of 3 Farms, leaving stacks of 4 Clearings, 4 Ponds, 2 Woods, or 1 Farm for the next player that takes the action. Another option was to draw say 15 random tiles from the bag, and sort them by type, and when taking the action you get all tiles of one type OR 3 at random from the bag. I had assumed there would basically be between 1 and 4 tiles in any given stack. We used this rule to try it out, and unfortunately the distribution was way off - stacks came out with distributions like 6-5-2-1, which isn't so good. I didn't like that method.

In a later playtest I tried the "juicing" method, and that worked really, really well.

I liked the way the original Place Land action let you only place 3 tiles, and it takes 4 to make a 2x2 "feature". In our first game I thought money was unnecessarily tight, and I had the idea that maybe when playing land you should get a reward right away. So we tried awarding $1 for each Farm played, and 1 tile draw for each Woods played. This worked well, and in later games worked very well with the "juicing" Acquire action rule. Of course you still get $2, draw 2 tiles, or take the Crown when completing a Plantation, Forest, or Garden.

The Donate Land action was originally an "all play" action, and I didn't like the way it worked at all. A player not at all concentrating on Land could keep pace with a player who was heavily invested in a Land strategy, and that seemed really bad. In line with removing the All Play actions, I tried this action being simply "donate land and get 1vp per land donated" - but I thought it needed to be limited, so I specified "donate land of one type and get 1vp for each." I also removed the limit of 2x/round. This was ok, but it really meant you wouldn't want to Donate until the end of the game, you'd just build up all the land you could, and at the end use a Donate action (or 2) to turn them all into points. I think there needs to be some kind of pressure to do the action, and maybe a reason you might do it in the first scoring rounds. In later tests I added back in the 2x/round rule, and put a limit on the number of land you could donate - we removed the "of one type" restriction, but limited the number you could donate to the level of your prestige. That sounded interesting to me because if you spend time and effort increasing your Prestige, then you'll probably not have as much land to donate, and if you build up a lot of land, you probably will have lower Prestige - limiting your donation potential...

The Bribe action was similarly modified - we played that you could take a Bribe action whenever you wanted and exchange $1 for 1vp. That rate seemed fine to me, but I made the mistake of forgetting to put a limit on how much you could donate. Therefore it was a very good deal to tax a lot whenever possible and at the very end donate for 30 points or something. In later games we tried it with the same limit as Donating land - no more than your current Prestige, and that was much better. Also, I think it was better with the limited number of total Bribe actions available (2 per round, like Donate) which we reverted to in our last playtest.

As for buildings, the Church remained unchanged... cost escalated with each one built, and building the last one ended the round. I had forgotten that when drawing a Scandal card you're supposed to be able to look at the top few and choose one, but in retrospect that seemed unnecessary, and we liked it fine with simply drawing 1 card. Castles cost the same as well, but we attached a Men-At-Arms action to them. Instead of being able to choose a M@A action on your turn, you simply get one whenever you build a Castle. I liked that change very much. I didn't try any changes with the Follies at all. The comment that Follies are a really bad deal was exacerbated by the change I tried with the Bribe action (see above). I did notice that in the end game, when Castles are only worth 3-5 because there's only 1 scoring phase left, the Follies are a better deal - but not by much. You don't have to surround them, and they're worth 8/7/6/5 for $10 in 1 action, Castles are worth 3-5 per action, and must be surrounded. In the latest game we tried Follies being worth 12 points, and that seemed like a much better idea. The decreasing value was cute, but in the end I don't think it's all that necessary. I like the prerequisites for buying them as they are.

The Tax action has remained unchanged throughout the games we've played, however I did try it without the 2x/round (total) limit. I realized that removing all those limits was bad and in the last game I put them back in. It is worth noting thought that we tried a variant to the original rules: as you play land you get money. This is like an additional Tax action, and I liked how it worked. It got a little more money into the game.

For the first couple of games we played the Masquerade Ball as it was originally written in the rules. In the last test however we tried something different which I like a whole lot better. Instead of the Ball being an action, why not have it be triggered... once in the middle of the round, and again at the end of the round. I had discussed this with Dwight in the chatroom, and he seemed to like the idea. To me it makes a lot more sense thematically, as well as mechanically.

In the second to last game we used a set number of rounds, 7, with a Ball after round 4 and after round 7. It felt really cool having a hard limit to the number of actions you get! It means you can't just play land all day long, or else you'll run out of time to do real stuff. It's this aspect that makes me question the free stuff for playing land idea - but that feels so nice. I'm not sure which would be better.

In the last game I took that a step farther. I thought it would be neat to have a somewhat indeterminate round end - so you know you'll get about 8-10 turns for example, but you never know for sure. I also liked how the players had a little bit of say in when the round ends. What I did was to say that there are a certain number of rounds (I guessed 10, with a Ball in the middle and at the end), and at the end of your turn, if you have the Crown marker, then you get your 1vp and then you advance the round marker. I put that at the end of the turn instead of the beginning because that way when the Crown changes hands it effectively pushes the round marker forward. If at the beginning, then taking the Crown would prolong the round, and I thought it would be cooler the other way. *I* liked it, but my friend felt cheated when he thought he had another round and then the Crown changed hands and he missed out on his last turn. He preferred a definite number of turns which you could plan for. I'm still leaning for the indeterminate rounds.

The only other thing I tried out in the last game after Tyler's suggestion was that the Noble Titles which you win at the Masquerade Ball could have been more interesting. I added an ability to each, a simple one - a $1 discount on all buildings for the Viscount, $2 discount for the Earl, $3 discount for the Marques, and a $3 discount plus 1VP when building for the Duke. The purpose is to make the Titles more interesting, and especially to give you more incentive to go for them in the mid-round Ball, since they won't be scoring right then. I liked this a lot. The abilities could stand to be more interesting, but this seemed fine - possibly too good. Maybe better discounts would be $0/$1/$2/$2+1vp for Viscount/Earl/Marques/Duke. Either that or maybe buildings should cost more, which might be good with the freebie cash when playing Farms anyway.

Oh, a final note - since I like the Crown used as a Turn Marker (when to advance the turn), I suggest you not be able to discard it for Prestige at the Ball. Someone has to have the Crown at all times. Instead I think it should be worth 1 Prestige.

So that's it - I will be sending the prototype back to Xaq tomorrow, so I don't know if I'll ever play the game again - but I hope to hear if he plays it with any of these suggestions and how it goes. I had fun playing the game!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Noblemen - comments after 1st playtest

These are the comments I sent Xaq after playing Noblemen for the first time:

To me the game felt like multiple games of chicken, which I think may be the point. I liked that. It's definitely a game where you have to play once just to see what's good to do. At the beginning we had no idea if we wanted to, say, remove a scoring counter or not, so we didn't. As a result, the first round was kinda long, and then people bought all the churches. By the end we had a better idea of what we were doing, so we started taking scoring chips off.

Eric had a very big problem with the initial jacking of goods when you place a Man-At-Arms on an empty 2x2 thing. He said he liked the mechanic (stealing per action) just fine, but he hated that you could get jacked as soon as you complete your 2x2 arrangement. He said he "had no incentive whatsoever to place a 4th tile to complete a 2x2", because the bonus he gets will immediately get jacked. Let me say that I completely disagree with him that that's any kind of indication of brokenness. As I told him during the game... "then don't complete a 2x2." That said, I might agree with his assertion that the game might be able to do without the Men-At-Arms altogether. I think they're fine, personally - but one thing I'd watch for is this: Eric might have a point - if finishing a 2x2 and then having an opponent put a M@A on it means I just get 1 more thing (money/land tile/prestige) than not doing it, then what's the point? I'm just giving away the bonus. In fact, I could put that 4th tile somewhere else, and get the same benefit without giving up a bonus to another player. Compare this to something like the M@A player and the owner of the 2x2 sharing the bonus or both getting it... I don't know. Then again, maybe you just need to M@A your own things so that you get your bonuses... or finish more than 1 2x2 at a time so they can't ALL be M@A'd or something.

I was concerned about how quickly a round could end. Especially in a 3p game, if all three players buy a church, the round is over. Not that it would necessarily help much to end the round, but buying a church will score points, and there are a limited number of them, and that yields a Scandal card... so it might happen anyway - even if everyone scores 0 for that round (if, say, it's the first round). In our game, Eric was ahead after the 2nd scoring, so he tried to rush the game end in the 3rd round - removing a counter each turn. We of course did not follow suite, so it took a while to end the game - which I guess is good, but then he did get the 3vp bonus for using the End Round action. He won by a lot anyway.

There were some plays that seemed automatic - the Acquire Land action - it even says in the rules that you should totally do this as soon as anyone else does so that you get your share of the land. By extension, if you care which tiles you get you should do it first. But either way, as soon as 1 player does it, that is the other players' next move, so it felt like one of the actions where everyone participates, like Donate Land. Maybe it should be like that? Or maybe that action could be stricken from the action list, and at the beginning of each round each player could get an "Income" phase which includes an Acquire Land action. Also, it's awkward that the Acquire Land action can be taken more than 3 times, and just gets super weak, while other actions simply cannot be taken.

Speaking of Income, it sure would have been nice to get just a little income every round... but I guess that's what Taxation is for!

I think the Bribe action is too expensive - I don't know if the $3->1vp conversion was based on a mathematical relationship, but we all thought it was so weak that we didn't even consider it. Just a quick comparison... for $4 or $5 (or worst case: $6) you can get a Church, which is easily worth 2 or 3 VP per round - or like 5 vp total. For 5vp in a Bribe action, you'd need to spend $15, which is a fortune. A castle by itself is 3vp for $5 (not $9)... Seems like maybe the Bribe action should be $1->1vp, max 5 times like with the land donation.

Land Donation was interesting, and I tried to concentrate on that - I made a Forest (2 in the end, but didn't get around to a folly) and expected to draw a bunch of land tiles and then donate to the church... but here's the thing. By the time I had completed my Forest, there were only 2 more Acquire actions for me to take (one in round 2 and one in round 3). Further, when donating land, I get 5vp, another player gets 5vp, and the third player gets 2vp... In round 2 this worked well for me, as Eric had played a lot of land, and therefore didn't donate any in the first action, and then I chose Donate again, gaining further on him... but in the 3rd round, when I finally had lots of tiles (2 forests), Eric actually chose Donate, having more land than he needed, and I got screwed. I chose it the 2nd time, but he had another 5, and I couldn't gain on him at all. So while I actively pursued this land strategy, Eric (who didn't even take an Acquire Land action in round 3) stayed even with me on land tile donations. Something seemed wrong with that.

In round 2 Eric had managed to get an 8vp title, while I had a 5vp one, and Michael only had a 2vp title. In round 3 I managed to get up to the 12 point title, sticking Eric with a 5 in the end. That's a 10 point swing on him, which was cool, but he was still able to outscore me by something like 16 points.

It must have been because of his Castles and Churches. He and I both upgraded to Palaces in the first round, he bought a Castle in round 2 but didn't surround it. He did get multiple Churches into play, and in round 3 was able to surround his castle and score a lot off the castle, Palace, and Churches. I believe he mainly used his scandal cards to beef up his prestige in the Ball and maintain a decent title. He also bought a Folly and I didn't so that was a big deal.

So to sum up... I liked the games of chicken, but it might end too abruptly (at least sometimes), the values appear to be off on certain things, and some stuff (like the Men at Arms) might be unnecessary. I'll watch for more of that stuff once we play again.


I got a copy of a prototype from my friend Dwight Sullivan (Xaqery on BGDF). The game is called Noblemen, and is about building up your family name in midevil England. From his rulebook, here's a description of the game:

You are the head of an old and noble family. In this game you will grow your family’s estate, earn the Queen’s favor, bear witness to scandalous behavior, gain influence with the church, and push around your political weight, all in an effort to ensure your family’s rightful place in history. You will play the head of one of five families: Tudor, Howard, Seymour, Dudley, and Grey. The winner is the player with best family name at the end of the game. During the game players will build their estates one piece at a time. You will play four types of land tiles and then place buildings or follies on them in an effort to out-maneuver the other players using the only two real powers of the day politics and wealth. In this game there are three areas to concentrate on;lands, wealth, and prestige. Each component will help on your path to victory. Playing woods will help gain more land. Playing farms will help gain more money. Playing ponds will gain you more prestige.

The player board is laid out with various tokens and markers on it - some number of buildings (Churches, Castles, Palaces, and Follies); 2 tokens each for Bribe, Masquerade Ball, and Donate Land actions; 3 Round markers; some land tiles and 4 Scoring counters. Near the board should be a supply of money, buildings, a Crown marker, and a bag of land tiles.

Each player gets $10, 2 Men at Arms (M@A) tokens, 2 M@A markers, 2 Tax tokens, 2 of each land type plus 4 lands at random from the bag, 1 Scandal card, 1 Castle (to be placed on a Clearing in play), a player shield, a Baron title, and markers for score and prestige.

The game is played in 3 rounds, and each round consists of players taking turns doing 1 action at a time around the table until either the last Church is built, or until someone takes the "Scoring Round" action. That action cannot be taken until all 4 Scoring markers have been removed from the board, and at the end of each of your turns you have the option to remove one if you wish. The actions you can take are...

Place Land: Place up to 3 land tiles into play. All land must be orthogonally adjacent to other land tiles. Completing a 2x2 square of like land tiles creates a Feature (Wood->Forest, Farm->Plantation, Pond->Garden), and you immediately get a reward for that (Forest-> Draw 2 land tiles, Plantation->$2, Garden-> Take Crown marker)

Acquire Land: Take any 2 land tiles from the board, plus bonus tiles at random from the bag equal to 1 per Wood tile you have in play, and 2 per Forest you have in play. A Forest is a 2x2 arrangement of Wood tiles. Instead of all that, if there aren't tiles left on the board, you just get exactly 1 tile at random, no bonus tiles.

Donate Land: There are 2 Donate Land tokens on the board, so this action can be taken at most twice per round. Donate up to 5 lands for 1vp apiece by placing them in the indicated place on the board. Only 3 of any given type can be donated per action (there are 4 types of land). Then the next player in turn order can do the same, and so on. Once there are 3 of each land type, or everyone's had 1 turn to donate, the action is over and all the donated land is returned to the bag.

Tax: You have 2 Tax tokens, so this action can be taken at most twice per round. Collect $1 per Farm and a bonus $2 per Plantation.

Men at Arms: You have 2 M@A tokens, so this action can be taken at most twice per round. Place a men at Arms token on an open Feature on any player's board, or you can displace an opponent's M@A token on any board except their own. When placing on an open feature, take the bonus (2 land tiles/$2/Crown) from that player, if they have it. In the future, when that player takes a tax action, your M@A token on their Plantation will steal their $2 bonus(you'll get it instead of them). Same for Tiles during the Acquire land action (if your M@A is on their forest), and Prestige during the Masquerade Ball (if your M@A is on their Garden).

Bribe: There are 2 Bribe tokens on the board, so this action can be taken at most twice per round.Spend money to buy VPs at $3 apiece. There are 12 VPs available, and starting with the player who chose this action, they can be purchased for $3 apiece. Players get 1 chance each (in turn order) to buy VPs in this way until all 12 are gone.

Masquerade Ball: There are 2 Masquerade Ball tokens on the board, so this action can be taken at most twice per round. Each player in turn order determines their Prestige and marks it on the Prestige track (on the board). You get 1 Prestige per Pond tile, 2 bonus prestige per Garden (may be stolen by a M@A), and 2 Prestige per Palace. On your turn you can discard Scandal cards for 1 Prestige each (1 gives 3 Prestige as its ability), and the player with the Crown token my discard it for an additional 2 Prestige. If 2 players have the same amount of Prestige, the later player to go must bump down to the next available slot on the track. In order from most Prestige to least, players may upgrade their Title. Players start out with the title Baron, but can upgrade to Viscount (2vp), Earl (5vp), Marquess (8vp), and Duke (12vp). There are a limited number of each title, and you can take the title away from the player who has it (downgrading them to your title) if you go before them in choosing. You can only upgrade 1 level at a time, and you have to have at least as much Prestige as the vp value of the title you're taking or you don't get it.

Buy Building: You can buy a Castle, Palace, Folly, or Church for $5, $7, $10, and $X respectively. The Churches get more and more expensive as they are bought up. A Church comes with a Scandal card. When you build Palace, you take the Crown marker. Follies have prerequisites to buy them (you must have 2 like Features, or 1 of each). These buildings will be worth points during Scoring rounds, except for the Follies, which are worth 8/7/6/5 points when you build them - there's only 1 of each type available, and so being the first to build one means you get more vps than the next guy.

If the last Church is purchased, the round ends and there is a Scoring Round. Note: Palaces are actually upgrades of Castles already on your board, and Castles cannot be placed adjacent to other Castles. Also Churches cannot be placed adjacent to other Churches.

End Round: If all 4 Scoring tokens have been removed then you can take this action to end the round, triggering a Scoring Round. You also get a bonus 1/2/3 vp for ending round 1/2/3. After round 3, the game is over.

During a Scoring round each Castle scores 3 points plus 1 point per adjacent Church, each Palace scores 5 points plus 2 points per adjacent Church, and your Title scores the number of points printed on it (2/5/8/12). Note: Castles and Palaces must be completely surrounded by land to score at all.

On your turn you first get 1vp if you hold the Crown marker. Then you take one of the above actions, and if you want you can play 1 Scandal card. The Scandal cards do something like let you take another action, or a specific action, or are worth 2 points at the end of the game, or various other things. Then you can remove a scoring token from the board if you wish.

The game plays like multiple games of chicken. While it doesn't present itself like a worker placement game, I think it really behaves like one - most of the actions are limited, and doing one thing has the opportunity cost of potentially being shut out of another.

There are 3 major strategic paths - Land, Cash, and Prestige. The land tiles support each of these with Woods/Forests, Farms/Plantations, and Ponds/Gardens. You also have Clearings which you need to build buildings on. There are actions in the game that allow players to translate each of those paths into VPs - Donate Land turns excess land into VPs, Bribe and Building actions turn money into VPs, and the Masquerade ball turns Prestige into VPs via a sort of majority mechanic. as a player you concentrate on 2 or all 3 of these aspect to some extent in order to score well.

In theory, as you play lands onto your board, you will develop either a lot of strength in one of those aspects, or else a little strength in each. This pushes people into various strategies as they go. In theory you could keep playing land so that you're strong in all strategies, but that should cost a lot of Acquire Land and Play Land actions which could have been used for something else (this would matter more if turns were limited I think).

The game is pretty solid in theory, but many things I noticed were not balanced well. Obvious examples are the $10 Follies which are worth at most 8 points, while a $5 Castle by itself can be worth as many as 9 points. Also the bribe action converts $3 to 1 VP, while a Castle converts $5 into at LEAST 3vp. Of course you do have to play land and surround the Castle to score it, but note that it could score as many as 9 points plus more for Churches. I'll make a new post about my first play of the game, comments from that, and changes I'd consider... then a 3rd post about the next playtest session I had where we tried various things, and what I learned.


I just got an email on BGG from a guy in Antwerp, Belgium, asking after the status of Terra Prime. It gives me a warm feeling to know that there are people interested in p playing my creations - people I've never met or even heard of, who are following information on the game and actually awaiting the chance to play!

That's why I do this.

Here's what he had to say:


I have been following your progressions on Terra Prime
on close foot on BGG since it seems exactly my type of game.
Your last message was about a submission to a publisher.
Did anything come from that?

Take care,


Thanks for the interest, David! The status hasn't changed since my last post. Terra Prime is intended to be published by Loose Cannon Studios, a video game company who wants to do other stuff as side projects, such as this board game and a graphic novel by some of their employees.

I haven't heard anything lately, so I assume they're busy getting their first video game finished up. I'm not sure what kind of timeline they have for their side projects, but I'm hopeful that things will start to happen "soon." It's possible they've already started the process, I'm not sure.

I'll be sure to post as soon as I have any information about the game or when it will be published. Until then, thanks for the interest!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Dating Game?

In the shower tonight I had an idea for a game based on dating... I won't get into where this came from, but I was thinking that the search for a significant other could potentially make for an interesting strategy game.

I was thinking there could be people in the "dating pool" - and those people would have Requirements, Likes, Dislikes, and 1 Dealbreaker. Some of this information would be hidden, and as you go on 'dates' more and more of it would be revealed to you. You will have some attributes in several categories, and the more of their likes you have (and the fewer of their dislikes) the better. If you reveal a Requirement that is not met, then you can't go on another date with that person until or unless you somehow change your attributes. If you don't match the Dealbreaker, then you get "dumped" immediately. You won't know the Dealbreaker going in, but the category will be given at the outset, and each date revealing information will also yield clues to deduce the Dealbreaker condition. You could either set up your attributes to meet that Dealbreaker, or you could stop dating that person knowing it wouldn't end well anyway.

The idea would be to find "The One." I think you would probably add up a score for each person you're dating, maybe +2 per Like and -1 per Dislike. Of course you have to meet the Requirements or you can't date that person anymore. If you get to a certain threshold then you are considered "Going Out" with that person ("Going Steady," "Boyfriend/Girlfriend," or whatever). However, as more info is revealed you might lose points, or you might not meet the Dealbreaker requirement (thereby getting dumped immediately), so you might want to continue to date other people. Of course if you are "Steady" with someone and still dating other people, that would come with the risk of your Boy/Girlfriend finding out and that should be bad.

I thought there could also be some other aspects, like Scheduling, where you have to juggle timing with the different dates (people are only free on certain days, and you can't be in 2 places at the same time), and a random Event deck which mucks about with your schedule or attributes somehow, like you get a different job. This event deck could throw you curve balls like making you change up your schedule, or making your Bf/Gf surprise you on a certain day of the week (when you better not be on a date with someone else!)

I'm not sure, but I guess the win condition would be finding "The One" (which maybe means falling in love, or getting married, or whatever). Getting to the bottom of a card (a certain number of dates with that person) and satisfying the Dealbreaker.

I wanted to jot this down before I forgot, because it sounds like the idea has potential. It is a sort of deduction/set collection game with a theme that everyone should be familiar with. I'm not sure how the interaction would go, except that there's a limited number of people in the dating pool, and everyone's trying to date the same people - thus you want to schedule well, and you want to find a stronger match than that person has with anyone else.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


My friend Xaqery sent me his prototype Noblemen (a topic for a post of its own) to try out, and I was anxious to do so before my copy of Agricola arrived - because I figured once it got here that's all we'd play for a while. I did manage to get 1 play of Noblemen in, but then the fateful day arrived, and I've spent all weekend playing Agricola.

When I first read about Agricola I thought it sounded like a good, quality eurogame that I would like. Even before I'd seen the hype I identified it to a friend that was going to Essen. She ended up buying a German copy at the show, more or less on my say-so, and once she made paste-ups and played it, she was hooked. She spent all BGG.con teaching the game and she played it a ton with her friends in L.A. - but since I'm not in L.A. I didn't get in on that - I just played once at BGG.con and that was it.

In my BGG.con game, I did really well - I ended up well ahead of everyone else's score except for one guy who won by a landslide over me (maybe 10 points) - who seemed to have extraordinarily good cards with extraordinary synergy. This was my main concern about a game such as this where you get some cards for the game... it seems like it's possible that one players cards could be "better" (quality, synergy, efficiency, however "better" manifests) than another players, giving that player an unfair advantage. I suspect it's rare that ALL of one player's cards will be amazing/sucky, and maybe on the average players will have hands of relatively equal power/usefulness. Of course, on the average you'll roll 7 on 2d6.

In any case, I preordered the game back in November, since my Grandma was buying it for Hanukkah I figured it didn't matter that it cost $75 or that I wouldn't get it until April.

Time passed and I didn't get any chances to play again. Then at a convention here or there I did have opportunity to play Agricola, but for one reason or another I passed it up. My interest in playing Agricola waned, and when I realized what a silly thought it was that pre-ordering was really necessary I was a little disappointed in myself for making that choice. After all, I could have had *2* games for that price, and I could have had them in time for Sedjcon. 4 months of delays from the projected April date didn't build my interest in the game, if anything I have gotten even less interested in playing. I have recently acquired several other games (Brass, Stone Age) that I am really enjoying, and I don't know if I really want to set them aside indefinitely to play Agricola all the time. Fortunately I did play a lot of each of those when I first got them, so they did get some use.

So fast forward to Monday of this week... I got an email informing me that my copy of Agricola had left Illinois and was on it's way for a Thursday delivery. Eric and Snowden also received their copies on Thursday, just in time for game night at Hat's - when I walked in they each had their copy set up, and a total of 9 players were preparing to play. I went to Frisbee practice, but played a game afterward with Eric and Ben. Friday I played 2 more games, and Saturday again 2 more. I'll be playing again tomorrow (Sunday) as well.

The first thing I thought while playing the other night was that yeah, it is certainly possible for my cards to be worse than an opponent's. Ben had a fistful of cards that were just bomb after bomb dropping on the table. My cards paled in comparison. Zev says he's won without even worrying about cards just by playing well off the board, but that's got to be bullshit... the cards augment your board actions, so not having them means your actions are weaker than someone who does, and having weak cards isn't as good as having strong cards. The question is whether it's really the case that all of his cards were really stronger than mine, or if I just didn't see how to use mine well.

In later games the draws seemed more fair. In both games today I had a really good draw, but misplayed very badly in the early game - losing each game by 6 points to the winner. My bonehead mistakes may well have been enough to make up 6 points in one of the games, not sure about the other.

That said, I did get that feeling like I could really enjoy the game - once I get over the hump of figuring out how to do what I want. That happened with Brass, and I could tell right away that it would. 6 games in I'm finally figuring out how to do stuff "on purpose" - which for me is embarrassing... I'm used to figuring out games much quicker than that, especially games of this type.

The "economic engine" in Agricola is food. You have to have enough food to feed your family, because unlike Stone Age - Starvation is a penalty in this game, not a strategy. You need to bolster your food production before you can increase your family and thereby ramp up your actions per turn. Therefore cards that create some kind of sustained food income are really good. Of course, card that save or give resources are also good as well, but depending on what resources you need their power may be wasted, or a waste of time. Also good are cards which help you increase the size of your family. Once you figure out how you'll feed them, you want family members as fast as you can get them. So any card that will directly give you family or which will help you build rooms cheaper are very good. It's possible to win without all 5 family members, but you won't win with just the initial 2 yielding only 2 actions each round.

In addition to figuring out what path you'll take to feed your family, there are all kinds of ways to get points. To make matters worse, for any of 8 or so areas that you ignore, you actually LOSE points. So you can specialize in a couple of areas and take penalties n others, or you can try and cancel out all the penalties without really specializing in anything. Each possible VP option is like a different strategy or path to victory.

The various abilities on the cards, and the various combinations of cards you can get, give the feel of customization to the game. Almost a metagame of figuring out which cards you'll use and which you won't, and when to put them down. This variety, as well as the large number of strategic paths, will keep the game fresh for quite some time - which is both good news and bad news. It's good because this expensive game that I waited so long for will see a lot of play as I'm sure it's all people will want to play around here for a while. On the down side, nobody will want to play Brass, or any prototypes, or anything old for a while. Why play those when we could play Agricola?