Tuesday, May 24, 2011

KublaCon imminent!

Thursday I'm heading up to San Francisco again for KublaCon. In preparation for my trip I put together a Geeklist over at BGG about games I'd like to play while I'm at the convention.

I don't know how many people actually read my blog, but I get the impression that the number has grown. Are you going to be at KublaCon? If so, leave a comment if you'd like to play a game with me this weekend, and check out my geeklist to see if we're interested in playing some of the same stuff!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bluff Auction - Possible titles

So far these are the nominees for a title of the Bluff Auction game. None of them even hint at the "highest bid without going over" mechanism, or the Liar's Dice inspiration (not that they need to). Which one sounds the best to you? What other title do you suggest?

Cura Galeria
Museum of Lost History
Treasures of the Ages
Exhibit: Museum of Lost History
Exhibit: Lost History
Exhibit: Treasures of the Ages
Exhibition: Museum of Lost History
Exhibition: Lost History
Exhibition: Treasures of the Ages

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chrono Gallery - Scoring

I thought of a potentially better scoring system for Chrono Gallery: Museum of Lost History. I am liking the sound of it more and more as I talk about it and refine it.
Rather than scoring at the end of the game for particular sets, and rather than having to put your tiles into 3 distinct exhibits, perhaps instead there could be 7 Trophies:

  • Most of any Culture
  • Most Tools
  • Most Weapons
  • Most Art (should this be "Sculpture" instead?)
  • Most Ancient artifacts
  • Most Medieval artifacts
  • Most Modern artifacts

As soon as you qualify, you claim one of these trophies and hold it until someone outdoes you by having more of that type of thing than you do. So if I have 3 Tools, I claim the Most Tools trophy to indicate that I have the most impressive Tools exhibit. If someone else gets 4 Tools, they have a more impressive Tool exhibit than me, so they take the trophy from me.

Whoever has the most trophies at the end of the game has the most impressive museum and wins the game. Or maybe trophies are worth 2vp apiece, so that certain tiles could be worth 1vp or something.

I think this scoring system has a lot of potential. I do sort of miss the idea of having to decide which artifacts to display, so I have a possible additional constraint idea...

Maybe each player can only display like 6 artifacts at a time, and when winning a new one, if you want to keep it, you must discard one you already have. The trophy tiles or cards could indicate their qualification requirement on them, and when you qualify for a trophy, you claim it. Then you flip it over to the back side which indicates a more stringent qualification condition, which a player must meet in order to usurp that trophy from you. Thus, you go for a trophy, claim it, then go for some other trophy. Due to the nature of artifacts having 3 attributes, you could potentially get another trophy without much additional work!

Rodeo Drive

[This is an old post which I never published. I don't like having those around, so I have edited and published it.]

Rodeo Drive was at one time the title of a work in progress using the Bluff Auction mechanism I've been discussing recently. Here's one of the early posts from late 2007 describing how the game was coming together.

I think the basic structure will be to the effect of...

Some items will be "up for bid", and each person will roll some color dice (like the ones used in Wizard's Tower or Carolus Magnus). You won't know what your opponents rolled, only what you rolled. Then players will bid on the different items, which will effectively have some cost. The bid will be, in effect, how many times you think the cost is represented among all the dice people have rolled. For a simple example, suppose the item cost 1 Blue. If I thought there were 3 blues rolled among all players I might bid 3 blue on the item. If you wanted the item, and thought there were more than 3 blue, you might bid 4 blue on it. Then I could either pass, thinking you have overbid (or 'bluffed'), or I can rebid. On my turn if I'm winning the bid, I must pass. As soon as everyone passes, dice are revealed and the item is awarded to the player who bid closest to the correct number without going over.

I think the way it will work is that there will be more than 1 item up for bid, and players will probably bid on more than 1 item at a time.

So far there are 3 ways we've thought about going with this...

1. Straight scoring - as you win, say, Blue, you get better at winning blue, but each subsequent Blue is worth less and less points. So you are stronger to win future Blue things, but you'd rather win Red or Yellow because they're worth more points to you.

2. Special powers/emergent strategy a la Puerto Rico or Caylus - the item you win is like a building in Puerto Rico that gives you some ability or resource. Then you use the buildings you get to purchase things, convert resources to points, etc.

3. Area control/area placement - when winning, say, Blue, you put your house on the board in the Blue region. There would be maybe 8 spaces in each region, and the spaces would be connected by a web of roads, a la Thurn and Taxis or Web of Power/China. You'd score points per region (as mentioned, each successive house in a region is worth less points to you than the last), and you'd score points for chains of houses. The more houses in a chain, the higher the score for that chain.

That's where we're at currently, mulling over these options. We tested the Liar's Dice mechanic and it definitely seemed to work for a multiple item auction.

So comment on this post with what you think a good direction for this game would be, the simple, sort of abstract game, the divergent, multiple power building route, or the area control/placement scoring.

As to theme, we were racking our brains trying to think of something that works that way - something that is rewarded for "bidding" as much as possible without going over a certain number. So far the thing we thought of that best represents that is someone who is very rich, who will always buy the most expensive thing he can afford. So the dice represent different shoppers (each color is a different shopper), and the number of their color that comes up is their 'credit limit' - they're looking to buy the most expansive thing they can afford, and players are offering them things at a particular price (and for some gamey reason you can't offer the same price as your competitor). I'm not sure how that would fit into any of the 3 listed structures above, but it at least fits the Liar's Dice mechanic.

[edit 5/2011]
Since this post was composed, I have revamped the game and changed the theme (twice). For a while the Bluff Auction was a time travel mechanism, and players were going back in time to collect artifacts which were (until now) lost, damaged, or destroyed in history. Recently that theme has changed to one in which you're simply bidding for actual items with actual money (more recognizable), but if you bid 'too much' then your funding won't come through and you'll have to rescind your bid.

Now the items up for bid have abilities/bonuses on them, which are in effect until you Exhibit them, thereby scoring them.

Bluff Auction tweaks

I've been considering a few tweaks, and I wanted to get them down before I forget all about them...

1. Receive 2 new dice when Exhibiting a set rather than 1.
I fear that giving up the abilities on the tiles AND the additional points one could get by waiting may be too much, so people won't Exhibit sets until they are forced to. Maybe that's OK, but I'd rather see a viable strategy wherein a player Exhibits early and often in order to get more dice, so those dice help that player win more tiles or at least the tiles they really want more often. Perhaps getting 2 more dice will be better, though I also think this could be a perception thing...

In any case, it seems like players only Exhibit about 3 sets anyway in larger player count games, so getting 2 dice at a time might get more of the total dice in play. Lower player count games seem to see players getting 4 or 5 Exhibits...

I am unsure about this tweak.

2. Change the Extra Bid Token to some other power: "Regrowth"
The Extra Bid Token has always been a powerful tile, one of my favorites. It is like an investment - you take this tile, which will not score, and will take up space in your museum, and you get something which can absolutely translate into winning more tiles than you would have otherwise. Of course, winning just 1 extra tile means you're breaking even, but winning 2 extra is a benefit. In this game, in addition to the possibility of winning more total tiles, having an extra bid also sort of increases the probability of you winning tiles with your other bids, or forcing other players to outbid (and not win tiles) anyway.

Having the Extra Bid Token come out in rounds 7/8 means you can use it only 1 or 2 times, which really seems to neuter it. Having it come out in rounds 1-4 really makes it too powerful. So unless I want to complicate the staging of the Special tiles even further, I might have to admit that the Extra Bid Token is not a good fit for the game. Also, the Consolation rule that you get an extra bid token seems good and appropriate, and that's lessened if an opponent has an extra bid token every round already (though still kinda fair because he won that auction and is committing a slot in his museum to that tile).

An alternative could be another tile I used to have in the old version of the game, a tile which you could exchange for any unclaimed or discarded tile. I'm not sure when you would do this - any time you want, I imagine, as it doesn't affect any other players. The value of that tile might go up or down depending on how the game plays out - in a game where no tiles are discarded, the tile would be worthless (though I'm considering another tweak that makes every tile you have worth something - see next point). And even in a game where tiles are left unclaimed or discarded, it's possible they won't happen to fit into a set for you (which is somewhat within your control), and so unless they're Art it's still kinda worthless. On the other hand, if you can claim a tile that fits nicely into a set, it could be worth 5 or 6 points!

I might give this a try.

3. Art scoring
Currently players are allowed to score leftover tiles in their museum as if they were sets, and they get a bonus set of star icons from their Art tiles in play (which is independent, so the art tiles could be parts of different sets). I think it might be better to simplify and reduce that - I would like to try final scoring like this:

Players get 1 point for each tile in their Museum (unexhibited, including special tiles), and each Art tile that is face up is worth an additional 3 points.

This would be easier to calculate, I think, and easier to explain... and more importantly I think it will encourage players to Exhibit more often rather than just waiting until the end of the game. The Art scoring means that you are rewarded for holding onto Art unless you happen to have a set of 7, in which case you ought to go ahead and Exhibit it and free up the space. You might want to Exhibit a set of 6, as you don't lose out on that much bonus, and it frees up your museum. It really rewards holding onto 5 or fewer Art tiles though, which is what I want - giving up abilities in return for bonus points.

I'll note that if ALL tiles (including Special tiles) are worth 1 point at the end, then getting a Special tile that doesn't end up helping you isn't worthless.

4. Go back to disallowing 2 bids on same track. While in some ways mechanically interesting, I think allowing 2 bid tokens on the same track is anti-thematic, and I don't like the dynamic it creates enough for the rules complication it requires.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bluff Auction Game - Rules

Bluff Auction Game
by Seth Jaffee
A game of bidding and bluffing for 2-5 players

An old, eccentric archeologist has died and his private collection, rich with artifacts of various types from various Cultures and Eras, is being auctioned off. These artifacts have not yet been assessed, but as a museum curator, you don't want to wait for that, so you do your own research and you bid based on what you think the item's value is. Once all bids are in, the artifact will be assessed, and any bid that's higher than the actual value will not be approved by your board of directors! So the highest bid that is not greater than the actual value will win the artifact.

1 Auction board with spaces for 6 auction tracks (and score track)
45 Artifact tiles (9 each in 5 colors)
9 Special tiles (for purple auction)
25 player markers (5 each in 5 player colors) for bidding and scoring
1 Start Player Marker
40 Color Blob Dice (6 sided dice, with black/red/yellow/blue/green/purple sides)
5 Player screens
5 Player boards

Separate the Artifact tiles by color, shufle each stack face down and place it next to the auction block of that color.
Sort the Special tiles into groups 1-4. Shuffle each group face down and stack them by the purple auction block with group 4 on the bottom and group 1 on top (groups 1 and 2 have 3 tiles, group 3 as 2 tiles, and group 4 is a single tile)
Give each player a player shield, a player board and the player markers in their chosen color. Each player should put 1 marker on the 0 space on the score track.
Players start with a number of dice behind their player shield and a number of bid tokens depending on player count. A number of community dice will also be used for some player counts:
2 players: 4 bid markers, 4 dice, 0 community dice
3 players: 3 bid markers, 3 dice, 1 community die
4 players: 2 bid markers, 2 dice, 2 community dice
5 players: 2 bid markers, 2 dice, 3 community dice
Each player takes 6 more dice and places them in the Exhibit circles as pictured. In a 5 player game the last circle is not used, there will only be 5 dice per player.
Randomly choose a Start player and hand them the Start player marker.
You are ready to begin!

This game is played in 9 rounds. In each round players will take turns bidding on artifact tiles or passing. Passing does not preclude you from bidding again later, but when all players pass in succession, the round ends and auctions are resolved.

1. Turn the top tile of each stack face up and place it in the auction block of that color.
2. Players roll dice behind their screens.
3. Any player with Tools in their Museum may choose to use them to re-roll some of their dice.
4. When all players are done using tools, bidding commences with the Start player.
  * You may bid on any auction, but you must outbid the highest bidder on that auction.
  * You may place a bid from your hand or move a bid that has been overbid by another player.
  * High bids on each auction are locked in and cannot be moved.
  * You MAY bid on an auction where you already have a token, but you cannot directly overbid yourself. [Not sure I like this]
  * You may choose to Pass, even if your bids are not the highest bids on their respective auctions.
  * You MUST Pass if all of your bids are the highest bids on their respective auctions.
  * You CANNOT Pass if you have bid tokens that you haven't placed yet.
5. When all players have passed in succession, the round ends and the auctions are resolved:
  * First players reveal all Purple dice behind their screen (keeping the rest of the dice secret). Whoever has bid the highest on the Purple track without going over wins the auction and takes the tile off of the Purple auction block and places it on the Museum board (see Acquiring tiles below)
  * Purple is wild, and will also count for each of the other auctions.
  * Resolve the remaining auctions in the same manner one at a time, revealing dice of that color and counting Purple dice as well.
  * If all players have overbid, remove the tile from the game.
  * Don't forget to take into account tile powers (see Tile powers below) 

Acquiring tiles:
When you acquire a tile by winning an auction, you have the opportunity to Exhibit a set of Artifacts and score them. Alternatively, you may place the Artifact face up on your Museum board in one of the 6 circles (5 circles available in a 5 player game). If all of those spaces are full, then you MUST either Exhibit a set or discard a tile.
  * A "set" consists of 3 or more tiles that share at least 1 attribute: Culture (color), Era (Ancient, Medieval, Modern), or Type (Tool, Weapon, Art).
  * When Exhibiting a set, stack those tiles face down on one of your Exhibit spaces, claiming the die on that space for use in future rounds.
  * Score points based on the number of tiles in the set. Score 1/3/6/10/15/21/28/36 for a set of 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8 tiles (it's difficult to get an 8 tile set, but not impossible! It involves one of the special tiles which allows you to hold extra tiles on your board).
  * Note that Exhibiting a set removes the Artifacts from play, so their powers no longer apply (see Tile powers below)
  * There is nothing special about a set that matches more than 1 attribute (3 Ancient Tools for example).

Tile powers:
While in play, each artifact and special tile has a power that you can use:
Tools: Re-roll any number of dice before bidding begins.
Weapons: Virtual die that you can count when resolving an auction of that color (other players do not count it)
Art: If in your museum at the end of the game, score a bonus set of star icons (1/3/6/10... points for 1/2/3/4... star icons)
Special tiles:
  * Stage I: Wild Attribute (Type, Era, Culture) -
  * Stage I: 2 Virtual Purple Dice (1-shot) - After dice are revealed for an auction, you may discard this tile to count 2 virtual purple dice (opponents do not count them)
  * Stage I: 2 Dice - Roll 2 additional dice each round
  * Stage II: Extra Bid Token - place an additional bid token each round.
  * Stage II: Outbid by 2 - Opponents must outbid you by at least 2
  * Stage II: Extra Museum Room - You may hold 2 additional tiles in your Museum
  * Stage III: Virtual Purple Die - Virtual purple die that you can count when resolving each auction (other players do not count it)
  * Stage III: Overbid with Tie - You may overbid an opponent with a tie bid. You may only have one tied bid at a time [Not sure I like this]
  *Stage IV: 4 points

Game end:
After the 9th round of auctions, the game is over. Face up tiles remaining on players' Museum boards may be scored as normal. In addition, all Star icons on Art tiles are scored as if they were a set.

The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner!
In case of a tie, the tied player with the fewest Exhibit spaces filled is the winner.

Chrono Gallery - needs a rename!

I desperately need a catchy new name for what I have been calling Chrono Gallery. Here's the new thematic storyline:

An old, eccentric archeologist has died and his private collection, rich with a variety of artifacts of various types from various Cultures and Eras, is being auctioned off. These artifacts have not yet been assessed, but as a museum curator, you don't want to wait for that, so you do your own research and you bid based on what you think the item's value is. Once all bids are in, the artifact will be assessed, and any bid that's higher than the actual value will not be approved by your board of directors! So the highest bid that is not greater than the actual value will win the artifact.

Please let me know what you think about titles for this game! Leave a comment!

Chrono Gallery - Another playtest, and needs a new name

Marty, Jasen and I played a 3-player game of CG last night, and it went well. Marty liked it and ended up winning by just a couple of points over me - he had scored maybe 5 sets, 1 with 5 tiles, the rest were double-scoring 3-tile sets. I on the other hand had a large endgame 6-tile set (21vp) including 4 art (10vp bonus) for 31 points at final scoring, to go along with my 2 other 3-tile sets (I think one was double-scoring)

We played that "double scoring" a set was not fully doubling, but rather a double set was worth the regular 1+2+3+... as well as an additional 1vp per tile (so in total 2+3+4+...) so most of Marty's sets were worth 9 points. I think I might like to try it next time without the added complication of double scoring sets - if you have a double-set, it gives you flexibility in what to turn in when cashing a set, maybe it doesn't need to be worth more points as well.

After the game we examined the Purple tiles and re-ordered them into 4 stages:
Stage 1: Wild (Type/Era/Culture), One-Shot Double Virtual Purple, +2 Dice
Stage 2: Extra Bid Token, Outbid by 2, Hand Size +1
Stage 3: Virtual Purple, Overbid with Tie (Marty thought this one was one of the strongest)
Stage 4: 4vp

The purpose here is to ensure that certain tiles don't come out at the very beginning where they would be too powerful, and that certain tiles don't come out past the point where they'd be completely useless. I think this might be a better distribution, and if it's been done correctly then I think David's suggestion to add 1/2/3 points to the Purple auction at the last couple of rounds could be avoided. If need be I can add a VP to the Stage 3 tiles by printing it on them.

We discussed the Consolation rule, and agreed that the extra bid token (which we tried this time) is a fine and appropriate consolation for getting no tiles. On the down side, it's relatively easy to forget it, and while I verbally checked each of the first few rounds to see if everyone had gotten at least 1 tile, as soon as I stopped asking, Jasen started losing out on tiles and forgetting to take his consolation.

We played with "Overbid with Tie" meaning only 1 such overbid at a time. I got that tile and found it frustrating to only be allowed 1 such overbid, as I was frequently winning a bid with a tie, and wanting to tie on a track I cared more about. Maybe with that tile coming out for at most 2 rounds of use, maybe players could have more than 1? With 2 players I imagine that would be ridiculous though. Maybe 2 - so in a 4 or 5 player game ALL of your bids can be overbids... Another question, SHOULD this tile combo really well with the Extra Bid Token tile? Not sure, jury is still out. It may be a preference thing - I do not see the overbid with a Tie as such a powerful tile, while Marty thought it was the most powerful. On the other hand, I thought the virtual purple die tile was much better than Marty thought it was, and in essence they are kind of the same thing.

Community dice
I forgot to use any community dice, but that's kind of OK for a 3 player game. I definitely think for a 4 or 5 player game they'll be necessary though. The first thing Marty said when I described it was the exact same thing I had first considered - he said he'd rather each player roll 1 more die and then choose 1 to reveal. I think that would be more strategic perhaps, but the problem isn't that there's not enough decisions or complexity - the problem is that people don't get enough info, and I think it's simpler to just roll the community dice. It could be an "advanced rule" to role-and-reveal-1 and the standard rule just to have community dice.

Purple dice
I think the simplest rule is to just leave it swingy and have the purple dice be wild, rather than try to nerf that somehow. I'll keep an eye on it and see if people are really disappointed by it.

So - for next time:
* No bonus for double sets
* New purple tile stack order setup
* You're allowed to bid on the same track that you're on, but not directly over your own token.
* Not sure about Overbid With Tie rule
* Double Purple Virtual Dice (1-shot) worked well, will try hat again

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chrono Gallery - Gamesmiths

Monday night at Gamesmith's we had a great turnout and a great test of Chrono Gallery. Chris and Melanie (From Stratus Games), David were there, and Simon brought his roommate Matt with him. After all the great development recently I was really looking forward to another test of the game, and I was happy to see how it went with 5 players.

The game ran longer than I would have liked - we were at about 55 minutes going into the last round, but by the time it was over we were looking at about 90 minutes. I don't know why the last round went so long, and I don't know how much of the time-sink was due to player count.

Other than that, the game went pretty well. I learned a thing or two that will be very important for scaling the game for different numbers of players, and I may have found a better theme for the game.

One thing we talked about after the game is the theme. While technically speaking, the time travel theme fits the mechanism very well, it really doesn't feel much like that's what's going on during play. It's kind of a stretch and it feels forced. I think that's kind of a shame, partly because I couldn't think of anything that really matched the "bid highest without going over" mechanism better, and partly because I really liked the idea of displaying things like Excalibur and other mythical artifacts in your museum!

We talked about a few different ways to present the time travel portion of the story, but realistically, a better theme that evolved from our discussion was that you are bidding actual money (like a normal auction), and the reason you want to bid "as high as possible without going over" is that you are not sure if you'll get funded or not.

Suppose the number of green dice represents the actual value of the green artifact, which is unknown when you're bidding (though your research has given you partial information). You bid based on that, and then when all bids are in the artifact is assessed and the true value is determined. If the highest bidder has bid too high, their financial backers refuse to go through with the purchase, so the next lowest bid is checked - the highest bid that is not greater than the true value is the one that gets the artifact.

This theme seems more easily grasp-able, which is a plus. And it means I need to find a more catchy and more appropriate title. While I liked the subtitle Museum of Lost history," perhaps that's also a plus.

One thing I noticed about the 5 player game was not too surprising - the Consolation rule came into play. With 5 players each with only 2 bid tokens, and some artifacts going unclaimed due to overbids, it's fairly easy for a player to go a round without winning an auction. The rule I used was to give such a player an additional die, to give them some power in future auctions. In order to keep from having to supply a ton of dice in the game, I had limited the number of dice per player to 6 (for the 5p game), which you get as you cash in sets. I said that the consolation die came from that supply (i.e. one of your 6 for the game). That seemed to work alright, but an alternative was suggested which I'd like to try as well: any player who does not win an auction in a round gets an additional bid marker for the next round. I don't know if that will prove better, worse, or simply different, but I'd like to find out.

Also as expected, players were not acquiring as many tiles as we did in the 3 player game, or even the 4 player game. Therefore the players' displays were not filling up and they were not forced to cash in any sets. It made me think that perhaps the number of tiles you can hold should decrease a little bit, like only 5 tiles for a 5 player game. Maybe even 4 (and then 5 slots for a 4p game) - but I think that would be too few. This however was not the biggest problem I saw with the 5 player game.

The biggest problem I saw with the 5 player game was that it was very chaotic. Players do not have enough information to perform very well, they begin with a mere 20% partial information. In comparison, the 33% partial info in the 3 player game felt much better. The easiest solution I can think of to increase this percentage is to add some Community Dice - a couple dice rolled in public which people can take into account when bidding. If there are 2 community dice, then in the 5 player game you start out knowing 4 of the 12 dice... 33% like the three player game. David suggested that wouldn't be enough, and that the more info you have, the better the auction would be. I might agree with him, so I might make it 3 community dice for a 5 player game (and maybe 2 for a 4 player game and 1 for a 3 player game). That would make the percentage of partial info known about 40% in 3, 4, and 5 player games. I think this will help keep the bids from becoming too frustrating. In general I prefer the simpler setup/play of NOT having these community dice, so it's possible the 5 player game should simply be more chaotic (or in fact should not exist).

With three community dice, the total number of dice needed for the game would be 40, which may not be too many.

We talked about some more specific mechanisms as well. These comments apply to all player counts...
* Originally, I had said that you cannot move a bid you'd placed until you had placed all of your bid tokens, and I'd also said that you cannot bid on an auction you're already on. Those rules just seemed like the obvious rules to have, but I didn't have any specific reason for choosing them. In one of the recent test games somebody placed their first bid token, got outbid, and on their next turn wanted to up their bid on that same auction (before somebody else did). It seemed like a reasonable thing to want to do, so I allowed it, changing the rule to simply be that you either place or move a bid token on your turn, and you cannot PASS unless you have both bid tokens out. That seemed OK for the last couple of games, but led to players holding back their 2nd bid token until the last minute, in order to hide information from other players or something. That didn't seem as good, so it was suggested that it not be allowed. The question remained though, what if you want to bid up on the same track you'd initially bid on, but haven't placed all of your markers yet (especially in 2/3 player games where you have 4/3 markers)? Well, one idea is to allow bidding on the same track. It didn't seem like you'd want to, but in the narrow case that you do - why not allow it? Well - the problem is, suppose you pass with a marker on 3 and another on 7 for the same auction, your opponent having bid 6, and the real number turns out to be 5. Should you win that auction? Having 2 bid tokens makes it more likely you'll win an auction, but at the expense of winning any other auction. Taken to it's logical conclusion, I may bid 1 on an auction I want, and if nobody outbids me I could simply lock it in by bidding 16 as well. Now nobody can possible outbid me, and as long as there's at least 1 die of that color, I'll win that tile. Is that OK? Maybe it is. I fear that such a dynamic will really break down the mechanism in a lower player count game, but it might be worth a try. If the mechanism is OK except for that lock-in exploit, the rule could be that you cannot outbid yourself directly (someone else's bid must be in between your two markers). Another solution is to disallow passing if you have 2 bids on the same track, but that's really the exact same thing as disallowing bidding on the same track (but allowing players to move their bid before placing all of the bid tokens). I'm not sure which way I want that to go. I think I'll try the double bid on 1 auction just to see. Any opinions?

* Purple dice being wild can be really swingy. If you happen to roll 3 purple, you are kind of at a big advantage for EVERY auction. Theoretically your behavior could belie that information, but not always. Is it worth doing something like "purple counts as 1/2 wild?" So like, for every 2 purple there's +1 of other colors? Or possibly distributing the Purple dice (after resolving the Purple auction) to the other columns 1 at a time, and applying only those distributed? that could be interesting, as the Yellow auction (2nd to resolve) would more likely benefit from Purple dice than the Red auction (last to resolve). Again, the SIMPLEST rule of just counting the purples as wild might be best just because it's simplest, even if it makes the game somewhat swingy.

* The Extra Bid Token tile is very good... If it comes out early in the game, a player could gain too much of a benefit. Perhaps the Purple tiles should be staged... I could label 4 of them with a 1 on the back, indicating that they will come out first, then label 4 with a 2, indicating that they will come out next, and then have the last tile labeled 3 - which will always be simply worth victory points (because after that last round, no abilities are useful). I think I have a good idea of which power tiles should come out in the first half of the game and which should come out later, so I will try this next time.

* David suggests a bonus of a couple of points for winning the Purple auction in the last few rounds, since the benefit of the tile will be lessened. Maybe 1/2/3 points for rounds 7/8/9. In that case the 9th round tile would be more like 2vp on it's own (currently 4), plus the 3 for the round is a total of 5vp. I could do this, but it's an added complication which I don't know is really necessary.

* I definitely like the idea of the Consolation rule, and an extra die makes sense... but that removes some of the incentive to cash in a set early. Another idea that came up was to give any player who won zero auctions in one round an extra bid token (for the next round only). I'll try that and see how it goes.

* The One-Shot Double Purple Virtual Dice tile seemed really strong, but at the same time kind of weak. Melanie used it one round, and it turned out there were plenty of purple dice (more than anyone thought) and she was able to win her bids even if she hadn't used her tile. I think it would be better if the tile could apply to any 1 auction (rather than all of them), and you don't have to use it until you see the result of the auction. So procuring that tile helps you win a particular tile that you really want later in the game.

* The Overbid With Tie tile was a little too annoying when all of your bids could do it. It was suggested that you could only have 1 such overbid at a time. I'm not sure I see much difference, but I am willing to try it that way.

* A more fundamental problem I've noticed is that it's too easy to make double sets of 2 tiles for 6vp - this is better than making a 4 tile set! Solution: require minimum 3 tiles per set. that should make it harder to get double points. Also, instead of double points for a double-set, maybe better to just award +3vp? Or +1vp/tile? Any thoughts on this? I'd like the double set to be worth SOMETHING as it's harder to get than a single set - and if nothing else I'm SURE players will ask the question.

All of these things are somewhat minor tweaks as far as I'm concerned - I'm really happy with the way the game is shaping up! Please post a comment with your thoughts - including your thoughts on a new title based on the new theme!

Monday, May 16, 2011


I guess I set up my blog to have AdSense - I have no idea how to use that! I see that there are ads on my blog now, but I am not seeing any money. I have received like 2 different 'gift card' looking things saying "here's $100 towards advertising your blog!" Not terribly useful for me right now.

I think I will be turning that off, as I don't see any benefit. Anybody know more about this and want to tell me if there's something I should be doing differently to get some passive income from my blog?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Playtest Day!

I had a very successful playtest day yesterday!

Bios Megafauna

First off, Mandy, Jason, and Megan played a game of Bios Megafauna with Phil Eklund. I sat in on the rules and generated comments for Phil. His request for me to play and comment on that game was the catalyst which spurred my planning the playtest day.

Bios Megafauna was a much simpler game that I would have guessed, but in true Eklund fashion I believe it was presented as much more complicated than it needed to be. It also looked to be very well researched, and highly thematic. You have species of animals, and over the course of the game you obtain Adaptations to make them stronger and more versatile so they can spread to more places. At it's heart, the game is a majority scoring game, with Auctions as it's main mechanism - you bid for an Adaptation card each turn (which also triggers a random event when drawn, of course), which may allow you to spread to more spaces on the board. When a scoring card comes up (random event on card = scoring), whoever has the most units on the board scores 1/2 the available VP, and the rest of the players score the rest. After the auction phase, everyone gets a chance to grow or shrink 1 size level, flip from Herbivore to Carnivore or back, and reproduce and/or move on the board. After that, any space with more than 1 herbivore in it must be culled - only 1 herbivore and 1 carnivore per space is allowed. There are specific tiebreaker rules for this, and the adaptations help you win these fights. The idea is that the better adapted species eats the food, and the other one starves out. Carnivores have a similar hierarchy. Perhaps counter-intuitively, when you have a carnivore and an herbivore in the same location, the latter is not removed from the board, rather they co-exist in equilibrium (imagine a handful of lions and thousands of deer).

So the game is about getting the right adaptations and choosing to be a carnivore or herbivore based on whether you'll be able to survive and keep guys on the board. It seemed pretty solid in concept, but I did give Phil a handful of comments for some specific things that I thought would make the game better. Which he liked or whether he takes any of them I don't know, but I'd be interested to see.

Chrono Gallery: Museum of Lost History

After Bios Megafauna, Phil, Mandy, Nick, and I played my bluff auction game. I made up a variant to the scoring system I'd used on Thursday's playtest at Brian's house - pretty much on the spot. It worked out pretty well, and I got a lot of good information from the test. Later that night, David came by and I discussed the game with him, and we brainstormed several other scoring systems, and when Ted showed up we tried a 3 player game and tried the most promising sounding system... and it worked really well! And it eliminates the need for Trophy bits.

Chrono Gallery is "in the fire" at this month's Gamesmiths meeting on Monday.

Eminent Domain - Exotic Expansion

Doug, Mandy, Sam, and Nick played a game of Eminent Domain with the Exotic expansion. Sam had maybe played once a long time ago, Nick had never played, Mandy had played EmDo a couple of times before, never with the expansion, and Doug has played a couple of times even with the Exotic stuff. We decided to dive right in with the full game (not the learning game), including the expansion (which is what I wanted to test, really). It went over pretty well - they weren't making expert plays, but both Sam and Nick picked the game up with no problem.

I liked the expansion stuff well enough that I've decided to finally upload it to DropBox (as I've been threatening to do) for interested people to print and play if they like.

All in all I believe yesterday was a highly successful, and a very fun day. I hope to do that more often, at least 1x/month.

Chrono Gallery - playtests and tweaks

I finally had the opportunity to play Chrono Gallery: Museum of Lost History a couple of times, and I tried the scoring scheme I figured out the other day... Not the worst idea in the world, but it didn't go over as well as I'd hoped. While players seemed to like the bluff auction mechanism, they did not seem to like the scoring trophies bouncing back and forth from player to player. I believe the crux of the complaint was that when you get a reward, you feel like that's yours, and it's disappointing to have it taken away from you.


It's possible that trophy system could work with some tweaking of the costs and points - for example:
* When you get a trophy stolen from you, you keep most of the points - so you effectively score for getting a set and the trophy itself is a small additional bonus.
* create several trophies of each type, each worth 2vp, whose cost escalates as they are taken - i.e. the first player to get an Art trophy needs only 3 Art tiles. The next player to do it needs 4. In this case you cannot claim a trophy you already have.
* Somehow ramp up the costs of stealing the trophies so it's harder to do
* Make the trophies for larger Exhibits worth more points than the lesser ones, and then allow people to claim those too (rather than just being allowed to claim 1 trophy of each type).
There are other variations as well. I tried the second one listed above in a playtest yesterday, and it did feel like an improvement over Thursday's game where we were passing the trophies back and forth. That last version seems very promising as far as Trophy scoring goes, however I explored some other options and tried something different in yesterday's second game.

One of Brian's comments after Thursday's game (similar to what I wanted to do before I added trophies in the first place) was that you should turn in sets of tiles to score for them. His point was that you would be limited to 1 such turn-in per round, so if you keep too many tiles in play for too long, you may not be able to score them all. In general LI liked the idea, but as stated I didn't like the way that particular scoring would sound. Discussing with David last night, we figured out a better version of that. Here's what we tried (and it worked very well):

  • You are still limited to 6 Artifacts in play.
  • Upon winning an auction, you MAY 'cash in' a set of tiles. A set is any number of tiles which share at least 1 attribute. For example, 2 tiles that are both blue would be a 2-tile set. 4 Tool tiles would be a 4-tile set. A 3-tile set including 3 ancient Egyptian artifacts would be a 3-tile set, and it would score double (it's really two 3-tile sets). Upon winning an auction giving you a 7th tile, you MUST cash (or discard) at least 1 tile.
  • Cashing in a set means taking those tiles and stacking them face down (on an Exhibit space on your player board). Your reward for this is points - 1/3/6/10... for 1/2/3/4... tiles in the set.
  • You also get an additional die to roll when you cash in a set.
  • After the last round of the game, any tiles you have face up may be scored as if they have been cashed in (or, if it's easier to say, they all may be cashed in). During this "final Scoring," the ability of the Art tiles takes effect - which is that the Star icons on the Art tiles act as a bonus set (if you have 3 face up Art tiles, you'll score a bonus 6 points). It might be easier to say that face up Art tiles simply score 2vp or something before you cash in the sets during Final Scoring.
This worked out very well. When you cash in a set, you lose the abilities on the tiles, and you gain a die to roll, which gives you more information and generally makes it easier to win future auctions. I will try this rule again the next time I play, which will hopefully be soon.


Another thing I noticed during Thursday's game was that there was absolutely no trading going on between players. There was a little too much ditching tiles for dice, making too many dice enter the system too quickly for my liking. I had really hoped that there would be some interesting dynamics involved with the trade aspect, but it simply didn't manifest. For yesterday's games I left that out completely and did not miss it one bit. I also left out the option to take 1 die rather than the tile and didn't miss that either - though I definitely wanted to create some way for dice to enter the game so that the bids escalate. In the first game I tried simply giving a die to the player who won a purple auction (in addition to the tile, which for that game were mostly virtual dice in a particular color). That wasn't too bad, but I prefer the solution I came up with last night - cashing in a set earns you a die.


I quickly realized during the first game that if you do not win any tiles in a given round, it would be good to get a consolation prize of an additional die. The problem is that without tiles, you are not only behind in scoring, but also abilities which help you get tiles... so it's kind of a slippery slope. If you get a consolation die, at least that makes it easier for you to get tiles later. This rule did not come into effect during our 3-player game last night, probably because there were more auction tiles to go around, and everyone gets to bid on 3 of them, while in a 4 or 5 player game you only get 2 bid tokens - much more likely you walk away with nothing.


In order to make for nice clean rules and setup, each player will start with 3 dice, and will have 5 Exhibit slots on their player board housing 1 die each. When "displaying" an exhibit, you earn the die and place the stack of tiles in its place. If you get a consolation, you get to take one of the dice off of your player board - so it's a die you would have gotten anyway maybe, but you get it early. This way players get a maximum of 8 dice each.

As a side note, that would require 40 total dice, but I might rather use 34 dice - which I could do if I just say that in a 5 player game, players get a maximum of 6 dice apiece instead of 8, which I think is acceptable. I suppose I could allow more dice per player for fewer player counts (like 9 or 10 max for 2/3 players).

Other small tweaks
  • Tool ability going back to "Re-roll any number of dice" (rather than just 1 die) - to make it more in line power-wise with the Virtual Dice from Weapons and the extra points from Art.
  • 9 rounds instead of 10 - no funky tile in each color column. Instead all of the funky tiles are in the Purple column
  • Adjust the Purple tiles - there are 9. Currently:
    • +2 dice
    • Overbid with tie
    • Must overbid by 2
    • May hold 2 additional tiles (effectively expanding your hand size from 6 to 7)
    • Wild Culture/Type/Era (choose one - this tile helps you make sets bigger).
    • Virtual purple die
    • 2 Virtual Purple dice, Discard when used (would be used after all passing, but before any auctions are resolved)
    • Extra bid token
    • 4 vp - this tile will always come out in the last round, giving something worth bidding for in the Purple column on round 9.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Chrono Gallery Prototype update - Gamesmiths

My Bluff Auction game, Chrono Gallery: Museum of Lost History (I do NOT love the title for that one) is "in the fire" for this month's Gamesmiths meeting, so last night I took some time to (finally) update my prototype a bit. I created tiles for the auctions, and that took some design work as well. Here's what I came up with:

There are 5 colors of artifacts (well, 6 actually - but 1 is different from the rest):

Green Mayan
Red Roman
Blue Greek
Yellow Egyptian
Black African
Purple Future

The Purple auction will be for tiles which give you an ability of some kind, not an artifact that you display for points. Also, the purple auction is strictly "how many Purple are there?" while the other auctions are "How many Red (for example) + Purple are there?" (Purple is wild).

For each Culture there will be 3 types of artifact:
  • Tools
  • Weapons
  • Art
And for each type of artifact there will be 3 Eras:
  • Ancient
  • Medieval
  • Modern
(Not sure exactly what a "Modern Roman Tool" might look like, but whatever) The artifacts will offer a small bonus as well:
Artifact Type Game Bonus
Tool +1 die of that color
Weapon Re-roll 1 die before bidding
Art +1 VP
In addition, the Purple tiles give you things like:
  • +1 die of a particular color
  • +2 purple dice (one-use)
  • Re-roll Any Dice
And each auction stack will have 1 special tile which also gives you no points but a bigger game benefit:
  • +1 Bid Marker
  • Overbid with a tied bid
  • +2 dice to roll
(Currently there are 2 of each of those tiles) I'm hoping these abilities will be interesting and fun enough. As for scoring, I'm not certain exactly how I'd like to do that. I have always considered that each player should be allowed 3 Exhibits, and that tiles in any given exhibit must share 1 attribute (Culture, Type, or Era). Part of me wants to go one by one and reward Culture sets, Type sets, and then Era sets - meaning if you have tiles that fit into more than one set, they'll score twice). Part of me wants to award 1vp per tile (so it's always worth getting tiles when you can) and rewarding a significant bonus for a set. And part of me likes the idea of some tiles being worthless to you after a point (they don't fit into your exhibits) and so you are encouraged to trade them with opponents.

I am going to stick with the recent structure change wherein upon winning an auction you may either trade your tile to an opponent (for any combination of dice and artifacts), 'sell' the tile to the game for +1 die, or keep the tile to score in your Exhibits. Maybe it would be wise to allow changing in a tile for a die later as well - in case you get a tile hoping to get a matching one later, and if someone takes that matching one, your tile is now useless... not sure about that.

I'm excited to finally playtest this game!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Kings of Air and Steam - thoughts on action economy

Originally (well, when *I* first saw it)) Kings of Air and Steam was played over 7 rounds. Often players had a whole lot of nothing to do in the final round. demand would completely dry up such that there were cubes on the board that could not be delivered at all, all the other cubes having been delivered already.

To fix this I simply said "hey - let's cut that last round off, and only play 6 rounds!" This worked very well, as now players had things to do all the way through the game. It's still the case where you'll Pass an action or 2 near the end of the game rather than spend money, but I thought that was acceptable. So I've been happy with the 6 round game thus far.

However, taking another look, I think that actions really aren't tight enough. Players are still passing actions, even if only a couple, and they are upgrading their Airship and Train more than enough. I'd like to see Actions be in shorter supply so that players will not be able to build all their depots, upgrade both their Airship and their train all the way, and still be able to make all of their deliveries. If Actions are more valuable, then Character Abilities that amount to a free action here or there will have more value to them.

What I should really do is figure out about how many upgrades I expect or would like a player to make, and see how many actions that leaves them to do deliveries, and look at how many deliveries I think a player should be able to make in a game. I quickly looked at that just now, and I figure a 5 round game might actually work really well. 20 actions could break down something like this:

7-8 Upgrades (some Train and some Airship)
5-8 Depots
8-10 Delivery action
And a couple of Route Adjustments or partial delivery actions (moving part way to the destination).

Note that if you spend 16 actions upgrading both your Train and your Airship and buying 8 Depots, then you'll only have 4 left to make deliveries. Maximized that's probably 10 cubes at about $14, which probably won't be enough cash to win. 6 deliveries averaging 2.5 cubes/delivery and averaging $14/cube might be enough to win.

I think 5 rounds (20 actions total) may be the way to go! Time to try it...

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Kings of Air and Steam - Character abilities

For those interested, here are the current character abilities and special movement cards for Kings of Air and Steam. We tested the first draft and made some adjustments. these are not final, but are probably pretty close to what the final game will have in it.

Each movement phase will go in turn order, so move-1 cards will always go before move-3 cards, but given the same movement card, Harvey and Reginald will always act before Clint and Eli. As compensation, the later turn order characters have the more powerful abilities.

Each player will be assigned 1 team, and each team has 2 characters from which the player will choose. Each character has a special ability, and each team also has a special movement card and potentially unique Airship stats as well.

1a - Harvey Golding: Start with a Level 2 Airship and $20 instead of $12 (or $15?).
Harvey Golding is the stepson of Lawrence Golding, out to salvage his father's empire.

1b - Reginald Kain: Start with a Level 2 Airship. Place additional starting depot after other players have placed.
Reginald Kain was Lawrence Golding's business partner, he helped Lawrence found Golding Enterprises and would hate to see it crumble.

1move - Move 0*, + Action

2a - Aurelia Bayley: As an Action, convert 1 cube of one color to 1 cube of another color.
Aurelia is a quirky inventor, out to prove that what the industrial revolution needs is a healthy dose of science.

2b - ISAAC (Intelligent Steam Automated Airship Captain): Discard a Cube to get 1 additional Action (1x/action)
Aurelia's clockwork assistant I.S.A.A.C. is an adept Airship pilot.

2move - Move 7** (Straight line)

3a - Eva Blane: Start with Level 2 Train. May construct a new link for $1/tile and place a Depot on it.
3b - Victor Blane: Start with Level 2 Train. $1 discount on Depots.
3move - Move 2* + Ship 1 Good (execute during 2*move round).
Son and Daughter of one of the original Rail Barons, Eva and Victor's contacts in the rail industry reach far and wide. As Rail Barons, Eva and Victor have a jump on other teams when it comes to depots and rail lines, but they're not as adept with Airships, so their Engine and Cargo upgrades top out lower than other characters. We might add storage limits to Depots, in which case Eva and Victor would be allowed to store more goods in each Depot.

4a - Flora Kingston: Upon filling a city, draw 2 New Demand tiles and choose 1.
4b - Bishop Kingston: When Delivering 2+ cubes, may place 1 in supply rather than on City (that one doesn't count toward capacity limit).
4move - Move 2, then Move 2 (execute during 4move round).
British shipping magnates Flora and Bishop Kingston are experts in the industry, very in tune with the demands of the marketplace. With Lawrence Golding gone, they have come to British Colonial America in order to claim their rightful crown as the true Kings of Air and Steam.

Flora and Bishop's Engine upgrades slower than other characters, but their Cargo upgrades faster.

5a - Clint Castle: Free Route Adjustments, and 1x/round may make an additional Route Adjustment without using an action.
5b - Eli Diamond: Play a (1-3) movement card as an action
5move - Move 6**
Clint Castle's grandfather Beaufort Castle was the first to employ the Diamond Engine in an Airship - and doing revolutionized Airship Racing at the time. That event is what inspired Lawrence Golding to adapt the Diamond Engine for his shipping industry. Clint Castle, with his Grandfather's racing Zepplin, has teamed up with Eli Diamond, who's grandfather invented the Engine itself, to bring the speed of Airship champions to the industrial revolution.

As a champion racing ship, the Sky Castle's cargo upgrades slower than other characters'. But their Engine upgrades faster. When it comes to piloting an Airship, this team cannot be beaten.

6a - Sebastian King: When delivering, may pay up to $3. For each $1 paid, draw 1 Market tile. If any match the cubes delivered, +$3/cube.
A habitual gambler, Sebastian King has tried a lot of failed ventures. Having won an Airship in a poker game from a con man, King thought it might be fun to enter the burgeoning shipping industry that he'd heard so much about. Knowing very little about Airships, he teamed up with the only Airship pilot he knew, which happened to be the man who he'd won the ship from!

6b - Corday McQuinn: 3 times per game, may spend 1 "Swindle" token to deliver 1 off color cube with a delivery.
A con man by nature, Corday McQuinn's pride took a hit when he lost his Airship to Sebastian King. He was happy to be recruited to pilot it by it's new owner. Both Sebastian and Corday have something of a dark side, but they have become friends and partners in order to make it rich as shipping magnates.

6move - Move 0-3*

7a - Thaddeus Birch: Use opponents' depots for $1/cube instead of $2/cube
When Mafia lieutenant Thaddeus Birch gives you an envelope of cash in exchange for using your depot, you don't count it in front of him.

7b - Mort Flynn: When using 1*, 2*, or 3* movement card, may Steal at the end of movement (stealing counts as picking up).
Mafia thug Mortimer Flynn finds it easier sometimes to take goods from another depot or Airship then to fly all the way to a factory.

7move - Move 0* + Steal 1 Good (stealing counts as picking up).