Thursday, September 20, 2012


I've mentioned my Rond-cala game about the Knights Templar a bit recently. Playing Trajan again just made me want to work on this game. So I pored over my most recent posts and rules for the game, brought it to our monthly Gamesmiths meeting, and have been giving it a lot of thought. Here are some of the questions that have come up and decisions that I've made about the game:

  • Title: I'm now leaning toward the simple title Templar. Order of the Temple, Knights Templar, and Templar Knights are decent titles, but the word Templar is almost iconic and relatively unique, so maybe cutting the chaff and just using that word alone is the way to go.
  • A communal coffer containing funds for players to use will be problematic. When players are not spending their own resources, there's no reason to budget - and when spending resources leaves less for the next guy that becomes an even bigger concern! Therefore I am considering 2 options:
    Option 1) Remove currency from the game. This makes things simpler, you just do the action according to how many tokens are in the action bin, period. No need to manage another resource.
    Option 2) Have an "infinitely large" communal coffer, and whenever you spend you actually take the money out of the coffer and keep it. This record of how much of the Order's money you have spent could be referenced at game end, and there could be penalties for players who spent the most/2nd most, etc. This may encourage budgeting, even in light of player "not having personal holdings." Then again, at some point why not just have personal holdings after all?
  • Along the lines of simplifying things, I am reconsidering how Troops ought to work. Currently they are a currency in the game - you use the Muster action to collect Troops, and the Crusade action to spend Troops to "buy" enemy tokens (and the VP they provide). On top of spending that currency, there must be enough tokens in the Crusade bin to defeat the enemies. That seems cumbersome and redundant. The strength of the action is supposed to be based on the number of tokens in that action's bin. Perhaps Troops should add to that in the way Buildings add to other actions. Thus, Troops act the same way Buildings do, but you get them with a different action. The rules I'm considering now is this:
    CRUSADE: The crusade action allows you to fight Enemies, scoring influence and clearing regions to make space for more buildings.
    1. Choose 1 region containing one of your (any player's?) Knight figures and an Enemy token.
    2. Determine the Enemy Strength by checking the Enemy Strength track for the appropriate enemy type.
    3. Each Troop token adds 1 to the number of action tokens in the Crusade bin. If the Enemy Strength is less than or equal to
    the number of action tokens in the Crusade bin, you have won the Crusade. Otherwise you have not.
    4. When you win a Crusade, collect Influence tokens equal to the Enemy Strength and move the Enemy token to the appropriate Enemy Strength track. When you lose a Crusade, do nothing.

    MUSTER: The muster action allows you to muster troops to take crusading with your knights.Each Farm you have erected adds 1 to the number of action tokens in the Muster bin. Collect the next Troop token from your supply - its level must be less than or equal to the number of action tokens in the Muster bin. Your board has 3 spaces to hold Troops. Each Farm you have erected confers an additional space to hold a Troop token.
  • That said, the building wording would need to be adjusted for Banks - they should add 1 to the number of action tokens in the Build bin. For that to work, the Buildings would have to "cost" something like 3/5/7/9 rather than 1/2/3/4. Similarly, each player would have a supply of 7 Troop tokens with levels something like 3/4/5/6/7/8/9.
  • I like the idea of the End Game Phase, where destruction radiates from Paris and Knights flee to safe havens. I like it thematically, and mechanically I like how buildings can score that way, making building score values sort of interesting and variable from game to game. Other than that mechanism, I don't currently have a reason to build a particular building in one location over another, or a reason to build one building over another in a particular location. However, I'm not sure I like having to change the rules for the last 20% or so of the game. Perhaps better is to simply end the game when the Influence pool runs out. This was suggested at Gamesmiths, and in some ways I like the idea while in other ways I don't. Historically, the arrest order for the Knights Templar was given in 1307, but the Knights weren't gone until 1312, so there were a few years there where things kept going. Maybe it would be OK to keep the End Game Phase, but NOT change the rules? Let people build and Crusade as normal. Maybe offer a bonus for each Knight that's in a Safe Haven at game end (or a penalty for each Knight on the board that isn't).
  • There were some additional comments at Gamesmiths about making the Rondel do more stuff, like a benefit for having the most action tokens in a particular bin - maybe to encourage saving them up in different bins? This may add a layer of player interaction, which could be a welcome thing, but at the same time it adds a whole layer of complexity that I'm not sure I want. I think I prefer a simple, straightforward implementation of the Rond-cala, at least for now.
  • One more comment that came up at Gamesmiths was about the Crusade action. Matt wanted to see more focus on the Crusades - specifically on an individual Crusade. I think it was a difference in scope - I am looking at the whole thing from a more 'zoomed out' perspective, where the crusades moving across the land are represented by you moving your Knight from region to region, and the culmination of the Crusade is the Crusade action where you defeat an Enemy. I think Matt wanted to zoom in more and watch a Crusade actually move across the board.

Super busy + not feeling well = unfortunate combination!

When I started this blog post on Monday I was feeling feverish - my fingers were numb and I was shivering despite it being almost 80 degrees in here. I spent about 4 hours feeling this way, but then made a more-or-less miraculous recovery! I'm so relieved I didn't get sick (or, that I got better right away)!

We're inside 2 weeks from RinCon! That's both very exciting, and very hectic. I feel like there's so much to do, and everything feels like it's behind schedule - but at the same time I feel like it will all get done, and the convention will be awesome! I'm learning a lot about what I'll want to do differently for next year - making plans for that already.

In addition to RinCon planning, I've been finalizing the rules for my Eminent Domain expansion: Escalation as the illustrations for tech cards roll in. I believe we're down to the last two! [EDIT: We've got them all now!] Then the whole shebang gets sent to the excellent Graphic Designer Gavan Brown who worked wonders with the base game. I haven't heard if the cover will be done by him again, or if we're going to get an illustration done this time.

On top of that, the final pages of the Kings of Air and Steam rulebook have been popping up like wildflowers, and approvals have been fast and furious. As usual Josh has really hit this one out of the park... again! Perhaps Kickstarters will get a peek at a rules spread in an upcoming update. The rest of the graphics look as good if not better than the rulebook - with my favorite being one of the player board images - but I'll keep that to myself for now - you can place your wagers when they become public as to which one is my favorite (hint: they're all fantastic, but there are 2 I like best, the "favorite" wins by a nose, so to speak).

In case you haven't heard, the big news is that Michael and I are headed to Essen next month! TMG will not have a booth, but you can find TMG titles Ground Floor, Belfort, Eminent Domain, and Martian Dice at booth 4-230 (LocWorks). I will be in the LocWorks booth signing copies of Eminent Domain for a couple of hours each day, so if you are at the show (especially if I have any European readers who I may not otherwise meet in person), please come on by and say hello! It would make my day to hear that my humble blog is being read on the far side of the world :) I'll try to post more information (such as, I don't know, some kind of schedule maybe?) as it comes to light.

In actual gaming news, I finally got a chance to play the copy of Trajan that I picked up at GenCon. I think I like the game, but I do find something about the Rondel mechanism to be overwrought... I think I might like it better for example if instead of 6 colors, the action tokens were monochrome, and instead of a particular combination of colors, the Trajan tiles simply had a number on them, and you scored them by landing in that action bin and having exactly that number of tokens. Trying to plan ahead which color you'll want where is largely impossible, and introduces my least favorite dynamic to the game - analysis paralysis due to simply not knowing which of 2 choices could possibly be better (and trying to find some reason to pick one over the other).

Playing Trajan mostly made me want to revisit my own game idea using a "Rond-cala" mechanism... For those just tuning in (and for those who read my blog all the time, since it's been a while since I talked about this), here's how my idea came about:

When I first read some teaser information about Trajan, I only heard that it used the Mancala mechanism to distribute markers around a Rondel. I thought that idea was brilliant, and made some assumptions on how that must work. My guess was that on your turn you would choose an action to do, resolve that action based on the number of action tokens in that space on the Rondel, then distribute those tokens around the Rondel a-la Mancala. This sounded fantastic, as each action would sort of grow in power until you take it, then it would revert back to zero, and you'd have to build it back up again or settle for it being weaker the next time you take it. I was really excited about this idea, and waited with baited breath for Trajan to come out... only to find that I'd guessed wrong! Trajan did not work the way I thought it might, instead that game has you choose a bin, distribute the tokens around the Rondel, and then perform the action associated with the last bin you land on.

Trajan's mechanism is also interesting, but as I mentioned above, I find it annoyingly difficult to plan ahead, and a small mistake seems to not just set you back, but force you to drop all of your plans and start again (because all the bins have the wrong number of tokens now, meaning all of your available actions are different than you may have expected). I think my guess would make for an entirely different mechanical experience, one well worth pursuing. Playing Trajan has encouraged me to start thinking about this again, and so I brought my 1/2 prototype (more like 80%) to Monday's Gamesmiths meeting where I described it to a few people and got some feedback from them. One of these days I'd like to actually play the game and see what needs fixing! My next blog post will likely be new and ongoing thoughts about that game (the title of which I'm now leaning towards Templar).

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Recent Developments

Gen Con was a lot of fun. We didn't have to spend a lot of time in the booth, so we got a lot more opportunity to meet people, play games, and review submissions. We played 3 or 4 prototypes, accepting 2 of them to take home with us.

I met a number of people at Gen Con, some of whom I'd met before, some of whom I see on Twitter, and some brand new faces.

While at the con I managed to play Hanabi for 12 hours straight. An epic session culminating in a very satisfying perfect score! It's fascinating to watch people play Hanabi together over time, and watch how they shift their thinking and behavior to be on the same page. We found that even with the same 4 players, our score would drop when we mixed up turn order.

Speaking of Hanabi, I spent last weekend at Strategicon in Los Angeles where the Guest of Honor was Antoine Bauza - designer of a number of popular games including Ghost Stories, the award winning 7 Wonders, and Hanabi. I played prototypes of Antoine's upcoming Tokaido, Sinbad, and the 7 Wonders expansion: Armada. I liked all three of those. I chatted with Antoine quite a bit over the weekend as well, even introduced him to Mountain Dew (he'd never heard of that particular soda) - though I don't know how he liked it. Antoine was nice enough to play one of my own prototypes as well: Exhibit. He had some interesting comments for me, which I will be taking into account.

At Strategicon I also ran several events or tournaments for Village, Belfort, and Eminent Domain. My friend Brian happened to win the sponsored Village tournament on Monday, so he got a copy of the game :) Other games I played at Strategicon include Seasons, which was the sleeper hit of Gen Con (and seemed very popular in well), Off Your Rocker, and Dixit Jinx. Seasons and Dixit Jinx, along with Tokaido, were taught to me by Stefan Brunelle of Asmodee, who turned out to be a fun guy as well.

P.S. Stefan: I think you got a rule wrong in Seasons! That emergency action where you discard 2 resources to get 2 other ones - the rulebook says they don't have to match. Not a big deal, but thought you might like to know!

I had brought with me an advance copy of Noblemen, a co-production between Pegasus Spiel and TMG. I didn't really have time to play it, so I set the game up on a table and made a "Try Me" sign... I left it set up all weekend, and it got played at least 5 times, with at least 15 different people! I didn't talk to all of them, but I know for a fact that Brian Poe and Eric Elder liked the game :) I'm really excited for Noblemen to come out because I remember its development 4 years ago, before it won Hippodice. I even wrote some blog posts about it back then.

I've also been playing a homemade copy of Il Vecchio, by Hall games, which I believe TMG will be doing in English as well. It's by Rudiger Dorn, and I'm excited to have a big name designer such as Dorn in the TMG line. Yesterday we played Rialto, by Stefan Feld, which I believe TMG is going in on with Pegasus as well. That's another name I'm proud to see in the TMG lineup. At Gen Con I picked up Feld's Trajan, which I played at BGG.con last year, but sadly I have not had a chance to play it yet.

Finally, the big news is that I'm making arrangements to go to Essen this year! I've been interested in Essen for some time now, but it's so expensive (and so long) that I haven't really seriously looked into going. Well, this year I am taking the plunge! My plan is to scope it out so that hopefully next year TMG can have a booth there and I'll have an idea of what's going on. I'll post more details as I have them, but I have secured a place to stay, and now I just need to buy a plane ticket!