John, Steve, and I played a full 3p game of The Pony Express, and I'm happy to say that the game did work!
A few items that I want to change and other thoughts I had while playing:
* All routes need to cost a minimum of 1... irrespective of discounts. I think that's fine, I can just say that you can discount the route to a minimum of 1. No big deal there. Of course, the Guide could theoretically still reduce a route to 0, but that also means you necessarily get 2 turns in a row... I could just as easily have the Guide reduce the cost to 1 instead of 0, and that would be fine.
* I should clarify "dropping" items vs "discarding" them. When something is "discarded" it is removed from the board, and effectively the game. When a player has too many items, they need to "drop" one, which means put it into their current town.
* I currently have 5 Maps in the Auction deck. Each of these maps gives you -1 to each of 2 cities. I like them, but as soon as someone got 1 it occurred to me that I had to determine whether it counts against their item limit. I said it did. That seemed fine. Ok, so suppose you drop 1 to make space for something else... does the map card go into the town to be picked up later? Or is that weird because it's physically a card?
I could make 5 tiles that match those maps, and when you claim that map card then you grab that particular tile, but that's 2 components to do the job of 1.
I could say that THOSE maps are different, and when you drop them, they are discarded, but then they act differently than other maps. is that OK? You already get them in a different way than other maps.
And finally, I could say that the map cards do not count against your item limit... again, acting different than other maps. is that OK? you get them differently, and they LOOK different, so maybe that's acceptable.
One other thing that happened - a player was at item capacity, and claimed a map card in the auction phase.So what happens? I had him drop an item in the Post office space, and allowed the next player to pick it up on the way out, which is all kinds of weird and unintuitive.
Not sure which way I'll go on that one yet.
* I am strongly considering adding a rule that you can only have 1 copy of any given item. Steve had 2 Compasses, so he got -2 to each route. Thematically it doesn't make much sense that a 2nd compass would help you any... or a 2nd map to the same town for that matter. Perhaps the map could be excused, but I think overall I should limit players to 1 item of each title.
* Currently, Tumbleweeds are simply non-hazards. Steve had a suggestion that instead, when drawing a Tumbleweed for a route, it could mean you discard the Hazards on that route. Where there used to be something, now there's nothing but a tumbleweed.
If I try that, then I'd reduce the number of tumbleweeds WAY down (currently they're the most common tile). Instead of 9 of them, I might want 2. Though thematically, it's weird that a winding trail or a river crossing disappears. Then again, it's a little weird that a river crossing appears out of nowhere anyway.
* John suggested that I stage the hazards and items, or at the very least, identify some of them to come out in setup to make sure they are at last in play. For example, I could make sure at least 1 Peacemaker is in play in the first round, so that a player could go for it in order to deal with Bandits.
In that case I suppose I could make all the winding trails and river crossings show up at the beginning (you just didn't know about them at first), which might be more thematic.
* I have been worrying about how to do tiebreaks if multiple players claim at the same time in the auction. I think the way to go is to say that turn order is the tiebreak, but that only applies if you actually speak up at the same time. If you're player 1 and I'm player 2, and I speak up before you do, then you can't say "oh, wait, I'll take it for that amount" - but if we both speak up at the same time, then your turn order means you win the tie.
Overall I think it was pretty good. I will make some of these tweaks before trying it again, but I think it's definitely got potential. I still think I'll look into Dan's idea to make a board with 2 Post Offices, one in Missouri and the other in Sacramento or something like that.
Sunday, December 28, 2014
John, Steve, and I played a full 3p game of The Pony Express, and I'm happy to say that the game did work!
After fiddling with the physical prototype components and showing the game off to my friend Dan Keltner (co-designer of Isle of Trains and Bomb Squad), I decided that (a) I absolutely needed a larger board... probably more towns, but definitely bigger dimensions, and (b) my silly turn order idea wasn't likely to work out exactly right. So I made some changes to the plan, and printed a much larger board to try. Here are the rules I wrote down for the first version of The Pony Express that I'll actually play:
The Pony Express
by Seth Jaffee … v1.1 12/27/14
- 5 Rider figures (1 per player)
- 5 Travel markers (1 per player)
- 1 Game board with Travel and Turn Order tracks
- 60 Money tokens (15@5vp, 45@1vp)
- 45 Auction cards
- ...40 Parcels (4 per Town)
- ...5 Map cards (-1 to each of 2 towns)
- 36 Hazard tiles
- ...9 Tumbleweeds (+0)
- ...9 Rattlesnakes (+1 unless you have Torch)
- ...5 Bears (+2, killed by Shotgun)
- ...5 Bandits (+3 unless you have Peacemaker, killed by Shotgun)
- ...4 Lost! (+2 or discard a map)
- ...4 River Crossing (+2)
- 44 Item tiles
- ...10 Maps (-2 to a particular town)
- ...4 Guides (discard to pay for a route)
- ...4 Tips (Collect $3)
- ...4 Parcels (Draw a Parcel card and collect $5)
- ...4 Shotgun (Discard to kill Bear or Bandits)
- ...3 Torch (Ignore Rattlesnakes)
- ...3 Spurs (-1 if no Hazard)
- ...3 Saddlebag (Hold +2 Items)
- ...3 Saloon (Must take, discard immediately)
- ...2 Peacemaker (Ignore Bandits)
- ...2 Compass (-1 per route)
- ...2 Canteen (-2 on 2-cost routes)
- Each player receives the following in their player color:
- ...1 Rider figure (place at Post Office)
- ...1 Travel marker (place near Travel track)
- Place the board in the center of the play area.
- Shuffle the Auction cards.
- Shuffle the Item tiles face down beside the board and place 2 of them in each Town.
- Shuffle the Hazard tiles face down beside the board.
- In random order, each player places their Rider onto the Turn Order track.
- Place the Money tokens in a supply pile.
- You are ready to begin!
- Deal each player 1 Auction card from the deck. This will be a Parcel you must deliver, or it will be a Map card which will help you ride more efficiently in the Delivery phase.
- Turn 2 Auction cards face up for each player in the game. In turn order, according to the Turn Order track, players will take turns being the Auctioneer.
- The Auctioneer chooses one of the face up Auction cards and collects $10.
- The Auctioneer will then start counting slowly upwards from $3 (“$3… $4… $5… $6…”) until they get to $10, or until another player claims the card.
- If another player claims the card, give them the card, as well as the money according to the last amount you announced. You keep the rest. Example: Dan chooses a Parcel bound for Town #3 and collects $10. After counting to $6, Seth says “I’ll take it for $6!” Dan gives Seth the Parcel as well as $6 of the $10, he keeps the rest.
- If nobody claims the card before you get to $10, then you keep the card – you are responsible for delivering it.
- The next player in turn order becomes the Auctioneer, and another card is selected.
After 3 rounds of Auction and Delivery, the game is over. The player with the most money is the winner.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
I have put a little more thought into the recent ideas I had for a game about the Pony Express. Here's how the skeleton is shaping up...
I will need a game board, so because that's generally my weak suite I once again I went to Twitter to crowd source one. John Lonnie came through again with a nice image that will serve well as a basis for a game board. I had asked for something with 10 towns plus the post office, and he sent me this awesome looking map:
I've sketched out some trails between the towns, and I'm starting to think I might need more towns in the game. But that remains to be seen - for now I'm going to stick with 10.
Each trail will have a "cost" associated with it - what you pay to traverse that trail. The game will be about making deliveries for money, and the rider who profits the most will win the game.
Set out the game board and draw 2 Item tiles per town. These items will be available to pick up during the game, and they will give you benefits such as discounts on routes.
Each player will be dealt 1 Parcel card, and then 2 more parcel cards per player will be laid out face up to be auctioned off. The player with the least money (recorded on a Money track around the board) will be the Auctioneer, and will choose 1 Parcel card to auction off. The Auctioneer will also be given $10.
Starting at the minimum bid ($3 or $4), the Auctioneer will count up ("$3... $4... $5... $6...) until another player speaks up and claims the delivery ("I'll take it for $6!") The Auctioneer will give that player the Parcel card, as well as $6 (out of the $10 they received). The Auctioneer gets to keep the rest. If nobody claims the Parcel by the time the Auctioneer gets to $10, then the Auctioneer must keep the Parcel - they are now responsible to deliver it, but they also get to keep the $10 they received. Again, the player with the least money becomes the Auctioneer, and this process is repeated until all Parcel cards have been auctioned off.
After all of the Parcels have been claimed by riders, we move to the delivery phase. Before any deliveries are made, a Hazard tile is drawn and placed on each trail. Hazards are things that make the trails more "dangerous" - and therefore more expensive to take. Some hazards will be negated by certain items.
In this phase of the game, the player with the MOST money will be on turn. On your turn in the delivery phase, you move your rider from one town to the next, paying the cost of the trail in between, as well as any penalties from hazards or bonuses from items. When arriving at a town, you make your delivery (if you have a Parcel for that town), and you may take 1 of the Item tokens at that town. Or maybe you must either do one or the other - I'm not sure about that yet.
I'm thinking a rider should have a maximum number of items they can carry, so if they get too many, they'll have to discard down, or leave an item at a town perhaps. Then there can be an item (saddlebags) that increases the number of items they can hold.
Once all riders have returned to the Post Office, having delivered all of their Parcels, then the next round begins. I'm thinking 3 rounds, 10 towns, therefore I'll need:
The game will be over after maybe 3 rounds, and the player with the most money remaining will be the winner!
Monday, December 22, 2014
Yesterday I had a GREAT playtest day!
5 people came over, plus myself and my roommate, and played a total of 5 games of Crusaders and 1 game of Steam Works. I'm happy to report that all of those games went exceptionally well!
Steam WorksDave, Russell, Sean, and I played a 4p game of Steam Works, and we used the B sides of the character cards. Well, 4 of them anyway. Dave and Russell looked at the others as well and marveled at how each one was probably crazy good. They did mention that it's probably good if they're all "too good" rather than "too bad" because people will enjoy playing them more. Now to see if they're balanced!
The game went well. The scores were pretty close, with Sean (having never played before) scoring the lowest, Russell scoring next lowest, failing to accomplish what he was trying to accomplish, and Dave beating me by 9 points, while in the last round I accidentally handed him about 5 points by making a dumb play. So all in all that was pretty close, and it seemed like the characters we used were pretty fair.
I need to play some more to get more experience with all of the B characters and make sure they're well balanced! Luckily it looks like designer Alex Churchill has done a good job so far with their balance and with testing them.
Crusaders: Thy Will Be DoneLately my main focus has been on Crusaders. Since October it has progressed very well and very rapidly to the point where I'm starting to think it might be about done!
I've been keeping some records, and the game is pretty consistently lasting about 45 minutes (3p) to an hour or so (4p). There appears to be, pretty consistently, about 27 rounds of play. One game was only 23, either because people were Influencing more heavily, or because Mandy missed marking the round a few times - probably a little bit of both ;) This is good information, and will help me determine some tweaks if I decide the game is too long, though player feedback has been that the game is a good length, both on the clock, and in terms of how much stuff you get done.
I can't say it enough, the games have been going VERY well. I've been trying to watch the power level of the Faction cards so I can tweak them. Here's what I'm currently thinking about each:
The Knights Templar
Once per turn when distributing action cubes, you may drop 2 cubes into the same bin.
This has been touted as "very strong" by several testers, and if you think about it, it does allow you to refill an empty bin in 1/2 the time. I do think this is the strongest ability, but I would like to see it exist.
I tried it with a drawback: you can only double drop if you had unused cubes ("You may use -1 cube for your action. If you do, when distributing action cubes you may drop 2 cubes into the same bin.") But I didn't like that, because it just meant I didn't use it most of the time. It certainly worked as a nerf, but I might prefer a different one...
My next thought is to allow the Knights Templar to use the ability every turn if they want, but make them sacrifice an entire Action cube (or 2!) for the game. I.e. "Begin the game with 11 (10?) Action cubes. When distributing action cubes you may drop 2 cubes into the same bin.)
The Knights Hospitaller
Once per turn when distributing action cubes, you may skip an Action bin.
This has been a universally popular ability. I don't think it's too strong, in fact I think it's about right.
For now I'll leave this one alone.
The Knights Teutonic
You may distribute action cubes clockwise or counter-clockwise.
This has been used many times by any player that has it, but in the end the players often feel like it's not as strong as the Knights Hospitaller. I'm not so sure, I think it's probably on par.
For now I'll leave this one alone.
The Order of Santiago
When distributing action cubes, you may leave any number of unused cubes in their original bin.
This power sounded strong to me, but I haven't seen it used well. I'm not sure if it's just very subtle, or if it's really not that useful. But I do like the existence of the ability, so I might try buffing this Faction by either giving it another Action cube or a Rondel upgrade.
The Knights of St Lazarus
Begin the game with X Rondel upgrades.
I started with X=1, and that seemed very weak. I tried X=6 (your whole Rondel upgraded), and that seemed very strong. Yesterday I tried X=3, and that seemed OK. I might like to try X=2, though I'm pretty sure either 2 or 3 is correct.
The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre
Begin the game with X additional Action cubes.
I started out with X=1, and I wouldn't say it seemed weak, but I worried players would feel like they didn't really have an ability. I've been using X=2 now, and I think that might be the way to go.
For now I'll leave this one alone.
I might like to try another couple of Factions:
* Begin the game with 1 additional Action cube and 1 Rondel upgrade.
* Begin the game with only 6 Action cubes (1 in each bin). +1 Crusade/+1 Build/+1 Travel/+1 Muster/+1 Influence.
* Santiago power above + Extra Cube (assuming Santiago gets a Rondel upgrade)
The last thing I might want to tweak is the fiddliness of the scoring - especially the wave of Destruction at the end.
One thought is to just get rid of the Wave, but I think it serves a purpose. I don't really know how to make it more clear or better though. I am considering changing the board a bit, making the 5's on the right side of the board into 4's, and the 6's into 5's, thereby making fewer rounds of destruction, maybe simplifying the endgame bonus a little bit, and also reducing it (I think the buildings are worth a little too much).
There have been some player requests to remove the necessity to take Influence tokens every turn, but the ideas to replace it aren't really any less fiddly, so I might stick with what I've got there.
And finally, I'm not super thrilled with the game end. The game is good, and fun, but then it's like "oh, by the way the game is over." I would love a more exciting game end. Though some players have said that the dwindling pile of VP tokens gave them a feeling of pressure to get things done.
In any case, I'm stoked to play this one again! I have sent out PnP files to a couple of friends who may construct a copy over the holiday season. I'm dying to hear what they think of it!
Sunday, December 14, 2014
I sent my prototype of The Knights Templar home with members of The League of Game Makers - a design group out of southern California, and I heard tell that they may have played it today... I eagerly await their feedback!
In the meantime, I had a couple of friends over today and played two 4p games back to back, with all the latest tweaks, including a brand new Enemy track indicating the strength of each enemy... one Enemy grows in strength (though I flattened the curve at the high end), another is a standard 6 strength all game long, and the third starts out very strong and gets weaker as people defeat them.
I'm not 100% convinced that the "discount of 1 for indicated buildings" is the BEST way to do it, but it seemed to work alright. As expected, each players first turn was "Build one of the 2 buildings I get a discount for" - which makes me wonder if I shouldn't just tell people to start by placing one of those buildings into play. But we did start by building 3 different buildings, and the tweaks led to a lot more early building.
In the first game, John and I both went or a heavy Build/Influence strategy, though I seemed to do a better job of it than he did. Dave went all-out Crusading. I ended up winning the game, beating Dave by about 20 points, but I'm pretty sure that with 3 potential Influence spaces (looking at all the upgradable spaces), the Level 3 Church ("+1 Influence per cube") might be a little too powerful: I got AT LEAST 15, maybe more like 20 points off of that building itself. If that were merely "+1 Influence" then it only would have been 4 or 5 points instead, making the scores very similar between the Build/Influence strategy and the Crusade/Build strategy.
In the second game I nerfed the Level 3 Church (down to "+1 Influence"), but it didn't matter much as nobody really pursued an Influence strategy anyway. In that game I made another adjustment, reducing the costs of the non-bank buildings to 3/4/5/6 rather than 3/5/7/9 (as I discussed in my last post). This way I hoped that a player could get to the high end of the Building tracks without being FORCED to build Banks. I went all out on Farms, mustering Troops, and Palaces, hoping to crusade a lot, but I stumbled a bit in the early game, and didn't really do as much crusading as I would have liked. Dave on the other hand managed to completely dominate the board, Crusading like crazy, building lots of buildings far from Paris. He managed 135 points while the rest of us had 80-90 points.
I'm starting to get some data on the faction abilities and their relative strengths:
* The Knights Templar (drop 2 cubes into 1 bin) seems to be very strong
* The Knights Hospitaller (skip a bin) seems very useful, though not too strong so far
* The Knights Teutonic (distribute either direction) seems good when using a bin with few tokens in it, but less useful when doing large actions - which I htink is probably fine.
* The Knights of St Lazarus (start with 1 upgrade) seems pretty weak, I might make that 2 upgrades or something.
* The Order of Santiago (may leave unused cubes behind) sounds like it could be very strong, but I haven't seen it in action enough to make a determination.
* The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre (start with 13 action tokens) FEELS weak/boring, but it's hard to quantify its power. I had this one in the 1st game, when I won.
The "discount" thing on the starting spaces kinda kills the obvious benefit of The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, who could otherwise build on turn 1 when noone else could. I might combine that faction with Lazarus, allowing a player to stat with an extra cube AND an upgraded space, or I might let the Holy Sepulchre start with *2* extra cubes, and Lazarus start with *2* (or more?) upgraded spaces. For example, would it be broken to start with ALL of the action bins upgraded?
Things to try/keep trying:
* The Knights of St Lazarus: either "all bins upgraded" (or maybe "swap the order of 2 action bins, and upgrade 1 (2?) action bins, or something like that).
* The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre: Start with 2 extra Action cubes.
* Somehow weaken The Knights Templar maybe? Limit the ability somehow?
* Non-bank buildings cost 3/4/5/6
* Recalculate strength of all buildings (especially with new costs, above)
* Make the higher cost troops better (+2 Crusade, add vp)
Sunday, December 07, 2014
I had an excellent playtest of Crusaders (formerly The Knights Templar) on Saturday. 4 players (only John had played before, and that was an earlier version) all liked the game, one even said he'd buy it as-is if it were on Kickstarter right now.
One thing I liked seeing in that playtest was the emergence of a few different strategies. I mean, three of the player kind of ran to the right hand side of the board (range 6), but 1 didn't. The winner actually stayed closer to Paris and built a lot of buildings - all the way to level 4 Bank and level 4 Palace.
Nobody did much in the way of Influence as a strategy. Everyone once in a while would Influence for 4 or 5, or they did a small influence action and instead upgraded their rondel. No Churches were built. As a result, the game went on longer than I've seen, and more Crusading happened - each Enemy ended up at about 10 strength by the end of the game. That was kinda interesting, and it required players to invest in Troops, which means they started building Farms in the mid game as well.
Based on that playtest, I came home and made a few small tweaks:
* I upped the range on spaces in Britain and Africa (where you need to cross water to get there)
* I added building icons to starting spaces and Paris, offering a discount on those buildings, so players have a reason to choose one over another.
Both of these tweaks are an attempt to encourage players to build in the early spaces. I expect there's a good dichotomy between building early (near Paris) for benefits/powers and building late (far from Paris) for points. In my mind, players will build the buildings they want to use early, and then late they'll look at what's been built (possibly by other players) and they'll build that for points - or they'll stick to erecting the same building over and over, in order to milk that strategy as much as possible. However, I think players look at how he endgame scoring works, and they think "I need to build farther away from Paris!" If players refuse to build at Range 1, then Range 2 becomes the new Range 1... but I'm not sure if players are realizing that.
So maybe with a discount on certain buildings players will build on turn 1, and that will start to differentiate them (I put 2 icons in each starting space, with each building type represented twice in total). I don't know if that will be the final or best rule, but I do know that I need to do something to make Paris more interesting.
One thought I'd had before was to put 1-2 building icons on each space, and either indicate that that's the ONLY building that can be built there, or say that building gets built at a discount, or award extra VP for building that building in that location... I don't know if I need to be that draconian about it, but the idea is in the back of my mind. I'd prefer if players just built what they wanted to build to support their strategy.
Still to come
I have a few more tweaks still to make. I mentioned that I want Paris to be more interesting somehow, and I haven't figured out how to do that yet. In addition, I want to make the Enemies different from each other. I've got a few ideas about that...
* I could make 1 Enemy as I have them now, where they start weak and worth little, and as they get beat up, they become stronger and more valuable.
* I can make another of the Enemies a more static strength, such as 6, so that in the early game they are prohibitively strong, but in the later game they're not so bad. This would give the board a bit more topography, and it would help make players care where they move, rather than just moving onto any Enemy space.
* The third enemy could behave similar to the first one, but at a different rate? Or it could behave altogether differently, maybe starting strong, and then getting weaker and weaker as they get defeated... is that interesting?
* I have considered giving the Enemy token to the player who defeats it (this would be possible once I institute an Enemy track to keep track of their strength), and then awarding some kind of bonus for either sets of enemy types, or groups of similar enemies, or both.
If I institute some of those tweaks, I think there could really be a "build up your Troops" strategy (build Farms, muster Troops) which races to defeat the Enemy that starts out strong, while other players are beating the weaker Enemies, and then when the weak enemy becomes stronger, they will become a juicy target as well.
I definitely want to see various different strategies come to light - heavy Crusading, light Crusading and heavy Influence, Building, etc. I think the updated powers help in that respect, and I wonder if I don't need to make them even more powerful or interesting.
I do notice that with the building costs as they are, if you hope to build level 3 and 4 buildings of ANY type, you pretty much need to build a couple of Banks first. I'd prefer if that were not the case, so I'm considering reducing the cost of all NON-BANK buildings to 3/4/5/6 (instead of 3/5/7/9). This means that if you ignore Banks, the cost to build 4 Palaces (for example) is the same as the cost to build 4 Banks - in other words you could reasonably expect to build level 3 and 4 non-Bank buildings without having to invest in Banks. My big concern there is that if you DO build some banks, it might be way too easy to build level 4 Buildings of other types. Maybe that's OK?
I'm pretty happy with the reactions to this game so far, it's come a very long way in a very short time (since I finally made a board and tested it). I'm looking forward to feedback from the League of Game Makers.
Speaking of which, I gave them a copy of my prototype after BGGcon, but I've made some significant changes since then... will their feedback be helpful? YES! It will... basically, the main differences between the version they have and my current version are threefold:
* Variable and upgradable rondel
* Updated building powers
* Faction player powers
The version they have is basically what I would make the "standard" setup which players would use in their first game, before they start adding the complication of a randomized rondel.
The Faction powers are cool, but I'm not sure they're balanced, so it's very interesting to me to see feedback without using them.
The updated building powers are probably better, but in general the buildings do the same things they always did, so they support the same sorts of strategies.
I'll be sending them updated files in case they want to make new player boards and rondel pieces and try the updated game, but I'd like them to play the version they have first and see how that goes.
Saturday I had a great test session of 2 of my games. One of them was an old favorite I've been posting about recently... Odysseus: Winds of Fate.
This game has eluded me for years. I've always loved the story of it, and I like the structure, but for some reason I have simply not been able to find a configuration of rules that I'm really happy with. This specific game of O:WoF wasn't technically the best play ever, but it was informative, and I think with some simple tweaks I'm finally at a point where I'm happy with the game!
Today I made those tweaks, and I'm excited for the next playtest - I expect it to go much better than previous tests. This month is usually a good one for game design, as holiday season brings friends home from out of town, and people on breaks from work means it's more likely I can get playtests in. I'm excite and hopeful to see how the latest and greatest version of Winds of Fate plays out.
Mind you it's not quite done... I think the biggest issue left is that there's too much process involved. I've tried to make the steps as simple as possible to follow, but I noticed today that even I was forgetting things in the latest playtest! I'd like to clean that up some, and make the game a bit more streamlined, but without losing any of the major pieces. I might be able to address this to an extent by setting expectations. Maybe this game is more like a What's Your Game game (somewhat fiddly rules, but they make sense in the end) than it is a normal TMG game (streamlined process, fewer fiddly rules). That's probably OK, but if people are expecting a simple, streamlined game, then they might not enjoy their first play as much... so maybe I need to find a way to set expectations properly.
In the meantime, here are some photos of the updated prototype, and a link to the latest rules.
Set up for a 4 player game:
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Thy Will Be Done
I've been posting about my Knights Templar game lately, from the inaugural ride to the recent
playtest at Sasquatch,and I'm happy with the development that's been happening on the game. I even sent a copy home from BGGcon with a member of the League of Gamemakers to see what input they have on it.
So far I've been happy with the basic structure of the game, but I have been looking for ways to kick The Knights Templar up a notch, and last week I spent some time updating my prototype to include some things which will hopefully have that effect. Here's some stuff I'm trying, and how it went in yesterday's playtest when I gave it a try...
One thing I'd been thinking is that the earlier versions of this game, the simple mancala-rondel hybrid, might have been good enough 2 years ago when I first had the idea. But now that Trajan has been around, and other games have been exploring the mancala mechanism, my initial rond-cala doesn't seem to stand up - I think there needs to be more. I need to make an evolution in the mechanism. In my game, each player has their own rondel, so I figure the thing that would make that interesting is if players could customize their rondel a little bit. That's something I haven't seen before, and it sounds to me like something a player would be interested in doing.
So my new idea was to allow players to add to or change the action spaces on their rondel. I thought of a few different ways to do that, most of them involved buying such an upgrade with a Build action. However, that's not what I tried... I wanted to solve another problem at the same time.
The thing about the rond-cala mechanism the way I have been using it is that the action tokens build up in the unused action spaces. And while that's good when you're building up to do a big Crusade action (for example), it's not as good when they happen to pile up in some action you're not really interested in. Once in a while you have to take a turn distributing some cubes without making any real progress, just to fix your rondel situation. That's part of the mechanism, and I was OK with it at first, but frankly it's disappointing to have a null turn like that. It's not fun to have to take a turn off, even if it's fair, even if everyone has to do it once in a while, and even if good planning will minimize the bad effect of that kind of thing. Better is to say "whenever you have a null turn like that, you get a consolation prize."
So I decided to make that "consolation prize" a rondel upgrade. Simple as that. Each turn you choose an action bin and distribute the cubes as normal, but in lieu of resolving the action of the bin chosen, you may instead upgrade one of the spaces on your rondel. Here's how I went about that:
Each player's rondel is made up of wedges that are separate tiles, one side is 'standard' - the other side 'upgraded':
Players start with the Standard sides face up, in some distribution (I'm thinking a random distribution, but the same for all players). The order of the actions is therefore different game to game, which could lead to different strategies being more or less attractive. Note that in this picture, the top space has been upgraded from TRAVEL to TRAVEL+BUILD:
On your turn, in lieu of resolving the chosen action as normal, you may instead upgrade 1 rondel piece by flipping it over to the Upgraded side. The action in parentheses indicates what gets added if you flip the tile over (so you need not keep looking on the back side of the tiles):
- Build upgrades to Build + Influence
- Travel upgrades to Travel + Build
- Travel upgrades to Travel + Crusade
- Muster upgrades to Muster + Influence
- Crusade upgrades to Crusade + Build
- Influence upgrades to Influence + Travel
FACTIONSOriginally all players were going to be members of the Order of the Temple. The theme actually kind of hinges on that, however, one (fair) question some players had is "if we're all on the same team then why are we competing?" So I've decided to take a little artistic license with the theme, and assume that King Philip went after all of these factions at the same time, which may or may not be entirely true.
Giving each player a different faction offers (a) a reason for players to be competing with each other, and (b) the opportunity to introduce player powers! I have a few game changing powers to try, and I've begun by making 6 factions and giving each faction one of those powers. I'll simply deal one of these cards to each player during setup, and that'll tell them which ability they have for the game. My first draft abilities may not be totally fair or balanced, but it's a starting point:
- Knights Templar - Once per turn when distributing Action cubes you may place 2 Action cubes into the same Action bin. The nights Templar were the initial inspiration for this game, so of course they became the first faction.
- Knights Hospitaller - Once per turn when distributing Action cubes you may skip 1 Action bin. The Knights Hospitaller were pretty much the same thing as the Knights Templar, so they were an easy choice for a faction.
- Teutonic Knights - You may distribute Action cubes either clockwise or counterclockwise. Again, the Teutonic Knights were a similar group to the Templars, so they were an easy choice for a faction.
- Knights of the Holy Sepulchre - You begin the game with 13 Action cubes instead of 12. Place 1 additional Action cube into the Action bin of your choice. After those first 3 I ran out of obvious choices, but search of Wikipedia helped me to find a few more groups that could be considered appropriate for the game. Knights of the Holy Sepulchre are one of those.
- Knights of St Lazarus - You may begin the game with 1 Rondel Upgrade of your choice. I needed a 5th faction, and the Knights of St Lazurus seemed to fit.
- Order of Santiago - You may choose to only distribute the Action cubes actually used for the action, you may leave unused Action cubes in their original bin. OK, admittedly I just chose another faction at random for a 6th faction. The Order of Santiago existed at about the same time as the other Orders, but beyond that I'm not sure they really fit the theme very well.
As I mentioned, those may not be well balanced. I'm happy to hear comments if you think any of those abilities makes more sense on a different faction, or if a different group makes more sense than one of these.
I had a 4 player test of this last night, and it went pretty well. There are a few tweaks that still need to be made, and I'm still interested in embellishing the Enemy tracks (making the different enemies more different from each other). And there's some question as to whether the buildings should be worth more if built near Paris, or farther from Paris.
So I've still got some work to do, but I'm happy with the progress so far, and I look forward to playing the game again!
Thursday, November 27, 2014
I just wanted to update the rules here, for my own benefit, for the Knights Templar Rond-cala game. With my new Rondel game showing promise, perhaps I'll have the impetus to revisit the prototype of this one as well...
Updated: 10/26/14 after first playtest
Updated: 11/27/14 after Sasquatch, BGGcon, and 11/25 playtests
The Knights Templar (Maybe change title to Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done)A game of influence and scandal for 2-4 Crusaders
- 64 Building tiles (16 in each of 4 player colors)
- 16 Churches
- 16 Castles
- 16 Farms
- 16 Banks
- 4 Player boards
- 5 Faction cards
- 49 Action cubes (12 in each of 4 player colors, plus 1 for the Holy Sepulcher faction)
- 12 Knight figures (3 in each of 4 player colors)
- 1 Game board
- 24 Rondel tiles (double sided: basic / upgraded)
- 1 Scoring board
- 39 Enemy tokens
- 13 Slav
- 13 Saracen
- 13 Prussians
- 20 Troop tiles (5 for each player)
- 250+ points worth of Influence tokens (use 50 + 50/player)
- Each player receives the following in their player color:
- Player board
- 6 Rondel tiles (place them in random order on the player board*, basic side up)
- 3 Knight figures
- 16 Building tiles (place them in the indicated spaces on the player board)
- 4 Churches
- 4 Castles
- 4 Farms
- 4 Banks
- 12 Action cubes (place 2 in each Action bin on the Player board)
- 5 Troop tokens (numbered 3 through 7)
- 1 Faction card
1. Choose any one Action bin on your player board.
2. Resolve the action associated with that Action bin.
3. Distribute the Action cubes from the chosen bin.
1. Choose an Action
Select any one of the six Action bins on your Rondel that has at least 1 Action cube in it.
2. Resolve the Action
There are six Action spaces on the Rondel, though 2 of them are the same. Each of the Actions resolves differently. In each of the following descriptions, "X" refers to the number of Action cubes in the Action bin. Later in the game, Rondel spaces may become upgraded. Upgraded actions allow you to split the Action tokens in the bin as you choose between two different actions.
- TRAVEL: There are 2 different TRAVEL spaces on the Rondel. The travel action allows you to move your Knights on the game board.
- Distribute X movement points between your Knight figure(s).
- Entering any region costs 1 movement point.
- Leaving a region occupied by an enemy token costs 1 additional movement point.
- 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 cubes in the Muster bin.
- Collect the next Troop token from your supply - its cost must be less than or equal to X.
Your board has 2 spaces to hold Troops. Each Farm you have erected confers an additional space to hold a Troop token. [might reduce this to 1]
- CRUSADE: The crusade action allows you to fight Enemies, scoring influence and clearing regions to make space for more buildings.
- Choose 1 region containing one of your Knight figures and an Enemy token.
- Determine the Enemy Strength by checking the Enemy Strength track for the appropriate enemy type.
- Each Troop token adds 1 to the number of action cubes in the Crusade bin. If the Enemy Strength is less than or equal to X, you have won the Crusade. Otherwise you have not.
- When you win a Crusade, collect Influence tokens equal to the Enemy Strength and then move the Enemy token to the appropriate Enemy Strength track.
- When you lose a Crusade, do nothing.
- INFLUENCE: The influence action allows you to gain Influence tokens by spreading the word of the Order.
- Each Church you have erected adds 1 to the number of action cubes in the Influence bin.
- Collect X Influence tokens from the supply.
- BUILD: The build action allows you to erect buildings that confer influence and benefits when resolving the various actions in the game.
- Each Bank you have erected adds 1 to the number of action cubes in the Build bin.
- Erect a Building tile costing X or less from your player board onto a region on the board occupied by one of your Knights. (Buildings of level 1/2/3/4 cost 3/5/7/9)
- A building cannot be erected in a region with an Enemy tile.
- Each region may only contain 1 building.
- Only the lowest un-built level of each building may be erected.
- Collect influence equal to the level of the building erected (1, 2, 3, or 4)
- Building Types:
- Bank: Add 1 to the action cubes in the Build action bin.
- Farm: Add 1 to the action cubes in the Muster action bin. You may house 1 additional Troop tile.
- Castle: Place an additional Knight token into play at the new Castle.
- Church: Add 1 to the action cubes in the Influence action bin.
- Building Types:
Take all Action cubes from the bin associated with the chosen Action and distribute them, 1 at a time, clockwise around the Rondel. Need example diagram.
"God is not pleased. We have enemies of the faith in the kingdom"
When the last Influence token is taken from the supply, finish out the round so that each player has had the same number of turns. Players may still collect influence after the supply runs out. Keep track of this influence using some other token. At this point, the Order of the Temple has become so powerful that King Philip, threatened by the Order and deeply in debt to it, issues an arrest order for all Templar Knights and begins to have the Order disbanded, and a wave of destruction emanates outward from Paris.
After all players have finished their turn in the round in which the Influence supply runs out, the End Game scoring begins. Flip any building in the Paris region face down - it is considered destroyed. Whenever a building (or knight) is destroyed, each player collects 1 Influence for each building of that type they still have in play.
Then destroy all buildings (and knights) in regions adjacent to a region that's already been destroyed. Flip the destroyed buildings face down (simultaneously) and collect influence for like buildings (and knights) each time.
Continue this wave of destruction until all buildings and knights have been destroyed. The player with the most Influence is the winner.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
About this time last year I dusted off an old favorite... Odysseus: Winds of Fate. I had gotten some good feedback at BGGcon 2013, and I had some ideas I'd been meaning to implement. After two promising playtests at BGgcon 2013, I was saddened to have a crash and burn test after making some updates. :(
After that last post, I made those further updates, but haven't gotten the game out again since... until this year's BGGcon! I'm happy to say that I managed to get a test of Winds of Fate in at BGGcon 2014, and 2 of the players were Steve Behnke and Chris Johnson who played last year! A friend of theirs, and Tucsonans Dan Keltner and Jon Poeble joined in for a 5 player game. Having not seen the game in a year, I was woefully unprepared to teach it, and while I did, I was scrambling through handwritten notes on the rules to determine what I'd changed. That was embarrassing, and I kept apologizing for it, but eventually we got through the rules and were underway.
One thing I didn't remember until far too late was that I'd made 2 versions of the Reward Tiles which you keep as God Tiles - one with an icon indicating that it triggers, and one without. Seeing both come up, I scrambled to remember what they did, realizing 1/2 way through that in fact only one of those sets should have been used.
That hiccup aside, I thought the game went well! We did not run out of cards (which I think came up last year), but Dan did sort of hoard cards at the beginning, reminding me that I should probably institute a simple hand limit. Probably 10 cards total at the end of the round would do the trick, and allow players to balance their hands however they'd like.
I noticed during the game that I had no extra benefit for passing without playing any cards, something I thought I might have had before (though I don't recall anything), and something that the games I've modeled the card play mechanism after do have. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to allow an extra card draw if you pass without having played a card.
In my updated prototype, the Special cards, when played face up, said they were -1 to your personal contribution (and did not affect the Help/Hinder total). I had forgotten about the idea to simply disqualify you from the bonus tile, and -1 seemed inconsequential, so when I got home I upped that back to -2 (where it used to be), but now I'm considering that maybe it should just disqualify you from winning the bonus tile after all. Maybe I'll try that next time.
One of the problems that came up in the crash and burn test was that without any cubes on the Destiny cards to start with, if the prize pool is the cubes on the cards, then there's little to no reason to make Destiny bets. I had considered going back to the 30vp prize pool which seemed to work before, and indeed that's what I did in the playtest, but I could give John's suggestion one more try - I just need to add some cubes to the prize pool. In the latest rules update I indicated that the prize pool is all the cubes on the cards PLUS N cubes from the supply. That way there's some points to go for from the outset, and there's a reason to place Destiny bets with earned bets.
I suppose the Destiny action lets you put out a Destiny bet without costing you anything, but I'm not sure there are enough of those, and I want the Earned Bet to really be a choice between a Destiny bet and a Timeline bet - and I want both to be viable and attractive.
Players were unimpressed with the God tile scoring, specifically that you got nothing for having just 1 tile of a type. It occurs to me since they're being scored in the end game, there's no reason I have to award bet cubes for them - I can just say that they're worth 1/3/6/10 points or whatever for 1/2/3/4+ tiles. That might make players feel better about it. Also, I could allow a set of 1-of-each different God tiles to count, so you can score well by getting several of the same god, or by getting 1 of each god. There are 6 instances of each god (3 of Zeus), but there are only 3 gods (4 including Zeus)... does it make sense that a diverse set should be worth the same as a collected set?
Anyway, I'm very excited to see this game working again, and I think this might be the best version I've had to date (and to date I've had at least 5 different versions)! I'm looking forward to playing Winds of Fate again, hopefully very soon.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
In a few minutes I'm heading out to the airport for my annual pilgrimage to Dallas for BGGcon. This is the 10th year they've held the convention, and it's the 10th year I'll attend. I remember the beginnings - a 300 person, 3 day con - BGGcon has now grown to 2000+ people which runs from Wednesday through Sunday, with people showing up Tuesday for the unofficial pre-con.
My friend Brian lives in Dallas, and I'm looking forward to seeing him this week. I'll see Mike and the TMG crew (Andy and Daniel) as well.
I hope to play more of the new hotness that I saw/played at Sasquatch a few weeks ago... games like Orleans, La Granja, Versailles, etc. I didn't try Zanghuo and would like to. I might like to play Mysterium again as well.
I'm bringing some prototypes, as usual... I've got the following in my bag:
* Odysseus: Winds of Fate
* The Knights Templar
* Deck Building Rails
* Dungeon of Fortune
* Steam Works
* Eminent Domain: Exotica
* Bomb Squad
* Exhibit: Artifacts of the Ages
Aaaaand my ride is here!
I look forward to seeing you in Dallas :)
So sayeth Seth Jaffee around 10:51 AM
Monday, November 17, 2014
"Appropriate vs Inappropriate Social Media Marketing," or "Right and Wrong Ways To Promote Your Kickstarter"
I have a pet peeve about direct marketing... it's been triggered before, and I'm sure it'll be triggered again. It has to do with all these newfangled social networks, especially when combined with this newfangled crowdfunding stuff you hear about.
It just so happens that this came up last week, and again this week, so I thought I'd vent a little bit by writing a blog post about it. Basically this post is to plead with you about how NOT to go about promoting your Kickstarter project...
Last week (Nov 9th) a Twitter account called Soccer City (@SoccerCityGame) sent me a tweet - directly to me (notice the @sedjtroll at the beginning, meaning it triggered my notifications but didn't appear in their public feed):
"@sedjtroll You will to love this game [KS link] Please RT and help everyone have the best soccer board game ever THKS!"
This person obviously does not know me. I couldn't care much less about soccer, and I find it highly unlikely that I'll love their greatest soccer board game ever. I'm also unimpressed with the typo ("will to love") which they copied and pasted into many, many tweets.
They got well over 100 instances of that same or very similar message out before myself and maybe a few others replied that it wasn't appropriate. I did get an apology (as did 2 or 3 others), and I see a sort of public apology as well, and after Nov 9th I don't see any more direct tweets of that nature. At least these guys seem to have learned their lesson!
I'm a little surprised this doesn't happen more often and when it does I wonder if I'm overreacting when I reply asking them not to reach out to me personally and directly, asking me to help them push their project. But I feel it's an important principle. Especially when a week later it happens again:
Yesterday (11/16), WhatWeMake (@WhatWeMake) sent this tweet, again directly to me (see the @sedjtroll at the beginning):
"@sedjtroll if you like miniatures, card play, sci-fi and spaceships you might LOVE this: [KS link]"
At least this one equivocates... they don't presume that I'll love their game, they just suggest that I MIGHT, given other factors. Is this better or worse? If @SoccerCityGame legitimately thought I would like their game, based on knowing me and my personal likes and dislikes, I think their message might almost be appropriate. @WhatWeMake's message was flagrant "I have no regard for your feelings toward my project, but I'm going to bother you, and ask you to bother all all of your friends and followers, about it" self promotion.
Curious, I clicked on this user's name and checked his "Tweets & replies" thread - no fewer than 128 instances of the exact same or very similar text, tweeted directly at famous people like Wil Wheaton, small publishers like @TastyMinstrel and @DiceHateMe, big name designers such as @toinito and @eric_lang, board game media people such as @TheOneTAR and @UndeadViking, and indie designers/twitter personalities such as @PuppyShogun and @HyperboleGrant. 128 instances in a day... and checking again now I count no fewer than 54 more such messages just in the last couple of hours!
In that time I saw maybe 3 or 4 appropriate tweets about the project.
Here's the thing. Nobody likes intrusive marketing. If you knock on my door, interrupting my dinner, trying to sell me a vacuum cleaner, I'm not going to be happy about it. If you call me on the phone, interrupting my day, trying to sell me magazines, I'm not going to be happy about it. I'm not thrilled that my physical mailbox acts more like a trash can than a method of communication... Nobody is.
In the digital age, this extends to the personal inbox, of which we all have many. Nobody likes Spam email, and companies that provide email services do their darndest to preemptively filter Spam out for you. Have you ever looked in your Spam folder? Imagine if there wasn't automatic Spam filtering, and your email was constantly cluttered with 100 messages a day from people offering you sex, drugs, and fake timepieces that look just like the real thing!
If you can imagine how much of a pain it would be to manage one inbox while sifting through a torrent of unwanted advertisements, then you can probably imagine it for several (yahoo, gmail, BGG Geekmail, FaceBook, Twitter, work email, etc), and you can probably see where I'm going with this rant.
In case it's not clear how invasion of a personal digital inbox is analogous to a more personal phone call, consider that many people have notifications sent to their email, tablet, and/or cell phone whenever someone sends them a private/direct message, or even just tags them in a Tweet or FaceBook status. In that case, by tweeting @sedjtroll you're not just sending me a message that I will see. You're reaching out from the internet and tapping me on the shoulder saying "lookoverhere, lookoverhere!" And depending on the method you use, you might be - literally - doing it from 3 directions at once, as my computer beeps at me, my phone vibrates, and my tablet plays a soft tone from the next room. All while I'm trying to work, read, enjoy a TV show, or - god forbid - design a game!
Today's social networks make it easier than ever to connect with other people, but this larger surface area with which to interact can be a double edged sword. It's also painfully easy for people to contact you even if you don't want them to. Therefore it's important that we respect each other's personal space - and that includes the personal space in the digital world. Just like you don't want your phone ringing from a telemarketer offering a "great deal" on a home refinance, you also don't want your twitter notifications blowing up to let you know about this "great new soccer board game."
I can't help but think about the extreme here. I am immersed in the world of board game design and publishing, and many of my Twitter followers, and people I follow, run Kickstarter projects for their games all the time. If I got three announcements (phone, computer, and tablet) every single time someone I knew launched a kickstarter project (in addition to all the other notifications, email, and things I've actually subscribed to), the internet would be literally unusable! It would be very much like trying to maintain an email box without an automatic Spam filter - in fact, maybe 3 such inboxes.
Nobody wants that!
So please, Please, PLEASE heed my request... do not directly contact people with what amounts to Spam!
"But Seth!" I hear you cry... "I need to get the word out, or my Kickstarter project will fail! Not everyone has the reach of TMG!"
There are appropriate ways to do internet or direct marketing. It's true that not everybody has the reach of a company like TMG, but you know what? No too long ago, TMG didn't have that kind of reach either. And you can check whatever histories you want to, you won't find hundreds of instances of direct requests to share TMG Kickstarter projects.
Michael was very transparent as he went through the journey of a fledgling publisher, and one of the big things he talked about was Permission Marketing. Sending emails directly to someone about your kickstarter is OK if they have specifically opted in and requested it. Collecting emails of people interested in your project, and getting their permission to email them directly... THAT'S an example of appropriate direct marketing.
Tweeting and posting about your project and asking for retweets, without tagging any innocent bystanders, is also perfectly appropriate. You will find that our friends and fans will likely share the message on their own, which is their prerogative. Assuming of course that they do so in an appropriate way.
The best thing to do is to grow your tribe ahead of time, so that when you do post about your crowdfunding project, you'll have people willing to hear you. There are many ways to do this, and most of them include contributing something to the community you're trying to turn into an audience. Write a blog, do game reviews, make some videos, or start a podcast. Build an audience ahead of time and you will find it much easier to get the word out about your kickstarter project.
I feel I need to take a stand against unsolicited Spam coming from my personal friends and followers! I think there needs to be a way to fight back, to show offenders that this type of behavior is inappropriate, and nip it in the bud - make sure proper etiquette and protocol is out there so that we don't need to go through this type of thing every time a new kickstarter is launched.
How can we do this? I'm open to ideas. I'm considering composing a universal, generic response (140 characters or fewer) which could be used on any social network, politely informing the offender that they've broken etiquette, and warn them against repeating their offense. Perhaps something like:
Because I'm a little vindictive, and because my temper for this type of thing is short, I kind of want to encourage a "retro-smash," where a response like that could bear a hashtag such as #HowDoYouLikeIt, and when an offense occurs, the response bearing that hashtag could be sent by tens-to-hundreds of people, with the offender tagged of course, which should hopefully drive home the point. Of course this type of retro-smash would have to be used appropriately as well - mob justice is only OK if it doesn't get out of hand :)
Down with personalized Spam!
Who's with me?
Leave a comment below, I'm curious how you deal with personal requests for promotion.
So sayeth Seth Jaffee around 5:37 PM