Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Skye Frontier - a mashup (also, a word about fake variability)

A year or so ago I was introduced to The King of Frontier, which is a sort of mashup of Carcassonne and Puerto Rico - a role selection game where the roles allow you to draw and place tiles on your player board, produce goods on those tiles, trade those goods for points, and build some higher valued tiles.

Carcassonne's not my favorite game, but I have no objection to tile laying, and I absolutely love role selection in general and Puerto Rico in particular. So King of Frontier sounded like an excellent game that was right up my alley.

Unfortunately, upon playing the game, it left me wanting. I was not impressed with the balance, and I generally thought it fell flat. I wondered if I couldn't do better with a role selection tile laying game, but I didn't think about that for very long - instead I just sort of lost interest.

Recently I've become enamored with a new game called Isle of Skye. When I heard the title (spoken), I assumed it was some kind of airship game, probably with a steampunk sort of theme. But as it turns out, Skye is the largest and most northerly major island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. Isle of Sky is a tile placement game where you build your little board by connecting square tiles like Carcassonne, which you obtain by a nifty sort of "I-split-you-choose" mechanism wherein you price your tiles, then opponents have a chance to buy them from you - but if they don't, then you buy them for the price you set. Medici works something like that as well.

Side discussion about Isle of Skye and "fake variability"

I've played Isle of Skye a handful of times now, and I enjoy it a lot. the tiles you get have landscape features which you need to connect appropriately, and they have various icons which interact with scoring conditions in various ways.

That's one of the attractive mechanisms - there are many tiles that depict scoring conditions, and you only use 4 of them each game:
In round 1 you score condition A,
In round 2 you score condition B,
In round 3 you score condition A & C,
In round 4 you score condition B & D,
In round 5 you score condition A, C, & D
In round 6 you score condition B, C, & D

So timing of scoring is interesting, and available scoring conditions changing game to game is interesting, it really gives a feel of variability and replayability... Or does it?

MOST of the tiles (there are one or two exceptions) score points based on different icons on your board, or your geographic situation (closed landscape regions for example). This serves to alter the values of the various tiles that you draw at random, which informs your decisions for how to price your tiles, and how much you should pay for tiles.

The thing is, it doesn't matter WHICH scoring conditions are up... you just reference them in order to make your valuation decisions. They could really be the same tiles every time and the game wouldn't really change - you draw the tiles at random after all! This idea of fake variability is interesting. It almost doesn't matter that the variability is fake, players will think it's real because it LOOKS like variability. I'm certain if the game came with static scoring conditions, people would complain that it feels too samey.

Now, if you saw the scoring conditions for the game, built a personal draw pool of tiles based on that, and always drew from that pool... then it might matter which scoring tiles were in and in what order they appeared, because you could include (or omit) certain tiles that will or won't score too well. for example, some of the tiles have end game scoring such as "1 point per Farm" which are independent of the variable scoring conditions, and you could include many farms and all of those score tiles when the scoring conditions don't include them, hoping players will allow you to buy them on the cheap as they chase the scoring conditions. THAT would be variability!

But I digress... let's get back to my original post, which is less about Isle of Skye, and more about fixing The King of Frontier.

Back on track

Where was I? Oh yes - I'd played King of Frontier and it fell flat, I wanted to take a stab at a better version but lost interest, and recently played Isle of Skye. Right...

The other day on a plane ride I was looking through my design notebook (as I am wont to do), I came across the notes about King of Frontier and I had an epiphany. Maybe I could fix the problems I had with King of Frontier by basically just playing with the tiles from Isle of Skye! I knew I had a copy of Isle of Skye waiting for me at home, so I wrote up some rules and looked forward to trying it:

Skye Frontier: An Isle of Skye/King of Frontier mashup


* Give each player a player board with a 4x5 grid of spaces (the exterior of the grid has pre-printed landscape types).
* Give each player a Castle tile, which they will pace on any space on their board (landscapes must match, roads need not).
* Shuffle the tiles in the bag, then draw 4 into a face up display on the table.
* Place a certain number of coins (not sure how how many yet) per player into a supply pile and return the rest to the box.
* Place a supply of green, black, and blue cubes nearby.
* Randomly choose a starting player and give the Starting Player tile to that player.
* Draw 2 (?) Scoring Conditions and display them for end game scoring.
* EDIT: Make that *4* Scoring Conditions (after playing once, it was clear that more scoring conditions would be better)

You are ready to begin!

Each round, the start player will choose a role from the list below and each player in turn will resolve that role. For choosing the role, you'll get a privilege. Then the Start Player marker will pass to the left, and the new start player will choose a role... technically you don't need the Start Player marker, but since it's in the box, I used it anyway.


(a) Draw 2 tiles from the bag, place one on your board or into your storage, and place the other face up into the supply. Placing tiles on your board costs cubes (see below). Or...
(b) Take 1 tile from the face up supply and place it on your board or into your storage.

Privilege: Repeat this action after all other players have gone.

Choose a landscape region and add 1 cube from the supply onto each tile in that region. If that region is complete, add 2 cubes instead. Fields get green cubes, Mountains get black cubes, and Water gets blue cubes.
EDIT: Now that I've played, I might try this instead: rather than double producing on a completed region, simply auto-produce once in a region when it becomes complete.

Privilege: Produce in a 2nd region.

Choose a landscape region. Take 1 coin from the supply for each tile in that region that has cubes, and connects back to your castle via roads. Then discard 1 cube from each tile scored that way. These coins will be worth 1 point each at the end of the game.

Privilege: Trade in a 2nd region.

Take a tile from your storage and place it onto your board, paying cube costs (see below).

Privilege: Build a 2nd tile.
EDIT: Instead of building a 2nd tile, I tried "get a discount of 1 cube" which seemed to work well.

Costs of placing a tile on your board:
Pay 1 green cube for each Sheep, Yak, or Farm on the tile,
Pay 1 black cube for each Tower or Barrel on the tile,
Pay 1 blue cube for each Boat or Lighthouse on the tile,
Pay 1 cube of any color for each non-matching landscape edge.

Game End:

The game is over at the end of a turn in which any player fills their board with tiles, when the supply of coins is exhausted, or when the tile bag is empty. At that time, each player should calculate their score to see who wins. Points come from:
* 1 point per coin collected via trade
* points based on scrolls on your player board
* points based on the end game scoring conditions

1 comment:

Seth Jaffee said...

For anyone following this post, I have played this mashup several more times, and I'm liking it a lot.

Andy thinks there's too much luck of the draw in the Explore action. I don't know if I agree, but it may be true that the Explore action is too good relative to other actions. Andy also suggested that in a role selection game, regardless of the privilege for choosing a role (since everyone gets one of those on their turn), players need to be able to gain advantage when choosing one role over another. I see what he's saying, but I think that this game actually does have that... based on timing, you can gain advantage when Producing (if you have a larger area than other players), Trading (if you have a better road network, or more boats as the case may be), Building (if you have a tile and others don't), and even Exploring, if the face up tiles favor you more than other people - you get what you need, others may have to rely on luck of the draw). Admittedly, that last one is a bit sketchy, and comes back to the luck-of-the-draw concern. But I'm not sure it's necessarily true that all of the privileges effectively cancel out either.

I do think that maybe making the Build action give you a 100% discount rather than a 1 cube discount may be OK, and would make that action much better. Mike suggested it actually be that everyone gets to build 1 tile at full cost, and your privilege is that you get to build ANOTHER tile at a discount (maybe free).

Also, the last time I played I started players with 1 of each resource, which I thought might jump start the game - but maybe it's actually better NOT to do that after all.

The biggest luck-of-the-draw offender seems to be the tiles with scrolls. If you luck into one of those that works with your board, then that's a bit of an advantage. Also, many of the scroll tiles are much cheaper to build than other tiles (which I think is OK in general, because the things they score by definition cost cubes).

One idea is to separate out the scroll tiles and award them in a different way, like maybe instead of automatically producing when completing an area, perhaps you get to choose a scroll tile.

In fact, I could make some piles of scroll tiles corresponding to areas of size 2/3/4/5/6 - with like 4/3/3/2/2 tiles in each pile.

I'd like to play some more, maybe with tweaks (I like the tweaks to the Build action, but I'm not sure if I really like changing the Explore action). If I can get it to where I'm happy with it, I might try replacing the icons and changing the theme... maybe even tweaking the tile mix.