Monday, February 12, 2018

Skye Frontier v2.0 -- playtest, thoughts, tweaks, and rules

I've posted before about my Isle of Skye / King of Frontier mashup (code name: Skye Frontier). It's one of those designs I made a prototype for, played several times, liked a lot, and showed some promise, but has sat on the back burner for a long time. Looking at my previous posts, it looks like I haven't touched the game in 2 years (almost to the day).

But that doesn't mean I haven't thought about it! Once in a while (usually on airplanes) I peruse my design notebook, and I come across my notes for Skye Frontier, and I think "you know, I should really revive that one." So last Friday as I dashed out the door to AZ Game Fair (#AZgamefair18), I decided to bring it along, just in case.

I had a good time at AZ Game Fair, played a handful of games, tested 2 prototypes, sat on a game design panel, and got to do a little escape room. I might write up a bigger con report for AZ Game Fair, but this post is specifically about Skye Frontier, so let me skip right to that playtest.

Sunday morning, John and Kara Morgan were up for a game, and actually asked if I'd brought anything to test, so I thought "what the heck," and pulled out Skye Frontier. While setting up the game, it occurred to me that I didn't have my 8.5x11" player boards (that don't fit in the Isle of Skye box) with me -- I'm not actually sure where they are at the moment. Bummer.

But I didn't let that deter me! I decided to just try the game without player boards. The purpose of the player boards was really to actually help players complete their regions (and because King of Frontier had one, and I was starting from that), but I didn't see a problem playing without them. And after this test, I'm not sure I need them at all -- I think I'll leave them out! Mark this down as another one of those accidental development discoveries :)

The major things I remember needing work were the luck-of-the-draw inherent in the Explore action, especially with respect to scroll tiles, and maybe some specifics of the build action. So this test I tried one of the ideas that came up before... I separated out the scroll tiles and made a separate supply of those, sorted into piles of 4/4/3/3, and you could claim one as a prize for completing a region of size 3+/4+/5+/6+. These small piles were laid out, so you'd be able to choose any of the tiles that happened to be in one of the piles you qualified for. So if you completed a size 3 region, you'd get one of the first 4 scroll tiles (while they last), and if you completed a size 6 region or bigger, you could claim any remaining scroll tile you want. That worked pretty well, but there was still a question of whether those tiles needed to cost extra for having scrolls on them (and potentially being worth big points).

I had been scoring the scrolls just like Isle of Skye: full value of the scroll, doubled if its region was complete. An easy nerf would be to ONLY score scrolls if the region is complete, otherwise it's simply a tile that might help your geography. I think that's probably a good nerf no matter what, so I'll be trying that going forward.

After playing though, I have a different idea I'd like to try...

The other tweak I'd made was the resolution of the Explore action, I liked the idea of the original rule: either grabbing the tile you want from the display, or drawing 2, keeping one, and adding the other to the display. I like the thought that you get a better choice, but you're adding options for opponents as well. However, it definitely could have some luck of the draw involved. And the original privilege of getting to go again (getting 2 tiles in a turn) I think is what led people to choose that role too much. A combination of that, automatic building, and auto-production when completing regions meant that you really only needed this one role to do all the game action, and that's just silly.

So this time I tried this... You start with a display of 4 (maybe N+1) tiles. When someone explores, everyone gets to take one of those tiles in turn order. Your privilege for choosing Explore is that you got to draw 2 tiles from the bag, and could take one of those instead if you wanted to. The idea being that everyone gets a tile, and you get first pick, and more options to choose from.

Next time I want to try expanding on that a little bit... I'd like to layout 4 (or N+1) tiles, as well as 3 or 4 scroll tiles from a separate scroll tile stack. Then the Explore action would be that in turn order, players each take 1 non-scroll tile from the display, and your privilege is that you can take one of the scroll tiles (or the face down top tile from the deck if you prefer) instead.

This way, you get scroll tiles by calling Explore, and they only score if you complete their region, so you have to do some work to get points out of them, I'll make them cost something to build (any 1 cube, or maybe 1 of each cube?) as well. That way when you call Explore, you get first pick, about 2x the options for tiles, and access to the ones that could score points.

One thing I did like about the original rules was the speed and elegance of building right when you take the tiles. I might like to try that again -- when you explore, if you have the cubes, you build the tile right into play. If not (or if you don't want to build it yet), you put into storage. Then you use the Build action to put it into play later.

Speaking of the Build action, after a bit of hemming and hawing, I think I would like to try "everybody may pay to build 1 tile," and your privilege would be that IN ADDITION, you may build 1 tile for free. So if you get tiles you can't build, you can either choose build to build them for free, or you can produce resources so that you can pay for them when someone else builds.

Another tweak or two... At first I didn't start players with any resources. Then I tried starting them with 1 of each cube. I see a note saying "never mind, don't do that," but I don't remember what was good or bad about it. In an effort to jump start the game a little bit, I think I'll try starting with resources again.

In fact, I might also start the game with a reverse turn order draft of N (or N+1) tiles, which you get to put into play attached to your castle, and then a resource on every space in your little domain. This way maybe players won't start with EXACTLY the same resources (though maybe pretty similar).

So here's the latest rules draft as of feb 11, 2018:

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

v2.0 By Seth Jaffee 2/12/18


1. Lay out 4 scoring tiles at random.
2. Shuffle the 14 scroll tiles and lay out 4 face up next to the face down stack (3?).
3. Mix the rest of the landscape tiles in the bag and draw out 4 face up beneath the scroll tiles (N+1?).
4. Create a supply of 15 coins per player in the game (so 30/45/60). Set aside more coins for after game end triggers. When this supply is exhausted, the game end will trigger. Each coin will be worth 1 point at the end of the game.
5. Create supply piles of blue, green, and grey cubes.
6. Randomly select a start player and give them the turn marker. They will begin the game as start player.
7. Give each player a castle tile. Reveal N+1 tiles from the bag, and in reverse turn order, each player takes one and puts it into play attached to their castle (landscapes must match, roads need not). Return the unchosen tile to the bag.
8. Each player may produce 1 time in each of their areas before the game begins.

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 turn marker will pass to the left, and the new start player will choose a role.


Choose one of the 4 face up landscape tiles (NOT the scroll tiles). You may build it if you can pay the cost (see below). Otherwise, set it aside in your storage area, you may build it at a later time.

Privilege: As the start player, you may choose one of the face up scroll tiles instead if you wish, or take the top tile from the face down scroll stack. 

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

Completing a region:
When building results in completion of a region (capped off on all sides with matching landscape throughout), immediately take N-2 coins from the supply, where N = the number of tiles in that region. For example, completing a size 3 region is worth 1 coin, while completing a size 6 region is worth 4 coins.

Note: You are allowed to place tiles such that the landscapes do not match. When a tile is placed such that landscape edges do not match, neither of the non-matching regions will ever be considered "complete".

Note also: You are allowed to place tiles such that roads do not connect. Roads are not landscapes, they do not delineate regions, and they do not count as matching or non-matching for purposes of building.

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,
Pay 1 cube of any color for each scroll on the tile.

For the purposes of building, you may pay 2 (3?) coins in lieu of any cube.

Privilege: In addition, as the start player you may build a tile, paying only for non-matching landscape edges -- ignore other costs.

Choose a landscape region and add 1 cube from the supply onto each tile in that region. Fields get green cubes, Mountains get black cubes, and Water gets blue cubes. Tiles may hold more than 1 cube (limit 3 cubes max per tile?).

Privilege: As the start player, you may produce in a 2nd region.

Choose a landscape region to trade from.

For Fields and Mountain regions: For each tile in that region that connects back to your castle via roads, you may discard 1 cube from that tile to collect 1 coin from the supply.

For Water regions:  For each boat in that region, you may discard a cube from anywhere in that region to collect 1 coin from the supply.

These coins will be worth 1 point each at the end of the game.

Privilege: As the start player, you may trade in a 2nd region.

Game End:

The game is over at the end of a turn in which 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:
* coins collected via trade or completing regions are worth 1 point each,
* scrolls on your player board that are in completed regions are worth points based on their scoring condition,
* Consult the end game scoring tiles for bonuses conferred by each.