Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Knights Templar - new and improved. New title: Crusaders (Thy Will Be Done)

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


Originally 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

Knights Templar Rules v3.0 - significant tweaks!

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
* It could be that 1 player randomly sets up the Rondel, then other players match it, so everyone's got the same Rondel. Or it could be that everyone has a unique random Rondel setup.

  • Lay out the Game board and distribute the Enemy tokens to the regions indicated by flag icons (not Paris), setting 3 of each Enemy token beside the board to represent the Enemy Strength Track. 
  • Choose a starting player at random. In reverse turn order, each player takes 1 Knight and places it on one of the indicated starting regions.
  • Place [50 + 50/player] Influence tokens in a supply pile. You are ready to begin!

    Game Play
    Starting with the Start player, play will progress clockwise throughout the game. A player's turn consists of the following sequence:

    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.
    3. Distribute Action cubes
    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.

    Game End
    "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.

    I've found that a convenient way to handle this wave of destruction scoring phase is to pick up all buildings (and knights) from the board, 1 round at a time (the hexes are labeled 1-6), scoring the remaining buildings, then giving those tiles back to their owners. When counting remaining buildings, a player can simply look at the vacant spaces on their board.

    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

    Odysseus: Winds of Fate - revived once again (Nov 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

    "Leavin' on a jet plane - don't know when I'll be back again..." BGGcon 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
    * Frontiers
    * Microcosm
    * Eminent Domain: Exotica
    * Bomb Squad
    * Exhibit: Artifacts of the Ages

    Aaaaand my ride is here!

    I look forward to seeing you in Dallas :)

    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:

    "@xxx Spam is inappropriate and inconsiderate. Please don't do that, you're ruining the internet for everyone else."

    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.

    Saturday, November 15, 2014

    Exhibit: first game in AGES!

    Today I attended a Raytheon Game Group picnic, where I was invited as a "guest of honor." We played a few games, ate some burgers... it was a great time. I managed to win a game of Five Tribes - one I've played a couple of times but not done too well at, and then Eisen and Jonathan played a game of Exhibit: Artifacts of the Ages with me. I haven't played that game in quite some time, and it was fun!

    A real nailbitier too... Jonathan and I had just about the same stuff, 2 1-tile sets, 2 2-tile sets, 2 leftover artifacts, and 1 larger set. My larger set had 5 tiles, while his only had 4. However, only 2 of my sets were art, while he had 4 art exhibits. Art exhibits confer no benefit, but are worth an additional 1 point at the end of the game. My 5-tile set was worth 3 more points than his 4-tile set, so I ended up winning by 1 point!

    It used to be the case that Art exhibits were worth 2 additional points, but when I shortened the game to 5 rounds, I lowered that to 1 point, since there's less time to use Tools and Weapons... I didn't want the extra VP from Art to overpower the usefulness of the other powers. However, I don't think I'm happy with that. At only 1 additional point, I think players will simply use Tools or Weapons early, and Art late. I would like Art to be worth enough that a player might CHOOSE to make an Art exhibit early, in lieu of something that confers an ability. So I think I'll revert the value of Art back to 2vp.

    This game is still in the hands of the European publisher I talked to at Essen 2 years ago. They still want to do it, but (a) they've been busy, and (b) there's a small hiccup that we need to deal with. Those who follow my blog may remember that the main mechanism for Exhibit, the bluff auction, originally was one a friend and I came up with together for another game. We worked on that other game together until he left town, and stopped replying to my messages. After several years with that game on the shelf (since I couldn't very well continue to work on it without him), I decided it was a shame not to use that mechanism, so I started over and made a new, different game with it: Exhibit. I have chronicled the development of Exhibit on this blog.

    Upon hearing that I'd sold Exhibit to a publisher, said friend appears to believe that the game I'd licensed was the same game he and I had worked on. I disagree, as described above, but I don't want this situation to blow back on the publisher in any way so at this time I'm waiting for my friend to forward his design notes from the game we worked on together so that the publisher can asses whether they think the two games are too similar or not. It's been a year, but I hope this happens soon... and that the publisher (and their lawyers) agree with my assessment, so that I can finally announce that a game of mine is being published by a 3rd party (i.e. not my friend Michael)!

    Wednesday, November 12, 2014

    Deck Learning Rail Game

    Deck Learning Rail Game

    A deck Learning game for 2-4 players by Seth Jaffee

    I finally got a prototype together for the Deck Learning Rail Game I've been talking about... check it out!

    * 108 Role cards - Put in stacks by type (Build, Deliver, Fund, Upgrade).
    * 4 Engine cards - Give 1 to each player, return the rest to the box.
    * 27 City cards - Separate by Stage, shuffle each stage and stack Stage I atop Stage II atop Stage III.
    * 18 Upgrade cards - Shuffle and reveal 3 to form the Upgrade pool.
    * 36 Route cards (6@1vp, 12@2vp, 12@3vp, 6@4vp) - Shuffle each set and deal each player 6 Route cards (1@1vp, 2@2vp, 2@3vp, 1@4vp).
    * 40 Track tokens (10 each in 4 player colors) - give each player the Track tokens in their color.
    * 50 cubes (10 each in 5 colors) - Set aside in a supply.
    * 26 coins - Set aside in a supply.
    * 26 VP tokens - Set aside in a supply.

    * Each player should create a starting deck by taking 2 cards of each type (Build, Deliver, Fund, Upgrade). Shuffle your starting deck and draw a hand of 4 cards.
    * Place the top City card into play, and place the cubes indicated on the card from the supply.
    * Reveal the top 3 City cards from the deck to form a City pool.

    Game Play:
    On your turn, follow these steps:
    1. You may play a card from your hand for its Action effect. Alternatively, you may use the Action printed on your Engine card, or any of your tech cards in play.
    2. You must choose a role from the stacks. Take a card from the stacks and put it into play. You may boost the role by playing additional icons from your hand or from techs in play.
    3. You may discard any cards you want, and keep any cards you want, then reset your hand to 4 cards.

    This game is not a Role Selection game though, so there will be no Following or Dissenting like in Eminent Domain.

    Actions and Roles:


    Action: Place one of your Track tokens adjacent to a City card in play.
    If there are as many of your Track tokens adjacent to a City cad as the number printed on the station on that side of the card, then you may Build a Station (see below) instead of placing track.

    Role: For each Build icon played, place one of your Track tokens adjacent to a City card in play. If there are as many of your Track tokens adjacent to a City cad as the number printed on the station on that side of the card, then you may Build a Station (see below) instead of placing any track.

    Building a Station: Reclaim your Track tokens and place one of the City cards from the supply in that location, oriented as you choose. Replace the City card from the deck to return the pool to 3 cards.
    If another player also had any Track tokens in that location, return them to their owner along with $1 for each.


    Action: Move 1 cube in play to an adjacent City card. If that City card has matching demand, you may Complete the Delivery (see below), but Stations do not pay out when using a Deliver Action.

    Role: Each Delivery icon played gives you a number of movement points to spend moving 1 cube in play [to a City card that has matching demand]. The cost to move from one city to the next is 1 movement point, plus the difference between the numbers on the stations between the cities.

    For example, consider that the board looks like this:

    [City A][2][5][City B][4][3][City C]

    Moving a cube from City A, through City B, to City C would cost (1+(5-2))+(1+(4-3)) = 6 movement points.

    Delivering a cube to a city with matching demand Completes the Delivery (see below). When doing a Deliver Role, Stations pay out: When a cube passes through a pair of Stations, the owners of those stations receive a reward. One of the Station owners receive $1, the other owner receives 1 Victory Point. The active player chooses which Station pays out the $1 and which pays out the 1vp.

    Completing a Delivery: When moving a cube to a city with matching demand, you may choose to Complete the Delivery. Remove the cube from the game and claim the Delivery bonus printed on the City card.


    Action: Buy a Station (see below) or Collect $1.

    Role: Buy a Station (see below), or instead, collect $1 for each $ icon played.

    Buying a Station: Pay the total $ cost (as described below) and then place one of the City cards from the supply adjacent to a City in play, oriented as you choose. The total cost is the amount listed on the Station on the adjacent (existing) City card PLUS the difference between the numbers on the Stations of the new city and the adjacent (existing) city. If you cannot pay this amount, then the whole move is illegal.
    Replace the City card from the deck to return the pool to 3 cards.
    If another player had any Track tokens in that location, return them to their owner along with $1 for each.


    Action: Buy an Upgrade from the Upgrade pool by paying its cost. Alternatively, you can discard any number of Upgrades from the Upgrade pool and replace them by drawing 1 more than the number discarded. If the Upgrade deck runs out, shuffle the discards.

    Role: Buy an Upgrade from the Upgrade pool by paying its cost, less $1 per Upgrade icon played.

    Upgrades: Upgrades give you static abilities such as discounts on buying Stations or Upgrades, additional money when your Stations pay out, and the ability to place additional Track when placing track. These abilities are always on, and apply whenever it makes sense.

    Game End:
    I am notoriously bad at game end triggers, so I'll just make something up for now and I'll likely have to change it later.
    The game end will trigger when one of the Role card stacks or the City card stack is exhausted. When this occurs, finish the current round and play 1 final round before the game ends. Players count their VP tokens and add end game bonuses from their Route cards and any Upgrades that apply. Highest score wins!

    Tuesday, November 11, 2014

    The Pony Express

    I've always thought The Pony Express would make a good game theme, but what kind of game? Presumably pickup/deliver or maybe some kind of network building game.

    Premise: Players represent young riders for the Pony Express, braving dangerous terrain to deliver letters and packages to make money in the old west. Maybe there's another aspect of route building as well?

    Mechanic: Count-up auction, like Merchant of Amsterdam's count down auction (like a Dutch auction?)

    There should be a map with towns and routes between them, each route having certain hazards. Maybe you'll make the delivery no matter what, but the hazards makes it take longer, which will cost you in points somehow, or make you miss out on other benefits.

    I imagine all players start in the same location, and there's an auction phase where some number of parcels are auctioned off. Players 'bid' to take the deliveries in a count-up auction. As soon as you have 1 delivery, other deliveries become worth more or less to you, since you will have to work them into a path.

    Count-Up Auction:
    Turn up some number of parcel cards (like twice the number of players) - these are the items that need to be delivered. Players take turns as the Auctioneer. The Auctioneer chooses an item and the other players will bid as follows: The Auctioneer starts counting up at $1, and on to $2, $3, etc until a player speaks up and takes on the delivery. In case of a tie, use turn order to decide. I suppose this means P3 could say "I'll do it for $5" and then P2 could say "eh, in that case, I'LL do it for $5" and take the delivery. Maybe the player who takes the delivery becomes the Auctioneer and selects the next item. If nobody claims the delivery once the Auctioneer gets to the max value (like $10 or something), then the Auctioneer is stuck with it, at that value ($10 in this example).
    The dollar amount bid is awarded to the auction winner in addition to the parcel. out of this money the player will need to pay costs associated with delivering that parcel.

    Once all of the items are claimed, players will have to brave the wild trails of the old west to make their deliveries. This involves choosing a path through the board which visits each of the destinations required by the deliveries (and back to the post office). Each path would have a hazard tile on it (placed face up at the beginning of the game - maybe more are placed over time). There would be a cost associated with the path, and an additional cost associated with the hazard, which the player would have to pay - therefore they want to claim deliveries at dollar amounts which will make them a profit.

    Each town could also have a tile placed at the beginning of the game, which indicates an item players can buy (or get for free) at that location. The items would help pay the costs of the various hazards. For example, you could get a Pistol, which would fend off Bandits (who would otherwise rob you of some money). Or you could get an Indian Companion which could help you get past Bears rather than having to pay to get around them (hiring a tracker each time). [is that racist?] Or you could get a Guide, which reduces the cost of some trails (or maybe you discard the guide in lieu of paying for the trail altogether, so you'd use it on an expensive trail).

    So you'd visit these towns en route to make your deliveries and pick up the helpful tiles. Maybe there's one of each tile, and the first player to get to a town gets it? Or maybe any player visiting that town gets that item? You can probably only have 1 of each item, or maybe some you can stack them up... I'm not exactly sure at this point what would be best.

    So thinking about all that, I guess I'll sketch out an outline of the game:

    Game Structure:
    * Set up round: 
     - place tiles on towns and trails
     -  reveal parcels
    * Auction parcels (what happens if a player gets none? They should still be able to visit towns to get items)
    * Delivery turns (or simultaneously figure out your path and just do it? Is competition good? What turn order do you use? Maybe tie turn order into parcels...)
    End of round

    Play some number of rounds (until parcels are delivered/deck of parcels runs out?)
    You'd be required to deliver all parcels, so taking one for too little money will cost you. If you don't have enough $ to deliver something, then I guess you're losing anyway. Maybe you have to go last in turn order next round as a penalty... In fact, maybe turn order is set by returning from the previous round's deliveries. There could be items that mess with turn order, such as something that lets you take 1 delivery turn before the regular delivery round begins (superseding turn order).

    The player with the most money at the end of the game is the winner. Use turn order as the tiebreak.

    And for future reference, some thoughts on items and hazards:
    - Snake (Torch? Medicine?)
    - Bear (Shotgun?)
    - Bandit (Pistol)
    - Lost (windy trail?) (Map)

    - Torch (scares off snake?)
    - Medicine (for snake bite?)
    - Shotgun (Bear) (why wouldn't this work vs Bandits too though? Maybe it does, but it costs more?)
    - Pistol (Bandit)
    - Map (Lost/windy trail)
    - Guide (spend in lieu of travel cost for 1 trail) ... 1-shot
    - Guide ($1 discount on all trails) (or is that a map?)
    - Bonus money (tip?) (set amount? Variable based on stuff? Like +$1/delivery, or just +$5, or +$1/item you have).. this would be a 1-shot

    Knights Templar - playtest at Sasquatch

    I'm happy to report that I did get The Knights Templar played once at Sasquatch... a 4 player game with myself, Brian Frahm, Irwin Dolobowski, and Aaron Curtis.

    This test went OK. I used 250 vp tokens (50 + 50/player) and the game lasted about 70 minutes. Scores ranged from 87 (Aaron) down to 61 (Brian). We were able to play the game to completion, but I'm not sure that multiple strategies were really coming through. There were some comments that the Rondel was forcing everyone to do the same things.

    I think I know how to kick this game up a notch, separate strategies, and make the game more interesting. Basically, I think what I've got might have been interesting enough 2 years ago, but now that other games have been exploring the mancala mechanism I feel like there needs to be more to it. I like how in my game, each player has their own personal rondel, but I think that will become more interesting if players gert a chance to personalize or modify their rondel, modifying the actions on it in some way. Things like...
    * "you may use Travel as [X] action"
    * the ability to replace or augment the action spaces in some other way
    * add bits to the rondel

    A thought I'd had before was simply to turn the Travel spaces into Travel+Build and Travel+Crusade (I think I'd mentioned that before). If not a standard, that may be the kind of thing players could upgrade to.

    I figure these upgrades could be done via the Build action, with basic upgrades costing 3 to build, and other more potent upgrades costing 5, and/or requiring an earlier upgrade of some kind.

    In addition to this type of personalization of your rondel, I think the game needs a little something to differentiate strategies from each other. My current thought on doing that is to add bomb-like effets to the 7 cost buildings which would reinforce a strategic path. Things like:
    * Farm: You may use Travel actions as Crusade actions
    * Bank: You may use Travel actions as Build actions
    * Farm: Your knights count as troops
    * Church: Put a certain type of Unique building into play
    * Church: Replace one space on your rondel with another action
    * Bank: Put a Level 1 (3-cost) building into play

    I've got to think about this some more of course, but I think it will help make the game kick a bit more if players can personalize their rondels a little bit, and if there were more difference between one strategy and another.

    I also plan to eventually add player powers to add a little bit of asymmetry with abilities such as:
    * Once per turn when distributing acion tokens you may drop off 2 tokens at once
    * Only distribute tokens actually used for an action - you may leave the extras behind (this may be too good)
    * You may choose which direction to distribute your action tokens

    I'm excited that this game is moving forward, and I look forward to being able to post about it again soon :)