Bonus Trading Post Post

Trading Post Logos

My Trading Post Logos

Over the past four weeks I’ve been writing about a new game redesign of mine by the name of Trading Post. Since there has been a decent level of interest in the game concept I thought I’d write one more article about the game. So far I’ve covered the following:

  1. 5-16-13: Origins of Trading Post
  2. 5-23-13: Early Prototying
  3. 5-30-13: Hiatus and Re-design
  4. 6-6-13: Path to GenCon
  5. BONUS Today 6-13-13: More on Trading Post

Today I’m giving you some bonus material on where the game is at, how to make it better, and some other tasty morsels. But let’s start with how good I am at focusing on things other than actually designing this game!

I’m Good at Wasting Time (and Effort!)

One of my downfalls in life is my desire for perfection. Perhaps perfection is the wrong word. That paints me as someone with OCD, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Perhaps a better word would be aesthetics. I desire for things to look good.

At the end of May an article was posted on Example of Play called, “The Benefits of Crappy prototypes.” I will provide a rebuttal for that article next week, but I wanted to mention it today because I am not a believer in crappy prototypes. And this may be my downfall.

I love a good looking prototype. I love good game art. If you’ve read my board game reviews you’ll see that artwork is consistently mentioned as either a like or a dislike. I approach game design as though I’m reading a story. I like to be enveloped in a different world and escape this one for an hour or so. Artwork is a key way to get that experience across to the players.

What this means is that I spend way, WAY too much time in Inkscape making prototype artwork. The upside is this:

The downside is that I have four logos (as seen above) for a game that no one has yet even played! I just can’t help myself.

So I had a think about what this all really means. I was a little disappointed in myself for the artwork side of things when the game design part of it seemed lagging. But then I remembered the whole purpose:

Games, and game design, are supposed to be fun! Why else design games or play them?

So I’ve realized that though the artwork doesn’t specifically help a game design move forward, I’m having a lot of fun working on the artwork. Thus, I shall continue.

Solo “Playtest” #1

Last week I showed the picture of the game setup. I’m repeating the image here for easy reference:

Current Trading Post prototype. I think it at least looks cool!

Current Trading Post prototype. I think it at least looks cool!

Since this is an insight into the inner workings of my mind I am sharing the thoughts I wrote down while attempting to play the game for the first time.

First, some rules. On your turn you can take up to 3 actions. These can all be the same, or they can all be different. That’s up to you. The actions you can take are determined by the number of action points you have for each action. For example, if you had three points in the EXPLORE action track, then you could use all three actions on your turn to EXPLORE. After you have taken your 1, 2, or 3 actions, you must then move other action’s track cubes up in value. This is what I am calling a “Zero-Sum Action Point Allowance System.” (I would go with the acronym ZSAPAS, but I’m not going to use the term again in today’s article). Basically, for every action you take there is an equal an opposite reaction.

Here is a little game design nugget that you might enjoy:

During testing, if it seems like the first turn for all players is dictated, SKIP that first turn and make the result the new starting condition in the game.

What that means is that if all players have no choice (or only one beneficial choice) for what their first turn should be, fix it! Ever wonder why players start with 4 train cards in Ticket to Ride???

During the first solo playtest I made it 6 turns before I realized I wasn’t happy with the design. Here is the list of my chosen actions on this six turns:

  1. Explore/Harvest/Explore – Increased Fulfill/Trade/Trade
  2. Harvest – Increased Explore/Explore/Trade (I suppose you can always move up three action cubes – so much for “equal and opposite”)
  3. Explore/Explore/Trade – Increased Harvest/Harvest/Harvest
  4. Harvest/Harvest/Build (Stable) – Increased Explore/Explore/Explore
  5. Explore/Explore – Increased Harvest/Harvest/Harvest
  6. Harvest/Explore Quit.

After 6 turns I had been unable to fulfill any orders and I was only able to purchase one building. In Scoville players only have a total of about 7-10 turns. So after these 6 turns I realized that I have basically done nothing. At least nothing very fun. I need to adjust it so players feel a sense of accomplishment on each turn, or at least feel like they are setting themselves up for accomplishment soon.

Here are the notes I took at this point:

  • Should the “Orders” be stacked? (What I meant here is that should the low level orders come out first, then the better ones, then the best, a la Power Grid Power Plants?)
  • Should the highest valued Order card be replaced each turn that an order is not fulfilled?
  • Should players always get to move their pawn 1 spot per turn without taking an action to do so? (Using the Explore action seemed critical and it was thus used very often. Then it had to be refreshed, so there were turns where I couldn’t move anywhere.)
  • It takes too long to build even the basic buildings, which means it takes too long to get the man-made resources. How can this be sped up?
  • Should players be able to complete a trade even if their pawn is not on a spot with another player or in the Trading Post (a la Settlers of Catan)?
  • How do I make TRADING the focus?

That last point is a big one. Let’s talk about that…

Put the “Trading” in Trading Post!

Thus far in the design the trading aspect of the game has, for some lame reason or another, been the lesser focus of the design. I have always been more interested in the land exploration and development side of things. Why?

I don’t know. So I am going to switch over the focus of the game to actually put TRADING at the forefront. Sometimes I wonder how I get this far without realizing something so critical to the design. Which leads me to another game design nugget:

Designers should step back from their design every once in a while and pick apart every aspect. Ask yourself specific questions about each design decision and try to think if there is a better way!

One big example is when a level 1 friend pointed out that the black and white peppers in Scoville should cross-breed to silver/platinum/other grey color rather than gold. Color-wise it made sense. But since my original design was that they made gold I had simply stayed with it because I had never gone back and questioned why I did it that way. And I never asked myself if there was something better.

So the new thrust of the design for Trading Post is to bring trading to the forefront. Now I think that on every turn you will complete a trade at the start of your turn. This could then aid you when you choose your three actions for your turn. I’m imagining a “Trade Route” of trading cards on the table, which would still represent things the Trading Post needs. They could be set up like the races in Small World or the foraging trail in Morels or the buildings track in The Manhattan Project. In each of those games players can choose the first option(s) for free or pay to take one further done the path. This mechanic would work very well for the “Trade Route.” Or I could use a rondel for increased Euro-y awesomeness!

Another way that trading would become more integral, and increase player interaction at the same time, is to allow trading with other players no matter where you are located. Sometimes it’s easy to let thematic correctness run the show. But this is game design and we can fudge things now and then. Settlers of Catan is a very popular game that allows player to trade resources with other players no matter what. Now, explain thematically how that makes sense. What if your settlements and their settlements aren’t anywhere near each other on Catan? Well, if it’s good enough for Catan, then it’s good enough for this game!

The bottom line is that trading needs to be what makes this game special. If you want a game where exploration is the focus, then find some 18XX game.

How to Reboot…

A game is in there somewhere... I just have to find it!

A game is in there somewhere… I just have to find it!

So I am going to jump back a little and try to re-figure out how to play this game. Admittedly it wasn’t ever really set to begin with. But to make trading the focus will take some effort. I really think this can be a fun theme/game and so I will continue to work on it.

So it’s time to take some of the blank cards I ordered and put them to use. I’m excited to work on the Trade Route/Rondel idea and see how it changes the focus on the game.

Another thing I’ll probably change is that players should draw all their land from their set of ten land tiles as part of their setup. What this would do is drastically lower the exploration aspect of the game. Players would also be able to plan their moves more deeply and more intentionally. I like the sound of that.

Once I nail down how I want the trade route to work then I can put the pieces back together for how the rest of your turn would work. This should be pretty interesting and I’m going to take an open-source approach to this design. That means I’ll be posting about it for all of you to read. I hope to provide you with a designer’s perspective on making appropriate choices within the design process, and how to keep things simple. Trading Post posts likely won’t be weekly from here on out, but they will definitely pop up now and then as I work through stuff.

Thanks for reading and joining me on this ride!

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Posted on June 13, 2013, in Board Games, Game Design, My Games, Prototyping, The Boards, Trading Post and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. If you want to increase trading between players, make it so that players MUST trade with each other if they want to get ahead. If you have certain resources that can only be produced by one or two players in the game, then players will be forced to trade with each other out of necessity. If everybody needs a shovel, but there is only one blacksmith, then the hatter will need to trade a hat for a shovel. The Blacksmith needs a hat, so he’s willing to make the trade.

    Or perhaps a more realistic example is that Player A can make a shovel using 4 actions/resources and a hat using 2, while Player B can make a shovel using 2 actions/resources and a hat using 4. Player A is best to specialize in hats and Player B is best to specialize in shovels. If Player A makes 2 hats and Player B makes 2 shovels, they can trade a hat for a shovel and now they each have a hat and a shovel, using a total of 4 actions/resources each rather than 6. A selfish player can do it on his own, but a trader will use fewer resources/actions and be better off.

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