Category Archives: Conclave

Conclave is an area influence game where you represent one of the Preferiti, the cardinals who are preferred to become the next pope. Your role is to manipulate the college of Cardinals during Conclave within the Sistine Chapel and get yourself elected as the next pope!

Design Update 12-5-13

Every once in a while I like to step back and take a look at what I’ve been working on. Last night I was putting together some components with “final” artwork so I can make a gameplay video for Scoville and I realized that it had been a while since I made any prototypes. And that got me thinking I should step back and take a look at what I’ve been working on. Let’s start with the hottest Euro farming game ever…


This game is currently preparing to launch on Kickstarter. That means that art is being worked on with a feverish pace. I’m not really an artist, at least in these terms, so I can’t say how much work actually goes into it, but it seems to be a lot. There are so many different components that require artwork (orders, recipes, boards, player shields, bonus abilities, bonus point tiles, box, rulebook). Each of these is no less important than any others.

My work on Scoville has been pretty minimal. I am, however, hoping to receive more final artwork so that I can put together a prototype copy with that artwork and make a gameplay video for the Kickstarter campaign. When I receive more artwork I’ll see if I can give you all a little teaser or two!

Brooklyn Bridge

I worked on this game one morning at BGG.con and made some awesome progress. I suppose it wasn’t progress as much as it was a breakthrough in the design. The game had previously been dry and lacking important decisions.

Brooklyn Bridge is a worker placement game where you send out your crew to obtain materials and build the bridge. You can also hire more crew. So far everything I’ve mentioned sounds like a re-theme of Stone Age. While elements of Stone Age are present in the design, the hook is that players not only place workers in a turn by turn order, they also remove workers and perform the actions in a turn by turn order. This adds a time dependence of when you activate workers each round. This is where the design differs greatly from Stone Age.

The breakthrough that I had at BGG.con was to incorporate public goals in the game, not dissimilar to the orders and recipes in Scoville. These goals would be for building different parts of the bridge. Pieces of the bridge should be built in a certain order and players earn bonuses for building them correctly. While Stone Age has it’s endgame scoring based on your game status (food track, # in tribe, etc.) Brooklyn Bridge scoring is based on how much your crew contributed to the bridge. I am plowing forward on this game and my goal is to have a playable prototype in January.

Dice Hate Me 54 Card Challenge

I am pretty excited for this contest. I know the awesome people from Dice Hate Me and it would be an honor to win this contest and get to work with them. For information on the contest itself go here.

Here’s the issue I have… knowing them they are seeking something that is awesome and has a unique and flavorful theme. I unfortunately currently have neither. I guess I had better start cooking something up!

Quantum Orcas

A while back I mentioned that I would be putting this on The Game Crafter once I was happy with it. Unfortunately between BGG.con, Thanksgiving, and now the 54 card challenge I have not had time to work on this most awesome of games.

On the upside I have a plan for how to make the game better. Since the time after Christmas is usually a down time for a lot of things I should have time to finalize what I want the game to be. Then after I’ve played it at least 40-ish times I might feel comfortable posting it for sale on TGC. So those of you who love time traveling killer whales shouldn’t have too much longer to wait!


Ah, Conclave… what to do about you. We’ve had a love/hate relationship so far and I imagine that will only continue.

So Conclave is my game design about getting yourself elected as the next pope. The game includes manipulation of the Cardinals by persuading and influencing their votes. The problem with the game is that it is only pseudo-fun for one round and the game lasts 4 rounds or more.

I have a solution that could make the game fun and more interactive without adding any length to the game but I have been avoiding it. If I sat down for a day or two and worked away on Conclave I think I could have something enjoyable. I’m hoping to get to this during the long hours of nighttime in January and February.


That’s where I stand from a game design perspective. It’s always been fun for me to work on this stuff and I appreciate you reading about my design efforts. I hope to report back by the end of January with some awesome updates!


The Game Design Queue

What would you do with an extra hour each day?

Time only offers itself once. So you’d better use it as efficiently as possible. As every designer knows, it’s rare if you are ever working on only one project. I am just the same. I am currently working on four projects, not including Scoville.And I could certainly use a few more hours in the day.  So I thought I’d give you a status update for each of the games currently in my “active” queue. My hope is that by writing this I’ll get a better idea of which game(s) on which I should focus my few game design hours per week.

And I’ve decided to set a goal: I want to have a playable and fun game by Christmas.

In the past I have set emotional goals, like “I want to send a game to a publisher by October.” How is that an emotional goal? It’s emotional because it has to do with making me happy versus making a good game. So this new goal is avoidably non-emotional. It’s all about the game. So I am going to attempt to spend the next three months hammering away at the stone to reveal a beautiful sculpture, and hope that it is a decent board game!

Let’s get started with last week’s Design Me game…

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Quantum Orcas

I designed it last Friday and by Saturday evening it had already been through four playtests. I’m not sure what your typical Concept to Playtest timeline looks like but this isn’t my typical timeline. There are a few things that the game has going for it to have allowed for four playtests.

  1. It’s simple to prototype
  2. It’s simple to teach
  3. It plays in about 10 minutes
Quantum Orcas (Prototype)

Quantum Orcas (Prototype)

So when I arrived at Protospiel-Milwaukee last Saturday I snagged a few of the free components that The Game Crafter had donated and threw together a copy.

In the game you are a killer whale who can jump across time, which is represented by jumping across the 4×4 grid. The game lasts 8 rounds. Each round two new boats are placed randomly into the grid using two d4s. Then each player chooses one card, which represents a location on the grid, to jump to. If there are boats there, they can eat them. If there are multiple boats, then they’ll have to discard cards to eat them. There are a few other rules, but the player who eats the most boats wins the game.

I think I might be able to design this into a complete game by next week, let alone by Christmas. It could also easily be rethemed. In fact, during Protospiel-Milwaukee I did retheme it based on some components available there. Several people playtested it with the theme of Space Monsters eating asteroids. So maybe I’ll have the game be dual-themed. If you like the killer whale idea you could play on that side of the tiles. If you like the Space Monsters theme you could play on that side.

The bottom line is that this game was fun, plays quickly, and comes in a small box. That’s an awesome combination.

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Conclave Logo V1 070213I’m not typically an area control/area majority kind of guy. However, Conclave is all about area control. In the game you represent one of the Preferiti, the cardinal’s on the short list to be the next pope. You are also representing a order of Catholicism, which can allow me to do some interesting things with the design.

The current state of the game is that it isn’t very fun. While I think there are some interesting mechanics in the game, they just don’t seem to work together to make something that is fun. That’s not good.

But I have some ideas. Since the game revolves around holding the control of different tables, with varying numbers of cardinals sitting at them, then I can add in objectives to the game while keeping it reasonably thematic. The idea would be that the game can be won if a global victory condition is met, otherwise it will be won by a combination of points, which represent how well you manipulated the college of cardinals.

There would be both shared and secret objectives. Once a player completes a shared objective, they place a pawn on it and will earn those points at the end. When a played completes a secret objective it must be revealed. This card will remain in from of them and will be scored at the end.

So I have some good paths forward with Conclave. Now I just have to decide where it actually resides in my priority queue.

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Trading Post

Logo051913Call me Ishmael, for I have discovered a white whale by the name of Trading Post.

Trading Post was my first experience with trying to design a really heavy game. I failed miserably. However, I love the theme and some of the core mechanics so I’d like to do a third complete reboot. Note, however, that the first two reboots were more like retrofitting rather than redesigning.

To redesign the game I want to achieve the following things:

  1. Make it more historic
  2. Make it focused on Trading, explicitly about trading furs for European goods.
  3. Make it fun.
  4. Make it complex.

So I sat down at the end of August and came up with what I think will be a really great game. The idea of the game is that you are a Trader working for a Trading Post. Your objectives in the game (read: “Ways to score points”) are to go on hunting excursions to collect furs, trade furs for goods, use goods to help build the Trading post. That’s the 10,000 foot view of the game.

There are a few other things going on in the game that I think are unique and interesting. There is a time-dependence for being able to do things in the game. For example, when you send furs to Europe, they have to ride on the boat, which takes time. There is also a concept of chopping wood and floating it down the river towards the Trading Post. So players would have to set themselves up to receive the large amounts of wood when they arrive.

Overall I’m pretty excited to be able to think about this game from a fresh perspective. It’ll be interesting to see how it comes along.

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Brooklyn Bridge

This is a very recent game design of mine. As you can imagine, the theme is that of the Brooklyn Bridge. In the game you represent a crew of workers that are helping to build the bridge. It is similar to Stone Age in that you place workers in different areas of the board one location at a time. It is different from Stone Age in that one player cannot remove all their workers and take all their actions at once. Instead, players will remove their workers and take the actions one location at a time.

What that introduces is an interesting dichotomy about placing and removing workers. You might be able to get a good spot in the Materials office, but someone might beat you to building a section of the bridge. You might get lucky and not experience the bends when working in the caisson, or your worker might have to undergo a stage decompression.

This game will be a balance between obtaining goods and earning money. The goal is to contribute the most to the bridge and that will ultimately be the player who earns the most money.

As of today this is still a pretty rough concept. I’ve mocked up some tiles so that I can test a few things. I’m not sure this one (or Trading Post) could really be a full prototype by Christmas, but we shall see.

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The Path Forward

So those are the four concepts currently in my active queue. This gives me enough variety and enough challenges to work on while not being overwhelming. But if I try to work on all four then I’m afraid none of them will be ready before Christmas. So I present my first ever poll, for which I am sure to get thousands of votes. Please vote for the game design you would most like to see fully prototyped:

Thanks for reading and voting! I’m hoping to bring you good game design updates over the next three months!

Conclave Conversation

Are you the next Pope?

Are you the next Pope?

Welcome to Boards & Barley. Last week I mentioned that I’d be posting an article about sourcing components for board game prototypes. Well, with GenCon so nigh I figured that article wouldn’t be of much help to fellow designers anyway. So I’m postponing that article until after GenCon, at a time when many designers will likely be looking to purchase new components for their game designs that require revisions. So today I’m discussing Conclave.

Since Trading Post is my white whale and I doubt I’ll ever actually get it to a playable point I’ve been spending my time making excellent progress on Conclave.

In Conclave players take on the role of a Cardinal who is hoping to become the next pope. For those not familiar with the process of electing a pope I will give a brief background. To elect a new pope the college of cardinals, those of high standing in the Catholic hierarchy, are locked in the Sistine Chapel after the death or resignation of the previous pope. They will perform voting rounds each day until a new pope is elected. Pretty simple.

So today I want to give you an update as to my progress on the game. Let’s start with the cards, and what they do…

The Orders of Catholicism

The game is designed to play from 2 to 4 players. Those players will represent one of four different Catholic Orders: Franciscans, Jesuits (Society of Jesus), Dominicans, or Benedictines. While I’d ultimately like each of these orders to have some sort of special ability, almost like factions, they currently are all equal and are simply a better way to represent the player colors. Here’s a look at the cards (From The Game Crafter) with the icons for the different orders:

These could easily be labeled by their color, but the icons seem more real.

These could easily be labeled by their color, but the icons seem more real.

The cool part is that once I’ve tested the base game it would be relatively easy to add in specific traits for each of the Catholic Orders. That would allow each player to have some special ability that they could try to use to their advantage in the game.

Inside the Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel prior to Conclave.

Conclave is a game about area control. The areas are represented by the different tables in the Sistine Chapel. In a real conclave it looks like the setup on the right. That setup has long tables of equal numbers of Cardinals.

In the real conclave each vote counts individually. That’s not much fun from a game design perspective. So as the designer I am utilizing my creative license and splitting the tables up.

So in the game there will be anywhere from 6 to 9 tables that include from 1 to 6 cardinals. Each table will work like an electorate. Basically, whomever holds the majority of votes at any given table earns the full table’s worth of votes.

This is a decent way to mix things up. So players will be attempting to hold the majority at tables rather than focusing on any individual Cardinal’s vote.

Therefore the table with only 1 Cardinal is worth 1 total vote. But a table of 5 Cardinals, though worth 5 votes, can be won with 3 cards in place to win the majority.

So ultimately I’ve designed this to work like an electoral college where tables are worth electoral votes and a certain number of electoral votes are needed to win the Papacy. Perhaps I should switch themes to be a Presidential election in the US.

The Tables

Two nights ago I mocked up some beta artwork for the tables, mostly based on the picture above. My previous prototype had these large, cumbersome boards that were really just too large to be any good. So these new table boards are based on the mini cards from The Game Crafter (1.75″x2.5″).

Here is a mock up of a Five Cardinal table:

Having a majority here is worth 5 votes.

Having a majority here is worth 5 votes.

First, I need to apologize to anyone who enjoys anything about culture. It is almost blasphemous that I am designing a game that basically involves the Sistine Chapel and all I’m showing are the tables at which the Cardinals sit. How can I justify not including any imagery of the beautiful, if not scary, artwork included in one of the most historical rooms in the world?

The red box thingy in my artwork represents the papally awesome swag bags on the tables.

Second, the two spots with the weird angled red box thingy are special spots. At the very start of the game a certain number of cards are randomly drawn from each player’s deck. Those cards are distributed evenly to the spots with the weird red box thing. The red box just denotes which Cardinals receive a face up, randomly drawn card.

Once the randomly drawn cards are placed then players will take turns influencing the Cardinals. On their turn they will place one card face down on any Cardinal of their choosing. Then they will also place one card from their hand face up on that same Cardinal. The thematic idea here is that these Cardinals are voting for the face-up player, but could be persuaded to vote for the face-down player.

Play continues in this psuedo-setup phase until all the Cardinals have cards on them.

Manipulating the College of Cardinals

After all the Cardinals have cards to represent their votes then the real game begins. This phase of the game is all about manipulating the Cardinals to get them to vote for you. There are four actions you can choose and you can perform any two of them on your turn. These actions are represented by these hastily produced icons here:

ActionsFLIP: This action allows a player to flip any one Cardinals cards over. The result is that this Cardinal will now be voting for whichever card had previously been the face-down card.

SWAP: This action allows a player to swap the locations of two different face-up cards of any two Cardinals.

LOOK: This action allows a player to investigate the Cardinals by looking at three different face-down cards for any three Cardinals of their choosing.

LOCK: This action allows a player to lock any one Cardinal’s vote into place for the rest of the game. Each player will have four locking cubes and can thus lock four Cardinals over the course of the game.

So on your turn you can perform two actions. They can be the same action if you so choose. The goal is to try and manipulate the tables so that you earn the majority, and thus their votes.


So I’ve described the game in a nutshell. This is the basic concept of the game and it is currently playable. My disclaimer is that I have no idea if it is any fun. All the fun so far has been in designing the game. While I think there is a nice strategic component to the game, only time will tell. And by time I mean playtesting. Thanks for reading!

Symmetry in Board Game Design

My recent design, Conclave, initially suffered from a lack of symmetry. After a great playtest session with Jeremy Van Maanen, Adam Buckingham, Corey Young, and Brett Myers I received some great feedback that pointed out how the initial round could greatly influence the game due to the asymmetry. So I balanced the player decks to eliminate that asymmetry. What followed was a nice conversation on Twitter about symmetry versus asymmetry. So I though I’d write a brief guide about putting symmetry into your game design, and where it might be appropriate.

My Definition of Symmetry:

Before discussing where symmetry or asymmetry is important it is necessary for me to define the terms so that you understand what I mean throughout the rest of this article.

SYMMETRY: when conditions within a game are equal for all players.

This could be that all players have the same options on a turn or that they all start with the same cards or they all have the same opportunity to progress. Symmetry is typically only present at the beginning of a game. Once one player has taken a turn, then the game is different for the next player. So games where all players have an equal opportunity to be the first player inherently are symmetric at the start. Games where a random player goes first are not inherently symmetric since by the time the second player goes, the game conditions for that player are different than they were for the first player.

An example of a symmetric game starting condition is one where players simultaneously bid for turn order. Another example is when all players simultaneously make their first move in a game.

ASYMMETRY: when conditions within a game are unequal for all players.

I think of asymmetry as the situations where players have differing decks of cards, or different options on their turn, or different opportunities in the game. But asymmetry also applies to when games change from turn to turn and thus no two players ever face identical game conditions. There are many examples of asymmetry within games. And to provide examples could take a long time. Instead, check out Lewis Pulsipher‘s thread on BoardGameGeek: Looking at Game Design as Ways of Introducing Asymmetry.

Where to design for Symmetry:

There are definitely places within game designs for symmetry. If conditions within a game ever put a game out of balance, where one player has a distinct advantage toward victory through no means of their own, then the design calls for symmetry to remove that lack of balance.

My example, from Conclave, fits perfectly here. The original design provided each player with a 30 card deck. However, during the game not all of the cards were used. This caused a problem with probability. There was a chance that one player may end up only getting cards of their own color to place on the table while another player would only end up getting cards of the other player’s colors. This would then cause the game to be very much in favor of that first player despite them not earning that opportunity. This lack of balance called for adding symmetry to the game.

In this case symmetry refers to all players having the same amount of opportunity on the table. With balanced decks where all players play all of their cards it means all players will have the same opportunity within the remainder of the game.

This is my recommendation:

Apply symmetry where a game could otherwise randomly favor any single player.

This will not only make sure the game is fair, but it will also make sure that players can enjoy the game without feeling like they never had a chance.

Where to design for Asymmetry:

I would recommend designing for asymmetry anywhere and everywhere, as long as it does not conflict with my recommendation above.

Asymmetry for Conclave would mean adding different abilities based on the person you are representing.

Asymmetry can refer to players having unique abilities or different ways to move forward in the game or different cards and thus different opportunities. Examples of asymmetry in games are plentiful. The Settlers of Catan has a beautiful level of asymmetry that depends where players place their initial settlements. Ticket to Ride has asymmetry with the destination tickets, which determine each players individual path to victory.

Asymmetry in a game can add to the variability and replayability of games. And often it can add to the tension of a game as well. One example that comes to mind is Shipyard. In that game there is a great asymmetry in players options on their turn. This is simply due to limiting the options that a player can take on their turn. No two players turns in a row are the same. Yet the asymmetry in player options add a lot of tension and strategy.

I am definitely an advocate for asymmetry in game design.

My Bottom Line:

Now that we’ve briefly discussed symmetry versus asymmetry in game design I want to make my point one more time. When a game design creates an unfair advantage for a player that is not based on the choices of any player, the game requires symmetry and balance. Apply symmetry to a game to balance the game and make it fair. In all other circumstances, feel free to apply asymmetry to your design. It will be harder to design and require more playtesting to balance, but it adds so much to the game.

What are your thoughts about symmetry versus asymmetry in game design? Do you prefer one over the other? How would you define the two? I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

Game Concept: Conclave

Of course I've already designed a logo!

Of course I’ve already designed a logo!

So there I was, working on Trading Post, watching the Dan Brown movie Angels & Demons when all of a sudden a new game design hit me. I thought to myself wouldn’t a game about electing a pope be kind of fun? So I changed course and laid the groundwork for a game design I am calling Conclave. (It could also be called Preferiti, Triregnum, Habemus Papem – which is already used for a game, or Fumata Bianca).

That was back in 2011. I had the idea for the game and a sheet of paper with a few details, but, like so many other game concepts, it sat on my shelf for nearly two years.

While again working on Trading Post a few weeks ago, and yes, while watching Angels & Demons (I guess I have a liking for that movie) I again was drawn to the idea of a game about electing a pope. So this time, since Trading Post is my white whale, I diverted my attention to actually conceptualizing Conclave.

Papal Conclave: What is it?

In the Catholic Church the pope is the person elected to succeed the line of Saint Peter, Jesus’ disciple. Since the dawn of Christianity there has been a leader of the Christian Church. And the Catholic Church has referred to that leader as the Supreme Pontiff, or more simply, the Pope.

Conclave is all about electing a new pope. The word Conclave is a conjunction of two Latin words, cum (“with”), and clave (“the key”). The interpretation of the word conclave is “sealed with a key.” In 1274, due to several elections taking years to decide the next pope, it was decreed by Pope Gregory X that the elections should take place inside a sealed room. This way the college of cardinals would have to elect a pope while basically being sequestered and given small rations of food and water.

Since 1846 all conclaves have taken place in the Sistine Chapel, in the Vatican City.

During conclave the cardinals of the Catholic church are locked in the Sistine chapel. They will cast their first vote in the afternoon of the first day. To elect a pope requires a 2/3rds majority for any single candidate not including that candidate’s vote. If the vote does not result in a newly elected pope, the ballots will be burned with chemicals that result in black smoke emanating from the Sistine Chapel smoke stack. Each subsequent day the cardinals will take a vote in the morning and another vote in the afternoon. Black smoke will be displayed each vote until a pope is elected. Once a pope is elected then the smoke will be white, thus informing the world that a new leader of the Catholic church has been elected.

How are you going to earn their votes?

While this Scrutinium method (secret ballot) of electing the pope is a standard method there are three others: Compromissum, Accessus,  and Quasi-Inspiratio. This game design is focused on Scrutinium.

How does the Game Work?

During a game of Conclave you represent one of the Preferiti, the preferred cardinals for the papacy. It is your objective throughout the game to manipulate the college of cardinals such that you earn their votes and get elected as the next pope.

This game is all about area influence. The game will be played using cards that represent each of the players. Each player will have their own deck of cards. Half of the cards are your own player color. The other half match the colors of the other players.

The first portion of the game represents the first afternoon vote on the first day of Conclave. During this portion of the game players take turns playing cards onto each cardinal to set their initial vote. Once all the votes are in, assuming no player has a 2/3rds majority (which is physically impossible in the first round with how I’ve designed the game), then the second phase of the game begins.

The second phase is the manipulation portion of the game. One your turn you can perform one of several types of miracles/charities, each basically giving you a specific action. These are listed here:

  • Miracle of Feeding: Flip the cards of any one cardinal.
  • Miracle of Healing: Swap the top cards of any two cardinals.
  • Acts of Service: Lock any one cardinals vote.
  • Acts of Mercy: Examine the bottom card of up to three cardinals.

So I’ve mentioned cards and tables. Let’s explain. During the first phase of the game (the first afternoon vote) players will take turns placing cards on each of the cardinals. They will place one card face down, and one card face up. The face up card is the only one that matters when counting the votes. The bottom card represents the bias that the cardinal has toward another Preferiti. So when players choose Miracle of Feeding they will flip any one cardinal’s vote over to the other card.

When players choose the Miracle of Healing they will take the top cards from any two cardinals at any tables and swap them.

Acts of Service allows for any one cardinal’s vote to be locked in for the rest of the game. This cardinal can no longer be swayed. But beware, each player has only so many “locking cubes” that they can use to lock cardinals.

And Acts of Mercy allows a player to look at the bottom cards of up to three different cardinals to see which way they might be leaning. This will help players know when it might be beneficial to choose the Miracle of Feeding (flip cards) action.

How do you win?

The game board basically represents the locked down Sistine Chapel. Your objective is not to earn a straight up 2/3rds vote as that would be boring for a game. Rather, you are trying to win different tables within the Sistine Chapel. It’s an electoral college of sorts. There are tables of 3, 5, and 7 cardinals. If you possess the majority of votes at any table, then you receive a number of votes equal to the number of cardinals at that table.

So if a table of 3 cardinals has two green votes and one blue vote, the green player would currently have 3 votes. It is an all-or-nothing system.

Players play to a certain number of votes depending on how many players are playing. Once a player has successfully manipulated their way to the right number of votes then they are elected as the new pope and the game is over.

Current State of the Game…

Currently the game is in the prototype phase. I basically have it ready for solo playtesting. Right now it is a pretty simple concept and is easy to prototype. But I’m exploring a few things that could make it both more interesting from a gameplay perspective and more difficult to prototype at the same time. So for now I’ll keep it simple. My goal is to solo it this weekend and get a better idea about how to move forward with the concept.

I’ll post more about Conclave in the future, but until then check out this awesome infographic from (click to embiggen)

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