Welcome to another Design Me exercise day on Boards and Barley. As a former competitive athlete I know the importance of practice. As a soccer player it is important to practice with your team so that you can learn how you work together on the field. But it is also important to practice and exercise on your own so you make sure your body is in the best shape possible so that you can be successful when it’s game day!
I feel like exercise and practice are important for the brain as well. That’s why I’ve been writing these Design Me articles. The idea for these articles is to exercise my brain so that I can perform as well as I can when actually designing games with the intent of pitching them some day.
I’ve been using a cool new online tool called Boardgamizer. It is perfect for coming up with a topic for these Design Me articles. The way it works is that it spits out a mechanic or two, a theme, and a victory condition. Then you can take that and see if you can come up with a game design around those things. Here’s the result I got for today:
So today we are going to exercise our brain and come up with a bidding/auction game with a holy theme where the goal is to place all your pieces. Piece of cake!
In The Beginning
The idea behind “In The Beginning” is that you are playing a role in building the earth. There are mountains, rivers, forests, deserts, and other terrain that need to be placed onto the bare Earth. The winner will be the player who can put out all of their pieces first.
The pieces that players must place are sets of different terrain tiles. Each round a set of terrain cards will be available for auctioning. Players will then obtain terrain cards from the auction. These terrain cards can then be played according to a small set of rules, which will then allow that player to place some of the terrain tiles from their supply.
Each player begins with the same number and types of terrain tiles. For example, each player might have 2 desert tiles, 3 forest tiles, 4 river tiles, 5 ocean tiles, and 6 mountain tiles and so on. The desert tiles would be the most difficult to place while the mountain tiles would be the easiest to place.
- 1 Board showing a bare earth covered in a hex grid
- 27 Bidding tokens in each player color numbered 1 to 27
- 1 Blank bidding token in each player color
- Deck of terrain cards – 20 of each terrain type
- Hexagonal Terrain Tiles – 20 per player
- Guide sheets for terrain interactions
How To Play:
In each round there will be a number of piles equal to the number of players plus 2 placed next to the board. The number of cards in the piles will vary as the game goes on. During the first three rounds the piles will each have 2 cards. During rounds 4-6 the piles will have three cards. And during rounds 7-9 the piles will have 4 cards.
Players will be bidding on these piles of cards simultaneously by using bidding tokens. Each player has a set of bidding tokens numbered 1 to 27. They may place only one token at each pile face down. Players MUST bid on at least one pile. Players may bid a total of 35 bidding points in any given round. For example, a player may bid on one pile with their “27” token. Then they would only have 8 bidding points left. They could place any combination of bidding tokens totaling 8 points onto remaining bidding piles. All players will place their bids face down. Players may “bluff” by placing their blank token at a bidding pile.
Once all bids are placed they are flipped face up. Whichever player has the highest bid at a pile wins those cards. Their bidding token is then discarded for the rest of the game. If a player loses an auction by less than 5 bidding points they can draw a card from the deck. Their bidding tokens are also discarded. If a player loses an auction by more than 5 bidding points they will keep their bidding token but do not get to draw a card.
So in the example image above here are the results:
- Pile #1: Yellow wins, discards their bidding token and takes the cards. Red loses, but is only 5 away from the winning bid, so Red discards their bidding token and draws a card from the deck. Blue is not within 5 of the winning bid so they keep their bidding token but do not get a card.
- Pile #2: Red wins, discards their bidding token and takes the cards.
- Pile #3: Blue wins, discards their bidding token and takes the cards. Yellow loses, but is within 5 away from the winning bid, so Yellow discards their bidding token and draws a card from the deck.
- Pile #4: Red wins, discards their bidding token and takes the cards. Blue loses, and is not within 5 of the winning bid, so Blue keeps their bidding token but does not draw a card.
- Pile #5: Blue wins, discards their bidding token and takes the cards.
These bidding piles are important because of the cards that they are offering. Because placement of tiles is what wins the game players will be looking to make combinations of cards that allow them to place as many tiles on each turn as possible. So once players obtain cards they can turn them in, in player order, to place their terrain tiles on the board.
Placing terrain tiles follows a logical order. For example, you wouldn’t put a desert next to a forest. Well, you could, but it would cost you an extra card. At the start of the game one mountain tile is placed as a starting tile on the board. Any other tile can be placed next to Mountain. But after that there are a series of logical rules for placing the other terrain types.
These rules are things like, if you place X terrain by Y terrain then it costs one extra card, or 1 fewer card, or “you must place three”. So there would be a series of these types of rules. So players will want to build the right combinations of sets of cards in their hand so that they can play more terrain tiles than their opponents.
This exercise could turn into a full game design if I put in the effort to create the terrain placement ruleset, which I just might do.
Your Designer Perspective:
So what are your thoughts about this game design? Are there any glaring holes in the design? Is anything obviously broken?
What would you have come up with for the design based on the Boardgamizer criteria? I imagine there are an infinite number of ways to go with those criteria. So make sure you are exercising your game designer mind! And have a great weekend!
I had the privilege of attending my first Protospiel this past weekend in Milwaukee. Protospiel is a convention for game designers to bring prototypes and get feedback from other designers. So I took my game Scoville along and got some awesome feedback! I think that I’ll focus this recap on my game rather than provide opinions of the games I played that are unpublished. That would not be fair to the designers even if I really enjoyed their games since all the games I played are still in progress. So rather than posting a drawn out chronological recap of the weekend I will just post the drawn out highlights for the play tests of Scoville.
I was fortunate to have Scoville played five times and was pleased to play 8 other games by other designers. Protospiel is an awesome thing for a designer to attend!
Here’s a little background about my Protospiel expectations and goals…
Protospiel: First Contact
Coming to Protospiel I had two goals: 1) validate whether or not Scoville is any good and 2) connect with people who know what they’re talking about. A secondary goal was to leave a copy of the game with Grant Rodiek for inclusion in the Prototype Penpal Program. That was something I could always do later on, but I thought it could be cool to send a copy off with him.
I also had some expectations about the feedback I might receive. I knew that I wanted to adjust the auction phase of the game. So I to see the same feedback about it that I had seen from my prior play tests. I was also a little uncertain about the quality of my prototype (that thought was quickly vanquished!). Thanks to everyone for the kind words about the quality of my prototype. I’ll post an article sometime about how I make prototypes.
So if I received validation and made some connections then I would have considered this weekend a success. Let’s see how it went.
Scoville Play Test #1
Getting to the convention at 8:15am on Saturday allowed me to get my game set up right away since few people were there. I got four people to give it a go and they seemed to really enjoy it. I won’t explain the game much here since I’ll be writing a post all about the game itself. Here are the suggestions that I received after the game:
- Beware of color blindness (Cool apps: Color Blind Vision (Android: FREE) and Colorblind Vision (iOS: $2.99)).
- Stage II orders seem to provide too many points.
- If everyone bids zero in the auction, flop the player order.
- Put endgame trigger scenario onto the guidesheet.
- Tiebreaker should go to the player with the most coins.
- The game was described as a “Euro with luck but no dice.”
- There should be no randomly chosen player order at the start of the game.
- During fulfillment there should be the option to pay for becoming the first player.
That’s a lot of great feedback. The game uses 10 differently colored cubes so I have been aware of the color blindness issue. There are several solutions for this. The biggest takeaway from play test #1 was that I received the auction feedback I was expecting. My plan would be to test a new auction mechanic on Sunday.
One player, who happened to be the winner by a lot, wanted to try a strategy that I am aware of but have not yet seen attempted. Since peppers can be sold for coins based on how many of that color are planted in the fields there is a strategy that you can plant a pepper of a certain color in each round and harvest that same color each round without doing anything else. I have done the math in my head and I do not believe that this would be a winning strategy (at least I hoped not because that would make the game broken). More on this below.
Scoville Play Test #2
After working on Protospiel goal #2 of making connections and meeting some awesome people, they were willing to give Scoville a try. During this second play test there was more bidding and jostling of player order. I think that was the reason that the auction was not mentioned in the post-game discussion. This play also resulted in much closer scores than the first play. Here are the suggestions I received:
- Peppers should be worth something at the end (that are currently worth nothing in the endgame: Use Them or Lose Them!)
- The artwork on the fields should somehow better illustrate where the player pawns can be placed.
- The game was described as a “medium to heavy Euro.”
So I received quite a bit less feedback from play #2. But the fact that I still didn’t receive any feedback about how anything seemed broken meant that perhaps Protospiel goal #1 (validation) was starting to become apparent.
Scoville Play Test #3
Later Saturday night a prominent figure in the board game reviewing business was able to play Scoville. So with three other players I got play test #3 going. In terms of rounds this was the shortest game I have seen. The game lasted 6 rounds. The players again seemed to enjoy the game and nothing seemed broken to them. They did mention the auction as the weak point of the game, so I received good feedback about that that I could implement on Sunday. Here’s the suggestions:
- Possible Trademark issue with the names of peppers used on the recipe tiles.
- Turn order needs adjusting. Option 1: Flop the order. Option 2: Purchase your spot.
- Perhaps just get rid of the reverse order for the harvest action.
- Brown peppers seem too valuable.
I want to point out that the brown peppers are somewhat of an enigma in the game. They don’t breed with anything except the best peppers. They take up space on the map. But they are used quite a bit in the recipes. I had not received feedback that browns were too valuable before this. The normal feedback on the brown peppers is that they seem pointless. So this was interesting feedback from a fresh perspective.
I was also pleased, in a bittersweet way, to hear the same feedback on the auction mechanic. I now knew that I could incorporate a revised auction mechanic on Sunday and expect good things.
I was intrigued by the suggestion to remove the reverse player order for the harvest. My first thought was “absolutely not.” What that would lead to is either huge bids during the auction or rounds of the game where one player can make a huge jump in points. I’ll have to examine this further.
Scoville Play Test #4
Sunday morning I was able to play Scoville for the first time during the weekend. I had not played in the previous play tests. And this time it was just a two player game. I have tried to design the game such that it scales well from 2 to 6 players. There are no AI players necessary and the game feels nearly exactly the same with 6 players as it does with 2.
Since it was now Sunday I was going to implement the new auction mechanic: Bid for Player Order. Now during the auction phase players would be bidding for turn order. Whoever bids the most gets to choose their spot in the turn order. The next highest bidder gets to choose the next spot, and so on. This way, if a player wanted to become the first harvester they could bid high and then choose the last spot, which would allow them to harvest first.
The new auction in the two player game seemed to work, but I suppose that this new auction mechanic would work even better with more players. What the new auction mechanic provided was a way to earn the first harvester spot. That is critical to strategy in the game.
Here are the suggestions I received:
- Are points balanced on the Order tiles?
- Change the artwork on the Cross-Breeding table for the cross-breeds that result in two peppers.
The points on the Order tiles may be slightly unbalanced, but not to the point of brokenness. These can be easily revised, which I may do depending on analysis of the scoring for the first 25 play tests. The artwork suggestion is an excellent one that I will definitely change.
Scoville Play Test #5
The final play of Scoville included the big winner from play #1. He wanted to test the coin building theory and see if it could potentially provide a winning strategy. I welcomed him to try it but made sure that the other players were initially unaware of his proposed gameplay. It was a great final play and I was happy to see that the new auction mechanic really worked well with four players. Here are the suggestions:
- Don’t call it “harvesting, call it “breed-vesting.”
- Check out the game Santiago since there is a similar “fields” mechanic (uh oh… worried about this!)
- The different parts of the game were described by one player as Resources (Auction), Tactics (Orders), and Strategy (Recipes).
The first thing to discuss was the auction. Of note is that this game had the highest average bidding per round of all 5 play tests during the weekend. I think this is due to players now having two things to bid for (first player spot or last player spot) rather than for just moving up in player order. The thing of note was the compliment someone gave to the auction saying that the auction was a good mechanic for the game. This brought the game full circle over the weekend. Previously the auction was described as the weak point of the game. Now it was “good.” I’ll take that!
The other thing that was validated from this final play test was that the game was not broken in that attempting to get coins by planting and harvesting the same color did not result in a winning strategy. The player was going full steam ahead from the get-go with that strategy and came in last place (though could have finished in third place). I was pleased that the game wasn’t close to being won by that strategy. Overall it was a great play test.
Overall Scoville Analysis
Perhaps the best part of the analysis is that people really seemed to enjoy the game. While my goal was to validate whether or not it was any good, I came away from Protospiel very humbled by all the kind words people had for the game. Let’s dig in a little bit and check out the scoring breakdown:
Some further analysis revealed that the number of coins bid during the game varied quite a bit. In terms of coins bid per round the numbers were 2, 6.14, 7.66, 1.38 (2-player), and 7.85 per game. The highest average was the 4-player game with the new auction, though this wasn’t unexpected.
Overall it was apparent that people had fun when playing the game. That’s the most important thing to me as a designer. There are some things that I would like to continue to develop leading up to Gen Con that I mentioned to the players. But I want to avoid the situation where I am needlessly adding complexity. That would steal from the simple elegance of the mechanics currently in the game.
Thank you to all 16 players who play tested my game. I really appreciate the feedback. It was an awesome weekend! And special thanks to Grant Rodiek for humbly accepting a copy for the Prototype Penpal Program. I know that I can expect some awesome, honest feedback!