Recurrence versus replaybility

Last week I discussed problem of recurrence in Imperial Settlers. I showed you how I was making each faction unique and how I made it more or less predictable. I presented you how I managed to achieve that simple thing – if you choose a Barbarian deck, you will be able to pillage, raze and destroy enemy each time you play.

With a little help from google translator I called it recurrence.

So basically last week I wrote whole damn article showing you that Imperial Settlers is a fucking boring card game – you pick a faction and it plays each time the same. Recurrence, he calls it. You played it once, you played it 100 times.

Yeah. That’s me. Super seller.

So now it’s time to deny every single word I wrote last week…

***

OK, but joking aside. The problem we are facing here is that on one hand we expect our deck (whenever it is Barbarians deck in Imperial Settlers or Weyland deck in Netrunner) to have a specific nature and be predictable (recurrence) but on the other hand we want it to work different each time we play it – we want fun each time we play (replayibility).

Here come Twist cards, I mentioned last week. 9 cards in each faction deck that change everything. Let me show you:

Barbarians may build Barter card that let them change any resources into Victory Points. Suddenly your people become peaceful traders! Or perhaps you build Robbers card and now you can steal Deals from other players. It changes their strategy a lot! Or you want to build Temple? Very expensive card that will give you just like that 6 VP!

Egyptians may put Desert into play and from now on they will discard cards from opponent hand! Or they build Chariot builder and suddenly they are crazy vicious! Or they have Oasis and they take opponent’s workers who were sent to work…

When Japanese build Casino, they become very rich (spend 1 worker to earn 1 gold!) but when they put Negotiator in play and they can change their Deals into actual Buildings in their Empire…

Romans can build Barracks and now they produce 2 more workers and their game changes a lot. Or they build Colossus and they go for stone – with Colossus they can spend 3 stone into 4 Victory Points!

Each of this cards is very strong. Each of this cards change the game. Your game will be different if you have Barracks in play and different if you have Colossus in play. This 9 twist cards gives you what you want – it gives you replaybility. They change each game. Without killing recurrence, they add replayibility.

Each faction deck has 9 such cards. You will draw few of them during game. You will build some of these few. They will have great impact on the game. and will give you lots of fun.

***

I think that’s all I wanted to share about designing Imperial Settlers. I believe you have your opinion about the game and you know if this is your cup of tea or not. After weekend I will post rulebook in PDF format.

I hope you enjoyed the series of articles. I hope to see you at Gen Con, Essen and any other con you attend. Have fun!

Factions, scoring and recurrence…

In the previous post I presented four factions that you’ll find in Imperial Settlers. I believe they are very thematic, they’ll inspire your imagination and along with the artwork they’ll make you want to play the game. But let’s face it – thematic descriptions, superb art, words that make your imagination run like crazy can only do one thing – make you sit to the table and give it a try.

To make you play the game over and over designer need to try harder and give you much more than just cute factions. Cool blog posts are not enough, I know that. Today I’ll show you what I have up in my sleeve and why I believe you will play this game over and over…

Different scoring methods
Factions need to work differently. And by work differently, I mean score differently.

You play to win the game, right? You build locations, you gather resources, you make many actions and you do all that shit but it all boils down to one – you, sir want to score points. Playing game means trying to score points, over and over.

Different factions means different ways of scoring.

It was easy with Rome. I designed cards that change stone resource into Victory Points. I also made cards that awarded player every time he or she builds a Rome Location. That way – with every new designed card – I was slowly building Rome scoring mechanism. It was like creating snowball effect (and trying to control it). With building more and more locations Rome was getting stronger and scored more and more points. It was a great feeling to play and to score with Rome. Theme, checked. Rules, checked. Move on…

Barbarians needed something different. I connected their scoring methods with war. I let them score each time they make Raze action. I let them change spoils for a really big Victory Points. I let them earn when they build black (war) locations. It was all about war. Raze, get spoils, win the game. Theme, checked. Rules, checked. Move on…

Egypt needed something different. Since the very beginning I wanted them be crazy rich and on the other hand, I was balancing it with a difficult scoring. I gave them many tricky cards, and not too much straightforward, easy scoring options. I gave them this card that gives you Victory Points only if you’ve just earned Victory Points. This one that let’s you score on opponent card. This one that let’s you activate any of your cards again (and score that way again)… From the very beginning it was a dark magic faction, on both theme and rules level. You have to contrive. But if you do contrive well, you will score a lot… Theme, checked. Rules, checked. Move on…

Japanese of course needed something totally different… I made them flexible. They can change food into Victory Points. They can score when make a Deal. They score when they have samurai. They score when they storage resources in chapel. They score in so many ways. You will never say your draft of cards sucked – you always have so many options to score…. Theme, checked. Rules, checked. Move on…

Recurrence
The real problem I faced here was – how to make this faction work this way on regular basis. How to ensure player that if he or she plays Barbarians, he or she will get those cards that let score in particular way. That’s the moment when math had to appear on the table. It was the moment when story telling Ignacy had to change a hat and do some boring stuff. And you know what? It went quite smooth and wasn’t that scary.

I divided cards in the Faction decks in 3 categories. Super important cards. Characteristic cards. Twisting cards.

Super important cards are cards like Village in Barbarians deck (it gives them more workers) or like Pyramids in Egypt deck (gives them Stone and Gold). Without these super important cards particular faction looses a little bit of its power. In each deck I choose 3 such a cards and I put 3 copies of each into deck. This makes 9 cards that are like commons for that faction. You are likely to have at least one or two of them, when you play.

Characteristic cards are mostly scoring cards. They show character of Faction and let you score points. These are cards that work together perfectly and let you build super fun combos. I choose 6 of them and I put 2 copies of each in the deck, to give you bigger chance to draw them. That way we had 12 cards in the deck that build character of the faction and let you score (in most cases).

9 super important cards and 12 characteristic cards makes 21 cards, cards that work together and build recurrence in the faction. With this system I know that if you play Barbarians you will probably draw Primeval Forest (it produces a lot of Wood and let you build cool Barbarian buildings). But if you don’t draw Primeval Forest you will probably draw Raid card (scoring for attacks) or Chapel (scoring by spending workers). Because of Deal part of each faction card, I also was able to lower luck element a little bit. Many Egypt cards give you Gold in the Deal field of the card. Most Rome cards give you stone in the Deal field, etc. That way recurrence was built. You play Rome and you build from stone. You play Barbarians and you burn. You play Japanese and you have lot of food…

And that is almost the end of the story of faction deck building, if not…

If not… You know, let’s count it. 9 super important cards + 12 characteristic cards… We are missing 9 cards. Twist cards.

And let me tell you about those 9 cards next week…

Beware. I have a gun!

I love factions in games. They are like super spice to any game. With Imperial Settlers I definitely wanted it to be a game with factions. I wanted four nations and I wanted them to work differently – to score differently, to develop the Empire differently, to provide different game experience and unique feeling.

And since the very beginning I knew – that was like entering a hell. Like asking for 4 times more work to do. Like adding additional hundred hours of balancing and polishing. Like the most stupid dream I could ever had.

And yet, I decided to go for it.

***

We will start with Vampire: the Masquarade Role Playing Game. Super successful game published in 90′. It was constructed like a perfect machine. Machine that had only one goal – steal heart of a gamer. With a brilliant clan system, with numerous choices during a character creation it was designed by a genius. It influenced hundreds of other games, including my two designs – Neuroshima RPG and Monastyr RPG.

Vampire was one of many examples that clans, races and factions are the best bullets if you want to hit precisely into gamer heart. Let’s face it – all biggest games of our times are all built with a great clan / race / faction system.

Armies in Warhammer Battle. Colors in Magic: the Gathering. Races in Dungeons & Dragons. It’s all the same. Faction system.

The truth is – there are few types of players:

There are ‘dwarf’ players. Those who like to hold fast, those who like high stamina, great armory. Defender player in Strongold. Jaina players in Hearthstone.

There are ‘elf’ players. Those who like high initiative. Fast movement. Guerrilla combat. The Outpost army in Neuroshima. Unicorn clan in L5R

There are ‘tricky’ players. Those who like nasty play. Those who like dark magic. Dark elves in Warhammer Battle. Black deck in M:tG. Tangarian in AGoT

There are…

You look at games and you will see there is one common pattern. Designers change clothes, but the underneath it’s one old song over and over – one time we call them Dwarfs other time we call them Crab clan. One time it’s Elf, other time it is called The Outpost soldier. One time we call them Tangarians, other time we call them Dark elves…

But this is all the same. This is well designed bullet that aims directly into heart of particular type of gamer. Because, believe it or not, you are one of those types we designers aim at. And yes, we can aim and shoot precisely to get you hooked into the game.

You probably already knew this. So let’s get back to Imperial Settlers and 51st State…

***

In 51st State there is New York faction. Their strength is to build many Locations. There is Merchant’s Guild faction and their strength is to sign Deals. There is Mutants faction and their strength is fire power. There is also Appalachian but these folks didn’t make it to the Imperial Settlers. These factions differ on mechanisms levels, but they don’t aim at heart of a gamer. There is not too much ‘cool factor’ in playing Merchant’s Guild. I tried to fix this a little bit in Imperial Settlers. I begin with transforming them step by step…

New York transformed into Rome. Mighty Empire that builds great buildings, roads, aqueducts and of course Colosseum… Yes, Romans looked like perfect implementation of New York faction.

Mutants transformed easily into Barbarians. That was no rocket science. They attack, they burn, they pillage, they are bad, ugly and hungry. Barbarians!

Merchant’s Guild transformed into Japanese faction. They are from far east, they are merchants who wants to trade with new lands and expand their influence. At the beginning I worked on The Phoenicians but common knowledge about this culture is not that huge. So I shifted to far east and here we have – Ninjas and Samurai… and merchants… I know, it doesn’t make perfect sense, but hey, use some imagination!

And then there is forth faction. It wasn’t inspired by 51st State. It is a brand new invention designed exactly for Imperial Settlers. Egyptians. Mysterious faction, with dark magic, with slaves, scorpions and many nasty tricks in hand.

Good direction but not enough cool factor yet.

But at some point I found the solution…

***

In 51st State you have 4 factions and they differ only by a Base Card and 3 Contact Cards – these 4 cards describe unique abilities of each faction. The first change I decided to make in Imperial Settlers was to differ factions in much greater extend. I decided to design a separate deck of cards for each faction. It made both thematic and game play sense – each faction builds different buildings, buildings that represent their character and origins. That way during the game each player’s Empire will develop in a different way and with no doubt, just by one look at the table we will be able to see who’s playing Romans and who’s playing Egypt. It looked like we have a chance to have a cool factor here..

Romans are great at building action. They produce stone and they have many cards that produce even more stone. They have many cards that give them Gold or Victory Points for building cards – so you build and build and then build even more and your Empire is growing like crazy. When you play Romans you feel power of your Empire, you see your table full of great stone buildings and you have no doubt – Rome it is! The experience was very thematic and unique.

Barbarians are frenzied locust. They have many workers and they can produce much more workers from their cards and they use these workers to attack opponents in so many different ways. They steal resources. They steal people. They burn buildings. They are pain in the ass. Aggressive and always hungry. Something very different from Rome. Thematic and unique.

Japanese are all about trades routes and merchants. They produce food and with food they sign a Deal one after another. Their production is growing like crazy with so many deals – and with that, they can move in many directions. Use resources to build. Use resources to gain VP. Use resources to activate unique abilities. They are traders. They have so many options. They are so damn flexible.

Egypt is nasty. This is dark magic. This is Tangerian deck. This is black M:tG deck. They send Scorpions to other players locations to block them. They use magic to take control over other players locations. They can repeat actions of locations. They can break any rule there is. Thematic. Unique.

It looked like I finally got this. Cool factor was here…

***

Factions in Imperial Settlers play differently. They are unique. They have their character and style. They offer different game experience. And what is cool – they attract different players – some prefer to play Egypt, other prefers Rome. I bet you will have your favorite too.

And you know… If you do have your favorite, that means that my bullet hit precisely where I was aiming.

At your heart, my beloved gamer.

At your heart…

Me in heaven again

Many of you know this story – there is a group of 4 players who wants to play Robinson. I sit with them, I explain goal of the scenario and I point my finger at round 7th depicted on scenario sheet. ‘You are gonna die here. Round 7.

***

Last week I was in Coy, Spain with a group of great people who works in education as trainers, teachers, event and activity organizers. I was teaching them about modern board games.  One day they asked me to present them Robinson. I told them what’s the goal of the scenario, I pointed my finger on 7th round and I told them they will die here.

They played. They survived till round 8th. It was an epic struggle.

Few hours later, in the evening they asked me if they can play rematch. They wanted to play again. So they played. Long, epic struggle that ended 1 A.M. Round 10th. They died. I thank them and went to bed.

Next day they approached me again. ‘We stayed at the board for half an hour that night trying to find mistakes in our strategy. We also had today in the morning meeting.’  they said – ‘We were planning our strategy. We want to play again. We will win.’

We set up Robinson again and they played again.

In the 11th round they were like John McClane at the final 10 minutes of any Die Hard movie. Covered in blood from head to toe, they were hardly breathing. The Island treated them with no mercy. It was 11th round and the wood pile was far from being ready. I used all me experience in the game, calculated every option I could see and I said: ‘As far as I see… theoretically you can still make it. You need a miracle, but you still can win against this f… Island.

And you know what? They did it. They won. Their third game in a row finally ended with a success. Merry recorded this moment when they survived event phase in round 12th and put wood on the pile.

They were so damn proud and happy.

And believe it or not, I was 10 times more proud and happy. Just in front of me passion, emotions, pure joy and happiness were happening because of Robinson Crusoe. It was amazing feeling. Me in heaven. Again. Thank you.

 

Gold prospecting

isettlers_preview

I don’t remember exact cards that I had on the table that evening. I do remember we were with Merry at the dinning table, it was late, kids slept and we played card game. At some point I put into play a card and my eyes got wide open when I realized what combo I just built. Few cards that I had already in play plus this new one just merged into one smooth mechanism that was just fuckin’ brilliant.

Never before I saw such configuration. Never before those cards worked together. I couldn’t hide smile on my face. I knew I discovered something amazing, something never seen before.

The game we are playing was The New Era. My very own design…

***

I design all those combos you discover when you play. This combos are there not by accident. I put these all tricky cards into the game so you have fun discovering them and building cool mechanisms.

Yes, I put on purpose ‘You may repeat any of your action cards‘ ability into Egypt deck and yes, I know how amazing it works with this card that says ‘Spent 1 gold for 3 Victory Points‘.

Yes, I put on purpose ‘You may built without Fundament cost‘ ability into Common deck and yes, I know how cool it works with Roman deck where the Fundament is the only problem they have.

Yes, I know you will smile when your Daimyo’s Castle is combined with Farmers at Work. First one gives you 3 VP in production Phase, second one makes production card work twice in a round…

I know all those tricks. I know all those combos. I designed them for you. That’s exactly what my job is all about…

 

***

And yet…

And yet I lost about 80% of my test games against Palmer, my main tester for Imperial Settlers. I knew every damn card in every damn deck, I knew all combos and correlations and yet, he beat me over and over.

He was building totally new combos. He was using my cards in a way I could not imagine. He was building structures I did not predicted. He was taking my cards and he was gold digging – he was looking for ways to play the way I did not expected.

He was finding new cool combos and he was proving me that there is much more there than I thought.

He was gold prospector. He took my cards and looked for gold.

***

Playing card games is a gold prospecting. You play in hope to find gold. You play in hope to find unique combo, deadly combination of cards that you have never seen before. Whenever it is Race for the Galaxy, 51st State or Hearthstone – we all play over and over and we wait for this moment of discovery, this fulfilling moment when our eyes get wide open and when we realize we just did it – we found a combo that is mind blowing and will win the game for us. I love card games, my Merry loves card games and so many of you love them too. Creating this small engines, building structure and looking how it turns into beast that brings you victory. And every time looking for something new, for new set of cards, for new structure on the table, for new hand that will work just like crazy…

Imperial Settlers is for you. With 4 different factions, with more than 200 cards I give you, my dear gold diggers and prospectors, hours of fun and hundreds of smaller and bigger findings. You’ll take these cards and you will find all gold pieces I left them. And you’ll find more gold. Gold pieces I didn’t even know they exist…

***

P.S.  Few days ago, late in the evening I got SMS from one of testers. The game was already at manufacturer, testing was closed but he was still prospecting. He couldn’t stop gold digging.

He wrote: ‘101 pts.’

101 is a new score record.

That evening he found a gold.

And then he got back to digging…