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We have returned from Essen, and as always, we are tired but happy. The scale and sheer energy of Spiel is something that can surprise even someone who has been an attendee for the last five consecutive years. However, this post is not about the fair in general, but more of a single interesting experience.
As always, while attending Spiel, we tried to have at least a moment to look at games that were not ours. Let me tell you, with two booths (one belonging to NSKN Games, and one to Strawberry Studio, our microgame division), it was not easy. In fact, I can honestly say that apart from being the biggest Spiel for all of us yet, it has also been the most tiring. Miraculously, none of the core NSKN Team came back with a con flu, which I consider nothing short of a small miracle.
Pre-fair shenanigans at the NSKN booth, with my lovely wife.
Despite having a lot of work, a lot of people to talk to, and a lot of fans and friends to see, I managed to get a bit of time off together with my wife, which we decided to use in order to find some interesting games to get, and then play at home, after we have slept for about 24 hours or so. The ultimate outcome of the time we spent roaming the halls materialized in the form of a small pile of games, the best of which I will be talking about in another post next week. For now, I will mention only one.
Aeon’s End has been on my radar for some time now. To anyone who knows me personally, or simply knows my work, it should come as no surprise. I enjoy card games, specifically ones with a deckbuilding element. I also like fantasy settings, and I rarely pass on a cooperative game. For those reasons, we stopped at the Indie Boards and Cards booth to play a few turns of the game, and decide if we want to take it home.
We sat down and started the first round: there I was with my lovely wife, another man that wanted to explore Aeon’s End, and one of the staff, who quickly and clearly explained the basics of gameplay, so we were making our first steps as Rift Mages in no time. When he mentioned that none of the personal decks are ever shuffled, and instead a discard pile is simply turned over to form a new draw pile whenever a player runs out of cards, I remarked that it is a bit like Mistfall, trying to solidify my grip on the mechanisms explained by comparing them to a structure that is more than well known to me – and to my wife. The answer came quite quickly: “Yes, but this game is so much better than Mistfall”.
As I was considering my options, my wife cracked and started laughing, and knowing that it will probably become apparent sooner or later (I was wearing the red NSKN Games t-shirt), I introduced myself and simply said that Mistfall and Heart of the Mists are my designs. For a moment the man seemed terrified, then his face turned red. He started apologizing, and I quickly reassured him that I know no offence was meant, and that none was taken. Yet, there is a valuable lesson here.
So, is everyone ready? 'Cause me hand is shaking a bit.
At the NSKN Games booth we had both Exodus: Proxima Centauri, as well as Exodus: Edge of Extinction, and I’d have to lie if I wanted to say that neither Twilight Imperium, nor Eclipse were ever mentioned. People often asked how our own space 4X strategy compares to these two great games, and I would offer my analysis. If a question of quality appeared, I would simply say that I personally prefer the experience offered by Exodus. I stayed far away from saying that one game is simply better than the other.
We all have our tastes, and we have the right to speak our mind. I’ve been asked multiple times to compare Mistfall and Heart of the Mists to Pathfinder, and I have offered a list of similarities and differences, not hiding the fact that I liked my own design better, if anyone asked about my personal opinion.
The Strawberry booth brimming with life and the joy of gaming.
The world of board gaming is filled with excellent games, and it’s hard to find one completely unlike any other. Lists of “games that fired other games” are a common (and usually extremely lengthy) thing, and I think it’s great that a cornucopia of gaming goodness exists, allowing us to find games that are closer and closer to what we personally consider perfection. Hence, it’s simply impossible to discuss one game without comparing it to others, and that’s great as well, as we can easily build clear images of the experience a given game has to offer.
That being said, if you’re a demo guy (or gal!) for one publisher, it’s probably best not to make absolute judgements about games published by someone else. Simply saying that Game A is better than Game B may backfire in a truly ridiculous fashion (honestly, the person who presented Aeon’s End was really unlucky that one time), or – more often than not – alienate a potential newcomer, who is already a fan of a product that is deemed inferior.
Magic indeed. Not street magic, though. More like ancient nordic magic.
Finally, and just to nicely wrap it all up, I want to say that it looks like Aeon’s End will make its way to my post about Spiel 2016 games I enjoyed. I don’t enjoy it more than my own design, but I do believe that it’s a pretty awesome game.
If you’ve been following NSKN Games or the Mistfall universe, or if you are among the backers of our most recent Kickstarter, you already know of the existence of Shadowscape, a game separate from Mistfall and Heart of the Mists, but set in their shared universe. Finally I have the chance to show you a little more of the game and discuss its future, so whether you’re already a fan or just hearing about Shadowscape for the first time, you should be able to find some answers below.
Unlike the heavier and more involved Mistfall and Heart of the Mists, Shadowscpe is a lighter, more agile game with a dungeon-crawling theme. Since the first design decisions made, I was aiming at creating a fast-paced experience based on managing one’s tableau and hand of cards, and a healthy dose of tactical movement.
Some of the inspirations thus included games like Dungeon!, Drakon, Cave Troll or the Dungeoneer series. The aim was however not to lift some of the mechanisms, but to create a similar atmosphere and feel, while building a game that would stand out mechanically.
Sample Whisper Cards
The Flow of Shadowscape
The original idea for Shadowscape was to make a highly competitive game which would see players working to outmanoeuvre each other while racing to be the first to claim objective cards. However, as the Kickstarter project for Heart of the Mists continued, we also developed a fully cooperative option for those who wanted an experience more similar to that of original Mistfall.
Regardless of the mode, on their turn each player chooses two from a set of four double-sided Hero ability cards, in order to move, search rooms, fight monsters or heal. A chosen then flips to its other side, revealing an alternative ability which could be used (and flipped back) next turn. A player can also boost each of their actions using Fate cards from their hand, in order to move further, strike harder or be more vigilant when looking for treasure.
All this is done to meet requirement of Whisper cards – each with its own objective, and each that a player may claim if they meet a set of conditions. In the competitive mode players try to outwit each other and collect as many Whispers as they can for themselves, while when playing cooperatively, they are trying to beat the game clock and claim a certain number of Whispers before their time runs out.
Sample Fate Cards
Fate of Heroes
One of the most important elements of the game is the Fate deck. Each Fate card comes with two icons (each corresponding to an action), two abilities, and a monster symbol. While in a player’s hand, a Fate card can be discarded for one of the symbols in order to boost an action, or it can be played for its ability (one ability is used in the competitive mode, the other when Shadowscape is played cooperatively). The monster symbols are used at the end of each player’s turn, to spawn and move enemies around the dungeon.
Deciding when and how to use Fate cards is crucial in building strong plays. A player’s hand is not replenished automatically, so setting yourself up to fill it with new cards is also an important concern. Learning how to manipulate Fate is thus a key factor in winning (or losing) a game of Shadowscape.
Sample Equipment Cards
If you found the above interesting, join me in a week from now, when in Part II I will talk about the lore of Shadowscape (or why Heroes now fight each other), and of the future of Shadowscape as a game.
It’s been some time since Simurgh: Call of the Dragonlord found its way to our Kickstarter backers, and although the game is not yet widely available, I’ve had the chance to read some reviews and talk to some people who played the game with the expansion.
So, it looks like Call of the Dragonlord is a success, as reviews and opinions clearly suggests that the game is better when played with the expansion content. This warms my heart especially, since I had the privilege of being Dragonlord’s lead designer, and I was given the opportunity to leave arguably the biggest mark on what turned out to be its final version.
What I personally consider the biggest advantage of Call of the Dragonlord is its modularity. Because of that it was much easier to work on it as a design team. Each of us could develop their own ideas, knowing that we could iron out the wrinkles created by interactions later, and that introducing different ideas would not lead to one designer stepping on another’s toes.
Right from the start we knew we would want to put a lot of content in that gorgeous box, so apart from the comfort of being able to really work a lot into Call of the Dragonlord, we also knew we would be dodging some bullets. Most notably, we managed to evade making the game bloated, heavy and as unwieldy as many competent games that are crippled by expansion overflowing with new mechanisms, ideas and content.
Instead of making the game heavier, much longer and more complicated, we opted for the ability to customize and create a higher level of complexity of gameplay, and not really the rules. As we were progressing, I was firmly clinging on to the lesson of Arkham Horror – a game I used to love, and a game I parted ways with without a second thought the moment I understood its expanded form became a bloated horror that threatened my sanity whenever I tried to refresh on all of the rules.
Yet, with all the content Call of the Dragonlord brings to the table, I personally typed up the words: “We strongly recommend that you play Simurgh a couple of times before you start adding any elements of the expansion”, knowing that when mixed all together, Simurgh and Call of the Dragonlord might be a bit to heavy even for a seasoned gamer.
Today I see though that our ideas were good, and I know that our hard work paid off. People customize their Simurgh experience, and Call of the Dragonlord seems to be considered a great expansion. I can only agree, as even though I am one of its three fathers (don’t get me started on the intricacies of dragon breeding), it is also one of the products by NSKN that is played most often in my household.
So, for now the only thing left for me to say is: I hope you have as much fun playing the game as I had working on its various elements. If you did (or did not), I’ll be glad to get your feedback. And seriously, if you’re playing Simurgh for the first time, keep your hands out of the expansion box. Even a dragon first learns to walk, before it masters the art of flight.
Oh, and one more thing: we are thinking of another modular expansion for another of our games. It is a story for a future post, but nobody will stop you from making educated guesses…
While using the time and dedication of people volunteering to test a game prototype is not easy, finding articles covering the topic as a matter of mere minutes. However, not as much is said about being a good tester. Here’s how to be more helpful, and how to leave more of a mark on any prototype game you play.
I know you are already graciously donating your time and effort to help a stranger (or a buddy) forge a game idea into the next 7 Wonders or Twilight Struggle, and you should be praised. Still, if you want your time not to go to waste, do not antagonize the people you’re trying to help with unnecessary harshness or belittling remarks. Don’t make fun of the game you played, ant try to be polite even if you really hated it.
…but not too nice.
You may want to cheer someone on, you may want to encourage to further work, or you may simply be uncomfortable hurting someone’s feelings, and because of that you may simply say that you like the game, hoping that the uncool stuff will get ironed out somewhere down the line. Well, the truth is that you’re the “down the line”, and if you want to make your contribution matter, you need to say what you really think. You don’t have to be a jerk about it, but if you see flaws, don’t keep them to yourself. Finding them can make a big difference.
Play what you like
So, a friend is asking you to test his party game, and you’re a Eurogamer? Or maybe you’re tempted to sit down and try this “Agricola-killer” you’ve hear so much about, but you would not be caught dead (still clutching your plasma cannon) playing Agricola. If this is the case, simply say no. You won’t have a good time, and you probably won’t be a great judge of what’s good (or bad) for further development of the game. And if you do suffer through, don’t say that the game will stink unless plasma cannons (or farming for that matter) are added. You played a game targeted at other gamers, so get over it and play something else.
Talk to the designer…
…or to the developer, or to the volunteer who’s shown you the game. Ask before you get involved, so that you don’t waste your precious time on a game you will most probably hate (see above). When you’re done, expect a set of questions either emailed (if you’re involved in remote testing) or simply asked. If you’re not asked many questions, try to be specific when it comes to what you liked and disliked in the mechanisms or the theme. Yes, the designer/developer has just dropped the ball, but give them a chance to pick it up.
Be open and frank
Assume that you will see a new game, and be ready to judge it on its own merits. If it is similar to something you’ve played, tell it to whoever is responsible for the test. If you believe another game is being ripped off, ask about that as well, and ask plainly. As hard as it may be to believe, that may be just an unfortunate coincidence.
Finally, if something does not work, and you have an idea on how to fix it, don’t keep it to yourself! Your ideas are as good as anyone else’s, and this can really make you leave your personal mark on the game. However, if you’re offering a solution from another game (and a game you like) for the second or third time, take a step back, and make sure you’re not just trying to remake what you have just played into that other game. It’s pointless, that other game already exists, and I'm guessing you have it on your shelf.
As always with these kind of articles, it’s probably not nearly complete. However, you can help me complete it by offering your own ideas in the comments section below. What say you?
While it took me some time, I finally got to see Stranger Things, and I loved it. It gripped me right from the start, and did not let go until the search for a small town boy that vanished on his way home from a Dungeons & Dragons game reached its conclusion.
If you’ve not seen Stranger Things, I will not spoil the fun for you. I will only say that it is a story that is steeped deeply into classic horror stories, and one that immerses you even further into its atmosphere by not only taking part in the eighties, but also by presenting itself in a highly stylized form, suggesting that it was filmed thirty years ago.
It also has a bit more value for us gamers (although probably more for role players than board gamers), as it not only acknowledges the existence of gaming, but also makes the involvement of the young protagonists in a D&D campaign one of the plot points.
All that worked on me as (mostly a former, but still) a role player, but it also drove me to thinks about board games that would build an atmosphere similar to that of Stranger Things. What came immediately to my mind were games by Flying Frog Productions: Last Night on Earth and Invasion from Outer Space, which do an excellent job at recreating the atmosphere of B movies of the eighties, with only one thing missing: the actual horror.
Don’t get me wrong: the tension is there, but nobody I know ever said that they were feeling the cold touch of fear as they were moving their miniature around the board. For that matter, nobody ever testified to being genuinely scared during a game of Arkham Horror (unless we’re talking about the sheer amount of stuff you need to put on a table and manage during the game) or Eldritch Horror – two games that even put “horror” in their names.
It’s maybe not an easy task to recreate the pulp feel of the eighties, or to build a more pulp version of the Loveraftian world, but it is one board games have been performing really well for years. You can easily recreate the gothic horror atmosphere of Sleepy Hollow with a copy of A Touch of Evil, or the science fiction “Alien-esque” feel with Space Hulk or Legendary Encounters, but each and every time you will have everything but this one thing: the horror itself.
In my gamer life I’ve encountered a game that was able to create the actual fear and desperation only once: Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space. The sensory deprivation its system provides by making everyone’s movement secret (tracked with a pencil behind the screen) really works towards genuinely scaring you, if you are assigned the role of a crew member trying to leave an infested space ship in the middle of the cosmic nowhere.
The thing that separates Escape from the Aliens from other games, and what makes it so much better at creating the true atmosphere of horror is also its biggest flaw: a lot is based on player trust, both in all players actually not wanting to cheat, and (more importantly) not cheating by accident.
What role playing games have in spades: creativity and uncertainty of dealing with incomplete information (not to mention the presence of an actual mind animating everything players can and cannot see), board games usually lack, and for a good reason. When you sit down to play a game, you need to know how it works, what are the rules – and that the rules will not be broken at will unless another rule allows for exactly that. Simply put, you need to know everything, and to when you know everything, the horror potential is instantly gone.
Does the above mean that true horror is something completely out of reach of board games? It probably isn’t, but I’ve seen but a handful of examples that would come close to proving this false. Then again, our hobby is evolving constantly, and maybe we’ll see actual board game horror (the ingame type, not the “I spilled stuff on your game” type) come to life through the yet untapped potential of Legacy systems, or from somewhere else: from a place we cannot yet see, from a world not yet unveiled, where games will go in the future.
Versailles is admittedly one of the least known of our games. Published in 2013, it puts players in the shoes of master architects, trying to build the legendary palace by managing their workforce, gathering resources, crafting decorations and gaining access to useful technologies. If you’ve played Versailles, you probably know that. What you don’t know is what the original concept for the game actually was.
The first prototype of the game, back when it was still a pile of home-crafted cardboard tokens, a pile of wooden pawns borrowed from another game, and an unwieldy, one-piece board, was… Exodus II. If you’re thinking about Exodus: Proxima Centauri and Exodus: Edge of Extinction, you are on the right track.
Besides having fans of the game itself, Exodus has always been well liked for its lore. The tragic story of mankind having to leave Earth, and its encounter with a mysterious race of Centaurians made for a compelling backdrop to the brutal conflict that would play out on the board. While Exodus fans fell for the game due to its mechanisms and its volatile gameplay, many were (and still are) interested in the story. In fact, we still receive questions about what the future of Exodus holds for mankind, and for its real life fans.
Let me first come back to Versaillesand its original incarnation. Exodus II was a game more meaty than Versailles. While telling a story of building a gargantuan mothership capable of housing hundreds of thousands of people, it was also a longer and more involved game, with a bit more negative interaction and some bits of direct player conflict so crucial to making it feel like Exodus.
As a publisher, we are already firmly in the realm of building worlds using product lines. The Mistfall world already spans over five products (including the recently kickstarted Heart of the Mists, Sand & Snow and a fully standalone Shadowscape debuting at Essen this year), and Exodus itself is already at two, with Edge of Extinction developing on original gameplay and expanding the Exodus universe. Now we want to go further.
While a bit grimmer, and possibly more realistic, the Exodus universe is quite ready to go into a new direction – and have fans follow it. The only question is, what direction should that be game-wise? Would the fans want to see some completely new games in the line? Would including more German-style mechanisms be a good fit?
What do you think? Should we explore the darker corners of the Exodus universe with a deckbuilder, a worker placement game, or perhaps a tactical game of fighting units? We do have ideas and plans, but if you’re a fan of Exodus, we’d love to know what you think.
Thu Aug 11, 2016 12:33 pm
Check out my first published board game: In the Name of Odin!
The Kickstarter for In the Name of Odin completed successfully around a month shy of half a year ago. Since then, I kept my ear to the ground, looked at every Kickstarter update and asked NSKN directly about how things are going a few times. I expected to sweat every detail, but in fact it was a pretty quiet five months. And then, just two weeks ago, it happened. The boxes reached Europe and started reaching the US, they went out, and soon the backers started receiving them. That included me.
I wasn't overly excited, if you can believe it. I wasn't nervous. I didn't jump with joy, or cry tears of laughter. Mostly, I felt mildly surprised. It's here. It's done. My first board game, published after several years of development, some disheartening bumps, and many nervous months. And there it was, in my hands. Huh. „How does one react to something like this?” I wondered. Being a more introvert, inward-looking kind of person, I just found it amusing, and I felt at ease about this game for the first time since it sprouted in my head.
For me, personally, In the Name of Odin is an achievement in more ways than one. What you have to know about me as a creator is that I'm terribly insecure about my work. I have a hunch that what I'm doing is good or enjoyable or well-thought-out etc. but you won't find me praising my own game. The furthest extent I go to is saying „Yeah, I am pretty happy with that mechanic” or „I'm really proud of this game.”. I'm of the mind that the author is the worst possible person to rate his work, adhering to the latin proverb In propria causa nemo debet esse iudex („No one should be the judge in his own trial.”).
The first confirmation that the game was fun, was that NSKN even considered it, let alone took it in with open arms. But now that its in the hands of players, comes the ultimate test – and it's performing well! I'm reading people's thoughts on the game, I saw the reviews around the Kickstarter and now new ones will likely pop-up, and it seems like you're liking In the Name of Odin – and that's really the best thing I could hope for!
I am very happy with how the game worked out, in terms of production. I like the quality of the material for the figurines, I love the art, and I think the board looks gorgeous. One thing which I really liked was that we mostly managed to keep the style of the art on the side of history, and less on the side of fantasy. Don't get me wrong – I'm a sucker for epic Viking illustrations, and fantasy renditions of bearded warriors with axes in their hands. But I also think the aesthetic of the Norse and of the Dark Ages is attractive enough that it doesn't need embelishment. As such, I like that the final art in In the Name of Odin strikes a balance between what modern culture imagines Vikings should look like, and a bit more conservative, true-to-history approach.
What I also really liked in NSKN's approach was that when we hammered out the final kinks in the rules, their solution to some of the issues correlated with what I was thinking. Often they would say something to the effect of „We suggest tweaking this and that because it makes more sense that way.” and I would do a facepalm and respond „Yes, of course it's better the way you propose, why have I kept to that previous version?”. An easy example of this was that I insisted that the card offer should be replenished only after a player has completed a turn, instead of right away – when in fact it would prolong the game by making the subsequent player spend more time figuring out his moves when his turn comes along. There's no doubt in my mind that In the Name of Odin is a better game for having been published with NSKN than it was before they decided to release it.
Is there stuff that I'm less happy about? Sure. There's a few very minor things that I would've probably done differently in terms of presentation, but there wasn't time to revamp them endlessly if NSKN was to deliver you the game on time. I opted for a different naming scheme for the Raids, more abstract categories than specific places, but that was another thematic detail which most players wouldn't even register.
I apologise if this note ended up being a bit chaotic, but I'm really only just growing to understand that this is a huge thing that happened – and a very important thing to boot. I hope In the Name of Odin will end up not just a well-remembered, well-liked game, but also a stepping stone. Like all creatives, I have many other projects in various stages of completion – from stuff I consider ready-to-publish, through games which clearly need some reworking, to just bare-bones prototypes, or games which went through one-off tests and are now are tucked away in boxes, waiting to be salvaged. And that list doesn't even cover the ideas written down in a notebook, with a few sentences of „rules” jotted down on each of them.
So what's next? Hard to say, but hopefully the answer is „More published games.”
With Heart of the Mists being in the centre of our attention after its Kickstarter campaign, today we present to you the final piece of Mistfall lore: two new villains and their stories. Do you have the courage to take them on?
The Keeper is a partly mythical being, and up until his recent reappearance many believed him to be no more than a folk tale. Described as a giant skeletal figure wielding a sword, The Keeper was thought by many to be a godlike being, or a personification of neutrality and judgement. The truth is, however, more complex.
Once a warrior and an explorer, the Keeper’s name has been forever lost in the tides of time. What some of the most ancient and ambiguous texts tell of him today, is that he was a man determined to find out the true nature of the Mists, so that their threat could be dealt with forever. Yet, as he explored further and deeper into the lands taken by the malevolent force, both his mind and his body did not remain untouched, for the Mists can find a way to unlock the door barring the way into the mind of even the strongest individuals, and all they need is time.
Some believe that The Keeper became what he is now as punishment for his unparalleled hunger for knowledge. Others believe that it was his relentlessness in achieving his goal that brought him too far. Most scholars agree, however, that he did eventually find the knowledge he had been seeking, but that the journey itself consumed him in the process.
Headstrong and unyielding, The Keeper was nonetheless transformed, the Mists allowing him to witness their greatest secret, while binding him to it as a guardian of what he had so much craved for. However, as he still retains parts of his former self, The Keeper still resists the corrupting power, hanging on to what is left of his original purpose.
Now, having gathered enough energy to breach back into the lands of men, The Keeper awaits the heroes able to best him, so that the secrets that lie beyond the Black Gate can be revealed. And while the power of the Mists holds enough sway over his current form to make him stand against whoever wishes to walk through the door to the Heart of the Mists, his appearance may be humanity’s greatest chance of winning back the world half-devoured by what seemed like indomitable and unrelenting darkness.
Velkar the Devourer
The story of Velkar almost mirrors that of The Keeper. Similarly little is known about him, as he was once a man whose hunger for knowledge and power was only matched by his desire to remain unnoticed by those who would work to foil his plans.
Believed to have been a Duskbearer priest once, he has since left the shadowy path of the Nightfather to step into the black madness of the Mists, embracing their gifts willingly, wholeheartedly, and deliberately. Melded with the darkest energies of the Mists, Velkar has become one with the Mists, becoming the only living being fully aware of the oldest and darkest chapter of their history.
Once proud children of Dawn and Dusk, and struck down by their father’s fiery rage, the Firstborn where not annihilated. Their suffering and anger remaining in the ashes of their violent demise, the Firstborn’s souls melded together, giving birth to the corrupting power known as the Mists. Their torment and lust for vengeance fuelled by the divine might that destroyed them became the power able to sow destruction, and corrupt everything in its path.
After reaching the Gorge – a cursed place where Nightfather’s hands had struck the world to annihilate his children – Velkar became an unspeakable, malevolent abomination, and the source of the corrupting power of the Mists. The will of the Firstborn is now his will, and as he grows in power, the day the world will die tormented the way the first children of the gods died seems closer than ever before.
Fri Jul 22, 2016 10:29 am
How much time would it take you to decide, if you were to choose which five out of thirty different pieces of candy you would like to eat? If you like candy at all, I’d wager it would take some time. Probably more time than choosing one out of five six times in a row.
You’ve probably already guessed that after my last post on Worker Placement, this time I want to talk a bit about Card Drafting. This means that I will cut right into the middle of the popularity line I set up previously, but I think there are more than a few good reasons to do that. What reasons? Through the Ages, 7 Wonders and Blood Rage, just to name a few.
Although the sheer numbers extracted from Boardgamegeek make Card Drafting only the fifth most popular Eurogame mechanism (with about 500 games using the mechanisms currently in the BGG base), the general popularity of games making this mechanism a part (or indeed the whole) of their core, makes it clear that Card Drafting is a solid base to build your game on.
To explore this a bit, let’s go back to the candy situation from the first paragraph of this post. In essence, the “choose one out of five, repeat six times” part is exactly what drafting is, or what it would be, if we had no other players involved in the drafting process. Nonetheless, it shows one of the biggest advantages of the drafting system: the ability to simplify our decision process, without diminishing our game experience.
When faced with too many choices, we tend to grind to a halt, and to get moving again, we either quickly develop a system that culls some of the choices (“I hate liquorice, so these five types of candy are out”), or give up and abandon the idea of making a choice, in favour of chance (“Damn, I bought the liquorice candy again”).
Drafting performs a similar process, by randomly dividing the pool of available options into manageable groups, effectively keeping the depth and the scope of our choices, but making it much easier to parse through all available material. And while this may not be the best system for choosing items at a store (“Damn, I need to choose from this group now, and it consists of only liquorice candy!”), it’s a great one to use in the game.
Distilling a huge number of choices into a series of intersections that are much easier to navigate makes the game play faster, allows players to stay engaged all the time, but manages to shed a level of complication without losing richness and complexity. However, more importantly, Card Drafting also easily builds up tension, which keeps players excited, and (as evidenced by Kickstarter successes and sales number) on the lookout for new Drafting games to add to their collections.
If you’re a fan of Eurogames, there’s an excellent chance you have more than a few Worker Placement games in your collection. There’s even a chance that most of your Eurogames are actually based on this mechanism. So, what makes it so popular?
A quick look at the Worker Placement category here on BoardGameGeek reveals over 1100 games. When you compare that to the general vastness of games registered on the site (which is well over 80K at this point), it may seem like a relatively small number. However, compare it to other very popular categories like: Hand Management (over 900 games in the category) Set Collection (over 800), Tile Placement (over 400), Card Drafting (over 500), Auctions (over 300) or Area Control (a little under 300), and you’ll get the full picture.
It seems that a new game that “puts a new twist on Worker Placement” pops up on the radar, both in regular publishing, as well as on Kickstarter. Recently, the Worker Placement mechanism reared its head in the fabulously successful Anachrony by Mindclash Games, and we ourselves have more than dipped our toes in the genre by publishing Praetor, and successfully kickstarting Simurgh and Call of the Dragonlord this year.
The obvious reason for the Worker Placement popularity is… its popularity. The more Worker Placement games are published, critically acclaimed and bought by gamers, the bigger the incentive for publishers to make even more Worker Placement games. However, this snowball would not have started rolling in the first place, if it wasn’t for the absolute brilliance and unbelievable effectiveness of the mechanism itself.
The simplicity of the base idea behind Worker Placement may effectively obscure the complexity of rules behind the idea of placing a meeple, a disc, or any other representation of a worker on an action space. If you cannot easily picture it, just try to imagine how large a list of rules you would have to create in order to restrict the number of specific actions used without marking them as used with workers. And this is only the beginning, as not all games follow the Agricola model, in which you simply place a worker and resolve the action thus marked.
Think of games like Snowdonia or Carson City, in which players decide upon their actions first, but only get to resolve them later, and in a specific order. Now take into account the fact that some games, like our own Simurgh, present different types of action spaces for different types and numbers of workers, or introduce different levels of effectiveness, depending on the type of worker used (like, again our own, Praetor). And then add a bit of the idea of taking actions in order to block others from doing something that would benefit them. With all the above, the complex web of interlocking rules would be almost impossible to internalize if not for the invention of the board game worker.
Finally, take a few steps back, look at the tangled mess hidden behind the simple idea of placing a worker, and consider how easily accessible the complex models are thanks to a mechanism based on what seems the most essential idea of gaming: taking a turn to make a move with a pawn and (in most cases at least) immediately profit from your decision.
Worker Placement is not going away soon, and for good reasons. It’s a great engine for lighter and heavier games alike, rooted deeply in the nature of strategic board games. It can also both evolve unexpectedly (as shown years ago by Alien Frontiers), and be a solid foundation upon which games solid, memorable and best-selling games can be built.
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