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Designer Diary: One Night Ultimate Vampire

Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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Back in the Day...

After Daybreak (the standalone expansion to One Night Ultimate Werewolf) was completed in mid-2014, I figured that I was done with the One Night series for a while as the base game and Daybreak provided a pretty much complete experience for One Night players, ranging from simple roles to really interesting, complex ones. I thought I would probably put out a few more expansions because there are cards that were on the sidelines for a variety of reasons, but as far as gameplay goes, One Night was locked in place.

I had started working on One Night Revolution for Indy Boards & Cards, and I thought that ONR would be a nice sideways step for the mechanisms in the original One Night Ultimate Werewolf, mainly by splitting the role from the player's team. One of the things I had been toying with was preventing a player from using their night action in Revolution, and this was done by a player giving a "disable" token to another player, who would wake up later in the turn order to discover he couldn't do his night action because someone before him had disabled him. Neat idea, but for a variety of reasons it just didn't work in ONR.

Would You Like a Bite?

That idea of "giving" something to someone stuck with me, and one morning I woke up with the idea of a new One Night role card for a Vampire, who would "give" his gift of vampirism to another player by biting them. Actual physical biting was considered, then quickly dismissed, but the idea of the Vampire player giving a "bite" token to another non-Vampire player was pretty solid. Of course, then everyone would know who was bitten, which would suck (pun intended) for the victim.

New idea: What if everyone started with one of those tokens, a blank one, then the Vampire exchanged the blank one for a bite? Problem solved! But that would require ten blank tokens (one for each player) and a bite token (maybe two because of the Doppelganger) just for that one role card. The publisher side of my brain did the math and rolled his eyes at the designer side of my brain — yet another idea crushed by the realities of publishing.

Marks Take Hold and Won't Let Go

A few days pass, and in the Shower of All Great Ideas™ I'm struck by Cupid's arrow. Well, not his arrow (that would hurt, and I'm married, so it would be awkward, too) but instead by how I could get Cupid to work in One Night. Cupid, you see, is one of the more popular roles in Ultimate Werewolf: One player causes two other players to fall madly in love, so much so that if one of them dies, the other dies of a broken heart. These new tokens required for the Vampire role would also work for Cupid — two players could receive one of Cupid's arrows! And if Cupid woke up after the Vampire, Cupid could cure Vampirism. (A "love heals all wounds" kind of thing — very romantic of me in hindsight.)

So now there's a thing — these tokens could really add some flavor to the game by marking the players with various attributes. I renamed them "marks" (Mark of the Vampire and Mark of Love) and thought about what else would work with this new mechanism. The original idea was a Mark of Disabling, which sounded a little too crippling to be fun, but what if a special-powered vampire scared someone so much they couldn't do their night action? A Mark of Fear! The Count was given this ability — and an uncanny resemblance to a certain muppet.

The Marks of Nothing were renamed to Marks of Clarity during this process, too.

Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch of Mark-Manipulating Characters

Now things were looking good. I looked through the dozens of characters in Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition to see whether any more might work with the new Marks system and found the poor Diseased role, who in the "big" game makes werewolves sick, preventing them from eating the second night. Of course, there is no second night in One Night (or it would be called "One Nights", which is a grammatical nightmare).

No one wants some terrible, very communicable disease, but because it is so contagious, the Diseased gives a Mark of the Disease to the player sitting directly to their left or right. And because the Diseased is on the village team, they have a really fun defense: If anyone points at a player with disease, that player (not their team) loses (even if their team wins) because thematically they contract the disease and die a horrible painful death while the other team members are partying in the village square to celebrate their victory.

What's really fun about this is that the Diseased can give their disease to a vampire, which still has to be killed in order for the village to win, but YOU don't want to be pointing at them. (You'll need to convince everyone else to do so while you point at some other random player, thus ensuring that your team will win, even though most of them will end up losing because they pointed at a Diseased player.) Really fun!

The Tanner in the original One Night Ultimate Werewolf, who has to die in order to win and in doing so prevents the werewolves from winning, is a fun role. I really like the idea of additional teams, and in creating the Assassin, that's what you get: a new "team" of one that can win only if his target, whom he's given the Mark of the Assassin, dies. He's got to convince the players to kill his target (he can't do it alone), knowing that if they suss out that he's the Assassin, his motives aren't to be trusted and they might go another way. However, with the Assassin, if he wins, other teams can still win, so if the Assassin is lucky enough to put a mark on a Vampire, he should have an easy time getting the village on his side. Likewise, if he's targeted an innocent villager, he might be able to sway the Vampires to help kill said villager.

One of my favorite new roles is yet *another* solo team. Originally I thought it might be fun if the Assassin had a helper, a morally-challenged Robin to the Assassin's Azrael-style Batman. (Extra points if you don't have to look up that reference.) The Apprentice Assassin would help the Assassin kill the player with the Mark of the Assassin — but after a few playtests, it wasn't nearly as interesting as I thought it would be. Keeping the name, the new Apprentice Assassin has a single goal: to be the Assassin. How does she do that? By killing the original Assassin! What's super cool about the interaction here is what happens at night: The Assassin wakes up and places his Mark of the Assassin on a player, then *doesn't close his eyes*. The Apprentice Assassin wakes up and sees him, and the Assassin sees her and knows she wants to kill him. They're totally aware of each other, but neither can say anything about the other or they'll never manage to kill their respective targets!

The Priest came about as a way for the Villagers to ward off the avalanche of Marks being played. He rids both himself and a player of his choice of any Marks, giving them a blank "Mark of Nothing". (That was the working title of the "empty" marks.) This worked thematically quite well as it ensured that the Priest couldn't be a Vampire *or* be in love. (You're welcome, Catholic Church.)

Mark Manipulators

One of the reasons people love the original One Night Ultimate Werewolf is because of the potential for role-switching. I wanted to add some of those abilities to this game, with a focus more on Marks than role cards. The Marksman is a Seer-like role, allowing the player to look at one player's card and one other player's Mark. The Pickpocket is the Robber's little brother, stealing a Mark from a player and replacing that player's Mark with their own. The Gremlin is like the Troublemaker on steroids (steroids that turn you into a weird blue monster), with the ability to exchange Marks *or* role cards, including your own.

Dusk vs. Night

The working title of the game was "Dusk" (nice symmetry with Daybreak, which had a lot of roles that took place at the end of the night) as most roles did their actions before the roles in One Night Ultimate Werewolf. To that end, there's a distinct break between Dusk and Night, where all players open their eyes and view their Marks, then close their eyes again. This allows players with "night" actions to use the info on their Marks when they do their actions — for instance, if the Pickpocket has the Mark of the Vampire, he knows that when he steals a Mark from a player, then that player will get his Mark of the Vampire; if he can convince the village of that, it should be an easy win for the village team. Should be.

Later in development of the game, when it was determined that the game worked incredibly well as a standalone, the decision was made to give it a new name, and One Night Ultimate Vampire was the clear choice.

Through a lot of playtests — One Night games have been playtested more than two thousand times for all three games — a few other roles were added and modified, and several (not mentioned here) were discarded.

!@#$%!@#$ Doppelganger

The original One Night Ultimate Werewolf game has a role called the Doppelganger. It's awesome and fun because it allows a player to look at another player's role card and essentially duplicate that role. Making the Doppelganger work initially was pretty difficult, and when Daybreak was being developed, all sorts of issues cropped up that had to be dealt with. With Vampire, those issues took on a whole new level of complexity.

The key with the Doppelganger is to get all the roles to work with it without having to modify the original role functionality at all. At least, that's the theory — and with the exception of the Copycat, I was able to pull it off. One of the things that had to be done was to provide another set of Marks just for the Doppelganger (similar to how there are two Shield tokens for Daybreak's Sentinel). The publisher side of my brain fought this pretty hard because it essentially added another punchboard to the game and about two pages to the rulebook as well as a new Doppelganger token because the number on the token (that determines wake order) had to change.

Things are a little weird for several edge cases, such as when the Doppelganger views the Apprentice Assassin because now the Assassin has two people gunning for him, but I guess that's part of the job, as anyone familiar with Grosse Pointe Blank will tell you.

That Amazing One Night App

The app for One Night would, of course, need to be updated with all the new roles, which by itself isn't too bad; it's the interaction with pre-existing roles that takes time. For instance, The Revealer (from Daybreak) flips over a card and leaves it there unless it was a Werewolf or a Tanner, in which case he flipped it back down — but the narration had to change because if the card is a Vampire, he has to leave it face up and the narration can say that only if a Vampire is in the game, and if there are no Werewolves in the game, he can only say Vampire and not Werewolves. Similar issues appeared with lots of other roles.

And then there's the !@#$%!@#$ Doppelganger. The app logic for the Doppelganger is SO confusing that the spreadsheet for the app needed all sorts of new "if" and "then" columns in it. Working through all the permutations was a brutal exercise to get everything just right. The positive, glass half-full view of this is that those permutations resulted in lots of rules clarifications for how things are supposed to happen, which led to notes in the rules to help players figure things out. The app is more useful than ever when you're combining Vampire with the original One Night Ultimate Werewolf and Daybreak.

For Vampire, I hired Eric Summerer much earlier in the process to provide narration for the new roles; this allowed for app and game testing much earlier than in previous One Night games, and while I've had to get corrections/updates from Eric several times, having "real" narration in a beta app for testing has been incredibly valuable.

Next, I started working on ideas for app enhancement. The app was already awesome, so I didn't want to mess with it too much, but there were some things that could be better. I designed a "verbose" mode for the Doppelganger that reads off the roles that have to take their action immediately when the Doppelganger wakes, and an expert mode that makes the night move super fast for experienced players.

No, Really, They're Epic

During development, I was convinced that Vampire would work only if there were no Werewolves. After all, the winning condition for Vampires and Werewolves were the same: No one on your team can die. That would result in Vampire/Werewolf team-ups to kill a villager, something that would be hard to stop if you're a villager.

But as expected, the Shower of All Great Ideas™ came through, and by changing the winning conditions for all three teams, Epic Battles not only work, but they're, well, Epic.

As a bonus, those three-way Epic Battles work with as few as three players!

I'm super-excited about this One Night prequel, and I think anyone who has enjoyed One Night will really have a lot of fun with the new mechanisms and roles!
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Mon Nov 16, 2015 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Suburbia 5★

Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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While designing/developing Suburbia Inc, the first expansion to Suburbia, I was dead set on providing a five-player version of the game as it was something that several people asked for when Suburbia was released. Suburbia Inc was initially tested with five players, and during that time one of the critical discoveries was that the Market board — the big triangle that has the tiles priced below it — needed at least one extra slot for five players.

Five players worked, but it tended to be slower than I was comfortable with. Given that, the production cost of adding wood bits to a non-boxed expansion, and Lookout (the German publisher of Suburbia) questioning the concept of five players — it seems that this isn't so much an issue in Germany; I'll have to look into the cultural reasons at some point — the five-player portion was scrapped from the expansion.

Suburbia Inc was released, people seemed pretty happy with the new borders, bonuses, and challenges, as well as the new set of tiles, but I kept hearing requests for two things: (1) the ability to add a fifth player and (2) even more tiles to keep cities more interesting and unique — and that's what Suburbia 5★ ended up delivering, in a way that combined the two features but allows them to exist separately if players want to. The five-player part was kinda done, but there was this nagging feeling that it could be better. However, I put that aside and focused on the other aspect of the expansion: new tiles.

Tourism Tiles

In this particular case, the theme of the expansion (tourism) was at the forefront. I thought it would make cities much more interesting, if, as in real life, they had a few notable destinations that were unique to each of them, actual reasons you'd want to visit those cities, and as a result, might end up settling there. With that in mind, I set out to create fifty new, unique building tiles that would keep gameplay fresh and even more fun than the base game. For reference, both the base game and Suburbia Inc have at least two copies of each tile, so having unique tiles is indeed something quite different.

I started by listing all of the interesting kinds of tourist traps and landmarks that would be fun to have in your cities. Most of them were real world locations, and a few were amalgamations of some, while others were simply made up because they sounded interesting. As I looked at the list, I realized that having real world buildings next to fake ones just wasn't working, and there's always the possibility that some government bureaucrat would see their local landmark in the game and demand a licensing fee (since we all know they are busy web surfing at work anyway). So the decision was made to rename everything to new names, some of which are puns.

When figuring out the attributes of the tiles, the first thing to do was to assign them a color. (In Suburbia, each color represents a major "kind" of building: Blue for Commercial, Green for Residential, Yellow for Industrial, and Gray for Civic.) I had to be a little bit flexible in doing this eventually as tourist destinations are likely to be commercial more than not.

After that, it was time to assign benefits to the tiles. Most tiles have two benefits: an instant benefit and a conditional benefit. (Occasionally they don't have one or the other.) Because these tiles would be replacing existing base game (or Inc) tiles, some of the standard benefits had to be available, such as adding income and reputation. However, about one-third of the tiles have new functionality, such as the Dollar Arcade's instant ability that gives the player who builds it $1 for each population they currently have. It's in the B stack, so the player's population is typically between 15 and 30 when it's initially purchased...but if they invest in it towards the end of the game, it can be worth $70, $80, even $100!

At this point I had a lot more than fifty ideas for tiles, and decided that some of them would actually work better as Borders (which were introduced in Inc). I started with an additional twelve borders (same as Inc), but by the time the game was completed, that number was whittled down to six.


I liked the idea of rating all of the tiles from 1 to 5 tourist stars, with the 5-star tiles being the best ones, and the 1 star ones being just slightly more interesting than a standard building. I arbitrarily assigned star values to each tile, just to give me a place to start from, and realized that nothing quite reached 5-star status — partially because people have different tastes, and if I were using stars as the overall attractiveness of these destinations, even the traditional 5-star resort isn't really 5 stars for everyone because some people just aren't that interested in those resorts.

Now that I had the stars on the tiles, what would they do? Initially, I thought it could just be a collection thing where there would be a new Star goal, or maybe even a permanent Star goal that was worth double which everyone was vying for. On the subject of goals, one of the nagging criticisms of Suburbia is that if you have a fewest/lowest kind of goal, it can be difficult to win if an opponent just doesn't purchase a certain tile for no other reason than they don't need any of them, resulting in you missing out on your goal because you're tied, so the second use of stars could be for breaking ties in goals. Still, neither of those sounded all that compelling, and since stars were sort of the focal point of an expansion around tourism, they had to have more meaning. That's when I came up with the Star track.

There was some internal debate on the Star track about having it be an additional row on the players' borough boards, but because the actual number of Stars you have is irrelevant compared to how many more or fewer stars you have than your opponents, a new community track was put in place. And that's when the Star Track started to fall very nicely into place, doing the following:

1) Setting the turn order based on your position on the Star Track, with stacking order breaking ties. This, combined with the tie-breaking of goals for the leader, works amazingly well. In Suburbia, going last towards the end of the game is a distinct advantage because it allows you to move on goals without anyone being able to affect you. However, since ties are broken by the most stars, it presents an interesting decision point when you're close to other players with various goals.

2) Providing an extra population for the players who are furthest along the track, and removing a population from the players who have gone the least far on the track. This simulates the popularity of a town over time as people move into the places that are more interesting and have more to do than in less interesting towns.

3) Breaking ties for goals based on your position on the Star track at the end of the game. The last few spaces on the Star track limit the number of tokens that can be placed there to encourage a bit of a race towards the end of the game.

4) A little bump in income early in the track and a +1 bump in reputation later give players mini-goals to reach.

One of the things that naturally worked out was the use of Investment markers on tiles with stars; as with other benefits, Investment Markers double the number of stars on a tile, so if you want to jump ahead on the star track and no star tiles are available, you can simply invest in one you already have.

The goals for stars remained, but they are for the number of star tiles, not your position on the Star track. Black stars are used to indicate Star tiles, while Gold Stars are used for moving on the Star Track.

Several of the new tiles have star tile interactions, such as the Starry Sidewalk, which provides $2 for every star tile in play.

Five Players

Flexible turn order with the Star track is what really makes five players work in Suburbia. It potentially reduces the downtime between turns and keeps all players engaged at the end of each round (once all five players have gone) because that's when turn order switches and when some players gain or lose population.

From previous testing with five players in Suburbia Inc, I knew we'd need an additional spot on the Market board, which meant that 5★ would have to include a new Market board. That's okay because the new Star track needed a home, and that was a perfect place for it. To accommodate the needs for five versus two/three/four players, the board is double-sided (something I stole from Castles of Mad King Ludwig).

Five players also required a new borough board and set of wood tokens, which by popular demand are green. In addition, two copies of the base tiles — Suburbs, Heavy Factories, and Community Parks — were needed. Why two? Because in addition to the fifth player needing a set, the supply of extra base tiles was increased from four to five.

Tile Tweaking

As the game was in development, benefits and prices of tiles were constantly in flux, but the longest and probably most tedious portion of the development process was getting the prices right. The stars add value to tiles, but how much? How much more is a player willing to pay for a Star tile with the exact same benefits as a non-star tile? This part is that 20% of the work that takes 80% of the time.

Then there's the testing of the tiles with all of the base game tiles and figuring out what the correct mix of tiles is. With any Suburbia expansion, there's the risk of dilution for some of the tile icons, like Airports and Schools; adding in too many new tiles results in less interaction for the remaining tiles with those icons. There are ways to get around this, but they're really cumbersome and require super long set-up times. In the end, it was decided that a simple random mix of tiles was fine, and if players want to customize their stacks to avoid dilution, they may do so.


Most purchasers of Suburbia Inc were very happy that it didn't come in a box since they would be storing the expansion in the original box anyway. I didn't know if that would be possible with the new expansion due to the wood pieces, but I was able to do it with some clever packaging.

Using the rules and the "back of the box" info sheet as the top and bottom of the expansion, I created a hole in every punchboard where the wood pieces sit. Manufacturing inserts a baggie with the wood pieces into the holes, covers the punchboards with rules, shrinkwraps it, and voilà! A boxless expansion that has wood pieces in it.

The resulting expansion adds just enough of a twist to Suburbia to be fun for all players, regardless of player count, and if you have five in your game group, you'll all be able to play!

Ted Alspach
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Wed Jul 29, 2015 1:40 pm
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Designer Diary: Social Deduction Nirvana with One Night Resistance

Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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First off, One Night Resistance isn't a knock off of either One Night Ultimate Werewolf or The Resistance. It's a totally different game that stands on its own.

If you love The Resistance, One Night Resistance provides these new features:
-----• Variable Spy counts (0-3 in each game)
-----• As much fun to be Resistance as it is to be a Spy
-----• Shorter (~10 minute) games
-----• Unique abilities for each player
-----• Engaging at player counts as low as three, all the way up to ten
-----• Role changing

If you love One Night Ultimate Werewolf, One Night Resistance provides these new features:
-----• The ability to play without an app
-----• Lots of public information to discuss following the night phase
-----• The structure of The Resistance, including a Leader and rotating around-the-table gameplay
-----• Roles and abilities are separate
-----• The great artwork and feel of The Resistance universe


I've known Travis Worthington of Indie Boards and Cards for several years, as those of us in the gaming industry "know" each other from seeing one another at trade shows a few times a year. Of course, with Travis it's a bit different because he's local; we both reside in the Bay Area of northern California (though on opposite ends). In early 2014, he approached me to see whether I was interested in having IBC do a "retheme" of One Night Ultimate Werewolf into the Resistance universe, something that had been really successful for Coup. A straight retheme didn't seem particularly interesting, though I knew that there is a huge group of Resistance players who will never give One Night Ultimate Werewolf a chance because of the theme and/or its association with "regular" werewolf.

What did interest me is somehow combining the "Resistanceness" of The Resistance with the "One Nightedness" of One Night Ultimate Werewolf. Let's step back for a moment so that you can understand why this would be interesting.

First off, let me say that I love The Resistance. (As a gamer, I like Avalon more, but that doesn't change how I feel about The Resistance.) My first play of the game was a little rocky, with other gamers who didn't quite get it at first. But I warmed up to it quickly, and I really liked the similar social deduction feeling it had to werewolf. I've probably played hundreds of games of Resistance and Avalon.

Of course, at the time The Resistance was first published in 2009, Ultimate Werewolf was just starting to take off. Ultimate Werewolf was my way to address what I thought the issues with werewolf were (or at least, the issues of all the commercial versions up to that point were): It was the first version of werewolf to have a comprehensive set of rules (including pages and pages of moderator tips and guidelines), names and role descriptions written on the cards, and an appropriate art style for the genre. It also had lots of other innovative things like a moderator scorepad and a built-in game balancing system. It was werewolf for people who already really liked werewolf...and many of them loved it as a result of using the Ultimate Werewolf set.

However, Ultimate Werewolf didn't address the two primary issues werewolf-haters had with the game: the need for a moderator and player elimination. Personally, I like both of those as a good moderator can make any werewolf game better, and player elimination in werewolf creates a tension that you just don't get in any other game; the threat of elimination is the real mechanism here as it drives the game forward with intensity. That said, many people will never play werewolf because of one or both of those mechanisms. The Resistance found a way to solve both of those issues in a novel way.

Most importantly, The Resistance added a very firm structure to the narrative of the game. There's a Leader who appoints a set of players to go on a mission, and those appointees are voted on by all of the players. The players on the mission vote secretly and simultaneously on whether to make the mission a success. It's all very organized and logical, and while the number of mechanical decisions are limited (and thus easy to understand and use in the game), the possibilities are immense, and the discussion during each game is always lively and engaging. The Resistance also simplified the role structure by making each player simply a Resistance member or a Spy. (Of course, this was expanded upon in expansions and more notably in Avalon.) The Resistance is a game that a Vulcan would enjoy (though they would never show it).

Skip ahead a few years to One Night Ultimate Werewolf, which addressed those issues as well, but entirely differently; while The Resistance had a solid structure and limitations on character powers to avoid a moderator, One Night Ultimate Werewolf had an app act as the moderator. (Yes, you can play without it, but the free app is the way to go if you can.) The Resistance addressed player elimination by never voting out players, even though you play 3-5 rounds and some players could be outed as Spies before the game is over. One Night Ultimate Werewolf addressed player elimination by limiting the game to a single night, so the "death" of a player at the end of the day didn't matter as another new game would simply start up because the current game is over.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf added some other novel things as well: Role switching, impossible in "regular" werewolf in one of the two directions for a variety of reasons, gives the game its hook. Now not only are you trying to figure out who to kill, you need to figure out if you're still on the same team you started on (a prerequisite for figuring out who to kill). The addition of three mystery cards in the center of the table eliminated the ability for all players to have perfect information, and also provided the possibility that there might not be any werewolves at all, in which case the village has to agree not to kill anyone in order to win. And of course, the game takes less than ten minutes to play, and can be played with as few as three players.

One Night + Resistance = AMAZING

Combining the essences of these two games would result in a social deduction game that had both a solid narrative structure and the possibility of role switching. And maybe, while I'm at it, I could make it so an app wasn't required, and there would be a way to get the initial conversation of what happened at night moving along.

That was my frame of mind as I sat down and started putting concepts together for the game, which in many ways designed itself based on the framework above. Fortunately for me, the resulting game was as compelling as the two originals, and even more so in some ways.

The first set of rules, written about one month after Travis and I first started discussing this project, is remarkably close to the final, shipping game. There were lots of tweaks and balancing of abilities ("specialist" cards in the game), but the core is still there. Here's what I came up with initially:

There are three Spy role cards and one Resistance role card for every player in the game. Always. No chart needed. There are several specialist cards, many of which allow Spies to do one thing and Resistance to do another. The Leader starts the night out by telling everyone to close their eyes, having the spies wake up to see each other, having them close their eyes. Then the Leader does his night action (on his specialist card), and when he's done, he says "Mission accomplished". Then the player to his left does his night action and says "Mission accomplished", and so on until it's back to the Leader, who gets to look at his role card one more time before waking everyone up.

Starting with the Leader, everyone says what action they took during the night (they may lie), in clockwise order. In the final game this is even better as they are required to take a specialist token. This jumpstarts the conversation right away. Players can discuss amongst themselves for five minutes — in the final game the timer is optional; instead the conversation goes until the Leader calls for a vote when a majority of the players agree a vote should take place — at which time everyone must point at someone; the player with the most fingers pointed at him reveals his card, and if he's a Spy the Resistance wins. If he's not a Spy, the Spies win. The Leader token passes to the left and you can play another game.

That's the core of the game right there. Through playtesting and development, the following items were added, removed or modified:

The Specialist cards were modified several times, making sure they were balanced properly. A double-sided reference card was created, with one side being the basic "first game" specializations, and the other having the complete list. The Specialist tokens were added and required to be taken upon waking.

One session of playtesting really stands out: At the end of BGG.CON 2014, Travis and I recruited Jeremiah Lee, Alan Gerding and Sean McCoy of Tuesday Knight Games (Two Rooms and a Boom), and Dan "Game Boy Geek" King to playtest a few games. They wanted to keep playing even after multiple games over a few hours, and even after both Travis and I repeatedly crushed them. (Note to everyone: Travis is not bound by "the truth" in any way.)

While a great deal of playtesting was done with this game, it came together pretty quickly. I'm really proud of the resulting game, and I think Travis and I have managed to create a game that will appeal to both One Night Ultimate Werewolf fans as well as The Resistance fans, and hopefully pick up a few more fans on the way.

Ted Alspach
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Mon Apr 20, 2015 6:00 am
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Designer DAILY Diary: Castles of Mad King Ludwig I

Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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This is going to be a slightly different read than the typical designer diary. As noted below, as I started to design Castles of Mad King Ludwig, I just had one of those feelings that it was extra special, so I wrote down my progress almost daily for about four months. (Coincidentally, I had just gone "full time" for game designing/publishing a month earlier, so I did have more time available to do this.) Looking back on it now, it's really interesting (to me, at least) how the game evolved.

The diary stopped in August 2013 as the game was probably 90% "designed" but still only 50% developed. Castles had been playtested over three hundred times when it made it to the printer in mid-2014.

With that said, I hope you enjoy what is probably the most detailed (and longest) designer diary I'll ever write. (I'm pretty excited about future games, too, but I haven't chronicled their development like I have here.) I've gone through and indicated items that made it to the published game in RED so that you can see when different aspects of the game appeared during the process.

Friday, May 3rd, 2013
Woke up at 2am with the base idea. I've wanted to do a micro or macro version of Suburbia, but I had (for the Micro version) been thinking more along the lines of infrastructure: roads, electric, sewer, water, trash, etc. But I woke up thinking what if, instead, players could build their own buildings? Most buildings would be boring, but a mansion...oooh, that would be really interesting. Fell back asleep with a mental post-it note stuck to my brain about the idea.

At 6am, woke up and ran to my computer to write up the first concept/rules/overview document (see document from 5-3-13). Working title is "Mansions of Suburbia."

Then I started futzing around in Illustrator with different rooms and connections. Sized everything to fit in an 11" high by 22" wide playing area. You can build a pretty awesome mansion in that space. Here's an image of what I ended up with:

Researched all the types of rooms you might find in a contemporary mansion and in mansions from medieval times.

Wrote up a giant list of all the rooms I came up with. About 200 in all. Then categorized them by type: living, sleeping, eating, outdoor. Split living into five sections: living (relaxing), activity, corridors, utility, and basement. I like eight categories. It's double that of Suburbia.

Started making initial buildings in Illustrator. Basic, no real art, just different colors/symbols for each type. Each building that's at least 2x2 has a "star" value, which I'm calling Prestige right now but I'm thinking of it as "Awesomeness". How awesome is it to have each type of room in my mansion? Kitchen, just one. Bedroom, one. Throne room? Five. Dungeon? Five.

Came up with different criteria: Adjacent, connected, each of your. Every doesn't make sense since I think I will have all unique rooms except for hallways, stairs, bathrooms and bedrooms, and rooms never get flushed. I want it to be 2-5 players out of the gate. I think there will be a solo and/or bot game in there somewhere, but for now I'm going to focus on the multiplayer game.

Thinking about goals and how they would work here. Lots of ideas, including public goals similar to Suburbia, private goals similar to Suburbia Inc (expansion) stack bonuses/challenges, and tiered goals. The latter feels better for this kind of game.

Saturday, May 4th
Finished creating buildings in Illustrator. Printed them out, pasted them up via Xyron to cardboard and cut them. 210 rooms to start with. Here's a sample of the first set of test rooms.

Designed a "contract board" where the rooms are placed in order to auction them off.

Came up with a deck of 32 room cards that represent all the shapes and frequency of those shapes in the game. That's what the start player will use to determine what room values are and how much he'll get paid for them.

Created a new version of the rules, this time more rule based and less conceptual.

Mansions of Suburbia
A building game for 2-5 players

Updated Rules: May 4, 2013

MoS is a tile laying building game in which each player is trying to build the most opulent, large, and over-the-top mansion possible. Players are contractors, looking for the best deals on rooms.

160 Room tiles of all shapes and sizes
50 Hallway/Stairway tiles
32 Shape cards
1 Contract Board
$XX in money
Start Player token
20 End Game Goals
10 Player Challenges

Each player receives one Foyer and $30 (thousand) in cash. Place the Foyer in front of each player. Randomly determine a Start Player.

Place the Contract Board in the middle of the table, and place the hallways/stairs on their spaces there.

First Round:
The start player draws cards equal to the number of people playing, and places a building tile of the sizes drawn on the Contract Board at whatever prices he chooses.

Each player (including the Start Player), starting from the player to your left of the Start Player chooses one of the rooms or a hallway/Stairs and pays you for it. If they pass, they receive $5 and you receive nothing. When it comes to your turn, you pay the bank for the tile/upgrade you choose. If you pass, you receive $5 from the bank. Unselected tiles get $1 placed on them. Then the start player moves to the person on the left.

Subsequent Rounds:
The start player draws cards equal to the number of people playing or the number of empty spaces on the contract board, whatever is less, and places a building tile of the sizes drawn on the Contract Board at whatever prices he chooses. If there are buildings on any of those spaces, he may move them to a different price before placing.

Placing Rooms:
When it is your turn to take a room, you have the following choices:
• Buy a room and place it.
• Buy a Hallway/stairs and place it.
• Pass.

If you buy a room or hallway/stairs, you must place it in your mansion using the following rules: A door from the new room must align with another door of a room already in your mansion that can be traced back to the Foyer. New tiles may never overlap each other. You may align doorways to walls, as long as you follow rule #1 above.

Game end
The game is over immediately after the round in which the last room has been purchased. Players determine the value of their Mansion plus any cash on hand. The player with the highest overall value wins!

Ran through a simple two-player mini-playtest of placing rooms one at a time based on a limited selection. No money, no score...yet. Not particularly compelling, but I did discover that hallways need to have doorways...that was really frustrating. Not looking forward to redoing all the hallways. All hallways should have doors on every available space.

This is when I decided to write a live diary. I wrote all of yesterday's entries and today's just now. I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep this up, but hopefully I will and the game doesn't sputter and die. (Most designs do, but this feels extra special.) ‘Cause if this game never sees the light of day, writing this won't be nearly as useful. Now I'm wondering if writing this will spur me on to work on the game when I might have shelved it otherwise. What would have happened to Suburbia if I had never shelved it and let it gel in the back of my mind for a few years like I did, but instead went full speed ahead with it? Would it simply have been out sooner in a form very very similar to how it was published, or would it have been dramatically different? I wish I had my thoughts and notes from the early days of its development...for my BGG designer diary I had to go back and piece a lot of it together from old files and their "last modified" dates. I got most of it right, but there's no way I could remember it all. If MoS makes it, this'll be an incredible reference tool. And now I'm back to wondering how much this particular diary will influence the design/development of the game. Heavy stuff.

Realized I need some time away to recalibrate, so took twelve hours off (from 6pm Saturday to 6am Sunday).

Sunday, May 5th
Up at 6am, redid hallways. Yuck, just busy work but needed to be done. grabbed a Suburbia scoreboard, some small ceramic stars, Suburbia 5s and 1s and headed downstairs for a "real" playtest. Spent four hours doing a real self playtest with four players. With money and having the Start player choose the values, and keeping score (still no goals though), it's very engaging. Set the game length to (tentatively) three times through the deck (96 cards), about thirty turns. Found a few issues with various tiles, but nothing game-breaking. This is going to take a long time to balance correctly. Stopped after playtest for a nap to recharge (after all, it is Sunday).

After a relaxing two-hour nap, I worked on goals. I'm going with Tiered goals (first gets X, second gets x, etc.) for things like most rooms of a type (8), and most bathrooms/halls/bedrooms. And also most square feet of each type (8). That's 19 there, but also most total square feet and most money. That's 21. I'm making them 16/8/4/2/0, using the top X number for each player type. That way first place is always a bonus of eight stars, regardless of the number of players. I'm happy with that bit of cleverness. Those are the public goals.

For personal goals, they are following Suburbia challenges: They are "at least" challenges, so you have to have "at least" X in order to get 10 stars at the end of the game. You'll get to pick between two of them at the start of the game, so you have a better chance of not conflicting with goals on the public board (more important for 2/3 players than 4/5).

Did a real four-player playtest with Toni, Gage and Dakota (they're awesome for trying stuff out so early on), and it went well. Feels a little long, and there are things to work on, but it's a good, solid start.

Monday, May 6th
Up early to do a bunch of little fixes. Foyers need built-in player colors. The main scoreboard needs to be changed: There need to be places for the goals, and I'm removing 1x2 and 2x5 hallways and their designated areas from the Contract board. I also had to redo the Long Hallways and change them from 1x7 to 1x6, and make more of them (since there are no more 1x5s). Also added "steps" to the stairs to show them going from light to dark. For production, it makes sense to make the hallways double-sided, with one side white (main floor) and the other side darker (basement).

Tuesday, May 7th
A bit of a setback today as I came down with a nasty cold that essentially had me bedridden. I needed to do more testing in order to refine (which definitely can't be done in bed), so I took the opportunity to work on Suburbia Inc and other Bezier Games items, and spent some time refining the rules, including trying to shore up the downstairs rooms concept.

While I'm writing this, it might be a good time to write up the similarities and differences between Suburbia and "Mansions":

I also put out some feelers to get a graphic designer to work their magic on my ridiculously lame design for the rooms. That'll help a lot!

Wednesday, May 8th
A big self playtest (three-player) today, with the goal of taking lots of notes and addressing certain issues, number one being the length of the game. The first way to solve the length issue is by taking out some of the cards used to populate the contract board with rooms: Removing four of the 32 cards (two 100 sqft, two 200 sqft) results in saving 1/8th of the game time. Another way to solve the issue is to remove one of the eight choices on the contract board; now there are only seven spots (the 8 and 6 spot have been combined to become a 7 spot). Yet another way is to change the "number of players or empty spots on the board, whichever is fewer" for cards being dealt: only in the beginning of the game did that matter, so now it's always the empty spaces, even on the first turn.

Removing cards means I have to remove 20 of the 160 buildings. Most of these will be bedrooms (ten) and bathrooms (five) along with five other 100sqft buildings.

Another thing that I don't like is that there are too many room sizes. There are twelve right now, along with two different sizes for hallways and stairs. I want to get that down to ten room sizes. It probably makes sense to get rid of the in-betweens, moving them to other sizes. So I'm thinking about making some of the 2x3s into 2x2s, 2x5s and 2x7s. (There are already 25 2x4s.) And then making all the 3x4s (ten) into 3x5s and 3x6s.

During this playtest I discovered that the goal of total sqft is NOT fun to compute — it's hard enough to add up the sqft for one type, but all would be painful — so that goal has to go away. And I came up with a good idea for what to replace it with: External doors (most).

During the first four-player playtest on Sunday, one of the playtesters mentioned what would happen if they ran out of doors to connect to? Of course, that would break the game because nothing could be added to the mansion. So I've added a rule to always have at least one door that can be accessed from the outside (not from an enclosed "outside" space). Of course, it's still possible for a player to hose themselves by making that door in a spot where they can't fit any rooms or by making the only door outside on an edge of an outdoor room's last empty edge (though I have a fix for that upcoming, see below).

I really like the attributes of downstairs and outside buildings: I like that they have certain restrictions (downstairs must be played downstairs, while outside must always have at least 1 edge empty). I'm thinking I should double-down on those attributes and make it more clear on the tile. (Right now there's no indicator on the downstairs tiles, and the outside tiles each have text on them, as some of them require more than one edge to be empty.) I think I'll make ALL outside rooms have one edge empty, and I'll designate that edge right on the tile. That might hurt connectors, so I'll have to check on each of them and see whether I need to add more doorways. I think I might be able to do the same with Downstairs iconography...on the stairs as well as the downstairs tiles. I'm thinking that the other room types might also benefit from some kind of attributes too, but there are six other types to work on. Yikes.

One of the chief complaints with Suburbia is it's hard to remember that you have a tile that is impacted by "every" tile of a type in the game. Well, Mansions doesn't care about tiles that aren't in your mansion, but it does have a lot of "each of your" conditional statements. Those should be different than the connected/adjacent ones. Maybe I could add a halo around those to make them show up better.

I'm also thinking that the "connected" conditions should always be bonuses, and the "adjacent" ones should always be negatives. But the "each of your" conditions could be either.

I really need to make some dark hallways for basements: double-sided is a pain, but for now I can make separate ones that are dark.

Also, the corridors that you get points for can't be hallways. They can be halls, which is much nicer sounding. Also, they shouldn't be completely wide open. They should have fewer doorways than hallways (but still a lot of doorways).

This evening I finally found the right term for the "star points": Luxury. I think that totally works. Luxury Points. It's just the right amount of over-the-top.

I contacted Dale Yu (who did the dev work for me on Suburbia) to see whether he'd be around at Origins so I could show this to him as a possible dev work project for him. He's open to it. I didn't give him details on anything yet except that it was a "spiritual successor to Suburbia" which I think is apt.

Thursday, May 9th
Woke up thinking that Luxury isn't the right term. What I'm really going for is "awesomeness" points. That sounds silly. Maybe if I put it in the rules it'll start to sound better.

Here are the eight rooms and their defining characteristics:
Outdoor: one edge is always empty
Downstairs: must be downstairs. Has two doors unless it's a pit (which must be connected directly to stairs)
Activity: Always has three doors
Sleep: Always has two doors on adjacent sides
Utility: Always has one door (special bathroom exception)
Food: Always has two doors on opposite sides
Living: Always has four doors, one on each edge
Corridors: Halls have multiple doors, stairs have two doors

I redid the vast majority of the rooms, and now all of them follow the above criteria. That means I have to print them out again in order to test them. Yuck!

I've gotten in touch with a few graphic designers to see whether they can put some magic into the current design.

I've updated the look of the shape cards to be blueprints. (I think that might be a nice theme for the "back of the tile" look as well.)

Friday, May 10th
It's going to be longer than I had hoped for the updated room artwork, so I printed another set of rooms (six 11x17 sheets) this morning (full set #2, if you're counting). Now I have to apply adhesive, mount them, and cut them. Yuck. But I'll have a totally updated set, albeit with the old graphics. But in order to move forward, I need to continue to test what I have. Besides, it's not like I'm not going to make changes to the rooms anyway.

I think I will print out stickers to put on the back of each tile with their sizes. I think I'll use Avery sheets for this, so they are consistent.

Renaming the game to "Mansions" for now because every one thinks it's an expansion for Suburbia with the old name. I'd like to take advantage of the Suburbia name, but not at the expense of people thinking it's an expansion.

Printed out all the tiles again and new stickers. Added "Most and fewest external doors" to the goals and a new eight external doors challenge.

Did a Real two-player playtest w/ Toni, going through the now 27-card deck twice, and it was again, too long.

Saturday, May 11th
Started the day with a four-player self test, and determined that the player challenges are too hard and too random...a few players never saw their needed tiles come up hardly at all. Midway through put in a new rule: When taking $5, you also take two new challenges and look at them, and keep 1. It worked for one player, but for two other players, they just got screwed. Seemed too random as well.

Redid the challenges to be about 1/2 of the requirements for rooms/sqft, and half the points (5/6 instead of 10/12). Will keep the new "take two when you take $5" rule, but will now add the rule that you get NEGATIVE points for missed challenges. I'm concerned about everyone using their last few turns to churn through the challenges, but the negative potential should offset that. And the game won't end until all the cards have gone through, so maybe it's not too bad.

For now, I'm removing the fifth player. I think it would be unbearably long.

Other changes: $2 per unused tile in a four-player game instead of $1.

Played another four-player self playtest through with the updated challenge rules, and it was pretty compelling. I'm not sure about the Take $5 *AND* one of two tiles; that seems harsh, but then again, if you can't buy anything on a turn because you blew your stash on something, you KNOW you don't have anything for the next turn (unless you are start player next turn, then you might).

The $2 per tile worked pretty well for four players. I'm thinking that maybe I should keep it $2/tile for two and three players and make the difference that for three players you don't use the $1 spot, and for two players you don't use the $1 OR $2 spot. Gotta do the math there, but I think that works.

The length of the game seems better now: I set it for four players so that you run through the deck twice, but you take seven rooms out randomly first. That was a good length. I think. We'll see with real people.

Sunday, May 12th
I'm still struggling with a way to make the game the correct length for different player numbers. Going through the deck twice for four players (plus an initial seven room placement) is a good length for four, but that's too long for two, and probably for three as well. Today will be a three-player self test to see whether it is indeed too long. There's a tradeoff of good game length vs. giving players the idea that they are actually building a mansion (and not just a big house). You need a lot of rooms for a mansion.

Self playtest with three worked; it's a reasonable length. But it's still missing something. What is that mystery ingredient?

After a dip in the pool and a long hot shower (good ideas often come in the shower), I had an idea: Each of the room types don't just have physical attributes, they give you a special power when you COMPLETE them. Completing them means that all their doorways lead somewhere: another room or corridor. (Note from August 2014 Ted: This aspect was the turning point in the game. The room completion rewards are awesome.) Here are the ideas I came up with:

Bonus points
Double regular room points
Extra buy (on the turn the room is completed)
Free Basic Corridor (for corridors, of course) to be placed immediately
Ability to move any (other) room, keeping of course the basic rules intact (must be able to get from Foyer to the room, etc.
Get to pick up Challenge tokens (see below on my change to this)

Now to assign them to each type!

For challenges, the issue continues that if you get them late in the game, they're really random how much they help/hurt you, so I am going to change them to much smaller amounts, and make challenges PER instead of a larger total. For instance, 1 point PER every 200 sqft of each room, or 1 point PER each room of one type. I could also do other smaller things like 1 point PER each completed room, 1 point PER each room TYPE you have, 1 point PER each specific size room (oooh, that's a good one), 1 per each size you have.

As I was typing up the bonuses, I realized that #5 above would cause total chaos with scoring: moving a room. Would you have to subtract scores? If a room was complete, would it be completed again or should the completeness bonus be taken off? Any time I see the potential for a rules nightmare, I'm pretty fast to shut it down, unless the feature/mechanism is incredibly huge. This one isn't. But now I'm at six out of eight. Gotta think about those other two.

For now I have Utility and Downstairs without completed bonuses. Utility rooms have one door, so that's weird, because it happens as soon as you place it.

Monday, May 13th
I created the player aid for the room type bonuses. Still don't have one for sleep. Changed the Utility bonus to be get one challenge (no looking through the stack). Seems a little more random, but faster and not guaranteed to be as much of a bonus if the player got to look through each of them.

I created all the updated and new challenges. There are now thirty of them (compared to seventeen before).

Updated the Contract board to show the tiering of the goals...It has space for the goals above, the rooms below and the stairs and hallways to either side on top. Keeps the board really small.

Tuesday May 14th
Started the day with a four-player self playtest. Lots of great ideas, and giving the room types bonuses for completing has worked really well. In addition, I came up with something for the Sleep rooms: Completing a Zzzz room allows the player to sort through a single pile of rooms of their choice and rearrange the order of that stack in any way they choose. I don't want to make it too complicated, but in order to prevent two players from doing the same stack on the same (or even subsequent) turns, I want to put a token on a "viewed" stack that comes off only when a room from that stack goes to the contract board.

Lots of other ideas and changes:
• I'm changing all the prices so that they are 1/2 of what they were: once I started going to $2 per untaken room, this was probably inevitable.
All the downstairs rooms are now changed to EACH OF YOUR and they don't have a completion bonus.
• No other room types will have EACH OF YOUR, which will, I believe, SOLVE the Suburbia "I forgot I had that" problem...if you have a downstairs room, you have each of yours; otherwise you don't. Simple.
Activity rooms will all have -1 for being next to certain room types. It's a good tradeoff from the +7 points you get when completing them.
Utility room bonus will be take two, keep one challenge. (It was just take one, but that's lame and too random.)

Successful two-player game (with Toni) this evening. She's very excited about the game now. (This was her first play with the new "completed" bonuses, and she likes them a lot.) Also, the game length seemed about right. (After the initial five room display, the cards were reshuffled and we went through the deck once.)

Rules are now two pages in Pages with two columns each as I've added lots of text for each room type.

Still waiting on artwork...the folks I've hired haven't quite gotten it yet.

Wednesday May 15th
I've given up on the artists for now. It appears that room design for boardgames is a skill that most designers just don't have. One already sent me a note telling me it just wasn't working (it wasn't), while the other continues to give me substandard stuff.

I've come up with a solid design for the rooms that should take me all the way through most playtesting. I'm calling it 3rd Gen, since it's the 3rd generation of my design (though 1 and 2 Gen were pretty similar).

All day has been spent redoing tiles. Each room is a separate file, which means that making changes to individual rooms for updates will be much easier. Had a setback midday when I realized that doorways weren't lining up.

The good news is that as I'm doing this I'm creating a much better set of rooms that match better.

As I'm working on redoing the artwork, I've also made a change to the structure of the sets of sizes: Most sizes will have three or four room types in them, and that's all. This should reward multiple plays of the game as users will have a better idea of what is in each stack (and it gives a little more oomph to the Zzzz bonus of going through a room size and reordering). So lots of rooms are being moved around from one size to another.

I'm also working on the theme a bit more for connections, trying to have them make as much sense as possible. It's still not as clear as Suburbia, but most of the time it makes sense.

Thursday, May 16th
More work on the redoing of the artwork. I finished 100, 200, 250, 225 and 350 sizes yesterday, so today I did the rest: the 375, 400, 450, 500 and 800 sizes. Jeesh, there are a lot of rooms. But this was finished and printed, and I redid the backs (before I had just been using printed stickers that had the blueprint grid with the size). Now the backs are consistent and cover the entire back of the tile, with the sqft in the center of the tile.

Printing, sticking and cutting the tiles took me about two hours. Not too bad, but I don't want to do this that often. Hopefully this set will last a long time with only minor tweaks.

One little adjustment is that larger living areas now have two types of rooms connected for bonuses.

As I was going through the process, I decided to remove all of the outdoor "courtyard" room types and replace them with other names. I want to call any internal empty surrounded area in a mansion a "courtyard," which could be a goal as well as a challenge.

Another change is that there are no more "pits" 'cause they just weren't fun.

Played a pair of two-player games with Toni today, and both were very compelling. Toni also did a runthrough of the rules and marked up lots of stuff. The second game was the first really competitive one, with Toni coming in three points behind me at the end. (I had been winning by 10-20 points in most previous playtests.) The designer advantage is wearing off the more Toni plays. Rats.

Friday, May 17th
It's hard to believe it's been a full two weeks of pretty much daily improvements/playing/testing/design for Mansions, but it has been, and the game has evolved pretty dramatically. I like the spot it's in right now, so today will be a day of rule fixing and a three- and a four-player self test.

{later) Well, I didn't get in any self testing; instead I played three two player games with Toni and one three-player game with Toni and Gage. I'm still undefeated, though the last game we played had me eking out victory by a single point. Lots of good ideas were tossed around during the game. Gage tried a unique "hallway stacking" strategy where he obtained about six hallways on a single turn by completing them one after the other. It's not game breaking, and it's probably not that great of a move — it takes at least three turns to pull off, not including the initial hallway you placed — but it's cheap and reminded me why playtesting with real people is important.

Saturday, May 18th
After yesterday's playtest sessions, a few things were apparent:
• The Yellow Chain isn't very thematic. I will be removing Food connection bonuses (to other Food rooms) as a way to partially solve this.
• The Sleeping room completion bonus is still lame. My idea to fix this is to change it: now the person completing the Sleeping room picks up a stack and places one room on TOP of the room card stack. It's much more powerful that way, and it does away with Sorting cubes/tokens, too.
• The backs of rooms need to show what room types are available in those stacks. Since I just did a whole printing, I'm going to create stickers for the rooms that have their type icons, and place them on the back of each room.

Did a four-player self playtest with the new Zzzz rules and it's better, but it's still weaker than most of the other bonuses. Maybe that's okay...not every bonus can be super exciting. I wish it were though. I'll have to think about it some more. One thing is for certain...the room completion bonuses totally give Mansions a different feel and increases replayability tremendously. That's a great addition to the game.
Finished the day with a two-player playtest with Toni. She won her first game against me, by about 12 points or so. Now that she knows the tile distribution (and things haven't changed too much since the completion bonuses are in place), she'll do better.

I added a fancy-looking Mansions logo as a placeholder as I didn't have one since the name change, which is now a long time ago.

Sunday, May 19th
Updated all the bonus tokens to be cards; since we're going to have cards in the game, having the bonuses as cards is probably cheaper from a production standpoint, and makes a lot of sense once you have thirty or so in a stack. (That many cardboard tokens are hard to shuffle, and difficult to read being so small, and even with my large hands I often couldn't pick up the stack with one hand in order to place a token under the stack after choosing one of two.) I had to redo the tokens anyway because they had the old icons. As I was doing so, I set them all to max out between 7 and 12 (14 for Sleep rooms since they have a lame completion bonus right now) for two players. There's more variability and a chance for a higher score with four players since more rooms come out, with max of 8-28 (though for 28, the player would have to place ALL 14 sleeping rooms, which seems just a little bit unlikely since they also have to pick this bonus when they place a utility room). I've been thinking about this for a while, and even though there's twice as many rooms that come out with four players, meaning higher potential bonuses, the chance of being able to obtain the rooms you need for the bonuses is more difficult because you have more people picking rooms ahead of you each turn.

In order to come up with these values, I used the data from my Numbers (yay! down with Excel!) file that lists all the rooms and their values/types/etc. and created a new sheet that lists out each of the bonuses and their potential values. It took me about 45 minutes, but it's a really useful tool (though in all honesty, dozens of playtests would get me there, too). Playtests will validate those points in real world conditions, and I'll adjust as needed, but this is a great mathematically-true starting point.

Added "Enclosed Courtyards" as a bonus. Those are difficult, so they are worth 7 points each. The logic is that you rarely create one unintentionally, but you can. They're reasonably easy to create with Hallways but they'll take you at least a turn per Courtyard to go out of your way to create with Hallways, so that's a good tradeoff.

After going through the exercise of creating the Courtyard bonus, I took it right back out for two reasons: 1) It's fiddly in that players have to understand a new term just for this bonus, and it's hard to define in a few short sentences. 2) It makes 33 bonuses, and I am printing the prototype cards 16 to a sheet. I might revisit the concept later, but for now it's out.

And as I am creating the bonus cards, I realized that I had 31, not 32, so Courtyards are back in....for now. We'll see how it plays. Very wishy-washy today...hahaha.

Two 2two-player playtests with Toni today, with us each winning one. On the second, I had the opportunity to get the Courtyard bonus. I got it about 2/3's of the way through the game, and already had one completed Courtyard. I was able to make another one by the end of the game, but I'm concerned that getting that card early might allow a player to create several by placing hallways between two columns. It's potentially game breaking as is. A fiddly rules fix, that I'm putting in place temporarily is that while a hallway can be an edge of a courtyard, the same hallway may not border more than one courtyard. That'll stop the hallway strategy (mostly) while still allowing a player to use a hallway to create a courtyard (which I think is fine). I don't particularly like it, and it goes back to my initial reason earlier today for taking it out.

Monday, May 20th
The two decks of cards are working well, but they do take up lots of additional table space. (The room deck needs a discard pile, so it's three full-size spaces.) I could make the cards the "small" size which both takes up less space and also is a little cheaper to manufacture. I typically don't like the small cards as much as the larger ones, but there's very little info on each. For now I'll keep the large ones, but I'll be thinking about the smaller ones for real production.

I added a clarification to the Sleeping room bonus: If a room is already on the Room deck (because someone else has completed a Sleeping room before you), you place a room on the TOP of that room (or rooms). Last in first out usually won't make a difference, and this is a cleaner rule than placing on the bottom of the rooms, but the top of the room deck. In fact, the rule won't come up very often anyway (as it means that two or more Sleeping rooms have to be completed the same turn, or on consecutive turns where the first one resulted in no rooms being added to the Contract board).

I'm working on updating the Contract Board...I've been playing with crossed out numbers on the board (when I went from $2 to $1 placement for untaken tiles). I also condensed it down to 11.5", which is the size it will need to be in order to fit in a Suburbia-sized box without making it a foldable board. We'll see if that's so small, it seems like it really should. Of course, I'm also thinking that maybe we should have a board that has spots for each size tile...right now they are all over the place in stacks, and it's hard to remember where they are...that would make things a little easier, and force organization of them.

After a solid hour of monkeying around with the Contract Board, I ended up making it exactly the same size and shape as the Suburbia Real Estate Market. That's good and bad: Good 'cause it's familiar and links the two games. Bad because the way tiles come out are different, and how goals are scored is different. But I think the good outweighs the bad in this case...It's familiar yet different.

I also redid the goals with the new icons and removed the word "most" from all of them. Goals in Mansions are always "most", so it is not necessary. I also added Completed Rooms and Courtyards as two more goals, bring the total to 20, just like Suburbia.

Played a four-player self test today, and found it very engaging again. No major issues going through the deck twice.

Played a two-player game with Toni at the end of the evening. Very solid, very compelling.

I believe it is ready for "real" playtesting with external testers. I've set up something tentatively for tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 21st
First thing this morning I played through a three-player selftest. No issues, but I need to clarify the "1 1/2 decks" rules. I'm going to go with doing the 1/2 deck to start, then the 1 deck to finish.

Today is a day of polishing the components and getting ready for playtesting:
• I created stickers for the backs of each of the tiles that shows which types are in each stack (useful for when Sleeping rooms are completed).
• I updated the Player Reference cards that show what the room completion bonuses are.
• I switched out the Suburbia blue "skyscraper" icon for a large (1") yellow cube. Ideally I would like the start player (contractor) token to be a yellow hard hat. That reinforces the "I'm the builder this turn" theme.
• I created a scoreboard: 0 to 100, similar in style to the Suburbia one (which I had been using), but bigger to fit the nice glass stars I have been using as player scoring markers.
• I created a box top from an old Suburbia box. It's all white with the purple logo and a nice image of a mansion on the front. Good enough for prototype purposes.
• I created a box bottom, too. It's really not necessary, but one thing EVERYONE does when they see my prototype boxes is pick them up and turn them over, so it has placeholder text as well as a few pictures.

Played a two-player game with Toni, and she won AGAIN. Hmmm.

Bit the bullet and made double-sided hallways and stairs to replace the ones I had made a week ago. Because they're thin, it's a challenge to get them lined up perfectly, but this time, the first attempt was a winner.

First real playtest tonight with J & B. Here is the feedback from them (* items are ones I definitely am interested in addressing):

*100 is too small of a score
Sleep completed bonus seems weakest

"connected" vs. "adjacent" is confusing. Wants a better term for "Connected"
*Jungle Garden should be "Gazebo"

Doors should be more obvious
*Icons should be bigger
Make a money spot on the room tiles
La-Z-boy instead of fire for living rooms
*Bigger Reference card

Otherwise, the game went well; they were very engaged. B is a/p prone...her choosing a room would often take five minutes and setting up the tiles would take ten. The result was a three hour game. I don't think that's typical, but I'll keep it in mind going forward. Even without that, I could see the number of cards being reduced to 25 from 27 (would result in one fewer turn for a four-player game). Alternatively, in a four-player game the initial seven cards that are dealt could be put in the discard pile instead of being placed back into the deck.

I'm also thinking about getting rid of either the 200 or 250 size tiles. They're really close in size. If I go down to 25 cards, I can get rid of ten rooms (as there are fifteen in each of the 200 and 250 stacks). For this batch of playtests, however, I will keep these in place.

Wednesday, May 22nd
Confirmed game for Friday in Phoenix with the North Valley Boardgamers. Will be bringing both Mansions and the Suburbia expansion there.

Thursday, May 23rd
Travel day: driving to Phoenix for Memorial Day weekend.

Friday, May 24th
Played a four-player game with Chris B., Eric and Nick at the North Valley Boardgamers meet. They all liked it a lot, but I'm definitely sure the game is too long right now. Went over 100 again (top score was 103)

Saturday, May 25th
One of the comments from last night's play session stuck a chord with me...they said it was difficult to get the rooms lined up correctly. I know that's going to happen due to the nature of the rooms and entranceways. I had an idea for that: What if doors were placed in the middle of every ten feet instead of every five feet? The catch? All rooms would have to be in increments of ten feet 'cause things would go bad for a 15x15 room...where would the doors go?

If I did this, room sizes would be much larger if I were to have ten sizes:
10x10 (100 sqft...exists today)
10x20 (200 sqft...exists today)
10x30 (300 sqft)
10x50 (500 sqft...dupe of the one below)
20x20 (400 sqft...exists today)
20x30 (600 sqft)
20x40 (800 sqft exists today...this is the largest room in the current set)
20x50 (1000 sqft)
30x30 (900 sqft)
30x40 (1200 sqft)

Of course, I could have non-rectangular rooms, too. On second thought, if I kept things the way they are today, I could still have non-rectangular rooms. That might make things more interesting. I'll have to play around with that to see what it would look like.

After monkeying around with some shapes, non-rectangular rooms certainly are more interesting, but they're going to cause a lot of issues when it comes to placing those rooms. I might print out of a few sample rooms when we return home from Phoenix, but my gut feeling is that unusual shapes (an L, Z or C) will cause frustration and not really provide much benefit.

Sunday-Monday, May 26th-27th
Memorial Day weekend. No Mansions playing or updating. Did see Fast & Furious 6 at Studio Movie Grill, shot a few dozen rounds at Ben Avery, played three games of Ultimate Werewolf.

Tuesday, May 28th
Drove back from Arizona, but got in a two-player playtest of Mansions with Toni. Tried to work out the game length thing by theorizing how many cards would be needed since going through the deck twice is too long for four players. Top score in the game was 119 (Toni) to my 116. Her $30+ made the difference.

Wednesday, May 29th
New players: Playtest at Game Kastle in Fremont with Audrey, Ray (the owner) and Dean. They played a three-player game, and for the first time, I did not play as part of the playtest. I also had Ray learn the game from the rules, which he wasn't entirely on board to do, as he had just learned a bunch of other games over the he skimmed stuff and then "taught" the other two.

This was useful for clarifying things in the rules, and one item that needs to be updated instantly in the rules is the lack of icons next to the room types. That's an easy fix.

Everyone enjoyed the game. Ray said it was easier than Suburbia, while Dean said there was more thought involved. Audrey thought it was easier as well. Final score was Ray's 92 to Dean's 81 to Audrey's 79. Even though Audrey lost, she was ahead for most of the game (by 22 points at one time). Ray's "types of rooms" bonus and "200" size bonus won it for him in the end, while Dean (who had been in last place most of the game) made it into second with a 350 size bonus card. Ray and Dean each won one goal and came in second on another, and all three players tied for Courtyards (three each). That has me thinking that the current seven points per courtyard value is too high. (Maybe it should be four points each.)

Oh, and they all liked Awesomeness Points.

Thursday, May 30th
Mansions has been alive for 28 days today, four full weeks, and has dramatically evolved over that time.

Today I reprinted the Bonus cards at the new, smaller size. There are now 33 as I've added a "stairs" bonus (two for each). Each of the cards is now a separate file.

I also reprinted the deck of room cards. There are now 52 cards (about double the original number), and they're also the smaller size I've been threatening to do for a while.

I updated the rules with minor changes, including adding icons to the room descriptions and adding the new playtesters from the past several sessions.

I updated the player "completed room" quick reference cards to make them bigger and to clarify a few things that were misleading on the original cards.

I've changed the Foyers to be Utility rooms. This gives everyone the chance to get a Bonus card, even if no Utility rooms come up.

Played a four-player playtest by myself with the new cards/foyers. The deck seems like a good size. Scores were quite a bit lower (top was 70). It may be hard to play well when self testing.

Ended the evening with a two-player game with Toni, who won yet again, this time 103-92. Now using 32 cards in total (same as before, when it was five for set-up and a runthrough of the 27-card deck). Good length.

Friday, May 31st
Updated the rules after a solid read-through. Added a background color to the (still in) Pages document so the icons show up better. Reordered some things in the rules, including putting the Game End up after the main rules. (It was after the room descriptions.) That keeps the main rules really tight. I still have to go through and do the InDesign version of the rules.

Started a playtest, and after just a few turns in, decided it was time to update the tiles. The trigger? I didn't like the 375 size. It's hard to get your head around the math, and it's very close to the 450, so I decided to change them all to 300s. At the same time, I got rid of four of the eight 350 halls...they're boring and they always found their way to the cheapest spot. The remaining Halls now have alternating entrances on their wide sides, and all four are now +1 for connected Yellow rooms (food).

I made the walls thicker, added a "floating" shadow to the instant Star in the upper left, and took the outline off of the sqft symbol so that the size is easier to read. It took several hours just to update all the rooms, but they're better!

To keep the playing area smaller, I've changed the locations of some of the doors on the longer's now less likely that they'll be on both "long" ends.

Getting rid of five 350s (the Weight Room is gone, buh-bye) means there's two fewer cards in the deck, so now there are fifty room cards instead of 52. I'm keeping the length 32, 42 and 50 (just changing the four-player number).

Bonus cards need updating for the new sizes (argh, just printed them out), and I need to replace the 375s with 300s for the Room cards, too.

That reminds me that I need to look at the sqft bonus cards because they seem weak relative to the room cards. I'll do that another day...this was a good deal of work.

Saturday, June 1st
Updated the rules with the new tile/card numbers, then set about the creation of the fourth generation of room tiles. I printed them last night, so all I needed to do was to stick them (via Xyron) and cut them. Sounds easy, but it took about two hours to do. Here's a sample of what the fourth generation of components looked like:

Did two three-person self playtests. First with 42 cards, which resulted in about 18-19 rooms each, and 1:20 playing time, and then 40 cards, which resulted in about 15-16 rooms each and 1:00 playing time. Of course, the first game had more blue tiles in it, which lengthen the game (each completed blue room=1 extra card).

Toni and I did a two-player playtest at the end of the day, with me (finally) winning with a score of 82 to 74.

I'm still trying to figure out how many stairs and hallways are needed. Right now I am saying ten hallways and five stairs, but I don't think that's enough. I don't think they should be a limited resource, but at the same time, I need to come up with a reasonable number that will fit on the board that's unlikely to be exceeded.

Sunday, June 2nd
Finally put the rules into InDesign, but just the text. Doing the contents/setup is a bit of a task that I haven't had time for yet.

Played two two-player games with Toni. She won the first one 105-98. I had FOUR courtyards for a 20 point bonus at the end — I had the 5 point courtyard bonus card — but it wasn't enough. Second game I won by a lot 93 to 75. No big Utility bonuses on either side in that one.

Monday, June 3rd
Created the set-up page for the InDesign rules and updated the design of the rules. The rules (not counting setup) are just over one page, with no illustrations. That should be two pages once images are in place. Contents still has to be created.

Played a two-player game with Toni. Use the Courtyard bonus cards to get 20 points again, but this time it was enough for me to win: 105-101.

For the fourth gen tiles, many of the long rooms had doors repositioned to avoid long sprawling mansions. That seems to have worked, though you can always create them if you try hard enough.

Tuesday, June 4th
Finally did the Contents for the InDesign (formatted) rules. It looks good...the front page of the rules is very colorful, and I think somewhat easy to follow.

Also went through and fixed some of the issues from the fourth gen: the 300 bonuses and room cards, and a few misprinted tiles.

Did two four-player playtests early in the morning, clocking in at just over an hour each. Interesting that four-player games are still scoring fewer than 100 points for each player when self tested. It could be that I'm not focusing enough on each player and they are making suboptimal moves.

Two more modifications: One somewhat cosmetic, but important, and the other a bigger change.

The "cosmetic" change is putting the icons on the back of the room tiles in order from most frequent in the stack to least frequent. That'll help newer players when completing blue rooms. While I made that change to the files, I'm not going to have it in place until I redo the tiles for the fifth Generation (not for a while right now).

The bigger change is bumping up the Bonus card points for room types (colors). Right now they feel weak...the values were determined by doing the math, but as is often the case in games, math doesn't give you the whole story. So all rooms will be 2 or 3 points instead of 1 or 2. I think that'll make those room cards more of a realistic choice. They're a little streaky, especially mid to late game, as you either have 'em or you don't at that point, and you can do less to control their appearance (it seems) than size cards.

There are 14 Utility Rooms. If they all come up and are placed in a game, as well as the four Foyers, that's 18 of the 25 Bonus Cards in play. The first run through the deck will be the first 12 rooms. Then there are 13 cards left for the remaining six rooms (two cards per completed room), so the deck will never be "gone through" twice (though by putting the unused card on the bottom of the deck it never seems depleted). Even in the rare event that all the utility cards are placed, that leaves seven unused cards.

Played two games with Toni with the new room bonuses. On the second game, I had five courtyards with the Bonus, for 25 points. Toni says it's too powerful, but it took a lot of time to set up all those Courtyards. The first game was standard two-player, but the second one was each of us playing two players. There's some funky stuff with that, and it doesn't work without some changes. The nice thing was the four-player game we did with two took us only 1:10 to play.

Wednesday, June 5th
Started the morning by going through and counting (via Numbers) how many playtests have taken place so far, and here are the results:

• 15 self tests: 1 2-player, 5 3-player, 10 4-player
• 25 playtests: 19 2-player, 2 3-player, 3 4-player

For a total of forty games played in 33 days. (I've played in all but one of them.)

Tonight is a scheduled two game playtest session with two gamers: Karen and Mike. The first game will be just the two of them, and the second game will be a four-player game with all four of us.

Following the Numbers spreadsheet creation, I did a three-player game, and after a few turns, I decided to experiment with a different set of prices on the Contract Board. It turns out the game was tighter and more interesting with 15 10 8 6 4 2 than it was with the 10 8 6 4 3 2 I have been playing with for weeks now. Add to that the benefit of making the Outdoor tiles more desirable (completion bonus gets you $10), and a little boost for the Contractor, and it's a change for the better.

I've reworked the Contract Board now so that it has the new numbers, but also made it double-sided. Side 1 contains numbers for two and three players, while side 2 contains numbers for four players. Technically I could leave it one-sided, but it's easier to play three (and two) players with fewer "slots" for tiles as well as fewer goal spots. I also did some tweaks to the layout and added a background pattern.

I reprinted the rules with the updated boards, and had Karen read the rules initially. We found some issues in the rules as a result, which I'll be updating tomorrow (Thursday).

The two games went over well, with both Karen and Mike thoroughly enjoying the game. The two-player game seemed to go long (about 1.5 hours), but neither Karen nor Mike felt it was that long. The four-player game took about 1:15.

It was very noticeable how different the game plays with two than it does four. Mike said the four-player game felt more chaotic, but I don't think that's the right term. It has more elements you can't control, but they can be factored into your decision-making process.

Karen said that Mansions was much easier to grasp than Suburbia.

Notes from the playtest session:

• Rules: Currently don't say to place the goals face up. done 6/8/13
• Rules: Should say "room TILES should not overlap." done 6/7/13
• Rules: Define Courtyard in the rules - in fact, add a section for the Goals and Bonuses that describes each of the unusual cards. done 6/8/13
• Rules/Reference card: There's a limit of one completion bonus for Corridors per turn (prevents the "ladder" move for hallways). reference card done 6/7/13
• Reference card: Change the completed room description for Blue (zzzz) cards to be more clear. reference card done 6/7/13
• Reference card: The Living (purple) room completed room bonus should say "re-score all room points" instead of double room score. reference card done 6/7/13
• Reference card: Should have the names of the icons (room type) reference card done 6/7/13
• Room Cards: The back of the Room cards should be labeled (right now they are just plain blue). The label will be the sqft symbol and the word "room" under it to match the Bonus cards. Though it will be landscape instead of portrait, since the room cards are landscape. - done 6/7/13
• Contract Board: It was confusing to have the three-player icon on one of the spots. Maybe a two-player icon with a slash through it would be better. done 6/7/13
• Green tiles still seemed weak relative to the other types. They should have higher values.

Thursday, June 6th
Played two two-player games with Toni. I won both of them for a change.

We had a discussion about keeping similar conditional effects in the same piles, so that, for instance, all the 500 sqft basement tiles would be +2 for each X tile, instead of some being +1 and some being +2.

It's interesting as doing that actually helps Zzzz (sleep) room completers as well as repeat players...they know what to expect, especially in a four-player game where the combination of rooms can be determined ahead of time.

For the nerds out there: Money Flow at the Macro Level
When you're playing a game that has various resources, you might be aware of how the resource amounts change during the game. In Castles of Mad King Ludwig, you really have two resources: Money and Rooms. Money (indicated here in $, though technically in the game it is German Marks) appears to be in constant flux, with three out of four turns (in a four-player game) resulting in cash outflow, and the turn when you're a Master Builder resulting in inflow (though not always). There are some exceptions to this, such as if you decide to forgo purchasing a room and instead take $5, or when you complete an outdoor room and bank an extra $10 that turn. As a player, you have to budget correctly during your outflow turns so that you have money on the third of those turns to be able to purchase a room, with the assumption that on your inflow turn you'll make up the difference.

As a game designer, I have to look at both the player's money flow experience as well as the overall game's money flow. The overall game money flow is more important initially because it will impact the players' money flows directly. What I need to know is how much money is in the game each turn. There are quite a few variables, but all of them are fairly manageable and reasonable assumptions based on averages can be made.

First off, there is (in a four-player game) exactly $60 available. At the end of turn 1, there will $60 - whatever the Master Builder pays for his room (since his money goes to the bank). The average spent by the Master Builder is not necessarily the average price of the seven available rooms ($15+$10+$8+$6+$4+$2+$1, or $46, divided by seven spaces is $6.57). Instead, the average skews up slightly, with an average of $16 given to the Master builder, for an average of $30/4, or $7.50. But the Master Builder spends more than this, averaging about $9 for purchases on their turn (partially because buying expensive rooms on your turn as Master Builder is better strategically than giving that higher price to a competitor). So an average of $9 leaves the game each turn, which means at the end of turn 1 there is $51 left (on average...of course that actually amount is impossible on the first turn, as only one room can be bought and $9 isn't an option). But there's also the addition of money that is placed on unbuilt rooms, which typically on the first turn will be $3 ($1 on each of the three unbuilt rooms). So the money at the end of turn #1 is $54, down $6 from the opening amount of $60.

If that's all the game did with money, the cash would slowly siphon out of the game until at the end of turn 10 there would be no money left in the game (which would be bad). However, two other things bring money back into the game: completing Outdoor rooms (at $10 each) and players who skip building in order to get $5. There are eleven Outdoor rooms available, and assuming a typical game where each player builds twelve regular (not hallway/stairs) rooms (for a total of 48 rooms out of the available 75 built), seven of those outdoor rooms will be built each game, for a total of $70 put into the game. An average game has 14.5 turns, which means ($6*14.5) $87 is taken out during the course of the game, but $70 is put back in, for a net loss of $17 during the game, resulting in $43 between all the players.

Of course, players always have the option to take $5 on their turn instead of buying/placing a room, so each time they do that it adds $5 back into the money pool. Players average one "skip" turn like this every two games, or .5 per player per game, or two skip turns for all players each game, resulting in an additional $10 each game...or so it would seem. However, a skip turn brings $6 into the game, not $5, because each player, in skipping her turn, leaves another un-purchased tile which receives $1. So now we're at $12 for skipped turns, which is added to the $43 above for a total of $55, still $5 short of the $60 players started with.

There's one other variable at work here: the purchase of stairs or hallways instead of a regular room; each one of these purchased results in an additional $1 entering the game, and wouldn't you know it, but an average of five stairs/hallways are purchased each game (more enter the game via the Corridor reward when the Foyer or a set of stairs is completed, so this number might seem low at first). Add that $5 to the $55 and you end up with...$60.

Real world conditions will quite often jump in the way and make each game's total cash available by the players less or more than this amount, and as you might expect, an abundance of cash in the Master Builder's hands will often result in more money leaving the game. But this is auto-correcting, just like the money that stacks up on various rooms throughout the game. (Keep in mind that the $60 includes any money sitting on rooms under the contract board.)

Continued in part 2
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Mon Sep 22, 2014 6:05 am
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Designer DAILY Diary: Castles of Mad King Ludwig II

Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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This is part two of the ridiculously long designer diary for Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Read part one first, then if you still have any energy left, read this one.

Friday, June 7th, 2013
This morning was spent making many of the changes suggested in Thursday night's playtest session. I updated the rules, the room card backs, the player references and the contract board. However, I printed out only the Player References, which are now larger and better organized.

For a while now, I've been looking for a plastic hard hat token to use as a start player marker, just for our playtest version of the game. Toni found a site that has some hard foam ones, so I ordered one. While she was looking, she came up with an idea: What if, in lieu of getting the bonus for completing a room, you could get a tiny little LEGO-sized hard hat, and once you had two of them, you could trade it in for any bonus? We talked about it for a while, and while I am reluctant to add anything that's a new component, the one aspect I really liked was a "wild" completion bonus. Eventually, we decided to try something in today's playtest session: For every two downstairs rooms that are completed, you get one of the other seven bonuses of your choice.

In our two playtest sessions (Toni and I), we used that functionality, and it was great, a really solid addition to the "Completed Rooms" set of features. (Remember, up until now the Downstairs rooms didn't give you any bonus.)

Of course, just this morning I updated the player reference card that lists all the completed room bonuses, so now I have to do that again.

Saturday, June 8th
Origins is this coming week, so updates to Mansions will probably be far and few between during that time. I plan on showing it to Dale Yu for the first time on Thursday, but aside from maybe a few other friends joining us for that playthrough, it won't be seen by anyone else there. And we'll probably be too busy to do any additional playtests.

Printed out the updated Player Reference cards with the new Downstairs "wild" bonus (for every two completed Downstairs rooms).

Also printed out a new set of Room cards with the new backs. Coincidentally, since I updated the room tile backs a few days ago, the cards now have the correct icon order (most frequent to least frequent), which doesn't match the existing fourth Gen room tiles. (I haven't printed out another set with the new icons.) I also used the corner rounder on the room cards and pulled out the bonus cards and did a corner rounding on them as well.

Little change: Changed the Train Room into a shooting range, and increased the Instant Points to 4. Not printed yet (waiting for fifth gen set).

Rules were updated with the new Downstairs completion rule, as well as other items, like a description of the bonus cards and goals, clarifications based on playtesting notes from the Karen/Mike playtests, lots of example images, and other minor adjustments.

Watched a four-player playtest game with Aliza, Jeremy, Michael and Monika. It took a little over two hours (one of the players was VERY slow in putting the tiles out for the Contract board, taking more than five minutes each time, which added about 30 minutes to the game). Only one of the players had played Suburbia, and that player liked Mansions more than Suburbia. One of the new players mentioned he thought it was completely balanced as is. He played Suburbia (including the expansion) after this play, and noted that while the games share some similarities, they felt entirely different.

Notes from the Playtest:

• Bonuses felt swingy - one player said they would like to take three cards instead of two.
• Maybe the players should get money bonuses instead of VP bonuses for not going first?
• There was a discussion about letting players choose from a two-sided Foyer (or even between different foyers). One side could be a certain type with X entrances, and the other could be a different type with Y entrances. I like this idea a lot.
• They mentioned the idea that maybe everyone should start with one random room. I'm intrigued by this, but I think it would add a big chunk of luck to the beginning of the game. If there were a way to implement this fairly, I would be more likely to seriously consider it.
• One of the players noted that the Secret Room and the Panic Room had the exact same layout. Note to self: Go through and compare each of the room stacks and make sure all the different combos are represented.
• There were three Downstairs Completion Bonuses with the new rule: Bonus Cards, Extra Turn and 7 Points.

Sunday, June 9th
Updated the rules with yesterday's playtesters.

Played a four-player game with Steve and Nicky today. Good feedback. One of the big ideas that came out of that playtest session was to possibly start each player with a set of double-sided tiles that they can arrange as they'd like on the first turn (based on the tiles that initially show up under the Contract Board). That could give each player a way to set up their set in a unique fashion.

Steve also mentioned that he wasn't particularly enthralled with the theme. I need to give this some thought, but I think he's onto something.

Tuesday, June 11th
Created three double-sided three-tile sets that players can use to customize their mansion at the start. The Foyer will go back to a corridor, but it will have three entranceways. Piece #1 will be a Utility/Kitchen tile. Piece #2 will be a Purple/Red tile. And piece #3 will be a Blue/Green tile. It'll take a bit of tweaking to get the balance right so that it's not the same choice for each player on their initial setup.

Friday, June 14th
Showed Mansions to Dale while at Gen Con to see whether he's interested in developing it. He is, and we'll start work on it this summer, with the goal of a Spiel 2014 release. I talked to him about retheming, and he said he'd think about it.

•••one month break•••

Tuesday, July 17th
After more than a month off to work on other projects (Suburbia Inc and many other new games), I'm back to Mansions — but it's not "Mansions" anymore. After feedback from playtesters and Dale (who is now signed on to do development work), it's been rethemed to "Castles of Mad King Ludwig".

I think the theme change will work well with the different planned ideas.

Today I worked on new cover art for the prototype box to get myself more engaged in the theme.

Tuesday, July 24th
Today was spent redoing the first chunk of room tiles to match the new theme. Significant changes:

• The walls were changed to stone. Much more aesthetically pleasing.
Changed the Utility, Activity and Food icons to an Anvil, Mandolin and Goblet, respectively.
• Added shading to the rooms to give them a more 3D look (dark edges around the walls)
• Changed the "star" icon to a castle. Now there are Castle Points.
• Made the room icons much larger.
• Added a wrought-iron fence to the top edge of Outdoor tiles.
It looks much better than the old black/yellow stripe.

Wednesday, July 25th
I finished up the room tiles this morning.

Thursday, July 26th
I finished up the the bonus cards and room cards this morning. Re-theming is a lot of work.

Friday, July 27th
It's printing day today...started this morning by printing all of the components. Will be spending several hours cutting, pasting onto cardboard, and cutting again.

Sunday, July 28th
Playtest with Doug and Shelley prior to the Suburbia Inc podcast. Both of them were very excited by the game and the new theming. (They had never seen it as "Mansions".) The walls are too dark and not thick enough, so they'll need to be redone soon. Doug's biggest concern was that Bonus cards were overpowering or that there were too many available to players.

Shelley liked the theme but wanted more themed rooms, like the Grotto and other Ludwig-specific rooms.

Tuesday, July 30th
West Coast Meeplefest prep includes redoing ALL the room tiles with better walls, and adding more themed rooms. This is an all-day project.

Wednesday, July 31st
Updated the Contract board to have Marks instead of dollars. Moved the 3m label down to the sides of the hallways so it could be viewed easier. Updated the logo. Made a double-sided contract board. Rules are updated with the new components. Here's a look at the updated rules as of July 31, 2013:

Also changed the number of cards for a four-player game to 40 instead of 50. That's ten rooms per player, not including hallways, stairs, and blue room bonuses.

Sent the new components to Dale.

Thursday, August 1st
Meeplefest Day 1. Lots of Castles playtests, all of them run by other people (Doug, Denis, etc.). Feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Some confusion about the bonuses vs. room completion bonuses.

Friday, August 2nd
Meeplefest Day 2. More playtests run by other people. Still very positive. Lots of good buzz about the game.

Saturday, August 3rd
Meeplefest Day 3. More playtests, and this time I taught two of them, played in one. Castles was being played pretty much nonstop throughout the day. Discussions about including an "L" or "Z" shape room took place. I think I might try those with a few of the sizes.

Oh, and the game has been in development for three months now. Happy Birthday, Castles!

Sunday, August 4th
Meeplefest Day 4. Prior to Meeplefest, I was up to fix the Room Completion Bonus reference cards. I changed them all to Room Completion Rewards (aha!) and modified the layout/graphics a little to better match the room tile "look". Prior to now, the back of those reference cards were blank. Now they have "Actions & Scoring" so they really are a true reference card. And the Actions and Scoring resembles the back of the room tiles, so they fit together very nicely.

Monday, August 5th
Did some research today about square feet vs. square meters. In Germany, square meters weren't law until 1872, so for most of King Ludwig's life, things were in square feet (or fuß).

Wednesday, August 7th
One of the things I've wanted to try out is irregularly-shaped rooms. I'm starting today with L-shaped 300 sqft rooms to replace the current ones.

L-shaped 300 sqft rooms are done. Whew. It's tough to cut these.

I had an idea, and a lot of math later, I think I'm going to try it: round rooms. There are pro's and cons to round rooms:

• Looks amazingly cool.
• Fits well with the castle theme.
• Distinguishes the sizes that are round from the square/rectangular ones.

• Only four doors possible, n/s/e/w on each tower. No variation.
• Pain in the butt to cut them for prototypes.
• No corners to put the castle points, square footage, icon.

I've already figured out that 500 sqft rooms are great candidates for this: the 500 square foot rooms were virtually 20x25. The round rooms are 25x25,which by doing the math, makes a 490square foot room, which is really really close to 500. Enough that it works for game purposes.

The smaller round rooms aren't as nice...if I do the 225sqft rooms (which is the plan right now), which is 15x15, the round room size is 176sqft. The upside is if I call it 150 sqft, I now have rooms that are 100, 150, 200, 250, 300, 350, 400, 450, 500, 800. The downside is it's a lot further off from 150 than 490 is from 500, but I think for game purposes it'll work!

Thursday, August 8th
As I was working on the new rounded rooms, I realized that the foyer (starting tile) needs to be 150 and rounded as well. So I created all the rounded rooms, printed them and cut them today...cutting rounded rooms is a ridiculous amount of work!

Looked at some castle floor plans, and while the new L and round rooms give the game some nice flexibility...but it's missing something. So I revamped the 800 sqft rooms to make them long octagons totaling 600 sqft. And I did those and printed/cut them as well.

Now I need to revise the Room cards and Bonus cards that refer to the changed rooms since the picture (and the size for some) doesn't match anymore. I changed the Bonus cards, but we wanted to get some playtesting in so the Room cards will have to wait.

Toni and I played five (yes, five!) two-player games (bringing the current number of playtests to 70), and several things came up:

• It seems like there are too many purple tiles and there seem to be too few blue tiles. In two games, we were flooded with them. I'm going to update the Room List spreadsheet with the current set of tiles and see where we are with that.
• The Gazebo is currently a 400 sqft room (square). If anything should be a round room, it's the Gazebo.
• Bonus card changes: Unique types and rooms should be all or nothing, because of the new set-up rule. I'm thinking 7 points for having ALL sizes and 7 points for having ALL types. done 8-9-13
• The Start Token should move to the next player after the set-up round.
The set-up round should be the first round; you just can't buy anything (or take $) that round. The rules need to be reworked here.
• We had some discussion about making a basic and a "strategy" game.
• I need to add a line to the rules about the contractor NOT reading the tiles when setting up in order to make the game move at a decent pace. At Meeplefest, some players were taking way too long to read the tiles. It should take no longer than 30 seconds to set up the tiles. I can't overemphasize this enough: It's no fun to sit and watch another player deliberate the costs of tiles.
• There should be a note in the rules to clarify that getting an extra turn via the Yellow room reward results in players being able to take an additional Corridor reward (which is limited to one per turn). That extra turn means you can have a second one. (It's not on the same turn since you have two in a row.)
Lowered the number of cards for two players to 22 (from 25). done 8-9-13

Friday August 9th
Printed out updated room cards. Also changed it so that the deck is 50 cards, with six each of the 100, 150, 200, 250, and 300, and four each of the 350, 400, 450, 500, and 600. The number of cards for each set of players:

• 2 Players: 22
• 3 Players: 30
• 4 Players: 36

That might change, but it seems like a good set to start with to ensure the game is played in a reasonable amount of time. Also, it makes each game entirely never know exactly which cards will come up.

I also updated and added Bonus cards: Updated the Uniques to be all-or-nothing, and added a few more: 1 point per $5, 1 per Round Room, 1 per Square Room, and 5 for having the Start Player token at the end of the game. I'm not sure about that last one...players have some control over extending/ending the game; obviously this is harder the more players there are.

Did a three-player test with Brett and Toni. One of the issues we ran into was two 150 round rooms that overlapped slightly (and definitely should not have fit there). Also, Brett mistook a great hall for a downstairs room because the sides/doorways are too dark.

Sunday, August 11th
Today is the day to revamp the rules. Until now, the rules had been four pages, with the contents/set-up on the first page like Suburbia. Set-up is the real catalyst here: Squishing it all onto a portion of a page is making it too difficult to read, so I'll be putting contents on page 1, set-up (and the first turn) on pages 2 and 3, and the rules will then start in earnest on page 4. In addition, I'm going to look into spreading them out more, to make them more digestible. The goal is eight pages when I'm done (same as Suburbia, if you include that game's tile manifest, which this game will not have).

After working on the rules, they are at six pages now, though I don't have any visual example for the first turn, and I probably need more images for the main portion of the rules. But the Contents and Set-up are totally updated to cover 2.5 pages now, and it looks a LOT better.

•••end of diary entries•••

Well, that's when I stopped writing about the game, but a whole lot of work was done between then and the end of April 2014, when the game was finalized. Most of that was tweaking, though there were a few major changes. Getting the artwork really helped bring the game to life, and the top-down perspective really looks like a detailed floor plan of a castle.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig will debut at Spiel in October 2014 and should be available in the U.S. at about the same time.

Ted Alspach
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Mon Sep 22, 2014 6:00 am
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Designer Diary: The Business of Suburbia Inc

Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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Suburbia Inc has its origins in the base game. Oftentimes when designing a game, many ideas find their way into the game only to be tossed out later. As Suburbia took a long time to develop (even before Dr. Developer Dale Yu was on board), many ideas, mechanisms, and concepts found their way into the game, then were hustled right back out again.

In the summer of 2012 before Suburbia was released, I realized that the game would probably do well, so I decided I would start working on an expansion for it. I had no idea how well it would do, or that it would win the coveted Mensa Select Mind Games award, but I was confident enough in the game to start putting together an expansion for it.

Origins of Inc

I started with building tiles. The one hundred tiles that shipped with Suburbia were a subset of the original set, all of which were chosen for a variety of reasons and many buildings that I really liked didn't make the cut. The toughest thing initially with the expansion was to figure out which of those buildings should make it in, so I started looking at them in the order they were cut from the game...backwards, that is, starting with the last tile to be cut from the base game.

This very first tile in the expansion, then called "City Planner", was one that Dale Yu, the aforementioned developer, had convinced me to take out of the game. City Planner allowed you to swap in another tile for it for free later in the game. The reasoning for getting rid of it was solid (well, at the time I didn't believe so, but in hindsight it was indeed a good idea): City Planner introduced too many exceptions to the rules of the base game. First, the tile was a different color. Suburbia already has four colors of tiles, and this would be a fifth color that would exist only for this specific tile. Second, it allowed the player to take a tile for free, ignoring both the price on the tile as well as the Real Estate Market cost where it was located.

The description for that tile in the expansion takes up almost an entire column because of the clarifications needed. Even with all of those clarifications and comments, however, I knew it was a tile I wanted in the expansion, so I started to design the expansion around it. The name "Redevelopment Planner" was chosen for the tile, and the idea that your little borough has become more of a business to manage than just a sprawling mass of tiles was born. In the base game, you're an entrepreneur with this great vision for a utopian city; in the expansion, you're a businessman with the same goal of growing your borough into a great city, but now you're going to use additional tools to treat it as a successful business, too.

Borders and Bridges

Everyone expected a Suburbia expansion with new buildings. I knew I could put out a whole bunch of new buildings and people would buy the expansion and have a terrific time with it, but I wanted to add an extra dimension to the game. I started with the idea that players would be able to share borders, and this would allow them to benefit from each other's buildings and infrastructure. This concept dates back to the very beginnings of Suburbia design, when all players placed tiles in one central city instead of having their own boroughs in which to work. As I started to develop the concept, it split into two: borders, which defined the edges of a borough, and bridges, which connected different boroughs. Both were developed, but bridges were cut from the expansion for a number of reasons, the most important of which being that they didn't work with the new theme of incorporation nearly as well as borders did. Maybe bridges will see light in the future...hmmm.

Back to borders — initially they were designed as three, and then four, hexes stacked on top of each other. Some were straight, others were curved. One side of the hexes had a dark border where you couldn't place any tiles. Eventually that design changed into half-hexes where you couldn't place anything on the flat side, and then they were thickened slightly and started and ended with half hexes on each end so that tiles placed against them would be nestled comfortably on the "jagged" edge.

During development borders were simplified and now all of them share one common attribute: they have only adjacency benefits. This makes keeping track of benefits for borders much easier and makes it clear what the value of the borders is. The number of borders was eventually reduced to twelve, mainly for gameplay purposes; while in games with the new "Guard" goal (most borders) you might actually run out of borders, typically players place only one or two borders each game, which means that you see a different mix of borders in each game in a different order...just like the A, B, and C stacks of tiles.

All borders have a better cost/benefit ratio than regular tiles, but of course they limit where you can build in the future, so you're making an interesting spatial trade-off when you build them. Because of their unique shape and impact on the layout of your borough, borders have been become the signature new component of Suburbia Inc.

More New Buildings

As I went through the previously culled buildings to see which ones would make sense with the new business-themed expansion, I ended up making a lot more new ones — or heavily modifying old ones — than just plucking old buildings out and plopping them in the expansion.

One of the new buildings was a direct result of player feedback. One of the aspects of Suburbia that I've heard from players is regarding goals. About half of the goals in Suburbia are awarded to players having the fewest of something. These goals put you at the whims of other players, and while they definitely change up how you play each game, many games will result in tied goals that no one wins because no one was building a certain type of tile. If only there were a way to break those ties...

One of the standalone games I designed a few years back is TieBreaker, a fun, silly card game designed to break ties for games that don't have built-in tiebreakers. It consists of about sixty mini-games on cards that help to determine the winner, but they do so by requiring the tied players to engage in some sort of (often silly) challenge with the other tied players. It's fun and totally unnecessary, but adds some closure to what otherwise might be a slightly frustrating result because the game's publisher didn't think to add some sort of tiebreaker mechanism.

Well, it didn't make sense to have mini-games as part of Suburbia, but then I realized...what if a tile could be purchased to be used as a tiebreaker? And if so, what would that tile be? In a game with a tiebreaker, you have a rules lawyer looking up the fine print to determine who really wins, and thus was born the "Law Office". It's probably my favorite of the new Inc tiles because anyone who owns a Law Office gets to score one goal in which they're tied. Place an investment marker on that Law Office, and now you score up to two goals in which you're tied.

Other building tiles were created and tested, all designed to fit in the Inc theme. The new "Cemetery" tile is a business of its own, with a cost of population when it's placed. (You need dead bodies to start that particular business.) The "Indoor Mall", another late-stage removal from the base game, gives you reputation from your blue (Commercial) tiles, the only tile in the game that does that directly. Finally, some respect for being a businessman!

There's one new tile that I expect will be a love-it-or-hate-it tile: the "Redistricting Office". Like the PR Firm, which if purchased by the right player at the right time can sway the game, the Redistricting Office has similar "power". It redraws your city limits, effectively stealing the population of your opponents and giving it to you. The cost and benefit are tied directly to the number of players in the game. In a two-player game, placing the tile costs you only $12, and you steal 5 population from your opponent, resulting in a ten-point swing (five more for you and five less for your opponent). In a four-player game, the tile is the most expensive you can buy, costing $24 and handing out a twenty-point swing over each of your opponents (fifteen to you, five from each of them). Of course, there is a catch...all those late-game population increases tend to move you over multiple red lines, lowering your Income and Reputation considerably.

In the end, Suburbia Inc contains a dozen new building types, split across all three stacks of tiles. They can be added to the existing tiles you have, with the caveat that some combos such as restaurants and airports are weakened due to those tiles being diluted. On the other side of the equation, because there are a bunch of new "Office" (briefcase) tiles, the Business Supply store tends to be more valuable (and there's a new goal to reflect this: "Milton", which is awarded to the player with the most Office tiles).

Bonuses and Challenges

Another "thrown out" concept from back in the early days of Suburbia development were mid-game goals. The idea that players could get bonus points in the middle of the game for achieving goals was interesting, but less compelling than the goals that everyone is working toward throughout the game. As I pondered how to make meaningful midgame goals, I realized that more valuable than points in the game are certain stats, specifically income in the first half of the game and reputation in the second half. And so Bonuses (income enhancements at the end of the A stack) and Challenges (reputation enhancements at the end of the B stack) were born.

In order to make these bonuses and challenges more achievable for players, they are treated differently than goals: Every player can achieve them instead of just one, and instead of the concepts of "most" and "least" they all require the player to have a certain number of tiles, amount of money, or certain level of stats (income, reputation, etc.). Suburbia Inc includes ten of each of them, and at the beginning of each game, you choose one at random and place a bonus face up on the B stack (which scores when the A stack is depleted) and place a challenge face up on the C stack (which scores when the B stack is depleted).

While this is a great system, the number of tiles in each stack had to be changed so that all players have an equal number of turns before the bonus or challenge is reached. As a result, the expansion includes a new "stacks" board with a different number of tiles that should be placed in the A, B and C stacks. Also, because Inc games were scoring more — thanks to some of the new tiles, borders, and the bonuses and challenges — the number of tiles in each stack is reduced slightly, resulting in one or two fewer turns for Inc games than the base game. Having slightly fewer turns keeps the game length exactly the same as the base game, even though you now have an extra option each turn (whether to buy a border or not), and you must tally the bonus and challenge when they come up.

Testing and Development

While Suburbia was designed and playtested significantly before "Master Developer" Dale Yu (he of Dominion development fame) was brought on board, Dale was involved in the creation of Suburbia Inc early on and had significant input into many of the choices that went into designing the expansion.

That said, the development of the game was fairly straightforward, and while one major component (which shall not be discussed here) was killed off in development, the pieces that made it through the process were relatively the same (at least conceptually) as they were when it all started to come together. The biggest issue was balance, to ensure that the cost/benefit ratios for all the new pieces didn't result in some freaky imbalance.

Final Thoughts and Impending Release

Suburbia Inc is a must-own expansion for anyone who enjoys the base game. The parts of the expansion all work together really well, but you can also play with only the parts you like. (If you don't want borders in your game, you don't have to have them; the rest of the expansion still works just fine.) The new tiles add to the already substantial variability of the tile mix, and the new bonuses and challenges add some midgame goals to keep things interesting throughout. And none of the new additions are so dramatic that first-time Suburbia players can't just jump right into the expansion, too!

As the Spiel 2013 release of the expansion approaches, I can't wait for people to try out all the new things in the game!

Ted Alspach
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Wed Oct 16, 2013 6:00 am
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Designer/Developer Diary: By Now, You Should Be Expecting the Ultimate Werewolf Inquisition

Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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(Editor's note: Legend Dan Hoffman, designer of Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition, wrote the first half of this diary; publisher Ted Alspach of Bézier Games took over after the ••• break midway through. —WEM)

An Idea...

I fell in love with the game of Werewolf many years ago back at World Boardgaming Championships. We used a deck of playing cards, and our moderator frequently stacked the deck and lied about which roles the wolves killed, but the game was still great. I'd look forward to the nightly Werewolf games at every convention I attended. Before too long, I became known as "the Werewolf guy" and people were counting on me to get the game started every night. But oddly enough, the design of Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition began by not playing Werewolf at all.

Flash to my second-ever Gathering of Friends, designer Alan R. Moon's annual gamefest attended by upwards of 300 gamers, including lots of industry folks like designers and publishers. It's getting close to midnight, and we are all ready to start lynching some villagers. There are about fifteen people milling about waiting for the game to start, but nobody would wait at the table. A known Werewolf player would come to the Werewolf table, see that only a few of us were waiting, then wander away. A few people were playing Tichu "until the game started". Bobby saw that we didn't have enough players and went for a beer run. And so on – after almost two hours of seeing people walk away because we didn't have enough players to start, I began to wish that somebody would make a Werewolf game we could play to keep people at the table long enough to get Werewolf started.

A week later I was back at work, with my mindnumbingly boring job and an empty whiteboard. I filled the time and the board with different requirements that a Werewolf game would need. It had to work well with only a handful of players – four to eight. This new game couldn't have any player elimination as then people would be free to walk away. It had to prevent a player from feeling that "I never get a special character" or "I'm always a freaking villager". And finally, it had to feel like you're still playing Werewolf.

I decided that we as players would be overseers of a rustic village. Through careful scientific research, we have decided that several of the villagers are, in fact, werewolves, and it's our duty as good overseers to protect our villagers and hunt and kill all of the wolves. But some of us would be werewolf sympathizers, people who know that the lycanthropy strain is a rare mutation that needs to be isolated and studied! And the best way to isolate the strain is to kill off everybody else.

The village would be represented by face-down cards, with some cards being werewolves, and the rest villagers. The players would kill off these cards instead of each other, keeping all of the real-life human players in until the end of the game. A player's actions could result in adding votes to different cards, and whichever card got the most votes was lynched.

Let's Play

As for what to do on your turn, I decided to steal/borrow the role selection mechanism from Puerto Rico as this allowed me to pull in some of the fun of Werewolf, namely the dozens of special roles. Let's allow every player to have a special role! After a playtest or two, I gave these roles to the people in the village, which added in great flavor. When you accidentally lynch the seer, you can no longer visit the seer's hut – because she's dead. You monster. After the role selection, each player could add another vote to one of the cards that already had votes on it. This gave a good Werewolf feel to the game, with nominations first and a vote afterwards.

To figure out which roles should be available, I wanted to add in everybody's favorite roles from Werewolf. I also wanted to "force" some decisions to be made. The seer was an easy addition: Look at a villager card, and find out whether it's a wolf or not. Thematic! My personal favorite WW role is the Mason, so he made it in. He'll use his secret information to find out whether another player is working on team wolf. I wanted more than one way to learn information about the village cards, so the Sorcerer came in. She uses dark magic to peek at a card, but using her adds three votes to that card. Now there's some forced interaction: "Oh, crap, this is a good card. Protect it!"

The Bodyguard was another natural fit, protecting one of the village cards from being lynched. The Witch is another card Werewolf players love. I made her move votes from one villager to another. Those were the core roles that I felt should be in every game.

At this point I just grabbed roles and tried out things that could be fun. The Pacifist removed all the votes from a villager. After some playtesting, I realized that both the Bodyguard and Witch did the same thing, only in a more fun way, so the Pacifist was (ironically) replaced by the Instigator, who would add one vote to as many cards as he wanted, as long as they didn't already have a vote on them. Thematically, there's always that one guy in a Werewolf game (usually me) who starts shouting out random accusations just to get people talking. In playtest, this card was usually taken by somebody who wasn't sure what to do, but who wanted to have a lot of fun anyway. The Captain would pass around the start player marker, which let someone in the fourth or fifth seat get first crack at the roles next round. Playtesting found this weak with fewer players, though, so he got to add a vote when he got chosen.

The Hunter was another favorite Werewolf role. He originally added three votes in any way the player wanted, but in practice he never had a reason to split up his votes, so the card got changed. The Minion added three votes to anyone who already had votes. The original version of the game had a Town Council, which was a big building where people could go to shout things; this was the basic choice on your turn if all the more powerful roles were either already chosen or killed off.

I designed lots of other roles, too. One of my favorites was the Judge, who would force a player to skip choosing a role, while allowing that player to vote twice during the extra voting round. Other roles ended up getting cut for various reasons, like the Showman, who would show another player your role, or the Gambler, who let you randomize some cards on the board. Most of these got cut as the game was developed.

My favorite role, which ended up getting cut during development, was a super wolf power called Full Moon (which was also the name of the prototype). This power let a player reveal himself to be a werewolf sympathizer, then add five votes to any villager. This was a great "Muahahahaaaa!" moment for any wolf player. Originally it allowed any player to reveal himself, but I found that the villagers would go there first to show themselves as trustworthy, stopping the wolves from ever getting the chance. Development cut this role, adding a brand new night phase instead to let the werewolves get a kill and give more of an Ultimate Werewolf feel to the game.

Getting Published

I had been a Gathering of Friends attendee for a few years. I had notoriously pitched a different game design (Survival of the Fittest) to anyone who would sit down with me for a few minutes. The results were an overwhelming "This is not publishable; fun, yes, but we could never publish this". My confidence was a bit shaken, and I didn't want to get another big fat rejection on a totally new project.

I was having a lot of fun with Full Moon, though. I brought it with me to the Gathering, hoping to get a few more plays under my belt and garner other opinions. Imagine my surprise when Cedric of Repos Production came up to me and asked to see this new team game people had been talking about! I showed Cedric the game and he loved it. He took a prototype copy back with him to Belgium to look over.

"But wait, Legend Dan!" you say because you have a fondness for shouting at your computer monitor. "I thought this was being published by Bézier Games!" Oh, it is. We're not there yet. Sit back and let my dissociative narrative tell the tale.

A month went by with no word from Repos. Then another month. Then another. Emails were fired off in a reasonably rapid succession with no reply. Resigned, I printed out a fresh prototype and got ready for another year of playtesting. At next year's Gathering, Cedric told me that while he did enjoy the game and wanted to publish it, there were some copyright issues with the company that owned the French version of Werewolf, and he didn't want to step on anybody's toes. Our emails were, for some reason, just not reaching each other.

My confidence was restored, but I had decided that before I showed it to any other publishers, I wanted to get feedback from the wolfman himself, Ted "I designed Ultimate Werewolf" Alspach. "But Legend Dan!" you cry out, again interrupting the story to yell at your computer. "Ted owns Bézier Games! He is a publisher!" Well, yes, I know that now, but I didn't realize that at the time I asked him for his input on the game, so you can imagine my immense surprise when his feedback was the four greatest words in the English language: "Yeah, I'd publish this."



So, it's 2011, I'm at the Gathering of Friends playing all sorts of great stuff, and Legend Dan keeps harrassing me: "You gotta play this. I want to hear what you think. C'mon, pretty please" and so on. As a game designer and publisher, I try to be careful about what I play that's in the "not found a publisher yet" state. There are two reasons for this: (1) If it hasn't found a publisher yet, there are good odds it just isn't that good and (2) I'm not typically in a position to publish most games I see. (Bézier Games puts out 2-3 games per year in a good year, and I have a backlog of my own games that I'm working, getting them ready for publication.) More honestly, the spectre of spending a couple of hours on a game with a designer who desperately wants you to like his game isn't that much fun. I had known Legend Dan for a few years, as we both played/moderated Werewolf, but our gaming tastes were distinctly different. I don't think we ever played anything other than Werewolf together (maybe a party game or two), but certainly not the latest Eurogame (which I like) and not the latest dungeony rollfest (that Dan likes). So I had a good reason to think, without even seeing the game Legend Dan wanted to show me, that it just wouldn't be a good fit.

But it was a werewolf-themed game called "Full Moon", and Dan described it as a Werewolf board game, and that definitely interested me, if nothing else than for the reason that I enjoyed Shadow Hunters, which also made that claim, and I was curious to see whether the game had something engaging. So I played, and not only did I love the game, but a series of light bulbs went off in my head: With a little tweaking, this could be a new game in the Ultimate Werewolf family. The possibilities were pretty exciting, so I asked Dan whether I could get a copy to play. He sent me the files, I printed it out and started playtesting with some local playtesters, and the results were good enough that I knew I wanted to publish it.

Dan and I hammered out an agreement and then I was off to see how to make "Full Moon" fit into the Ultimate Werewolf line of games. But first, I stopped and wrote up a list of how Ultimate Werewolf differed from other Werewolf games: why was it successful in the crowded field of Werewolf games, and which of those elements would make sense to bring over to "Full Moon". I came up with several: Engaging artwork, variable gameplay through the use of multiple roles that could be added to games, a balancing system to help out the person setting up the game, in-depth rules, and a relatively small footprint that could accommodate expansions. Oh, and it had to have "Ultimate Werewolf" in the title. Ultimate Werewolf: Full Moon? No, that wasn't quite right. Dan suggested "Watchers of Ultimate Werewolf" and that was the working title for the first few months.

Delays and Enhancements

I had already informed Dan that "Full Moon", Watchers wouldn't be out until 2012 as I knew it would take additional development work to get the game ready to go, so playtesting during 2011 was kind of sparse. However, I did go through and "Ultimatize" the game with more interchangable roles, and along the way I discovered that the werewolves had a really hard time winning. With no apparent solution to the problem, I put the game on a shelf and waited for inspiration. Immediately following Spiel 2011 – well, after the first few weeks of playing everything obtained during that show – I went back to work on it, giving it a new name: UWI: Ultimate Werewolf Investigations. While the name was fun and quite accurate, it was too 21st-century sounding, and of course I didn't want to get a cease and desist from CBS, so the name morphed to Inquisition. And as Legend Dan said – he was the first in what I'm sure will be a million more – in an email on January 30, 2012: "No one expects the Werewolf Inquisition!"

See her, the Seer. Now see her Seer's hut.
Lots of little changes were taking place in the game. First, resource management with the votes. This made choosing cards more strategic and less obvious, and also made the choice for each player different based upon how many votes he currently had available. Then, I went ahead and got artwork for the huts and redesigned the cards. The Seer/Sorcerer relationship changed so that the sorcerer could "verify" Seer-viewed cards, and the Seer couldn't see cards that were already veiwed. It was better, and the roles were interchangeable, but those poor werewolves could hardly ever eke out a win, try as they might.

Inspiration struck following a playtest session (which was kind of annoying because the playtesters weren't available anymore), and I added a night phase to take place after the voting, giving the werewolves two advantages: (1) They could kill off a villager of their choice and (2) They could see some of the cards that way. In addition, they now had a night zero phase in which they found out who the other werewolves were, and that changed the "evil" players from werewolf sympathizers to actual werewolves who were now loose on the town each evening. Now the sides were more even, but only with certain roles in the game. Put a Mason in, and the werewolves would still lose a large percentage of the time.

I brought this version to the Gathering, and Dan and I both tested it. There were still some balance issues, though, and things weren't quite right – then I became distracted with Suburbia up until Spiel 2012.

Final Tweaks

Following Spiel, I was determined to get Inquisition out, and it became my top priority. More testing occurred, the Troublemaker was added, and a simple fix to the balance issue was discovered – the addition of a fourth werewolf to the village. This meant that the village had to kill a werewolf on four of the six "days" (rounds) of the game in order to win. They could now miss only twice, which turned out to be the magic number, and while some games would end as early as day 3, most went to five or six days, and the tension during those last days was exciting for both teams.

Some time was spent on how to deal with the possibility (7.27% of the time) that a column of character cards with three werewolves in it gets passed around by the werewolves. The eventual solution was that they would indeed kill one of their own, but the remaining cards in the column would be shuffled into all the other unseen cards. This worked for a short "two card" column of werewolves as well. Of course, this rule allows werewolves to throw off their human counterparts by sacrificing a wolf, which is yet another layer of intrigue.

During this time the components list was finalized. For playtesting I had been using a giant red cube for the Grand Inquisitor, but I knew I wanted something better for the final version of the game, so I had a custom Inquisitor meeple designed. He looks very cool, and it's fun to have him in front of you during the game.

Then it was time to work on the rules. Inquisition is a fairly straightforward game, but I wanted the rules to be really easy to read and comprehend, so I made them much more graphically rich and easy to follow. The rules "booklet" is eight pages long, but it's much less: Page 1 is the cover, page 2 is the contents, page 3 is setup, and page 4 is the only page with rules for gameplay. Pages 5, 6 and 7 describe the cards and huts in detail, and page 7 also has some strategy tips. Page 8 is just a page full of credits.

Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition will make it to the Origins Game Fair in June 2013, but in limited quantities as I'm shipping several cases directly to the show by air to ensure that copies will be on hand. There's been a lot of interest in the game as Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition really does capture the flavor and fun of Werewolf in less time, with no moderator and no elimination! It was great working with Legend Dan...starting with a great game certainly helped!

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Wed Jun 12, 2013 6:00 am
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Designer Diary: You Suck! No, Really, You Do

Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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Trick-taking card games are one of my favorite sub-genres. I have a fondness for Wizard, Hearts, Spades, Sticheln, Wizard Extreme/Die Sieben Siegel (commonly referred to as "Die, Steven Seagal!"), , The Bottle Imp, Filipino Fruit Market, and many more. Of particular note is Stich-Meister, Friedemann Friese's game in which each hand's rules are decided by the players playing a set of rule cards (which is totally controlled chaos, kind of a Fluxx for Eurogamers).

I've worked on several different trick-taking games over the years, and while there's another one that needs a few quirks worked out of it, I became obsessed with making a trick-taking board game (which I nicknamed TTB). Yes, it probably sounds kind of silly, but I thought sure, why not, and went to work on it.

When I'm working on a game, I usually write down a paragraph about that game that captures the concept and basic idea. Here's what I originally wrote:

In TTB, players try to figure out how many tricks they'll take each hand. Each trick they take gives them either a special ability for the next hand or bonus points.

I'm not sure whether any game I've initially described was exactly in line with what was published – except for the name – but this was an exception. Those two sentences are spot on.

Where's the board, you ask? Well, it was there at one point; here's the list of components in the game's first draft with a note after each type of component that shows its fate in the published game:


• 1 board (gone!)
• 66 cards (4 colors 1-13, 7 no-color 0s and 14-20 in multicolor) (similar, but the final game has 4 colors 1-10, 7 0s and 11-20 in multicolor)
• 10 Bonus tokens (turned into 7 card-based ticks)
• 6 Score Markers (remained through the published version)
• 6 Bid Markers (remained through the published version)
• 36 Player Markers (removed during late-stage playtesting)
• 1 Round Marker (remained through the published version)
• 1 Dealer Token (removed as it was unnecessary)

The board was, as many prototype boards are, quite ugly:

The overlapping rectangles were for placing the cards. Each set of overlapping rectangles was for each trick that would be taken. The squares in the middle of the board were for tokens that would be captured when the trick was taken, giving that player a special power.

Originally the game had ten tokens: three for bonus points, and seven for special powers:

Here are the ones that were essentially unchanged through the final version of the game:

-----• The Choose Dealer token allows the player to decide who deals in the next round.

-----• The Extra Card token allows the player to take an extra card off the top of the deck.

-----• The 14 allows the player to get the 14 multicolor card; multicolor cards are like super trumps, but they can be played at any time. At first, the 14 was the lowest of these cards. This token turned into the "Take 11" tick.

-----• The 0 allows the player to get an extra Zero card.

-----• The Choose Trump token allows the player to choose one of the four colors as trump or to choose "no trump" (with this latter ability later being removed from the game).

-----• The Trader card allows the player to trade in one card from his hand for a card off the top of the deck.

There was also a +1 Bid token that allowed players to be off by one in their bid. This token didn't make it through playtesting, as it was uber-powerful, especially in the final round.

The little numbers in the lower right corners were the values of the tokens in the final round (since their powers couldn't be used in a subsequent round and I wanted the tokens to have a purpose in the final round).

So, let's get back to that really ugly board. The idea was that a random set of six of the ten tokens would be placed on the board each round, and on a player's turn, he would be able to play on any available empty card spot – with the number of card spots being based on player count. (So for a four-player game, he could place a card only on the first four card spaces next to each token.) If the player played a card that was winning that trick, he put one of his player marker cubes there. Once there were as many cards as players, that token would be taken by the card that was winning the trick.

The board was large – it had to be to fit all those cards – and cumbersome, and it didn't take me long to realize it totally wasn't necessary. It just didn't add much to the game. I could still arrange the tokens in the middle of the table, and players could play out from the center, keeping the structure in place. While the board was gone, TTB lived on because the basic idea of winning a trick associated with a special power was solid. Not only that, but in addition to the original board, I actually had another board that was used to keep score, track player bids, and provide a guide as to when each of the tokens was used:

So I still had a trick-taking board game, even if the original board was gone. I know – I was grasping to keep the original board game concept alive, but as you probably know already, any board at all was doomed, so it's all going to turn out well in the end.

The Origin of You Suck

There comes a time in most trick-taking bidding games toward the end of a hand when you have one or two cards left, and you are hoping with all of your might that a certain card is (or isn't) led because it will result in you missing your bid in one direction or the other. The player who plays (or doesn't play) the card you're focusing on is clearly out to get you. This also happens with You Suck, and the phrase was uttered on a regular basis as the game was playtested.

During one of those playtesting sessions, a light bulb went off, and I knew I was on to something: You Suck: A Tick-Taking Game! The tokens could be ticks! You could take them! Ticks suck! It was as if the universe had opened up all of its mysteries to me, and I chose the one which was the most important at the time: what to call this game and how to "theme" it.

I did have a few moments when I wasn't sure whether the title "You Suck" was appropriate, but while it was edgy, it was clearly in good fun (and the final artwork adds to that overall feel), so the name stuck.

After I had the name, the first thing I did was draw cute little ticks for the tokens:

Problems That Needed Solving

Playtesting continued, and players were amused and engaged with the theme. However, a few problems remained:

-----1) Players couldn't seem to remember to place their player markers on a tick that they were winning.

-----2) The scoreboard was big and unsightly.

-----3) The cost for all of the components was higher than what most people would pay for a trick-taking game (which usually has only cards and maybe one or two other small components). I didn't know it at the time, but solving #1 and #2 would partially solve this issue and led me to find the ultimate solution for it as well.

The solution to #1 came during a playtest session when one of my long-time playtesters said, "Why don't you just move the tick and its cards in front of the person who's winning it?" It was such an easy solution, but one I couldn't come up with myself because I was so focused on keeping the original game board structure of the ticks in the center radiating outward. I tried it this way, and suddenly the game was more interactive, with players reaching across and grabbing ticks from other players. It really was tick-taking!!!

Not only was this solution a better mechanism, but now I didn't have to include 36 player markers in each box (which was a huge expense, whether wood or cardboard). Problem #1 and one of the biggest parts of #3 were addressed!

The Complete Cardization of You Suck

One new problem emerged with the taking and placing of ticks and their associated cards: The ticks were cardboard tokens, and taking them along with the cards required a delicate two-handed maneuver. This is when I decided to try the ticks themselves as cards...and it worked! After I did that, I thought that other components could be "carded" as well:

-----• The Scoreboard could be two cards: 1-20 and 21-40.

-----• The Bidding track could be a single card.

-----• The playing order of tokens could be combined into a card-sized player aid, which would also solve the age-old problem of identifying each player with his color. (I hate the "give everyone an extra token so everyone knows what color they are" thing that some games have, but it's a necessary evil.)

-----• A card could be put in place to show which round the players were on.

-----• I also added a trump card to indicate the color of the trump (as during playtesting players would often forget what trump was).

What all of this did was turn the trick-taking board game into a pure tick-taking card game, with fourteen pieces of wood/cardboard necessary for bidding, scoring, and indicating the round and trump. (I ended up going with wood because I like wood, and it seemed appropriate since ticks hang out in the woods.) Now that the design was (mostly) cost-effective, I found an artist, Dustin Evans, who I thought could capture the essence of You Suck's friendly, super-powered ticks.

Final Tweaks

A few other minor changes happened during the playtesting process:

-----• The number of ticks available each turn became seven (instead of six).

-----• The number of rounds was shortened to three (instead of four).

-----• The +3 tick replaced the individual +1 and +2 ticks, putting all ticks in play each round.

-----• The ticks became double-sided, with side one showing the special power (for use in each round, and available to be captured in rounds 1 and 2) and side two showing bonus points (to be captured in round 3).

-----• The bonus points for the ticks changed to include three -5 ticks to make the last round competitive for everyone. It's now possible for the player in last place at the end of round 2 to win, but it will be a challenge.

-----• The 4, 5, 6, and 7 bids were combined into a single line, allowing a player who expects to capture a lot of tricks more flexibility in his bid. Round 3's bidding values now differ from the first two rounds to account for the change in strategy that occurs during that round.

-----• The suited cards were reduced from 13 (standard 52-card deck numbers) to 10, while the multicolor cards were increased from 7 to 10. Nice symmetry, huh?

-----• The "Choose Trump" tick requires the player with the tick to choose a trump, thus ensuring that rounds 2 and 3 have a trump. (The game is better with a trump in play.)

-----• Each player receives a random tick at the start of the game, kicking each person off on a different track with some sort of special power (including +3 points).

-----• The scoreboard was changed to max out at 30 points. (Players occasionally exceed this, but it's rare.)

The Final Game

The end result is a game that, while not the trick-taking board game I thought it would be, has exceeded my expectations in terms of being solid, engaging, and fun to play, with numerous strategies and many interesting tactical choices. It's differentiated by the fact that you can play on any tick at any time, which in theory should make it much easier to make your bid, but which in reality provides a different challenge and something fun to wrap your head around each time you play.

You Suck will debut at the Origins Game Fair in mid-June 2013 in limited numbers and can be preordered directly from Bézier Games.

Ted Alspach

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Mon Jun 3, 2013 6:00 am
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Designer Diary: Suburbia Wasn't Built in a Day

Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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I'm a huge fan of SimCity. I like the idea of planning, building, and most importantly, seeing how everything fits together. I like the idea that you should build your factories far from your residential areas. And that you'll make everyone in your city happy by building parks. And that you'll increase your city income by having lots of shops. And that the more people you have, the idea that overhead costs soon start to spiral out of control. And that it's really difficult to reign those costs in and still be both profitable and be a place where people want to live.

So it's no surprise that I like the idea of city-building board games; however, none of the city-building games I've played scratched that itch. Therefore, like many game designers, I decided to try my hand at building my own city-building game. I set out with a single goal in mind: I wanted buildings to interact with each other in believable ways.

For instance, If you put an airport next to the suburbs, that's going to make people unhappy. However, if you put in a bunch of schools, people will go out of their way to move there. You should get more money from shops that are located near where people live and work. And this is how Suburbia works: at its core, it's less about what you build than how your buildings interact with each other.

The Original Design

I started work on Suburbia in January 2009. For this game, I wrote up a brief summary of how I wanted the game to work, including the goal stated above. The summary was less than two paragraphs. Under that I had a list of components that I thought would be needed: 100 tiles; 100 cubes (20 for each player color); a "City Planning" board that contained the score, Tax Rate and Reputation tracker; and the tile pool where players could buy tiles. I called the game "Urb". (The idea was that the game was a microeconomic view of the "Urbanization" ability in Age of Steam, which most players refer to as "Urb".)

For the first several iterations of the game, the tiles were square. This allowed up to four tiles to be adjacent to each tile, so a lot of combinations could be had. I briefly considered hex tiles at this stage, but two things stopped me: (1) cities should be square, not hexagonal, and (2) cutting out hexes is a nightmare (a lot more on this later).

I was pretty excited about getting the game printed so that I could try it out, so I slapped together some tiles really quick in Illustrator for a concept test:

Here are the items that existed in the initial iteration of the game that ended up making it through to the game as it will ship to stores:

-----1. The base three tiles are essentially the same (Suburbs, Factory, Park) with various tweaks.
-----2. Income and Desirability (would change to Reputation) charts.
-----3. A bunch of the tiles that ended up making it into the final game.
-----4. Green, Yellow, Gray and Blue tiles.
-----5. The three basic steps to a turn were there: Place a tile, collect/pay income, and adjust population.
-----6. A row of tiles from which to choose (though the row held eight tiles initially).

Here's one of the first game boards:

The list of items that made it through seems like a lot – until you start listing the differences (things that were scrapped or significantly modified) from then:

-----1. There was a separate Taxes chart. Higher taxes meant more income and less desirability. Players could adjust taxes one step at a time.
-----2. The Income chart went from 1 to 30, and the Desirability (Reputation) chart went from -6 to 23.
-----3. Players built out from the same central area and could take advantage of adjacency effects of their competitors' tiles if they built next to them.
-----4. Colored cubes were used to indicate who owned which tile.
-----5. You could sell placed tiles at any time for half their original cost to get cash.
-----6. There were event cards. 'Nuff said.
-----7. Some tiles were multi-colored.
-----8. Players received more money the later they were in the turn order.
-----9. The game played up to five players.

That initial version never made it out of the self-test phase as it had all sorts of problems, like spiraling player income, weirdness with the tax rate behavior, and those really annoying event cards. So an overhaul was necessary. Within a week of the initial design and self test, I had a new version ready to go, this time with some fancy graphics.

A note on graphics: I spend way too much time on the initial prototype graphic design/artwork, but it helps the process for me to get from A to B. And I would be embarrassed to show the wireframe versions of games to other people, so I feel it's necessary to make it look good. I do this knowing that the final artwork will undoubtedly change, but it helps with the theme and the future art direction.

The First Playtests

One of the first playtests was particularly memorable. I often playtest with people in our core FNVPs group (Friday Night VPs). The first time I brought this out it was a long ways from what it is today. One of the players – we'll just call him "Clark" to keep his identity secret – was having a miserable time. (I forget the specific circumstances, but he was just miserable, and in his frustration tried to "break" the game by eliminating himself through intentionally poor play.) This resulted in some heated words between us (much to the amusement of the other three players).

Following that initial session, I wrote up the following notes to myself:

-----• Reduce number of total tiles – (17x4+7=75, three of each kind would be 25 tiles instead of 39, so get rid of 14 tile types).
-----• Change board pricing: 10 10 5 5 0 0 0.
-----• Reduce the number of cliffs (these became "Red Lines" in Suburbia) even more – split into reputation/revenue early on.
-----• Make tiles bigger.
-----• Fix revenue/rep indicators; make different shapes and colors (maybe black boxes for Revenue).
-----• Make description text bigger.
-----• Make iconography for tile types clearer.
-----• Provide chart with tile manifest.
-----• Don't invite "Clark" to any more playtest sessions.

I sat down, made a bunch of changes based on those notes, then I sent out the following list of changes to the playtesters:

-----• Tiles have been reduced in variety from 39 different tiles (in addition to the three base tiles) to only 25 different tiles. Instead of two of each kind, there are three of each kind.
-----• No more dual-type tiles. Tiles are a single type now.
-----• Clearer, consistent characteristics of tile types:
----------• Industrial tiles (yellow) add revenue and hurt reputation
----------• Public tiles (gray) hurt revenue and add population, revenue, or reputation
----------• Residential tiles (green) add population and occasionally impact reputation
----------• Commercial tiles (blue) add revenue and occasionally add population or reputation
-----• The spacing for the revenue/reputation has increased, making it easier in the first half of the game to gain population
-----• Tiles that required counting of other player tile types have been removed (for instance, tiles like the Resort, which gave population for every residential tile on the board, have been removed). Three Public tiles and one Residential tile still give population bonuses for each of your residential tiles.
-----• Five player rules have been removed; the gameplay was too slow and choices were too limited due to the space limitations.
-----• Cost for selecting face-up tiles has been reduced: The 20 space has been removed and a new free space added. The costs are now 10 10 5 5 0 0 0.

Most of those rule changes moved the game in the right direction. In fact, after several more playtests, I was feeling bold enough to show the game to publishers at The Gathering of Friends about one month later.

Initial Submissions to Publishers

At this time, Bézier Games was way too small to be able to undertake publishing a game as big as Urb, so I was looking for a publisher for the game. I showed it to a number of publishers, including Ystari, Hans im Glück, and eggertspiele, but my real hope was with Hasbro, as I thought the game could really be a SimCity board game.

Hans im Glück liked the game enough to take it back and do internal playtesting, but Hasbro turned it down, saying it was too complex for the mass market appeal that a SimCity board game needed. However, they did say they would eagerly look at it again if it were simplified in some way.

Not long after the Gathering, I received an email from Hans im Glück turning down Urb, with them saying, "It was too slow and too long and was also a major problem to see the interactions between the cards." (In Germany, they call tiles "cards" quite often, which is a little annoying sometimes.)

One major problem that was happening at that time was when certain tiles were just too expensive for players to buy early on in the game. Also, towards the end of the game, certain tiles just had no real value. However, I thought it was good enough as it was. Wrong! At this point, I was frustrated and I was also a bit burned out on the development of the game, and it was shelved until mid-2010.

ABC – Easy as 123

Oftentimes I will put a game design away for some time and come back to it months or even years later. This tends to happen most with Age of Steam expansions, but it also happens with regular games. In August 2010 I pulled out Urb, renamed it City Planner, and added one of the most important features of the game: Separating tiles into A, B and C stacks, solving the issue that Hans im Glück mentioned.

A lot of playtesting occurred in August of that year, primarily focusing on getting the tile mix right for each of the stacks. But it still was missing something...


Cities are created out of square city blocks. I had entertained the idea of hexes at various times during development, but always felt it was wrong thematically. After all, who wants to live in Hexville? But one year after the ABC stacks had been created, I couldn't get City Planner out of my mind and decided to create a set of the game that had hex tiles instead of square tiles. What a huge difference in gameplay! Suddenly the interactivity between the tiles skyrocketed, and the game was tremendously more interesting than it had been before.

I also added the concept of "Investment Markers" to the game, though they were meeples ("workers"). Because they were meeples, and I was using meeples as the icon for population, and because I was about to launch TieBreaker, another meeple-based game, I decided to rename the game again, this time to "Meeptropolis".

Strategicon & the Addition of Goals

Lots more playtesting occurred, and I took the game with me to Strategicon (in LA) that September, where I had the good fortune of hosting a playtest session with Kevin Wilson (one of the designers of Descent, Arkham Horror, and many more Fantasy Flight games). After playing, we talked about what could be done to improve the game, and he strongly suggested adding goals to the game.

At first, I balked as I had considered doing that before but couldn't seem to make it work. Kevin's feedback was primarily on "secret goals", one for each player. I like games that have that mechanism, but the bad taste of Railroad Tycoon's secret goals had prevented me from including that in anything I've worked on.

As I was toying with the idea, I thought, what if there were both secret and public goals? So everyone is vying for the same set of goals, but each player has his own goal that's specific to him? It didn't take long for goals to evolve into how they work today.

And with that, the game suddenly had even greater replayability than it had before. Not only was each game different due to the tile mix, but in addition, each game was different thanks to the set of goals on the board and the secret goal in each player's hands. This was when I decided that I would be publishing Meeptropolis myself.

Tile Art

One of my playtesters had lamented that while he enjoyed playing the game, it was hard to get into it with the abstract nature of the tiles vs. actual buildings. Since I was going to publish Meeptropolis, I knew I would need "real" artwork for the tiles anyway, so I went about finding an artist to create the buildings. At this time, I was still thinking the game would exist in the "Board 2 Pieces" universe, so I found an artist who could do some simplistic 3D renderings to match the style of my comic strip artwork.

While the resulting artwork does match that style a bit, its simplicity ended up working really well for the design that was eventually used; the roads set up a grid for the city, and also each of the buildings is slightly tinted to match the overall tile color.

Bringing on a Developer

Before the game would be ready for publication, I knew I needed to do a great deal of additional development work to balance the tiles. At the time, that's all I thought the game really needed. (I was wrong, of course, but at least I realized it needed something.) At Spiel 2011, I talked to Dale Yu, who I had worked with as a playtester when he was developing Dominion and its expansions.

As a playtester for Dominion, I knew the amount of testing needed for a game to be balanced properly so that it's fun out of the box while also providing a long-term gaming experience for players. While Dale will be posting a separate entry to discuss in detail how the game got from Meeptropolis to the game that will be published in mid-to-late 2012, I do have some important things to say about the development process:

Having an outside party who is invested (paid) to make the game better was invaluable for Suburbia. Without Dale's input (and there was a lot of it), the game wouldn't be as good. I'm certain of that.

As a publisher who publishes primarily my own games, I was missing out on the development process that is typical of how larger game companies work with designers. It's probably acceptable for smaller games, but it's hugely beneficial for larger ones.

The amount of polish in Suburbia is HUGE. Everything just fits together incredibly well, and this is due to the development process. As I think about big box games from smaller publishers (and some larger ones), this has become very obvious to me. I can think of a lot of games from smaller publishers that just didn't have that polish, and I wonder what might have been had they had the input of a seasoned game developer.

Lookout Games and Klemens Franz

After Dale started development, we worked together on several items in addition to gameplay, including getting additional publishers on board. Both of us have a lot of contacts in the industry, but we targeted a few specific publishers for the German version. At the top of the list for Suburbia was Lookout Games, as Suburbia seemed like a good fit for its line of deeper games. It didn't take long for Lookout to scoop up the German publishing rights, and in addition to having a German publisher, we ended up getting a great partner, being able to utilize the considerable talents of Klemens Franz and his graphic design skills to do a makeover on the style of the tiles, board and other components. Here's an example of the before/after tile design for a few of the tiles in the game:

Of course, now that the game was full of hex tiles – more than 125 of 'em! – which meant that new artwork would result in me having to cut more tiles. Earlier this year, I bruised a nerve in my thumb cutting out hex tiles. It was tingly for about two months, and only now is it completely healed. Cutting hexes sucks as you can use a paper cutter only for long straight lines (two of the six hex sides), and the rest have to be done manually – and I make the process even more painful because I adhere the printed sheets to cardboard, then cut them.

But the versions (yes, there have been several) from Klemens have been so much better each time that the cutting again (and again) has been worth it. Even now, with the files set to go to the printer this week, I have an outdated set that I know I need to update to the current version. (After all, Meeplefest is coming up next week.)

Aside from the tiles, Klemens did great work on the rest of the components as well. But he's promised to write up the details on all of this within the next few months, so I won't go through the iterations here. But I have to call out his work on the player aids because they're phenomenal!

Equally important as the artwork was the input from both Klemens and Hanno Girke at Lookout for all sorts of little details, from terminology to what to put on the player aids. As the project moved forward, there was a definite sense of collaboration between Lookout, Dale and myself, with all of us striving to make the game as good as possible.

The Essen Expansion

I've been working on various expansions to Suburbia ever since I brought Dale on as a developer. Initially I had considered a larger initial expansion, but because the game was so solid by itself, it was scaled back to a set of three new tiles (seven tiles total) that could be added into the game without breaking anything or changing any of the rules drastically.

Because the game was going to be launched at Spiel and I absolutely love Spiel – this will be the eighth year in a row I've attended and the fifth with my Bézier Games booth in Hall 5 at stand 100 – I decided to do an expansion about Essen, and more specifically Spiel. There are three different tiles in it:

The game is totally playable and fun with or without the expansion, and it adds a little extra flavor for Spiel attendees as everyone has been to the Messe (the hall where Spiel takes place), most people have ridden the U-bahn that dumps people in front of the Messe, and a few have been to the Grugapark that's right up against the Messe (and if you've been to Essen and haven't been there, I encourage you to do so). Since Spiel both enhances the reputation and brings money into the city, the tiles do the same.

The rules for the expansion couldn't be simpler: Mix the tiles into their appropriate stacks (Grugapark in A, U-Bahn in B, and Messe in C), and play. For playtesting, we often "forced" the Essen tiles into the stacks that were actually used, but since then they've been included (or not) just like the other tiles – as the tiles stacks are created from a random set of tiles – and it works great that way.

Final Thoughts

Suburbia has consumed more design/development time than any other game I've worked on ever. Only Ultimate Werewolf comes close, and that's primarily because I've played so many Werewolf games and continue to put out expansions for it. (Three so far, including the critically-acclaimed Ultimate Werewolf Artifacts!) I've played Suburbia in its various incarnations more than one hundred times and will undoubtedly play it quite a bit once it's published and available in the final months of 2012.

These past few months have been about rules and component polishing – and even that has resulted in some pretty significant improvements, from a really tight set-up guide on the first page of the rules (which has gone through a number of enhancements as well), to tightening up the language on the tiles, to maintaining consistency and enhancing readability.

Now comes the really fun part: getting a "real" advance copy of the game in a few months, then showing it off at Spiel. I hope that everyone who plays it gets that great feeling of building something that I was striving for!

Ted Alspach
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Mon Jul 23, 2012 10:23 am
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Designer Diary: Mutant Meeples – Inspired By, But Quite Different From Ricochet Robots

Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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Let me get this out of the way first: Mutant Meeples has, at its core, a similar mechanism to Alex Randolph's Ricochet Robots. Players try to move a meeple (or robot) to a location on a maze-like board, with the limitation that they can't change direction until they hit another object. I've been calling it a "pathfinding" mechanism.

The strange thing is that there aren't, to the best of my knowledge, any other games that have this mechanism in place. Even Randolph's precursor to RR, Die Verbotene Stadt, has only an inkling of this mechanism – and, as any RR fan will tell you, it's an excellent mechanism that requires a part of your brain unused by pretty much any other game out there.

Usually, in the world of board games that we live in, when there's a unique mechanism introduced in a game (particularly a successful one), game designers line up by the dozens (or hundreds) with games that use that mechanism in a similar fashion, with recent examples of this being Caylus (worker placement) and Dominion (deck-building). For whatever reason, this never happened with the pathfinding mechanism in Ricochet Robots. At least, not until now...

My History with Ricochet Robots

According to my BGG records, I didn't play RR until a little over two years ago, during the summer of 2009, and I was pretty sucky at it, with my wife crushing me in our first game. Over time, the game grew on me and I became quite enamored with it. In the summer of 2010, I thought it would be cool to make a giant version of RR with big plastic robots, so I started putting together the graphics for it in Illustrator and bought some cool Bionicle robots. Other things distracted me from that project, however, and I put it aside.

Earlier this year I thought it would be a fun project, but as I started getting things together again, I realized that something was missing. While I really liked the game, it wasn't worthy of a large version – I know that statement might be sacrilege for some – as I didn't care for a number of issues in RR, namely:

• Moreso than many other games, the person whose brain is particularly attuned to pathfinding would often run away with the game, collecting more discs than everyone else combined, leaving other players pretty much out of contention after four or five locations had been reached.

• There were really long periods of silence, especially when a puzzle was particularly difficult, requiring twenty or so "moves".

• In puzzles with more than ten moves, it was easy for someone to entirely forget how they got there.

• While the board was customizable, it wasn't really different.

• The robots were all the same (except for the colors).

Inspiring a New Design

I remember pulling out the RR game after thinking about these things and looking at it. And then it hit me. I could make a game that used that pathfinding mechanism but addressed all of these issues. Well, at least most of them.

Initially, as I went through the possibilities in my head, I conceived of something that was much more of a Ricochet Robots 2.0, kind of a sequel to the game as it is. Only when I sat down to flesh out the concept did inspiration hit me: What if each of the pieces had a unique superpower? And what if they were actually superheroes? And why would they be trying to get to a location? To prevent a crime from taking place! And it was pretty obvious why they could turn only when they ran into another object – they all had super speed, and it was hard to control, a la Ralph Hinkley's trouble with flight on The Greatest American Hero.

Armed with the excitement such an engaging idea can bring on, I went to work on a skeletal ruleset. Meeples were an obvious choice to use as the pieces, and as I was writing, I started referring to their mutant super powers. Naming them (and the game) Mutant Meeples felt SO right and provided even more inspiration. What was the player's role in all of this? To figure out which of the meeples were the brightest and that they could form a super team!

The Meeples

Initially I had six super-powered meeples:

DJ Yellowjacket (who is now M.C. Edge),
Ozzi Mosis (she was red initially, as the internal "building" walls were red, but after a quick modification Ozzy became a guy and turned gray),
Force Fence (initially green, he changed to brown and was renamed Shortstop),
Blue Bouncer (who changed to green and became Forrest Jump),
Ghost (he was white and his superpower allowed him to pass through other meeples, but ultimately he was the least useful of the group and was put aside), and
Nudge (who was gray, but eventually turned red and became Sidestep).

Even with these six, I could tell I was on to something. It was exciting to use their powers, and when you used two or three meeples with their powers all in combination, it was really fulfilling.

Over time I added Skewt, The Blue Beamer and Carbon, removing Ghost from the lineup. Nacho Fast and Swapmeet, the two meeples in the Mutant Meeples: Sidekicks expansion, weren't even on my radar when I finalized the eight meeple line-up. More on those two later.

Initially each of the meeples were simply different colors. During early playtests, this proved to be a problem as players had a significant learning curve associating the colors with the mutant meeple super powers. When I added little stickers with each of their powers on them, that learning curve all but disappeared. Now I knew I had to have custom-painted meeples – which would be cool anyway, but now the designs on the meeples are an integral part of game play!

Board Design

Design of the game board(s) went through several phases. The initial board was 20x20, and had a ton of walls and even corridors as I wanted the players to have a sense that they were racing through a city to get to the scene of a crime. Over months of playtesting, we discovered that more walls meant easier solutions – not necessarily "shorter" solutions (in terms of how many turns it takes to get to your goal), but solutions that were more obvious. Over time, I reduced the number of walls significantly, removing most of the "corner" pieces.

One of my testers commented that even then he felt it was too easy, as solutions often could be achieved by a single meeple in five or fewer moves. I found that it was too easy sometimes as well, though at this point I was becoming quite the expert pathfinder, so I was trying to keep my new-found aptitude at arm's length, so I wouldn't end up making a game that was too difficult for someone not versed in the ways of pathfinding.

The solution was to create TWO game boards: Meeptropolis, with its buildings and narrow corridors creating a more structured and discoverable "path" to solutions, and Meepville, a rural community with lots of open space that was particularly challenging for our super speedsters to navigate successfully. For your first few games, Meeptropolis is definitely the side to use, but once you become comfortable with pathfinding, you'll find yourself drawn to the wide open fields that make up Meepville.

Overviews of Meeptropolis and Meepville

You'll notice the board has two sets of letters, from A-R across and down. Initially it had letters and numbers, making it an Acquire-ish kind of board. That allowed for an even distribution of "scene of the crime" locations, with each letter and number making sure that the Scene of the Crime was always in each row and column at least once during the game (if you ran through all the tiles). But then I switched to letters, primarily for two reasons:

1) The large number of letter and number tiles were unwieldy. Using just letters meant half as many tiles.

2) Using just letters created a bunch of "free" spots in a diagonal line down the middle of the board, where the scene of the crime would never take place (AA, BB, CC, etc.). I could therefore use those spots for starting positions, ensuring that the first scene of the crime could never be where a meeple starts. (Such an occurance is relatively unlikely during the game itself as with each tile draw there's only a 2.6% chance that a crime will appear where a meeple already is.) I also used those spots for the four locations where The Blue Beamer can teleport. I removed the AA and RR corners (adding a bit of challenge, as corners otherwise were easier).

To make it easier to know which of the tiles was a column and which was a row, I added Street and Avenue names to the rows and columns, respectively, and created a small game board where you would place each of the tiles, with the board also having a key to the different mutant meeples and their powers.


While I did try to vary the core game play, the pathfinding mechanism would not be denied, and soon I found myself figuring out how to build on top of that mechanism rather than modify it. I wanted the game to have a rich theme, so I tried all sorts of things, including:

• A "Hall of Justice" style start location (really bad idea).
• A moving Supervillian target (a really frustrating idea).
• A modular board like Ricochet Robots (an unnecessary idea that just didn't work with my game's theme).

Outside of a few flashes of brilliance, the game play evolved naturally. One of the ways it evolved was to have each player have his own board and set of tokens to track the movements of his team members. Initially those tokens were to track which of the players' meeples had reached the Scene of the Crime so that meeple could be removed and the player could get closer to the end goal of having his final super team.

But then we started using the tokens to track which meeple was moving. I created a game board (similar to what the finished game ships with) with four rows and ten spaces on each row to help players do this. Then I made it mandatory that the player had to mark the meeples used before he could take a number, which served to ensure that he (1) took the right number and (2) had a workable solution.

The side benefit of doing this is that it's incredibly easy to retrace your meeples' steps when it came time to "show your work" on how you reached the Scene of the Crime. To further enable this, Mutant Meeples has a rule that limits meeples to a single set of moves; once you start moving another meeple, the first one you move can't be moved again. This "restriction" limits the decision tree for the player and (with the exception of those situations in which an experienced RR player would know it's useful) makes it easier to come up with a solution.

The Catch-Up Mechanism

One of the things players like about Mutant Meeples – and how the design totally differs from Ricochet Robots – is that it has an innovative catch-up mechanism. Not only is it innovative, but it feels natural, not tacked on like the penalty in Age of Steam.

I'd love to take full credit for the mechanism, but it happened pretty much organically. As soon as I tried having each player limit himself to moving meeples that were not yet on his super team, it suddenly became apparent that having fewer meeples made the game more and more challenging – and those players with a lot of meeples, even just one or two more than you, had an easier time coming up with solutions. I love this "feature", knowing that in many other game designs it has been incredibly difficult to get to that place after the rest of the game seems to be working well.

Kickstarter and the Sidekicks Expansion

As I developed Mutant Meeples, I realized that bringing it to market would be a challenge for Bézier Games, which up until this point has released mostly card games, expansions, and one semi-big-box game, Beer & Pretzels. I decided that this would be a great candidate to test out Kickstarter. After a successful campaign to publish my Board 2 Pieces comics in two books, I set to work on the Kickstarter project for Mutant Meeples. While the game was done and close to being ready for production, I had a lot of work to do to prepare it for Kickstarter as I was lacking in two areas: rewards (other than the game itself) and a video.

Initially I thought I would create several tiers, each of which would contain a new component; you could get maybe an extra meeple at the first level, the "modification tiles" at another level, and so on. I also seriously considered putting in an electronic timer as a reward, but unfortunately the economics of that just didn't make sense. (The quantities were way too high for something that wasn't going to be chosen by all backers.)

Eventually I settled on a single expansion: Mutant Meeples: Sidekicks, which contains two new mutant meeples and several tiles that can be used to modify the game board. The two new meeples are both great add-ons; fun replacement meeples that work well with other meeples, but not so much on their own. And the gameboard-modifying tiles were also very much add-ons. For people who really enjoy the game, they'll find that customizing the game board is a welcome way to keep the game fresh after dozens of plays (and make it super hard if they'd like, too).

The video was a task in and of itself. I spent about thirty hours on the video and hired The Dice Tower's Eric Michael Summerer to do the voice work. I'm super pleased with the result. (You can check out the final video on the Mutant Meeples Kickstarter page.

Mutant Meeples Takes on a Life of Its Own

As I started doing external playtesting, I realized two things:

1) Anyone who had played Ricochet Robots would immediately relate it to Mutant Meeples – but once they played, everyone said it's something they liked a lot better and thought they could get it to the table more than RR. Most people said it was just more "fun" than RR, and several of them really liked the catch-up mechanism.

2) Anyone who hadn't played RR just plain liked Mutant Meeples. The challenge of finding a path is engaging and being able to use the super powers is pretty compelling. There was also some strange satisfaction and pride when they found a solution that didn't require any additional super powers, too.

Mutant Meeples is now taking on a life of its own, and maybe it will even start a new wave of pathfinding games. I know I'd be first in line to try them out!

Ted Alspach
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Fri Nov 11, 2011 6:30 am
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