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Designer Preview: Race for the Galaxy: Xeno Invasion

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
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Xeno Invasion expands Race for the Galaxy with two new play experiences: a full expansion set, plus a bonus invasion game.

This expansion portrays a galaxy under siege by a newly discovered violent Xenophobic alien race.

The Xenos Are Coming!

Xeno Invasion is Race's third expansion arc. Similar to Alien Artifacts, it is complete by itself. The 55 expansion cards include five start worlds, 46 play cards, and nine action cards for a fifth player. All players need is Race for the Galaxy (just the base game).

While Alien Artifacts was especially designed for novice players, Xeno Invasion is aimed at intermediate RFTG players. Each player is dealt two start worlds, choosing one after seeing their initial hand of cards.

Xeno Invasion adds three concepts to the base game:

• Xeno worlds — worlds already conquered by the Xenos.
• Specialized military vs. Xenos (similar to military vs. Rebels).
• The Anti-Xeno "keyword", representing various groups working to rally empires' defenses.

In addition, all Explore actions are "mix with hand" to ensure that players can find the cards they need. This concept was introduced as a power back in the second RFTG expansion, Rebel vs. Imperium. In this expansion, it isn't a power but a change to the Explore rules.

This change was necessary in order to add a new "type" of worlds, the Xeno worlds, that aren't in the base set. Otherwise, the variability in card draws would be too high.

"Mix with hand" Explores allow players greater choice and flexibility, at the cost of making this expansion suitable only for players who are comfortable with Race. With novice players, play simply slows down too much.

Since Xeno Invasion is designed as an expansion arc in itself, all keywords hinted at in the base game (Rebel, Imperium, Alien, Uplift, Terraforming, and "chromosome") appear on expansion cards, used in various ways.

Behind the Front Lines

While many cards depict military forces, I wanted to show that life continues during wartime, with cards portraying the home front, black markets, and war profiteering.

Several cards hint that the long-departed Alien Overlords once fought the Xenos aeons ago, leading scientists to search the Alien archives for weapon plans to help defeat them.

Another theme concerns biological terraforming by several Uplift races, allowing them to prosper on newly settled worlds.

Mechanically, this last theme rewards non-military green production worlds, which have always been the "odd man out" in Race. Novelty and Rare production worlds are fairly cheap and lend themselves to produce/consume strategies, while costly Alien worlds are worth lots of victory points. Non-military Genes worlds fell in between. Now, they can used to good advantage.

Designing the Xenos

For the visual look of the Xenos, we had several requirements:

They needed to work in both space and land scenes, which led us to having them hover in the air.

They needed to convey a sense of menace, so that every appearance didn't devolve into a combat scene.

They needed very distinctive but relatively clean lines, so they could be referenced in displays or by just part of their bodies.

They also needed to "feel" alien, something that didn't fit with the sprawling galactic civilization depicted by other Race cards.

Finally, they needed to be different from the many well-known aliens of various books, films, and computer games. Meeting all these criteria was quite tricky and took quite a few iterations by the illustrators, Martin Hoffmann and Claus Stephan. Here is a sample of some rough concept sketches we reviewed, for both individual Xenos and a star-faring spaceship that might carry them between solar systems.

I'm quite happy with the final result. I think we got to something that is quite atmospheric and easily recognized even when used in a small size or just partially.

The Invasion Game

For players wanting a new Race play experience, forty Invasion cards, five bunkers, five Produce: Repair action cards, and a repulse track are supplied for the bonus invasion game (which also uses the expansion game cards).

In this game, after two "grace" rounds, players must defend against three successively harder waves of Xenos, until their collective military equals or exceeds the Xeno repulse value (which varies with the number of players).

Until the Xenos are repulsed, as many invasion cards as players are turned up each round. These are assigned high to low to players based on players' military. Each player must then either beat this number with their military (including military vs. Xenos) or damage a world, flipping it face down.

Players start with bunkers, enabling a player to discard one card for +2 defense. Defense adds to a player's military for the purpose of fending off a Xeno invasion, but not for conquering Xeno worlds or repulsing the Xenos.

Some cards have Xeno defense powers and repair powers as well.

Players who defeat their invaders receive bonus awards (worth VPs), with the lowest military player receiving two awards if successful. The conceit here is that the low military empires are "civilian empires" — not expected to hold off the Xenos — who receive renown if they manage to do so.

While some players really enjoyed the Alien Artifacts orb game, others complained that it took too long, breaking up Race's quick flow. Here, the invasion step is quite quick: update players' military, check Xeno repulsion, flip the invasion cards and hand them out, and either take an award or damage a world — typically taking about one minute. Then, players are back to picking their actions for the next round.

Players may repair damaged worlds during Produce by flipping them face up with either a repair power, a good, or two cards.

During Produce, players may also contribute goods to the war effort. Each good reduces the Xeno repulse value by 1 and earns 1 VP chip for its contributing player. Both the Xeno repulse value and players' collective military are tracked on the repulse mat.

War contributions are a way to earn VPs without calling Consume. While they can't be doubled, a new strategy exists of calling Produce every turn, once a player has enough production worlds. This can create tension between a player who calls Produce each turn for war contributions and a player who consumes them for double VPs, leeching off these Produce calls.

The game can either end normally or in one of two new ways: the players defeat the Xeno invasion — by having their collective military equal or exceed the Xeno repulse value — or lose to them, by having all players fail to defend against invasions twice.

At game end, the player with the highest military plus military vs. Xenos and the one who contributed the most to the war effort both receive 5 VP bonuses. These awards are not given out if the players lose to the Xenos.

The invasion game changes Race considerably as players have to manage their defenses and repairs while jockeying both for highest military (to earn the VP bonus and easily defeat Xenos) and lowest military (to earn double awards if they can stave the Xenos off). As war contributions affect the Xeno repulse value, a player who is ahead can try to end the game quickly either by producing them or by adding Military.

The invasion game is optional. If you prefer to just play Race with more cards, then simply add the Xeno Invasion cards to the base set and start playing. If you want a new play experience, then — after getting used to the new cards — try the bonus invasion game. Enjoy!
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Mon Oct 12, 2015 1:00 pm
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Designer Preview: Favor of the Pharaoh

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
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Favor of the Pharaoh is a dice game for 2-4. Players roll dice to claim tiles — which grant more dice, powers to manipulate dice, or tokens — preparing for a final roll-off for the Pharaoh's favor.

Favor is a greatly expanded reworking of my earlier To Court the King. Where that game had just twenty different characters, Favor increases this to 55 and adds custom dice, tokens, and two-sided level bars for greater variety.

Roll Them Bones

Players each start with three dice, a locking pyramid, and 0-3 tokens. The first player gets zero tokens, the second player one token, etc., to offset turn order advantages. (In Favor, unlike TCtK, turn order never changes.)

On your turn, you roll your dice. After each roll, you may use powers and tokens to manipulate them. You must lock at least one die in your pyramid before re-rolling the rest. You continue re-rolling and locking dice until all your dice are locked. Then, you claim a tile based on your locked result.

Level bars detail what it takes to claim tiles. For example, at least three dice, all even, could claim a Servant, while a four-of-a-kind is needed to claim the Artisan. The game includes five bars, for tiles needing at least three, four, five, six, or seven dice to claim.

At level 3, there are always as many of each tile as players. (A player may not claim duplicates.) At level 7, there is always just one of each tile. In between, the number varies. For example, in a four-player game, there are three of each level 4 tile and two of each level 5 tile. This creates competition among players.

Tiles are color-coded: gold tiles grant more dice; blue tiles grant powers, each usable once per turn, to manipulate dice; and red tiles grant once per game powers.

Play continues until a player claims the Queen and Pharaoh with seven of a kind or better. Any players left to go in that round get a token worth one die (in lieu of their final turns). The final roll-off begins immediately with the next player.

In the roll-off, each player gets one turn to beat the current high roll. If the Pharaoh were initially claimed by seven 5s, for example, it could be beat by seven 6s or any eight-of-a-kind (or better). The player who claimed the Queen gets a final roll to retake the Pharaoh, using the Queen's power to bring in one die of any value.

Revisiting the Past

A reboot allows a designer to address "rough spots" in an earlier design as well as a chance to expand it. While I was happy with To Court the King, several things stood out:

• Tiles granting dice were generally more powerful than manipulator tiles.
• The rotating first player was too confusing for a family game.
• Finishing out the last round after claiming the Queen felt clunky.
• The icons were too small, and some were too hard to figure out.
• The "booby prize" for being unable to claim a tile — the Fool — was too weak.

The last issue I addressed with the Herder (which is always present). When its owner first locks a pair, he gains one die to roll for the rest of that turn. This can be hard to do early on when a player doesn't have many dice — a reasonable penalty for having previously failed to claim another tile — but it is easy to do later on (so its owner doesn't lose any dice relative to other players in the final roll-off).

When Ted Alspach of Bézier Games first approached me about revisiting TCtK, I gave him my unpublished expansion for it, plus a bunch of additional untested tile ideas, and a proposed Egyptian re-theme, which he liked.

I told Ted that if we were adding lots of tiles, we needed to group them so that only a subset would be used each game. Otherwise, players would be overwhelmed by too many characters. Ted designed the level bars and tile groups.

The level bars are two-sided, providing additional variety from game to game.

Each game uses 20 of the 55 tiles, determined randomly for each tile "slot" (except the Queen). Thus, only one of the three characters below will be used each game.

A first game set-up using the A-level bars and an interesting set of tiles is provided. For later games, players roll dice to select the level bars and tiles to play. Alternatively, you can download a free iOS or Android Favor set-up app provided by Bézier Games. This app, along with the custom box insert, cuts set-up time in half (no rolling needed) and is recommended.

As shown on the level bars, blue tiles come with one token, while red tiles come with two. Ted added one-shot tokens to "sweeten" the manipulator tiles as well as to compensate players late in the turn order. There are two types of tokens:

You may spend a reroll token to reroll any active die or spend a +1 pip token to add one to one die's result (say, to turn a 5 into a 6). You may spend as many tokens as you wish, one at a time, to adjust your rolled dice. Do you spend tokens during play to get the tiles you want or save them for the final roll-off?

Tokens also became another dimension for tile design:

After going to a fixed turn order and adding tokens, Ted proposed simply removing the final round after the Queen was claimed and instead going immediately into the final roll-off. This suggestion felt right, but I believed it penalized players late in the turn order too much. To make this work, I gave dice tokens to the later players to ensure that all players enter the final roll-off on a reasonably even footing.

Immediate and Custom Dice

Immediate (white) dice are new. These dice must be locked after their first roll (after possibly being adjusted by powers or tokens). This makes them much weaker than dice you can reroll. For example, Palace Servants is a level 4 character granting two Immediate dice, while the General, who grants two standard dice, is level 7.

Of course, if the Head Servant — who can adjust all immediate dice as desired — is in play, players have to re-evaluate matters...

Six tiles provide custom dice. Custom dice combine both a die and some control in a single tile, providing an alternative besides "gain a die" or "gain a manipulator". However, the amount of control is variable, depending on your rolls (unless you have powers to manipulate the custom dice).

The Serf and Noble Adoption dice have different arrangements of standard faces: the Serf has no 5s or 6s, while the Noble has no 1s or 2s.

The Artisan, Conspirator, and Grand Vizier dice each have one modified face.

If you roll the Artisan's "1" face, you may set one active die — possibly the Artisan die itself — to any desired face. If you roll the Conspirator's Intrigue face, you can set two active dice to any desired faces. This is balanced by the Conspirator die not having a "6" face, which can be limiting.

The Grand Vizier's Decree face replaces its "1" face and lets you both set an active die to any face and borrow a tile from another player to use sometime during your turn!

The Ship Captain's Voyage die has faces that let you reroll or adjust dice during your rolls. Then, if you manage to lock its double-die face, you gain two more dice to roll for the rest of your turn. However, if you are unlucky, you may end up locking this die for nothing (a shipwrecked voyage), effectively losing a die.

Adding Artifacts

In my unpublished expansion, I had two once-per-game powers. Ted liked them and asked me to design more so that they could become a tile group. There are now fifteen different artifacts (the same number as different manipulator tiles).

Artifacts have varied effects. For example, Royal Decree provides catch-up for a player short on dice, while Pharaoh's Gift can mitigate bad luck, and Royal Power allows a player with lots of dice to get some control powers late in the game.

Artifacts add another player choice: Should you sacrifice some growth — the other tile you could possibly claim in a turn — for a one-shot advantage (plus two tokens for claiming a red tile)?

Between artifacts, lots of new tiles, tokens, and custom dice, players now have many more options during play. Sometimes, players get so involved with building their abilities, they forget to claim the Queen!

I'm very happy with Favor of the Pharaoh. I think we achieved our goals of greatly expanding the game, smoothing out its rough spots, and adding interesting variety in lots of different ways. Enjoy!
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Mon Oct 5, 2015 1:00 pm
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Designer Preview: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
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Preview by Tom Lehmann and Wei-Hwa Huang

Ambition expands Roll for the Galaxy by adding fourteen factions, seven start worlds, two new types of dice, five game tiles, and optional objectives.

Originally, Roll was designed as a standalone game. Its popularity, plus customer demand for more start factions and home worlds, led us to consider doing an expansion in late February 2015.

With Success Comes New Challenges

A popular game faces the issue that experienced players want more complexity and new challenges, while many new players are just getting it but, in their enthusiasm, will also buy the expansion. How do you design it for both groups?

Having done Race and Pandemic expansions, Tom believes that a game's first expansion needs to offer variety in breadth — more of what caused players to like the game originally — plus a few new "twists". This keeps the complexity manageable for new players. Radical changes belong in later expansions, when more players will have explored the game's play space and not as many new players are just discovering it.

New Tiles and Dice

Ambition's development began with an exchange of lists. Wei-Hwa had a list of ideas that didn't make it into the base game: What if a world cost you a die to build? How about a faction that could effectively Scout for free?

Tom had noted down some interesting variations on base game tiles: What would an Uplift world or Contact Specialist (from Race) look like in Roll? How about an expensive world that scores a bonus?

We refined these ideas to produce a mini-expansion to begin testing. However, we also wanted something new. Wei-Hwa suggested adding two new types of dice, differing in how players got them. One would be quite powerful — the Leader die, with every player starting with one — while the other would be acquired normally, through factions, start worlds, and game tiles.

For these dice, Wei-Hwa added two concepts:

First, some faces would show two phases, so if a player assigned it to either phase and it didn’t occur — but the other phase did — then the die would shift after phases were revealed. This lets a player do speculative dice assignments.

Second, some faces would have both a phase symbol and $. If assigned to that phase — and that phase occurs — then after performing its task, the die goes back to the cup, not the Citizenry. (It effectively recruits itself.)

Finally, the Leader die has a wild face and matches all colored worlds, as either the shipper or good, for Consume tasks.

The Leader die was well-received by our testers, not only because it's more powerful than the white Home die it replaces, but also because it leads to more interesting early decisions when players don't have many dice.

The Entrepreneur die was designed as a "leeching" die for shipping players. Not sure whether a tableau-building player is going Develop or Settle? How about a face with both symbols? Wondering whether a tableau builder is going to Explore? How about Explore-Develop and Explore-Settle faces?

To ensure it would be useful for shipping, its other faces were Produce-Ship, Produce, and Ship. This gave us a die with two of every phase. To encourage its non-Consume uses, it doesn't match any world colors. Testing showed this was a bit weak, so we added $s to its Produce and Ship faces.

From Goals to Objectives

With limited design and testing time to produce an expansion in 2015, Tom suggested possibly adapting Goals (from the first Race expansion) to Roll. Wei-Hwa proposed that these objectives shouldn't just give VPs, but instead should provide 2-5 talent counters, "one-shot" wild workers who match all worlds for Consume. Any unused talent counters at game end are worth 1 VP apiece.

We tested this and found it worked well.

Easier objectives entice players into pursuing them immediately since once an objective is claimed, it is unavailable to other players on later rounds. This adds tension to early game rounds.

Harder objectives provide five talent counters apiece. Once claimed, these workers can allow a player to easily put out an expensive 6-cost development or ship a bunch of goods for many VPs in the final round. However, pursuing harder objectives can become a trap if a player spends too much time doing so and then is unable to use these workers before the game ends.

We devised twenty objectives, six of which are randomly in play every game, providing lots of variety. We made objectives optional, so that brand new players won't feel obliged to immediately add them.

Switching It Up

During Roll's development, Wei-Hwa did the design and detailed implementation while Tom offered high-level critiques. With Ambition's development, Wei-Hwa concentrated on new concepts while Tom designed tiles, with both of us sharing testing and revision duties.

Initially, we did a four-week design blitz, each week testing a new sub-system or tile group to make sure we were on the right track. We then reported to Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games that our design was sound, so he began work with the supplier to get production samples of the new dice.

After revising Ambition for a month, we took it to the Gathering of Friends to test it with lots of different players. Afterwards, we did two more months of stress testing, with both our main group and a blindtest group headed by Ken Chaney. By this point, we were recording game statistics and maintaining a faction spreadsheet to ensure that the new factions weren't too powerful relative to the base game factions.

The Art of Production

In early June 2015, we turned everything in to the art team. While we chose to reuse some Race art in Roll so that both games would exist in the same galaxy, over a third of Roll's art is original.

Most of Roll's reused artwork needed extensive touch up or was redone, due to being landscape, not portrait, as in Race. For example, if you compare the original card artwork for Pilgrimage World with the corresponding Roll faction, you can see how extensively the art was adjusted.

Similarly, the Ambition illustrations for Mining Robots, Destroyed World, and Rebel Colony above are all based on their respective Race cards, but are brand new.

Ambition features lots of completely original artwork. This takes time, so the art team — Martin Hoffmann, Claus Stephan, and Mirko Suzuki — had to work quite hard for four months to meet our intended press date. They came through, and I think players will like the results.

This was an ambitious project on many levels, but we are quite pleased with how it turned out. Enjoy!
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Mon Sep 28, 2015 1:00 pm
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Designer Preview: Pandemic: State of Emergency

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
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Pandemic: State of Emergency expands Pandemic with five new roles, seven new events, and three new challenges. It is compatible with Pandemic's earlier expansions — On the Brink and In the Lab — but requires only the base game in order to play.

As before, players can simply add the new roles and events to the base game and begin play.

Help the Players? That's Crazy Talk!

State of Emergency also gives players a new tool to help them stave off the spreading diseases: quarantines.

Instead of Treating Disease, a character can impose a quarantine on a city, placing a two-sided marker there. This protects that city from the next two attempts to place disease cubes in it (from infections, epidemics, outbreaks, etc.).

Effectively, players gain an action via a quarantine (compared to two Treat Disease actions to remove two cubes). The catch? Players can have only four quarantine markers in play at once (unless The Colonel, who adds two more markers, is in the game). Further, by leaving disease cubes untreated, running out of cubes becomes more of an issue.

Quarantine markers were created by Pandemic designer Matt Leacock before we did On the Brink. We held off including them (twice!) as we didn't want to clutter up our clean concept that expansions consisted only of roles, events, and challenges. In SoE, I use quarantines in the Superbug challenge (see below), so it was time to add them.

Quarantines can be used with any challenge except the OTB Bio-Terrorist challenge. They allow players to fine tune Pandemic's difficulty. If a combination of challenges and Epidemic cards is proving too hard, try adding quarantines. That extra bit of board control may be just what you need to hit that "sweet spot" of a tough challenge, without being overwhelmed.

From Animals to You

In the Hinterlands challenge, diseases are jumping from animals to humans in farm or wildlife regions. These regions are represented by four new off-board Hinterlands spaces, one for each disease color, connected to various cities in that region.

For example, the black Hinterlands space connects to Karachi, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai. Colored translucent chips are placed on these cities on the main board to help players visualize these connections.

Hinterlands spaces are treated as city spaces. Players can move from a connecting city to them and vice versa. Direct Flights to them aren't possible as no City or infection cards for them exist.

Each Hinterlands space begins with one disease cube. Each turn, before drawing Infection cards, the Hinterlands die is rolled. If a colored face is rolled, a cube is placed on the corresponding Hinterlands space (or, if three cubes are already there, an Outbreak occurs, spreading disease to all connecting cities). Two die faces are blank; if one of them is rolled, no disease cube is placed.

Extra infections by independent die rolls adds a new element of unpredictable but constant threat to Pandemic. If a Hinterlands space has two cubes in it and is left untreated for two turns, then there is a 1/36 chance of an outbreak there...

But, wait — there's more! If two players Share Knowledge in a Hinterlands space, they can trade any City card of that color between them. The conceit here is that by studying the disease in the animals from which it came (in the Hinterlands), vaccines can be developed more easily.

Thus, the Hinterlands challenge makes things both harder for players on the infection end and easier by helping them collect cards together for a cure. Is this challenge more difficult than the base Pandemic game? Try it and find out!

Testers enjoyed the Hinterlands challenge as a "change of pace" from regular Pandemic. Many commented that "support" roles, such as the Operations Expert or Dispatcher, really come into their own in this challenge.

The Challenge of the Unknown

Emergency Events are compatible with all other challenges. These extra events must be played when drawn and do nasty, unpredictable things.

For example, they might advance the infection rate marker, infect cities twice that turn, reduce players' hand limits, or prevent all air travel. If an Emergency Event has a continuing effect, it lasts until the next Emergency Event is drawn.

You use as many of the ten Emergency Events as Epidemics, shuffling one of them along with an Epidemic card into each Player card pile during set-up (so that they are spread throughout the player deck).

Emergency Events give players another way to fine turn Pandemic's difficulty. If a combination of challenges and Epidemic cards is too easy for your group, consider adding Emergency Events (instead of another Epidemic card).

They also address an issue some players have with adding more Epidemic cards, namely, that the game starts feeling too much like a "treadmill" of constant Epidemics, without enough time in between to react. Adding Emergency Events instead actually spaces out the Epidemics a bit more and ups the challenge in other areas.

An Untreatable Disease?

Of course, no Pandemic expansion would be complete without a challenge that really increases its difficulty. Enter the Superbug challenge.

This challenge grew out of several ideas:

First, some diseases, such as MRSA, are becoming resistant to treatment via antibiotics (in part, due to antibiotic overuse in non-critical situations). What if a disease mutated to become treatment resistant? How would that work in Pandemic?

Second, Pandemic stops when all the cures are discovered. What about vaccine production and delivery?

Third, many players find eradicating, not just curing, diseases satisfying. Eradicating all diseases as a goal doesn't work, as it leads to a boring end-game (where, if the players are winning, the only tension lies in whether or not time runs out). ITL's Team game was one attempt to address this. Is there another?

Fourth, is there a way to build good game tension around when a cure is discovered?

Matt had tried to introduce tension around when cures are discovered in his first draft of ITL's Lab Challenge. Instead of sequencing a disease, players could invest in vaccine production, which would then remove more cubes from the board when that disease was finally cured.

This idea failed in testing as the rewards for discovering a cure (reducing hand pressure, making Treat Disease more effective, and being able to move on to the next cure) were so high that players still cured diseases as fast as possible, so we removed it and focused the Lab challenge on finding cures.

I later realized one disease naturally has tension around its cure timing: the purple disease, first introduced in OTB's Mutation challenge.

Players often cure the other diseases first, then use "spare" city cards for the purple cure. By doing this, they avoid possibly using for the purple cure any city cards of a color that turns out to be mostly at the bottom of the player deck, thereby ensuring that drawing cards for the regular cures won't be a problem. Of course, not curing purple right away makes it harder to keep the purple disease in check...

Why not exploit this tension and make the purple disease the focus of a challenge in which the players face an untreatable disease that they must both cure and eradicate by producing vaccine, then delivering it to all cities with purple cubes?

Assembling a Superbug

In the Superbug challenge, players are faced with a mutating disease that is untreatable. Players cannot do the Treat Disease action to remove purple cubes (although other ways of removing purple cubes are fair game). However, Quarantines are used to give players a way to slow down the spread of this untreatable disease.

To win, the players must cure all five diseases and eradicate the purple disease.

Three purple cubes begin on the board and others appear whenever an infection card is drawn for a city with one or more purple cubes in it or when one of two Mutation cards in the Infection deck are drawn.

In this challenge, a Mutation card turns the next infection into a purple infection. This can sometimes help the players as when the fourth cube of a color infecting a city becomes purple instead of triggering an Outbreak. Gradually, more and more purple cubes will appear in more cities...

To cure purple, players need to turn in two city cards with purple cubes in those cities, plus any three other city cards. Once a purple cure is found, research stations can be turned into vaccine factories, each producing one vaccine vial per player turn. Characters can pick up vaccine vials at a factory, then once in a city with purple cubes spend an action and vial to remove all purple cubes from that city.

Do the players cure purple first to jumpstart its eradication, but possibly delay some other cure until nearly the game end, or do they wait until they can cure the purple disease with only "spare" city cards? Decisions, decisions...

Testing revealed that the Superbug challenge adds a lot of time pressure to the game. To ease that slightly, I added some of the ITL Team bonus cards to the player deck to give players both a bit more time and some useful tools.

The Superbug challenge is definitely challenging, but one which many testers liked. Some even declared it the most fun and thematically satisfying challenge that we've offered so far. Your own mileage, of course, may vary.

Packaging and Compatibility

State of Emergency comes with its own purple disease cubes, mutation cards, cure indicator, and bonus cards, so players don't need the OTB and ITL expansions to play the Superbug challenge. Everything needed is supplied.

The Superbug challenge can be combined with other challenges, except the Mutation and Bio-Terrorist challenges. Combining it with the ITL Lab challenge is only for the most skilled (or masochistic) players as both challenges, separately, add time pressure and the combination is truly brutal...

First edition Pandemic owners can play the new SoE roles, quarantines, and the Hinterlands challenge without needing to do anything.

To use the SoE Events, Emergency Events, or the Superbug challenge, first edition owners either need to sleeve the player deck with opaque sleeves or buy a replacement deck. The Superbug challenge also requires either sleeving the Infection deck, or for owners of first edition On the Brink, using its Mutation cards as proxies for the SoE Mutation cards.

While State of Emergency and Pandemic can fit together in a single box, packing it with the On the Brink insert will be a very tough fit. I recommend instead putting the base game, with all the extra roles, events, and petri dishes from On the Brink and In the Lab in one box and all the challenges in another box.

Too Close to Home

I designed and turned in State of Emergency before the current Ebola crisis erupted from a local outbreak (similar to past outbreaks of Ebola) into a global threat. Last year, I helped Matt Leacock and Jocelyn Becker by designing bonus roles and a special Ebola scenario for their Pandemic Parties to raise over $50,000 for Doctors without Borders / Medicines sans Frontiers.

Doctors without Borders (MSF) is a private charity that has been doing much of the hard and dangerous work that many national and international organizations have failed to do in a timely fashion with regard to this outbreak.

The Pandemic Parties both raised money and increased awareness of the work that Doctors without Borders (MSF) has been doing. I'd like to thank Matt and Jocelyn for all their hard work organizing them and all of you who held or attended one and donated. Both your enthusiasm and generosity were greatly appreciated.

So Long and Thanks for all the Viruses

State of Emergency is likely my final Pandemic project. Matt Leacock is now a full-time designer — congrats, Matt! — and no longer needs my assistance. I look forward to playing Pandemic Legacy and all the other fine Pandemic products that Z-Man Games will be publishing.

It's been a privilege working on the Pandemic expansions with Matt, as well as doing the rules rewrite and contributing the bonus roles to the revised second edition of Pandemic. Enjoy!

Tom Lehmann
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Mon Mar 2, 2015 6:00 am
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Designer Diary/Preview: Ciúb

Tom Lehmann
United States
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Ciúb (pronounced "cube") is a family dice game for 2-­4. Players are Celtic mages, casting spells by rolling custom dice to match the die faces on scoring cards and claim them for victory points.

Players begin with five white dice. These have 1­-4 and two "swap" faces. On each roll, players must either set aside or swap in at least one die.

There are six more dice types, each a different color. Those with all even, all odd, or higher numbered faces are useful to claim certain cards. For example, swapping in several all odd dice makes claiming 1­3­3­5 much more likely.

Dice with re­roll or adjust faces modify other dice rolled, reducing the odds that you must set aside a die without a useful face. However, these dice each have a skull face. If a skull face is rolled­­ and isn't adjusted or re­rolled, then it must be set aside, robbing you of that die's abilities.

The currently drawn spell cards are laid out in two rows, with the bottom row available for claiming. After setting aside all of your dice, if you are unable to claim a card, you gain a die of your choice for next turn.

If you do claim a card, you choose which card to move down from the top row, draw a new spell card to replace it, then reduce down to five dice (if you have more).

There are only seven of each of the colored dice. By specializing in a color, you both gain its advantages and deny other players access to lots of those dice. At turn end, you may trade colored dice for white dice.

The spell cards appear in three groups. Later cards have harder scoring combinations worth more VPs.

Later cards often require six dice to claim. To claim them efficiently, you need to set aside dice with "2 for 1" faces. These faces can't be used to claim a card, but can be traded in afterwards for two more dice apiece.

Managing your dice — i.e., claiming a card, going down to five dice, then using "2 for 1" faces to gain enough dice to be able to claim a card next turn — is key in the final rounds. During a turn, once it becomes clear that you can't set aside a scoring combination, you can instead go for "2 for 1" faces to set up a successful next turn.

At the start of your turn, you can either discard a card from the top row (denying it to an opponent who has specialized in dice in order to claim it) or place your reservation token on a card. A reserved card can't be discarded or claimed by other players.

If you are confident that you can claim a reserved card on your turn, you may shift your token to another card (which you intend to claim next turn). If you fail to claim the first card, however, you risk another player possibly claiming it.

Dice specialization, discarding and reserving cards, and dice management all add strategic layers to the core dice-rolling and swapping mechanism, as well as some complexity. A player mat is provided to help step new players through a turn.

After the last spell card is drawn, the next player to claim a card also gains the Opus Magnum card for 5 bonus VPs. Each other player then gets one final turn to claim a card. Players then total their VPs to see who has won.

To keep the game family friendly, a short game is provided by removing all spell cards with owls on them to ensure that the game doesn't overstay its welcome while players learn how to manage their dice and claim the more difficult cards.

Ciúb is being initially produced in both German and English (with additional language editions to be licensed later). Ciúb is my third game with AMIGO Spiel (after The City and Um Krone um Kragen / To Court the King).

AMIGO rewrote my rules in German to match their chosen theme, graphics, and target audience, then had those rules translated into English. As English to German to English translation can produce some awkward phrases, my product manager, Christian Hildenbrand, then graciously gave me a chance to touch up the final English rules. Enjoy!

Tom Lehmann
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Mon Sep 29, 2014 6:00 am
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Designer Diary: Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
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Alien Artifacts "reboots" Race for the Galaxy with two different play experiences: a full expansion set, plus an Alien Orb exploration game.

Expanding the Race Universe

The 55 expansion cards in Alien Artifacts include five start worlds, nine action cards for a fifth player, and 41 play cards. All players need to experience this expansion is the Race for the Galaxy base game.

The expansion cards were specially designed to be easy to learn — there are only a few "tricky" powers, all with text explanations — so that players can just add them to the base game and play.

There is just one rules change from the base set: Players now get to see two start worlds, along with their initial cards, then choose between them.

Since Alien Artifacts is designed as an expansion arc in itself, all keywords hinted at in the base game (Rebel, Imperium, Alien, Uplift, Terraforming, and "chromosome") appear on expansion cards and are used in various ways.

One mechanical "theme" in this set is discounts, including a few cards with both discounts and military powers that pull players in two directions. Tableaus with many costly non-military worlds will appear more frequently. Tableau "rushing" can now potentially be done by non-military, as well as military, empires.

Another mechanism is specialized consumption on fairly expensive cards. While players can attempt to construct quick produce-consume "engines" with them, they will frequently find themselves losing to much larger "engines" built with discounts. These may "consume 2x" only once toward the end of the game, but they frequently do so for 10-16 VPs.

Two worlds now have variable VPs, offering some synergy possibilities that are not easily obtained by "pure" development strategies.

Exploring the Alien Orb

For players wanting a different RFTG play experience, ten survey teams ("space meeples"), five "Explore: Orb" action cards, 49 Orb cards, and 45 artifact tokens are supplied for the orb game (which also uses the expansion cards).

The orb game is a hybrid card/board game in which players must balance their empire's growth against exploring and mapping the orb to find valuable artifacts left behind by the long-vanished Alien Overlords.

The "board" is built during play by placing orb cards. An orb step occurs before normal exploration if any player chose an Explore action.

Player(s) who chose Explore: Orb go first. They move their survey teams to possibly pick up face-down artifacts, map the orb by placing new orb cards, then draw orb cards. Other players can then do just two of these actions or pass to gain priority in future orb steps.

A couple of developments affect the orb game by providing a second survey team or faster survey team movement. (In non-orb games, these powers are ignored.) Having high Military is useful to pass through beam barriers that can block orb movement.

In turn, artifacts are worth VPs and provide "one-use" powers either for future orb exploration or Military, discounts, alien goods, etc., that can affect the normal game. Several 6-cost developments score extra VPs for certain artifact types. Emptying the orb deck (which scales with players) can also trigger the game end.

An issue with any exploration game is determining how players interact. Each player tends to go off separately to avoid having to split his finds with other players. To counter this, we used a number of techniques.

Jumptubes allow movement between far-flung cards. Picking up an artifact (which ends movement) from a "!" breeding tube space forces a player to draw and place an orb card that cannot touch or overlap the orb card which this survey team is on. This creates nearby artifacts "just out of reach" that can become points of contention among players.

An artifact is kept face-down by its drawing player until its power is used. Some provide extra movement or movement through walls, allowing one player to unexpectedly "poach" another player's intended artifact. Players can also try to "wall in" opposing survey teams with orb card placements (though survey teams can always return to the main airlock when passing, so they are never completely trapped).

Another source of interaction is that Uplift artifact tokens score at game end for visible feeding stations in the orb. Players can place or cover feeding stations with orb cards depending on their artifact holdings and suspicions about opponents' remaining face-down artifacts.

Getting an early alien good to trade or some temporary military to conquer a world just beyond your military strength can potentially "kick start" a struggling empire — but is picking up an artifact worth giving up an extra card during an early Explore or the value of calling some other game phase? Would you do better to "leech" off of other players in the orb — getting fewer artifacts (and VPs) for minimal effort — in order to concentrate on building your empire?

As a designer, I had to make sure the orb game wasn't either too powerful or too weak (or else either regular card play or the orb game would become irrelevant). As players get more efficient in play and used to the new card set, they'll become better able to evaluate when to push for advantage in the orb and when to leech.

This subtle interplay between the orb and the regular game means that players must successfully balance two very different arenas of competition to win an orb game. For this reason, we recommend that players play Alien Artifacts without the orb game initially to get used to the new cards and strategies before trying it.

Rebooting the Galaxy

While many players enjoyed the first "arc" of previous RFTG expansions — The Gathering Storm, Rebel vs Imperium, and The Brink of War — some felt its gradually increasing complexity resulted in RFTG no longer being the quick 15-20 minute "super-filler" that first appealed to them.

To address this, Alien Artifacts is a reboot and is not compatible with the first three RFTG expansions. Doing this gave me greater design freedom.

For example, I was able to revisit tableau tempo in new ways in Alien Artifacts, with cards such as "Imperium Supply Convoy" and "Terraforming Project", which I couldn't do if this expansion had to be compatible with "Improved Logistics", a card from The Gathering Storm expansion.

I could now have military start worlds actually be military worlds themselves since I no longer had to worry about early takeovers (introduced in Rebel vs Imperium) completely destroying a player's empire.

The orb game itself substitutes for Goals (introduced in The Gathering Storm) by providing intermediate objectives when a player's initial cards do not suggest a clear strategy. The biggest complaint I've heard about Goals is that, sometimes, they reward a strategy that a player was going to do anyway, becoming "free bonus VPs" for that path. Artifacts avoid this by always requiring some effort to obtain.

The first three RFTG expansions also had some "power creep", resulting in the expansion cards overshadowing certain base game cards. With more RFTG design experience, I was better able to reign this in.

By adding synergies, I could emphasize certain specialized base game cards. By avoiding certain powers, I keep all cards more generally useful. For example, there is little "generic" consumption in Alien Artifacts. Suddenly, base game cards such as "Expanding Colony", "Outlaw World", "Old Earth", and "Gambling World" become relevant again.

Finally, a set of 160 cards (base game plus Alien Artifacts) works nicely to avoid players' draws becoming too "streaky" and frustrating, an issue that sometimes arose with 228 cards (base game plus the entire first arc).

In Alien Artifacts, I moved the extra rules and game length to the optional orb game. Now, new players and those who prefer RFTG as a quick "super-filler" can enjoy all the new cards, while players who want a longer, more immersive experience (and don't mind a bit of added complexity) can play the orb game. Alien Artifacts is "two expansions in one". Enjoy!

Tom Lehmann
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Mon Nov 18, 2013 6:00 pm
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Designer Preview: Pandemic: In the Lab

Tom Lehmann
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Palo Alto
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Pandemic: In the Lab is the second expansion for Pandemic (after On the Brink), providing more roles, more events, and several new ways to play Pandemic, including a Lab challenge, a solo game, and team play.

To start with, four new roles – the Field Director, Local Liaison, Pilot, and Virologist – and three new events are included. Players can simply add these to the base game and begin play.

Into the Lab

The Lab challenge is the centerpiece of In the Lab. In it, each time a player Treats Disease in a city, he may send a disease cube to either sample dish located on the new lab board.

Once cubes are in the lab, players at any research station can spend lab actions to process them, characterize and sequence a disease, test a cure, and – once a disease is fully sequenced, with its sequence card filled with matching cubes – discover a cure by discarding three (instead of five) cards of that color. The Scientist would discard just two cards, not three. Up to two different cures can be worked on at the same time, in the upper and lower research lines on the board's right side.

Pandemic designer and In the Lab co-designer Matt Leacock came up with the overall concept for the Lab challenge, the idea of taking samples and sequencing them as part of a cure. After Matt turned this challenge over to me to develop, I interviewed several biologists and toured a bio-tech facility to better understand the steps involved. From this I came up with the processing, characterization, and testing steps.

Since this is not a simulation, I simplified things – e.g., I blur sequencing the disease vs. its vaccine – and added some artificialities for better play tension. (In reality, you don't have send an entire batch of samples to either a centrifuge or a separator.) All errors and simplifications are mine.

Cure vials are provided to mark characterized diseases and indicate the cure color on a sequence card. These replace the cure markers for cured diseases.

For the Lab challenge, five city cards of the cure color are still used, but the city cards used to characterize and test a disease can come from other players than the one who discovers the cure. This has several effects.

First, players don't need to spend a lot of actions coordinating the transfer of cards amongst themselves. This in balanced by the need to do lab actions at research stations instead.

Second, "card-transfer" roles such as the Researcher, Epidemiologist, and the new Local Liaison role are weaker in the Lab challenge. To balance this, we gave these roles new powers usable only in the Lab challenge. This way, all Pandemic roles except for On the Brink's Field Operative can be used with the Lab challenge.

Third, the potential "director issue" – in which one player starts managing other players' turns – seems to be reduced.

What I observed during testing was that players were better able to "chip in" parts of a cure in the Lab challenge, saying things like "I'll go treat the blue cubes in Milan, but as I pass by the research station in Paris, I'll use my spare fourth action to send the cubes in the upper sample dish to the centrifuge" or "I have one yellow card and nothing vital to do next turn; why don't I head to a research station to test the yellow cure, which will allow us to remove a cube from Santiago without having to go there?"

Some players, of course, prefer solving the "coordination puzzle" of transferring city cards among characters to achieve cures. For them, there's lots of other things in this expansion besides this optional Lab challenge.

Extending On the Brink

In the Lab requires On the Brink (so that you have enough event cards) and extends its Virulent Strain and Mutation challenges. Two new Virulent Strain epidemic cards are provided to increase the variety of effects in that challenge.

Twelve more purple cubes and a Worldwide Panic scenario spice up the Mutation challenge. In the earlier Mutation challenge, the purple fifth disease was a "ticking time bomb" that slowly grew while players attended to the four standard diseases. In the Worldwide Panic scenario, players must contend with the purple disease from the very start.

The purple disease is now a full 24-cube disease, with six purple cubes starting on the board (in addition to 18 other disease cubes); each Mutation card adds two purple cubes (instead of one); and two (not one) of the five city cards used to cure the purple disease must be cities in which the purple disease is present.

If your group combines the Mutation and Virulent Strain challenges, the purple disease can now be the Virulent Strain disease...

With a Little Help from the CDC

Many players enjoy playing Pandemic solo. In the Lab includes rules for solo play in which a player plays a single role, but receives aid from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC begins with four face up cards and no pawn, does not Infect Cities nor automatically draw Player cards, and can take only one action each turn.

These actions enable the CDC to draw one Player card, discover a cure (with five city cards of the same color), move the player one extra space, or – if the player is at a research station – swap one city card with the player or re-assign the player's role. These are all useful and the trick for the solo player is to use the CDC's one action per turn effectively.

Difficulty in this solo game is set by initially discarding 8, 12, 14, or 16 random city cards into the Player Discard Pile (no more than six of which can be the same color), which creates time pressure for the solo player.

The solo game is compatible with the Lab, Mutation, and Virulent strain challenges. For the Lab challenge, the CDC's one action can also be a Lab action.

Teaming up with a Partner

Team games have both cooperation (within teams) and competition (between teams). What could this dynamic bring to Pandemic? My answer was a focus on eradicating diseases, in addition to curing them.

Many players have told Matt and me how satisfying it is to not only find cures, but to eradicate diseases. The issues with making eradications the goal in the regular game is that A) once cures are found, tension tends to evaporate since the game is unlikely to end due to outbreaks or lack of cubes and B) typically, there just isn't enough time to eradicate all the diseases.

Having teams earn points for cures and eradications solves the first issue. As tension over whether the game will beat the players vanishes, it's replaced by a new tension as teams jockey to complete eradications begun by other teams and get the points.

The Team Game, for either four or six players, pits two or three two-player teams against each other. Teammates sit beside one another and take a combined turn of six actions – split either 2-4, 3-3, or 4-2 between them – before they each draw one card, then Infect Cities once for the team.

Each team begins with a choice of two out of three roles, a goal card, and a team specific research station which they will place and start in. (The regular research stations can be used by all teams.) Each team's goals are kept secret from the other teams. Once players are experienced with the Team Game, they can optionally start with two goal cards from which to choose.

Teams can eavesdrop on other teams and attempt to deduce and foil their plans. This leads to some nice interaction as teammates point to their cards, gesture at the board, and whisper plans to each other.

To ensure strong initial tension, the infection rate starts in the rightmost "2" space (so that the first epidemic increases the infection rate to 3) and there are bonus awards for being first to cure or eradicate a disease.

To extend the game length a bit, as many bonus cards as epidemics are added to the player deck. Unused bonus cards are worth a point apiece at game end, so players have to balance using versus saving them (and effectively reducing their hand size).

The game either ends in a loss (normally) or a player win by either finding all four cures or achieving a total of three cures and eradications. Having two different winning conditions prevents a team that suspects they are behind from easily sabotaging the game (for example, by hoarding cards for the final cure and never doing it). If the players win, they reveal their goal cards, total up their points, and see which team won.

The team game isn't compatible with the Lab challenge, but can be combined with either the Mutation or Virulent Strain challenges.

Like the Bio-Terrorist challenge in On the Brink, the Team Game is intended as a "change of pace" from normal play and may not be for players who strongly prefer Pandemic as a "pure" co-op game. That said, several couples during testing really liked the "partner" feel of the two-player teams.

Options, Options, Options

In the Lab uses the 2013 revised Pandemic's graphics and art. Players who own earlier editions of Pandemic and On the Brink can buy compatibility kits from the publisher. Alternatively, to mix In the Lab events and Team Game bonus cards with older cards, players can sleeve the player deck with opaque-backed card sleeves.

For myself, I've really enjoyed working with Matt, helping to take his game in new and different directions. It's been a privilege and lots of fun.

In the Lab builds on both Pandemic and On the Brink by adding new roles, new events, a Lab challenge, new Virulent Strain cards, a Worldwide Panic Mutation scenario, solo play, and team play. It packs a lot of variety in one expansion. Enjoy!

Tom Lehmann
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Mon Aug 5, 2013 6:00 am
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Developer's Diary: Pandemic Revised

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
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For the new edition of Pandemic due out in February 2013, I was asked to design two new roles and rewrite the rules, while Z-Man Games and Pandemic designer Matt Leacock concentrated on the new look and presentation.

The new roles were a challenge as Matt had several criteria for them: They had to work for brand new players; they couldn't be On the Brink or In the Lab roles; and they had to be straightforward – that is, no hybrid roles that combined this and that in new ways.

Since the five original Pandemic roles do a fine job of varying the game actions and two On the Brink roles (Archivist and Troubleshooter) interact with the player discard and Infection piles, I examined Pandemic for other things the new roles could affect. I came up with infections and event cards.

• The Quarantine Specialist – a.k.a., The Human Shield – came first. She prevents all cube placements and outbreaks in her own city and all adjacent cities. This role immediately "clicked" with several test groups and never changed.

• The Contingency Planner – a.k.a., The Man with a Plan – took more work. The concept of reusing event cards a second time was solid, but figuring out how to make this work cleanly without timing, hand size, or scaling issues (given the increased number of events in the expansions) took several tries. Having the Contingency Planner use an action to retrieve an event from the discard pile solved the timing issue, while storing just one retrieved event at a time on his role card – and not in hand – solved the hand size and scaling issues. These rules also increase this role's "planning" flavor as the order in which events are retrieved and used again now matters.

Adding two new roles increases the game's variety. Before, you had five role combinations in a four-player game and ten in two- or three-player games. Now, you have 35 role combinations in three- or four-player games and 21 in two-player games. Since the game's feel changes quite a bit when certain roles are absent, I believe the addition of these new roles considerably increases the "life span" of the Pandemic base game.

For simplicity, we also moved the revised version of the Operations Expert (from On the Brink) into the Pandemic base game.

For the Pandemic: On the Brink expansion, I wasn't asked to add any new roles, but we did revise the Epidemiologist. That role had been "simplified" just prior to publication in the original On the Brink and now was a bit weak. It is okay in four- and five-player games as the ability to easily concentrate cards in one hand really helps to discover cures, but is too weak in two- and three-player games.

By making her ability not take an action, we both improved this role and introduced a trade-off in the two-player game between the Epidemiologist and the Researcher. The Researcher can transfer more cards in a single turn, but at the cost of using up lots of precious actions.

This change also makes the Epidemiologist more flexible for uses other than discovering cures. Taking an unneeded card from another player in order to fly to a different part of the board becomes a lot more attractive when it doesn't cost an action.

As for the rules rewrite, it took a lot of work. We had three main goals: make the rules more accessible to a mainstream gaming audience; clean up confusion areas; and fill in rules gaps (such as timing), previously addressed by rulings.

I went through every Pandemic rules thread on BGG (ugh), noting not only the questions, but how often certain issues cropped up. From this, I created a "Frequently Overlooked Rules" section on the back page of the rulebook for the top five issues.

I first made the rules longer, adding in missing and clarifying text. I then recruited test readers, including several from BGG, to help me simplify them. Expressions like "play the role of the Infector" became "draw infection cards". Fine points were moved from the main text into sidebars and notes. The result, even with the added material, is now ~25% shorter and, hopefully, crisper and clearer.

We did make a few rules changes – I will post a list of them in the Pandemic forums after Z-Man puts the new rules online – but most players should play lots of games without them ever affecting play. For example, we made the Medic's powers mandatory, not optional, as 99% of the time, the Medic never wants to treat just one cube nor allow cubes of a cured disease to be placed in his city. (In On the Brink, he will occasionally do the first to allow the Field Operative a sample.) Having this power be optional almost always results in a "false decision" that just slows the game and confuses more mainstream or casual players.

A more important change is that we altered "cube death" to occur when players need more than 24 disease cubes of a color actually on the board. Cubes which never "make it" to the board – due to the Medic's power versus cured diseases or the Quarantine Specialist's power – no longer count towards losing the game (unlike previous rulings). This change is simpler, doesn't lead to weird timing cases, and doesn't undercut the Medic or Quarantine Specialist in such a frustrating way (when you're in the right city, but still lose).

We were very conservative in making rules changes, using "if it isn't broken, don't fix it" to guide us, while still striving to make the rules more accessible.

From my years as a technical writer, I know that no document works for everyone. Hopefully, the new rules will work for most. I'm excited to see the new Pandemic come out and hope that players have fun exploring the new roles. Enjoy!

Tom Lehmann
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Mon Jan 28, 2013 6:30 am
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Co-Developer Diary: Outpost – Twenty Years Old and New Once More

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
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I'm honored to be involved in the 20th anniversary reprint and "refresh" of Outpost by Stronghold Games.

"It was Twenty Years Ago Today..."

Twenty years ago in 1991, I was preparing my first game, Fast Food Franchise, for publication when I first played Outpost, designed by Jim Hlavaty, with development assistance from Tim Moore.

Outpost is an economic game in which players each run a space colony and compete by bidding on different colony upgrade cards, which are available in limited numbers. Colony upgrades each provide different special powers, such as new production technologies or increased population. Players can also spend credits to expand production (using their current technologies) or save their credits to dominate the next round of bidding.

Play continues until a player reaches 75 VPs, which are earned by operating factories and purchasing upgrades. The key play decisions are which upgrade cards to bid on, when to drop out, and how to manage your credits, deciding each round how to split them between successful auctions, colony expansion, and savings.

I really liked Outpost. It was an fresh, addicting game that was clearly a "labor of love" from a brand new publisher. The gane had its flaws – primarily, that the unlimited Robots-Titanium strategy in the original rules was way too powerful – so I, like many players, came up with "house rules" to address this issue.

A few months later, both Jim and Tim moved from Los Angeles to the San Francisco area and I got to meet them. I told them how much I enjoyed Outpost, we discussed my house rules vs. some rules they had come up with, and I showed them the final prototype of FFF, which they both enjoyed.

We also talked about the problems that new game publishers face – back before the Internet opened up alternative publicity and distribution channels – especially, the difficulty of getting distributors to pick up a new publisher with just one product. One thing led to another and we decided to join forces, with TimJim Games handling sales for Prism Games (my company) and placing both our logos on all our subsequent games, starting with FFF. (TimJim/Prism put out eight games from 1991 to 1996.)

Sample upgrade card, front and back

The Evolution of the Expert Rules

At gaming conventions, we started handing out a sheet containing the Outpost "Advanced" rules, which were my house rules, with a few tweaks by Jim.

In 1993, Jim showed up at my apartment one day and announced he wanted to improve this; he wanted a version that would not only fix robots, but also address the issue that storage was generally too weak in Outpost. What if the storage limit for holding production cards applied after players received their income, but before they could spend these cards (instead of just limiting what could be saved from round to round)? Together, we modified Outpost to make this idea work.

This became the Outpost Expert Rules, which is both Jim's and my preferred Outpost ruleset. We posted these rules to the Usenet game forum and intended to use them in any Outpost reprint.

When Stronghold Games announced its intention to reprint Outpost, I contacted them to offer my services in rewriting the rules and suggested that they standardize on the Expert Rules, per Jim's intention. Stronghold Games agreed.

Expanding Outpost

By late 1994, we had sold out the first Outpost print run (which was smaller in size than our other games) and were contemplating reprinting it in 1996 (after the first copies had sold through the distribution channels). (For a small company, reprints can be tricky, as they often compete with publishing a brand-new game instead.)

We were also wrestling with whether any Outpost reprint should simply be a revised second edition or whether we should include some bonus material, besides upgraded components, to encourage first edition buyer to upgrade to it? Maybe the bonus material could be a full-fledged expansion published separately, with a special "upgrade bundle" price for our first edition customers?

By this time, we had been offered several fan-produced Outpost expansions. The core Outpost game system is very clean, so it's easy to contemplate adding more "upgrade modules" to expand it. Unfortunately, more is not always better...

Most Outpost expansions just made the game longer without making it substantially more interesting, other than to die-hard fans. The obvious solution to this length issue is to have new modules replace older ones, but it is hard to devise a semi-random setup scheme to consistently provide a good balance of modules that lead to both viable and varied games.

A different concept was to design an "Outpost companion game", instead of an expansion, which depicted the Outpost storyline from the reverse angle of companies on the home planet competing to sell modules to a colony. We would then supply an option to link both games together. This was an intriguing idea (and I still have notes for it somewhere).

All these ideas got put on hold due to Jim deciding to move to the East Coast and get out of the game business. This was a wrench, especially since Jim and I were in the midst of co-designing 2038. (He played the first prototype just before leaving town.) After finishing 2038 on my own, I revisited the Outpost bonus material problem.

Two kicker upgrades in the Stronghold Games edition of Outpost

My solution to the length/variety/setup issue was to introduce separate "kicker" upgrades, which would be low-cost and fairly low-powered upgrade modules to provide extra variety, without significantly adding game length. This worked nicely for the first two game phases, but not the final one. There, I added a single costly upgrade that provides VPs but no production, adding a new wrinkle to managing Outpost's end game.

This gave us bonus material that we could also offer separately by mail to any first edition customers who didn't want to upgrade to the nicer second edition. At this point, however, TimJim folded and the Outpost reprint didn't occur.

When Stronghold Games decided to reprint Outpost, I offered them my Kicker expansion as a bonus option. They accepted it, so now – after some fifteen years – it will finally see light of day. I hope Outpost fans will enjoy it.

Individual player mat

The Stronghold Edition

Stronghold's new edition dispenses with the silly Outpost "placeholder" board, which served no purpose except to hold stacks of colony cards. Instead, Stronghold provides individual player mats, which enable easier tracking of each player's colonist and storage limits, as well as current VPs and a summary of useful play information, such as average production card values.

Two double-sized counters
Stronghold has also greatly improved the counters, making them much larger, thicker, and easier to handle. One suggestion of mine was to make certain factory counters double-sized, in order to both differentiate them from "standard" factories and to easily indicate special powers, such as Microbiotic Factories not requiring an operator or Moon Bases providing an extra "colonist" slot, while requiring a colonist (not a robot) operator.

Card quality has also been improved, as the original Outpost production cards often wore out with frequent play. An "internalize" indicator has been added to the backs of the player order cards.

The rules incorporate all the expert rules changes. One minor play change has been made, which is to have player bidding within a given auction go clockwise from the current player (a frequent house rule), instead of in strict player order. (Turns are still taken in player order.) Purists can easily play the original rule if desired as no component changes are needed.

Outpost's Influence

Outpost was heavily influenced by Civilization and, in turn, has influenced other games. Andreas Seyfarth credited Outpost as one of the primary sources for Puerto Rico.

A more direct descendant is The Scepter of Zavandor, which transported Outpost to a fantasy setting and added new technologies that primarily affect its end game. Its designer, Jens Drögemüller, approached me at Essen one year and I put him in touch with the TimJim partners to arrange permission to publish it.

Finally, I designed Phoenicia which considerably streamlines the production side of Outpost and adds more upgrade choices, to produce a shorter, much "tighter", but quite demanding game.

While all these descendants are fine games, many players still prefer Outpost for its simplicity, more "forgiving" bidding, and well-chosen theme. After twenty years, such loyalty is testimony to a well-designed game. If you've never played Outpost, I recommend that you take advantage of the Stronghold reprint and check it out. Enjoy!

Tom Lehmann

Sample production card, front and back
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Mon Oct 31, 2011 6:30 am
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Designer Preview: The City

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
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The City is a quick card game for 2-5 players, in which players build tableaus using cards that represent various parts of a city: Skyscrapers (Wolkenkratzer), Stadium, Hospital, Luxury Homes, Apartments, Malls, Schools, Freeways, Parks, Office Buildings, Airport, Subway System, etc.

Each card is built by discarding other cards in hand for payment, a la Race for the Galaxy or San Juan.

Turns are simple: Players simultaneously choose a card to build, revealing them once everyone is ready, and discard a number of cards face down equal to their cost to pay for them. Players then draw cards (income) and score VPs for all the buildings in their tableaus (on paper or by giving out poker chips). Repeat until someone has 50+ VPs. The player with the most VPs wins!

Since both income and VPs are scored every round, players must construct both a VP and a card drawing engine at once – the typical approach in many games of "build a large economy first, then buy lots of VPs" usually doesn't succeed in The City, as there just isn't enough time to make it work. A game typically takes 7-9 turns (fewer as players learn the deck and become more efficient).

Of course, building just VPs doesn't work either, as one needs to draw more cards, both to pay for more expensive buildings and to get card selection to find cards that combine well with those you've already put in play. Striking the correct balance between income and VPs is key.

I designed The City in 2004, after designing RFTG. I was interested in seeing what else I could do with the idea of discarding cards to build other cards, with an eye towards making a simpler, more accessible game. I thought about modern cities and distilled aspects of them into four broad concepts:

-----• prestige/happiness,
-----• how the automobile connects a city proper and its suburbs,
-----• how shopping can vitalize either a suburb or a city center, and
-----• how a vibrant city core of parks and civic buildings can provide a sense of pride and identity.

Prestige/happiness became VPs, thus explaining how such diverse things as a skyscraper, park, museum, or stadium can generate substantial numbers of VPs. The other three items became attributes, represented by the three icons that can appear on cards: cars, shopping carts, and fountains (civics).

Some cards, such as Freeway Intersection (Autobahnkreuz) or Central Park or Mall, provide either variable income or VPs (or both) based on the number of these icons in your tableau. Thus, these cards lead to card combinations and define strategies.

I intentionally kept most card powers fairly simple – typically, cards can provide a discount/bonus or require/allow the placement of certain named cards, in addition to any icons. For example, an Upscale Boutique (Modeboutique) provides a cart and a fountain (useful if you have cards that key off of them), plus an income bonus if you have one or more Business Centers in play, allowing a player who builds this specific card combination an efficiency gain.

Luxury Homes (Stadtvilla) feed off of each other for VPs, providing yet another strategic path, if you can find and build several of them.

While The City is primarily a race between players' different competing strategies, some cards also feed off cards in other players' tableaus. For example, the Freeway scores 2 VPs for each Freeway Intersection in play, while the Subway System (U-Bahn) provides 1 VP for each fountain in your tableau, plus 1 per fountain in any one other player's tableau.

Play begins with each player drawing seven cards and keeping five of them, before selecting the first building they will construct. To guarantee that players can always build something on the first turn, each player also has one Architect (Architekt, with a different card back, that is not part of their hand), which they can build for 0 cost, thus allowing them to gain a bit of early income.

Similarly, a player can also choose to "survey" instead of building, to look at five more cards and keep one (plus gaining their normal income from the turn), allowing the tactic of saving for a costly card in the mid-game, while also hunting for a useful card to play later.

Another tension during play is between spending cards as "cash" or saving them for later turns. The deck does cycle quite a bit (even in 2-player games), and valuable cards for the end-game do get hoarded. (The hand limit is 12, checked at the end of each turn.) Incomes beyond 12 are still useful as the player gets to see additional cards (before discarding down to 12 cards).

Finally, as an alternative to the "bigger and better" growth curve, the Construction Gang allows a player to build two buildings of cost 4 or less in one turn (paying for both of them normally), which can open up some other strategies, particularly if a player has some cards that grant discounts in their tableau.

The 110-card deck contains 51 different cards. Twenty-two cards are unique, many of them high-scoring endgame cards (Symphony Hall, Opera House, etc.), while the "building block" cards have 2-5 copies each (except for Luxury Homes, of which there are six). A few cards are limited to one per player; otherwise, players can build duplicate cards.

The City was popular as a quick, light card game during its development, as players enjoyed exploring its various strategies. Wei-Hwa Huang liked the game enough to replace my dull, mostly blank prototype cards with "Wei-Hwa scrawl art" (compare the Amusement Park prototype and the final Freizeitpark card with art from Klemens Franz), which enhanced its visual appeal during testing.

Amigo liked the game play, but explored several alternative themes before returning to my original theme. My Amigo game editor, Christian Hildenbrand, worked hard to translate the nuances of my card tiles into German names and concepts appropriate for German cities (which differ in some areas from modern American cities). I hope the published version proves to be as popular with the public as it did with my testers. Enjoy!

Tom Lehmann

As Amigo doesn't print playtester names in its rules, I would like to thank my testers publicly for their time and comments: William Attia, Jim Boyce, Sunshine Buchler, David desJardins, Kirsten Haupt, David Helmbold, Jay Heyman, Brian Howard, Wei-Hwa Huang, Chris Lopez, Charles Patrick, Mary and Ravindra Prasad, Larry Rosenberg, Ron Sapolsky, Steve Thomas, Daniel Tregear, Markus Welbourne, and Don Woods.
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Mon Aug 8, 2011 6:30 am
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