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Subject: Designer Diary - Five Tribes - Part 3 rss

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bruno cathala
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4 - A man too tired to pursue his journey ...

At this point , I must start thinking… about the player. And what will happen in his head. What gaming experience will she live through when playing? What emotions do I want to try and stir inside her?

I realize that the awele-like “sowing” game mechanic, this "workers’ displacement" with 5 different colors of Meeples on 25 tiles is both very easy to explain, and extremely rich in movement opportunities. So I have to help the player by not adding any unnecessary complexity around this central mechanism. It is important that the player be able to focus his attention on this essential point, basically "forgetting" almost everything around it. The choice is clear : I must lean on the simplest possible elements. To make sure that for everything else the player feels on familiar territory, despite playing a fundamentally different game with its own unique identity.

Object of the game... well, of course… to become the top guy instead of the top guy, in the City of Heliopolis. And to do so, gain the largest number of points of influence, to demonstrate your ability to take control of the city. Granted this choice is clearly not the most original I've ever done, but it has the merit of being simple and obvious.

Now let's start thinking about what the player will be/will have to do during his turn.

To stay focused on the core game mechanic, the player will have to start... by moving workers! As a reminder for those who fell asleep near the radiator in the back of the class, and for those who didn’t read any of the previous chapters yet, a tile is emptied of its workers which are then sequentially “sowed” one at a time on adjacent tiles in a journey of sort, without ever going back and forth between two adjacent tiles. The last tile of the route MUST already contain at least one Meeple of the same color as the last Meeple that will be “sown” on this tile.

On that tile, the player will remove ALL the Meeples of the same color as the last he just dropped... but to do what?

I can’t just keep the scoring system of my little initial prototype: On a game that will probably take about an hour to play, trying to figure out from the first round of play what would be the final distribution of meeples remaining at the end game is impossible (unless you’re middle name is Rain Man…) So the players would feel they’re playing blindly, with no idea of the outcome of their actions, for at least the first ⅔ of the game. Unbearable. I need to find something else.

Something simpler: The player will... apply the power of the Worker type of the Meeples he is removing from the last tile. And while we’re at it, why not apply this power with an intensity proportional to the number of Meeples he removes? Yes! That's great. Because obviously, right from the start, it will offer the players local tactical choices that are readable and understandable by everyone, and which can then be part of a comprehensive longer-term strategy. And it will give players the little dilemmas that I love: I kind of want and need to do the "blue" workers action, but right now it has an intensity of 2 .. The yellow action looks tempting, with its intensity of 4... Arrrrrghhh .. which one should I choose??

So now I must figure out what the powers of each Worker’s class of Meeples will do.
I need something simple and logical for the role, so that it’d be easy to remember:

➢ In green, the Merchants .. will do business! Well, we will make them draw as many resource cards as the number of Merchants they removed from the tile. These resources will arrive in a queue face up. There will be 3 different levels of rarity, with 9 different resource types in total, and each "collection" of all different resources will give a number of Influence points. And then there will be slaves. Because in ancient times, we still need a little slave at home. They will not serve in the collections mentioned just before. But we can make them useful for some other task . Almost like some kind of joker maybe.

➢ The blue Architects will... take care of the Monuments ! (yes I know I have a brilliant imagination). Since the Temples and other Buildings are already on the table at the start of the game, the Architects will be paid for their work on buildings surrounding the Tile from where they came from. Let’s keep it simple : count the number of building tiles among the nine surrounding tiles (i.e. including the center tile from which the Architects are removed) and multiply the resulting figure by the number of architects removed from the board: This gives the number of gold coins the Architects will receive for their work.
And to keep it simple, at the end of the game, 1 gold coin will equal 1 point of influence!
(Okay , so, I must also find some Gold coins for my prototype)

➢ In white , Priests ... will invoke the gods ! Gods are nice. Thematic and they can provide a variety of surprising effects. So I thumb through my copy of "Egyptian mythology for Dummies", and here I am creating a dozen different gods all of a sudden. I begin imagining their powers, and giving them influence points. Based on a simple precept: The more powerful and aggressive a God is, the less influence he will have at the end of the game. A blessing in disguise ... Another of these principles that I love because it automatically provides some self- balancing, and secondly, also generates small, if important, dilemmas for the player to solve.
On the other hand, and to stay in theme, it seems more consistent if one could invoke God only when in a temple. This idea tempts me for two reasons: thematically of course, but also from a game mechanics standpoint: this would give a role to Temple tiles. (Note to self: make sure assign a different role to each type of Tile, at some point in the design).

While waiting for the Priests to find a temple in which to perform their affairs, the player will store them in front him. And if he has not found an occasion to call on their “spiritual” powers before the end of the game, these Priests will give him some influence points in compensation. A lesser amount, of course, but still some.

➢ In yellow, the high dignitaries. Well as dignified dignitaries... they will do nothing at all! Or rather just give influence points at the end of the game. Introducing a light element of majority system into the game. As there are only 15 yellow meeples, the likelihood of some ties between players is quite high. And I do not want to add another 3 lines of rules just for deciding how to split ties. I always want to make sure that the players can focus their attention on the choices they have to make rather than on remembering some obscure points of the rulebook. So let's keep it simple: 1 point per dignitaries ... plus 10 points for each opponent who has less dignitaries than you! Maybe more ties, but a system that seems simple, and rather devious.

➢ And last but not least, in Red, the Assassins .. they will obviously remove a Meeple. Either from an opponent ( by killing a dignitary or priest) or on the tiles. But why kill a Meeple still on the board? Well... by now I’ve had something running through my head, insidiously, all while looking for images and beginning to create cards for goods, servants, resources and neighborhoods.

The game that is now gradually taking shape in my head is both a set of workers displacement game of course, but also one where things progressively disappear from the game. That is to say everything is in profusion early in the game, and as the game progresses, all things get sparser and sparser. I like this kind of playful method because it allows me to create in the minds of players a sense of urgency (“If I do not do this or that now, I may no longer be able to do it later”). And it also helps generate a real crescendo of tension in the game: the more time passes, the fewer the options and the more tense the struggle to take those remaining. Essential for me. As smart as a game mechanic might be (and I'm talking in general, here, not for this particular game), it should still remain a tool to create some fun and enjoyment first and foremost, not an end in itself. Somewhat the same way that a technically perfect guitarist can play 3,000 notes a minute without generating an emotion, while John Lee Hooker, with a single note on an untuned guitar can bring you to tears.

A game where things progressively disappear, was I saying before my digression... Well then I may just draw the player's attention to that very fact. Give him the opportunity to take control of any tile completely emptied after all its Meeples have been “displaced”. (Of course, I’m not referring to the tile the player starts his move from this turn, since that one automatically gets emptied of all its meeples). So for example, if the player finishes with a green meeple on a tile with just one other green meeple, he will empty that tile... and take control of it, by placing a… Camel of his own color - I like Camels - on this tile, which will then give him a number of victory points at game end. And the Assassins in all this? well, they will be have the power to remove a meeple from any other tile, located at a maximum distance equal to the number of adjacent tiles away from where they stand, and take immediately take control of that tile! So 2 Assassins could remove a meeple from a tile that is 2 tiles away from the one they reached at turn’s end! So sometimes it will become possible to take control of two tiles in a same turn ! ! ( I bring a red meeple to a tile that only already contained a single red meeple... I remove these 2 red meeples since it’s the end of my move, taking control of their tile, and I use my 2 red Assassins power to take out a single isolated meeple 1 or 2 tiles away and take control of that 2nd tile).

I like it: because now if I give a limited number of camels to each player and decide that the endgame occurs when there is no more valid movement possible OR when a player has placed all its camels on some tiles, I offer the players the opportunity to try and rush to close the game down on their opponents, which again will bring choices and add a nice mutual "I’m keeping an eye out on you guys" tension to the game.

Phew ... just in looking at the effects of each worker’s type, it feels like I have pretty much laid the rules for the whole game already. Before saving all my notes in a file, a mental note I made to myself earlier on reminds me that I still need to assign a role to each type of neighborhood.

Which leads me to define the game turn structure as follows:
1 - I move workers
2 - I do the action of this class of workers with the adequate intensity
3 - I apply the effect of the neighborhood where I ended my move!

Now onto the neighborhoods :
➢ On a temple, one will be able to "spend" his priests to gain the favors of a God who will help him until the end of the game.
➢ In a market, one will be able to buy more resources to complete his collection. I decide to create two categories of markets, with different access to resources.
➢ In the oasis ... one will be able to grow some palm trees. No specific effect, but each palm tree will increase the value of the neighborhood in question. Providing for tiles with a variable value, in effect.
➢ On construction sites, as with the oasis, but using castles or pyramids this time... this will give the board a nice 3d effect and some sense of verticality.

Voilà... This whole process has taken just about a full week. From Sunday to the next Friday morning, while continuing to manage some of the other projects mentioned at the beginning of this article. I’ve managed to find all the images for everything I needed. I print it all and am sitting on the floor, gluing and cutting pieces to make a first prototype for the evening. At the same time I’m doing my gluing and cutting, I’m already playing some game turns in my head. And it seems quite clear to me that I am going to need to think about the order of play, each turn…

Indeed, based on the possible movements of Meeples on the tiles, it will be difficult, nay - impossible to calculate 5 moves ahead; on the other hand, I can already envision some specific situations where some moves may prove themselves disproportionately beneficial. In a game of this genre, nothing is more annoying than seeing an opponent rob me from a carefully planned victory just because I was sitting at the wrong spot around the table! The order in which the participants will play must be something that can be challenged at each turn, allowing everyone to adapt according to their plan and the current situation. Since players can earn gold coins with architects, and these gold coins also count as victory points, I might as well start all players with a bit of money in hand, and let them pay at the beginning of each round to determine the order in which they will play this turn. An auction system of sort, in which one will spend victory points to get a more coveted position in the order of play this turn.

That said, I'm suspicious of auction systems and tend to avoid them like the plague. Not that I do not like them — quite the contrary, one of my favorite games of all times is undoubtedly "Modern Art" ( I love the version Matagot published); a game that is for me the quintessence and absolute synthesis of auction games. But bidding for an auction, to be effective, requires a high degree of expertise and assessment of the situation. One really needs ALL players around the table to converge towards the same overall assessment of the value of things. With playmates at that same level, auction games can shine and reveal all their subtlety. On the other hand, if even just one of the players consistently makes irrational bids, this can quickly break the game: that player’s irrational bids will unbalance the game, often giving the keys to victory to a player who didn’t deserve it. Sometimes that player will realize his “mistake” but too late, and the game will then turn into a long wait for the game to end, for him, with no hope of ever catching up.

Since I don’t want this game to be played only by experts, I have to tackle this issue differently, somehow. I need to guide the possible bids a bit, limiting how much one could spend in a round. And I don’t want this phase of the game to take for ages so let’s keep this bidding to a single round each turn. An "auction" yes, but with no possible outbid. So I just have to have a track with a number of boxes, each with a specified value. During the first turn of the game, the order in which players bid for their starting position will be at random, but beyond this, no luck. When bidding for his order of play, the player will place his piece on an empty square AND immediately pay to the bank the corresponding amount of gold coins. But he won’t yet know what his position in the turn will be, since other players after him may decide to pay more to grab a higher (earlier) starting position. A method that will, in any case that is the goal, both address the need to control spending, and make all players tighten their butt a bit, thinking "let’s hope she does not pay more... " Once everyone has bid and placed their pawn on the track, the game turn will begin, with the player who paid the most starting this turn. And as a bonus that player will also be the first player to bet first for the starting position, come next turn. Thus, the first player could, at least in theory, pay so much each turn so as to try and always start 1st throughout the game. But since that will cost him gold coins, i.e. victory points each turn, this strategy would be very unlikely to yield victory!

So I print and cut a little track with price values for various starting positions and arbitrary costs for each, to experiment. All is not calculable. It's now Friday 3:00pm. It will soon be time to move to the first trial by fire. The overall prototype looks like this when deployed on my table. And it's not that bad (game designer complacency: ON).


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Colin O' Mahoney
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Great piece, I will be reading back over the first few partss (which I missed). Fascinating insight into the process.
And:

"As smart as a game mechanic might be (and I'm talking in general, here, not for this particular game), it should still remain a tool to create some fun and enjoyment first and foremost, not an end in itself."

-I cannot say enough how much I Love this attitude to game design. Brilliant. I'll certainly be keeping an eye on Five Tribes as it comes to market.
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Ghislain LEVEQUE
France
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Can't wait to read the next part. How was the playtests at Toulouse ?

PS: I'm the guy that stepped near you saturday night saying (oh, that's the game you are talking on BGG and Proxi-jeux)
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bruno cathala
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st pierre en faucigny
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In Toulouse, it was not playtesting sessions, these work has been finished for a while !

It was just pleasure for me to share the prototype with players, allowing them to discover the game before it's published

It was really nice for me. And all reactions were really positives !
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Ghislain LEVEQUE
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Cool ! I'm glad for you
 
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Derek H
South Africa
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Quote:
And then there will be slaves. Because in ancient times, we still need a little slave at home. They will not serve in the collections mentioned just before. But we can make them useful for some other task . Almost like some kind of joker maybe.

shake And little did Bruno know that, just under a year later, this would lead to a massive flame-war on BGG: https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/40219/five-tribes-revised...
 
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Gian Marco Guiducci
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Bologna
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What if...DoW kept the Egyptian theme all along...and we ended up with gods instead of Djinns, with ISIS among them! (Take a look at the prototype scheme)
That... would have been quite a kerfuffle.
 
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