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Designer’s Diary: 1984: Animal Farm, or Fascist Pigs from Outer Space

Rafał Cywicki
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Board Game: 1984: Animal Farm
I'll be honest with you – I don't remember when exactly we came up with the idea of 1984: Animal Farm, although I think it might have been during some game of Cosmic Encounter. CE is one of the favorite games in our game design team, and we play it every time we are fed up with our own projects. We adore it for a few things: playing around the rules, variable powers, temporary alliances and – above all – negotiations. Yeah, the idea must have appeared when we were playing Cosmic, during the Alliance Phase (when you invite your allies to join you). Someone probably said something like: "What if we made a whole game about making alliances?"

You and What Army?

The basic mechanisms of 1984: Animal Farm haven't changed since the first prototype – maybe because it is so simple that it can be summed up in one sentence: "Form an alliance stronger than your opponents". The strength of your alliance is determined by the number of agents in a region. There are five regions, and each offers influence in a different animal faction. The number of influence tokens that players collect is also affected by the number of their agents. Players need different influences in different stages of the game, while the agents' mobility is limited.

This may be just because we are truly evil human beings, but though we hadn't determined the winning conditions – thereby giving us nothing to really argue for – even in that first prototype there were already emotional debates and friendly but bitter rivalry.

Simple rules were forcing interaction and planning, creating a framework for negotiations. It's easy to calculate that even when three players take part in the game, one person can't do much alone. Now imagine five people playing. It becomes essential to place your agents appropriately, to be invited to alliances at every front.

The next step was creating special abilities for resources, with each one affecting the rules in a different way. This enables someone to choose a strategy according to the player's tastes in addition to creating natural replayability; all you have to do is modify the special actions. So far over thirty rules have been created and tested, but since you use only ten of them during the game, the play changes completely each time.

My Worst Friend, My Favorite Enemy

After a few games, our farm met the bottleneck of optimal strategies. Players who specialized in particular regions simply wouldn't give them up. Sometimes the alliances that formed were much stronger than we wanted them to be. We had to look for a way to encourage players to expand their territories, to set them at variance and at the same time connect them by common interests.

This is how we came up with the idea of revolution cards. In terms of the game, a revolution is a task related to two neighboring players. Even though they share the task, the situation is not that peaceful because completing a task requires an odd number of resources, and the same types of resources may be required for different tasks.

This uncomfortable interdependence affects negotiations and completely changes the players' viewpoint: "I could go for A together with Chris, but he also needs A for a revolution with Beth, so I will go with Michael, who doesn't need A for anything." This is how Animal Farm has distilled the "worst" features of negotiating in a game: broken promises, doubly loyalty, blackmail, intimidation. And did I mention that revolutions change during the game?

Board Game: 1984: Animal Farm
Board Game: 1984: Animal Farm
Board Game: 1984: Animal Farm

Non-final images from artist Igor Myszkiewicz

Chaos of Negotiations Ends with Balance

Once again we discovered that players provide the best method of balancing a game when all our sessions ended with very similar results and someone winning only by a hair's breadth. Hiding the score helped a bit – just as, for example, Small World is based on the concept of hidden score – but it was still tough to make a mark. "Destabilizing" the rules of scoring turned out to be necessary.

The first solution to the problem was introducing the Political Moods cards. They add new rules of scoring, rewarding various activities in the game. At first we wanted them to be permanent, but our publishers from Kuźnia Gier suggested the idea of a timeline containing three moods cards and counting down to their "expiry date". It quickly turned out that adapting to the changeable moods was a good way to win.

The second idea was a result of another observation: Identical rewards for successful revolutions for both players made the game extremely "stiff". If you had a conciliatory neighbor, it was easy to persuade him to enter permanent cooperation – which was an obvious benefit when compared to the rest of the players, who were usually conflicted. This is why we decided to reward revolutions in pendular swings: one round with one player, the next round with another player. The tension grew even more.

Orwell and Totalitarian Animals

After we published the game's BGG profile, obvious questions appeared regarding the references to the books. Now we want to make things clear, once and for all.

You have just read how political (in the worst meaning of this word) the game is going to be. It's not hard to guess that we thought it should be touching the theme of totalitarianism: "I do so many bad things in the game, I should play a bad character." We quickly agreed that world domination was a great topic; after all, ruling the world is a game worth the candle. When we were testing AF, we intentionally took the roles of dictators during a few games and the feeling of "dividing and conquering" appeared; after play we even joked about experiencing some kind of a "Yalta feeling".

The problem was that authentic historical events seemed too "heavy" for the game. For a while we were thinking about evil masterminds from comic books or James Bond movies, but these themes have been used many times – so when I suggested animal politics, an obvious chain of associations brought us to Animal Farm.

Orwell's books are popular in Poland (where we come from) mostly due to the way they deconstruct totalitarian regimes. We used to read them at school, they proudly stand on the shelves in our rooms, they inspire us even today. Yes, this is what they are for the game – an inspiration. And no, we do not own any copyrights. As far as we managed to learn, in Poland the copyrights for Orwell's works are now in the public domain. Even if the situation is different in our distributors' countries we would like to highlight the fact that we do not make use of the exact content of the books. The game is supposed to be their creative reinterpretation, reflect their atmosphere, and let you feel like "a pig in a uniform". Orwell is an inspiration for us on the same level as the comic book Maus or 20th-century satirical cartoons.

Board Game: 1984: Animal Farm
Board Game: 1984: Animal Farm
Board Game: 1984: Animal Farm

A Game for Very Bad People

There is one question left: Will I like the fight for supremacy on the global animal farm?

As our previous release, Alcatraz: The Scapegoat, Animal Farm is definitely not a game for everyone. If you like sitting silently at the table, thinking for a long time, and calculating the cleverest way to victory, there is a chance you will hate our game. On the global farm everything happens over the table and it happens pretty loudly, too: You set the opponents on one another, you form and break alliances, and you pretend to be losing even if you're not.

When you sit down to play Animal Farm keep in mind that sometimes one game of AF provides more negative interaction than a whole night spent playing other titles. After intensive testing sessions, we sometimes had hoarse voices and killer instincts burning in our eyes.

However, if you are a bit of a Machiavellian manipulator, if you sometimes feel like a "healthy sociopath", or you just hate (in a good sense) your friends, feel invited to visit our booth in Essen where the game will officially premiere.

Rafał Cywicki
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