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Designer Diary: Kingdom of Solomon

Philip duBarry
United States
Cincinnati
Ohio
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Looking for a Theme

During the summer of 2008 I was waiting for Revolution! to be released and playing a little Caylus. This game really introduced me to the concept of worker placement. Soon I was designing my own worker placement game – I even used the pieces from Caylus in my first prototype! The game was called "Monument", but you couldn't actually build any monuments – only cards with resource requirements and victory points.

The idea (different from Caylus and therefore original) was to offer five resources, from high value and scarce to low value and common. After a tedious, mathematical process, the required resources matched up with the victory points on the cards. So you placed your pawns, collected your resources and built your cards. What fun!

Well, it wasn't very fun. The action spaces helped some but not enough. And what to do about a theme? I'd heard those were important. For a brief time, I researched ancient Babylon and Assyria. This gave me resources like sand, dirt and mud. No thanks. Then I had the first of several epiphanies: make the game about the Kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Solomon!

Looking for More Mechanisms

Fast forward one year. During the summer of 2009 Revolution! finally made its début. "The Solomon Game" spent a great deal of time on a shelf in my closet. Several other game projects emerged and sucked up my time, attention and enthusiasm. By spring of 2010 my sights were set on the Origins Game Fair that June. Kingdom of Solomon needed to be in my backpack along with the other prototypes.

As I played through the game again, it occurred to me that it needed something more. My theme was cool, but now I needed more mechanisms to spice things up. I decided to visit the Xenia Gamers, a high school game group north of Cincinnati. I came away from this session with the idea of putting action spaces on the building cards (and naming them) – another reason to build those cards. Soon, I moved them to the board itself, providing extra action spaces for everyone.

I also upgraded the Market significantly. What started as three places to sell resources became a real, working marketplace where resources could be bought or sold according to their value and availability. Now I was getting somewhere!

I was nearly ready to make my final prototype, but something still seemed to be missing. Then it hit me (or it might have been one of the Xenia Gamers – either way, another epiphany): Make three really over-powered bonus spaces, but have them cost all your remaining pawns. This idea transformed the game. Now there was this great new tension each turn. I want to get one of those cool spaces, but I want to use all my pawns, too. Good stuff. I was finally ready to show the big boys at Origins.


Looking for a Publisher

My sidekick/brother-in-law and I made the trip to Columbus, Ohio in June 2010. We spent two days pitching all my various prototypes to different companies, and we enjoyed a great deal of success – three of my prototypes went home with publishers for further consideration. (One of these was Family Vacation, coming soon from Jolly Roger Games.) Unfortunately, Kingdom of Solomon did not make the cut. I ended up showing it to only two other publishers and both passed.

When I got home, I found an email from James Mathe of Minion Games. I had asked to show him some prototypes, but we never connected at the show. I sent him some pictures of Solomon, then a full prototype. He liked what he saw – but it needed more theme (and more mechanisms, as it happened)! Over the next several months, we would overhaul every square inch of the game producing something much greater than the sum of its parts.

Yet Another Epiphany

Still not enough theme? What's the deal with this game? I would soon discover that I had a lot to learn about theme. To help me work through this nagging problem, I called up Michael Matera of the Thirdfloorgamers. This middle school gaming group had helped out on Revolution!: The Palace and had an eye for good design. A lengthy phone conversation with Michael opened my eyes like never before. As I explained on my blog, some people are Math Players (favoring mechanisms and winning) and some people are Theme Players (favoring theme and experience). I am not a Theme Player – and that was my hang-up.

I began to really consider my theme. Helping Solomon establish his kingdom involved much more than just building a few buildings. Rather, it should let you expand the empire, develop lucrative trade routes and (most obviously) build the Temple! I pulled my designer cap down snuggly and set about the business of adding much-needed theme-based mechanisms.

First came the idea of Roads that would connect the various resource spaces together. Now you would be able to create an entire resource region and activate the whole thing with one pawn (and again with another pawn on another space within that region). This was very exciting! Next, I added the famed Temple of Solomon. I can't believe this game almost didn't include the Temple! Now you can help build the Temple (an area-control mechanism), gaining access to the High Priest who allows access to other people's spaces once per round. It also gives you a nice endgame bonus.

Some of the guys at Protospiel helped iron out issues with card balance, resulting in me reconfiguring all the cards in the game for the fiftieth time. The building cards also start on the board now as the only cards you can build and do not add spaces to the board. James and I continued to playtest with many other groups and make tweaks here and there until finally the game was finished!

The action space in the bottom-middle of a Building Card can be used only by whoever builds it

Looking for an Artist and a Kick Start

The next step was to find an artist. Kingdom of Solomon seemed to call out for something more than cartoon-based illustrations – we needed paintings. Ricky Hunter filled this need beautifully, producing lots on wonderful art for all the different cards and the board. The other folks from Minion Games put on the final coat of shine, and the game was ready for the printer. One last step remained.

James wanted to put some of his projects on Kickstarter to help with the financial burden of production. Therefore, Kingdom of Solomon is running a Kickstarter campaign through the beginning of July 2010. This campaign gives you access to an extra promo building card, a signed art print, and a few other nice rewards – besides the chance to get the game before anyone else. I hope you will enjoy Kingdom of Solomon as much as we do. It's been a long journey, but I couldn't be more pleased with the result.

Philip duBarry

Nearly-completed game board
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