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Subject: The Queen's Army: Development Journal from JR and Brian rss

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JR Honeycutt
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JR Honeycutt, Waitress Games

While at BGG.Con 2016, Mark introduced himself and asked if I’d be interested in working on the solo version for Feudum. I’d seen the Kickstarter campaign - a successful one! - and I was super curious to see what Mark had in mind to create an immersive experience for his backers. I’d developed the solo play variants for Tesla vs. Edison: Powering Up a few months prior, so I felt pretty confident that I could help him find a good direction for the game.

As it happens, Mark has family that lives near me, so we spent a couple days together during the Christmas holiday. He introduced me to the base game and its complexities, and I asked a million questions about the world the game existed in and the stories he was trying to tell.

In any development project my first instinct is to try to focus on the story the designer wants to tell, the experience they want the players to have. This is especially true in a solo game, where there aren’t other players to help create tension and add to the narrative.

That’s first question I asked Mark - “what story do you want to tell?” - and I must have asked him that 100 times over a few weeks. He retreated to his respite in Missouri for a few months and came back with something very interesting. The Queen, the all-powerful, indefatigable Queen, is on a rampage across your little world, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Well, almost nothing. That’s exactly the hook that got my heart racing - who is this Queen? How can we survive her brutality? How can we stick around long enough to defeat her?

Realistically, I knew I couldn’t commit the time to be the only developer on the project, because I was working hard on Tesla vs. Edison: Duel and a few other side projects. I’d already spent a lot of time thinking about the solo version, though, and I didn’t want to recuse myself from the development, partially because I’m a fan of the game, and also because I thought it was a really neat challenge to approach.

Enter Brian Fightmaster Neff, one of my best friends, an incredibly talented writer and developer, and a part of our design studio, Waitress Games. Brian is a deep thinker who comprehends narrative elements well, and understands balance in complex systems because of his work in video game development. He was exactly the right person to bring in for some tag-team development action.

So I called Mark and pitched the idea to him - I’d bring on Brian to assist me with development, the two of us would work out the schedule of testing the game, providing feedback, making revisions, etc, and together the three of us would have something ready for the summer.

Sometimes projects come together so smoothly as to almost not feel like work at all, and this was one of them. The world of Feudum that Mark has created is delightful, and I’m especially excited to see the curtains drawn back a bit more so that players can learn about the Queen and her terrible intentions for their little fiefdoms!


Brian Fightmaster Neff, Waitress Games

So JR calls me one day and says “Hey Brian, I’ve got a lot on my plate and I have a project that I want to do. Would you mind helping me out?”

We had a couple meetings with Mark, and figured out what our development goals would be. We wanted to make The Queen’s Army an intriguing solo game that was difficult, full of tension, and kept the feel of the base game of Feudum.

I had never played the base game, so when J.R. showed up at my door with this enormous box of beautiful hand crafted parts, I knew I was in for a challenge. We jumped into our first game against each other, and I was very quickly onboarded to a game that was complex, strategic, and rich with systems. I’d read a couple of reviews on BGG, and they had praised the game for having a multitude of paths to victory. They weren’t kidding. The game rewarded players who thought turns ahead, and knew how to pivot their strategy in the middle of their turns.

During the first week of development, Mark wanted me to focus on a few things:

1) Making sure that the Queen didn’t feel like she was cheating
2) Finding out what an ‘Average’ Score looked like, and
3) Figuring out if any dominant strategies existed

The first two were relatively simple, because they just involved playing the game and writing down my experiences. The third was hard, because it involved winning.

It took me about two playtests a day for the full week to win my first game. Mark had set up a system that was incredibly difficult for new players. The Queen was relentless, conquering territory at what seemed like an untenable rate. The Player was forced to focus on several places on the board, lest they be consumed by the Queen’s ever advancing (and terrifying) army of pawns.

I noticed a thing right off the bat, that is the mark of a good base for a solo game. Losing was fun. Every time the Queen beat me, I could incorporate the new things I learned into the next game.

The next week we began tweaking. Moving small things around in the Automa deck, starting the Queen in different places, and finding out just how variant of an experience we could get. This is when we discovered our first problem: The Queen was predictable. After playing almost a dozen games, it was relatively easy for the player to set themselves up in a spot where the Queen would lose the turn economy trying to accomplish Move and Conquer actions.

Once the player figured out what these ranges were, the Queen had to get lucky in order to pull out a win. My scores kept creeping higher, and all my games tended towards very quick hit-and-run strategies, using disparate farms to make sure my forces kept themselves fed, and I kept myself in shillings to pay for extra resources.

We focused on how to make the Queen less predictable. The Queen’s Army comes with a region randomization die for placement and random effects, so we decided to integrate it into the Queen’s set of actions as the Solo exclusive “Disperse” action, which causes the Queen’s Pawns to redistribute around the board.

At first, we thought this might make the Queen too random, but with another week of testing and tweaking how many Disperse Actions were in the Automa Deck, we gave players a manageable risk to take when predicting the Queen’s actions.

Finally, on J.R.’s suggestion, we spent some time increasing the replayability for the solo game. Solo game players are some of the smartest in the hobby, so it is a design challenge to make sure they can be challenged and proceed at their own pace. We approached this issue by looking at the more granular pieces of the design, and finding places that we could increase and decrease difficulty. For the harder difficulties, the queen will take more actions and put more pawns on the board.

However, we also wanted to create an environment where players didn’t have to be as conservative, and could test the merits of new strategies. Easier difficulties will let players manipulate the Behemoth (The Queen’s target for the first half of the game.), The Queen will take less actions per turn, and will overall be less aggressive towards the player on the board. This should allow players to experiment, without the Queen running over them.

Mark has created an incredibly in-depth, challenging, and fun experience for players who want a heavy euro experience. There will be Cubes and Pawns, Resources and Influence. I’m very proud of the work that we’ve done on Feudum: The Queen’s Army.

I hope you enjoy it.
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This is awesome... thanks for the insight into the design. I was hoping from the time I backed it that the solo mode would be forthcoming, and now I feel much better knowing that a) it's a thing that WILL happen and b) you two are on it!
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So, if I'm understanding correctly, randomness for the queen adds variability to a single strategy but not necessarily different strategies. Will the queen execute different strategies (divide and conquer / resource starvation / responsive feedback loop based on player decisions and/or locations / etc) or does she play the same strategy? I think my assumption is that she should theoretically be able to reach her goal via a few different methods.
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birchbeer
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Thank you both for the great rundown on what will undoubtedly be a great solo experience.

I had a question about the variability adjustment mechanism where the Queen's 'disperse' action randomly redistributes her pawns around the board. Is there some story element about the Queen that would warrant such an order? A thematic justification? I'd like to think this didn't just happen randomly for the sake of randomness, but rather it be triggered in some way by something the player did. Would it be possible to have the odds change during the game? For example, in War of the Ring, each time the Fellowship moves, the action die they used to do this goes into the Shadow player's "hunt box" so that the NEXT time they move the odds increase that the Shadow player will reveal them.

Also in War of the Ring, there are 'hunt' tiles that are drawn from a bag whenever the Shadow player has successfully found the Fellowship. There are a standard set of tiles in the bag, but during the game both the Free Player and the Shadow Player can do things to add special tiles to the bag that increase their respective odds. If there were some element like this for the Queen's random effects, it would at least give the player some limited sense of control over the random effects.
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Brian Neff
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Hey Pygamer,
The queen will utilize multiple strategies to hit you where you are weakest through her action loops.

If you're limiting your presence on the board, you'll see the Queen take more influence/improve actions and run her score up with Feudums. If you are attacking her to keep her territory limited, she will migrate and attempt to use Guilds to her advantage.

The Queen's action economy functions a little bit differently than the player's, so she will be able to use unique tactics in her search for victory.

Hope that helps!
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Imadjinn wrote:
Hey Pygamer,
The queen will utilize multiple strategies to hit you where you are weakest through her action loops.

If you're limiting your presence on the board, you'll see the Queen take more influence/improve actions and run her score up with Feudums. If you are attacking her to keep her territory limited, she will migrate and attempt to use Guilds to her advantage.

The Queen's action economy functions a little bit differently than the player's, so she will be able to use unique tactics in her search for victory.

Hope that helps!


Sounds awesome!
 
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mark swanson
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bamonson wrote:
Thank you both for the great rundown on what will undoubtedly be a great solo experience.

I had a question about the variability adjustment mechanism where the Queen's 'disperse' action randomly redistributes her pawns around the board. Is there some story element about the Queen that would warrant such an order? A thematic justification? I'd like to think this didn't just happen randomly for the sake of randomness, but rather it be triggered in some way by something the player did. Would it be possible to have the odds change during the game? For example, in War of the Ring, each time the Fellowship moves, the action die they used to do this goes into the Shadow player's "hunt box" so that the NEXT time they move the odds increase that the Shadow player will reveal them.

Also in War of the Ring, there are 'hunt' tiles that are drawn from a bag whenever the Shadow player has successfully found the Fellowship. There are a standard set of tiles in the bag, but during the game both the Free Player and the Shadow Player can do things to add special tiles to the bag that increase their respective odds. If there were some element like this for the Queen's random effects, it would at least give the player some limited sense of control over the random effects.


Hi Birchbeer,

Great question! The randomness of the Queen's Disperse Action is both thematic and mechanically intensional. Thematically, it represents a successful battlefield surge. Essentially, you've driven her Army back with giant catapulted rocks forcing her soldiers to flee in all directions. (The card has a catapult on it). The relocation of her most concentrated group of pawns to different parts of the map gives respite to your behemoth or your pawn (whichever she was targeting). However, it is only temporary, as she will quickly regroup to narrow in on her target again!

The disperse action is also mechanically intentional because it serves to make the Queen less predictable. During playtests, we found that while a high concentration of the Queen's pawns makes her powerful (and more likely to conquer you), it also makes her containable as it limits her ability to spread influence on the map and threaten other conquerable pawns or feudums. Consequently, a clever player might purposefully bait her Army to bunch up and chase him one space at a time in an effort to contain the Queen's destructive potential. The Disperse Action creates a Queen that is hard to anticipate, and thus harder to manage. It forces you to fine tune your strategy on the fly, just like you would with a real opponent.

Finally, the A.I. behind the disperse card is also worth noting. Since the disperse card was primarily intended to disperse a large cluster of the Queen's pawns, the card's effects are rightly diminished if the Queen has but one pawn in any given location. This represents a minor skirmish on the battlefield, and the consequence is proportionately smaller.
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Xiong ie
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Wow! This sounds really good! Considering it can be made solo, have it ever been considered to have a coop variant too? Would love to play this with my spouse too UvU
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mark swanson
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xiongie wrote:
Wow! This sounds really good! Considering it can be made solo, have it ever been considered to have a coop variant too? Would love to play this with my spouse too UvU


Hello Xiongie,

Yes, the game can have multiple human players! The goal is still to collectively beat the Queen; however, players will score individually and achieve different story outcomes based on their scores. Therefore, it is possible to collaborate and thwart the Queen together, but still "win" relative to your human opponent. (If you're into that sort of thing, haha).

That said, it is also possible for one human player to lose to the Queen, while the other defeats her. Remember: After the Queen conquers the behemoth (or by the dawn of the third epoch), she will target the closest pawn! Consequently, this can create tension in a multiplayer game. For instance, you might valiantly rush into battle to dutifully challenge her majesty, or cower meekly behind another human opponent ― knowing the Queen will target the closest pawn.

- Mark
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birchbeer
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markswanson wrote:
xiongie wrote:
Wow! This sounds really good! Considering it can be made solo, have it ever been considered to have a coop variant too? Would love to play this with my spouse too UvU


Hello Xiongie,

Yes, the game can have multiple human players! The goal is still to collectively beat the Queen; however, players will score individually and achieve different story outcomes based on their scores. Therefore, it is possible to collaborate and thwart the Queen together, but still "win" relative to your human opponent. (If you're into that sort of thing, haha).

That said, it is also possible for one human player to lose to the Queen, while the other defeats her. Remember: After the Queen conquers the behemoth (or by the dawn of the third epoch), she will target the closest pawn! Consequently, this can create tension in a multiplayer game. For instance, you might valiantly rush into battle to dutifully challenge her majesty, or cower meekly behind another human opponent ― knowing the Queen will target the closest pawn.

- Mark


Excellent news indeed! I can tell already that this is something my wife and I will enjoy as a CO-OP!
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