Recommend
167 
 Thumb up
 Hide
27 Posts
1 , 2  Next »   | 

Kingdom Builder» Forums » General

Subject: The Secret History of Kingdom Builder rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Donald X.
United States
flag msg tools
designer
Our story begins in 1999. I made a game I refer to as The Baron Game. It was a card game with a particular special mechanic. It needed work, and, over the course of several iterations, I modified the game until it had no mechanics in common with the original. Now it was a bidding game in which you put pieces on a board. I called this one Baron Lite.

Three things from Kingdom Builder date back to Baron Lite. First, the piece placement rule - you place a piece on a particular terrain, and it has to be adjacent to one of your pieces already on the board, unless there is no such spot. The original idea behind this rule was to reduce politics. Sometimes, if you cut me off, I can teleport away - I'm happy to be cut off. Of course other times you can just cut me off and trap me in a bad area. Still, that was the idea at the time. Second, the way you gain abilities by being adjacent to a hex, rather than say occupying it. This was just so that you could still see the hex that was granting the ability. It's not covered up. And hey it also means that multiple players can get the same ability. Third, the board was built out of quadrants.

So there was this bidding game. You would bid on say a four of trees; the winner would put four tokens on trees, one at a time, following the piece placement rule. Being adjacent to buildings conferred abilities and gave you victory points.

The scoring for this game did not work out. It seemed fixable but I did not get around to it for a while.

In 2006 I made a new version of it, with sci-fi-themed boards. This was a few months after I made Dominion, and no-one was interested in trying new games, they would only play Dominion. The game seemed promising, but I had to make some Dominion expansions first. Then I switched computers and somehow did not copy the files over.

After Dominion came out I had big plans to make some Dominion-inspired games. I worked on several, which is to say, I typed up notes and paced around thinking about the problems they had and how to fix them.

In 2010, now we are getting somewhere, I focused on making a specific one. This game would be some kind of Dominion-with-a-board. Two of the most basic things you do on a board are placing pieces and moving pieces. So I went with that for starters. You would have a deck of cards, and pieces on a board; you would play cards in order to place pieces, and place pieces in order to gain cards. It would be a two-step process, in contrast to Dominion's one-step process of buying cards in order to buy cards.

Gradually I convinced myself that the Dominion part should go. Instead it could be a simpler one-step process of placing pieces in order to place pieces. So I took out the cards. I didn't need to make a deckbuilding game for the sake of making one. I didn't need to cash in on Dominion, I had Dominion itself. This game could just try to be the best game it could be, and if that meant not being a deckbuilding game, that was fine. So I replaced the deckbuilding with, you turn over a terrain card on your turn and put three pieces on that terrain.

With the deckbuilding gone, I made a prototype. The premise of the game was putting pieces on terrains as part of an engine-building game, where the pieces also gained you abilities; I had a nice piece placement rule in Baron Lite, so I just used that. It wasn't like this game was a new version of Baron Lite; I just felt like, in any game with pieces placed on terrains like this, I might use the Baron Lite mechanic. It was a good mechanic for the job. But after people played two different games of mine using that mechanic, they constantly associated them with each other. So I'm thinking now, maybe that's just a good mechanic for this game. Anyway there it is, and with the whole story behind it. I also granted abilities via being adjacent to locations, for reasons similar to the ones for Baron Lite, and I also had a board that fit together different ways, because, what game doesn't want that?

This version had every player able to get the same building ability, just by being adjacent to it; there were no chits, with playmats handling tracking abilities instead. You had 50 tokens instead of 40, drew your card at the start of your turn rather than at the end, and of course the abilities and scoring methods got tweaked. It was pretty similar to the final game though. I had ten ways to score that you only used three of, as a nice way to give the game more variety. There were twelve quadrants.

Prior to showing it to Queen, I didn't change any of the base rules to the game from that first prototype - just the building abilities and scoring methods. I don't think I really have any stories for those. Some of the abilities that didn't make it could come out in an expansion, if there are any - they were worth doing, but were more complex or required components or there just wasn't room. The scoring methods were less balanced and I made them more balanced. The worst case was Hermits, which when I first tried it gave 6 points per group of pieces. There was an ability that tended to do nothing for a while, then dump half of your pieces on the board. I tried a couple versions of that one. Who knows though, maybe I will see how to fix it.

Queen had asked for me to show them something at Essen in 2009, but at the time I had already given away all of the prototypes I'd brought. I noted that they seemed to mostly do larger games with boards and pieces, rather than say small card games, and planned to offer them a board game when I had one. I sent them Kingdom Builder in early 2011 and found out a couple months later that they wanted to do it.

Queen, which is to say Rajive and Frank, made a few changes. They changed the number of tokens from 50 to 40 in order to end the game before you'd done everything worth doing. They added a family variant and then took it back out after testing the regular game with kids. They moved drawing your terrain to the end of your turn so that you could figure out what to do while other people were playing; why I had it at the start of the turn, I couldn't tell you. They changed the way you deal with ties for Lords in order to make it easier to explain; I had the usual "add the amounts for 1st and 2nd place and divide by two." They had the oldest player go first; I hadn't specified. They dropped the number of chits per building space to two. I had originally had playmats rather than chits, but chits were the way to go, since they mean you have exactly the information in front of you that you need, and no information about abilities you don't have. And you can turn the chits over to track which abilities you've used on your current turn. The exact way to handle tracking was an issue during development, and chits were easily the best method. I pushed for them and hey there they are.

Queen also changed it so that you can put the board together any which way. I had the quadrants stay in particular corners - a northwest quadrant was always northwest, and always right-side-up. This change meant there were a lot more ways to put the board together, and you could get combinations of abilities that otherwise wouldn't come up. I made the original maps with the idea that they'd fit together those particular ways, and there wasn't time to change the maps later. So, there are certain ways you can build the board that will look nicer, if you choose to seek them out. Also it was originally not possible to connect two buildings on turn one. It's possible in certain configurations now, although one of the buildings will always be a castle, which doesn't do anything until the end. Anyway if you don't like those arrangements, put the boards together differently, that's my advice.

Originally each board had three copies of an ability, with one board having castles (only, that board had four of them). I changed it to two copies plus a castle on most of the boards. This shortened turns a little while still giving you a variety of abilities. Two boards only have one copy of their ability in order to make those abilities a little rarer. It's just more exciting to put a piece on water if you aren't always doing it. The number of boards was cut down from twelve to eight, for practical reasons. The exact set of abilities changed and well that is a story for another day. The boards were going to be two-sided, but they don't fit the same when you turn them over, so that wasn't a trivial thing to accomplish. Instead Queen put scoring tracks on the backs of the quadrants, which saved us from needing a separate scoring track. You do need a scoring track because it's just a little too much math at the end otherwise.

The original terrains were grass, forest, desert, flowers, and rocks (plus mountains and water). I normally would have used swamp, but every terrain needed to appear next to every other terrain, and I thought flowers would make more sense. And then, I would have had hills, but I couldn't find a good hill picture, and then I found a good rocks picture, so I used that. In playtesting sometimes people would confuse the rocks with the mountains, and well as you can see Queen changed it to canyons.

Originally the buildings were a mix of buildings and animals. This would prompt the question, "is the cow a building?" Queen replaced the animals with buildings, although they aren't quite all buildings, there's an Oasis. They renamed a majority of the scoring cards, but kept the names similar. I had: Fishermen, Miners, Workers, Hermits, Crowds (Citizens), Marchers (Knights), Explorers (Discoverers), Equals (Farmers), Leaders (Lords), Traders (Merchants). Okay we have ventured into dull territory so maybe this secret history is done.

The rulebook has no playtester credits, so, thanks, playtesters! Including: Vinay Baliga, Bill Barksdale, Alex Bishop, Zach Kessler, Destry Miller, Ben Stein, and the Games Club at Cornell.

Bonus Track: The Secret History of the Capital promo

Kingdom Builder originally had three copies of an ability on most boards, and then one board with four castles, rather than having a castle or two on each board. It also had one board with four gazebos. The gazebo was, "adjacent pieces count as two pieces when scoring." It was cute, but sometimes confusing and sometimes meaningless, so I took it out.

I tested a simplified variation on it, "1 point per piece within two hexes." It has a broader range in order to matter more, and just gives you a point. You lose cute interactions with Lords etc., but it's always relevant. This played fine and seemed okay to include in an expansion. It would not dazzle people but was a reasonable thing to do in place of a castle somewhere, for a little extra variety.

Then they wanted a promo, due to having some space left over on some sheet, and needed it in a hurry. I offered them two things and they picked this one.

True story.
  • [+] Dice rolls
Very interesting article! The game feels so intuitive that I never would have guessed that so many changes were made. The end-of-turn-card part especially, it seems integral!

I tried your game in Essen, loved it and bought it on spot. I showed it to friends back at the hotel, they loved it, 1-2 bought it. It's addictive and it spreads! meeple

If you don't mind answering, how do you feel about KB's luck factor? Sure, it's much lesser than Dominion and not bad by itself. Have you considered variants with less luck?

I was showing the game to some friends and they got so unlucky (drawing the same terrain 4 times in a row or just that terrain to spread in empty rool) that the game's experience was ruined for them. I might have lost one or two gamer buddies from this game because of bad luck experience
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Donald X.
United States
flag msg tools
designer
Moonleaf wrote:
If you don't mind answering, how do you feel about KB's luck factor? Sure, it's much lesser than Dominion and not bad by itself. Have you considered variants with less luck?

I was showing the game to some friends and they got so unlucky (drawing the same terrain 4 times in a row or just that terrain to spread in empty rool) that the game's experience was ruined for them. I might have lost one or two gamer buddies from this game because of bad luck experience
I like the amount of luck in Kingdom Builder. I would have changed it otherwise. I knew that some people would choose to play with a hand or some such, and I am fine with that; play whatever variants you want. I preferred just one card though.

Luck management is a significant hunk of the game. You can replace the luck with something else, like bidding, but then the game is much longer. And if you just take out the luck, you lose a lot.

It's true that if you both play poorly and have bad luck, you have less fun. Ideally it would be more fun there. Obv. if you play poorly and have bad luck you will lose, but you know, it should be fun to lose, and I think it usually is, but not so much if you are trapped somewhere bad from the start. I warn new players about this, explaining how being trapped in one area will turn out badly for them and how they can avoid it, and that usually does the trick.

Queen added a family variant, as I mentioned, and the point to it was to specifically reduce the chance of getting trapped early on. They took it out when it seemed unnecessary, and well it will be up to them to mention what it is if they want to.
29 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Nate S
United States
Austin
Texas
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Splotter fanMicrobadge: Dominion fanMicrobadge: Agricola fanMicrobadge: Caylus fanMicrobadge: Martin Wallace fan
Neat!

Do you think 50 tokens instead of 40 is a good variant to try?
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Donald X.
United States
flag msg tools
designer
ghorsche wrote:
Do you think 50 tokens instead of 40 is a good variant to try?
I think going to 40 tokens was an improvement, and man I am not the guy to ask about variants for my games.
43 
 Thumb up
0.06
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
HenningK
Germany
Berlin
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Guinea Pig loverMicrobadge: Roger Federer fanMicrobadge: Gloomhaven fanMicrobadge: Mage Knight Board Game fanMicrobadge: I am a Terra Mystica fan!
Thanks a lot for this article Donald! As you can see from my review, I played the game in Essen and immediately bought it - it's great! (though I have to admit that Hinterland is currently getting more play time for me and my girlfriend...)

Since the luck factor was mentioned: I think both Dominion and Kingdom Builder have the exact correct amount of luck in them. You will sometimes lose to worse players and win against better ones due to luck, but in the long run, the better player will win most of the games. Also, both games give you the feeling that you are in control, that your choices matter. For my tastes, the amount of luck is absolutely spot on.

Again, thanks for another great game! I'm looking forward to more stuff from you in the future!
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Nate S
United States
Austin
Texas
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Splotter fanMicrobadge: Dominion fanMicrobadge: Agricola fanMicrobadge: Caylus fanMicrobadge: Martin Wallace fan
donaldx wrote:
ghorsche wrote:
Do you think 50 tokens instead of 40 is a good variant to try?
I think going to 40 tokens was an improvement
Rad, that's all I wanted to hear
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Awesome as usual.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Thomas Staudt
Germany
Rutesheim
Baden-Württemberg
flag msg tools
designer
Es gibt nur eine Borussia
badge
Die Raute im Herzen
Avatar
Microbadge: Rallyman: GT fanMicrobadge: Star Realms fanMicrobadge: Villainous fanMicrobadge: Res Arcana fanMicrobadge: Fan of the legendary Foals forever!
Another great article, thanks for sharing.

And I've always wondered why you draw the terrain card at end of turn - as we played that you couldn't look at it (for whatever reason).
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Another great thing about the game is how easy it seems to be expanded

If you don't mind answering, Donald, how do you feel about creating expansions for the game? More buildings and lands and goals seem easily implemented, explained and incorporated in the game. I know you have one announced already, will you create a lot more like Dominion?

I suppose that expansions are linked to the game's market performance. Are you satisfied with its success so far?
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Donald X.
United States
flag msg tools
designer
Moonleaf wrote:
If you don't mind answering, Donald, how do you feel about creating expansions for the game? More buildings and lands and goals seem easily implemented, explained and incorporated in the game. I know you have one announced already, will you create a lot more like Dominion?

I suppose that expansions are linked to the game's market performance. Are you satisfied with its success so far?
I made two expansions. I have no current plans for any more; I am working on other projects. I don't know if they will both be published, but Queen announced the first one. Any further details are up to Queen to release.

I have no idea how well it's selling; it seems premature to look at since it's only just now showing up in stores; and it would be up to Queen to be public about any such data. Where I play, there are always people asking to play it, so I'm optimistic so far.
16 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Zach Kessler
United States
ithaca
New York
flag msg tools
Microbadge: Daft Punk fanMicrobadge: Daft Punk fanMicrobadge: Twitch fanMicrobadge: I play with green!Microbadge: Origins attendee
Thanks Donald as always, I'm sorry I wasn't much help playtesting
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
B Cak3
United Kingdom
Glasgow
flag msg tools
badge
Microbadge: 1960: The Making of the President fanMicrobadge: Android: Netrunner fanMicrobadge: Maria fanMicrobadge: Glory to Rome new art fanMicrobadge: Arkham Horror fan
The Secret History came tantalizingly close to answering the glaring question I have about KB: why 'Discoverers' rather than 'Explorers'? 'Discoverers' is such an incredibly ugly word, and I find it impossible to read it without thinking 'You mean, "Explorers".'
7 
 Thumb up
0.06
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Russ Williams
Poland
Wrocław
Dolny Śląsk
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: I speak EsperantoMicrobadge: Abstract fanMicrobadge: Plays Games with SpouseMicrobadge: Modern abstract games fanMicrobadge: Vegan
So it sounds like at no point was a no-luck version tried, right?

Cantabrian wrote:
The Secret History came tantalizingly close to answering the glaring question I have about KB: why 'Discoverers' rather than 'Explorers'? 'Discoverers' is such an incredibly ugly word, and I find it impossible to read it without thinking 'You mean, "Explorers".'
Heh, that seems an oddly extreme personal reaction.
I never found "discoverers" to be "incredibly ugly" (what's so ugly about it?), although it does seem less common than "explorer".

"Discoverer" sounds more successful in the sense that a "discoverer" by definition actually discovered something, whereas an "explorer" explored, but may or may not have actually found anything.
7 
 Thumb up
0.05
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Donald X.
United States
flag msg tools
designer
Cantabrian wrote:
The Secret History came tantalizingly close to answering the glaring question I have about KB: why 'Discoverers' rather than 'Explorers'? 'Discoverers' is such an incredibly ugly word, and I find it impossible to read it without thinking 'You mean, "Explorers".'
That's just due to translating English to German and then back to English. When I found out it was called Discoverers I said, "oh hey that should be Explorers," but it was too late to fix it.
31 
 Thumb up
0.01
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Donald X.
United States
flag msg tools
designer
russ wrote:
So it sounds like at no point was a no-luck version tried, right?
I did play a game with just choosing your terrain - not to seriously consider it, just to see how it played. I do not recommend it! I tried playing with a hand too.
20 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Donald, since you're so nice and answer our interview-type questions, I have another, please indulge my curiosity:

Have you considered a solitaire variant? Have you tried playing one? It seems to me that the game could offer a nice 'max your top score' experience. Perhaps by not using four tiles but two
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Donald X.
United States
flag msg tools
designer
Moonleaf wrote:
Have you considered a solitaire variant? Have you tried playing one? It seems to me that the game could offer a nice 'max your top score' experience. Perhaps by not using four tiles but two
I have not tried any solitaire variants.
7 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Clyde W
United States
Washington
Dist of Columbia
flag msg tools
Red Team
badge
#YOLO
Avatar
Microbadge: Terraforming Mars fanMicrobadge: Terraforming Mars fanMicrobadge: Terraforming Mars fanMicrobadge: Terraforming Mars fanMicrobadge: Terraforming Mars fan
Congrats on the SdJ nom! This is a great game for that award.
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
El Fiji Grande
United States
San Luis Obispo
California
flag msg tools
Former WA Delegate of The North Pacific on NationStates
badge
Who? Me?!
Avatar
Microbadge: Twilight Struggle fanMicrobadge: Arimaa fanMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: German Shepherd loverMicrobadge: Dominant Species fan
I tried playing a solo variant to the game, taking on the roles of two colors, but only allowing myself to see the terrain card of whoever's turn it was. I did this solely to learn the rules and develop a strategy for it before showing it to my friends. The thing is, while I was rooting for one color to win, I managed to beat myself twice in a row.

I also tried limiting the board space in both my solo variant and in multi-player games to see if the game took on the same strangling effect as is sometimes seen in The Settlers of Catan.

At the end, I prefer the way the game was published, despite my adventures into the subtle strategies of the game.

Also -- "Discoverers"? shouldn't that be "Explorers"? I can't read that card without trying to correct it every single time.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Caleb
United States
Seminole
Florida
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Gryphon Games Bookshelf series fanMicrobadge: Geek RegularMicrobadge: Copper ReviewerMicrobadge: Copper Session ReporterMicrobadge: Leo Colovini fan
Pithagoras wrote:


Also -- "Discoverers"? shouldn't that be "Explorers"? I can't read that card without trying to correct it every single time.
Asked and answered....in this very thread.
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Guy Riessen
United States
Sebastopol
California
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Belgian Beer loverMicrobadge: Train GamerMicrobadge: Heavy Games fanMicrobadge: 10 Year Geek Veteran
donaldx wrote:

It's true that if you both play poorly and have bad luck, you have less fun. Ideally it would be more fun there. Obv. if you play poorly and have bad luck you will lose
Also if you are player 4 or 5 and have bad luck, or even just average luck, you will lose, and you will have little fun. The game seems intriguing the first five or six plays, but without getting the optimal card draws, player 5 cannot and will not win, period. The game is not really short enough to allow multiple plays to mitigate the turn order and luck combo problems...and really, I don't want to play two hours of multiple Kingdom Builder plays rather than a single balanced two hour game.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Donald X.
United States
flag msg tools
designer
Sprydle wrote:
donaldx wrote:

It's true that if you both play poorly and have bad luck, you have less fun. Ideally it would be more fun there. Obv. if you play poorly and have bad luck you will lose
Also if you are player 4 or 5 and have bad luck, or even just average luck, you will lose, and you will have little fun.
I don't recommend playing with 5; there's too much downtime. I don't have any experience there. Publishers like to support one more player than is reasonable.

I play Kingdom Builder with 2-4, and for the first game of it in any particular session I always go last. So I have been player 4 a lot. I have not experienced endless crushing defeat in that position. In games without ace playtester Mark Levine, I'm the favorite to win, despite going last.
11 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ian Toltz
United States
Boston
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
designer
Your cat likes me more
badge
In brightest day / In blackest night / No evil shall escape my sight / Let those who worship evil's might / Beware my power--Green Lantern's light!
Avatar
Microbadge: Red Lantern Corps fanMicrobadge: Sinestro Corps fanMicrobadge: Green Lantern fanMicrobadge: Blue Lantern Corps fanMicrobadge: Violet Lantern Corps fan
External image
8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Nikolai
Germany
Münster
flag msg tools
Hidden trackable information in games sucks!
badge
I play games for fun and pursuing the goal to win the game is fun! :)
Avatar
Microbadge: Friends you make over a board game table can last a lifetimeMicrobadge: Rules readerMicrobadge: EconomistMicrobadge: I am a Terra Mystica fan!Microbadge: Concordia Venus fan
donaldx wrote:
Publishers like to support one more player than is reasonable.
Does that mean you recommend playing Dominion with as many as 5 players as the publisher says it is playable with up to 6? meeple

I think I remember seeing you say that you only play / playtested it with 2-4 as well, but I may be mistaken.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
1 , 2  Next »   |