Other Wise

Paste glue and narrative

I’ve the sense that the game would do better with a silly theme. Perhaps something like robbers competing in robbing banks and each other’s hoards or some such. Suggestions are welcomed.

Polishing the acorn

New/better/polished rules.

Cleaned up some ambiguities, fixed the initial deal, I Win! cards are now worth points, tweaked the variants.

The windmills of my cards

The deal description is wrong.

The first player should get the 1/5/9 in one suit, the 2/6/7 in another, and the 3/4/8 in the third. The second player should get the same thing but with the suits allocation rotated once. The third player should get what’s left, which is the same distribution with the suits rotated the last time.

I’ll get a formal versioned PDF of the rules put together and posted soon.

The reduction of bouncing water

Ohana Proa did not make the cut for Hippodice. It scored 3.33 versus the required 3.1.

I’m pretty satisfied with the the game as-is. The rules are in good shape, it plays well, I enjoy it. Perhaps it is time to start talking to the Peter Eggerts of the world.

Onward ho!

Boil and bubble

Initially targetted as a perfect and certain information three player card game with both a high Take-That! factor and high control. This game is the product of roughly 15 minutes actual thought and a little mumbling to myself while taking a shower.

The game consists of two decks of cards. The player deck and the prize deck. The player deck consists of 31 cards: three suits of 11 cards (red, green, blue) with values ranging from 1-9 inclusive, plus three I Win! cards and three blank player identification cards. The prize deck consists of nine cards, three in each of the three player suits with values of 4, 6 and 9. The back of each prize card is coloured to match its player suit.


0) Shuffle the prize cards and deal them out in a face down line 1) Pick a start player and give them the red player identification card and the red I Win! card. The green player identification and I Win! cards go to the player to their left. The blue player identification card and I Win! cards go to the player to the start player’s right. Each player publicly displays their player identification card and takes their I Win! card into their hand. 2) Separate the three player suits and sort the cards in each suit into ascending order. 3) Starting with the start player deal one red player card to each player until the deck runs out. 4) Starting with the player to the left of the start player deal out the blue player deal out the green deck in similar fashion. 5) Starting with the player to the right of the start deal out the blue player deck in similar fashion. 6) The dealt player suit cards form each player’s hand along with their I Win! card.


1) Turn over the leftmost prize card and add it to the prize pile (beside the row of face down prize cards) 2) In turn order starting with the start player each player plays a card face up before them. 4) Resolve the trick. 5) Repeat from step #1 eight more times, starting with the winner of the prize suit in the last trick 6) Each player claims half their prizes 7) The player with the highest score wins.

Resolving the trick:

The trick is resolved by resolving each suit in order, starting with the suit of the prize card, then the remaining suit with the highest value card played (tiebreak goes to the player suit to the prize suit player’s left), then the last remaining suit. If no cards are played in a given suit, then that suit is not resolved for that trick. If no card is played in the prize suit then the other suits are resolved as necessary and the prize card is left in the prize pile. In this case the lead moves to the next player to the left of the previous lead.

Resolving the prize suit:

1) Whichever player played the highest valued card in the suit of the prize card takes the prize pile card(s) and places them along with the card they played in their score pile. If any player played their I Win! card then they automatically are considered to have played the highest card in the prize suit. If multiple players play their I Win! cards then the earlier played cards are considered “bigger” than the later played cards. 2) If another player also played a card in the same suit, then the player from #1 separates their score pile cards into two face up stacks. The player with the next highest card in the prize suit then takes their choice of the two stacks and places those cards in their scoring pile along with the card they played. 3) If the third player also played a card in the prize suit, then the player from #2 separates their score pile cards into two face up stacks. The player with the smallest card in the prize suit then takes their choice of the two stacks and places those cards in their scoring pile along with the card they played.

Resolving other suits:

1) The player identified by the suit divides their scoring pile cards into two piles. The player of the highest card in that suit takes their choice of the two stacks and places those cards in their scoring pile along with the card they played. If the player played a card in their own suit it is merely added to there score pile. 2) Likewise again for the next lower card in that suit. 3) And possibly yet again for the third lowest card in that suit.


Each player sums the value of the cards in their scoring pile. I Win! cards are worth nothing. The largest score wins.

Variant #1:

When dividing their scoring pile into two sets for another player to choose from, the splitting player must ensure that the two piles have as close as possible to the same number of cards as each other.

Variant #2:

A tenth trick is played, but without any prize cards. The suits are resolved starting with the suit of the player that lead the trick.

Decompositional question

A night of odd dreams.

Let’s say I adopted a hyena model. The hyenas would simply be autonomous critters that wandered the landscape consuming corpses.The pack would grow as it ate, and when larger than X would split into two packs. A pack would consist of N hyenas per tile (not more than two), and would move deterministically toward the nearest corpse, injured or healthy player token (in that order) that another pack is not heading for, twice a day. If more than Q hyenas stepped on a mine it would explode (no choice for the MP) with mostly standard effects (less damage for the hyenas or hyenas heal over in 2 turns).

The real purpose of the hyenas would be to provide an additional drain on the MP’s deployed munitions. I fear that without such a drain the map would progressively fill with munitions until every tile was loaded by the end of the game. Additionally the the hyenas would provide a distracting target for the MP: the MP can’t afford to let the hyenas run about uncontrolled. Finally, the hyenas could provide an interesting set of tactical opportunities ala: 1) Get kids eaten by hyenas by front and back edge of map (not easy, but bear with me), 2) follow hyena pack back across landscape in safety, letting the hyenas detonate any mines along the way.

A possibility. However if I adopted the hyena model, how would it also translate to the disease attack themeing? If the players are diseases attacking a host body and the MP is the host’s immune system, what would the hyenas represent? Surgical excision of dead material? Hurm, there are all sorts of interesting things that lead from there…

Numbers are next, then rules, then simulation.

Fearing fungal dismemberment

I was dreading making the tiles for this game. ~150 Carcassone-esque tiles with adjoining features that form a coordinated land image? The prospect of drawing, printing, mounting and cutting such tiles with any hope of reasonable registration or attractiveness of final result was not enheartening. Urk, no thanks, not me.

A recent trip to the local craft store (D&J Hobbies in Saratoga) gave another idea: Wood squares (roughly 5cm square) painted basic green using poster paint. Different shades of green could indicate plains versus forest. Gray or gray spatters for rocks. Blue or blue strip for river/pond/lake. 150+ tiles should take less than an hour to produce. The map can then be made by simply stacking the tiles into a pleasing form, the resulting grid forming the play-map, the elevations and contours made providing some of the terrain interest for the variant move rules.

Possibly even more pleasingly the smell of the poster paint is reminiscent of preschools. Something is begging me to do this game.

The virus model for the game theme is also growing on me. Becca (a local) has been complaining vociferously that viruses don’t have intelligent direction and that their mutation rates are too low to support the other aspects of the game design, and … she’s right. I suspect mostly however that she’s really just likes the Evolutionary Psychology aspects of the infanticidal theming. I have sympathy. Still, I do like the idea of players playing the role of plagues fighting to infect a host body (represented by the Military Player). It is H G Well’s War of the Worlds all over again.

Meanwhile the repeated requests for roving packs of corpse eating hyenas aren’t exactly falling on deaf ears. Certainly I can imagine interesting models which tie their breeding rate to the food supply via player corpses and then allow fully automatic movement and manipulation of the hyenas (cf the spiders in Atta Ants), but while interesting that also feels like it heads away from the heart of the resource-management design. Nice ideas, shelved for now.

Battle of the cleavage – splitting hairs

A jumble.


  1. a shared board across which the families move and a private board the Military Player (MP) maintains to track his own mine placements.
  2. every player has a private board and merely calls out the locations of their pieces as they move

Intuitively I prefer #1 as it allows for easier coordinated /shared action among players, as well as reducing the temptation and ease of cheating.

In mucking about in the area it struck me that a Battleships board would be perfect for the MP. They could use the same board and pegs, perhaps with coloured tips, to mark their mine locations secretly from the other players. It would only be a tracking aid however.


Players build a 10×10 landscape using square tiles. Landscape features include a river, forests, craters etc. Some features span multiple tiles. The total number of tiles in the game should probably be in the 120-150 range to allow for more variant setups.

Some terrain restricts movement. Some restricts movement for injured only (hard to crawl uphill when you have no legs). Possibly also movable objects (eg big logs) Rivers automagically move contents one tile in direction of flow.

MP seeds the land with face down activity markers. Some will be mines of various types, some will be nothing at all. In seeding the map it will be clear to the players how many munitions of each type were placed, just not where they were placed. The MP would record their munitions placement on their Battleship board.

Players start moving kids across the landscape. Movement is orthogonal. When a kid enters a tile the MP may declare that it detonates. If so appropriate results occur. Some detonations will may also detonate adjacent tiles. Appropriate results again.

Once a kid has entered a tile the tile is “safe” until the tile is left empty. When entered again it may detonate. Thus a kid may secure a tile and hold it secure while other kids hold adjacent tiles secure while a chain of kids traverses them.

Max population of a tile is limited. ~3 or ~5 probably.

MP weapons:

  • Standard mine. Kills tile contents.
  • Big mine. Kills contents, causes orthogonal neighbours to detonate (no choice).
  • Small mine. injures tile contents.
  • Cluster mine. Kills tile contents and spreads 1/2 kill mines to N of 8 surrounding tiles.
  • Mortar. Placed on back of map. Can be moved during nightly restock. On any patriarch action can fire. MP specifies target my placing up to two 3×3 grids of target markets on the board within N squares of mortar location (N=4?). After patriarch’s next action mortar lands. MP reveals targetting tile to indicate target. Mortar kills tile contents and injures orthogonal neighbours. Mortar causes target tile mine to also detonate with possible chain reaction for big mines.
  • Barbed/razor wire. Placed on a tile during nightly restocks. Reduces movement by healthy to 1/2. Injured can’t penetrate. Destroyed by mines and mortars.

A game is organised into days.

  • Each day starts with the MP buying munitions and seeding the field some portion of his stock. May also move mortar emplacements.
  • Then the patriarchs take turns in rotation, each choosing one of three possible actions. Basic actions are: Move, Queue and Equip (?).
  • A given action may only be selected so many times before it is unavailable. Then only the other actions are available.

Once two actions are depleted the day ends.

  • MP is paid cash for kills/injuries and MP may buy new munitions with cash.
  • Patriarchs:
    • Feed their at-home population
    • Unfed population starves and is injured
    • Excess food suppresses breeding rate and cash flow?
    • Receive charity food based on injury/kill rate etc.
    • Breed as a function of food supply change
    • Receive money from already escaped kids

New day starts.

Basic problems:

Patriarchs must:

  • ensure sufficient injury rate for themselves to sustain food supply for their population.
  • ensure sufficient population (inverse function of first derivative of food supply), to maintain activity
  • escape enough kids across field to secure money flow to equip later kids well enough to escape military build up
  • keep MP’s score within winning bounds
  • ensure MP income is low enough to ensure future surviveability.

MP must:

  • distribute income against munition types and expenses
  • distribute munitions effectively
  • detonate munitions efficiently versus score and income
  • keep his own score and specific patriarch scores within winning bounds.
  • generate future income for munitions

It doesn’t feel like it is holding together yet. There are kernels there, but nothing coherent yet. It is still incoherent. Part of the problem for me is that I’m trying to do trinary relationships for the first time. In comparison with ‘Ohana Proaexternal link which strictly implemented binary current translations pairs (A->B), I’m attempting trinary relationships with Splatter my Children and am finding it hard. The intent is for every decision to involve tradeoffs on not just two but three fronts.

I think it is time to get this thing out of my head and either make a quick and dirty slips-of-torn-paper prototype, or actually go full hog and write a little software implementation in Python.

Stretching nerves, render unto efficiency

One of the things about the limited action system (stolen from Wabash Cannonball, tho it is not original to there), is that it provides an interesting turn tension. The is functionally organised into rounds. Patriarchs rotationally take turns until they have exhausted two of the three possible action sets. Any action used by a player which isn’t moving a kid across the minefield is essentially a wasted action that gets less done before the military player gets his next restocking of munitions. But without using those other actions players can’t get kids onto the field, can’t breed new kids etc etc etc, all the necessities required before being able to move kids across the minefield.

This is cute: the more you waste time with getting ready to move kids across the field (which may enclude equipping them with anti-mine devices like chains and brooms), the more impenetrable the minefield will be. The less time you spend on those background actions, the more readily and easily your (expensive) kids will be offed.

The result, I think, will be encouraging tight coordination between relatives. A player may move their kids or their relative’s kids (half distance?) on their turn. Thus the players may attempt to optimally distribute kid-moving versus non-kid-moving actions among themselves so that the maximal distance is covered and the least possible number of non-kid-moving actions are used as required for each player’s success. Of course the fact that the relative linkage is leftward will make that interesting: you can move your kids or the kids to your left, but the leftward player cannot move your kids, only his and his leftward player’s kids. The result is a leaning domino chain of delegated responsibilities.

Hurm. It may be more interesting to have the relative relationships bind in the direction opposite to turn order. Must think about this. The short version is to pick the direction which is more difficult to manage.

Odd thought: Returning an injured kid back to the home side of the board generates extra bonus food? (Display before media? Extra action choice?)

Wages of sincerity

Knowing me, a part of the system will turn into a currency management problem, effectively a question of how to process children into VPs, so I might as well confront that aspect now. The obvious elements:

  • Healthy and injured family (injured generate more food), healthy and injured relatives (injured generate more food for them and less for you) and healthy and injured non-relatives (injured reduce food allocation for you and your relatives)
  • Population growth rate of your family and your relatives (function of what?)
  • Death and injury rate of your family and relatives
  • Kill and injury rate for military player (higher rates produce more replacement munitions faster)
  • Family population versus food allocation (starvation), and ditto relatives
  • Population camp versus population traversing minefield versus escapee/saved population
  • Military player’s score and patriarch’s isolated and combined score.

Other thoughts:

  • Possible distribution of sexes? Female score more, or injured female generate more food, or other sex-tied relation?
  • Cannibalism
  • Lotteries
  • Excess food discarded or increased mortality/injury rate due to over-eating? If injury then there’s a nice feedback loop where excess food produces injuries which produce more food.
  • Trade system for giving food to other players? How would the value of the transaction be recorded? VPs? Suppression of next turn’s food generation?
  • Increase breeding rate whenever food production falls. Decrease breeding rate whenever food production rate rises. No change on stasis?

Life is pain! Early exit ticket discount!

WRT naming of kids: One vision of the game has meeples for the various tokens. Possibly even meeples of different sizes, some with little names printed on them. Cute little familiar names, Billy, Joey, Alice, Beta, Chuck, Sally etc, or maybe even things like Boopsie and Pudge. Smaller ones could even be carved with diapers or some such. Whatever. How you then treat them is up to you.

Remember, you get more food from the UN/charities to feed the rest of your family the more they die or are injured, so you’ll want to plan and schedule that to make sure you have the right quantity of food when you need it and no more.

Counting little fingers and toes

All else aside the first problem is to define the scoring method. The game definition, mechanisms etc are a logical extension of the scoring system. The early posts below specify variable turn order and other mechanisms. That’s silly. Until the scoring is defined there’s no reason to define mechanisms.

As currently described this is a two sided game: the military against the patriarchs. Additionally the patriarchs compete to be the highest scoring patriarch. It is tempting to make the win-state a trinary and allow both the military player and the lead patriarch to both win together. The result would be novel and assymetric: The military player can win or lose against the patriarchs, the patriarchs can win or lose both against the other patriarchs and against the military player, and possibly both the military player and the a patriarch can win together against the other patriarchs. The key characteristic of that broad brush-stroke appears to be a mix of cooperative and competitive play.

The military player’s metrics are fairly clear: slaughter and injury rates versus escapee rate. The better he does at impeding the genetic survival of the families the better he scores. This suggests a simple linear scale with a zero centre point. The better the families do the more the military player’s score tends to the negative. The more mayhem the military player causes the more his score will tend positive. Add in a central zone of scoring where the military player has to share the win with the lead patriarch and the cooperative play elements are extended to include the military player. Simple enough modulo the exact numbers.

The patriarch’s scoring system is a little more interesting. They must cooperate with each other and value each other’s survival and escapee rate, while also valuing each other’s success less than their own. There’s already the concept of each player having another player’s family as their “relatives”. Given the cooperative focus this presents an opportunity for a pretty simple scoring model that emphasises the combination of cooperative and competitive play:

  • Players score for their own survivors
  • Players score half as much for their relative’s survival
  • Players lose score for their deaths by starvation? (probably not)
  • Players do not lose score for their deaths by military? (probably not)

The tempting model is to make each player’s relative the patriarch to their left. Thus a patriarch’s score is roughly:

(survivor_count * 2) + (left_hand_player’s_survivor_count)

Thus each patriarch is directly motivated to ensure the survival of their left hand neighbour, just not at the expense of their own family survival.

Knowing excision of malignant material

I’m quite aware of the indigestibality of the theme. This is deliberate. I expect few publishers would welcome the theme as described. Possibly the game never will be published. I don’t design games for publication, I design them for my own amusement with possible publication as a pleasant bonus. My first interest as always remains designing an interesting game.

I can also see a whole host of ways to tone down the presentation of the theme without changing it structurally. It doesn’t have to be about children. It can be simply “family members”. In fact it doesn’t have to be about family at all. It could be about disease: the military player can be the immune system and the other players can be diseases attacking a host body. That’s irrelevant thematic window dressing. I like and am amused by the minefield theme and so am using it as a working assumption up until it no longer applies well to the design — then I’ll discard it and put on some other theme that fits the logical design.

Given the level of feedback plus how poorly blogs support commenting (nobody is alerted to comments or their replies) I’ve opened this blog to general posting. Y’all can now post to the blog directly.

Willing the dead horse to live

New rules link.

Several sections of the rules slightly re-ordered (moved advanced game text lower in each section. Some wordings tightened. Nothing significant.

Oh, and I submitted ‘Ohana Proa to Hippodice.

Go out and die my son

I’ve been toying with this game design for a few weeks. The primary thematic element involves running children across minefields. Those that survive the trip get to escape to presumably live good lives. Those that don’t, well, don’t. The players effectively take the part of family heads determining which and how many of their own children to send out when for potential slaughter or safe passage (they have lots of kids). Key elements are that the game is semi-cooperative, explicitly zero-sum, inferential deduction of likely landmine locations, setting up other player’s kids to clear the path by stepping on and blowing up the landmines for your kids to then follow safely, deliberately sacrificing your own early kids in order to determine and secure a path for later stock etc. The goal (scoring) is simple maximal genetic survival, primarily of direct family then extended and then remote family.

A minor goal of the game would be to provide an opportunity for discussion and education on topics ranging from landmines to exploitation of children, sacrificial costing, personal versus family/group survival, lose-lose decision structures, the meaning of personal sacrifice, relativism etc.

Basic premise:

  • Hex map
  • All hexes contain tokens. Tokens are either mines or dummy mines. Tokens are face down.
  • One military player against the rest. This player plays the side of the military. (In a large player count game there may be two such players?)
  • Players have two types of tokens (direct family and indirect family)
  • Players start at locations along one edge of the hex map.
  • Two types of locations: locations exclusive to each player and locations which start out with a mix of tokens (lids) for different players.
  • Initial allocation of tokens to locations is done round-robin during setup.
  • After setup players round-robin give each other relationship markers for in-laws and cousins (one of each)
  • Each location has a token pool and a queue
  • Turn order is variable. Details TBD.
  • On their turn a player may do one of 3 things:
    • Move one of their kids already on the minefield N steps across the minefield, or move one of their kids at the front of a location queue N steps into the minefield. (N/2 if injured kid)
    • Acquire more kids
    • Move a token in a location (their’s or other’s) from the pool to the queue
  • Each action may be chosen a limited number of times. Once two actions are exhausted all actions reset their use counters.
  • When two actions exhaust their use counters military player gets to (secretly) add more mines to the minefield
  • Initial mines are placed secretly.
  • Mines come in two types. Simple kill mines and scatter mines (kills and scatters half-kill mines in surrounding hexes. The player’s stock of mines is public.
  • Player also has dummy mines.
  • At the end of the turn the player must feed their kids. Food resources are proportional to family death rate: the more die in your family the more food received from charity organisations
  • When a kid moves on the field the military player states for each hex entered whether a mine there explodes. If a mine explodes the military player must reveal the mine, deliver the appropriate damage, and distribute new half-kill mines as applicable.
  • Military player receives new stock of mines proportional to number of kids killed
  • Game ends when all of one family has been eliminated or made it across the minefield.
  • Players score points for members of their (extended) family that made it safely across, less points for cousins and less again for in-laws (the other players). Player with the most points wins.
  • Kids behind the minefield do not score.

Temper now, careful of your temper

New rules.

New player aid.

Brand new game player introduction (with pictures of the game in play).

Most of the many changes are due to the generous help and commentary of Scott Russell.

Additional playtests have put the game time solidly around 150 minutes with new players, a little less with experienced players.

Beat this ploughshare boyo!

New rules.

New player aid.

In a fit of masochistic self-pity I proffered the rules for criticism on the Spielfrieks mailing list. Happily they weren’t gentle.

  • The most common complaint was resolution of turn order, specifically the handling of values of shells versus fish and whether or not multiple players could bid on the same route. It is likely that “bid” is the wrong word for this section but I’ve yet to come up with a better one. Rewritten

  • Clarified that bidding on a route also explored it

  • Clarified that deliveries could use other player’s routes

  • Clarified that only directly connected routes produce during delivery

  • Clarified that discarded fish, shells and kula are returned to the supply

  • Clarified that kula may be re-given

  • Re-ordered prestige generation rules for clarity

  • About Explorers and Proas section removed, content rewritten and folded into the Explore and Delivery sections.

  • Duplicate content removed from Delivery (specification of stopping at first island with a matching market)

  • Further annotated and signalled Advanced Game portions

  • Other small edits

  • Matching changes made to player aid

Beat the drums lowly, the changes are slowing

New rules.

New player aid.

Slight edits to the map:

  • Added a red section to the prestige track to call out the game ending condition of 33 or more prestige

  • Removed the previous player aids on the map as they’ve been supplanted by the actual player aids

— Trimmed the size of the background image to be narrower as we had difficulty fitting the game on the narrow tables in this weekend’s sessions

As I’ve had difficulty finding a good map of the thousand islands region of the St Lawrence River, I’m going to toss the Earthsea map and just use the same base map for three players by just varying the setup:

  • Back down to 5 colours of markets instead of 6. This should change the rate of market stacking on development from 1/3 to 2/5 (ie slightly more frequent). The result will be a marginally more resource and thus prestige rich game, but also one in which delivery opportunities and intersections matter more.

  • One less market per development stack. This should accentuate the slight starvation patterns encouraged by the reduction in colours. It should also encourage a more diffuse network building pattern. Happily the math works out too.

Both changes should lead to a tighter, leaner and more aggressive game, as suited for 3 players.

There were several more playtests this weekend. All played smoothly and I’m well pleased. I’ll attempt to remember to get the pictures off my camera and post them. Calling out two sessions in particular:

Session 1:

4 players, 3 new, playtime of 165 minutes. Game ended on 33 prestige but would have continued no more than 2 more turns before one market ran out. All four players had more than 30 prestige. Less than a dozen points spanned from first to last, making this the closest game to date. The eliminated player had the second highest score before elimination.

The new player aid was frequently used in the rules teaching and was regularly referred to during the first quarter of play (up until just after focus moved from resources to kula). We started out with a 3 player game but then added a fourth (Eddie) just after the rules explanation. Jason did a notable job of teaching Eddie the rules while I ate lunch. While I gave him a copy of the rules, he taught the game entirely from and with frequent reference to the player aid. Jason called out the player aid as both useful both in comprehending the game and in adding a comfort level for players attempting to digest the game’s complexity (”I can ignore the details, concentrate on the big patterns, and look up the details on the player aid later when I need them”).~~

Session 2:

4 players, 2 new, playtime of 130 minutes. Game ended on 33 prestige but would have continued no more than another turn before one market ran out. Two players had more than 30 prestige. More than 30 points spanned from first to last. One of the players from the first session above beat me by 1.5 points — he had second-most VPs but just enough more prestige than me to take the win. The eliminated player had the lowest score before elimination and appeared overwhelmed for much of the game. Again the player aid was frequently referred to during rules teaching and up until shortly after the kula race started.

While players were (almost) always able to answer their questions from the player aid, there seemed to be some uncertainty on where to look on the player aid for the answer to a particular question. My current summary is that the player aid has the right factual content, but may need a presentation/sectioning/titling adjustment.~~

A change of attire

New rules.

New player aid.

Added endgame condition of 33 prestige.

Slight formatting and language changes.

Delivery boy for the penultimate end

We’ve done four more 4 player playtests without much event. However the last couple 3 player playtests have been more interesting:

First session

After just over 15 minutes of rules explanation we played a 3 player game in a little under 150 minutes. The game worked well and generally as predicted and was well received.. Oddly almost 3/4 of market development stacked immediately. Unlikely. As a result scores were unusually high in the early game, and deliveries were scarce and aggressively fought over (turn order) Exchanging VPs for resources remained popular far later in the game than is usual and as a result the game never got into the mad struggle to convert resources into prestige that is desired. Yet…it worked. Perhaps not ideally in my mind, but it functioned and was more than interesting.

As a result of that playtest I added an island and a few routes to the Earthsea map to try and balance out the (highly thematic) advantages of c These are the same changes mentioned in the last blog entry.

Second session

This time the market distribution was equally unusual with almost no stacking and an extremely even distribution of market colours across the board and within development stacks. The result was a 210 minute game before three colours finally all ran out on the same turn. Aggressive play (as the leader) on my part could have shortened the game but I would have had to sacrifice positional advantage to do so. Prestige levels were absurdly high due to the continuously rich delivery field. Whereas games will usually end with the highest prestige in the high 20s to low 30s, I ended the game with 67 prestige with another player also above 60 and the trailer in the 50s. Not good. The game was clearly determined long before it ended (I ran away by almost a factor of 2). This suggests that an alternate game ending condition which would trigger at the early determination point is indicated. Functionally the game worked. Both players found it enjoyable with the second place player happily bemused and pondering at game end (a desired response that also occurred in the previous 3 player session).

With the current game end definitions play length is effectively a function of the normality of the market distribution. If the random market distribution tends towards clumping and stacking, then the game will run shorter. The more the random market distribution runs toward an (equally unlikely) even (and unstacked) distribution, the longer the game will play. The range is roughly from 135 minutes – 240 minutes assuming “typical” players. The goal is 150 minutes with new players. An obvious temptation is to end the game when a player achieves a prestige of 35 or more. That’s just far enough into the final multiplier bracket that a close competitor is likely to follow, but not so far that the game will exhaust. The result should be that only unusually even distributions invoke the end condition and that the new condition should curb the game appropriately.

Roke remains too strong. Much as I Like the idea of a specifically 3 player map, it is not clearly needed or clear that the default Polynesian map wouldn’t function equally well for 3 players. The problem is that Roke effectively sits in the centre of the map, doesn’t have the problems with draining too quickly like Havnor and is trivially connected to all the major lobes of the map. The real problem is that the map is roughly circular and asymmetric with Roke in the lynchpin position. I expect that I’ll abandon the Earthsea map rather than fix it. Much as I like Earthsea (I adored the books as a kid) the long term licensing fees and problems surrounding a licensed product are too large to bother with. I’m tempted to do a Science Fiction map set in the worlds of Perry Rhodan (an absurdly popular SF pulp series in Germany that I also like), or, more likely, in the more than 1,800 islands along the St Lawrence River between Kingston and Brockville. At least there the amerindians have something of a gift economy tradition to fit that oh-so-essential theme and the map is naturally long/narrow.

Nanometres of the edge of life

New rules — no big changes, just tweaks on wording.

Polynesian map rescalled and trimmed for easier play, but no graph changes.

Earthsea map added an island and a couple links to stretch the endgame by 1-2 turns.

The new map images are a little easier to play on due to better node spacing.

Sticking it to the kahuna and approaching gravy

New rules.

I’ve moved kahuna to the Advanced Game and for now I’ve decided to go with the increased kula prices rather than shifting the multiplier ranges. According to the spreadsheet it works out well enough. Oh, and I upped the market colour count up from 5 to 6. We’ve played several games this way and it makes market delivery patterns slightly tighter earlier in the mid-game and brings in the end-game a turn or two faster.

The only rules change required for the smaller Earthsea map is a reduction in the market distribution to match the smaller set of nodes (25) and distribution stack markets (80) (as versus 30 nodes and 95 distribution stack markets in Polynesia).

No other changes seem to be necessary or called for in the game other than the above. It is feeling very close to done. Now to test the Earthsea map and re-verify the Kahuna-less game.

And the wallet bone is connected to the bribe bone

Much more work and thought has been going into this project than I’ve had time to document. Some notes:

  • Most important: Scoring is (good_press-bad_press)^2+money. Ties go to highest good press. Player with the most bad press is auto-eliminated

  • Event cards come with money (total defined on card). Other values on events are good and bad press. Good press slightly outnumbers bad press. This guarantees a winner outside of ties.

  • Draft an event higher up the stack results in money from the bank going on lower cards

  • Select an event and resolve it against your network, or play money and resolve it against another player’s network

  • There are three phases per turn: networking, event, press resolution.

  • In networking each player plays two cards, or plays one card and pays money to move one network card

  • In press resolution rounds only one step of the graph is resolved, not the full graph.

  • After all event cards are processed, networking and press resolution alternate until graph is empty

That’s just another fish in the wall

Another set of playtests on the Polynesia map went extremely well.

Despite my efforts the game persists in trying to last about 3 hours with all new players. 2.5 hours is definitely in reach for an all-new player group, but it is a fight.

The only aspect that I’m still fiddling with is the Kahuna. I’ve been convinced for a while that they are not strictly necessary to the game, but I like them and so left them in, seeing them as a possible expansion mechanism. I’ve played and without them. One of today’s games however revealed their downside with efficiency-minded players: They’re resource production magnifiers and when they’re used efficiently resource production rates get very high (I was producing almost 30 fish plus more than a dozen shell every turn) and the lower value kula tokens are thus simply not as interesting. That’s a problem. Fortunately the obvious resolution is simple:

1) Remove kahuna from the base rules and make them an optional advanced game

2) Rescale the prestige multipliers to every 15 rather than every 10 when using kahuna


2) Increase the kula token costs to 5/11/7

That’s simple enough (I’ll probably drop the second rule change for the third after I work over the spreadsheet some more). Everything else is working well. Hopefully we’ll get in another game on Monday and again on Tuesday if Corrupt Benifecence doesn’t distract with its own playtesting.

Recent playtests have also started to clearly reveal that the game really has three phases. It always did, but it took a bit before I noticed it so clearly:

1) The first portion of the game is dominated by infrastructure building and is very zero sum competitive.

2) The mid and most of the late game is dominated by sustaining the income rates required for ideal gift-giving (kula).

3) The end-game, which is relatively short, is mostly defined by limiting and constraining the delivery opportunities of key players through route claiming and which specific markets are available for delivery when.

The only other change I’m looking to make is:

  • 3 prestige may be discard to allow both deliveries in a turn to use one more proa than the player has

    Not a biggie but it makes prestige even more fungible. It is a small change that, again, should occur in less than half of games, but it will make for more interesting end games.

    I should remember to get pictures of the game in play posted…

The profits of being all wet

The core problem of the game that the players try to solve is simply that described above: the iterative process of building and modifying a DAG across which both good and bad things flow such that they net profit over the other players from their DAG manipulations by the end of the game.

This is going to be an extremely counter-intuitive game. Great.

Initial theme concept is of competing political campaigns. The politicians are of course self-serving and slimy. The player in the best shape at the end of the game wins the upcoming election and thus wins the game. There is no ranking, merely a winner and a set of losers.

I expect this will be a (near) pure card game. Unfortunately I suspect it won’t fit neatly within a multiple of 60 cards, but I’ll worry about that later. Scaling is probably 3-5 players. Multiplayer chaos is likely a problem, but we’ll see.

Basic pattern:

  • Each player has an (identical) hand of cards, coloured to match their player colour. Each card has on it two values, a ‘good’ value and a ‘bad’ value. The values are likely five or less for each. The exact values are to be determined by some number theory (which I’m assuming will work).

  • There is a deck of event cards. Each card contains two events, one good and one bad. I’m thematically supposing Kovak-style cartoon art. An example card might read, “Your politician has a mistress…who is REALLY HOT! (good)…with more than two legs! (bad). The good events will have a “good press” value, and the bad events will have a “bad press” value. The expected value range is probably less than 7 for each.

  • The event cards are shuffled and a draft pool of at least N+1 are revealed, where N are available for drafting and when one is drafted the N+1’th becomes available for drafting.

  • The game consists of rounds. First is a networking round, then one or more rounds handling the press outfall from an event.

  • In the networking round players iteratively play one of their cards on another player. This may repeat several times until each player has played several cards. Played cards accumulate in front of that player.

  • Possibly a player may spend money to move a previously played card instead of playing a new card.

  • A card is played by placing it face up in front of another player. In this manner each player will accumulate a tableau of cards in front of them.

  • There is then an event round. The active player selects an event from the draft pool. The event comes with good tokens equal to the good value of the good event and bad tokens equal to the bad value of the bad event.

  • The active player must then distribute to good and bad tokens to the cards that players have placed in his tableau. The event is essentially a pair of press stories about the other player’s candidates and the player’s must try and use their social networks to distribute the bad press away from them and to try and “collect” the “good press”.

  • The player must distribute the tokens equally among the cards put in front of him by other players, with the cards with with higher values (of each type) getting priority for tokens of that type.

  • Each player then retrieves the tokens placed on their (cards), and distributes them among the cards placed in front of them which have a higher value than the card they took the token(s) from, with priority again going to highest value. The one change is that the player may keep any good press tokens that are left over after a “fair” distribution (minimum 1) to the cards in their immediate network.

  • Good press tokens are good, bad press tokens are bad. Tokens that have reached the end of their network are collected by the player and define their score.

  • This then repeats with players retrieving and distributing tokens until all tokens have reached the ends of their connection graphs.

  • Next is another network building round, another event selection, another set of press distribution rounds etc, then repeat etc.

  • After N event or possibly an internal metric (one player achieves a state) the game ends.

  • Good press tokens are worth N more than bad press (bad press is better than no press) , player with the highest score wins. Possibly a largest bad press elimination.

    — Possible additional mechanism would allow players to spend money(?) to distribute bad tokens they’ve already accumulated to their downstreams? There are several other possible ideas for mixing in currency models.

    This morning’s shower was good for Corrupt Beneficence; I think got the core of a game put together while the water drummed staccato rhythms on my nape.