Other Wise

Those numbers may not mean what you wish them to mean

Basic assumption: The game should last no less than 8 turns and have no more than 12 turns for a 4 player game.

The current map graph has 36 nodes and 62 edges.

Gut sense suggests that no more than 75% of edges should be claimed in a typical game. ie ~47 edges. Across 4 players that’s 12 edges per player per game. If players have a maximum of 2 explorers and gain the second explorer by turn 3, that suggests a total of 13 routes per player per game, assuming no lossage and an 8 turn game (optimistic 8 turns?). So far this seems reasonable.

If claiming a route produces a cube on each end of the route (as is the current thought), a fully built network will contain 124 cubes. A 75% built network will contain ~93 cubes.

Assuming that explorers equals proas (which doesn’t work, but bear with me) means that an 8 turn 4 player game delivers 64 cubes or, ideally, ~5 satisfactions per player or a more probable 3-4 satisfactions per player. given partial inefficiencies. This is a problem. The average number of satisfactions should double that. The only real way to address is to decrease the satisfaction definition or increase the number of deliveries.

Moving to a DiscoInferno? (Ted’s AoS expansion) style delivery pattern (chained opportunism) delivery rule would increase the average number of satisfactions per player per game to 5-6, assuming that cube production keeps up (not clear). This is better but still within the range of a problem. Cube production rate seems the main throttle at this point. There simply aren’t enough cubes available fast enough to sustain the deliveries.

A possible solution is to put 2 cubes on each island during setup, plus one at the end of each route when claimed. I’ve not done the stats yet, but that smells about the right rate.

Assuming a similar proa growth curve to AoS Links growth (which breaks above assumptions) and assuming that all steps are bought with fish rather than passed deliveries gives ~82 fish transactions per player per game. Mapping that against claimed routes gives an average personal fish production of 26 fish per player per game. This is clearly a problem: costs are unsustainable. A possible address is sustained fish income. Certainly the extra drain of Kula items on the fish economy is grossly excessive. Approximately 4 times as many fish are needed in the game in the ideal case. Practically this should mean ~6 times as high a production rate in order to sustain kula trade as well.

Currently fish are earned when delivering over a player’s own route. The player produces fish when delivering over his own route and pays fish for delivering over other’s routes. This is insufficient given the current expenses model. Simply increasing production by 6x is uninteresting. Without an expenses model moving fish to a standard exponential growth curve makes the end-game uninteresting (at least WRT fish) due to largesse. Adding expenses ala AoS may be too derivative. More likely another modestly inefficient sub-game to generate fish is required.

This is going to require thought. If more fish are to be produced, what is to be sacrificed in order to produce fish? Advantage? Resources? Opportunity? Position? Tempo? Phase control?

It is entirely unlike and yet similar to…

Is the distinction between supply and demand tokens unnecessary?

Keeping the distinction has two results, both minor. 1) It is easy to ensure that there are 3 supplies for every demand while also having a somewhat random setup. 2) It allows a blocking tactic in which multiple demands are grouped around a small number of supplies without satisfaction, thus driving delivery traffic in that direction. While I really like the tactic, I’m fairly sure it is not enough to justify an entire mechanism and related complexity.

Ave imperator!

It seems time to write formalised rules.

Counting submersible sheep

Fish are a basic currency (shades of KaiVai).

VPs may be traded 2:1 for fish at any time.

When another player’s segment is used to make a delivery the moving player must give them one fish per segment of theirs that it used.

When a delivery uses the active player’s segment they receive a fish from the bank. This is the primary input source of fish to the economy.

The delivering player earns VPs for a delivery equal to the number of supplies of the delivery type present at the delivery location after the deliver (and before satisfaction).

After a delivery a player may create a kula ring trade item. Such items cost 3 fish and give the creating player 1 VP. Kula ring items are represented by 3 special tokens.

Upon making a delivery a player may give up to one kula ring trade item to each player who possesses a segment connected to the island delivered to. A player giving a kula ring trade item earns 1 VP.

When a kula ring trade item is given one of the three tokens forming the item are discarded.

A player possessing 2 kula ring trade items (possibly from different sources) may combine them into lots of 3 or more to make new kula ring trade items to give away. They earn 1 VP per kula ring trade item they give away.

A player may possess a kula ring trade item for up to two turns without loss. At the end of the second turn the player must discard 30% of all their kula ring trade tokens, rounded down.

Fish decay (more shades of KaiVai). Players must discard all fish they’ve had and not spent after two turns (enforce economy velocity). Fish received from other players via building bids start out “fresh” no matter how old they were when paid.

Two delivery opportunities per turn. Players must delivery on both turns or must increase Links or Explorers instead (limited by max). They must make deliveries even if it hurts their position. (Links and Explorers may also be increased without a passed delivery for a $fee of fish)

Odd notions of a third currency?

This is not the game you thought it was

Clearly the city colour assignments will need to be adjusted. Probably the hills too, slightly. Meanwhile the first draft of the rules to give an idea of where I’m heading: AoS-Romania-rules.pdf (original file missing). These are of course untested and in fact unplayed beyond some vague mental maunderings done while typing. They are simply the base set of rule concepts I’m looking to throw at this map. It is likely that several won’t survive.

The mantra of vision

Two types of resources across N colours. 3:1 ratio across types. N is in the 4-6 range. ~15 more common resources of each colour (~5 of the less common).

Resources are distributed across the islands. Possible all of them, more likely a subset with more coming out later. Most likely more come out as routes are built to islands.

Type #1 resources (big) are demands and are less common. Type #2 (small) are supplies and are three times as common. Demands want to meet their suppies in a 3:1 ratio, at which point they mutually annihilate (kept by players as VPs?).

Demands and supplies may be moved over competitively built routes by players. When a supply coexists with a demand it may not be moved (or visa versa). Once a demand is satisfied (3:1) it is removed from the game.

Players have money and a number of explorers (initially 1). Players nominate routes to be built, one per explorer. They may then bid on who gets to build each route. Bids are money. Players may sell VPs for money. Players may bid on any number of VPs. Subsequent bids may only be equal or higher (or only higher?).

Player order is then ordered in descending bid amount. The route with the largest big goes first with the largest bidder having the option to build it. In the case of a tie on a single route the nominating player picks. In the case of a tie across routes it defaults to prior player order. Building is free but the nominating player receives the winning bid. A player may win and opt not to build. A player may build routes equal to the number of explorers they have.

A player may not build more routes than they have explorers. Once all the building is done (single pass through the routes), then each player may deliver a supply to a destination or visa versa. Player’s have an AoS-style? Links limit. They may pass on a delivery to grow Links or may buy a bigger Links for cash (first to a level most expensive, subsequent cheaper as it becomes more common?). Two rounds of deliveries. Only one pass tor grow Links. Players must deliver if they can (unless they pass to bump).

When making a delivery resources travel over built routes. Each player owning a route used gets $1 from the bank per route. The delivering player also gets money equal to the number of resources (not supplies) of that type present on the island after the delivery.

At the end of a delivery a player may make a gift of some multiple of $3 (limit $3 per target player?) to one of the players possessing a link connected to the destination island. In return the donating player receives 1 VP per $3. The receiving player receives only $2 of each $3, the other $1 is returned to the bank. This is a nod to Kula ring patterns. Such money can then NOT be spent on bids and may only be used for Kula?

At the end of their last delivery a player may buy an explorer for cash. A player may not have more than 2? Nominating a route with a second explorer costs cash?

Repeat for next turn, possibly inverting last turn’s player order? (They weren’t distracted by building/bidding much and so had first opportunity to explore).

Game ends when all demands of N colours are satisfied (N is ~3).

End game scoring: VPS gained during game for Kula-ring donations, plus 3 VPs per island with a plurality of routes, 2 VPs for second plurality, 1 VP for third? Ties round down. Plurality of satisfied demands of colour is 5/3/1 VPs across the pluralities?

Ultimately this is a sorting game (cf WayFinder). The basic problem of the game is to sort the supplies and resources in coexistant sets in a 3:1 ratio. VPs are scored for sorting, sorting satisfaction and network control supporting sorting.

Sadly, as described this game is 100% tactical.

Dipping a Toe in the Kava

Historical higration patterns across Polynesia as derived from genetic and cultural data:

Very early draft of a potential board based on that:

I’m deliberately excluding Australia as a non Polynesian participant (not strictly true but good enough for this game’s purpose). I’ll possibly make some routes directional based on migration routes. This doesn’t make great sense however as once an island was discovered communication was bidirectional. Still, some link directions very difficult doe ocean currents and the prevailing trade winds. I’m probably also going to do some route adjustment to give a reasonable balance of islands with various numbers of connections (I’m especially concerned about odd/even balance). Will see. I want to play with the graph for a while and see how the things flexes…

Nothing could frame thy fearful symmetry

First pass with towns, city colour assignments and terrain:

(Sorry, image lost)


  • I ultimately added another city in Timisoara (and moved it closer to where Resita really is) purely for gut-feel balance reasons
  • I’ll price the hexes adjacent to Belgrade higher as foreign links
  • I knocked off two half-hexes from the northern border in order to help it fit on the publisher’s paper (should have little to no game-effect)
  • Most colours are assigned simply on census population reports. This Bucharest and Belgrade got royal purple etc
  • Despite the note below I didn’t group the colours in the south east. I’m hoping that the terrain pricing, long gap to Bucharest and general absence of towns will sifficiently weaken that area due to production difficulties
  • The rest of the cities, predictably, got a fairly normal distribution
  • Yeah, there are only 11 cities, not the normal 12. This is deliberate
  • I may yet lose 2 or 3 towns. Or not.
  • I won’t allow urbanisation of towns adjacent to cities (only two cases this time)
  • The urbanisation pattern for the centre of the map is going to be hugely significant. This is where the map and each game will make or break, but there are just enough towns off in the boonies to make defensive urbanisation viable. Hopefully I’ve helped move the town focus a little further west due to colour choices
  • I don’t think I’m going to bother with rivers. Just hills and mountains
  • This is starting to feel less like a 3 player map than like a 4 player map that plays well with 3
  • For the obvious reasons I won’t be posting the exact rules here, but I will be discussing the rules development and implications.
  • Blog name changed from Age of Steam: Rat Race (name relevant to desired mechanisms) to AoS:Romania (obvious reasons)

The hobgoblins of the inner spaces

One of the small things I like, especially as a game designer and player for whom theme is not very important, is that all the candidate mechanisms being considered for this map can be neatly plugged in against Romania’s history and various political systems. With a very little work it could be hard bound to a very specific period of Romania’s history. Ultimately I likely wont directly consider theme until the rather late days of the rules writing, and then I’ll pull it out for the introduction, flavour text and any nouns and verbs I’ll need for the rules changes. The result will be a rather heavily themed game, one with all primary mechanisms consistent with and tied in against the theme..

I really like that. I like that the game can be designed in themeless terms and then retroactively themed in a consistent and supportive manner. I find it pleasing. I’ve done this for all my other Age of Steam maps (published and prototype). Let’s see how well it pulls out with this more public design process!

Imposing the map

Some of this early attempt exploits a prior attempt at an AoS:Romania map:

That prior version of the map however was far too large for publication and had crippling rules problems. However it fed ideas into this new attempt. A basic hex grid that will fit on a 24″x18″ map sheet superimposed on a map of Romania:

(sorry, image lost)

Now to tag in some potential cities (tan) and possible town locations (blue). The locations are primarily selected on the basis of population census data for Romania and secondarily influenced on the basis of historical railway paths (some shown on the background map).

(sorry, image lost)

Until writing this entry I wasn’t aware of quite how much work and past experience went into getting to this point. For instance I’m going to have to be particularly careful with city colour assignments. specifically I’m going to have to put multiples of the same colour in the east near Constantinople. Additionally whatever colour I put in Belgrade will greatly affect the standard patterns of development through the towns North of Bucharest and West of Galati. No matter what I do, those towns will tend to be the lynchpin towns of the map, just like AoS: Wales is similarly controlled by the fate of the towns of Dinas Mawddy, St Harmon, and Culmington.

As a result, Urbanisation will be immensely powerful (and possibly the most desired action in the game). AoS:South East Australia certainly has this pattern and is similarly based on a network-growth-through-urbanisation pattern for most of the late game.

The next step will be to sketch in terrain and city colours and towns. A few hours over that should show that the map is viable as an Age of Steam basis. After that it is simply a case of writing the first pass rules. It is at that point that the real work begins:

  1. Write a spreadsheet which simulates the game as played by the new rules
  2. Play somewhere between fifty and a few hundred games on the spreadsheet and see what I can make work or break
  3. Tweak the rules
  4. Repeat from #1

During this process the map probably won’t change much at all (asides from the odd city colour assignment). Only the rules will change.

NB Larger images and related discussion of the above finished Age of Steam maps can be found on BoardGameGeek:

Driving Miss Theme

Many of the Polynesian societies used gift economies. Idea:

— A player may “give” money to another player and receive VPs from the game, possibly with a better than linear rate of return. In this way a player may enhance their score by enhancing another selected player’s tactical position.

cf Kula Rings

The crabclaw sail grabs hold


— Map rather similar to Clippers’ map (prob minus double routes and keeping directionality in a few areas). Possibly more islands and more linkages.

— Resources come in 5 or 6 colours and occur in two types (which we’ll call big and small). There are far fweer big than small. Big are demands, small are products. There are thrice as many small than big in each colour.

— One random big is placed on each larger island along with one small. Two more smalls are placed beside the island in an ordered sequence. Ensure that smalls are not placed on islands with bigs of the same colour.

— Game starts with players in a random order.

— Each player in turn nominates a linkage by placing their player marker on it (each player has only one of these)

— In rotation in player order players may bid on nominated routes by placing money beside a player’s marker and placing an ownership token atop the money. Players may only bid if their bid exceeds or equals any other individual bid on that route. Players may pass.

— Once all players have passed the player whose nominated route garnered the highest bid goes first. They may either take (their choice) of the higest bid, thus allowing that player to build/claim that route, or they may build/claim the route themselves. Repeat for other players, tie breaker for ordering is passing order. (Nash equilibria problem here)

— Possibly limit nominations to those connected to starting locations or to prior built routes.

— Cost of routes? Preset?

— When a route is built connecting two islands, the top small on each end (if any) is produced onto the island. If there are none left, or the island is too small to have any, none are produced.

— Possibly re-order players to match build order.

— Once all players have had the option to build/claim, each player may perform two deliveries (AoS-style). Smalls may be delivered to bigs and bigs may be delivered to small. Smalls may not be delivered away from an island containing one or more bigs of the same colour, and likewise for bigs. (ie this is a sorting game)

— When delivering over a route the owning player receives one income on the income track.

— The delivering user is paid in income equal to the number of smalls of a matching colour there are on the target island.

— Three smalls of colour matching a big are removed from the island and the big given to the delivering player. (Figure out a reason later)

— Players may pass on a delivery to increase their AoS-style? Links.

— Nice to blend in something like a Business Development action to seed more bigs and smalls on islands. Not sure how to add SP&R.

— A delivery through an empty major island (can or has contained bigs or smalls) costs an income.

Repeat until No deliveries are possible and N or less bigs are left on board.

— Scoring looks like bigs are worth a lot of points with money being a minor source (possibly requiring an action to trade in).

— Income might be traded for VPs at the time of generation, 2:1 (figure out what to do with rounding?). Ditto later in the other direction. Players should start with ~10 VPs? Better ratios? 3:1 and 2:3? Asymmetry?

From small quakes do tsunamis grow

This design effort was inspired by the thought experiment surrounding Age of Steam: Rat Race.

Begone the fateful sailor

The Polynesian game based on the Clippers board has been spawned off into its own listing at ‘Ohana Proa.

Grass skirt preferences

I’ve been playing with a modified version of the Clipper’s board, simply adding price weightings to the island connections and changing the graph slightly Not sure yet whether directionality really works, but the ideas are cute. While still pick-up-and-deliver, it is clearly not an AoS derivative any more.

If it gets anywhere I’ll start another blog for the Polynesian thing (Pineapple Equilibrium?) and continue the AoS map (likely under Romania) here.

Moribund Moebius Map

The income reduction pattern of deliveries through empty cities will change the value and balance of long deliveries significantly. Running a 6 train through 4 empty cities is no better than running a 2 train and in some ways is worse. If track building/network growth opportunities are also larger, then this will afford interesting zero and negative sum decisions. Certainly the current race of Grow-Links-Fast? will no longer be automatic. I expect that this dynamism will require this to be a 3/4 player map.

Map-wise the pattern of cost containment of empty cities suggests one of two forms, either a roughly even distribution of cities and towns (towns having the advantage of never deducting income), or a circular map with the cities looped around the outside with the towns clustered in the centre (or visa-versa). AoS:South East Australia already uses a similar patten to good effect with the empty morass of central Queensland’s towns.

Candidate locations:

  • New South Wales — cities clustered on the coast and back towards Adelaide (ie where the Murray gets fat). Map also tends to be too large for a good 3 player game.
  • Portugal — Nicely long-skinny, cities mostly on the coast, can cluster foreign links heading into spain and via sea routes
  • Belgium — Overly baroque shape fits poorly within desired hex grid size
  • Netherlands — Conflicts with Alban Viard’s and Bohrer’s maps as well as my won Scheveningen
  • Turkey — Nice rectangular shape with reasonable city distribution, interesting terrain, but probably builds a larger map than wanted
  • Romania — More of a cup-shaped city distribution, may have excessive clustering at the scale I’ll need to use, entertaining mountain patterns
  • Polynesian Islands — Map most of the Pacific Islands, everything is a sea route, possible directional routes, link-specific costs, possible very fast start to game.

Winners: Romania and Polynesian Islands. Romania would be more traditional. Polynesian Islands would be more interesting and therefore more difficult to sell.

Conclusion: Do both, pick later.

First circle the drain before being flushed away

I played Age Of Steam: Wales with a new group last night (and was so out of it that I made a utter mash of the game — quite embarrassing). (AoS: Wales is a prototype map that I hope to have released later this year — implements both standard and narrow gauge track). Perhaps more interesting is that last night’s game prompted some thoughts about a possible new Age of Steam expansion. I don’t know if there’s enough there to really pull a map out of, but I’d like to try.

Basic ideas:

  1. Goods cubes are produced on cities only when a track segment is compleated connected to that city. There is no Production Phase.
  2. Passing through an empty city during a delivery costs an income for the moving player.
  3. Production Action replaced with Business Development action which allows N random goods cubes cubes to be bought for $Q (linear or exponential cost?) and placed on the production chart.
  4. A delivery through a city with a developed goods cube produces that cube and does not deduct income
  5. No income reduction

For now I’d like to not use the simplified Peroxide economic system, though it is tempting.

Positional prostitution

A significant portion of the game surrounds efficiently meteing out token resources over the duration of the game. While this is interesting, it is a single pass decision space (there is no opportunity to revisit investment decisions or change gross investment patterns). Perhaps it should be multi-pass (ie support more adaptable and responsive strategic structure depths).

I’ve a fondness for games which allow exchange of victory points for in-game advantage. The best ones (for my tastes) support giving specific other players (potential) victory points. The more general case involves sacrificing personal victory points for position (equivalent in the zero sum view). I generically prefer the targeted distribution simply as it allows players to competitively position themselves for handouts and I have a particular fondness for games in which players can create emergent dependencies; positional structures in which it is in a player’s positional self interest to help another player win as the most effective (or even only) method of improving their own position (KaiVai makes extensive use of this pattern and it is a common feature of good Age of Steam and 18XX play). A possible application to Pax Mongolica could allow VPs to be sacrificed to re-acquire previously spent tokens. A more(?) entertaining form which hews closer to my interests might allow a player to resurrect tokens by simultaneously resurrecting a larger number of tokens for another player. eg PlayerA resurrects N tokens for cost X, which results in PlayerB also receiving 2N resurrected tokens for free (rations and costs TBD). As a result players would explicitly (plan to) position themselves for positional handouts from other players…positional prostitution.

Thematically this is a mess. I’ll probably have to change the tentative Viking/Varangian theme again. A small loss. I’m a more concerned that the game is too mechanically rich, too many layers in the mechanical layer cake: network building, combat, player-elected scoring, turn order auctions, area influence, resource (exchange) management., special powers and roles (which I’ve never felt good about). Time to start pruning again?