Other Wise

Hippodice round 2

Subject: B: 'Ohana Proa
From: J C Lawrence 
Date: Fri, 31 Oct 2008 17:39:25 -0700
To: autorenwettbewerb@hippodice.de

J C Lawrence would like to submit 'Ohana Proa to the Hippodice
competition.  He is the sole designer and his email address is
XXXX@kanga.nu. 'Ohana Proa is designed for 3-5 players, age 10+ years
and lasts about 150 minutes.

Please find attached a description, the rules and a player aid.

J C Lawrence                        They said, "You have a blue guitar,
-------------------------(*)                        You do not play things as they are."
XXXX@kanga.nu                       The man replied, "Things as they are
http://www.kanga.nu/~claw/          Are changed upon the blue guitar."

Falling off the train

I posted this as a comment/reply on BGN, but it seems worth preserving:

My most common internal question during design is: How can I make this decision point more nuanced, more subtle and less obvious? Obvious decisions are non-decisions. Early decisions should only make later decisions more difficult and less obvious. Ideally every decision in the game should be a challenge, a challenge both to determine that the decision is present in the first place as well as to decide on a good answer for that decision.

Future millstones

Assuming that Capitalisation (or control of Capitalisation) remains the most attractive early action in the game (an argument I’m having difficulty supporting):

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-C3/3 P2/C3/3 P3-C3/2 P4-D1/1 P4-D1/21 P4-E2/42 (E6/D3/C0)
  • P1-D1/43 P2-D1/44 P3-D1/45 (E6/D0/C0]

Total actions performed: 9

Total actions per player: P1:2 P2:2, P3:3, P4:3

Now let’s assume that P1 recognises the action race and changes tempo:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-C3/3 P2/C3/3 P3-C3/2 P4-D1/1 P4-D1/21 P4-E2/4 (E6/D3/C0)
  • P1-E2/57 P2-E2/5 P3-E2/5 P4-E2/6 8 (E1/D4/C0)
  • P1-E2/79 (E0/D4/C0)

Total actions performed: 11

Total actions per player: P1:3 P2:2, P3:2, P4:4


Let’s assume that P4 wins one of the early share auctions with his cash lead and thus has more he can develop:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-C3/3 P2/C3/3 P3-C3/2 P4-D1/1 P4-D1/2 P4-D1/3 (E7/D2/C0)
  • P1-E1/510 P2-E2/511 P3-E2/512 P4-E2/5 (E3/D2/C0)
  • P1-D1/6[.1 Encouraging dividend for low cash player] P2-D1/69 (E3/D0/C0)

Total actions performed: 12

Total actions per player: P1:3 P2:3, P3:2, P4:4

Now let’s assume that P1 is cash poor, diluted on both sides and that P2 in similarly incented towards a fast dividend:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-C3/3 P2/C3/3 P3-C3/2 P4-D1/1 P4-D1/2 P4-D1/3 (E7/D2/C0)
  • P1-D1/4 P2-D1/4 (E7/D0/C0]

Total actions performed: 8

Total actions per player: P1:2 P2:2, P3:1, P4:3

This is fascinating. The players have no choice but to focus on Expansion next turn as there’s just no opportunity for any more Development. What interesting rhythms!

  1. Guarantees next turn
  2. Assuming only one share held, nothing left to develop
  3. Fastest route to an addition turn
  4. Also
  5. Selected in order to guarantee a dividend
  6. Guarantees next turn
  7. Most populous action, doesn’t drive dividend.
  8. Guaranteed not to get another action before the dividend.
  9. Instant dividend
  10. Almost certainly in a corner, needs a dividend fast but can also get two Expands, which could (unlikely) be better
  11. Also doesn’t want to push it?
  12. Expects to not get another action before the dividend
  13. Instant dividend

Moving categorical confusion

Ooops. I just noticed that one of the side effects of nesting the game-project categories is that the RSS feed URLs for the categories have now changed to represent the nesting. Arghh. Sorry guys. If this is a real problem please comment below and I’ll stick in some Apache rewrite rules to handle it.

Grassy bleed

A more tactically interesting turn:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 P2-E2/2 P3-E2/2 P4-C3/3 (E4/D5/C2) (no change)
  • P1-D1/3 P2-D1/3 P3-C3/5 (E4/D3/C1) (no change)
  • P1-E2/51 P2-C3/6 P4-E2/52 (E2/D3/C0)
  • P1-E2/73 P3-E2/74 (E0/D3/C0)

Total actions performed: 12

Total actions per player: P1:4 P2:3, P3:3, P4:2

Note that the round ended due to exhausted actions at the same time as it ended for total action points. This may be deceptively convenient, in which case the reins will need to be drawn in a bit. More interesting is the turn-penalty for being late in the turn order. How curious! Is this the coat-tail-riding forced-alliances of Preußische Ostbahn, or is it just bad to have cash? How very appealingly curious. It might be time to build a small AI to model a few basic player incentive assumptions and see how this pattern plays out.

  1. P1 assumes that P2 will Capitalise, and so goes on an expansion offensive, certain that he’ll get another turn either way
  2. P4 merely follows the expansionist suit
  3. P1 again expands while the expanding is good, trusting that P3 will end the round for a dividend
  4. P3 obeys

Cud cyclotrons

Somehow I seem to keep returning to the action selection and turn order mechanism in Muck & Brass. The current Pampas Railroads and Wabash Cannonball is a little unstable when employed for the very cash and share-sensitive Muck & Brass. I’m not convinced it needs changing, but I’m also not convinced it doesn’t. An unpleasant kettle.

I’ve been looking at a variation on the previously discussed and dismissed model, but losing the sliding concept and using a fixed tie-breaker for collisions.

  • There is a grid of action squares, one row per player. 7 columns long
  • Players start with a marker in the first column of one the rows of the chart, ordered by increasing personal cash going down (this could change, see below)
  • The player whose marker is furthest to the left and closest to the top (tie breaker) has the current turn
  • There are three action tracks (Expand, Develop, Capitalise) but likely with a different distribution: 7/5/3(?)
  • On their turn a player selects an available action, moves the cube on the track in the standard manner and does the action (not optional?)
  • Upon completion of the action the player’s cube is moved forward on the action chart per the cost of the action (Expand: 2, Develop: 1, Capitalise: 3?)1
  • The next/same player (leftmost/top) now takes their turn, etc etc
  • When two actions are exhausted or two players reach or pass the end column of the chart dividends are paid in the normal fashion and the action tracks reset

Possibly the turn order tie-breaker, after the first round, can instead of cash be the reverse order of total action points used in the last round; the implications aren’t obvious to me.

An example opening round using the format Player-ActionCost/ActionTotal followed by a summary of how many of each action are left is listed below, one line per re-ordering:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 P2-E2/2 P3-E2/2 P4-C3/3 (E4/D5/C2)
  • P1-D1/3 P2-D1/3 P3-C3/5 (E4/D3/C1)
  • P1-D1/4 P2-C3/6 P4-D1/5 (E4/D1/C0)
  • P1-E2/6 P3-E2/7 P4-E2/7 (E1/D1/C0)

Total actions performed: 13

Typical total actions per round in Wabash Cannonball: 8

Typical total actions per round in Pampas Railroads: 9-10

Total actions per player: P1:4 P2:3, P3:3, P4:3

I’ve made little attempt to make action choices logical. This is just a thought model. Most noticeable is that the rounds is longer (more actions done in the round). This may be acceptable, albeit at a cost in game length. My surface sense is that the tactical choices in this ordering are interesting and rather tweaky.

  1. Yes, Develop is cheaper than Expand: this creates both temptation and tempo

Category management

In order to ease managment and overview of the site I’ve created a Game Project category and moved all my design projects under it. Aside from some resultant sorting and nesting of the category list, there’s also now an RSS feed for just my game projects. See the This Category link in the sidebar when viewing the category.

Warning: About to close the Winsome Games’ 2008 Essen Collection Order Line

I will be closing the order line for the Winsome Games’ 2008 Essen Collection in a few days. By rough estimation I’ll have the games by the second week of November and will be shipping them out then.

Rotary vortex

Turn structure

The base idea is a set of rounds, each round consisting of distinct phases executed in order by each player before moving onto the next phase or round:

  • Construction
  • Operation
  • Resolution

Turn order is rotational. Start player moves back one space each round.


Players have 2 action points. Available actions:

  • Purchase a colony (2AP)
    • Cost dependent on level
  • Place colony (1AP)
    • Placement limitations:
      • 3 edges from nearest colony for level-1
      • 3 edges from nearest level-1 colony and 5 edges from nearest level-2 for level-2 colonies
      • 3 edges from nearest level1 colony, 5 edges from nearest level-2 and 7 edges from nearest level-3 for level-3 colonies
    • Colony may upgrade previously placed colony by same or other player
      • New placement
        • Connected routes for new colony must pay docking fees of $2 per route in promissory notes to colony owner
      • Upgrade placement and new owner:
        • Previous owner gives promissory notes to new owner equal to half-cost of current docks
    • All exploration bonuses leading to colony are claimed
    • Spaceships present on node are docked (returned to player)
  • Purchase and place factory (1AP)
    • Cost is a function of level
    • May be placed on other player’s colonies
    • Factories come in three levels (1/2/3) and size (1/2/4) and produce goods of their ssize
      • Level-1 factories come in 3 primary colours
      • Level-2 factories come in 3 different secondary colours and accept their constituent primaries as inputs
      • Level-3 factories are black and accept any two different secondary colours as inputs
    • Sale price for a good is market price*size
    • Large(r) size goods can be delivered to small(er) factories where they count as a single input
    • Placed factory may not be same colour as the input or output of a factory already on colony
    • Sum of factory sizes on colony limited by level of colony (1/3/7)
    • May upgrade previously placed factory for delta cost
    • Placement of size-3 factory causes all connected size-1 factories to rust (removed from board)
  • Advance travelling spaceship one edge (1AP)
    • Double speed if on already explored edge
  • Move docked spaceship to connected colony and advance one edge (1 AP)

Player’s travelling spaceships which are not advanced during turn are removed from the board along with the paths they explored.


The Operation phase is split into three steps:

  1. For each player in turn order:
    1. Produce products on all level-1 (input-less) factories
    2. Move products across network to consumers
      • Pay for network transit per colour
      • Owner of product pays market price (forced) for product
      • May not delivery to factory if an input of that colour is already present
  2. For each player in turn order:
    1. Produce products on all level-2 factories that have both inputs
    2. Move products across network to consumers
      • Pay for network transit per colour
      • Owner of product pays market price (forced) for product
  3. For each player in turn order:
    1. Produce products on all level-3 factories that have both inputs
    2. Move products across network to consumers
      • Pay for network transit per colour
      • Owner of factory received market price from bank


The Resolution phase is split into three steps:

  1. For each colour of level-1 factories adjust the market price for that colour:
    • down if there are unshipped goods of that colour
    • up if all products of that colour were consumed to produce level-2 products
    • no-change if all products of that colour were shipped but not all were consumed
  2. Each player now exchanges promissory notes with their owners to reduce the number of notes in the game to a minimum (trade a player’s promissory notes with that player for notes they hold of other players, repeat until no further exchanges are possible).
  3. Each player pays all promissory notes other players hold of their’s.


Preferably game ends when bank breaks.

I’m concerned that Operations and Resolution are horribly fiddly. Transaction density is a problem.

Snapping tendons

Basic patterns:

  • Network growth is slow and beginning a spur commits the player for 2-3 turns as a failure to extend an incomplete link on a turn looses the spur
    • Network occurs on a penrose mesh
    • Growth spreads from central hub
  • Reaching previously untouched nodes rewards money when the spur is terminated at a colony (cf Through the Desert tokens)
  • Colonies (which are placed on nodes) cost both money and an entire turn to purchase, plus an action to place
    • Ergo colonies are purchased on spec and then placed as/when advantageous
  • Like networks, colonies are owned by the constructing player
  • Colonies can be upgraded/scaled by any connected player
    • The upgrader owns the big colony, the original builder the inner hub
    • Size of colony limited by number of connected colours
  • There are placement distance rules for different size colonies
  • Colonies may contain factories
  • Factories are either original producers (no inputs) or require input supplies before production.
    • Three base factory types (no inputs)
    • Three secondary factory types (requires two different-type base-type inputs)
    • One terminal-type factory (requires two different-type secondary-type inputs)
  • Factories cost money to buy and an action to place
  • A factory may not be built on a colony which contains a factory which accepts that product as either an input or an ouput
  • Factories come in 3 size scalings, each requiring a bigger host colony
  • Size 3 factories cause all size 1 factories to rust
  • Between network manipulation rounds players produce on their factories and feed their goods across the network to other factories etc in production chains
    • Money is paid for sold goods, network use etc.
    • Long term commitments (eg factory hosting on colonies are represented by promissory notes issued by factory owners (pay $X to bearer every round)
    • Promissory notes may be traded collapsed in standard logical reduction fashion
  • Factory goods have a small 18XX-esque market
    • Goods which can’t be consumed drive prices down
    • Goods which are fully consumed drive prices up
    • The ranges are fairly small(?)
  • Game is ended based on factory construction (N rounds with size 3 terminal factory) or bank breaking
    • End game score is cash
    • Promissory notes are worth cash at some exchange rate

Getting the costs/values right will be interesting.

Race for the entrance

I’ve been noodling a game tentatively called Space Race for a few months now. Inspired by Clippers (which I’ve been playing a lot of), Indonesia, Wayfinder, ‘Ohana Proa and the 18XX, the intent is for the players to simulate a producer/consumer pipeline across an emergent transport network between nodes that the players also provide and define. A very free-form game.

A few of the other basic intentions:

  • Economies of scale mostly won’t
  • An amusing argument against Seth Jafee’s Ship vs Build game model
  • Also an argument against the general Multiple Paths to Victory view of games (I find it a near meaningless term)
  • No (few) proper nouns — a fully emergent game with little to no prior definition, just emergent patterns

Farewell lunch at Trends

Much of the old crew got together for a farewell lunch at Trends today. It was great to see everyone again, shake hands, eat good food and perhaps even to remember the late nights, all the projects we together carried over the line despite, and more than all that, what great people they are to know and work with. Thank you.

Sadly a few couldn’t make it (there was an All-Hands-On-Deck). Life happens and sometimes the bear does get you first. But never fear, we’ll have another lunch with them tomorrow.

Pursuit of employment

I was one of the 1,600 laid off from EBay/PayPal (I was on the PayPal side), so I’m on the job trail again. My resume is in the standard place (HTML, PDF).

Capstan turning chanty

The kula model is interestingly incestuous.


  • Added track markers
  • Added boat marker
  • Simplified delivery rules due to boat marker
  • Added missing text that when delivering through another player’s kahuna the other player gets VPS
  • Clarified 8th proa/prestige text to indicate that it may apply to both delivery rounds
  • One extra prestige awarded for every two gifts given at an island
  • 1 prestige point for each two kula given when a market is delivered

New rules for ‘Ohana Proa.

New Player Aid for ‘Ohana Proa.

Hey ho and up she rises!

Another playtest of ‘Ohana Proa last night using the knocked back rules (no reciprocal giving, shorter prestige track, single prestige for extra explore or extra proa etc). This time I got to sit out and watch them play rather than participating directly. Game-wise it worked well.


  • Several requests to add a boat marker so that players can move the boat along the routes during their deliveries and thus more easily visualise their positions and potentials. This seems a fine idea.
  • Just like the last playtest, many comments to the effect of the game being mechanically simple and yet quite un-obvious.
  • Many exclamations on how well balanced the game was. While one player fell far far behind in prestige, he was able to catch up through clever route building and bidding in the late game. Scores ended up with a ~25% spread from first to last (the eliminated).
  • Single prestige discard for extra explore or extra proa worked well and was regularly used. Player who used it the most later cursed this as he ended one turn in the lead with 29 prestige and was then second when the game ended. I was delighted.
  • Complaints that the board is too busy and difficult to visualise. Primary problem seemed to be that the route markers are round and easily visually confused with the round markets. The result was that there were many Oh dear that route is/isn’t claimed yet! during the game. Discussion suggested that making the route markers rectangular and visibly directional so that they clearly indicate the claimed routes and strongly visually suggest the connected network.
  • Only one kahuna was placed during the entire game and it was central to that player’s success. Early kahuna are clearly worth more than late kahuna. The players were not convinced that kahuna were really useful, but most indicated that they’d look hard at putting down early kahuna if they played again.
  • Remembering whether kula were fresh or stale when given was found a problem. The kula tiles are too small, easily flipped, easily lost track of etc. Some of the current problem is simply due to the tokens being too small. Cards may be a better option. -The game again ran long: ~200 minutes. These latest games have run far longer than previous playtests, despite the accelerated start, simpler end-game, faster economy and other game-shortening measures. I suspect this is due to the majority of prior playtests being conducted with experienced Age of Steam players who quickly grokked the delivery patterns of the game.
  • The game nearly ran out of markets before players broke 30 prestige. This is concerning. Prestige production rates are slightly lower now that prestige is not rewarded for making new kula. There are a few obvious addresses: 1) Lower the end-game prestige bar, 2) Increase kula production rates, 3) Increase kula production opportunities. It feels like the kula pool needs to be sweetened by 15%-2o%. The problem with sweetening the pool is that it then also becomes more volatile. A little more volatility would be nice, but 20% would be far too much. I don’t want to drop the bar. I don’t want to re-introduce prestige for new gifts. Thematically prestige for stale gifts works better but is also richer than I want. So far the most tempting idea is to award an additional prestige for giving away more than N gifts at a single island where N is probably PlayerCount-1. Another idea is to multiply the points received by the recipient by the number of gifts given at the island. This would be a much more indirect approach but have faintly similar outcomes(?). Interesting…

Good stuff. Yep, gifts for gift-giving parties seem a fine idea. Now to run some models.

Revisions of review

We did a semi-blind playtest on Monday. I was there to answer direct questions but otherwise intended to be silent. As happens we also lost a player at the last minute so I also participated in the game which was regrettable.

They taught themselves the game from the rules, pretty much just reading it aloud in somewhat backwards order. This took roughly an hour. I can easily teach the game in under 15 minutes, but I also know it well. I’m a little unsurprised at the length involved as none of the players were prepared; they simply sat down, picked up the rules and attempted to learn the game from scratch A repeated complaint was the large number of forward and backward references in the rules. I’m not sure what, if anything to do about that. More distressing was that they did not use the introduction section to gain an overview of the game and thus provide context for the rest of the rules to fit into. Conversely I was pleased that there were no questions left unanswered by the rules and that all questions they did have were answered by the rules as written and roughly about where they thought that data would be.

The game also developed unusually. All initially claimed routes were adjacent in the initial exploration with many shared islands. Kahuna and a gift were purchased on the first turn of the game (first time ever for that). The game ended explosively with all players earning more than 30 prestige points in the last round. Final prestige scores ranged from ~56-75, which is a little ridiculous.

A few of the more specific complaints:

  • Calling exploration costs bids, while accurate, was confusing. They understood the costs as a bid towards turn order but felt that calling it a bid suggested an auction for the route explored. I’ve changed that language.
  • They missed the entire Game Start section (setting initial turn order and initial route explores). They suggested I either fold that into Setup or provide a link to Game Start (the immediately next section from the Setup section.
  • They missed the ability to trade VPs for resources ability. The text was there but they skipped over it for some reason. As a result they were confused over how anyone accumulated shells during the game. When I pointed this out the paragraph they’d missed there were no surprises as to where the text was or confusions over its contents.
  • Requests for simpler language in the (long) Delivery section. Done.
  • They noticed that the rules did not specify that delivery resources were taken from supply. Fixed.
  • Wayfinder was called out as a clearly visible antecedent design. They’re right. Added.
  • Kahuna were considered confusing and likely unnecessary.
  • Reciprocal giving caused an overly exponentially explosive end-game. This was considered a big problem. I agree. Reverted.
  • Playtime was over 3 hours. That’s far longer than any other recent playtest. I’m not clear on why.

On the reaction level the summary roughly summates to:

  • Very unclear what to do, what to head for, what to attempt from reading the rules
  • Mechanically simple, surprisingly mechanically simple
  • Too long
  • A (ver)y good game that still needs rough edges knocked off

Changelog for the new rules:

  • Bids are now costs
  • Corrected later/lowest language for turn order
  • One prestige for 3rd explore
  • Simplified delivery language
  • Specified that delivery payments are from the supply
  • Removed market colour game ending.
  • One prestige for an additional proa
  • Kahuna moved at cost on delivery
  • Added credit for Wayfinder
  • Moved Prestige multiplier boundaries
  • Reciprocal giving is gone (it was exponential in the end-game). Old-style gift/points are back.

I also reduced the prestige costs for extra explores and proas so as to make those choices more viable and interesting.

Thorn polish

With Hippodice drawing near it is time to dust and prune about the edges.

The changes aren’t large. I’ve shortened the end-game in “Ohana Proa a bit, hopefully lopping off 10 minutes or so, and allowed a pass action and end-game qualifier for Muck & Brass. I’m not convinced the latter is necessary but it is at least consistent with the rest of the pattern.