Other Wise

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.

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:

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.