The aim of the game is to make a name for yourself as the most accomplished builder. You win when you acquire three flag tokens, at least one of which has a star on it. You are awarded these flag tokens for building the most prestigious buildings. But in order to gain the resources to build these, you will need to build other buildings, and balance competition and co-operation with the other players.
The game has the following pieces:
4 board segments, each a 4x4 grid of terrain squares. These are assembled randomly to form the 8x8 board. Each square is either forest, mountain, plains, or water. Some board squares already have buildings built on them.
Different coloured pawns, one each for 4 players.
A number of cubes in 7 colors, representing the resources available:
Food (green, "F") is most commonly available.
Wood (brown, "W") and stone (grey, "S"), are the next most basic resources.
Marble (yellow, "M") and coal (black, "C") are rarer.
Iron (red, "I") is more valuable again.
Gems (blue, "G") are the most valuable and rare resource.
Note that whenever you see a white cube symbol, this represents any one cube (white, "A" for "any").
Three decks of cards, showing the resources acquired from the three different terrain types. Each card has two or three resource cubes on it, which may be the same or different.
A number of building tiles. These are being constantly tweaked: the images below are slightly out of date, but give you the general idea.
Oo, the white and crossed-out-blue for "any non-gem cube" is confusing. It looks like it means any cube plus a non-gem cube. --Rachael
Yup. The 'most and least flags' are hard to read, too. And the RobinHood? building is just plain painful - is it transfer any one cube, or is it lose any one cube and gain any one cube, who chooses he cube lost? It also looks like the flag is transferred. --Vitenka
The buildings aren't meant to have the complete documentation printed on them: just an indication of what they do as a reminder. I haven't written out the full explanation for each building, but I'll give it face to face to anyone before playing. So the full documentation for Robin Hood is what you'd expect: take one cube from the player with most flags and give it to the player with least. The player activating the building chooses which cube.
Robin Hood and the "any one non-gem" symbol were the hardest bits for me to represent in symbols: please, genuine request, if anyone can construct something that's clearer (while still being language-independent and fitting into the space), show it to me, because it's really hard. For the "any one non-gem", I tried a Caylus-style stack of food, wood, stone, coal, marble and iron, but that looked like you get one of each; I tried superimposing a number on it, but there's no colour the number can be that doesn't get lost in one of those six coloured cubes. A list of those six with slashes separating them (like on the Jeweller) would be awful, and would lose the simplicity of "any non-gem". The plus and minus symbols on Robin Hood are similarly difficult to find a legible colour against the red and blue of the flag and the dark green of the forest background. Really, if you can come up with something better, please show me. --AC
I think "any non-gem" would be clearer just as a crossed-out gem. There's not much else that could mean. --CH
Hmm... to me, a crossed-out cube (of any colour) on its own doesn't sound like "take a cube", though. It seems more like "lose a gem", or "you can have no gems", or "destroy target gem". It doesn't sound like "take a non-gem" on its own, to me. OTOH, if everyone thinks that's the best solution, maybe I'm just strange. --AC
[Here's my attempt] I think better still might be multiple cascaded flags to show 'lots' and a half-tone dotted-border flag for 'few'.
One of my earlier ideas had three flags to indicate lots, but it looked too much like a specific number rather than just indicating "lots". --AC
I think putting brackets around a slightly smaller not-blue would be enough to differentiate it.) --Vitenka
Now that's a good idea. I'll try that. (pootles) Yes, I think that's much better. Great suggestion - thanks. I've updated the images again: do a Ctrl-F5 to see if you agree. --AC
Well, the brackets are a bit too bold, but yeah, that's what I was suggesting. The other thing to remember is that the yellow will come out much darker when printed, so you probably want to use a lighter shade (as you have done for the flag background.) --Vitenka (I mean all the yellow, and probably all the other colours too, but it'll be most noticeable with the yellow. The + and - signs being the most problematic places.)
The cards in the decks have two or three resource cube symbols on them. You may exchange a card for the cubes shown on it at any time.
Whenever you're paying a cost in resource cubes (either to build a building, or to use the ability of a building), you may pay any mixture of cubes or cards. Return cubes to the stock, and cards to the discard pile for the deck from which they came. If you spend cards which have more cubes on them than you need to pay the cost, you may take the change in cubes. Example: To build the Lumberjack, it costs "FA": one food cube and any one other cube. You could pay this in a variety of ways, for example:
Two food cubes
One food cube and one iron cube
A card showing "WF"
A food cube and a card showing "G"
A food cube and a card showing "SC". Take a stone cube or a coal cube in change.
Hand size limit
Whenever you have more than five cards in your hand, you must immediately exchange at least one or more cards for the cubes shown on them, so that you have at most five cards in hand.
* Randomly order and orient the four board segments, to form an 8x8 grid.
Shuffle the three separate resource decks and put them face down at the side of the board. Leave space by each deck for a discard pile for that deck.
Set the resource cubes by the side of the board. Each player takes one food cube.
Lay out the building tiles face-up at the side of the board.
Randomly determine the starting player. Players will take turns in clockwise order.
In reverse turn order, from last player backwards around to first player, players roll a die, and place the building with that number on any space of the corresponding terrain type.
In reverse turn order, from last player backwards around to first player, players place their pawn on any non-Water space.
On your turn, you move up to two spaces, orthogonally or diagonally. You must move at least one space. Before, during or after these two moves, you may also move onto any number of road spaces, orthogonally or diagonally. You may not move onto an unimproved water space, with the one exception of when you're about to build a water building on that water space.
Then you may take an action. Possible actions are:
Use the unimproved space you're standing on, if you're standing on an unimproved space (one without a building) with a cube symbol on it.
Build a building, if you're standing on an unimproved space.
Pay the costs to the bank for any one building that can be built in the unimproved space you're standing on.
Put that building from the side of the board onto the space you're standing on.
Use that building once immediately when you build it.
Use the building you're standing on, if you're standing on a building.
Players may trade resources and/or cards amongst themselves at any time. Nobody is forced to make a trade (apart from when the Law Court is being used), and agreements aren't binding.
When a player has at least three flag tokens, including among them at least one flag token with a star on it, that player wins the game immediately.
I chose the turn structure of "move, move, act" in order to increase player interaction while still keeping terrain layout relevant. If in order to move you had to give up other actions, I think the players might just sit in their own isolated sections of the board, rather than use buildings that each other have built.
There's currently no gain at all for having someone else use a building you built. I considered a Caylus-style "the owner gets a bonus when someone else uses it", but there's no suitable payoff, as there are no VPs or money, and there's no unit of resources smaller than a cube, which would be too much. Plus such a cost would again probably reduce player interaction.
Tuesday 22nd April:
Movement is now forced. Roads have an action of "move 1 square and act in the new space", obtained for free when built. Abandoned the "you don't get change" rule and allowed changing cards to their cubes at any time. Market now has Oracle+Market power; removed Oracle and Broker. Factor (forest, FA) reconcepted as Collector (mountains, MA). Plains roads recosted from S to M.
Monday 12th May: Major reworking
I've done an extensive rework of the game, following feedback from Angoel and others. The primary focus has been on the twin aims of increasing player interaction and making it easier to tell how people are doing.
Player interaction is increased with ten different buildings that specifically affect other players: a few positively, and several negatively. There's also greater competition for buildings, with only one copy of most buildings.
Knowing how well players are doing led to the change of victory condition. Now you win if you have three flag tokens, at least one with a star. There are now eleven buildings that give you a flag token when built, four of which give you a star, plus one which lets you steal other players' flags (at a hefty cost).
The other main aim of the reworking was to stratify the resources into more tiers. Now food is the only basic resource; wood and stone are tier 1, coal and marble tier 2, iron tier 3 and gems are (as before) top tier. The mountain production buildings are not accessible at the start of the game, requiring coal or iron to build; and there are several transformation buildings, each requiring resources of one tier to build which can produce resources of the next tier up.
There are enough flag buildings that you can win without ever needing a gem, or with gems but without ever seeing an iron. Obviously it'll be easier if you get both, though.
First playtest on Monday 21st April: Game seems to have promise. It's quick (about 10-15 minutes, about 10-15 turns each). Player interaction needs increasing. The "you don't get change" rule dissuades trade. Marble is useless. The non-production buildings are a bit underpowered. Roads need strength boosting. We played with starting with 3 initial buildings, last player choosing where to start first; this gave the benefit to last player, especially if there was precisely one strong production building in the starting set. I think starting with some buildings on the board is good, but the precise mechanism needs work. Forced movement would make things more interesting.
Third playtest on Tuesday 22nd April: DR comments:
Trading and hand limits. I don't like the wording of the rule "agreements are not binding". I think it would add to the game if there were a hand limit of 5 cards, and only cards rather than resource cubes could be traded. Further, trading of cards should be done face down and a player is only required to tell the truth about one of the symbols on one of the cards being traded. (I'm not sure if it would add anything to make it the top one of the two symbols that you have to tell the truth about.)
I agree on the hand limits; I'll use that rule from now on. I'm not sure about only trading cards and the face-down-ness; I can see it would be interesting, and I'd be up for giving it a go, but I'm not sure if I'd want to keep it. --AC
Alternatively, you could limit how many cards per turn could be 'spent' or 'banked' (ie turned into resource cubes) and require that building things could only be done with cubes. Thus it could actually make sense to trade with another player a black+green card for a black cube.
Building costs. I'm not convinced that these are balanced, or even can be perfectly balanced. (cf the University in Puerto Rico.) I think there needs to be a mechanism that in some way compensates for this to avoid there being a single 'best' strategy.
Just to clarify: you're saying that the precise balance of building costs isn't necessarily a problem, as long as there's some mechanic to ensure the same strategy doesn't keep winning game after game? If so, I think I agree. --AC
I'm not sure what would work best, but I think something is needed to ensure long term replayability. Here are some partial ideas:
Make advanced buildings be upgrades to simpler buildings, either replacing or having to be adjacent to the simpler version. Or increase the default cost of the advanced buildings, but have that cost reduced if the building is built next to or replacing a specific related building. And yes, I would apply that to the win buildings too.
Mmm, upgrades. I hadn't thought of that idea, but I like it. I'll give that some thought. --AC
Warfare. Allow the construction of negative buildings that damage the production of their 4x4 (or perhaps a named 4x4), or increase building costs within that 4x4. (Or perhaps within a certain distance of the building, or perhaps with a certain number of moves of it to take into account road travel) (cf Vitenka's idea of being able to pay to destroy a building. Perhaps temporary destruction, or even 'looting' to gain resources for doing so.)
I'm up for this in theory. The building that saps production of nearby buildings has some interesting potential. --AC
Roads. I like the geography. Perhaps there should be as many tiles as there are players. Perhaps give each player an initial tile that they will start on, and let them place it. I'm not sure how well it works having a different cost type for roads in different terrain. Perhaps require that the road cost be a card, or that it be two cubes of any sort (or perhaps 1 base + 1 rare, or 1 rare, if you think 2 base is too cheap)
What do you mean by as many "tiles" as there are players? Roads of each terrain type? I'd be up for costing roads as any 2 cubes if you think that'd be better; I thought it was quite good having them cost 1 rare resource as they do at the moment. What would you say is the problem having roads in different terrain cost different resources? --AC
Suggestion, give (not-first-to-play) player a road tile, last-to-play gets the most expensive (iron requiring) one. They can play that road for free. (There we go, I found a resource at a finer grain that the cube.)
Er, doesn't apply. At the moment, all 3 roads cost a rare cube (coal, marble, or iron). Oh, although I suppose you can get coal in all 3 decks, marble in 2, and iron in just 1... hmm. Perhaps I should remove marble from the mountain deck. --AC
That's what I meant, last player gets a free red road, second to last a free yellow one. And 'road' is the 'slightly less value than a cube' resource I meant. --Vitenka
Problem: You can't see what other players are aiming for, or how close they are to it, even vaguely. Perhaps force gems to be exchanged as soon as you get the card (since those are pretty critical for all strategies except one)?
Wouldn't the proposed hand limit of 4-5 cards help here? --AC
Alternately, perhaps keep track of how many of each sort of card each player has taken - it won't be perfect information (and skilled players can keep track of trading) but it WILL let you know 'That player has gotten a suspicious number of mountain cards....'
I was already doing this. I was quite confident both Douglas and qqzm were very close to winning, based on the cards they had. --AC
I meant displayed publically on the board somehow. Unless it's a memory game, in which case you could omit the board. --Vitenka
Mind you, we knew that and didn't realise how few you needed. Perhaps on the card-board write down "A minimum of ten of these to be able to build a city" or similar?
Not sure this'd be doable sensibly, as there's resource cubes to factor in as well. But with a hand limit, and a brief familiarity with the decks, I don't think this is a problem unless people are careless or it's their first game. --AC
I think the game may be decided (barring KingMaker trading) quite early. If an opponent is several resource cards ahead, they will stay there. Not sure what to suggest there.
I think, if I make it so you can't build the Palace with just mountain cards (perhaps remove marble from the mountain deck, so you've got to go to the plains for it), then any one player ought to be able to do a bit less well than two other players who're trading with each other and not with the solo player, even if Mr Solo was ahead early. --AC
As a minor negative interaction -how about not replacing resource cards, and reducing the number available a bit? That would introduce competition, and the ability to slow down (or stop) an opponent by draining the (ah heck, let's be frank here) mountains.
Hmm. In conjunction with the hand size limit, that could be an interesting possibility... but I'm not sure I like the idea of limiting by total resource denial. I'll give it some thought. --AC
The mountains have all the good resources. All of them.
I'm considering removing marble from the mountains deck, so you have to go to the plains for it. I'm also considering making the Tree City cost 6 wood 6 food 3 iron 3 gems, rather than the current 12 wood 3 iron 3 gems; that'll make it correspond quite closely to the forest deck, just needing you to go elsewhere for the iron and gems. --AC
KingMaker trading. If I'm not in a position to win, I can probably make whoever I like win by giving them all my resources. You probably want to do something about that (as well as making it less likely that someone gets stuck in a hopeless position)
Blarg. I suppose. Then again, that can happen in SettlersOfCatan and other free-trading games, but it doesn't, generally, unless there's someone with a high propensity for random play playing. As for "stuck in a hopeless position" - what kind of "position" do you mean? By its nature, if anyone's using some high-power buildings a lot, you can go and start using them too. --AC
Position is your current set of resources. A hopeless one is having lots of green :) --Vitenka (being significantly behind in resources due to bad early play, basically.), actually, this leads to another thought:
Position (on the board) has practically no bearing on who is winning. --Vitenka
There was never meant to be much concept of "position on the board" - at least not relating to any particular player. Players don't own buildings, so there's no "position" to be had except some very weak concept of being "near some good buildings". Who's winning is who's closest to building a win building. --AC
Sure - but not being able to see whether someone is near a win condition is a bit odd. The game would play almost identically without a board there at all. --Vitenka
The forest balance is, in retrospect, about right. Sure, you get lots of almost useless resource - but that's the tradeoff for getting many resource draws. Still, it would be nice to have something you can do with all that green. Perhaps a win (or win facilitating) building with a very very high cost in purest green? ;) --Vitenka
Heh. I think it's telling that nobody even tries to build the Tree City; I propose to change it from 12 brown 3 red 3 blue to 6 brown 6 green 3 red 3 blue, which I think should help on this aspect. --AC
Oh - if you do go for analysing the strategies, I suggest the ones we came up with that game were:
Use the cheap mountain buildings repeatedly.
Use the expensive forest buildings a lot.
Use the expensive plains buildings a lot.
Build and use a gem-smith and hermit. (Slow to get going, but will build you the mountain city in not-so-many turns once you do.)
We also encountered things like "I'll build A, you build B, and we can alternate using them". --AC
Not sure it's worth modelling that though. Just see how many turns it takes a player to win, assuming access to two big buildings. It's good to note down for future players though. --Vitenka
I'd be interested in a game of this one games evening, played as a cooperative game, a la lord of the rings, where the object is to get both players in a 2 player team to complete in as few turns as theoretically possible. --DR
One possibility that occurred to me: Walls. Buildings you can build like roads, for 1 or 2 resources (precise cost TBD); other players can't move through them. You can't make it so that a region is completely inaccessible, but you can make it harder for opponents to move around. I could even make it that all non-Road buildings are impassable apart from for moving to that building itself. Useful, irrelevant, pointless, frustrating? --AC
Not terribly pointful with current diagonal-allowing moves. Could work with a bit of twaking though (they'd have to be cheap - perhaps the same 'and move again' rule as roads, when buiilding them? But then maybe too many would be built.) --Vitenka
The 'move next to water then build there' seems needlessly complex. Why not just say that you can't move through (or stop on) a water tile, only go there in order to build? Are there enough water tiles that the no-stop actually impedes movement, or would just no-passthrough suffice? Would just "There's nothing to be gained there" be enough? --Vitenka
I've not tried the game with water on the board yet, obviously, but the intent is that no-stop and no-passthrough make the terrain more interesting. Mountains now have nothing to be gained there without buildings as well, so that's not enough to distinguish water from mountains. I basically wanted "you can't move to water except to build there", but with building being an optional action, it seemed the rules would get fiddly and this way would be better. OTOH, this way does have its own complexity, and also allows somewhat counterintuitive builds that are one step further from starting position than others, so I may end up switching to "you can't move to water except to build" in the end. --AC
Another option would be to make the water buildings be two-tile, with one of them being on dry land. --Vitenka (Which would save you ever having to go onto unimproved water)
First playtest of v2, on Tuesday 3rd June: DR comments: Vitenka observed that nobody is building the big stuff for the first 3/4 of the game, then all of a sudden, everyone starts doing it at the same time, and within 3 turns the game is over.
Yes, he did, and that was an absurd exaggeration. They were built about halfway through, and there were about 7-10 turns until the game ended. --AC
It is true, though, that the early decisions are basically "Which hamlet shall I be part of?" and "do I build or leach?"--DR
I think the reason is that, as soon as someone builds a building that can produce the top level resources in quantity a) everyone else can use it too (there is little incentive for someone to move more than 2 steps away from the best concentration of buildings), b) it become much easier to build more buildings that also produce top level resources (perhaps there should be some star buildings that don't require diamonds or iron so competition starts earlier), c) people will already have stockpiled the other resources they need so they can finish off collecting what they need for 3 star buildings in only 2 or three moves.
a) is a good point, and will hopefully be addressed by the more concentrated board tiles. b) may or may not be an issue. c) is an interesting point I hadn't considered, but I'll do another playtest or two before trying to address it. --AC
I think you might get more of an exchange economy if marble and iron (and perhaps one other) were more or less on the same level and had to be reached by different routes (rather than one triggering the other), such as deep mine cards that only a better type of mine could reach. If these buildings needed to be built in geographically separated areas, it would give equally valid routes to get valuable resources and set up an actual need to trade.
Well, the idea was that coal and marble would be separated in this way: coal is primarily from the forest deck or from wood via the Furnace, while marble is primarily from the plains deck or from stone via the Artisan. I considered adding a fourth deck of cards, but I'd rather avoid that for the moment if I can. I like the other ideas here, and I'll bear them in mind, but I won't make any changes immediately. --AC
AC adds further notes: Terrain wasn't that significant. The suggestion was made to make the landscape tiles more homogenous, so that there are large chunks of mountain squares etc, rather than being fairly evenly distributed. Start of the game still doesn't work too well. Allocating certain buildings as "possible starting buildings" (Lumberjack, Stonecutter, Stables, Jeweller, Robin Hood, Market, Burglar, Smith, Wreckers, Artisan and Furnace seem to be the candidates), then letting N-1 of them be placed in reverse player order, would add variability to the game as well as adding more interest to the last players' roles. I think players can also start with one food cube.
Ah now that might work. Let people chose which to place, in reverse order, and restrict buildings to one per large 4x4 tile, and restrict initial player placement to one per large 4x4 tile. That would mean that it is in the interests of the first placing player to put the best building in the worst position. --DR
Marble is too weak early on - there's no incentive to go for it early on the way there is coal. When coal is the top resource you can get, you can build the Shaft, Deep Shaft, Scrap Dealer, and Market; when marble is your top resource, you can only build the Jeweller, Tax Collector or Robin Hood, none of which you particularly want to build that early. I could perhaps add a building that's just "take an iron" or similar, which you can build with marble. Buildings that may be too strong include the Mine, which gives you 4 Mountain-level resources (propose exchanging functions of the Mine and Deluxe Mine), and the Law Court, which I feel should have some kind of "tiers" restriction. Buildings I'm keeping an eye on, but not planning to change yet, include the Superhighway, Bridge, and Politician. Buildings that may be too weak and candidates for reworking or scrapping include the Smith (maybe scrap), Robin Hood (maybe bump up to 2 cubes), the Diplomat (maybe reduce cost to 1 cube), and the Palace (maybe reduce cost to GGIIM or GGGG), and the Artisan and Furnace (maybe reduce the costs by 1 cube). (There's also no need for the second Artisan and Furnace.)
I still think you'll never perfectly balance the costs so there will always be a 'worst' building that rarely gets built unless you have a strong enough balancing mechanic that gives advantages to going for options that others are not going for.--DR
You're right. I can't think of such a mechanic at the moment, though, so I'm happy to just keep tweaking for a bit.
Game mechanics seem to be working well, once people get their heads round the fact that there's no ownership of buildings, and thus it's better to get someone else to build something before you do. I might want to reduce the buildings that attack cards in people's hands, in favour of ones that steal their cubes, in order to encourage people to hold key cards back. I'd also like some kind of differentiation between players, though the game probably doesn't need it. I'm thinking something like each player has one terrain they move more slowly through. But that's more of a back-burner kind of idea for now.
Perhaps attach special abilities to the flags? You could have a limited pool of three face up flags which get replenished as claimed, which might induce an earlier competition to get a flag building if something juicy comes up. Possibilities include "Your flags can't be stolen." "Your resources can't be removed or destroyed or traded for". "Get one free iron", "Look at the cards of one other player" --DR
That's actually quite a fun idea. I've made up some flag cards with these and several other abilities. --AC