Our initial inspiration was the video game Dorf Romantik.

In that game, you place hexagonal tiles and build a cohesive pastoral map while the game presents you with an assortment of objectives: bring a forest to 43 trees, bring a village to 23 houses, bring a river to 8 tiles in length, etc.

If you complete an objective, you’re rewarded with more tiles and the game can continue. If you run out of tiles (by not completing objectives), the game ends and you start over from the beginning.

The goal of the game is to go for as long as possible, building a bigger and bigger map forever. The intention of the game is for you to just chill out and enjoy a simple and calming game with very few rules.

As soon as Collin showed me the game I said:

“This can totally be a boardgame. You’d have a bag of landscape tiles and a hand of objective cards. If you place a tile that satisfies a card, you get a reward. Go until you run out of tiles. Somehow there are points you count up to see who wins.”

What is the simplest version of this game? Pretty much exactly what I said. Nailed it!

What are these tiles called anyway?

I did a bunch of research on tile placement games in order to understand how to draw the art on the tiles. It took me weeks until I finally found the term for what Carcassonne tiles are: Geomorphs. This is the term for a four-sided tile that continues a landscape from an adjacent tile. This 14-part blog series was incredibly helpful.

Once I understood how to draw the tiles, I immediately added way too many “phases.” A phase on a geomorph is an edge where the connection to the adjacent tile must make the artwork cohesive.

Carcassonne is a 3-phase Geomorph, in other words it has 3 types of edges: road edge, field edge, city edge. When you place a tile, grass must touch grass, road must touch road, and city must touch city. When fully assembled, the artwork resembles a cohesive map of the territory.

I had so many phases on my first version that tile placement would be too random and unpredictable. You wouldn’t really have a choice on where to place a tile. It would only fit in 1 or 2 spots. We need to cut it down to a much simpler form before we start adding complication.

Version 1: Roads, Fields, Forests, Lakes, Villages, Sheep, Fish…. ALL THE THINGS ARE IN THIS GAME!

Keep it simple, Steve.

Clearly, that tile set isn’t going to work, but I was too overwhelmed with all the ideas we had and lacked the ability to build the tiles correctly. It was at this point that I realized I had gone too far afield and needed to scale things way back. Super simple tiles and super simple cards.

Minimum Viable Prototype

It took us a couple additional meetings to come back to this concept, but once we did, we really saw the value of getting something on the table as soon as humanly possible and just start playing with it. You learn so much more by moving the bits and pieces around on a table instead of just in your mind.

We met in person and sat down with pencils and paper. I drew 3-phase hexamorphs (grass edge, road edge, forest edge), and he made up a dozen or so simple objective cards. We were done in less than 10 minutes, shuffled, and started playing.

The first questions we wanted answers to:

  • Is this core concept even fun?
  • Is it fun to have a hand of 3 cards and refer to them when deciding where to place a landscape tile on a shared map?
  • Is it fun to resolve a card and get another turn or some other benefit?
  • Is there something in this DNA that’s worth pursuing?

Answer? Yes. It’s fun. It’s worth pursuing. (Obviously!)

What things stood out to us?

  • The objective cards were too difficult. Some required too much long term investment with no guarantee of payoff. They were stuck in our hand for a long while, which isn’t as fun as quick and satisfying card play every round or two .
  • The map tiles were too simple, but that was intentional. We decided to swap the forest-phase for a water-phase. So it’s still a 3-phase hexamorph, but the villages and trees are on a “floating” layer above the phases. You do not need to place trees adjacent to other trees. You may want to for the purposes of resolving an objective card, but you don’t have to.
  • We had too many map tiles. The game went on too long. Controlling the quantity of tiles directly controls the game’s length.
  • We need some extra mechanism where we visually indicate ownership of things on the map for endgame point scoring, but we both agreed that we don’t need to deal with that until we get the map and cards working more smoothly.

Action Items

So Collin is going to simplify some cards and I’m going to work on the new tile set. That’s it. No huge swingy changes. No additional mechanisms yet. Just get this part working smoothly.

That was the plan, anyway…

Question for the audience:

How disciplined are you at this whole minimum viable prototype approach? Do you struggle to keep yourself from thinking about theme and additional mechanisms?