Where were we?
Last we met, we had decided on the following:
- We are merchants from the same village, competing to explore the region, gather resources, establish road networks out to neighboring towns (formerly Sacred Sites), spend resources on local contracts or ship to neighboring towns in exchange for gold, abilities, and points.
- There is no central board or hex grid upon which to place tiles. You just place tiles onto the blank table surface.
- You are not a special unique snowflake of a character. All players start from the same abstract state and will diverge in ability and scoring opportunities as they earn contract rewards during the game.
- In general, a drastic simplification in overall form with an increased focus on placing tiles and completing contracts.
Here’s what it looks like now…
I drew so many different iterations of the tiles that I actually forgot about some of them when we finally got back to play testing.
At a certain point I realized that I don’t need the art anymore and I can fully abstract them out into just grey “blobs” that contain resources. Once I realized this, rather than redraw 100 landscape tiles, I jumped right into Figma and Google Sheets to digitize the work. I printed them out and glued the hexes onto cardstock and now I’ve got an easier method of tweaking the design moving forward.
When you completely surround a grey blob with whitespace, you earn points for each tile in the blob and collect 1 of each resource icon you see in the blob.
If your opponent completes your blob, they get to pick 1 resource type and collect as many resources as those icons present. You get the points for the blob as normal and the remainder of the resources. We like to think of this as the Friendly-Neighbor Mechanism™. If you imagine all these grey blobs are bordered by fences, then your neighbor came over to help complete your fence for you. They should get something for their trouble, but you still get the bulk of the benefit of the completed fence.
Walnut Grove was a source of inspiration for this fenced-in mixed resources concept.
We ditched the river because roads allow for more inorganic routes and intersection, providing more flexibility in tile placement without the map looking odd with rivers flowing back on themselves.
The only restrictions on tile placement are:
- you must touch 2 edges of other tiles if you can.
- you must connect a road tile to the existing road network.
If you draw a road tile, they might not contain any grey blobs or resources. You don’t claim roads in this game, so we had to come up with something so it didn’t feel like you got to do nothing on your turn. Adding to the road network benefits all players, so the player who placed a road should get something. Here’s what we came up with.
Whenever you place a road tile, roll a 1d6.
- 1 = gain 1 wood
- 2 = gain 1 stone
- 3 = gain 1 grain
- 4 = gain 1 wool
- 5 = gain 1 movement
- 6 = gain 2 points
Nice, simple, and light. It feels like a little “surprise” moment for the player and doesn’t take up too much time.
You start the game with one Local Contract in your hand and always have at least one. If at any point on your turn you have the resources to complete a local contract, you may cash the resources in and gain the points and rewards listed and draw a new local contract. You don’t need to have a worker in the starting village. It’s assumed everybody goes home at the end of the day anyway. Keep it simple, Steve. Nice. Clean. Intuitive.
Local Contract rewards give you little momentary boosts in movement or resource flexibility or some additional control over your next contract or tile draw. Nothing too fancy or complicated but they can fuel your momentum toward more lucrative Export Contracts.
Export Contracts appear on the map when a player draws and places a neighboring town tile. These are road segments, so that player gets to roll the 1d6. Then they draw 1 export contract and place it right on this town tile. Any player can collect the required resources, move their worker to that town, and complete that contract.
This sets up a bit of a race. On your turn you can either claim a new “blob”, OR move your worker to the next intersection on the road network. It might take you a few turns to get to that neighboring town. Can you get there before your opponent? Will you have the resources you need when you get there?
Whenever an Export Contract is completed, immediately replace it with a new one. Later in the game, there will be multiple neighboring towns and multiple export contracts to think about. Which town should you move toward? Which contract should you get to first?
The No Camping Rule™: You are not allowed to complete an export contract in the same town twice in a row. You must move on to a different town. To make this clear, you leave a little checkmark disc in your color on the town when you complete a contract. When you complete one in a different town, just reposition your checkmark so you always have a visual reminder of the last town you were in.
You only have 1 worker. We tried letting you gain additional workers, but it didn’t seem to improve anything. In fact, it made movement kinda stupid. Maybe think of this as your wagon team / delivery crew.
Export Contract rewards include more powerful and ongoing buffs that increase your potential for the rest of the game. Maybe you gain more of a particular resource whenever you gain that resource. Maybe you earn extra points for contracts involving wool at the end of the game. Maybe your wagon team has +1 movement now (faster horses). We both had a few buffs from the middle of the game on and it was fantastic! This was one of our earliest ideas and it was so satisfying to see it finally working correctly. I love how this creates variety in every game, allowing players to diverge in interesting ways.
These buffs also include private endgame scoring criteria, so the final scoring is more exciting and surprising than whatever the score track showed at game’s end. Maybe you earn extra points for excess/unused grain tokens so you stockpile them during the game. Maybe you earn 1/3/5/9 points for 1/2/3/4 of your completed contracts involving wool, so you seek out wool contracts specifically. If you factor some of these into your contract selection, it can make for some interesting strategic depth.
The Gold Game Clock™
This is Michael Sprague’s idea and it works pretty great. Rather than just playing until the tiles run out, at game setup, you place 3 gold coins per player onto the score track. Certain Export contracts reward you with one of these gold coins. When the last gold coin is taken from the score track, that marks the end of the game.
We tried using the gold coins as a wild resource, but it provided too much flexibility. We ended up chaining multiple contract completions in a single turn and it quickly got out of hand. At one point I managed to earn 50+ points while Collin took a bathroom break.
So rather than using them as wild resources, maybe they’re just worth extra points at the end of the game. If I’m running behind on immediate scoring during the game, I can prioritize gold coin contracts in the hopes of catching up in the final tally. Or maybe you’re ahead so you try to rush the coin removal and end the game before your opponent can catch up. We liked how player-driven this felt and it allows the game to end in different ways, for different reasons.
The Test Results are In
Let me see here… all signs indicate that…yes, indeed. This game is fun!
- Resources were easy to gather, and having a contract in your hand gives you more to think about. This results in your tile placement feeling important and meaningful rather than arbitrary, but not so complicated that it was a point of analysis paralysis.
- The game’s decision space grows as it goes on. More towns appear, the road network grows, export contracts are added, giving players more to think about in a nice gradual ramp up. I liked that a lot. Simple and straightforward grows into a multifaceted system with more to consider on your turn.
- Allowing blobs to be more freeform loosened up tile placement quite a bit. We never felt like a tile didn’t fit.
- Export contracts are very rewarding, and those buffs are the secret sauce. I’d rush toward any contract that gave me an ongoing buff for the rest of the game.
- Rolling for roads is a nice little moment that breaks up the monotony, and might result in the one resource you need to complete a contract.
- The Friendly-Neighbor Mechanism™ works great. I like looking for this kind of symbiosis type thing in competitive games where we’re competing, but it’s not always with knives out.
What didn’t work
- I forgot to take pictures. I’m an idiot.
- We had way too many resources! We’ll reduce the number of icons present on the landscape tiles, but keep the requirements on the contracts the same.
- Multiple workers was just extra noise, and it made it harder to remember the No Camping Rule™ because we forgot where we had been with which worker. We’ll reduce this to a single worker per player with a checkmark disc to mark the last town we completed an export contract in.
- A few of the contract rewards were dumb. We’ll strip these few out and just stick with the ones that felt fine for now.
- Neighboring town tiles were just randomly in the stack. They might not come out until the very bottom of the stack. This is dumb. We’re going to put these on the score track as milestones. When a player crosses a town marker on the score track, they place the next town tile onto the map wherever they want, roll the die, gain their bonus. Now the game can grow at a semi-predictable rate, giving each game the same arc within its duration. Nice and simple.
- Gaining an extra turn felt very overpowered, especially when we were chaining multiple contracts and gold coin wildcards together. We’ll try reducing extra turn rewards and see how it goes with fewer before we ditch them entirely.
- Oxbow roads create network problems. I’ve tried cramming oxbows into this game from my very first version and they’ve been a problem in every single iteration. One of these days I’m going to learn that Oxbows Never Work™. I’ll remove oxbows for our next version and add more forks so the roads branch out a bit more.
- We had too many flags. We both like the idea that you don’t have enough to do everything, forcing you to be a little judicious in whether you commit a flag to something or not. We’re reducing it to three flags per player.
- Gold as a wild resource was overpowered. We’ll change this to endgame points.
- 10 Gold on the Gold Clock was too much for a 2-player game. We’ll reduce it to 6 (3 coins per player) on the clock. I like that we can tune this to easily adjust the duration of the game.
Summary of changes before next play test
- remove oxbows, add forks
- reduce to 3 flags per player
- reduce to1 worker per player
- reduce extra turn rewards
- add neighbor town milestones to score track
- remove dumb contract rewards
- reduce resource icons on landscape tiles
- gold is not wild, it’s endgame points
- 3 gold per player on the game clock
- add the 1d6 for whenever you add a road
Overall Gut Feeling
This feels as close as we’ve ever been to the original idea we set out to create. I feel a renewed sense of enthusiasm and determination to get this one to the finish line and it feels like we’re a lot closer now than we’ve been.