Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Seth was right. Again.

WOO! Played a great three player game last night. We actually played 2/3rds of a game and then reset the game, changed some of the rules and played 2/3rds of another game.

I learned several things about the new modifications and it was mostly good. In fact it was from good to great. Unfortunately I think one part of the game was too good. Meaning that it randomly worked out well last night and gave us all warm fuzzies about the game but after sleeping on it I realized that the random element could have not been so great and will need some more thought.

Game Clock –
In the first game we played with the game clock looking like:

1 / 2 / 3 / 4 /
5 BALL /
6 / 7 / 8 / 9 /
10 BALL -> everyone gets one more turn -> SCORING ROUND

This is Seth’s idea and once again he was right. Sorta. We started the time marker on 1 and when we first got to the crown the marker moved to 2 so it was really 9 turns plus the guaranteed turn at the end. It was fun but the decade played a little long as I thought it would.

In the second game we tried this

1 / 2 / 3 /
4 BALL /
5 / 6 / 7 /
8 BALL -> everyone gets one more turn -> SCORING ROUND

Here we started the Marker on ZERO and therefore the game was 8 turns plus the guaranteed turn at the end. This felt like a good length.

When all was done I asked the others if it was good that the Balls happened on schedule and they both thought it was good. It was something you could plan for. Also they said that there were so many other events in the game that were hard to predict it was good to have one that was not. Seth was right.

Masquerade Ball –
This is probably where the biggest breakthrough occurred. During the first game, during a Ball, Cameron expressed dislike toward the game when I took his title and he took mine. To make matters worse neither of us moved up the ladder and the 3rd player was able to zoom away from us with no hope of us catching him. Over the years that I have been developing this game several have had this same feeling about this rule.

Cameron said he thought the rule was different: that each Ball players in order of highest prestige players took the highest title they were qualified for.

For example in the second game we tried this new idea. I had 8 prestige, Cameron had 7 and Bill had 5. So I took the Marquess which is worth 8 VP, Cameron then could only take the Earl which is worth 5, and Bill took the Viscount for 2 VP.

To do this you would need to score the titles during the ball which may get out of hand. Or maybe only have one Ball per decade. The Titles could all be even valued VPs and you could get half in the first Ball and then half after the second. Another idea is that Titles could have two values on them; one to qualify it and one to score it and then they would score at the end of the Ball.

I liked this new idea because it felt like we were wrestling for over the titles more. The original idea was to try and abstract playing king of the hill. This felt more like that to me.

Acquire Lands –
In the first game we tried the juice lands rule. We started with 3 of each type and as people selected a stack they the remaining stacks were “juiced” with one more land each. Up to stacks of five. We kept a surplus set of stacks of five to do the juicing from. Each stack in the surplus was replenished up to 5 at the start of the decade. As it worked out, we always had enough lands from the surplus to do the juicing. This way worked ok. Not as well as I thought it would.

In the second game we tried the Acquire Land tokens and no lands on the board. This worked pretty good except all players started by playing wood to get more lands.

Both games we started with 2 of each plus 4 random lands.

When we were all done I asked the guys which way they liked more and they both said the random lands from the bag was better, meaning the Acquire Land tokens. I agreed. But it didn’t occur to me until later that it worked out because we randomly got enough woods to start playing forest and if we didn’t our experience might not have been as good. I need to play it more to see.

Men-at-Arms / Castles –
We played without Men-at-Arms. This was fine except I want something to do when playing a castle. One player suggested there should be more scandal cards. He wanted an action where he could buy them.

Also we played with N-1 Castles per decade. This frustrated one player. It was suggested that I; 1 – go back to N Castles, or 2 – Let the castle that a Palace replaces go back on the board, or 3 – Do #1 but let the castles go up in value as you buy them like the churches.

I think I will try number 3. Castles will go cost something like 3/4/5/6/7 AND maybe you will also get a Scandal Card with one. Not sure about that last part but I do wish they would give something.

All the other parts of the game worked pretty well. I really like that when you played a land you get got something right away if a wood or farm. I still wish you would get a prestige when you played a pond.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

second 4 player decade

I played another four-player decade. It went a little faster. It still needs to be faster. I want players to barely be able to surround a castle and do a 3 or four other things and be done. If that.

Game Clock - I started the game with the first player having the crown. “Hand the Crown to a random player and they go first”. The rule was at the end of your turn if you had the crown the marker moved one. But it was weird that the marker would move after the first turn or there would have to be a exception to the rule or something. I didn’t like it. So I moved the crown to the first players right. Giving it to the player that would go last. This made more sense to me after all players went the clock moves one. Plus it gave a benefit to the player that went last making up for going last.

So now the game take 10 turns minus partial turns each time the crown changes hands. It was much closer to being a good speed. So my new idea is to also move the clock when someone builds a church. I will try this and see how it goes. I really think that erring on the side of too fast is much better than too slow.

Acquire Land - Also this game I started everyone with one with Acquire Land token. The idea is twofold I wanted players to be able to reap lots of lands sometimes if they have been working hard at playing forest. Two players have more to loose from Men-at-arms now.

Players now get one Acquire land token and one taxes token per decade.

I started the Acquire Land area of the board with 3 of each land type. In the previous game it seemed too low to be the first to Acquire land and only get 2 while you are then paving the way for all the other players to get more. 3 felt good.

In general I still have a problem with the new Acquire land action. I don’t like having an extra pool ready to add to the lands. There is more that bothers me too I just cannot quite word it. I think next game I will try each player gets two AL tokens per decade and can take that action when they want with no face up lands.

Masquerade Ball / Scandal cads - The last thing I added was during Masquerade Ball players get one scandal card only if they have prestige (if they attend the ball). I like this for many reasons but its more clear now that the Scandal cards need some balancing and maybe just need to be more interesting. I also need to add some cards to reflect some of the new rules.

I have been doing some more research and much of the scandals were on a social level. In this game the Ball represents using your social skills. I think that it makes sense that in addition to the church scandals would be generated at Balls. The other half of it is you could then turn around and use your newly acquired scandal card to gain prestige at the ball.

More coming.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The game is back and theres gonna be trouble

Woo I have the game back in great shape from Seth! I played a four player game trying some of the newly face-lifted rules. Some worked and some the jury is still out.

The biggest problem was the game clock. At first I tried my idea that clock would not start running until someone earned the crown. When a player first earns the crown the clock marker was placed on 1. Then when a player starts his turn with the crown the clock moves one. This enables the players to prolong the game because you could steal the crown in the middle of your turn and all players would have one more turn before the clock moved again. Which I thought was a good thing. It had another effect too but I will talk about that in a minute.

Quickly it was clear this was going to make the first round too long. Players don’t play ponds in the beginning but farms and wood. So people didn’t create gardens as right away and no crown.

So then I moved the clock to where it would have been and adjusted the scoring for the player that would have had it from the beginning. The decade still moved too slowly.

The other idea I started with was that after the first Ball the marker only move when the player with the crown started his turn. The decade track would look like this:

1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / BALL / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / BALL + SCORING ROUND

The idea was that a decade would last a little longer. Silly me. I only played one decade but it felt like I had played a whole game. Players were running out of things to do, three of the follies were bought, players played about 21 lands each, most had 2 castles surrounded, all the churches were gone. It wasn’t a race. There was no urgency.

The other effect I didn’t like was you did not have enough control over when the Ball would start. If the player to your left had the crown when a ball started you may get screwed on the Prestige placement which doesn’t make sense to me. If I am working toward being Duke I want more control to race the other players to be the one to start a Ball.

Next game I will try someone gets the crown from the beginning. Then I will try players receive a VP and the clock moves at the end of their turn. Also I will use a decade track that doesn’t have a BALL. I will go back to the old way where players will have two opportunities to Throw a Ball per decade but will have to use a turn to do so.

If I need a little more time per decade I can allow the players to place the marker on the one on the first crown instead of starting there. Also I can make the 10 be the end where a scoring round would start immediately or I could make it happen the next time the players turn ends with a crown potentially giving players more time.

I feel Seth was right about more subtleties than I have wanted to admit. For example I now agree the Noble title ladder needs to be narrower. We had discussed this and I think he feels it should be N / N-2 / N - 3 / 1 / 1 for the Baron, Viscount, Earl, Marquess, and Duke respectively. Where N is equal to the number of players. So in a 5 player game it would be 5/3/2/1/1. In a 4 player game it would be 4/2/1/1/1 and in a three player game it would be 3/1/1/1/1.

I liked the N-1 castles to start a decade.

I didn’t play with them but I think maybe the Outmaneuver Scandal cards are too powerful. I have no fix for them yet. The Tariff Scandal card is potentially too valuable. I will change it to be a fixed amount of 4 or 5 pounds collected.

I didn’t like the new Men-at-Arms rule. Their strength is greatly reduced. I like the timing of them but since they are much less frequent they need to do more. I think I will try letting players play both of their men-at-arms when they play a castle. Even then I need to think of a reason to play one on a Forest.

Since there was not enough urgency to decade I don’t have a good feeling for the new Acquire Land ideas of Seth’s. What I am hoping is that there will not be a need to limit how many times the lands are “juiced”. That since time will go by faster players will spend their time doing other things.

I played where each player got one TAXES token per decade and that seemed to work pretty well.

I was encouraged by the scores at the end. Three of the players were within 2 points of each other. One player was about 7 points behind 3rd place.

That’s all for now.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Revised costings

Ok seth was right. Castles and Palaces can score more than once. So using my experience of how often someting scores, I have now adjusted the cost of things:
$ Other cost VPs scoring times Other benefits VP per $ $s per VP
Castle $6 Clearing 3 2 Men at Arms Action 1 $1.00
Palace $8 Castle 5 1.5 crown / prestige 0.94 $1.07
Church $3.5 Clearing 1.5 2 Scandal Card 0.857 $1.17
Folly $10 Clearing 9 1 0.9 $1.11
Bribe $2 1 1 favor 0.5 $2.00

Castle – You are guaranteed 1 castle will score 3 times. On average you may buy one in the second decade that will score twice and one in the 3rd that will score once (If you get it surrounded). This averages to 2 scoring opportunities per Castle.

A Castle used to cost $5. But if it now cost $6 you will get one VP per $1. Which is the goal.

Palace – Typically you will get 2 Palaces. One in the second decade and one in the 3rd. This averages to 1.5 scoring opportunities per Palace.

So as I guessed before a Palace should cost $8 to get about one VP per $1. This does not account for the fact that you are replacing a Castle. But you do get the crown and extra prestige which could easily make up for it.

Church – Churches follow castles closely. You will often get 3 churches per game and they will average 2 scoring opportunities.

This shows that Churches currently cost too much. So I lowered the value from 2/3/4/5/6 to 1/2/3/4/5. Brining them closer in range of one VP per $1.

Folly – These of course only score once and therefore the math is easier. To keep the price at $10 I needed to raise the VPs from 8/7/6/5 to 12/10/8/6.

The Goal has been to get the following $1 = 1 land = 1 prestige = 1 VP. So the next question is how much should the Noble titles be worth to achieve this? When I play-test the game next I will keep an eye on how much prestige does it take to get say 20 VPs?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

VP table

There has been some discussion about the balance of the game So made this table:

$sOther costVPsOther benefitsVP per $$s per VP
Castle$5Clearing3M@A action0.6$1.67
Palace$8Castle5crown / prestige0.625$1.60
Church$4.5Clearing1.5Scandal Card0.333$3.00

Unless I am not thinking of this correctly you can see that Follies giving 8/7/6/5 VPs for $10 are the cheapest in the game and Palaces and Castles are close behind.

Now it might make sense to increase the value of the follies to simply make them more sought after. I could only do this alittle because what I do not want is to make getting a Folly a requirement for winning.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Seth reviews the game and then some!

Sending the game to Seth has been very useful. He has now played the game 3 times expermenting with a few ideas. Here are some of his blog post:
Noblemen First playtest
Noblemen 2nd and 3rd playtest

From all of this and several conversations about the game has me thinking about the game allot again.

The latest set of talks have spawned ideas about how to end a round. These ideas are largely Seths:

Each round would now be called a decade and the game would end after 3 decades. The last 3 decades of Queen Elizabeths reign starting about 1570.

Churches would no longer end a round. There would be no more scoring beads and no more scoreing round actions / tokens. Instead there would be a new track on the board with a marker that counts off the years. The track would look like something like this:

1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / BALL / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / BALL + SCORE ROUND

At the start of the game one player would recieve the Queens Crown and the player to his left would go first. Place a year marker on the 1 of the decade track.

At the start of your turn; if you have the Queen's Crown you recieve one VP and the year marker moves one year on the track.

When the marker reaches the BALL the Queen throws a Giant Ball giving you a chance to upgrade your Noble titles.

When the marker reaces the BALL + SCORE ROUND players do another BALL and then do a scoreing round ending the decade.  After the 3rd Decade the game would end.

Players would be able to prolong the end by keeping the crown hopping but that would come to an end eventualy. You would never be sure exatly when it was comming but most of the time it would be predictable.

I am concerned that there are too many tracks on the board now. Personaly I find tracks to be a bit boring.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

New momentum! (version 0.8 in the making!)

Recently we played Noblemen at the local board game design meeting the guys of the group and I discussed the game a bit.

The next day I went to lunch with Mark a board game friend / colleague and we discussed different thoughts about the Noblemen. Some good ideas came out of this discussion.

Soon after this I boxed up my one prototype up and sent it to an acquaintance of mine from the Board Game Designers Forum. Seth. Before I sent Seth the game I sent him a PDF of the rules. He read them and I was amazed at how well he understood the game. He had a good understanding of the games strengths, weaknesses and most importantly he knew what I am trying to do with the game.

He has played the game and we have been able to talk about the game fairly intelligently. We have discussed many ways to improve some of the games short-comings.

All these talks have made me do LOTS of thinking about the game. So much so, it has even stopped me from falling asleep some nights and I even wake up thinking about the game. Most of the new ideas for the game have come from discussions with Seth. They are ideas that he and I have tossed around. To be honest most of the ideas I had thought of at one point or another he helped me see which of the ideas were better and why.

Noblemen at its core is about simultaneous races that the players have to choose which to concentrate on. It has three different commodities; lands, pounds, and prestige. Players divide their time between building their estate to collect these three and using them after they have been collected.

The last set of rules did all of this adequately. Sure there were a couple things that needed to be improved and or balanced. Once that was done the game would have been complete. Done. Finished. I could then put it on the shelve and move on.

Finished is no longer the goal anymore. I think that with all these new ideas I could change the game to be a really good game.

First idea I really loved was the new Bribe Royalty idea. Of course I have not played it yet. This idea though changes a fundamental part of the game. In the old rules, yesterday, you had one main action to make use each of the three different commodities. Each of those actions were of the type where all players participate. The new Bribe Royalty idea wasn’t like this so maybe none should be? If all actions were single player actions this would support and promote the simultaneous racing motif.

So to this end the Donate land and Masquerade Ball actions may also change.

Donate Land would now work like this: Players on their turn could take a Donate action and donate as much land as they want as long as there was still room in the donate land area of the board. Donated lands stay in the donate land area until there are 5 lands of each type. Players receive one victory point for each land donated. There would no longer be Donate land tokens.

This is a fairly subtle change.

Masquerade Ball would now work like this: At all times players prestige markers would be on the prestige track. They would start at zero. Each time a player played a pond they would move up one. Each time they created a garden they would move up three. When they build a Palace they would move up two on the track. Also during a turn when players moved on the track they could also use scandal cards to add to their prestige, redeem the queens crown, or redeem bribe chits.

A Masquerade Ball would begin when any player reached the end of the track. Balls also happen at the start of any scoring round.

During a Ball players with high prestige would advance in noble peerage.

Then players would score their rank.

After the Ball all markers would move back to match the level of their title. For example if after a ball you were now an Earl and scored 8 Victory Points you would move your prestige marker to 8 on the prestige track.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

How I made the plastic parts

I have been asked to explain how I made some of the parts for Noblemen. It is not really a long story. I saw this in my local hobby store: Mini casting kit

And I thought COOL! With this you could take some small 3D trinket and make copies of it.

The process is simple:

  1. You first have to have a positive mould. This is the item you want to copy. Affix the item to something flat on the bottom like a floor tile.
  2. You use this to make a negative mould.
  3. Pour quick setting resin into the negative mould and wait 3 minutes.

It was $30. I could not justify just making something I didn't need just to play with a cool kit. BUT if I rolled the $30 in to the cost a hobby! Everyone knows that hobbies cost money.

Around this time I was thinking about making a board game where players build estates out of squares of lands and castles, palaces, and stuff. If you wanted to make copies of something new you first had to have the new thing for the positive mould. So I read stuff and started asking my friends what they knew about making clay moulds and one showed me a product called Sculpey.

Sculpey is pretty neat stuff. You shape it like clay but then bake it and you have something solid. I do not recommend the Original type. It is too pliable.

Anyway I made parts I thought I would need for the game out of Sculpey. I made two castles, two sheep, and one palace, glued them to a 6” floor tile, built cardboard walls around the sides, and used the blue clay that game with the kit to seal the seam between the cardboard and the tile. This completed my positive mould. I only made one Palace because I knew I would not need as many for the game.

The kit comes with a powder that when mixed with water makes a thick liquid that becomes this rubbery stuff. They call it RTV or room temperature vulcanizing. So you mix it and poor it over the positive mould up to the edge of your cardboard walls and wait for eight hours.

When it was done I pulled off the clay and cardboard but the rubber didn’t want to come away from the floor tile! The problem was my sculpey pieces were not completely flat on the bottom and I only glued them in the center of each one. The rubbery liquid got under them. So when I figured this I carefully had to tear away the mould from the pieces that were super-glued to the floor tile. It was a bit scary and I had to trim away the excess on the bottom but it worked. Now I had a negative mould!

The next step was the most exciting.

Plastic resin begins life as two liquids that you measure out and mix together. Once you are done mixing you have about 5 minutes total before your liquid will be rock solid. So you pour a little fast into the negative mould and wait.

Then there was a problem. It was difficult to get the pieces out. These were not glued to anything so I had no way to get a hold of them. This meant I had to flex the rubber mould and squeeze my fingers into the gaps. Ultimately this caused rubber mould to start to crack and tear. I was only able to make about three sets before the mould was becoming unusable and I needed eight sets. Then I got the idea to wrap the mould with rubber bands before pouring in the resin. The mould continued to crack but it worked long enough and I got my eight sets.

I learned along the way to slightly over pour the resin this created a bubble on the bottom of the pieces making it easier to get a hold of them and pull them out. If you under poured the resin you the opposite was true. The pieces would have a concave bottom. This meant that I had pieces that would wobble a bit and not sit flat. This was easily fixed I held each one to a belt-sander and in a couple seconds they were flat.

Quick reminder list:

  • Make your positive moulds with flat bottoms
  • Glue them to the flat surface completely not just the center
  • Over pour the resin a bit to make it easier to remove
  • Remove the pieces carefully
  • Heat the rubber mould each time to make it more pliable
  • Sand off the bottoms to make them flat
  • The rubber mould will copy everything including your fingerprints

Then I painted them and presto I had parts for my game. As my game developed more I needed more parts but luckily I didn’t need large quantities of them. So I just made them out of Sculpey.