When Things Work

It’s nice when a design finally clicks. The pieces come together and it can start to handle the pressure of players pushing the game.

Last night I had two play tests of Plutocracy. In the second game one player kept completing missions. Completing a mission gives you a point and expands your abilities for the future. My thought was that players would complete a roughly equal number of missions each game.

While this player was grabbing up all the missions I was worried that it would break the game and I would have to find a way to fix it, again. But in the end he lost by 2 points. While this is only one instance and the game will need to continue being stress tested, it was nice that it managed to pull through without a runaway winner.

The reason it held together was that missions have diminishing returns. They are always worth 1 point but the extra actions you gain from them become less useful as you get more. And there are other parts of the game that will earn you more points than the missions as the game progresses.

You probably have an idea of how you want players to play your game, and if you have good incentives, players should generally follow your plan. But be aware of other things players could do and if those things would be a dominant strategy.

The Mines of Mi Otal

Topic suggested by CM Perry (@BHFuturist).

The Mines of Mi Otal is a worker placement game that I started designing for The Game Crafter Worker Placement Challenge which was due the end of May 2016. So I probably started it a month or two earlier.

Thinking back on it, this design and contest were responsible for me meeting a few designers. I started talking to the judge for the contest once my game made it to the finals. Since then he has been on my podcast a few times. And months after the contest I met the contest winner at a local convention. It turned out we lived pretty close to each other and he was looking to start up a play test group. So I’ve met a great group of people through that who I may not have met if I didn’t design this game.

As for the game. This was my first attempt at designing a worker placement game and at the time I hadn’t actually played many. So I wasn’t so familiar with the variety of ways it has been done.

The initial idea was inspired by the game Ryu. I’ve never played Ryu,but I heard a review of it on a podcast. If I remember correctly a mechanic in Ryu was drawing cubes from a bag and hoping to get the right color for what you wanted to do. That’s what I took away from the description anyway. I thought that this mechanic would fit well with a building theme where you would try to gather a resource, say stone, and would get to pull some number of cubes from the bag and keep all the stones. The rest would be treated as nothing for that pull and go back in the bag. This first version was focused on using the resources to build new buildings and locations that let you pull more cubes or trade cubes and generally mitigate the randomness of the bag pulls. Another important aspect was the rarity of different resources in the bag. You could easily pull wood and stone, but gold was much harder to get.

The first version made it to prototype, but it wasn’t ever played. This was before I had joined any play test groups. So it sat around unfinished. Then the worker placement contest came along. I hit on the idea of mining as a theme and crafting items with the different resources.

So the version of the game I submitted to the contest had a bag of chits that were iron, silver, gold, and diamond. Each had a different rarity. Players would place a worker on a specific mine space, for instance the silver mine, and pull 6 chits from the bag. They would keep all of the silver and put the rest back. So players could go to the iron mine and have a good chance of getting some iron or try for the diamond mine and often get nothing. In addition to these mines were some mine spaces that had a random assortment of resources that you could see. Placing a worker there let you take any two resources, but once they were empty they stayed empty.

After collecting enough resources a player could put a worker on the forge and trade resources in to forge an item. Each item required a unique combination of 3 resources and could be sold for double the value of the original resources. Resources could also be sold at the market to get some quick money if you needed it.

Money was important for the other main mechanic in the game. Every round you had to hire your workers. Each player had one worker they kept to prevent them from being totally locked out but, any additional workers had to be hired from a worker pool at the start of the round. The pool only had 8 workers available, so if the players before you hired all 8 you were out of luck. So going first could be important. However, the more workers you hired the more money it cost per worker. So you could hire a single worker for 2 coins. Or, you could hire all 8 workers for 44 coins. This would give you a huge advantage of actions in the round but at that cost you were almost certainly throwing away the game. The more tense situations came from the middle ground where the last player could be blocked out of getting any workers if earlier players spent enough. But money could be very tight, especially in the early game.

The game played pretty well and got some interest from various people I tested with. But I abandoned the design not too long after the contest to start working on other contest submissions. But I eventually started thinking about the game again and ways to improve it. I reworked the hiring mechanic into an auction for my game Vanilla. So the basic concept of having to pay more to hire more workers was there but as an auction players could more freely choose how much they were willing to pay but the highest bidder could still take all of the workers for a round.

I plan on focusing on The Mines of Mi Otal once I finish up Plutocracy. The original design was very limited by the contest’s price constraint. So without that I’m thinking it can be a larger game with each player being able to upgrade their forge and workshop. One of the complaints with the last version was how random the available items to craft could be. Sometimes players just got lucky having the right resources. I’m thinking private contracts, similar to tickets in Ticket to Ride, would be better than a public row of items that players raced for. The changes to hiring workers I used in Vanilla have been further refined and I think it will work really well in this new version.

These new ideas have me really excited to get back to work on this design after such a long break. Only the fast approaching deadline for Plutocracy getting into the Cardboard Edison Award is holding me back. So once that’s done you’ll probably see a lot of posts from me about The Mines of Mi Otal.

*          *          *

For more game design discussion listen to The Board Game Workshop.

Why I Back

I wasn’t sure what to write about this week so I asked the wisdom of Twitter and got a lot of good ideas. I’ll start with the first one from Odin Phong (@PhongOdin). What makes me back a Kickstarter?

I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts about good Kickstarter creator practices and how to get people to back your Kickstarter. But I never really thought about why I personally back a Kickstarter.

The first game I backed was Tiny Epic Galaxies back in February of 2015. I had only been active in the board game hobby for about 10 months at that point. I was hesitant to back a Kickstarter because of stories of projects that never delivered or had long delays. Tiny Epic Galaxies was only $26 with all the extras and shipping from a company that had delivered Kickstarters before. So it seemed like a safe bet. Also the theme was interesting and it seemed like a fun game.

Once I backed that first project it was easier to back more. Next I backed Vault Wars because I used to watch Storage Wars and it seemed like a fun theme. I paid the extra for the metal coins because I didn’t want to miss out on anything. Fear of missing out will be a reoccurring theme here.

I backed some games because I liked previous games by the designers and they weren’t that expensive. Everything I backed was from $10-$30 with a few times I backed $1 to friends’ projects.

So I would usually back a project if it was less than $30 and seemed fun. I started backing Button Shy wallet games when I entered their first design contest. As I become more involved with Button Shy and the other designers my reason for backing shifted from “It’s an interesting game for a few bucks” to “supporting friends who have an interesting game for a few bucks”. Now on top of that there is an element of collecting involved and I have to make sure I get every interesting game for a few bucks made by friends.

I backed Pack O Games Set 2 because I regretted missing Set 1. Which was almost my first backed project, but waiting for months for a game didn’t seem worth it.

Karmaka was at the Boston Festival of Indie Games when I went and looked interesting so I backed it. Villages of Valeria was talked about on Going Last and sounded interesting so I backed it. One Deck Dungeon was getting some complaints because it had all female characters. Being able to support that design choice made me back it. Heroes and Tricks looked fun and I recently found out I liked trick taking games and owned none, so I backed it. Dice of Crowns and Blend Off were light dice games I like custom dice. So I backed them. All of this stuck to my under $30 and looks interesting rule.

Then Xia came out with an expansion. I had played Xia over my friends house a few times. I really enjoyed it and wanted my own copy, but they weren’t easy to come by for a reasonable price. So when the expansion went on Kickstarter with the option of getting the base game too, I backed it. This was $135. Way past my previous limit, but it was a game I knew I liked and I had to get all the extras. This entered me into phase two of my Kickstarter backing. I was no longer hesitant of spending over $30 if I liked a game. I was still more concerned about more expensive projects being delivered but I didn’t want to miss out on big games with exclusive content.

I continued backing smaller interesting games but I started getting some big ones I was interested in. Near and Far got $77 from me, I love Above and Below and also had to get the extras. Empires of the Void II also got me because Red Raven Games is good at what they do.

I regretted missing Blood Rage on Kickstarter so I was all in for Rising Sun (except the art book). Some games that fell below the $30 threshold got extra money from me by bundling older games I wanted with them. Which I regret in hind site because I had to wait months for a game that was already in retail.

Dinosaur Island looked interesting but I was starting to slow down my game buying because I had no shelf space left. But when I saw the deluxe version was a Kickstarter exclusive I couldn’t resist.

I heard so many great things about Gloomhaven after the first campaign so when it had a second edition I backed it right away.

Meeple Source got me by having upgrades for all of my Red Raven Games. Star Realms got me because I’m a completionist.

Spy Club got me because I think my wife will really enjoy the theme.

Sunset Over Water got me with Beth Sobel’s beautiful art.

After 3 years of backing Kickstarters I’ve become a superbacker and gotten more games than I can play or store. I’ve cut back my backing a lot recently and usually back for $1 to support projects but not have to find a place to store a game.

But as to why I back, I’m grabbed by an interesting theme, nice art, and a low price. Or by a big name title that I know will be worth the money. And as much as I hate it, Kickstarter exclusives can push me if I’m on the fence about a game. But early bird deals that I missed will usually make me not back at all.

Kickstarter is an interesting place to be involved with games and have some input into their development. But it can be a dangerous place for anyone worried about missing out on an exclusive. But those metal coins in Dinosaur Island are really nice.


When designing a game it’s important to know your audience. No game is for everyone. You must know the capabilities of your audience when it comes to your game. If you are designing a game for young children, it would be a bad idea to rely on text. If your audience likes deep narrative, they would be ok with a hundred page story book being part of the game.

You could make your game and find the audience after, based on who enjoys playing it, but it’s much easier to decide who you want your audience to be and design for them.

Knowing your audience while you design can help focus your work and make decisions easier when you need to cut or add features. Always ask “is this what my audience wants?” This is similar to having a design goal for your game at the start to guide you. It could even be a part of that goal. And just like a design goal you are allowed to change your target audience if you feel it will make the game better.

Part of making an elegant game is making sure your players and game fit each other.