Short-Term Goals

Short-term goals are important in life and in games. In my experience, people are extraordinarily bad at long term planning and “seeing the big picture”. Perhaps it’s an evolutionary hold over from the immediate need for survival. For whatever reason people can get lost if the goal is too far away or too immense to fathom. In games this can lead players to become disengaged, take excessively long turns, or just be confused.

If your game is short, then winning can be the short-term goal. But if your game goes on for more than 30 minutes, I think you would do well to have some intermediate goals for your players. These give them something to work towards without overtaxing their ability to plan.

Short-term goals offer a few benefits in your game. They can allow a player to build their strategy over time. If players need to think over their entire game plan at the start they will need to take some time to do that. However if they only need to plan to their first short-term goal it is much more approachable.

They allow new players to get into the game more easily. Especially if the initial goals are straight forward. They don’t need to understand every rule yet, just the few rules that let them get to their first goal. Then they can learn more to get to their second goal.

They allow players to roughly gauge how much progress they are making in the game. While a lot of games keep who is winning intentionally nebulous, knowing how many goals you’ve completed compared to your opponents can give you a rough idea of how you are doing in the game. Though goals do not have to be equal, 3 goals for one player may be more than 5 goals to another.

A variety of short-term goals can allow a player to map out their strategy. This is how many tech trees work in games. If I want to be able to use lasers, I have to first learn optics and electricity, but I can ignore cooking and gambling. Again, this can simplify an otherwise overwhelming game by allowing players to ignore sections of the game and focus on their strategy.

Having multiple paths of short-term goals to win a game helps the game to be more replayable. After wining one way players can try and win in a variety of other ways.

Give your players many things they can work towards and achieve in a game. Even if they don’t win, they will have a sense of accomplishment from completing short term goals.

Auction Mechanics

I’m currently working on 4 games with auction mechanics. This wasn’t intentional. After getting Plutocracy complete enough for the Cardboard Edison Award I started working on getting things ready for UnPub. My focus lately has been finishing games I’ve already started designing instead of following shiny new ideas. The 4 games I’m working on were all started at different times and coincidentally all have auction mechanics. So auctions have been on my mind a lot.

Auctions can be a tricky thing to design with because they give a lot of power to the players. If you have a very open auction where players are bidding on things that they do not know the value of, the results can be very lopsided. Even worse is when one player does know the value of things, they can easily get things cheaper than they should.

If the things being auctioned are very integral to gameplay and a player’s ability to win, it’s important that they understand the relative value of things before the auction. This could be as simple as listing the rarity of each item, so players know to bid higher to get the rare piece they need. Or having enough auctions in the game, so that messing up on a few will not ruin your chances.

Another consideration for auctions is how much you allow players to ruin their own chances of winning the game. If players can bid any amount of money on an auction, they can easily over pay and be out of the running. This can be held in check by giving players specific amounts they can bid.

The type of auction also has an impact on how much players can sway the game.

A once around auction gives players more information to use the later they are in the bid order. So earlier players will have to bid higher to try and win an auction if they think a later player also wants it. While the last player knows exactly how much they need to bid to win. It’s important that bid order changes in a game with once around auctions.

A blind auction can have a similar feel to a once around auction, but everyone is going first. So no player has the advantage of information before their bid. For this reason you can get a lot of higher bids if players think they are competing on an auction. You also need a way to deal with ties in a blind auction.

A continuous auction allows players to always outbid someone else. So prices can get much higher if two or more players are fighting over something. These auctions can take a lot longer, especially if players are allowed to make small incremental increases. This removes a lot of the player order advantage found in a once around auction. It can also incentivize players to bid on items they don’t want just to force another player to pay more. This can introduce a push your luck aspect because they must be careful not to get stuck paying for the item they don’t want.

Whatever type of auction you use, try to establish some boundaries to control the players. These could be visible boundaries like predetermined price limits or invisible boundaries like a very tightly controlled economy that doesn’t allow any player to be too far ahead in cash for an auction.

Plutocracy Continues

I’ve been working on Plutocracy a lot lately to get it submitted to the Cardboard Edison Award. With the changes added last week it really seems like the major design portion is complete and now it needs development. I’m happy with the game arc, the player incentives, the timing, even the theme has become more specific.

I just found my first design document for it, which I started on December 13, 2016. The very first line of my design notes is “Currency manipulation 4x ish political intrigue.” That was the core of what I wanted the game to be.

It began life as an action card drafting game with a modular board. Players manipulated 4 tracks; economy, military, technology, and culture, for 3 kingdoms. It was supposed to have a lot of area control to push combat, but the economy manipulation was so rewarding no one did anything else. From that first design through player decks, rondels, static and modular boards, and buildings I’ve come to the current version which is still very much the “Currency manipulation 4x ish political intrigue” idea I had back then. Though the currency is influence and the political intrigue is very high level inter-faction conflict, it is more solidly a 4X game.

Games can change drastically during design. When you start a design, make one simple, solid guidepost. Use that as an idea to build everything else off of. In a creative endeavor that can easily circle back around on itself it’s helpful to be able to see where you started from.

That guidepost can change, but if the guidepost changes I would say you are designing a different game, which is fine. Sometimes one game design is the inspiration you need for another game. But always check what your game has become against that original idea.

Here is some Plutocracy stuff, since I worked so hard on it.

Plutocracy Rules

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.

Your Game is Harder Than You Think

If you’ve been reading the blog or following me on social media you are familiar with my game Plutocracy. I’ve been working on it for about a year now and it has been a difficult problem to solve, but one that is so intriguing I can’t let it go. I’ve written about the trouble of making player incentives and my attempts at streamlining the rules. My dead ends and my redirections. This post isn’t about Plutocracy, though my play test of it last night is the inspiration and will serve as an example. This post is about how difficult it is for a designer to understand how complex their game is because they understand the complexity of their game.

I wrote previously about my idea to give players a better stake in the game by adding pawns that represent the player and limit their area of influence. I implemented this change for last night’s test. This was the major change of this version. It also had a different board structure and modified scoring, but the majority of mechanics were almost identical to previous versions.

The group play testing was one of my regular groups. They have all played Plutocracy many times before. They are all game designers and experienced players. I had high hopes for this version. I felt it would solve the incentive problem and allow me to move forward to adjusting numbers to fine tune the game. So I was surprised when the game mechanics gave them so much trouble.

As I said, the majority of mechanics hadn’t changed. They just had a pawn on the board that meant they couldn’t affect planets too far away. But this one change made the game different to them. So they kept questioning how things worked and my answer was usually, “The same as it did in the last version.”

In the end, the game went alright. It did a lot of what I wanted, but there were some big issues with the initial setup that caused some problems for the whole game. The concept I was reminded of during our discussion was that when you design a game, it makes sense to you in a way that no other person can quite grasp. This can lead to the issue I had.

The changes I made were minor to me, the game still had the same mechanics, but a game is much more complicated to anyone who is not the creator of it. So if you make a design and it is simple and clear in your head, everything fits together, is intuitive, and flows well. It’s probably more complicated for players than you realize.

It’s hard to notice because it’s a matter of perspective that you, as the designer, can’t have. Perhaps putting a design away for a year or two so you completely forget about it could help. But I think the best thing to do is realize it will happen, and play test until it works for your audience, not just you.

What Makes Your Game the Best?

The Jones’ Theory is a system used to cull a board game collection. The basic idea is that you only need one of each type of game in your collection. So you choose the best of that type and get rid of the rest. This could be interpreted in different ways depending on how granular you want to be with your types. You could use deck builders as a single type or differentiate deck builders that start with stacks of cards like Dominion from deck builders that shuffle and have a buy row like Ascension. So the theory can be quite flexible.

When designing games a question that comes up is, “does anyone want another ______ game?” This question ties in perfectly with the Jones’ Theory. Except instead of asking if a game is good enough in its type to keep or buy, you are asking if it is good enough to make.

I think this is an important question to ask yourself at the beginning of a design. What about the design justifies the time, effort, and money you will need to invest to create the game?

Just like with culling a collection with the Jones’ Theory you can have a lot of flexibility on how you define a type. Are you designing a worker placement game that you are comparing to every worker placement game, or are you designing a family weight worker placement game which would only be compared to other lighter worker placement games? So it’s important to define your audience to make this decision.

You could compare on genre, theme, price, anything really. But once you decide on your criteria you have to prove why your idea will be the absolute best thing in that type. If it isn’t going to be the best, then it isn’t worth making.

You can certainly get specific enough with your criteria that any game is the best, and that’s fine. But if your goal is to publish the game and sell it, your criteria should be something that a large enough group of people agree with.

What makes your design the best?


I like to keep things brief. Only use as much time as you need. Don’t over explain or repeat things unnecessarily.

I try to use this in my game design. I want the game to play as quickly as possible without feeling that the experience was rushed or cut short.

I try to use it in my rules writing. Because of this, I often avoid stating things that happen as a result of following the rules I did write. This can cause confusion though.

When you are writing rules you are trying to explain a system that is very obvious to you, because you invented it, to a person that likely has none of the assumptions that you take for granted. You may even disagree on the definition of the words you are using. This makes it necessary to state what you think is obvious, because it almost always isn’t obvious to the reader.

This leads me to another trick I’ve started to use when writing my rules. If I find myself using a lot of words to describe a mechanism, I cut it from the game or drastically simplify it. If I don’t have the patience to write it out, I can’t expect a player to have the patience to learn it.

Be clear, but be brief.


I don’t like deadlines. They stress me out. But they are also the only way I get anything done.

When I started designing games I would follow an idea for as long as I was interested, and then get distracted by a new idea. I didn’t get very far with most designs because of this. My computer is full of half finished ideas and unprinted prototypes. I never had a clear goal while working on those designs. I didn’t have a deadline. They would never be late, so they never had to be finished.

Then I started entering design contests. Design contests have deadlines. So I had to finish the design or it would be late. And if a design I made specifically for a contest was late for the contest, that was a lot of wasted effort.

Contests were a great help in getting me to stick with a design, focus, and get it to a finished enough state to submit. I wouldn’t say that these where complete to the point of publishing, but they were usually a solid 80% of a game.

But I went too far with the contests. I kept having ideas for every design contest I saw. So as soon as I submitted my game to one, I would move on to another, and another, and another.

So, while this was better than my collection of unrealized ideas, a collection of 80% finished games wasn’t really what I wanted either. So I decided to stop entering contests and start finishing games.

Without the external deadlines of a contest I needed something else to keep me focused. I’m part of two board game design groups. Between them, I have 3 design meet ups a month. That’s three deadlines every month. Three targets that keep me focused.

For a while I was working solely on Plutocracy, which itself originated from a contest. But I’ve since been trying to work on a few different games so I don’t get burned out. It’s been going well. Just this week I finished rules for two games because I’ll have a chance to play them soon.

Board game design is an iterative process so I work best with smaller goals. With three meet ups and three games that means each game has a monthly deadline. So every month I finish three games. But since it isn’t a contest, the next month I finish those same games again.

So far none of them are done. But neither are they abandoned. And that constant, steady progress is reassuring. A more measured success than sudden bursts of creativity followed by months of inactivity.

As you may know, in addition to game design I also produce a podcast and write this blog you are currently reading. For these endeavors deadlines are even more important. While a game design can get to it’s final product in many ways, a podcast and blog must build an audience. And to do that they must be consistent.

I published the first episode of my podcast in January. I committed myself to produce one episode a month and, importantly, always on the 15th. With a deadline of the 15th I could be consistent. I might have stayed up very late on the 14th of each of those months, but I met my deadline.  After a few episodes I started to record episodes much faster than I was releasing them so I adjusted my deadline and started publishing an episode every other week and then weekly.

Since then I changed the podcast to a longer format and went back to biweekly releases. While I changed my deadlines, I always did it intentionally and never allowed myself to miss a deadline.

With the blog, I set myself weekly Friday deadlines. This has been the toughest to keep up with. Probably because writing is something that I can do at the last minute. With the podcast I need to setup guests, record for an hour and spend a few hours editing and publishing so I’m forced to do things ahead of time. But with the blog I can sit down at 10pm Friday night and probably get something posted in time. I took a bit longer posting my Plutocracy look back and missed the deadline by half an hour, but other than that I’ve managed to stick with it.

There are two steps to succeeding at something. First you must start, then you must continue. Deadlines help me with the second step. So if you want or need to do something, set a deadline and meet it. No matter how rushed, problematic, buggy, or broken, meet the deadline. Then set a new deadline to improve it.

First Last Most: The Three Types of Games

There are only three types of games; games where you want to do something first, games where you want to be the last one left, and games where you want to have the most of something.

Being aware of how these different goals can direct your game is important to achieving the feeling you want your game to have.


These games are typically described as a race. The player is trying to achieve a goal before anyone else can. Sometimes it is a literal race and players are trying to cross the finish line first. Or it could be building ten buildings or getting to a certain score. The goals can even be asymmetrical.

This category also includes a lot of cooperative games where the players are trying to complete their goal before the game completes its goal.

This type of game tends to focus players on their singular task. Since the only thing that matters is achieving the goal first, players are more willing to make sacrifices to achieve that goal.

This obviously works well in a race game where a player is incentivized to use up all their resources to push across the finish line first. Having anything extra at the end of the game is probably a sign that you wasted some effort obtaining it.

It would not work well in a game where you want players to build up multiple systems and have a sense of expansion.

These games usually don’t have to worry about ties. Depending on how progress is measured it may not be obvious how players place after the winner.

Some Examples:

Universal Rule


Can’t Stop


Forbidden Desert



These games have players trying to be the last one left. They rely on player elimination to achieve the end game. This player elimination could be complete, where a player is out of the game, or partial, where they still get to play some function, but can not win.

The two primary ways we see this type of game are combat games where players try to eliminate each other and survival games where the game tries to eliminate players.

This type of game works well when you want to inspire player interaction. Though, with multiple players there can sometimes be an imbalance in that interaction. If two players are fighting each other, a third player can easily wait it out and only have to deal with the winner of that battle.

When the game is eliminating players, it could be used to inspire teamwork where competing players come together to outlast another player. But if there can be only one winner, it will lead to breaking any temporary alliance.

Because of their reliance on player elimination these games can be problematic if you have a long game that not all the players can enjoy to the end. Modern games that are going for this feeling of conflict tend to add an artificial end point and use one of the other two game types instead.

This type can still work well in 2 player games and short games where being eliminated isn’t as problematic.

These also don’t have to worry about ties in most cases. Player standings can usually be determined by who lasted the longest.

Some Examples:


Star Realms


King of Tokyo

Love Letter

Loopin Chewie


These games are probably the most prevalent. At the end of the game the player with the most of something wins. Usually this is points but any countable game object works. This category also includes games where you are trying to have the least of something. In that case, the things you collect can be seen as negative points.

This category includes a lot of economic games where players try and collect the most money. They have multiple strategies they can employ and mix. They usually have a sense of growth. As players build systems they gain a greater return.

In these games there is often some sort of artificial end condition. This contrasts with the other two types of games which have very definite end points.

In games where you are trying to collect the most of something players could often continue playing indefinitely. Because of this, players can sometimes feel like they didn’t get to “finish”.

Sometimes this causes players to want to play again to continue the enjoyment, but it could also make them feel like the game was a waste of time.

Because they lack the linear progress of the other two game types these games can feel repetitive if their isn’t enough of a change in the systems.

This type works well for building games. Players can often get a lot of enjoyment out of the process of the game, even if they don’t win. Because it works well with multiple systems players can enjoy exploring new strategies and as a result they can have a lot of replayability.

Because this type relies on counting something in the game, there is a lot of flexibility for the feeling of the games scale. Players could end with scores in the tens or in the hundreds.

Using a variety of systems can help obscure the leader and give everyone a feeling that they can win.

End game scoring can be complicated in games that use a variety of systems. But once scored players can have a very clear idea of how close the game was.

These games can also end in ties, especially with a smaller end score. You’ll usually want at least one tie breaker to decide a winner.

Some Examples:



Lost Cities

Sheriff of Nottingham

Ticket to Ride



Some games can combine aspects of the different types but in the end they only have one goal. For instance in a race you may be able to eliminate players, but it’s still winning the race that is the goal, even if the game is cut short when all the other players are eliminated.

Think about the feeling you want your players to have during your game and especially at the end of your game. If you want an open feeling of growth and efficiency go for a game of collecting the most stuff.

If you want to avoid complicated end game scoring use a First or Last system so the winner is immediately obvious.

If you want to build tension use the Last system to make players worry about their survival at every step.

What are some other benefits you can get from each of these game types?

Plutocracy: The First Dozen Versions

Last night I tested version 12.2 of Plutocracy. It went shockingly bad because of some of the changes I made. Because it went so poorly I didn’t feel bad about making a lot of on the fly rules changes to test some things out so it ended up being a very productive test. It also made me reflect on the journey this design has taken.

When I started gathering my pictures and going over the versions of Plutocracy I realized my versioning has not been very strict and some versions blend into each while others have distinct different versions within a single version number. I’m not good at this sort of organization. I’m much more interested in making the changes than properly organizing what exactly version 6 meant.

It wasn’t even until version 4 or 5 that I actually organized my files by version. Some versions used pieces from past versions, so their folder is an incomplete game. So this timeline is the best reconstruction I could come up with.

This is by far the longest I have worked on a design and the largest game I have attempted to make. Plutocracy started as an entry for The Game Crafter’s Big Box Challenge. Though the core idea of a game based on currency manipulation was something I had been trying to figure out for a few months.

From the beginning I had a few core goals for this game. First, it needed to fit the criteria for the contest, which was pretty open. Priced from $30-$60 fit in a large retail box and play in 1-2 hours. Second, I wanted it to follow Stonemaier Games’ 12 Tenets of Game Design so that I could pitch it to them if it went well. Third, it would be a 4X game with an emphasis on manipulating multiple currencies.


Based on that I made the first version. v1 was medieval themed. There were 3 kingdoms. Each kingdom had it’s own currency. There was also gold, which was a universal standard currency that the others could be measured against.

The unique hook of the game was that players didn’t have their own kingdom. Instead they used influence to manipulate all of the kingdoms in an attempt to have the most valuable fortune at the end of the game.

This version had players drafted action cards to start each round. The kingdoms would be moved around a board made of hex tiles that would be discovered a steely moved. Each kingdom had 4 stats; economy, technology, military, and culture. The economy controlled the value of that kingdom’s currency against the gold standard. Technology gave bonuses to other stats. Military gave bonuses in battles. And culture controlled how many points each kingdom’s influence was worth.

Players collected influence in the kingdoms that they then used to manipulate those kingdoms into certain actions. These actions could be beneficial for the kingdom or detrimental. The goal was to maximize your personal profit.

The game did not play out the way I had hoped. Players had no reason the make the kingdoms battle, or explore. Players just manipulated the economy and traded currency. Buy the cheapest currency, boost its economy, exchange for the new cheapest currency, repeat. The game was boring and winning relied more on player position than anything else.

The issue of player incentives is something that still plagues this design. When players don’t control any pieces on the board they are hesitant to do anything that could benefit an opponent.

The positive things I learned from v1 were that players enjoyed manipulating the currency and the combat system worked well, even though players didn’t want to battle. The initial combat system had each kingdom in a battle add influence cards to a pile, then players could add additional influence from their supplies to try and sway the battle. Only half the cards from the pile would be revealed, so adding influence would change the probability of winning but often wouldn’t guarantee a win.



In version two I changed the theme to sci-fi and the kingdoms became empires. I just enjoy designing in that space more. The major update in this version was replacing the currency cards and influence cards with cubes that represented both depending on where they were. In the original version currency and influence were almost completely interchangeable. This simplified tracking information and cubes were easier to move around than cards. I also changed the card drafting to players having a hand of action cards since the drafting was seen as a waste of time.

This was a lot less fiddly, combat changed slightly to have cubes put in a bag since you can’t have a secret deck of cubes. But the players still lacked incentives to do anything except currency manipulation.


In version three I changed the way planets worked. Players could now activate a planet to manipulate an empire’s stats. This made players start exploring so they could find the planets with the right actions. This worked, but the planet abilities weren’t properly limited, so players had chains of actions that gave them absurd amounts of influence. They could do anything, and there was no challenge.

Combat was still not worth it and players didn’t care about changing the technology or military stats. They only cared about manipulating the economy, which controlled each currencies’ exchange rate, and the culture, which controlled the point value of the currency/influence. In this version I added diplomacy tracks for how each empire interacted with each other. No one cared.



In an attempt to get players to care about the technology stat I changed it from just being bonuses to allowing an empire to build different structures that gave bonuses. This was much stronger than the previous bonus system, but players only cared about the structures that affected culture and thus the value of their influence.


Partially in an attempt to add a solo mode and to incentivize players to do things, I added event cards and goals. If players made an empire complete a goal the player got bonus points. The events pushed things to happen on the map  and stat tracks so players had more uncertainty and couldn’t just focus on the economy. It didn’t fix any of the problems of over powered planet abilities or make players do anything other than manipulate the economy and culture.



Version six had some major changes to try and deal with the issues of the last 3 versions. Planets were much simpler. They no longer had activated abilities. They gave you a bonus when discovered and that was it. I also changed all of the stat tracks to be based on building structures. When an empire built a structure to was removed from their stats track and revealed  a new value for that stat. Each additional building cost more influence to build so it stopped the board from being over run with cubes and made higher levels more difficult to reach.

The action cards were removed in favor of a rondel. Players could perform an empires next action in the rondel for free or they could pay extra influence to move further along and use the action they wanted. This made turns move quickly and pushed players to perform a variety of actions. They could no longer just manipulate the economy because the needed to explore new planets so they could build structures to change the economy. Tying the actions I wanted players to take with the actions they already liked doing was a big breakthrough for this design.

Problems still remained though. Combat was still avoided and since players only took a single action on a turn there wasn’t much control over the board state. Any advance you made for an empire could easily be undone before your next turn.


v7 Board v7

Version seven was the last update before the game was submitted to the contest. It is by far the best looking version to date with art by C. M. Perry which he offered to do for free because he’s just a really nice guy who likes to help people.

Besides looking nice this version had a lot of radical changes, mostly geared towards streamlining the game. The planet tiles were changed to a static board. This allowed me to use the connections of planets to control the flow of the game, but it removed any hint of exploration in the game.

Since players never cared about the technology track or military track I cut them. And since the economy track and culture track had become almost the same thing over the last few versions I combined them into a single track. Empires now built pyramids on planets which increased the value of their influence for exchanges in game and scoring at the end of the game. Only being able to build one pyramid on most planets forced empires to expand. I added 3 more empires for a total of 6 so the board was very tight and manipulating economies required combat, and expansion.

I also removed the universal credit currency (gold in v1). It wasn’t actually necessary and just added cost to an already expensive game.

The rondel was simplified to moving, building, exchanging and taxation. There was a lot to like about this version. Whoever I didn’t get a full play test in before the deadline. Once I did get a test in I realized a pretty big problem. The end game was all the planets having a pyramid built on them. As it turned out, that was a really hard thing to do with empires fighting over space and not moving far enough out.

Plutocracy did make it to the finals of the contest and I’m still waiting on the results. But that didn’t slow down the design process.



I got rid of the rondel. It worked well but players didn’t have enough control. Instead, players had several actions they could do. Actions cost influence and that was the only limiting factor. Turns became very thinky in the mid to late game and it started to drag. I also added a seventh empire. Since each empire could only be exploited once a round and all empires being exploited triggered the end of round I thought this was a very clever way to create a rotating start player each round regardless of the player count.

I added an explore mechanic back in. Empty planets started with a random explore token. When an empire entered the planet they revealed the explore token and either the player got a bonus of influence or some cubes were removed from the planet. This did the trick and players pushed to explore early game.

Games dragged and it was hard to reach the end game of filling every planet. Also the scoring system left something to be desired. Players needed to collect enough influence cubes from an empire to equal 1 point. This was based on the number of colonies (formerly pyramids) the empire had built. at its best each influence equaled 1 point. At its worst it took 5 influence to equal 1 point. Since any remainder wasn’t counted players ended with scores in the 5-8 range and a lot of wasted cubes.



I removed some planets from the board to speed up the game. It now played in a good time and ended just as players were running out o things to do. I changed the currency system so instead of ranging from 1/5 of a point to 1 point currency started at 1 point and each level doubled it. This made it possible to do any exchanges between currencies without needing to make change and had players ending with scores that felt like they had achieved something with no wasted cubes.


v9 Empires

v9 Board

Since v8.2 was working pretty well I decided to start adding in some features to make the game more interesting. Each empire had a unique technology that helped them in some way and players could buy technologies for other empires to increase their power. This worked but the way I implemented it was hard to track and it slowed play down. Also the technologies were not balanced so only a few were actually bought.

I added asteroids to the board to complicate movement and make more tactical decisions and added the option of alliances to help empires grow and also a penalty for breaking alliances so players had a way to really ruin an empire by making them attack a friend.

Exploring was changed from tokens on planet to a deck of cards just to be easier to adjust the probability.

Because of all these added systems each empire had its own board for tracking its stats. Th game took up a lot of space.



Version 10 was a minor change. I modified the board layout a bit and changed the technology to cards that were easier to see what empire had what technology.



I was tired of redesigning the board every version to balance game play, so I changed it back to  modular tiles. Except it had 3 planets per tile and the board was setup ahead of time instead of drawn as it was explored. I did a solo test o this version an dated movement was too difficult. The layout and asteroids were just too punishing.



I changed to hex tiles with 4 planets on each. This made a much nicer board with a lot of variable setups. I added some wormhole tiles for extra mobility and some special tiles with riskier but lucrative explore abilities. I also changed the explore cards to a more complicated system that I though would push players to explore with more than one cube. It turned out to be much too punishing and nearly wiped out the board from exploring.



Version 12 was focused on streamlining the game again after it had become bloated with technology systems and explore decks.

The technology was placed on the tiles, so having a colony on a tile gave an empire that ability. No need for players to purchase technologies or track cards or chits. It was much simpler. Instead of player shaving to go through all 7 empires exploit action the round reset after each player had 1 turn. This was to fix a complaint about uneven turn counts. It also helped with the issue of turn 7 usually being very bad for whoever got stuck with it.

I changed the explore system to dice which were much easier to deal with than the cards and allowed a constant variety instead of players being able to card count their chances. However I made the dice way to friendly to the players and they just kept collecting more and more influence from exploring. This made turns take a very long time and caused a broken strategy of constant exploration.



To further streamline the game I added the empire boards onto the planet tiles. So everything was condensed. Also since the 7 exploits per round system was removed, I decided to remove the exploit each empire once per round limit. I wanted to free up players from restrictions and instead added an action limit per turn. So instead of being limited by their influence players could only do 4 things on a turn.

And since we didn’t need 7 empires to create a rotating start player the number of empires in the game became variable based on player count. And the entire round structure was removed so the game was just continuous turns. It moved along much smoother than previous versions.

I also made the tiny change of making players pay to build a colony. Previously they just removed an influence from a planet to build. This broke the game. No one wanted to pay to build. Players just exploited as much as they could. in a few turns the board was wiped out. Players were forced to make plays they didn’t want in order to move the game forward.

To salvage the play test I made some changes on the fly to test out some things. It was very useful and pointed out some very important and fragile parts of the game.

The major struggle with this design remains player incentives. It is a very tough thing to balance when any benefit to an empire could help your opponents.

Moving Forward

Over all the game has made great progress in the last few months. It’s getting to a point where I like a lot of the mechanisms. It’s just a matter of balancing them so they are powerful enough that players want to do them, even if it helps an opponent, but not so powerful that they allow someone to run away with the game.

Next up is lucky version 13. My plan is to fix the issues that ruined 12.2 and then keep balancing.