4X Trading – Design Post 2

So I have not been as focused on this design as I would like. I’ve been distracted by a few other designs as well as my real job getting busier this season.

I have worked out a mechanism for the ship designs. It’s an abstract way to represent ship builds and damage.

Each ship card will have a grid. The number of columns is based on the ships size. So a large ship would be 12 columns wide and a small ship would be 6 wide. Each aspect of the ship has its own row. So a row for weapons, a row for engines, cargo, and shields.

Not every column in a row will have an item in it. They will be spaced out in different ways. The reason for this is how damage works. There is a separate row for damage. When your ship takes a damage the damage row fills up one spot at a time from the right. Each column with a damage stops working. So any weapons, shields, cargo, or engines in that column are damaged.

With this system components can be arrange to give each ship a different feel. A ship with most of its weapons in the far right columns will lose them from a little damage. But a ship with everything on the far left will be able to take more damage with little effect, thus being a “tougher” ship.

Now I just need to design some to play test the mechanic.

4X Trading – Design Post 1

As promised in my earlier post here is the first design post for my as yet unnamed 4X game. The focus is on trading so it will be called 4X Trading for now. 

The design so far. 

Large hex tiles make up the play area. They are split into smaller hexes for movement. Some tiles have planets on them that take up several spaces. 

Planets have associated cards that track their resources. They start with a unique mix of 4 resources and the price of resources is based on how many of that resource are on that planet. So prices will fluctuate with demand. Some planets will produce resources and add to their amounts. 

Each player has one ship that is represented on the board by a generic ship and in front of the player by a card that has all of the ships info. 

The ships can’t be modified like in Eclipse or Xia. They have weapons, shields, possibly special abilities, engines, space for cargo and crew and energy to use all of these. Ships can be bought, sold, and traded to planets or other players. 

Crew members are represented by cards and can be hired on planets. Each crew member adds abilities to a ship like extra energy or increased weapon power. In this way you can customize your abilities and keep them if you change ships. 

In addition to a basic pick up and deliver system to earn money moving goods from planet to planet and playing the market. You can get mission cards that will give you special prices on goods or have a unique mission to fulfill. 

Players are not limited to being friendly traders though. You can be a pirate. Attack other players’ ships or planets to steal resources. This will have a big effect on the game. 

The karma track. Each player has a karma track that will go up for doing good things like making, donations, helping a player, completing good missions, being trust worthy and it will go down for doing bad things like piracy, completing bad missions or attacking planets. Also the crew you hire will affect your karma. Hiring a known pirate might make it easier to attack ships, but you’ll definetly get a bad reputation hiring them. 

Your karma is very important. Certain planets won’t trade with you if your karma is at certain levels. Good planets won’t like pirates and smuggler planets won’t trade with anyone that’s too good. Also any planet that you attack will remember and not trade with you until amends are made. 

In addition there are hidden events that can trigger in certain areas that will play out differently depending on your karma level. Space police could show up and are only a problem if you have low karma. On the other hand if space pirates are around you can scare them off if your karma is lower than theirs. 

The goal of the game is strictly financial at this point. You play to a predetermined amount of money. Though there is a lot of variety in how you achieve that money with piracy, trade with planets or even swindling other players. 

I want the karma system to be a very large part of this so players won’t make any choices lightly. 

With all of that I want the game to move quickly. I’m not aiming for a short playtime but I want to minimize downtime. So short turns and stuff to plan or pay attention to when it isn’t your turn. 

Also a resonable amount of pieces that aren’t too fiddly. This is still in the early stages and I’ve started a few prototype pieces. The biggest hurdle now is coming up with variable crew and ship cards. 

Going Down the Sidetracks of Game Design

I started designing board games around the end of April last year (2014). I’ve been a Magic player since 1996 and enjoyed playing all kinds of board games throughout my life. Hero Quest was a favorite when I was a kid. Playing Magic I was always on the edge of the hobby board game world. I played a few things like Race for the Galaxy and Carcassonne but I was largely unaware of what was out there.

Last April I got together with some friends and played Eclipse. I enjoyed it. But something else happened. I thought I could make a board game.

I’ve always enjoyed the creative side of games, designing my own quests in Hero Quest or building Magic decks. But there was something about the elegant way Eclipse got so much information across that made me think about the structure of a game.

And as I thought about the structure of games I couldn’t help but start designing one. I was still unaware of most of what’s out there and was very heavily influenced by Eclipse. I designed a very slow and tedious war game with a lot of resource management. I wrote several revisions of rules and built a prototype that was quite expensive and time consuming.

With a few play tests I figured out some major issues with the game. Like that nothing interesting happened for the first 2 hours. I was working on revising it when I hit my first sidetrack.

I had started listening to board game podcasts. With 3 hours of commuting each day I was listening to a lot of podcasts. And they were introducing me to games and mechanics I had never heard of. And with every new idea I heard I had a new idea for a game.

I never did get back to finishing that first game. I’ve been on a series of sidetracks ever since.

One of the earliest sidetracks was Space Station Disaster. It was originally a co-op with resource management. I had never played a co-op at that point, but I’d heard a lot about them on podcasts.

In paper prototype form the game was very fiddly but people enjoyed it. When I really dug into the design to streamline things, especially the resource management, I ended up stripping away most of the game. The result was splitting it into 2 very different games. One is the Space Station Disaster that is available on the site and the other is a space colony co-op that I haven’t gotten to the prototype stage yet. Again, because of sidetracks.

I think what helped me push through the distractions with Space Station Disaster was that it was very simple to prototype. My more complex games stall out in design because I’ve come up with dozens of new ideas and some of them are more interesting to me. So I change my focus and eventually get sidetracked again by dozens of new ideas.

So here I am, almost a year after beginning this game design addiction, and I only have 1 game that I consider “finished” enough that I would attempt to publish it. I also have 15 pages of game ideas that are each just a sentence or a few words. Most of those I haven’t gotten to. But I have 82 different, more developed game designs in various stages of completion, not including Space Station Disaster.

I’m starting to realize this is a problem for me. I want to create games, not endless pages of half realized ideas. So in an attempt to force myself to complete a game I will be writing design updates on this blog. Hopefully that will keep me on task. Though I’ve had a few new ideas just this past week that have started to split into variations of themselves.

The game I’ll be working on is a 4X game inspired by Eclipse and Xia. My major goals are to make it quicker playing than those and have a karma system that will reward and punish you for your choices. So let me know what you think as it goes and if you don’t see a post for a while feel free to yell at me.



Got in the first play test of Homunculi last night. It worked better than I thought for a very early draft. It’s a worker placement game with the twist being the workers are dice and you roll them to accomplish actions. They have the chance of dying when you roll them and being removed from the game. So you must use your homunculi carefully and upgrade them to achieve more difficult actions. This one will need a lot of play testing to balance costs and rewards.