Mar 8, 2010

NYC BGD Meeting - March 2010

Saturday I hosted the monthly meeting of the New York City Board Game Designers group. This month attendance was relatively low; we had five designers (including myself) show up.

First we played two games of an expansion for Mark Salzwedel's tile-laying game, Fourth Corner. The expansion added a new mechanic which, as implemented, didn't add anything strategically important. However, we did come up with some suggestions on other ways to implement the mechanic that would make it useful.

Next up was a test of a non-auction variant of Gil Hova's economic efficiency game, Pax Robotica. As much as I like auction mechanics, I felt the game did much better without it. The auction took far too much time in the game. At least, it did the last time I playtested this (admittedly over a year ago).

After that, we tested Municipality. I was generally pleased with how the game itself progressed. It only took 78 minutes and the top two players ended only 8 points apart, less than a 5% difference in final scores. Last place was 120 points behind, but I believe that was because of some serious, and repeated, gameplay errors. Is it necessary to prevent players from making bad choices? I go back and forth on whether I need to do something about this.

The only other thing that bothered me was that I once again saw the appearance of a mega-neighborhood. People seem too eager to connect everything together. They don't realize when hurting yourself a little is okay if it hurts everyone else far more. Again, I don't know if I should just live with this sub-optimal play, hint players away from it, or prevent it altogether. I want the game to end with two medium-sized or three small-sized neighborhoods. I just need to figure out a way to get there.

The changes to Surveyor and Zoning Board were fantastic. People love having choices. Unfortunately, those choices are helping create the mega-neighborhoods. I need to give this some thought.

Also, the limit on Campaign Manager was also very important. Now players cannot just wait for the end of the game to jump from one to ten approval in a single shot. Making them move up in smaller bunches created a rising tension. Players could see their opponents moving up the ladder over time, prodding them to follow suit.

Gil felt that the game was "fun but unsexy". While I am gratified that it is fun, I am discouraged by the "unsexy", as that is exactly what keeps publishers away. I can't seem to get past the mechanics and make my games fun to look at. I have to figure out how to make a game that someone walking through a crowded convention hall will, spotting it in the corner of his or her eye, stop and say, "Hey, that looks cool. What is it about?"

It is a skill I need to learn. Can anyone out there give me some pointers?

Everyone was agreed that the game has a steep learning curve. There is confusion at the beginning over what the different roles do. People keep confusing the Surveyor and Zoning Board, or thinking that one of them does both actions.

I also need to work on the player card. I need to highlight both add more information and simplify the layout. Yes, these are somewhat conflicting goals. Sometimes, I feel like Sisyphus.

For the next version, I am going to address one of Mark's concerns, that having two types of population limits (total population and per-turn growth) is confusing. I will probably just make it per-turn growth, but set them very low, so factories can't become better versions of houses.

Also, I think I should add population loss to double-taxation in addition to the current approval rating loss. This would prevent the cyclical "Grow-Double Tax-Convert to PC-Bid on HHS-Grow" strategy. At least, it would slow it down. Losing one population from each property won't stop you from double-taxing, but it will make it slightly less powerful.

Municipality seems to be strongest with four players and weakest with two. I keep wanting to allow five players, but I can see that everything would come off the rails if I did so. It is just not a game that can scale any bigger, to my chagrin.

After Municipality, we played Lionel's game. It was an identity deduction game with a unique theme. The problem was that he didn't give the players the standard tools of deductive games, including an information tracking sheet. Without it, needing to remember information about each opponent over many rounds was impossible and the game fell apart pretty quickly. We also discussed how he was presenting identity information to the players in the first place; we showed him how it could be reorganized in a more intuitive fashion.

Clay Ewing's game was next. It was an economic game that blended reverse auctions and risk management. The game was both interesting and tense. The problem was that the math didn't work. At first, it made more sense for me to do nothing with my resources, because they just accumulated interest automatically. We switched mid-game to a rule that forced you to play your resources.

However, the new problem was that playing resources for victory points could cost you massive amounts of money. While it was almost always worth it at game's end, in the short term you could be massively screwed by lack of cash flow. It also had a bit of a slippery slope problem. We all fell down the slope (because the numbers on the cards didn't work out), but the one of us who first stumbled was clearly hobbled for the rest of the game.

Clay's game shows promise. It has a great theme and interesting mechanics. Once the numbers are rebalanced, he'll have a winner on his hands.

Finally, we played another of Mark's tile-laying games. This is one I tried a few months back and it is vastly improved. The previous version suffered from it being too easy to prevent anyone from scoring points. Now the game has incentives for cooperation. It still needs a little bit of a push away from attacking each other, but it is headed in the right direction.

That was it for this month's meeting. Played a couple of fun games (I'm definitely a fan of Pax Robotica) and obtained useful feedback for Municipality.


  1. Hey, Michael. Clay's suggestion of a formula on the role cards will help. Gil's suggestion about varying the roads might help too; not all of them L's, maybe some only one side, some opposite sides. It might make the zoning board selection more interesting too. The HS thing might need a new title to be more memorable. If you make the board bigger by one row and one column, it might make it big enough for a 5-player game. There are ways of designing the board graphics to make different size boards for different numbers of players. I held off placing my special zone, because my only options would have helped other players a lot more. I ended up not using it, which was a shame to me. The dynamic of connecting zones is inherent, because the belief is that if I connect to existing zones, it helps me more than it helps them, especially considering how little you make from taxing and the population limits.

  2. Mark, scaling to 5 players is not just a problem of board size. I am worried about the length of the game. The number of rounds will certainly increase, and an extra role will need to be bid on and processed each round. Also, the influence bidding will take longer, because there is now another player who needs to think about his or her bid. Maybe on average this only adds 5 seconds each time, but that will add up quickly. I'd like to keep the game under 90 minutes. Can you see a way to add a fifth player without going above that time?

  3. I'll let you know. The game seems like it should be able to take a fifth player. Enough roles, enough board spaces.