Apr 26, 2010

When is Municipality?

I settled on a location for Municipality pretty early on. New York City was the undisputed choice from the get go. This was for several reasons.
  • It is one of the world's largest cities
  • Its various waterways make for interesting gameplay
  • As a native New Yorker, I am legally obligated to consider it the center of the universe
  • I you can make it there, you can make it anywhere
I still think I should have a second city on the reverse side of the board to help vary gameplay, but New York is certainly going to be one of the two.

While I have answered the "where" of Municipality, I have yet to determine its "when".

The problem is that I haven't figured out a time that would match the gameplay. The most obvious choice is early New York. Unfortunately, one of my three building types, the office tower, did not exist back in 1800. It wasn't until Elisha Otis introduced the safety elevator in the 1850s that skyscrapers even became possible.

The next choice is contemporary New York. While building an office tower in this time frame isn't an anachronism, building New York from scratch would be.

My third option is to create a fake reality, either in the future or an alternate-history modern-day New York, in which players need to rebuild New York after some disaster. This makes it easy for me to shoehorn in thematic reasoning for the various mechanics, as players can't complain "It didn't happen like that". On the flip side, it is harder to immerse yourself in a contrived universe. Many gamers prefer games that hew close to history.

The last option is to just ignore it altogether. I wouldn't try to place Municipality at any particular point in time or give it any back-story. It just is what it is. This option requires the least effort on my part, it also will turn off players who enjoy a game's theme. While I rarely care about a game's theme and only evaluate the mechanics, I am a rarity in this respect. This option is pretty much a non-starter.

This isn't a pressing issue for Municipality, but it is something that needs to get decided before I start shopping it to publishers. Anyone out there care to vote on which option you'd prefer to see?


  1. i vote for post Cloverfield new york. rebuilding with modern techniques.

  2. That's actually a clever idea.

  3. I didn't have time to respond to this back when it was relevant, but I'm sick today, so here you go.

    When is Power Grid set? I don't know, and neither do you. The art suggests that it's sometime in the mid twentieth century, which works fine for me, but surely it is an anachronism to imagine that there is no electrical power in the United States or Germany before the time in which the game is ostensibly set. A person might be tempted to argue that, because PG is such a strong game, it can get away with a little thematic weakness, but the funny thing is that that isn't the case at all. On the contrary, it's considered a pretty strongly-themed game for its genre. What you are dealing with here is Euro fans, who care about theme, but not very much. Other popular, even revered Euros include: RA, Tigris and Euphrates, El Grande, Caylus, Goa, etc, and I defy you to find thematic coherence in any of them (in fact, in this context, Puerto Rico looks like a pretty thematic game!). On the other hand, people want them to have a nominal theme and probably wouldn't be attracted to them if they were pure abstracts. So, I think this mostly matters for the art and you ought to take into account what your artist can do/ likes to do (although recent posts seem to suggest you're doing the art?).

    --DIGRESSION--you've probably heard Tom Vasel talk about theme--it's very funny, he's become more and more attached to it over time. And I suspect that he cares more about it than the average Eurogamer, hence the backlash over his Vasco da Gama review. And even he isn't necessarily into *strong* themes so much as *different* themes; his complaint seems to be about how when designers don't have a particular theme in mind they all default to early modern European economies. Just to put this in context a little. -- END DIGRESSION--

    But one thing that's interesting about these games is that all of them but Caylus fit nicely in the 90 minute or so slot that Municipality is also trying to fill. Games that are longer are typically more strongly themed--think of Agricola or Die Macher. Which makes sense, if you think about it--the longer a game is, the more time you have to think about the trappings surrounding the mechanics. Plus, it gives me a theoretical excuse for the feeling that I'd rather see ToI get a stronger theme than Municipality, which seemed thematically fine to me when we played.

    ALSO, when we were playing, I didn't assume we were building from scratch. Instead, I assumed there were already some buildings there, but they weren't as awesome/relevant as the ones we were building.

    That said, the invention of skyscrapers in the nineteenth century could provide a good excuse for the game, and also for some fun art.

    Also, if you're listening to podcasts, you may be interested to know that the last few episodes of On Board Games have been part of a series they're doing focused on design which you may find interesting or helpful.

  4. You're right about the amount of actual theme in Power Grid et al. I don't need to go so far deep into it, I can leave it as more of a glaze.

    Yeah, I'm doing the prototype art for Municipality. Obviously a publisher will want to do new, better art once they pick it up. Right now I just want art good enough to get me to that point.

    The theme versus game length is an excellent point. Titans of Industry does need more theme for its length than Municipality does.

    I actually "discovered" On Board Games a couple of weeks ago and am going through their back catalog. I think I am up to episode 9 at the moment. I look forward to getting to the ones you mentioned.

  5. Your comment reminded me of this famous cover - http://strangemaps.files.wordpress.com/2007/02/newyorker2.JPG

    You could take the Monopoly approach - name everything but don't mention New York. Most people don't find out the New Jersey connection until years after they've played the game. Of course, some NY names are very well known.

  6. Another thought - don't get married to the theme. I have two games currently with publishers, both of which had their themes COMPLETELY replaced.

  7. I always loved that New Yorker cover.

    I've actually re-themed myself during development. "Privateering" (a game about assembling a pirate crew) started life as "Television Executive" where you are trying to put together the most popular TV show.