Glass Road’s Production Wheels

Glass Road - Photo by Markus Unger

Left: Box art. Right: Production Wheel by Markus Unger.

In Glass Road, players keep track of their resource stocks on circular tracks called production wheels. So, rather than having a bunch of tokens for each resource, players move a few tokens around the wheels. This isn’t very original in itself: many games have you keep track of resources on tracks—although usually the tracks aren’t round.

The originality comes from the ‘production’ in production wheel. Players each have two: one that produces brick and the other glass.

Two hands separate each wheel into two sections—kind of like a clock. The hands are attached together: when you move one the other comes with it and they are always the same distance apart from one another. The smaller section represents the current stock of the resource being produced. Whereas the bigger section represents the stock of all the basic goods needed to produce the said resource. For example, on the brick production wheel, you would have your brick token in the small section then clay, charcoal, and food tokens in the bigger section. At a glance, everyone can see everything they need to know about each other’s stocks and production potential.

Production Wheels by

Brick Production Wheel by Markus Unger.

Some goods—like food—are used to produce both brick and glass. When players get such goods, they must decide which production they want to invest in. For example, if you get some food you can either move your food token on the brick producing wheel or the glass producing wheel.

Around the centre of each wheel are numbers. Each section has its’ own set of numbers: the big basic goods section ranges from 0 to 7 and the small produced resource section ranges from 0 to 3. The numbers of both sections start on either side of the same hand and go around the centre in different directions. All this is set up so that when a wheel is turned to the right the stock of basic goods decreases while the stock of the produced resource increases. This makes the fiddly process of exchanging a bunch of goods for another really fast and easy: genius.

Basic Goods by Markus Unger.

Basic Goods by Markus Unger.

Now for the cherry: production is automatic. As soon as the hands can turn, they must be turned. So, there is no slow process of resource transformation in Glass Road. It just happens!  As you can imagine, timing when production occurs is one of the most important ponder points of the game. Sometimes you really need some clay but if you get some, the brick production wheel will turn and you will lose the food that you also need. It’s worth leaving one basic good low—blocking production—if you want to stock up on another.

All in all, the production wheels are packed full of great ideas. They create lots of interesting decisions that shouldn’t be taken lightly if you want a shot at winning. Check out Glass Road if you get a chance: I didn’t even talk about how fun the card play is :).

What do you think of this one? Have you seen production wheels in other games?

Concordia’s Card Play

Concordia-FeaturedImage

Box art and in-game photo by Uroš Zorić

Card play is really interesting in Concordia. Each player starts with the same set of 7 personality cards. On their turn, players play any one of their cards and resolve its effect–that’s it! Or is it?

The effects usually involve managing a bunch of resources or expanding your influence on the map.  However, three of the cards make the game great:

  • The Tribune enables players to take all their cards back into hand. So, once you’ve played a card you don’t get to play it again until you spend a turn getting your cards back. As I’m sure you can imagine, the timing on this card is essential. Oh and by the way, the Tribune also gives players money based on how many cards they take back: the more you wait to play the Tribune, the more money you get. Last but not least, the Tribune is also the main way of getting units onto the board. More units will speed up your expansion dramatically but is it the right time to player your Tribune? The amount of tension that emerges from this one card is almost too much to handle—almost.

    Concordia-Tribune

    Tribune card

  • The Diplomat enables a player to copy the last card played by any other player. You really need a Merchant but you played yours two turns ago: you no longer have it in hand. It’s too early to get your cards back with the Tribune: you haven’t played enough cards to get any money and you are missing 1 wheat to employ another unit. Luckily, one of your opponents played a Merchant on their last turn: relief!

    Concordia-Diplomat

    Diplomat card

  • The Senator enables players to buy new personality cards from a selection and add them to their set. Cards are queued into the selection: the front of the queue is a lot cheaper than the back. So, the longer a card stays in the queue, the cheaper it gets. This enables you to expand you entourage of personalities so they better suit your strategy. However, don’t forget that the Diplomat can copy any personality. So, make sure other players don’t profit too much from your hard earned personality cards.
Concordia-Senator

Senator card

Additionally, as if thinking about the possibilities and combinations of all the different personalities wasn’t enough, the victory point system is tightly woven into the cards. Each personality card is related to an ancient god. For each individual card related to a given god in their set, players score points relative to the requirements of that god. For example, Mars—the god of war—requires units. So, for each card related to Mars, you score points relative to the number of units you have. It goes without saying that if you are running a strategy that involves employing a lot of units, then you want a lot of Mars related personalities to score lots of points.

Concordia-Mars

Mars cards at the end of a game – Photo by Uroš Zorić

The greatness doesn’t stop there. There is always some kind of conflict hidden in the requirements for each god. For example, Jupiter requires you to build a lot of houses in cities that don’t produce brick. So, if you are going for Jupiter, why ever would you build on a city that produces brick? Well to build a house that isn’t in a brick producing city, you need brick! This forces players to diversify their strategies. Also, at some point during the game players start buying cards just for the points; providing a satisfying switch in gear once the economical engines start running.

One thing I don’t like is that a lot of the cards players can buy are no different from the ones they have from the start. I think the base cards should remain base cards. The Merchant is an exception: you get 2 extra money from the Merchant cards you buy. Just that small difference is enough to add a lot of excitement because of the Diplomat. While you are playing, you are always on the lookout for the big merchant so you can copy it. I think it’s a shame the other base cards you can buy don’t give the same sort of small bonus. When it’s getting to the end of the game and you are still buying the same old Prefect card, it kind of dulls the game down.However, this is only a minor quibble.

Give Concordia a try if you get a chance. Let me know what you think of it.

Drafting Modular Ships

EclipsePlayerMat

Eclipse player mat.

Like many others, Eclipse is one of my favorite games. I think the mechanism I enjoy the most in the game is the modular ships. For one, I like them for the obvious reason that you can build the ships you want build. However, that is not the only reason.

Combat only happens at the end of each round and that ships block each other until the combat is resolved. Consequently, during the whole round there is a kind of cold war that goes on between players that are going to fight. In anticipation of what is to come, one player might add a couple of computers. In reaction, the other player will add a shield and a reinforced hull. Then, the first player might add more canons. This can continue back and forth for quite some time, until eventually people run out of actions. But, even though no dice are being rolled, the combat has already begun. And, usually, you can tell who will come out on top before the dice are rolled (but only usually :)).

I have recently been exploring drafting. I’m looking into how it could be used as the ‘building’ part of a space empire building game. Just because I like it so much, I’m going to focus on the space combat aspect, and, in particular, modular ships. My hopes are to have a fast past, 1-2 hour, space empire building game.

PlayerBoard-page001

Draft of a player board and cards in its slots.

My first idea is to have the cards represent opportunities on a black market. Each turn players simultaneously draft one card from a private hand and then pass the others to the next player. The card can be either discarded for money, played or kept for later use. When played, cards are placed into slots on the player’s personal board. Each type of ship would be represented on the player and the cards assigned to a given ship become the ships blueprint.

The ships themselves can be built onto a modular ‘hex’ board. After each player has had the opportunity to play cards and build new ships, there is a conquest phase. Each conquest phase, players can move ships around to gain access to planets, by forcing other players away if need be. Planets then produce resources for future turns.

What aspects of space empire games do you like? What parts, besides modular ships, would be essential in a card drafting game?

Drafting

While writing my first post about technology in games, I realised that card drafting has been used a lot less than I thought.

Drafting Today

The first time I drafted cards was to build a deck for Magic: The Gathering. The draft is such an important part of the game and is, in itself, a very fun part of the experience.

Designers have caught on to this and are using card drafting as the main mechanism in their designs. The two card drafting games I know the best that are 7 Wonders and Among the Stars. Although Among the Stars does add a special building aspect, both games are all about the drafting. The cards are used to as a means to directly generate points.

7Wongers

7 Wonders

AmongTheStars

Among the Stars

I think they are both great games, but I feel like there is a lot of space to work with here.

Drafting Tomorrow

So, I’m going to explore drafting as a mechanism for a new design. A design that would use the drafting as a means to an end.

What could the end be? Well, a genre that I really like is space empire building. However, the games are usually very long. I think card drafting could be used to simplify the ‘building’ part of the space empire experience and let players focus on using their empires to do what’s best: destroying other space empires. I could use this to make play time shorter. I now have some goals to keep in mind while designing:

  • Theme: Space Empire Building
  • Play time: 1-2 hours
  • Use card drafting to simulate the ‘building’ of economy, technology, … (the means)
  • Focus the rest of the game frantic space combat (the end)

What do you think? Are there any other games using card drafting that you enjoy (or not) and would be worth looking into?

Technology in Games

I really like technology in games, most of my favourite games have it in some form or another. Recently, I have been thinking about the different kinds of technology mechanisms out there. Here are some of my thoughts on them.

Categories

Different games integrate technology in different ways. From what I can gather, most fall into one of the following:

  • Player Board
  • Common Pool
  • Drafting
  • Deck Building
  • Hand Management

Player Board

Players each have a personal board with a full list of available technologies. When a technology is researched it is marked as acquired, usually with a cube. Clash of Cultures and Exodus: Proxima Centauri both use this. What I like about this is that, at any moment during the game, players can look at all the technologies available and plan their long term strategy. No-one else can steal their technology before they get the chance to research it. Player board technology is also good for integrating asymmetric player setups: only you can get the technology on your board. Your opponent’s board may be completely different and you don’t have access to the same things. The obvious down side: the amount of information to digest for beginners. Also, you can’t make certain technologies less common than others: there is no supply and demand.

Common Pool

Players all have access to a common pool of technologies. The common pool can either be fixed (Kemet) or can evolve randomly over the course game (Eclipse). The pool is usually limited, so not every player will be able to get a specific technology. This integrates supply and demand but also empowers the players to customise their strategy. However, sometimes the technology you really need just doesn’t come out or someone grabs the one technology that was essential to your strategy before you can get it.

Drafting

Players start with a set of technologies, usually a hand of cards. On his/her turn, a player can choose one of them to keep but must pass the others to another player. 7 Wonders in a nutshell. I see this as is the easiest way for players to get into the technology system. It gives the players a chance to customise their strategy, but only gives it to them in baby chunks at a time. This doesn’t mean that it can’t make for interesting decisions. The beginner will go for looks good. The intermediate player will conceive a strategy and grab any card that is good for it. The expert will be watching what other players are doing an deciding if he/she should take the card that is good for his/her strategy or the one that is excellent for an opponent’s game. Drafting is mainly used either as a smart way to integrate asymmetric setups (Seasons) or as the main game mechanism (7 Wonders). I can’t think of a game the uses drafting technology during the game a small part of a more complex game system. I feel like there is a lot of undiscovered design space to explore here.

Deck Building

This one is a lot like common pool in many ways. However, the way technology is used once the players have it makes deck building a category of it’s own. Players build a deck of cards out the technology they buy. During play, players will progressively draw and play cards from their personal deck. Once their deck runs out of cards they reshuffled it. Core Worlds is my favorite example.

What I like about deck building is how your deck controls how often you can use the technologies you acquire. Your deck is your long term strategy: you have to optimise it enough to make it effective but not so much that you can’t change strategy if need be. You may have access to the most powerful technology in the game but it my not be worth getting because your deck isn’t built for it. A small specialised deck can be good when you want to cycle back around to a few high powered cards as fast as you can. Other times, you want a big chunky deck full of cards that work well together as a whole and have a broader range of competences.

Hand Management

Players have a hand of technology cards. However, the cards only actually count as technology once they are on the table. Usually, the cards will have some other purpose until they are in play. Some games base the whole engine on the cards: Glory to Rome. While others use the cards for combat: Hegemonic.

Can you think of any other categories that I have overlooked? Which are your favourites?