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New FOTNR Boardgame

Posted: Fri Jan 09, 2015 10:49 am
by andrew
So we've got a new boardgame in the works and it's coming together nicely. :) It's a game where you build a royal lineage over a few rounds (each round is about 10 years) and work to build and maintain influence throughout Midgard (using military and political might). There is a questing and myth/divine aspect to the game as well (more analysis required due to Islam and Christianity in the southern portions of the map). It's still early in the design process so some concepts may fall away and new ones may be added.

What I'd like to know from those who know boardgamegeek (BGG), can an entry be created before the game is complete? I'd like to setup a print and play before any kickstarter for this.

Also looking for name/title suggestions. Originally I was going to go with "Fate of the Norns - Midgard" but looking at BGG "Midgard" is overused. Preferably a unique name.

OK back to figuring out how the worker placement or auction system will work for actions. ;)

Re: New FOTNR Boardgame

Posted: Fri Jan 09, 2015 12:56 pm
by raleel
is it norse-focused, or can you, say, play some of those southern guys?

Re: New FOTNR Boardgame

Posted: Fri Jan 09, 2015 2:11 pm
by andrew
I'm aiming to have a few play modes, from single player (vs the world) to multiplayer co-op as well as multiplayer head-to-head. The scope of the kingdoms are from the far north (Gronland skraelings and Mistress Drifa of Svalbard) all the way down to the Caliphate of Cordoba in present day Spain and the Byzantine Empire in Miklagard. The bulk of the playable kingdoms will be "Viking" but players in head-to-head will be able to play the fringe kingdoms.

Re: New FOTNR Boardgame

Posted: Wed Jan 14, 2015 9:53 am
by andrew
Every Tuesday and Friday nights are boardgame test nights. We've been on a very aggressive schedule here because inspiration has been very intense since the new year. I think we may have a working title now: "Axe Age" since it's a nod to the first age of Ragnarok and we're playing the final days of Fairhair or the time right after his death.

A fan did some research on the BGG policy, so thanks to Raine we have this:

On the official BGG Wiki page, this is what it states about submitting a game to the site:
When is a game ready for entry in the database?
A game is ready for entry when there is sufficient information available about it to describe the game's theme, game-play, and goal. For games produced by major publishers, this usually comes after a press release with information about these elements, or after the game is shown to reviewers who can write about these elements. But, when a publisher merely announces a game with scant information about these elements, the time is not yet ripe for game entry, as a "stub" entry is not sufficient.

For self-published games and user-designer efforts, a game is ready to be added to the BGG database after the game has undergone play-testing and is available in its final form. If details about the game are still being resolved and the rules are still being changed over the course of the play-testing, the game is not sufficiently finalized for a BGG entry.
I may use this thread as a little dev blog because the rules are constantly churning in my head. We have a dozen great players who are also ultra passionate about this becoming their go-to game by incorporating their wish-list of features. Their enthusiasm is also a huge catalyst for my work on this.

I guess I can start by stating the design mission of the game. The elements the design is striving for are:

- What I want to create is a game that is very accessible to the general market (ie. Ticket to Ride, Small World, Settlers) but also has some crunch that you would find in more involved games. However the crunch will not come in the form of game rules, but rather the action and event cards. This will lead to a game that is easy to learn/teach, but long to master and will have good replay value.
- I want a game with easy setup. Players shouldn't get excited about playing the game, but then second guess their decision to play due to being put off by the long setup time. If there are to be many components, they must come out gradually and organically over the course of the game.
- The game should focus on creating player experiences and memorable moments. No one gets excited or relives the moment of gaining coins from their kingdoms or paying out the upkeeps for their armies. This kind of accounting needs to be abolished or at the very least minimized. Instead every action such as conquering a new territory should result in an event that has flavourful ramifications. You don't simply take over a new territory, your new territory should add character to your kingdom and your defeated foes should be plotting revenge. Even a loss should result in something of significance rather than just the loss of a few cardboard or plastic play pieces.
- Euro game concepts such as no player elimination should be incorporated.
- The game needs to capture the flavour of the Vikings. Every action needs to tie into something the Viking age represented. From the Sacking of Paris to the Volga trade route. Rather than going the traditional route of victory points, the end game should revolve around fame/legend/infamy. Viking lords wished that their deeds lived beyond their death- that needs to be the player's focus. Epic quests need to make an appearance as well.
- If renown/fame is the win condition (or one of a few win conditions) there should be multiple paths to achieve this. I want this game to appeal to a broad player spectrum, from military strategy types, to players who enjoy diplomatic intrigue, to others who may prefer heroic questing or building a family lineage. Each of these play vectors should contribute to the fame/renown. Players shouldn't be forced to play any of these vectors, and should use the vectors that appeal most.
- Play time should be controlled by the players. As such they should be in charge when setting the number of turns before the game ends. Design for an average 120-minute game including setup.
- Number of players should be 1+ with co-op and free-for-all modes of play as well.

I think that summarizes the mission statement. Another day I will post more on the designs that have come out of the top-down design sessions to date.

Re: New FOTNR Boardgame

Posted: Sat Jan 17, 2015 7:34 am
by andrew
So here is another installment of the Dev Diary for what I am tentatively calling "Axe Age" as in the first age of Ragnarok.

We have had about a half dozen test plays so far in the last 3 weeks. Tuesday nights and Friday nights have been Axe Age nights, not counting the few single player Axe Age games.

One of the things that I really want to simplify simplify simplify are the number of phases. I dislike games where turns take 45 minutes. Large world maps are great for 4x games, but 4x games tend to require a bunch of phases during a single turn. Each turn is roughly a decade in time, so players need to be able to do a few things- the trick is to ensure those flow in unison for all players (simultaneous actions), or that actions/phases run quickly and smoothly. Since we have nobles and quests that can "age", every turn their age marker increases (and eventually they die/end), so we need an AGE phase.

Now everyone holds territories, either exclusively or shared by placing influence tokens. Each zone can accommodate up to X influence. Historical population density would determine how much maximum influence a zone may have. If you have influence, you gain 100% of the benefits of that zone (territory/country/province/etc). I thought about having resource gathering (like wood, iron, food, gold) but decided against it since this game is at a real macro level. So all resources boil down to coins. In order to exploit your zones of influence, we need a REAP phase.

So we've set the stage, given players some coins, it's time to take some actions. How many? What kind? The first iteration of the game had an action auction system. This would allow for a gold sink for players who are in the lead, and create an interesting player-to-player dynamic. However this took a long time to play out, dragging out most turns. So then we tried a flat 3 actions per player based on a first come first serve basis (worker placement). This was more successful, but was still awkward as players reached over a huge map (inevitably knocking stuff over) to place their workers. They also strained to see who was placed where and what each action could do. So now we're at action cards. The actions deck has several of each action type and gets passed around in turn order and players select an action in secret. The deck goes around until everyone has taken the X actions allotted to them. Then everyone executes their actions 1 at a time, again in turn order) until everything is resolved. This is the ACTION phase.

Then we definitely want a living and breathing world. So we need a phase where the world does "stuff". Neutral kingdom threats appear, plagues happen, bountiful seasons in some areas and global quests begin. This is the EVENTS phase.

Lastly turn order shifts clockwise by 1 position and we are ready to rinse and repeat.

The map has become pretty expansive. It's a really large map with 72 locations. It's a tri-fold board with 3 regions: 24 northern zones, 24 central zones and 24 southern zones. Depending on the number of players, you'll use a set amount of board space.
1 to 2 players = Central region only
3 to 4 players = Central and Southern regions
5 to 6 players = Whole board
I think different scenarios may mix and match the above configuration.
Oh and why 24? Because there are 24 runes and enough space for 24 interesting countries/kingdoms. Each zone in a region has a unique runic symbol assigned to it. The northern zone is designated as blue, the central as red and the southern as green. If you need to resolve a random location, you draw 2 runes, the first indicates the region by colour and the second indicates your specific zone. Pathing from zone to zone is tri-coloured as well, so if you need to handle random unit movements, just draw a rune.

Some actions during the ACTION phase involve having to resolve conflict (military, diplomatic, other) and rune decks are used for this. They are quick, don't knock over board components when "rolled" and remain thematic for the setting.

Well that's where we were at two weeks ago. The Dev Blog will need to catch up to where our latest thoughts are at. ;)

Re: New FOTNR Boardgame

Posted: Sun Jan 18, 2015 1:21 pm
by andrew
In the last few weeks we have been focusing on the free-for-all (FFA) mode. This way we can kick the ball down the road for figuring out all of the mre complex neutral kingdom mechanics when it comes to cooperative (COOP) mode.

Player start with "kingdom" cards. These are the main dashboard for your empire. They also list all of the setup required for your kingdom: claim the following zones on the board and fetch the following nobles as your starting court. Some kingdoms may start with less zones or nobles, so instead they get some kingdom "powers". A lot of this would need more balance later on, but since we're in concept phase we're looking to see if this game element is a keeper. So far it looks like most test players are liking it.

Next are the nobles. This is a winning concept that all test players want to see evolved as a possible backbone to the game. You start with a small court and you need to attract more nobles. You also want to marry them off to other nobles to continue the blood line. As they age their skills gain in potency- but the catch is they eventually die. So think of this as a tech-tree of powers with dead ends and you have to work furiously to keep the lineage going. You can marry some of your nobles to those controlled by other players. There can even be exchange of hostages or fostering agreements which draws from the sagas of the Vikings. We tried adding skill cards to the mix, but there were too many cards for a player to manage. Now the powers/skills are baked into the noble card.

The phases were pretty heavy on the first iterations, because we really wanted to ensure that people would have all of the necessary actions they would need for managing a kingdom. Looking back, I believe it was 9 phases in all. We're down 5 because a lot of phases can be merged into a more general "action" phase. The actions phase is probably the most contentious one between test players. Everyone has very viable and fun ways to manage possible player actions. We have tried a collective actions board for worker placement (both auction and first-come-first-served based), we've tried a collective action card deck and now we've gone through individual action cards decks. I think the last option gives the best trade off between speed and intrigue.

We have 3 unit types and 4 building types. The question is are all needed and the ones that are present, are they representative of all types of kingdom units/buildings. It's a macro level game, so we don't want too much variance, but we want enough to have engaging board play. Without successful board play this can become a nobles card game, this is why I believe that the board-play needs to be the backbone of this game. I'm also working on ways to use hidden card draws pivotal at bringing out memorable flavour for the boardgame.

More to come during the week. Probably after Tuesday's next play-test.

Re: New FOTNR Boardgame

Posted: Thu Jan 22, 2015 1:20 pm
by andrew
Another good play-test this week. As with every week's gatherings, diplomacy remains a very contentious topic where everyone throws in some great directions and opinions. We want to keep Axe Age as a macro level game, so we want to resist too many "fiddly" bits with diplomatic actions. And adding density to diplomacy will just necessitate a mirroring in density for military actions as well... since there are multiple paths to victory, and if we handled both paths differently, those who would want to focus on a more militaristic route would envy a diplomatic route which had more options. So design on both of these vectors continues with a lot of deep analysis. The heroic vector has been revamped in a major way, now your nobles will take on the role of hero by getting slotted into the hero spot on the kingdom card and by then placing your hero marker on the board.

This brings me to the kingdom cards. They started out as something rather small and potentially non-essential. As we evolve the design, this card has grown in meaning and size (should we start calling it a playmat?). Being the dashboard for the kingdom, players are using it (or have a desire to use it) in many new and interesting ways. Quest actions are gone, and instead you slot a quest onto your kingdom card. If you complete a quest, you immediately draw another and slot it in. You also keep the previous quests in order to score points at the end of the game (victory points have been renamed to "Fame" for now because it captures what a Viking warchief would work towards in his lifetime).

The kingdom cards also list kingdom setup and asymmetric powers (and perhaps in the future unit definitions as well). The final design will have different play styles depending on the kingdom you choose (think of the different play style with various Starcraft races). As you slot noble/quest/action cards onto the big kingdom card (playmat?) you unlock more potential in your kingdom. The way we have started using the kingdom has unlocked a lot of new design options.

Actions have changed, we added the Tax action and removed the Quest action. The Tax action was added to help a player who has lost it all. Right now if you get knocked out of play (lose your last zone or noble) you are "adopted" by an independent and neutral noble elsewhere on the world map (determined randomly). They saw some value in saving your butt and taking you in, and now you owe them (you get a "debt" status card). But as you restart your kingdom, you will need a quick injection of funds to catch up to the other players. The quest action is removed due to the new hero and quest rules. Heroes are meta units, basically treated as warrior and diplomat units as well as the hero unit.

We tested our first scenario where all of the players are sons of King Harald Fairhair. The game starts in 900-ish and you have a few turns to prove your worth before your father dies and assigns a successor. Get as much fame as possible while holding your siblings back (subtle use of intrigue cards). Worked well, we need to refine some of the player-to-player interactions (ie. what crosses the line from subtle to overt?).

Global quests have been added. These are major events such as "Discover the new world" or "Holy Roman Empire rising" or "The Siege of Francia". All players are invited to participate. The first player to engage gets a 1-time reward. If the world quest concludes well then all players who participated get a smaller reward, but if the players fail to meet the quest win conditions before time runs out then a pretty disastrous and wide spanning effect hits the board (ie. Francia breaks the siege and attacks the map with a huge stack of units). This new concept was a big winner among the test players.

Some thoughts on components: Two-sided unit tokens as well as kingdom cards may be a way to go. We may have basic play (no asymmetrical rules nor unit evolution) and may split more advanced rules as a separate play mode (flip over kingdom cards to play a different mode). This weekend I'm setting aside for more 1-player testing of the game, so the next multi-player test will be next week.

On an unrelated note, the first Fate of the Norns novel is moving forward in leaps and bounds. There'll be some official news coming soon. ;)

Re: New FOTNR Boardgame

Posted: Mon Jan 26, 2015 10:00 pm
by andrew
Another dev diary entry:

The single player tests this weekend went very well- better than expected. The key to a solid AI is to:
- Ensure that its actions are relevant to the player
- Played quickly and involves most players
- Random enough to keep it unexpected
I'm also thinking that board play is key, but off the board kingdom stuff is less important for the world AI... I may be wrong, but it's looking to hold true so far.
We're still not at the flavour phase of the neutral/hostile kingdoms (each will eventually have its own personality), but the actions and math need to work well. Each zone is marked with a rune, so zone selection is perfectly random. Sometimes we have some overlap and that will need to be fixed/resolved. Each zone has 2 to 3 entry/exit points which are colour coded to red, blue, green. This allows us to pull 2 rune cards and determine location and movement. A series of rune pulls can determine prolonged movement as well. Backtracking is permissible in some cases, but not in others. In the latter case, just ignore invalid moves and pull again.

AI pressure was too low a few weeks back and I think the pendulum swung too far the other way, now it's downright Cthulhu-level-deadly. But all of this can be fine tuned in a later phase. The most important thing is that the 1-player mode is feeling pretty engaging and fun to play. I am considering "quests" type objectives for the AI, but I don't know. No idea if anyone is reading, but if so, what do some of your favourite self-playing boardgame AI's use for "purpose and direction"? Something to think about.

Re: New FOTNR Boardgame

Posted: Wed Jan 28, 2015 1:47 pm
by andrew
A major milestone was hit last night, we are "feature complete"! Everything that needs to be in the game is in the game, and everything that needed to be cut out has been. Next steps are re-writing the rulebook with the stable feature-set, and we move into the fine tuning the mechanics of the game. Friday's game will see ALPHA 1.0. This is different from play balance which will come in the BETA.

On the fine tuning list:
- Card draws need to be partly chance and part strategy. We're at draw 4 keep 1 for Intrigue cards and draw 2 keep 1 for quests and nobles. We'll have to test different configs for each card stack.
- Each card stack needs to have an equal level of constructive and destructive effects. Right now destructive is too prominent leading to a blazing countryside feel to the world. We also need to cater to the "civilization" type of player that enjoys building an empire that they are proud of (defensive style). The Intrigue cards have to be fine tuned to have effects equal to actions- right now they have a lot more value than actions.
- Speaking of player types, we have a few types we're catering to, and we need to ensure each path to victory is equidistant:
+ The bold and violent military strategist that rampages with military across the map
+ The sneaky player that uses diplomats to achieve influence and power
+ The Indiana Jones epic hero that wants to achieve fame through their epic quests and exploration (they also enjoy collecting magical relics of power)
+ The player who enjoys building a large dynasty of nobles and children filled with sordid but evocative courtly gossip
+ The banker that builds a state machine that pumps out wealth in awe inspired min-maxyness
Right now the game seems to require a mix of play styles, but players arfe finding a niche vector that seems satisfying to their preferred play style
- The key play styles that have been tested are solo play, multiplayer co-op and multiplayer free-for-all. Each of these modes need to be tested weekly to ensure they are maturing at the same rate.
- Starting Kingdoms need to be standardize for 1 to 6 players in all 3 modes. Map zone and path configuration may need fine tuning to accommodate these. Flavour and historical accuracy are very important, but good game play always comes first.

Since we're in ALPHA, somewhere along the road we will create a print-and-play before going to BETA. Everyone on Vigridr BETA who have printed and/or ordered the card prints are auto-invited to participate. We'll widen the circle of testers when we hit the print-and-play for BETA.

Re: New FOTNR Boardgame

Posted: Thu Jan 29, 2015 5:10 pm
by mamama
Hey this is sounds really really really cool! I like your approach at making it accessible to many different types of players and I think that's a problem most groups have. I have yet to see it and I'd love to be on the beta but it already sounds like it would be my go to game for several itches. You have a Kickstarter backer right here, so make sure to let us know when it launches. Make sure I can order 2 because this sounds like something a distant friend of mine may love as well.
what do some of your favourite self-playing boardgame AI's use for "purpose and direction"?
The only one I know that has an "AI" would be Arkham Horror and it's pretty good at making you feel trapped and hunted.