Made in Britain Designer’s Diary Part 2 – Ragnar Brothers are working on Promised Land for a Kickstarter project
Designer Diary (part 2)
You may recall that this diary takes up the story of Promised Land from the summer of 2012. Much of the groundwork for the game was done before then and it behoves me now to summarise some of this in a few bullet points.
- The principle source for the game is the Bible. A number of useful books helped un-pick the narrative, but in particular I must mention John Bright’s ‘A History of Israel’.
- Earlier versions of the map varied only in the number of lands. The distinguishing of plains and hills for combat purposes was one of the first considerations in the design.
- After using multi-coloured counters representing each of the different kingdoms, we settled on just three sets of ‘universal’ double-sided counters. This makes sorting much simpler, reduces the number all told and thereby adds game speed.
- The vocabulary of the game was gradually established e.g. Hebrews, Heathen, start-land, hills, plains. ‘Resources’ had been suggested and at this point held sway. ‘Kingdom’ would need an explanation as the Hebrews purposefully lived without a king until the time of Saul.
And next I need to explain how the Patriarch rules developed starting with the placement and removal rules:
Players may have only one of their Patriarchs in any one land and only one Patriarch of each type may be in any one land.
For example, in this 6-player game the Hebrews occupy the port of Accho and a city has been built. In their respective turns, the purple player will collect resources for the city with his Priest, the blue player’s Merchant collects for the port and red’s Farmer collects for the plain.
The number of Patriarchs started out as three per player, but increased to six per player. This provided opportunity for players’ overall position to have greater range; giving chance to catch up and chance to knock back. Initially only one Patriarch was placed each turn, increasing to two. However as you will read later, more variability was later added to this mechanic.
Using the Patriarchs, I wanted players to enter as characters into the history, to feel something of the experience of living in that changing world. Being able to retreat within one’s own kingdom was an important development and felt right in representing people whose lives (in that reality) might easily have been up-rooted. This also gave the game strategic impact as players look to expand kingdoms to give greater area to fall back into.
Amongst many changes during this period the following stand out:
- Artefact costs changed several times. Initially the 3 pt Artefacts cost proportionately less:
1 pt – 5 resources, 2 pt – 9 resources, 3 pt – 12 resources.
But this meant lower value resources were not being used. So the proportions inverted:
1 pt – 3 resources, 2 pt – 7 resources, 3 pt – 12 resources.
But this had precisely the opposite effect. Logically the solution became:
1 pt – 3 resources, 2 pt – 6 resources, 3 pt – 9 resources.
And this had the desired effect of allowing more Artefacts to be bought and used during the game.
- ‘Un-used units’ was a very occasional problem, resolved by allowing players to exchange one unit for any one resource. Not generally a favoured option, but sometimes effective and always a fail-safe.
- The word ‘resources’ was dropped in favour of ‘gold’, ‘silver’, ‘bronze’ with the added benefit of being able to now use ‘coins’. These things do matter!!!
- Some slight alterations were made to the kingdom chronology.
- Rob King joined us for a trial and his comments led to us putting a time-line around the map to show which kingdoms appeared during the game and their respective strengths. This helped other players to better understand the shape of the game.
However, though these were essential adjustments the main focus through this period was in establishing game balance. It was clear that if one side were to draw stronger cards, whilst the other drew weaker, then only players on one of the teams would have any chance of winning. Grading each card by awarding 1- 3 victory points was trialled, but added little to the dynamics of the game. Much better was to award points to the three weakest cards in each Hebrew / Heathen Book. This was further enhanced by awarding 1 pt for the first card collected, 2 pts for the next and so on. Suddenly choosing to select ‘weaker’ cards became a strategic option.
At this point the Heathens tended to struggle to generate coins, principally because they had little chance to establish a strong Patriarch presence at game start. Placing x3 Patriarchs in the initial set-up resolved this and meant the game was quickly into its swing as regards Artefact buying. Similarly the Hebrews benefitted by each player placing x1 Patriarch at game start.
Finally by way of creating balance there was the inevitable tinkering with the number of units for each kingdom. This was less difficult than might be imagined. A top limit of 7 units was set and applied to any major conquest (Joshua, David, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians). At the lower end those kingdoms whose conquests were much less (e.g. Edomites) or simply not applicable (Phoenicians) were awarded 2 units. Similarly less successful Hebrew kings only had 2 units (and Zedekiah, the last king had only 1 unit). Within each Book the cards needed to be valued to give good variety, so between these extremes came the rest of the kingdoms. It should be noted that an Artefact could add considerable value (up to 3 units for example) to any kingdom.
And so …..trialling continued through to the start of winter 2012.