Online shop for board games / tracked and fast delivery

Svarog's Den - Board Games

Designer Diary: Hegemony: Lead Your Class to Victory

by Vangelis Bagiartakis

Hegemony: Lead Your Class to Victory is an asymmetric, card-driven, politico-economic game that simulates a whole nation, its policies, and its economy. The players take the role of the Working Class, the Capitalist Class, the Middle Class, or the State itself, then try to pursue their own agenda.

Sounds simple to design, right?

(not)

Working on Hegemony has been quite a journey! If nothing else, it was a very difficult game to design…bt let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In the Beginning

Vangelis: Our story starts in the middle of 2019. We have an annual board game design contest in Greece, and as part of it, the organizers host various events like playtesting sessions and talks on design-related topics, mainly aimed at new designers. I was invited to give such a talk that year, and after I was finished, I got a chance to talk with some of the attendees. One of the people who approached me introduced himself as Varnavas Timotheou, told me he was from Cyprus, and let me in on an idea he had.

Varnavas: I had just finished my studies, getting a master’s degree in political sciences. I was very interested in politics and economics, but during my time at the university, I realized that there were no “fun” tools available to teach people about some of the most important theories in those fields. Obviously, there are plenty of books around, and if anyone hops on YouTube, they’ll find lots and lots of videos about them. None of them, however, is inherently “fun”. You have to be really interested in these topics to start reading those books or watch those videos — but what if there were a board game available that could teach you about these things while playing? A game, based on actual academic principles, from which you would leave the table having learned a lot of things about how the world operates, while having a good time with your friends!

I set out to create such a game, but I knew I had to deal first with a small, tiny, insignificant problem: I didn’t have any experience on game design! That was actually why I had attended that event. I wanted to work on this project with an experienced designer, and that was a great opportunity to meet many designers at the same place. I had heard of Vangelis, so I approached him after the talk. We had a lengthy discussion, and I explained to him my vision in detail.

Vangelis: I liked the premise of what he was describing, but I knew it would be quite challenging. The good thing is that I love challenges, so it was definitely something I was interested to work on! A few months went by as I was finishing another project, and by the end of the year we had agreed to work together on this.

Early Process

We started with some brainstorming sessions. We had the theme but no idea whatsoever on what the mechanisms would be. We didn’t even know what type of game we were going to make, but it became apparent very quickly that it would be way harder than we had anticipated.

Our #1 goal was to make a game that would be fun to play. Okay, makes sense. The “problem” (if you want to call it as such) was that we also wanted it to be based on academic principles. That meant that certain things needed to be there and should behave in a specific way. The more accurate we wanted to be with those things, the more complicated we would have to be with the game since there were a lot of details that would need to be included somehow. On the other hand, we wanted the game to be approachable and (relatively) easy to play.

One of the first things we needed to determine was the player count. We had the three classes (Working, Capitalist, Middle), but we didn’t want to create a three-player game (although we did discuss it). There was also an idea of having 3-6 players with each class being played by up to two players, but it was quickly rejected. Trying to figure out whether a 2-4 player game could be possible, the thought came to have the State be the fourth player. We already knew the game would be asymmetric. The State made sense as a fourth player since in real life it is (supposed to be at least) a group that wants to attend to the needs of all three of the classes. That would create always-changing dynamics within the game and would be an interesting role to play.

Okay, we had the fourth player, but what about two players? How could the game work with just two of the roles? After going over it in detail, it quickly became apparent that the main conflict at the core of the game was that between the upper and the lower class. This meant that these two roles could not be left out of the game, no matter the player count. In other words, we couldn’t show what we wanted to show without the workers of the Working Class present, or without the companies of the Capitalist Class. The Middle Class seemed like it could be left out when having just two players, and the State’s role could be automated to a degree. Thus, we came to a decision that would define many things throughout the game: In a two-player game, the roles taken would always be the Working Class and the Capitalist Class. With three players, you would add the Middle Class, and with four players the State would be the last player’s role. We knew that some players would be unhappy with that decision – not being able to play any combination they wanted – but it was important in order to make the two-player game work. However, having automas could probably solve this issue, so we kept that thought in the back of our mind.

With that decision made, we broke down the work ahead of us into smaller parts. We didn’t have anything yet at that point, so we would start with the two basic roles, establish the core of the game (mechanically) based on them, then work on the other two in more detail, while having the basics to step on.

Establishing the Core

Varnavas: At the center of the game I always had one thing: The Politics table. I had made a table with each line representing a different policy (Taxation, Trade, Welfare, Immigration, etc.), and each of the three columns represented a different ideology: On the left there was the Socialist approach to that policy, and on the right the Neoliberal approach. This would be the basis of the game as that would be the main “battlefield” over which the players would “fight”. Each class would want to change the policies to its benefit, usually at the expense of the other class that would want the exact opposite thing.

It was those policies (and their sections) that would determine what the rest of the game would include.

We started with the Labor Market. Obviously, the Capitalist Class would control companies and corporations and the Working Class would have workers, working in these institutions. The Labor Market policy would be the one to determine the wages. A socialist policy would enforce high wages to the workers, while a neoliberal policy would want to see no limits whatsoever, allowing for very low wages if needed. This meant we needed to find a way to represent companies, workers, and wages changing that would make sense.

Vangelis: It may sound weird, but this was probably what took us the most time to determine. You see, a lot of things had to be included. There should be workers of different skills indicating different production outputs, with different wages corresponding to those different skills, and these wages should depend on the Labor Market Policy, meaning there should be at least three different wages in each case (one if the policy is in the socialist section, one if it’s in the neoliberal section, and one in the middle). On top of that, we wanted to include the notion of machinery. An option for the company owner to increase production without having to spend additional wages. And finally, while we were contemplating all of that for a game with two players, we knew that the Middle Class would also have its workers so whatever we settled upon should take that into account as well (meaning two different players — and thus different calculations — regarding how much money to give).

Trying to make all that work in a way that wasn’t overly complicated seemed impossible. I even made a Venn diagram at some point to try to understand the whole thing better:

And I’m not even including different levels of skill in the workers corresponding to different wages

Obviously, a lot of trial and error took place. We considered many different options and with each one, the process was the same. We would create a prototype, then would try to get an idea of how it felt, how complicated it was, and how intuitive it would be for the players.

While working on that problem, we also got to determine the resources we would have in the game (so that we could build the corresponding companies/industries). The first one was easy: Food. Obviously, this is the most basic need of all people, so the working class should try to ensure that it has enough of that. One of the policies in our table was Welfare State. This policy was meant to determine the price of public Health and Education, so it made sense for those two to also be resources. Not only would their price be determined by the policy, they are also basic needs, so having the Working Class try to get them could be one of the class’s goals. With these three, we had our first three industries: Agricultural, Health, and Education. We wanted to include Heavy Industries in some sort, so we grouped them all under one resource that we named Luxury. We didn’t mean of course diamonds and jewelry. It was just a name to cover all the non-essential goods, such as board games…

The last industry we added was the Media Industry; its companies would provide Influence, which we figured could be of use in politics. The five resources corresponding to the five industries could be further divided into goods (food and luxury) and services (health, education, and influence). While luxury would later include some sort of services (like Hotels), the distinction to goods and services remained until the end.

Having the resources and the five industries, many different approaches were tested: having a single card for each industry on which you would continue putting workers until the end of the game, having different cards for different companies, having fixed slots in each company vs. allowing any number of workers, having tracks instead of cards and meeples — the list goes on. All of these were tested but all had the exact same problem: Calculating wages and production was too complicated.

Varnavas: While trying to come up with the best solution, we also looked into the other policies. My initial list had around 10-11 of them but after some trimming we kept only six. Apart from Labor Market and Welfare State which were mentioned before, we had Fiscal Policy, Taxation, Foreign Trade, and Ownership of the Means of Production.

Fiscal Policy would determine the size of the Public Sector as well as whether the State would give benefits and subsidies. Socialist would mean a large Public Sector (and many benefits/subsidies) while Neoliberal would mean a small Public Sector, no subsidies, and also no loans for the State. (IMF would come in case of default.) Obviously, we had no idea yet how all these would be implemented but that was the general idea. Taxation would obviously determine the amount of money each class would have to give to the State every round. We set a table for each section (socialist/mixed economy/neoliberal), but we knew it would be much more complicated than that. Foreign Trade would determine what you could export, mainly the number of resources and quantities but also Tariffs when it came to imports. Finally, the Ownership of the Means of Production would determine whether the State could buy or sell companies and what limitations were there.

Vangelis: We knew from the start that fighting to change all these policies would be an important part of the game. Thus, we had to come up with a voting mechanism. We liked the idea of drawing cubes from a bag — it felt the most logical thing to do — so we tried throwing cubes of all three classes in the bag and drawing five of them to determine the winner. As simple as it may sound, it worked really well, so we decided to go with it. We did a few tweaks here and there (mainly regarding how you put the cubes in the bag in the first place), but more or less that mechanism remained unchanged until the end. In fact, we got a lot of comments during the playtests that the voting process was probably the most fun part of the whole game!

Varnavas: Another thing we were also discussing around that time regarded the win conditions. Various ideas were discussed, most of them having to do with the Politics table, for example, having all policies set to socialist be the win condition for the Working Class. While some of them were very thematic and made sense, it quickly became apparent that they weren’t the best solution for our game. Usually, all those ideas meant that for someone to win, the other player would have to be utterly destroyed. Not only would that lead to player elimination under some scenarios, it was also not indicative of what happens in modern day societies. The classes struggle and fight but, in western countries at least, you don’t see one eliminating the other. Since the game was supposed to teach you how the world around you works, its win conditions needed to somehow reflect that. To that end, we settled for old-fashioned victory points. Whenever players did something that was to the benefit of their classes, they would gain VP. The player with the most points at the end would win. It would be tough for us to balance everything, but it was simple and made sense.

Vangelis: Finally, we had to make a decision on the type of game we were making. What genre was it? Worker placement? Deck building? COIN? In the end we settled on card-driven. It was a genre I had some experience in with Freedom!(which was also asymmetric), and I felt it suited our needs perfectly. There would be cards representing thematic events with specific effects on them that you could play, but they would also allow you to do other things if you liked by discarding the card. Instead of going for a common pool of cards and Action Points on each one, we decided to have a separate deck for each player (since each player was very different in what they wanted to do) and no Action Points. You would either play the card for its effect or you would discard it to perform a Basic Action.

Covid-19, or Welcome to the New Norm

Varnavas: They say that when man makes plans, God laughs. Most of what’s mentioned above was happening in the beginning of 2020. I had gone to Greece to work with Vangelis on the project; we were meeting daily and making good progress, but then March came and I think we all know what happened around that time all over the world. We went into lockdown and obviously, we couldn’t meet anymore. After a couple of weeks (when it became apparent that this would last much longer than we initially thought), I went back to Cyprus and we tried to do everything digitally. Video calls were the new norm, and we moved our playtests online on Tabletopia.

Vangelis: While theoretically we could continue working like we did (but through online calls), everything else around us was also changing drastically, and we had to get used to the new reality. The most difficult of all was that, with four kids in my house trying to connect remotely to their school, we could no longer work during the day; all of our calls ended up taking place between 11 in the evening and 4 in the morning. Fun times! (not)

On the bright side, almost the same day we started working remotely, we found the solution to our problem with the companies. We ended up with this: Each company would list a fixed number of workers, some of them skilled and some unskilled. With fixed workers, we could have fixed Wages per card and thus not ask the players to do math. However, this also meant that a) all the workers had to be there for the company to be operational, and b) all the workers had to be of the same class (since the wage could not be divided in smaller parts). Those two requirements were what made this solution work, so we decided to keep them and adjust the rest of the rules accordingly. As for installed machinery, this would be represented with a token on top of the card that would provide a production bonus (without any extra wages needing to be paid). As for the wage level, we toyed with the idea of having a marker on the board indicating the current level, but decided it would be better to have the players owning the companies decide for each one of them separately. Thus, there would be three wages listed on each card and a small marker would indicate the current one.

With the company-workers mechanism now in place, everything else started slowly taking its place. We started assigning actions to the two players: Build Company, Assign Workers, Adjust Wages, etc. We made different companies for each industry and contemplated their cost, their number of workers, the production, etc.

Some of the other policies could also take form now. Fiscal Policy, for example, would determine the size of the Public Sector, so we assigned one company of each service to each “size” (small Public sector meant three companies, medium size meant six, and large size meant nine). Policy #6, Ownership of the Means of Production, while thematically interesting, didn’t seem to work well gameplay-wise, so we left it out. In its place, we added Immigration, which would determine how many extra workers would join the game every round. One thing we quickly realized, however, was that two of the policies, Foreign Trade and the new Immigration, didn’t vary between Socialism and Neoliberalism. Instead their differences were between two other schools of thought: Nationalism (closed borders) vs Globalism (open borders). To that end, we decided to indicate this by placing them vertically next to the other ones, making it more clear that they were a bit different.

Taxation was a huge chapter on its own. While initially we had a small list with different values for each section thrown in, as more and more things were taking their form, we had to adjust it accordingly. Since we wanted to stay true to academic principles, we couldn’t have the players be taxed the exact same way; the amounts of money they would have to give should differ a lot, depending on what the players were actually doing (mainly how much money they were making). We tried different approaches, but they all had the same problem: They were (relatively) complicated, requiring many calculations by the players. On top of that, it was hard to visually show them on the Policy itself, using icons. We decided to keep something we had and try to find a better solution down the road.

While various aspects of the game were taking form, we needed to address one of the most important things: How would each class score points? For the Capitalist class it was relatively easy. We would award points based on its profit. To measure profit (while also taking into account there was a Policy in the game about Taxation), we ended up with this: The Capitalist class player would have two spaces on its board for money. Any new money it got would go to the left space (income). Money it had to spend would also be taken from there, including taxes. This way, any money still there at the end of the round would be the player’s profit. That money would then be moved to the right space (so as not to mix them with any new money earned), and the player would gain VP based on that amount. The more profit the player made, the more VP they would gain. That made sense so we kept it, but for the Working class it wasn’t that clear in the beginning. What should be the goal of the Working class and how do you quantify it?

Varnavas: One could argue that reaching true socialism — a.k.a., the collapse of Capitalism — should be the Working class’s goal, but as mentioned above, there were various issues with following that approach. We knew that it should revolve around covering the basic needs of the people. That meant food, health, and education. However, food was already there as a “requirement” — the player had to provide food for each worker at the end of a round — so it didn’t make sense to also award points for it. That left health and education to work with. Once again, different approaches were examined and tested. The one that seemed the most promising involved tracks for those two resources in which the more the player would spend them, the more the tracks would advance, gaining more and more points as they went along. On top of that, providing health would give you extra workers while providing education would allow you to turn unskilled workers into skilled ones.

We also decided to award points whenever you managed to change a Policy. Changing even one of the policies to your favor was usually a great boost, but if you were not very experienced with the game, it was sometimes hard to realize it, especially during your first games, so we wanted to give an incentive to players to try to change the policies; gaining VP did the trick marvelously, but you had to actually win the election in order to get them, which created interesting situations.

By implementing all of the above (and various other things here and there like Business Deals, Trade Unions, etc.), we had most of the game laid out — and while we were doing internal tests with Vangelis almost daily, what remained now was to test everything with other people, too!

Early Playtests and the Middle Class

Vangelis: Having a lockdown while you are looking for playtesters is an interesting experience, to say the least. In our case, it was both a blessing and a curse. While we couldn’t meet with other people in person (not to mention that me and Varnavas were a few thousand kilometers away from each other), having everything we had designed on a digital platform made things easier. We started inviting friends online to play so that we could get external feedback on everything we had done.

While many things still needed work, the feedback from the tests was very positive. Players liked what they were playing and thought it was very interesting. In fact, I remember very clearly a playtester who was working in the military and had to wake up very early the next day. We had agreed that he would play up to a point and then I would continue in his place. However, when the time came, he didn’t want to leave and stayed up until the very end, late into the night!

Varnavas: Another thing that players also liked a lot was the game’s asymmetry. Those who took part in multiple playtests and had a chance to test both roles really enjoyed the fact that they played very differently. The experience with each role was unique, and while the players were doing very different things, everything was interconnected. Most importantly though, we got to playtest with people from academia and get their input on what we were doing. By that time I was already having lengthy discussions with many renowned academics from well-known institutions (like Oxford or King’s College, for example) to make sure that everything we were coming up with was in accordance with academic theories. Now, they could see all that in action and test for themselves whether things were properly executed!

There was also something unexpected that we noticed in all of our playtests. The game would always lead to role play. No matter with whom we would play, after a while we would start hearing famous phrases from politicians, we would see the players get totally immersed in their role, justifying their actions through the lens of their real-life counterparts. It was a blast, we were all having a lot of fun, and it was an indication to us that maybe, just maybe, we had something good in our hands…

Vangelis: With the valuable feedback we were getting, we did lots of tweaks and adjustments in almost all of the aspects of the game, but most importantly, realizing that the two-player game was on solid ground, we started working on the game’s third role: the Middle class!

Once again, we did a lot of brainstorming to determine what should be that player’s goal. The Working class and the Capitalist class were completely different, and we wanted the same to be true for the Middle class. However, the more we discussed it, the more it became apparent that the Middle class had elements from both of the other players. It had workers that could go on to work on public companies or those owned by the Capitalists. At the same time though, it should be able to build its own (smaller) companies. It should be able to buy health and education to cover the needs of its people but it should be able to produce them and even sell them. In the end what we realized was this: While the actions of the Middle class were (mostly) the same as those of the other two players, their combination felt very different. The Middle class wasn’t about a single thing. It had access to what the other players had, but by having the same number of actions as them, couldn’t do both as effectively as them. In other words, it had to find the balance between producing, selling, and consuming.

Once again, the ideas were put to the test, and the result was very interesting. It had that familiar yet different feel that made it very intriguing. Obviously, a lot of tweaks needed to be made, some of them right from the start. What was tricky was determining exactly how the Middle class companies would work. What did “smaller” really mean? And what kind of workers would work in them? In the Capitalist class’s companies, both other players (Working and Middle class) could work, but what about Middle class’s companies? Could they become operational just with Working class workers? What about wages?

In hindsight, having the finished game in front of me, the answer to a lot of these questions seems obvious, but around that time, nothing was clear and we had to put a lot of thought into how to make them work. In the end, we went with an “employer-employee” approach. All the middle class companies would require at least one Middle class worker in order to be built. That would represent the “boss” of the company. But there was also the option to add a Working class worker (the employee) who would boost the production but would require wages. Playtests indicated that there should also be the option of having a Middle class worker as an employee. However, allowing for both was a bit complicated and could confuse people. (It was more or less the original problem we had with calculating production and wages.) In the end, we decided to make two types of Middle Class companies: those with Working Class employees (that had wages) and those with Middle Class employees (which required two of them to be operational and required no wages).

The addition of the third player also made the game more interesting. The Working class now had competition both for the State’s resources as well as the available slots in the companies on the board. On the other hand, it had an ally when trying to push for some policy changes. Similarly, the Capitalist class had another potential customer for its own resources, as well as an additional source of workers. At the same time, it was both an ally and an opponent when trying to push for certain changes. All in all, the game was getting better and better!

Streamlining and the Addition of the State

With three roles available, we started doing even more playtests. By that time it was summer and the lockdown was lifted, so we were able to do some physical playtests as well. The feedback we received was invaluable and allowed us to improve many aspects of the game.

One thing that was kind of bugging us was that there were a lot of resources going back and forth during a game. The initial idea was that for each worker you would spend one food, but the number of workers in each class would start at ten and by game’s end could be close to thirty. That meant a LOT of tokens on the board and a lot of counting by the players, not to mention the fiddliness and the constant back-and-forth movement of tokens.

To simplify things, we introduced the concept of Population. Every three workers would correspond to one Population, and when you had to feed your workers, each Population would require one food. Not only did this reduce the number of tokens dramatically, it also allowed for some additional strategy by the players; they had to now “manage” their number of workers (especially considering that by providing health you could increase it) to pay slightly less for food.

The addition of Population in the game also allowed us to change a few more things, mainly the way the worker-based roles (Working class and Middle class) were scoring. By that time, we had already split the Welfare State policy into two different ones. Having the cost of both services determined by a single policy had too big of an impact, so there were now two different policies: one determining the cost of public health, and the other the cost of public education. The players were scoring by buying and spending health and education, but we weren’t very happy with how the tracks worked.

With Population now established, we tried something new: We introduced the concept of Prosperity. By spending health/education equal to your Population, you would increase your Prosperity, and the more you increased it, the more points you would gain. While the best way to implement it was once again with a track, it was now combining all resources in the same place and made a lot of sense thematically. Most importantly, it gave us progression for the players. They would start slow (gaining few VPs in the beginning) and as the game progressed they would gain more and more. The feedback from the playtests was very positive, so the mechanism was kept, and we also allowed players to spend Luxury to increase their Prosperity. The only thing we added was that Prosperity would drop by one place at the end of each round. This made sense thematically since it pushed the players to constantly try to provide for those basic needs, but it also helped gameplay-wise to balance the rate by which the players were getting victory points. It also rewarded players who would plan in advance and would try to increase their Prosperity more than two times in a single round.

The addition of Population also made Taxation simpler. Before that, the Working and Middle class players had to count all the workers they had and spend a certain amount for each. Once again, we were dealing with more math than we wanted. By using Population, which led to a small number, usually between 3 and 8, calculations became much simpler. As for the Capitalist class, we made a table that determined what they would need to pay, based on the current Taxation policy and the amount of money they had made during the round (and on academic principles as well).

With all these changes, the game was taking good form and most of the things we had settled on seemed to play well. That meant one thing: It was time to look at our fourth role: the State! This time, things were a bit harder because even in a two- or three-player game, a lot of the things handled by the State were done automatically, so what could we possibly add that a) would make sense for the role (by being thematic and also based on academic principles), b) was not essential with fewer players and, most importantly, c) would not break the delicate balance we had already?

Varnavas: Once again, we started brainstorming and discussing what the role of the State was in real life and how we could add it to the game. Four things became clear:

• The State should be seeking to increase its Legitimacy. This meant that the other three classes should approve of its actions and accept it as the ruler.

• The State should provide benefits and subsidies to help the other players in need.

• The State should deal with important issues that a government deals with on a daily basis, things like earthquakes, pandemics, wars, unemployment, and so on, as well as the struggles between the classes.

• The State should avoid going into default.

The first two of these issues combined to create what we called the Legitimacy tracks. The State had three tracks on its board, each one corresponding to one of the classes. Whenever the State would do something to help one of the classes, it would advance on its corresponding track. The higher on the track, the more points the State would get. However, the mechanism needed to ensure that all three classes were treated fairly. To that end, the State would score at the end of the round, based only on its two lowest tracks. Pushing only one of the classes would not help; the State would need to provide help to everyone in the game.

Since the three classes already had cards in their deck that represented benefits, subsidies, or other forms of governmental help, we added symbols on them that indicated an increase in the State’s Legitimacy when played. If you were playing a two- or three-player game, you would ignore those symbols. If the State was in the game, though, you playing the card (and getting benefits from it) meant you also helped that player. On top of that, we also added another element: At the end of each round, after scoring the two lowest tracks, each Legitimacy score would drop to half. This not only made the player constantly try to increase them, it was also a good thematic fit since people tend to be disappointed by their government as time goes by, for many different reasons that we didn’t even have in the game.

Vangelis: The third point in the list above was transferred into the game with the introduction of Event cards. These would represent the important issues that the State would need to address. They would list an action for the State player to take (usually provide resources or money to deal with that issue), but they would also offer 2-3 options on how to take it. For example, an earthquake happens. Does the State provide food and health to the Working class or the Middle class? Depending on the choice taken, the State would get a corresponding reward (usually an increase in Legitimacy). However, if the round went by and no action was taken, there would be a Legitimacy penalty for the player since the State didn’t meet the people’s expectations.

Varnavas: All this help provided by the State would come at a cost, however. The State didn’t have infinite money and if it ever ran out, it would be unable to cover its obligations (paying Public Sector wages, for example) and would have to go into default. That was something we already had included in the game, but now that a player was running the State, the stakes were higher. If the State went into default, the Legitimacy in all three classes would again drop to half, which was really bad for the player’s scoring.

Vangelis: Our playtests would now include the State and the things we had added were working well. We did tweak a few things here and there, but the main concepts remained. What was most important was that the newest role was indeed interesting to play and there were a lot of very important decisions taken in each game. The best of all however was that all four roles played differently, something we were very happy about. You could even see it in the scoring: The Working class and the Middle class would gain points right from the start, slowly at first but more and more as the game progressed. The Capitalist would end each round with very few points in the beginning but would have an explosion near the end of the game, while the State would get a relatively steady stream of points each round.

The last thing remaining was to make sure everything was balanced. Easy, right?

Development and More Tweaks

By the end of 2020, we had finished with most of the game’s design and what remained was further development — in other words, extensive playtesting and balancing. Usually, someone not involved (up to that point) in the design process takes this task, a new pair of eyes that offers a fresh perspective. In our case, we went to my good friend Anastasios Grigoriadis who has experience in this type of work. We spent a lot of time in the coming months, playing the game again and again and again, tweaking cards here and there and searching for the best possible experience. He was very good at pointing out things that me and Varnavas had gotten used to by that point, but were clearly in need of change.

One thing we had done near the end of design was to round up the numbers in the wages as much as we could. Initially, the wages had lots of different values like 24, 28, 18, etc. When adding them up during production, it took some time to do the calculations. To minimize this, we had changed almost all of the values to increments of 5, and the result was a massive hit. It was now way easier to calculate things and much easier to remember, so during development, we did something similar with the “Sell to the Foreign Market” action and the Export cards. We used to have cards that had the value of each good/service on them. Whenever the Capitalist or the Middle class wanted to sell their resources, they multiplied each resource they had by the number on the card. This once again would lead to lots of calculations for the players, and they were taking even more time than calculating wages. In fact, there were cases where people would take out their phone and use it as a calculator.

To address this, we changed the way the Export cards worked. Instead of selling any number of each resource, we put specific “sets” on the Export cards — two for each resource — and made sure that their values were once again rounded to increments of 5. For example you could sell three health for 20 or seven health for 50. If you had ten health, you could even do both transactions. This change was a huge boon to the players and made everyone’s life much easier!

Taxation was another thing that got streamlined even more. By that point we were already taking into consideration the two Welfare State policies that determined the cost of Public Health and Education when calculating the taxes the Capitalist and the Middle class needed to pay. However, it was still a bit more complicated than what we wanted; we’d be much more comfortable with a simpler and more elegant system.

That’s when we came up with the idea of the Tax multiplier. This would be a number which would have its value determined mainly by Taxation policy, but taking into consideration the Welfare State policies as well. You would track its value somewhere on the board, and you would change it whenever one of those three policies would change. Then, when the time to pay taxes came, you would just multiply the players’ companies by that number. The resulting amounts were very close to the ones we previously had, but they were now way simpler to calculate.

The last big change that we did was to the Capitalist class’s scoring. The mechanism we were using made a lot of sense, but it had a problem. The player was scoring almost nothing for the first couple of rounds, a little bit more in rounds 3 and 4, and a huge amount in the last round (including the game-end scoring). While having a different scoring rate was not necessarily a bad thing, we kept seeing new players playing the Capitalist class feeling very disappointed in the first rounds of the game because the other players would advance in the score track and they would be left behind. It felt weird to them, like they were doing something wrong and they couldn’t understand what it was. On the other hand, it was disheartening for the other players to have a lead during the whole game, only to see the Capitalist player score a massive amount of points in the end and grab the win from their hands.

We felt that we needed to address this, so we looked into new ways for the Capitalist class to score. The goal was to award more points for more profit, but do it in a way that there wasn’t as much of a difference (compared to the other players) as before. Also, another problem we had noticed was that there was no inherent progression in the Capitalist class’s scoring. What the other classes were doing (by increasing their Prosperity or Legitimacy tracks) had a lasting effect. As the game moved forward, they were scoring more and more. The Capitalist class would score slightly more each round before a huge payoff in the end. However, that amount wasn’t inherently dependent on the previous round’s amount. There was always the chance you played badly in the last round and as a result scored very poorly (disproportionately to what you had already done by that point in the game).

After some thought, we came up with the Wealth track. Instead of counting only the profit at the end of the round, we would count the total amount in Capital. This gave us the progression we wanted. If you made a lot of money in the previous rounds but very little in one of the latest rounds, you would still get to score something, similarly to how the other classes worked. On top of that, by using a track and a marker to indicate the amounts and the points given, we could adjust those values as needed to get the rate we wanted. After lots of playtests and tweaking, we reached a point where we were happy. The Capitalist class was still gaining VP at a different rate than the other roles (and new players were still puzzled a bit) but not as much as before.

Varnavas: During this time we also got the chance to show the game to even more academics. Especially now that the game was close to its final form, they could easily see our vision, understand our goal, and check whether everything had been applied properly. To our excitement, they were very happy with the results and almost all of them agreed that the game would be a valuable tool for their students.

Campaign and Final Changes

Development took us a few months, and while we were finishing up the gameplay, I was also working on the game’s Kickstarter campaign. The good thing was that since we already had the whole game up and running on Tabletopia for our playtesting needs, we could easily give it to the public and get even more feedback — and that’s exactly what we did!

We uploaded the game’s rulebook and gave the link for Tabletopia to the public. The backers could now see what the game was about and decide whether it was something they liked, which they did — hurray! As a result, we got a lot of feedback, which was super important for us. At the same time lots of YouTubers got prototypes to play the game and do preview videos for the campaign. The most common feedback we received (apart from the fact that the game was very enjoyable) was that the game took very long to play. This was something that we were aware of while designing the game but took for granted after a while. On top of that, most of the playtests we were doing near the end of the development were with experienced players, so the playing time was significantly reduced compared to people playing for the first time. However, now that we were seeing many comments about it, we decided to look into it and explore whether we could do anything about it.

Vangelis: Around that time, the game lasted five rounds, and each round had six turns. Initially we explored cutting down the number of rounds from five to four. We did a few playtests and the results were promising. However, it was apparent that some aspects of the game were not shown as much as we wanted. For example, with one fewer round, there were fewer chances to change the policies and thus see the effects of their change. Also, parts of the game’s economy were built around the fact that there were five rounds in total. Cutting one down meant that numerous things would be affected, some more than others.

It was then that another solution was suggested: Instead of cutting one of the rounds, why not cut one of the turns in each round? The total number of turns would be almost the same (25 instead of 24) but without the negatives we found. We tried that, and it played well, but we noticed that some roles were affected more than others. For the State, for example, things were much better now. The player felt more pressure than before to an extent that seemed an improvement. For some of the other roles, however, it was obviously worse. Specifically, the class that was hit the hardest was the Working class. We tried to understand why and did a deep dive on all of its cards and its VP-winning methods. It turned out that to keep up with the quicker pace (and the lower number of total actions during a game) we needed to boost the power in some of its card effects. We did some tests, and the results showed us we were on the right direction.

That was the final big change in the game. After a few more tweaks here and there, we were where we wanted. The game played well, it was streamlined, it was balanced, and we were getting good feedback. In other words, we had reached our goal!

Varnavas: While many other things also happened during the 2+ years we spent working on the game, these were probably the most important points. It was a huge challenge — to a degree we weren’t aware of at first, but we believe we managed to pull it off. The game is now reaching its backers and will soon be available in local stores. We hope that you found our journey interesting, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts when you get a chance to try it out.

Thank you for reading this far! Ιf you have any questions about the process, we will happily answer them in the comments!

Vangelis & Varnavas

Podjeli:

Povezani blogovi

Voidfall

“Voidfall” je zadivljujuća društvena igra smještena u dubine svemira, gdje igrači plove kroz svemir koji se neprestano širi, pun misterija

Više