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Funding the colonies

4 replies [Last post]
Joined: 07/03/2013

I've taken an extended break from the hobby after getting into graduate school, so my creativity is feeling a bit rusty. Perhaps airing my ideas here will help me figure it out. My questions:

1. Is the theme insensitive/in need of a new flavor?
2. How do I avoid making the game overcomplicated? I want mid-level Euro, not heavy Euro.
3. What's the right ratio of central colonies to players? How do I make sure that players are influencing more than one colony regularly, rather than putting all their eggs in a particular basket, without putting in feelsbad mechanics where players can just completely shut them down.

Game scenario - players represent investors (not countries) that fund the colonies in the new world. In the center of the table are several "colony" start tiles that players can add to by purchasing tiles from a rotating bank of tiles. In essence it's like Suburbia/Castles of Mad King Ludwig (games that I love), but you're abstracted by one step: you don't actually own the colonies, but if you have shares in a colony that's succeeding, you gather more points than others.

Improvements to the colony could include commodities via plantation tiles that produce coffee, cocoa, sugar, cotton, or other New World-themed commodities. Similarly, refineries could be built in a plantation that could increase yield or worth for tiles on that colony.

Other tiles could also be purchased, such as native encampments, governors, or others, and players could interact with one another by adding and removing tiles from a colony. It would be nice if I could include a mechanism that made a colony that sells a majority of a certain good to get more money from that good, but I sense it may take too much work on the players' part to track that.

Rick-Holzgrafe's picture
Joined: 07/22/2008

Honestly, the only real way to work all this out is to build a rough prototype and playtest it.

When I have a new design idea at the stage you're at, I'll spend several days (on and off) writing up a description and exploring possibilities. Then I'll just make some choices among those possibilities, and mock up a first-pass version of the game. No fancy artwork, just paper cards and sketched boards and scrounged bits, investing as little time in prototype-building as I can. Then I pretend to be about four different people, and play the game with myself.

This exercise will teach you a lot about your design in a very short time. You'll get a notion of the length of the game, the depth of the choices, the mechanisms that don't work (and those that do), the things that desperately need to be better balanced, how bad the turn-order bias is, which actions never seem like the right choices to make. I guarantee you will come away from just one play with a pageful of notes about important changes. Make those changes, and do it again--your design will improve by leaps and bounds as you do.

Along the way, try out the other possibilities you'd thought of, that weren't included in the first playtests. You will have more creative ideas during this period that you can also test out.

After a few rounds of this, you will have a feel for whether the game is going to work at all. Many of mine don't work out, so I drop them and go on to some other design. But I always learn something about game design from every effort, so I don't count it as wasted time.

If, on the other hand, the game seems to show promise: just keep going. As the design gets more stable, write a real rulebook for it and make better components: not production-quality, that's a waste of time for prototypes, but cards and boards that have clean, readable text and iconography. You'll get to a point where it's worthwhile to invite some friends to play it with you. (Exactly when to start doing that is up to you. If your friends are game-design savvy it can be fairly early; otherwise you may want to wait until your design feels more like a finished game.) You need to do lots of playtesting with others, because they'll see things you won't see and try strategies you never thought of.

That's the process, and it's the only one I know of that works. Nobody's ever found a way to make a good game without a whole lot of trial and error.

Your description sounds like the kind of game I'd enjoy. Good luck, and have fun!

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Colonies ..... IN SPAAAAAAAACE

If you want to submit this to publishers... Make it colonies on other planets, or maybe even a fantasy world, and it would be an easier sell.

Personally I've learned from past experience: flirting with a kind of historical revisionism and glossing-over of colonialism never turns out good. People treat Puerto Rico with a soft hand because, when it was designed, apparently "it was a different time then." Oh yeah, and it's a good game, too.

Good games deserve as broad an audience as possible, so tailor it to that broader audience. It's doubtful your game requires the colonial setting, so I suggest you avoid it so it's more palatable to a broader audience.

If you just want this for history class, or among your friends and family, then sure, make it about whatever you want.

Really can't speak to the mechanics you discuss, as I strongly agree with Rick-Holzgrafe on the utility of playtesting in this regard.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
I agree with you ALL 100%

Both in terms of @Rick's Playtesting advice (break it early) and @Let Off's don't go for something too "exact" in terms of history or alternate universes and such... You may get a "bad" reaction from history buffs or people who are very keen on historical accuracy (as such).

If this is a "serious" design ... Meaning you plan to KS-it or find a Publisher ... Stay away from historical "exactness" and try to lighten the theme a bit. Sort of like Jamey Stegmaier's Scythe. It's a Fantasy World with characters from sovereign states SIMILAR (but not exact) to Europe. Or more so "Europa".

It's something to come up with anything that is "Fantasy-based" like Scythe with it's own Factions, Characters and Countries ... Obviously this requires "World-Building" of a sufficient level to marry the game (so-to-speak)...

That might be a better outcome... A more "acceptable" game because it's NOT relying on any particular HISTORICAL ACCURACY! Avoid that like the plague. Create your own world with the colonizing rules you put forth for YOUR design.

Having complete control and not worrying about the "nay-sayers" will help your design immensely. Definitely agree 100%.

Juzek's picture
Joined: 06/19/2017
Yeah, I would try to steer

Yeah, I would try to steer away from the colonialism theme. Even something so innocuous as Settlers of Catan got a lot of criticism because the only apparent native on this island was a black person who steels from people. They changed the robber's color to gray, but it still leaves a sour taste.

It is a shame because there are so many good board game mechanics that fit well with the political unrest, economic expansion, trading and exploration that colonialism brings.

That said, there are a lot of other great and even unexplored themes out there. Wingspan is about birdwatching which I never imagined would make for an exciting game, but it is.

Maybe if you twisted it enough that the same mechanics could be enjoyed through a different lense. People don't mind exploring space or terriforming Mars.

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