Settlers of R’lyeh

July 12, 2017

This is a hack of the Settlers of Cattan game, using some of the figures from Cthulhu Wars. Although I see dreams of madness have inspired other designers along similar lines, what I offer here is a small island somewhere in the South Pacific, some fever dream ridden settlers, in a desperate race to complete a great temple and then join their Deep One cousins forever before R’lyeh sinks beneath waves again.

Shoggoth by Nottsuo <http://nottsuo.deviantart.com/art/Shoggoth-594261203&gt; CC 3.0 License.

Prepare to play Settlers of Cattan as normal, but grab the Cthulhu figure from your Cthulhu Wars set and replace the Robber pawn with Great Cthulhu. Place Cthulhu beneath the sands that cover the city of R’lyeh (i.e. on the Desert tile). Replace the Knight cards with Cultists from Cthulhu Wars, and grab a High Priest figure if available.

To set the right tone, I suggest playing at night, with candles, while playing A Shoggoth on the Roof.

The Stars are Right

When a player rolls a seven, the stars are right, and Cthulhu wakes. Move Cthulhu to any hex tile on the Cattan map. Do not discard Resource cards. Instead the player who rolled the seven has a number of destruction points equal to the lowest die on their dice roll that turn. For example, if a player rolled a 5 and a 2 for the stars are right, then they have two destruction points.

For each destruction point the player must either:

  • remove one road
  • downgrade a city to a village
  • remove one village

All tokens removed or downgraded must be adjacent to the tile that Cthulhu now occupies. All destruction points must be used if possible, even if this means a player must remove or downgrade their own game tokens, or must place Cthulhu to revel and slay in gay abandon in a tile that is not the player’s preferred choice. You cannot move Cthulhu to a tile where it inflicts no destruction, unless there are no player tokens left on the map.

If you downgrade a city and the player controlling the city has no village token that can replace it with, then that player must place a village token from another player of their choice, as the inhabitants join another splinter sect of the cult of Great Cthulhu.

The stars are right effect is also triggered if a player must apply the deluge effect due to inability to acquire resource cards (see The Deluge section below).

Cultists

When you play a cultist card you dream of Great Cthulhu, and then move the Cthulhu figure and apply all of the stars are right effects with the dice roll you made that turn.

Tip: for maximum impact, wait until a turn where you roll a double 4, 5 or 6 before using your cultists.

The first player to gain three Cultists gains the High Priest figure (if you do not have one, use a Cultist figure of a different colour). This does not count as an extra Cultist and merely serves as a reminder that you have the biggest cult. If another player ever has more Cultists than the player with the High Priest figure, they immediately take the High Priest figure.

High Priest

If you have the High priest when the stars are right, then your destruction points are equal to the higher of the two dice. For example, if a player with the High priest rolled a 5 and a 2 for the stars are right, then they have five destruction points.

Note: unlike the bonus for holding the largest Army card in a regular Settlers of Cattan game, holding the High Priest does not grant two bonus VP.

2017-07-12 15.35.30

Cultist, Cthulhu, and High Priest figures from Cthulhu Wars

The Deluge

If a player has no village or city tokens on the game map when the stars are right, or they no longer have the ability to get any resource cards from their remaining villages or cities when it is their turn, they must apply the deluge effect:

  • after moving Cthulhu and applying destruction effects from the stars are right, invert the tile Cthulhu occupies. This represents R’lyeh slowly sliding back beneath the waves and is a permanent change.
  • remove the circular numbered token from the inverted tile – it no longer generates resources.
  • if any road token now has inverted tiles on both sides, remove it from the board as the local geometry becomes non-Euclidean.
  • if any village or City is now completely surrounded by inverted tiles, remove it from the board. Their inhabitants have gone to join the Deep Ones.
  • road, village and city tokens removed by deluge effects are removed permanently and cannot be rebuilt later in the game.

Winning the Game

It is possible no player will reach 10 victory points before the deluge effect sinks R’lyeh below the waves, in which case dread Cthulhu wins. If a player reaches 10 VP first, they complete the great temple, and join the Deep Ones below the waves forever. All the other players should make “glub blub blub” noises as their settlers drown.


Second Sun and Starship Playtest

January 4, 2015

SAMSUNG

Over the Christmas break four of my friends at Big Gaming Week agreed to give the prototype a quick go, as we only had two hours available the goal was to see who could accumulate the most glory.  We managed to complete four game turns.

Turn one everyone started with nine Atomic Power. In turn 2 Alan and Dennis remained on nine Atomic Power, while Tim and Tony had 12. In turn 3 the Atomic Power spread was 10-14, after Tony attacked Tim’s territory. For turn 4 the range was tighter, 12-14 Atomic Power. Turn 4 saw an effort to unseat Dennis from the Imperial Throne,  which saw his Atomic Power income for a hypothetical fifth turn drop to 11, with the rest of the players on 15-21 Atomic Power.

In terms of what Atomic Power could be spent on, I had changed the rules from one Atomic Power per unit moved, to one Atomic Power per type of unit moved. This allows a lot more movement, at the cost of each game turn taking a little longer.

The variable cost of Dreadnoughts, however, was found to have too great a chance of rendering someone powerless and unable to act. The design also greatly limited what you could do in another player’s turn (very little unless actually attacked). So being powerless could trigger a karmic death spiral. While the Atomic Power mechanic is based on Cthulhu Wars, it is being used to purchase the equivalent of six Great Old Ones over the course of the game, rather than just one stompy beast of destruction and horror.

The final glory scores were:

  • Alan – 15
  • Tim – 25
  • Tony – 32
  • Dennis – 63

Dennis’ score came mainly from passive Infinite Actions of reigning while in control of the Imperial Capital for almost the entire game. While only +1 point per action, the other players found themselves in a weak position to attack the Imperial Capital, and reluctant to commit to an action that helped all of the other players, but would place them in a position of weakness.

We hit a final Fall value of 3-4, and only had a few Dreadnoughts per player on the map. So in a time sense it still feels like it is taking too long.

The feedback on what was fun:

  • choosing Dreadnoughts
  • dice mechanic in combat

Based on feedback from the last playtest I capped the number of dice that could be rolled in combat (weaker side rolls two dice, stronger side rolls three dice) and gave the winner a clear bonus (choose loser retreat destination, or double Glory, or use a Power die number to increase damage).

The feedback on what was NOT fun:

  • Emperor control was too important
  • downtime between player turns was too long
  • movement is “sticky” (if a Dreadnought was in the wrong place it took several actions to rectify)
  • inability to defend territory/fight defensively when attacked
  • falling behind on power.

I was asked why I didn’t allocate all Bases in the set up. The answer to that is that years ago I had an extensive set up process for Housewar, on a map that had four distinct spiral arms and playtest groups of five players. You tended to win the game in the set up, by dominating one spiral arm and forcing other groups of players to fight in their respective spiral arms. This lead to intense meta-gaming in the initial set up (one playtester used to growl at other players if they dared look at “his” spiral arm, and some playtesters would form set up alliances that lasted the rest of the game).

Tech cards were okay, but there were way too many of them. The number of bonus combinations should be reduced.

Ideas for the next playtest

In order for the Dreadnought purchase mechanic to work, I think I should design the rest of the game economy around the fact that players need to spend either big lumps of power, or little lumps of power, depending on the situation.  So what I am thinking of having is:

  • representing Atomic Power as a six sided die placed on the map (using something like the Dice Dock from Corsec Engineering)
  • the rules would refer to the die as a “Base”
  • when a player spends Atomic Power, they remove dice pips until the cost is met
  • as an action a player can increase Atomic Power at one controlled Base
  • My current idea for exactly how much power that increase should be is that the target Base is increased to six, and roll a die (Skull = reduce another player’s Atomic Power by one, Starburst = +1 Glory, number = increase Atomic Power at a second base by that number), so the Atomic Power gain is likely to be 6-9 points.

Rolling just one die keeps things simple. As a bonus the granularity of the 1-6 range of the Base compared to the binary 0/1 of a Base counter is that it is easier to develop Decline/Fall or Pirate stuff in the game to adjust Atomic Power by +/- 1 than it is to place/remove Base counters.

King of Tokyo

The next big idea is to borrow from the King of Tokyo game, where the Monster in Tokyo scores more points, but is vulnerable to all the other players in the game.  I will do this by making it so that the Emperor cannot use the Increase Atomic Power action while Emperor. There will still be useful bonuses from being Emperor, but it should be a case of play the role until kicked out or reduced in power and forced to flee into exile.

I can also make the Imperial Capital more vulnerable by making it have Wormhole Gateways to every sector on the map.  This makes it so that all players will nearly always be able to attack the Imperial Capital (a major problem in this game has always been players being locked out of geographical proximity to the Imperial Capital, which I have mitigated by increasing the number of Glory sources and the flow of points from those sources). Then there is the idea of Plot tokens (see below).

Pacing of the Game

While the Dreadnought build increasing Decline and eventually causing the Fall is a good mechanic, it is still on the long side.  So my new idea is to keep that mechanic but add the following:

  • when the Emperor takes a turn, they MUST increase either Decline by +1 or Fall by +1
  • each time Decline is increased, draw a “minor” Decline event card (only one card, regardless of how many points Decline increases by) that has a one-off effect on the game
  • each time Fall is increased, draw one to three “major” Fall event cards that have persistent rule changing effects on the game.

I expect an Emperor with a substantial lead advantage to start pushing the Fall counter up the track to try and trigger the End Game in an advantageous position.

The Decline events should do things like:

  • all players place a Pirate token
  • all players remove a Battleship
  • all players lose one Atomic Power
  • change the Monument Track value (needed as the play sequence no longer needs an end of turn phase)
  • trigger Fall (could have one such event for each player in the game, as more players always extend the game playing time)
  • all players gain a Plot token (see below)

Reducing Downtime between Turns

My idea here is to allow each player one simple Reaction move each time another player takes a Turn. These reaction moves are intended to be quick … if you have not done it by the time the active player finishes their move, then you don’t get the reaction move (with perhaps a five second count down for anyone still dithering).  My current ideas for reaction moves are:

  • move one Battleship one sector
  • build one Battleship in one sector (this reinforces the idea of Battleships as “popcorn”)
  • take a Plot token (these can be used to boost your effective combat strength for attacks against the Emperor only, but are discarded when the Emperor changes or when used)
  • use Pirate to steal one Atomic Power.

Movement and Combat

I still lean towards a player’s turn being either Movement or Combat, not a combination of the two.  If this is the case, then I am happy to expand movement so Dreadnought positions are less “sticky”, allowing players to move as many units as they are willing to spend Atomic Power on moving.

Map-wise, I am thinking about building hex tiles, and having the number of tiles based on the number of players in the game. This makes the map scale to the number of players. The other option (which requires a lot more hard thinking) is a double sided map cut in two large sections, flipping the sections to get a map for 2, 3, 4, or 5 players (the approach taken in Cthulhu Wars).

Combat – I am pretty happy with the way this is working out.

Endgame

With the Base die idea, the current method of determining End Game power (Glory score at start of the End Game) will not work.  So what I can do instead is:

  • the player with the most Glory when the End Game is triggered is the Last Emperor
  • only the Last Emperor can gain Glory (+1 each time they take a turn only), and the last Emperor still wins automatically at 100 Glory
  • only the Last Emperor can build Dreadnoughts (but no new Dreadnoughts are placed in the Shipyards)
  • Starbursts now reduce enemy Glory in combat rather than increasing your own Glory (and if you roll more Starbursts you can double the enemy’s loss of Glory)
  • Strength lost in combat also reduces Glory
  • any player reduced to zero Glory or zero Dreadnoughts is eliminated
  • once any player is eliminated, the Final Countdown begins (there are 13 remaining player turns in the game) and the player with the most Glory at the end of that is the winner of the game.

Sun and Starship Playtest

October 19, 2014

Managed to get a playtest done for my boardgame design on Friday night. After a last minute cancellation due to health, we had three players, and completed the game in four and a half hours.

Some things worked very well, especially the Dreadnought construction mechanic and the way it interacted with the Decline & Fall of the Galactic Empire. Combat mostly worked, although there was an issue with “pure victory” not giving enough of a benefit to the winner. The game flow was about what I expected, early expansion, combat when the empty space for easy expansion ran out, a pause, then further fighting, a pause for a round of monument building, and then a quick descent into the abyss of the endgame.

Housewar Playtest 002

The Blame/Decadence mechanic did not work well. Partly due to an early Rotten to the Core event that removed Blame from Corruption in the Atomic Power collection phase, and partly due to there not being enough sources of Blame. So next playtest I will add more options for acquiring and manipulating blame.

The players mainly stayed with 10-15 Glory points of each other, which seems to justify a high glory score model, and they reached Glory scores of 50-60 by the time the End Game was triggered.

The players collected 197 Atomic Power during the game, and spent 53 Atomic Power on Dreadnoughts (roughly 27%). Only two of the 14 Dreadnoughts built in the game were destroyed prior to the endgame.

The Fall Track was at 12 after the second turn, 10 after the third turn, 6 after the fourth turn, and the endgame was triggered in the 5th turn.  So it declined at about the expected rate.  Atomic Power inflation did occur, and this makes the later turns slower, so I may think of reasons to have big power sinks to speed play a little. The playtest did show that becoming powerless was a bad move, running out of power before the other players made you quite vulnerable to raids on your territory.

Housewar Playtest 015

The endgame was a three way civil war, largely fought between a coalition of Blue and Yellow versus Orange (which included the Purple Imperial Battleships). Orange fought quite well, but really couldn’t outlast the determined attrition of two players. At the end Blue had two Dreadnoughts left and Yellow had three Pirates. In a four player game, it would have been much riskier for two players to go all out against the Last Emperor, as the fourth player could sit on the sidelines.

On the whole, the design feels very promising. I’ll be making some tweaks and trying to get another playtest done in the next few weeks.


Gaming Kickstarters/crowdsourcing I have backed

October 13, 2014

Draft-Map1

I’m watching the last few hours of the 13th Age in Glorantha Kickstarter. I was not familiar with the 13th Age system until last week, but I found a comprehensive review of many of its mechanics (Icons and the One Unique Thing look really cool), and it sounded well suited to Glorantha’s mythic level of power, and better for my own old school style of gaming than Heroquest.

It met most of my criteria for backing something:

  1. Already something I am a fan of (Glorantha, especially that rework of the classic RQ 2 map)
  2. A product I am reasonably sure will finish (from a company that already has published stuff)
  3. Involves someone I respect from previous work (Jonathan Tweet et. al.)
  4. Looks like it will be fun!
  5. Nothing too risky (which is pretty much every computer game I have looked at). Shipping seems to be an area where things go horribly wrong and costs exceed the initial budget.
  6. Affordable (just, the shipping to New Zealand for a couple of books increases the cost by around 40%).
  7. Learning about it before the Kickstarter ended (curse you Pathfinder miniatures!)

I do sometimes wonder, if I am backing something to reach stretch goals for content that should have been included in the standard product. More money for more artwork seems reasonable. Money for vanity stuff, like having your name or myth included, sure, if its optional its not my money. Money for extra monsters or enemy organisations … I’m not so sure about that. Money for extra gaming products to go with it, sure that sounds good.  This is something I think about, as its possible I will try and crowdsource funding for a boardgame design, so collecting a few ideas for cool stretch goals could be handy.

I backed Sprawl. Not that I really need a cyberpunk system right now, but it is fun to back something your friends have started, and the Dungeon World style is good for paring things down to the basic tropes.  This makes it good for convention games … where the sheer complexity of the options in something like Runequest just drowns the story out.

I backed Call of Cthulhu 7th edition. In part this was due to the sheer nostalgia for the epic campaign Shane Murphy run almost 25 years ago, which had a major influence on my life at the time. Its almost complete, and I should have my hands on the leather bound hardcover books before Christmas. I only glanced at the PDF proof of the rules that came through (buying various Bundles of Holding has given me a long backlog of RPG books to read through), but it all seems on track for delivery.  I used the quick play version of the rules for Asterix and the Deep Ones, but it was almost too complicated for a 3-4 hour convention game.

Call of Cthulhu has built up a lot of mythos related stuff over the years, so the Kickstarter was able to offer reskins of classic RPG products, t-shirts, hats, fake coins, coffee mugs, pins, cards, dice … having a vast plethora of addons from stretch goals certainly gives people something to watch as the Kickstarter progresses.

The Old Ones got even more money pledged from me for Cthulhu Wars. From the fun game point of view, this was powerfully attractive for the promise of insanely asymmetric faction powers, something I loved in the classic Dune boardgame. I am hoping to have the main game in my hands before Christmas and I intend to bring it to Big Gaming week in Christchurch. It looks like all the supplements will come through in the new year sometime. Probably good for my customs bill that it gets split up like this.  I like the look of the rules and have borrowed from them for the next iteration of Housewar.  One reason for backing it at a “get one of everything” level was the sheer number of miniatures on offer. I will always have something to pull out for a crawling chaos horror at the FRPG gaming tables.

HeroForge – is now in beta and I had a play with the alpha, building an elf in musketeer style clothing. My feedback was that it needed an “undo” button. Its fine if you have a limited menu of choices, but once you have a large list trying to reselect back to what you just changed out of will be a pain.  An option to easily share the images you generate to social media would also be nice.

By way of comparison I took a quick look at Figureprints which has been making World of Warcraft figurines for a while. The price there is US$130 plus shipping for one painted miniature, with a limited menu of options (items earned in game, and still stored on the account, or from a small list of classic weapons and armour).  So for HeroForge I am getting six unpainted miniatures for $160, or around $27 each, but I have free range to design what each miniature looks like. HeroForge is something I backed because in part I thought, this is a service the gaming world needs.

One thought I had about 3-D printing of game miniatures. When the price drops, and printers become more available, where does the market for Games Workshop’s expensive propriety miniatures go?

I also backed the Runequest 6 Collectors Edition through crowdsourcing. This was pretty straightforward, no extra kitsch to worry about, just good artwork and packaging. I’m such a fan I got multiple copies, for fear of disasters with cups of coffee.

I have not backed everything I have seen appear on crowdsourcing platforms.

  • Cthulhu Invictus modules – I was not actually all that impressed at the quality of the other Cthulhu Invictus modules/scenarios – far too much physical combat, and calling for reinforcements from the local Legion fortress
  • Boardgames that just had themes which didn’t appeal to me
  • Glorantha world maps at a 5k per hex detail, and Glorantha coffee table books, at the time I was interested in other things and had less spare cash to take a punt with
  • OGRE, from Steve Jackson Games, what was on offer was a game that was goldplated and full of a thousand addons that would have broken me for shipping and customs – it simply grew too far away from the simple ten minute game I used to play with friends in the high school library.

I will have to do more research on how these things work, both what helps a project succeed, and what can lead to them failing. I suspect trying to get a boardgame with big plastic space dreadnought miniatures off the ground, without an established reputation, will be a hard slog.


Back to the drawing board

June 15, 2014

2014-0~1

So the last version of Housewar was taking 4+ hours to play.  It was fun, but not as quick as I want (sub-two hours with 5 players), so back to the drawing board we go.

Some changes to the map. Part of the design is to have only 20 areas on the map (and then using a rough rule of thumb from Diplomacy of only having infrastructure tokens for 2/3 of the map areas (13 in this case, which is a flavourful number for a Decline & Fall game).  The other is to see what happens when I surround the central Glory point territory (Core Sector) by exactly ONE sector (the Heartland Sectors on the above map).  In past versions of the map there have been 4+ sectors adjacent to the Core, but it was always liable to end up being controlled by 1-2 players, excluding other players from scoring opportunities.  So I am thinking this version of the map might see players contesting the approaches a little more.

I also got to experiment with the function of the art package that lets me draw text along a curve easily. Once I do a test print to see if I have the dimensions right, I can tidy up this package.

Overall conceptual change is to just the player locus from being powers within the Empire, to being Pirates from outside the Empire. Over the course of the game the Pirates gain recognition (i.e. Glory) within the Empire, and at a certain point the player with the most Glory becomes the Last Strong Emperor. This triggers the endgame, where the Emperor must defeat all of the other players to win the game.

For the initial game flow, I am borrowing the power generation mechanics from Cthulhu Wars.  So the early game is about expanding as fast as possible to capture territory and build Bases to increase power income. All the power is used each turn on game actions.  The mid-game is triggered when people start building Dreadnoughts, expensive units with special powers.  Each Dreadnought is generated randomly, by drawing two random technology counters. Its a bit like the civilisation tiles in Vinci. So one counter might be “Move +1” and another counter is “Repair damage as a free action”.  Each counter will have a cost of 1-6 power, combining for a total Dreadnought cost of 2-12.  Each time a Dreadnought is built, all the existing combinations that were passed over get a cumulative one power discount to purchase.

I have found a pack of ~144 plastic spaceship models, in eight types and six colours, which sells for around $10 on Ebay/Amazon (plus shipping). So I will have lots of cool tokens to represent the Dreadnoughts.  They should hopefully turn up in a couple of weeks.

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I also grabbed a couple of packs of old Silent Death fighters (upper picture below) and some space ship tokens from a Buck Rodgers boardgame (which will provide the “popcorn” Pirate and Battleship units).

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In past versions of the game, the Decline was usually based on random event cards, or capture of the Core sector.  This could be too random (too slow/fast) or too easy for the players to stop altogether.  This time around I am going to try linking Decline to Dreadnought construction, i.e. linking it directly to an action the players will all really want to do.  So the Decline marker starts on the zero box of the Decline and Fall track, while the Fall marker starts on the 13 box.  Each time a Dreadnought is built, move the Decline marker up the track by a number of boxes equal to the power spent on the Dreadnought.  If the Decline marker reaches or passes the Fall marker, reset the Decline marker to zero and shift the Fall marker down one space.  When the Fall marker hits zero the endgame is triggered and the player with the most Glory becomes Emperor.

The Empire defends its territory. Borrowing a mechanic from an old 1970s kids game with a WWII Pacific theme, Hit the Beach, each time a player eliminates Imperial units, they get to place those units in a sector of their choice that the Empire still controls. So as the Empire shrinks its gets a little tougher, but you also get to place units to try and slow down the growth of other players.

How to get Glory:

  • Decadence: spend power equal to the Decadence Track value and score Glory equal to the Decadence track value (the track value reduces by 1 each turn, and increases by 1 every time someone is decadent), I plan to start the track at a high value (i.e. costing more Power than the players have in turn 1) so the initial turn order is not advantageous to some players
  • Monuments: you must own a Dreadnought to do this action, score one Glory for each Base, Dreadnought, and Monument you own, build one Monument as part of the action. All players score one Glory for each Monument they own. Costs power equal to the number of times Monument actions have been done, so it can only happen 13-14 times per game.
  • Winning battles (possibly one point per battle and/or one point per Dreadnought destroyed)
  • Reigning in control of Core sector (one point per action)

For the Endgame, your Glory is converted into Power, and this is your only source of power for actions in the final turn of the game. So all players will want as much Glory as they can get.

Blame mechanics: last few versions of the game had Glory resetting to zero, what I want to do this time is to reset it to one point below the lowest player (which could be yourself).  Blame comes mainly from rolling Skulls in combat, or from being Corrupt to try and increase power income.

I have also splashed out and ordered some plastic game markers from LITKO Game Accessories

JPL1115-product-main__08779_zoom

These ones will be good for representing Bases in the game (I already have some Parthenon style plastic markers for Monuments).  The ones below could be used to represent sectors devastated by combat involving Dreadnoughts (Nuclear hazard marker) or the Power income tokens (atomic power symbol).  These were not cheap, but they should make the game a bit more fun.

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