Sad though it is to say, working out the game mechanics and economic model is actually proving to be the most enjoyable, but also the most frustrating element of the project so far.
We want to strike a good balance between making sure that players can get their hands on enough credits to build up their operations so that they feel like they are making progress, but we also want to limit the supply so that players can’t just do everything without having to think about it and plan ahead a little. Perhaps a little like Puerto Rico, where there just never seems to be enough cash to build everything that you want to build.
We also want to build in that slight sense of frustration that players of Agricola or Caylus will know well, when there seems always to be one action, or one resource token, less than you need to complete your master plan.
And we want there to be a sense of achievement and satisfaction when it finally works out. That feeling of “I love it when a plan comes together!” is what we are looking for.
Lastly, we want the result of every game to be close and for it not to be clear until the very end who is going to win, so that all of the players stay interested in the outcome. To that end, we plan to build in a slight advantage for players who fall behind, and a slight head wind for players who take an early lead. Not enough to cancel out really good or really bad play, just enough to keep players searching for that little bit extra performance on every turn.
Lofty goals I hope you agree? So, to the detail…
Each turn, the playing order will change, with the player doing least well going first so that they have a chance to catch up, and the player doing best going last so that it is harder for them to stay in the lead.
The main source of cash in the game will be the payment received from supplying ore to the trading ships which visit the system. But that will also be the source of victory points, meaning that the player with the most cash will normally also be the player in the lead with the most victory points.
To introduce scope for tactical play, cash will be earned in two stages from trading ships. There will be an advance of some credits when a player signs up to a contract to supple ore, to keep things ticking over and allow wages to be paid. There will also be a further, larger, payment at the end of the turn once the trading ship is full and leaves the system. To meet larger costs, for example to hire expensive employees, players will need to plan ahead and manage their credits.
To enhance the tactical element of the game, we’re going to design the transport ships so that there is slightly less cargo space than all of the players want to use. This will mean that players need to think carefully about the timing and size of contracts that they sign up to. It will also increase the interaction between players and the sense of anticipation because, if you are in the lead, someone else might interfere with your plans.
There’s obviously a bit of work for us to do to get this balance right, but I’m sure we can manage it!