Believe it or not, getting the employee deck right was one of the most challenging aspects to designing Periorbis.
We starting off believing that we could simply put in as many cards as we wanted and players would quickly sort out what was good for them and ignore the rest. It turns out that doesn’t work very well!
There are lots of things that need to be finely balanced; the number (and indeed relative number) of each type of employee, the hiring cost and wage of each employee, and the relative value of each employee. Any one of these being out of line, or not in tune with the economic model, breaks the game or at the very least makes it less fun to play.
You can’t have too many of a particular type of employee in the deck because 1) if they all come out at the same time it’s going to help some players more than others and also block up the market (too much luck for my liking!) and 2) you want there to be competitive tension with the other players and anticipation/dread – that feeling that if you don’t hire that scientist or engineer now, or even worse if someone else hires them before you do, then you might not get another chance for a few turns.
Equally, you can’t have too few employees of a particular type, because then some players could miss out (again, too much luck for my taste).
For me, a great feature of Periorbis is that players with the most money tend to also have the most victory points, and so act last when it comes to hiring employees (and playing their turn in general). So, it’s possible to be too successful early on and find yourself in a position where someone else has hired the employee you wanted.
The cost of hiring employees, and their ongoing wages, needs to fit with the economic model so that players need to think carefully about whether they can really afford that super miner at this stage in the game. Make an employee too expensive and they won’t get hired and block up the market; too cheap and it gives some players an advantage (that evil luck again!).
In Periorbis, you also know that if you don’t hire an employee this turn, they’ll be cheaper next turn and someone else might pick up a bargain.
Value is similar to cost but subtly different. It’s about making sure that each type of employee is ‘worth’ about the same. This is important if you want there to be variation and re-playability. You don’t want there to be one ‘best’ or ‘right’ order for hiring employees, because then you end up trying to do the same thing each time you play.
As an example, in a recent game I was ‘forced’ to hire a second scientist early on because the other players had hired all the other employees that I wanted (it was the scientist or one or two raw cadets). Not ideal I thought, but I adjusted my strategy to concentrate on research and upgrading my shipping capacity while I waited for a good miner to be available. For this sort of thing to work (and work it did – Gareth is still smarting!), the scientist needs to have the same intrinsic value as the miner.
Getting the values to be about the same also means that the game can start off with each player having a different specialist. This sends everyone off in different directions and introduces more variety without giving someone an advantage.
Even after all this time playing the game, none of us can decide which employees we’d rather have at the start and what we want to come out in the first hiring phase. We just go with the flow and change our strategy to fit with what’s available.
We know it works, because most games finish with the winning players being at most 2 or 3 VPs ahead after everyone has followed completely different paths to victory.
Employees with more than one specialist skill are a really interesting idea in the context of Periorbis. We originally planned to have them, but we soon discovered in play testing that there are some real problems with them.
1) they need to be more expensive that single skill employees to meet the ‘value’ test;
2) this means that they fail the ‘cost’ test by either being too expensive, or requiring the economic model to be relaxed, which affects the rest of the game; and
3) if you put them in, you need to take something else out to meet the ‘numbers’ test, which then messes with the relative number of each specialist and makes it harder to balance your workforce.
In the end, we decided that the game works best and is most fun with single skill specialists. Having it that way actually adds something to the game, because you have to decide which specialist is likely to add the most value given your situation; you can’t hedge your bets.
Having said that, it’s worth remembering that all employees can carry out all actions in the game, they’re just better at their speciality. This introduces a lot of flexibility, but at the cost of reduced efficiency. Again, something else you need to balance as a player.
If you’re not convinced and you really want to have some multi-skill employees in the game, you can get them by helping us reach our social media stretch goals. If all goals are met, we’ll add a selection of (at least 5) limited edition multi-skill employees.
I hope that helps you get more of a sense of what Periorbis is like to play, and why we’ve designed it the way we have. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please do let us know. We love hearing from you.