Posts Tagged New Bedford

Lessons from Designing a Solo Variant

This article has been a long time coming. Way back before the first New Bedford Kickstarter in 2014, I was starting to wrap up the expansions for New Bedford (now collected in Rising Tides). I had noticed a real uptick in the number of “solo variants” for games I followed on BGG, so I started to think that people were going to want a solo variant for New Bedford. But it would be another year of work before I actually got a solo mode I was happy with. In the roughly two years since I started working on the solo mode, a lot of new resources have appeared to assist designers of solo games, and I think it’s helpful to talk about how the Lonely Ocean mode was developed with regard to some of these resources. Read the rest of this entry »



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Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, and Me: Part 3

Part 1

Back in 2010, when I was just getting into games, a friend of mine who was also getting into games picked up Agricola. The game sort of blew my mind, because it generated a ton of interesting decisions about how to run the farm. Was I going to spend time planting crops, or raising animals. Time was represented by the rounds. Energy was represented by workers. Money was spent as food and gained as points. And of course the board gave a little bit of that arrangement puzzle, because you had wood for fences, fields and houses that set boundaries, and you had to decide what to prioritize to place anything.

Agricola tells much less of a story than Harvest Moon, but was incredibly enthralling. I have tried to make some farming games. 10 Acres tried to capture that balance and puzzle, but didn’t work. Perhaps surprisingly, New Bedford draws a lot on the influence of farming, too. I’ve made no secret of the fact that it was influenced by Agricola. But I don’t think I’ve mentioned that the whaling mechanic was originally an abstraction for a “harvest”, where players determined their own timing.

There are some other features of Harvest Moon that I would really like to implement (or see implemented) in a boardgame.
Boardgames still struggle with capturing a mood, particularly quiet moods. How do you capture the quiet of a rainy day compared to a busy summer afternoon? Or the cold stillness of the last night of the year? Fishing under the moon on a simmer’s night. Or even the entire premise of leaving city life behind to find a simpler life in the country. To me, those things are integral to the experience of Harvest Moon. Those moments—along with festivals and events—tell a story. But it’s not a “hero’s journey”; it’s more of a history, like a photo album, and you’re only playing a single part in it.

The older Harvest Moon games required you to ship your crops by the 5pm delivery time. You didn’t earn any money for items added after that. That makes an important difference, because most stores also close at 5, so you have to give up time harvesting your crops in order to visit any of the stores. It’s another simple change that adds a level of depth to the decisions. New Bedford (and the worker placement mechanic in general) kind of simulate that by making earlier actions more valuable, so you have to choose which actions to do early and which late. But you can get even closer by having actions that are only available during specific times in the round.

You didn’t have to specialize in the old Harvest Moon games. There was enough time in the day that you could raise animals, have a huge field, and usually do all the foraging you needed to. I think that’s much easier to do in a single game you’ll place once or twice for forty or more hours. But in a boardgame, like Agricola, that specialization is key. Having the choices of which parts to focus on makes the decisions more interesting. And forcing a balanced strategy can also take away from the game. You can’t completely ignore the mines in Stardew Valley, or you’ll never be able to upgrade your tools and build some buildings. You have to work on everything in order to unlock some parts of the game. You’re not, strictly speaking, forced down a single path, but you miss out on a lot of it if you don’t follow it. A game should do the opposite, where the more you stray from the path, the more you experience.

There are ways to do this organically, too. If the game scales well, players will naturally be motivated to take the less expensive routes rather than stay on a single path. This relies on the value being scaled well to the added effort. If I can follow a strategy that gains me a little benefit, or another that has 5 times the benefit but is 5 times harder, that’s going to create interesting decisions. Especially if it has multiple dimensions. This is sort of the cost to upgrade tools in Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley. Is it better to use 5 ore to upgrade your watering can to save time and energy now, or upgrade your hammer/pickaxe to collect ore for upgrades faster?

I am still on a quest to create a farming game, and there are still struggles . One challenge is that Harvest Moon is inherently solo play. [Co-op play is planned for Stardew Valley, but cooperative multiplayer is closely related to solo play, while competitive play is significantly different.] I have several different attempts that take the idea in different directions. I am on the third revision of a game idea that is strongly influenced by the daily grind aspect of Harvest Moon. It turns out it’s really difficult to make that work without the game itself becoming a 3 hour grind. I have another game idea that follows the town life aspect, aiming for something that captures the feel of country life, but abstracts away more of the micromanagement of the farm. And there are a half dozen half-formed ideas that play off of farming one way or another.

Stardew Valley has made me realize how important the balance of priorities is. That was such an interesting part of Harvest Moon, and I think that’s going to be key to making a game that brings back what I loved about Harvest Moon. Another part of it is keeping that excitement to find out what each new day brings, giving players to look forward to something on every turn.

I think farming is a great theme to build a game around. It’s accessible because you don’t need to know anything special to understand a farm. Farming comes in so many varieties and touches so many different parts of life, it’s practically universal. But it also gives you a lot of flexibility. There’s something appealing and rewarding about building something from scratch, starting with soil and making something grow. Farming represents hard work, growth, and celebrates life. And so, I continue my quest for a great farming game. Not because they don’t exist, but because there’s always something more that can be done. Sometimes, all it takes is a little energy and time.

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Notes from New Bedford: Part 16 – Removing a Player, Adding a Captain


The solo mode was the last thing to be added into New Bedford. But it was not a last minute addition. I had already started considering a solo mode before the initial campaign launched. At the time it was rough, and the extra few months I got before the relaunch enabled me to develop it considerably. Read the rest of this entry »


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Rules for non-readers

I’ve been writing a lot of rule books lately—polishing up the rules for New Bedford, writing and updating rules for submissions to the Greater than Games Metagame contest—and I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about rulebooks. Back in June of last year, Foxtrot Games talked about the challenges of writing rulebooks. This is a perfect reminder of why it’s so hard to write rules. You can’t just write rules for people who read them. You also have to write rules for people who don’t read them. I’ve also been teaching some new games lately, and so I am forced to admit that I rarely teach a new game without missing at least one important rule, so I must include myself in the latter group. Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s just a game

Something new happened to me over the holidays. I got my first hate mail about New Bedford.

Sure, there had been plenty of discussion of the game and criticism of the choice in theme, but until now it had all been directed at the game. This was a direct message to me, telling me to be ashamed for my creation. I knew I needed to write about why this person was completely wrong.  But this post isn’t about someone else, it’s about me and my relationship with boardgames. Read the rest of this entry »



Notes from New Bedford – Part 15: Adding a Player


When I originally designed New Bedford, one of my goals was a fast game. So I limited the game to 4 players at most. This also made it easy to track building ownership around a square board. And, when I ran the numbers, it worked out very well for the number of buildings and whale tokens I could fit on a sheet of paper. [Perhaps you could argue that I subconsciously chose all the numbers precisely to fit the paper size, but either way it’s funny how often these little things seem to work out.]

And four players was fine. I rarely sat down to play with a group larger than four. But every once in a while, I found that it would be helpful to play with one more. It’s easy to see the advantage of adding an additional player, as it makes the game accessible to a lot of groups. Looking around at the games I liked and respected, many of them played up to five out of the box. So I began trying to figure out how to make a fifth player work.

As I previously discussed in Part 7, In the basic game, turn order is fixed, but the game length was set to give every player an equal chance at going first. With a fifth player, that balance goes out the window unless you make the game a few rounds longer, which I didn’t want to do. Other concerns were running out of whale tokens or buildings.

I really tried to avoid adding the “first player” space, as many games do, but a variable turn order was the only solution I had. And so, I added the “Wheelhouse” that allows a player to take the ship’s wheel, which serves as the first player marker. Yes, I know that’s a part of a ship, and not a building per se, but it immediately ties it to taking the ship’s wheel. I could have gone with Captain’s House, I suppose, but that was already in use.

It would have to be a town action, so it needed a bonus and regular action, and that gave me an opportunity to put my own spin on it. Instead of taking the ship’s wheel as the bonus action, taking the wheel is the basic action, and the bonus is taking $2. Let me restate this: the last player who takes the action spot in a round becomes the captain. This guarantees that one player can’t monopolize the space multiple rounds in a row (which would be inefficient anyway). The $2 can either be a nice bonus or a consolation if someone goes on to claim the wheel after you. And it introduces a small amount of money which I expect to be a little tighter with more players.

With the addition of a fifth player, I had an opportunity to look at some new actions that wouldn’t work with fewer players. I wanted buildings that increase interactivity by keying off of other players. Part of my motivation was to keep players involved, since it would be longer between turns. It was surprisingly difficult to find abilities that were unique, balanced, took advantage of the increased player counts, while keeping direct negative player interaction low.

A few of the new buildings were simple: a building that reduced the ability to block building action spaces, a building that could disable other player buildings. That became the College and Empty Lot, respectively. I needed another bonus building, and decided to add the Rectory, which is like a small version of the Seamen’s Bethel, but requires another player to own it. This keeps one player from being able to grab 10 easy points, while adding some strategy in timing.

I also wanted to carefully add the ability to take money from other players (with the Chemist’s Shop/Unpub Labs already providing the ability to take resources). To balance this between player counts, the Almshouse takes $3 from a single player. This ends up being one of the most inefficient ways of getting money, but the net gain against a single player is decent, and has the potential to impact carefully laid plans. The Firehouse went through several iterations, dealing with wood cost in buildings, but the final version is straightforward. It also scales better, since it becomes more difficult for all 5 players to build 3 or 4 buildings.

Of course, all of these extra buildings and Wheelhouse can also be used in games with as few as 3 players. And the buildings, in particular, can be mixed in with any other buildings as normal. But they won’t really make sense in a 2-player game. One odd consequence of a 5th player is that the 4-sided town board needed to change. A board add-on to keep the 90° angles while adding perimeter space was considered, but the final result will be a roughly pentagonal board. While less thematic than a grid of streets, it was the most effective way to add a 5th player, and the regular 2-4 player board will still be included in the box.

As a final note, this was definitely something that I felt was more appropriate as a stretch goal, because it wasn’t part of the core design. It adds extra mechanics, but only the few player tokens needed to accommodate the extra player–no new whale tokens or resources–and it’s not something that we felt was necessary to enjoy the game. In short, it’s not simply something that was simply held back as a marketing gimmick. It really couldn’t have been added without the support of so many backers.


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Taking Care of Fish-ness with Ben Pinchback

Ok, sorry about that pun in the title.

One of my early purchases when I was getting into board games was a little game called Fleet. For me and many others, this cemented the design team of Ben Pinchback and Matt Riddle as designers to watch. They have been making their marks in the world of boardgames with original games that blend Euro style and American flair.

They are fantastically fun people to hang out with in person, but also very busy designers. You might think a team of two would have more time to chat, but they are always some of the busiest people I know at conventions. Fortunately, I finally got a chance to ask Ben Pinchback about how they make everything work. Read the rest of this entry »

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