Friday, August 26, 2011

Prototype2Publisher: Pergamemnon

I'm not someone who becomes enamored with one particular game--or even game system. By nature, I enjoy variety, and, if anything, I like to look at new game systems more for exploring the possibilities of expanding them or changing them.  Likewise, although I like Dominion and admire the originality in the design, I was not drawn into the "deck-building" craze it inspired on both sides of the Atlantic.

My friend, Bernd Eisenstein, however, thought that the system might work with a conflict-oriented game he was working on, and soon it was the backbone of yet another game set in his favorite theme: antiquity.  It also featured another of Bernd's favorite game elements:  players starting from different positions with civilizations that have varying special powers (as in his first self-published title, Peloponnes). 

As it developed, I began to call this game "Eurotrash," as it seemed to combine the victory-point scoring and elegant rules so typical in German-style games, with the direct "take that" conflict and battle mechanics of so-called "Ameritrash" games popular on the other side of the ocean.  I'm not as big of a fan of the latter, but the game has grown on me over its playtesting period, especially as Bernd has improved the design.  I am quite amazed at the way he can balance so many elements, especially when every player has a different starting position.  And with the addition of all-out conflict and the mythical creatures, this little game should have a wide appeal. Following is Bernd's design notes for the game.  - Jeff

In the beginning of 2009, I began to design a card game based on the browser game Grepolis.  This game idea fascinated me for a long time.  The mechanics were somewhat similar to the deck-building of Dominion, but without as much card shuffling and with more interaction due to direct conflict. Added to that were civilizations with different advantages and disadvantages to make the game more variable.

At the beginning, I drudged through the process for a long time with rules that were much too complicated concerning the counterstrikes and distance shots for each battle.  In order to simplify the game, I removed the extra rules for the different weapons.

In addition, there were powerful mythical creatures who could take several hits, and each needed several cards to record each wound.  The bookkeeping involved was also too fiddly and complicated. Once this was removed, it was necessary to refine the strengths of each creature without making them too overwhelmingly powerful.  To balance them better, I made some have the special ability to escape a battle it was losing, and some had “secure” victory points.

Once the final mechanics were discovered, I entered the most difficult phase in the game’s development: playtesting the civilization against each other to make certain they were balanced.  Each nation needed to have an equal chance at victory, although the strength of that nation was dependent each time on the particular strengths of the nations played by the opponents that game.  After testing every combination many times, I believe I achieved enough of that balance.

I showed the prototype to Matthias Catrein (the illustrator for Peloponnes and Dominion) and he was immediately enthusiastic, and could not pass up on the opportunity to produce the fantastic illustrations for the cards.
Card Illustration by Matthias Catrein

Should the game find its target audience, there is nothing standing in the way of expansions, such as further civilizations and mythical creatures! - Bernd Eisenstein

Photos courtesy of Bernd Eisenstein and Irongames.

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