January Guest Interview – Dave Burke

Written by Matt Pavlovich

karmakaLast September, I attended the Boston Festival of Indie Games, a regional gathering of developers of both tabletop games and video games. The highlight of the experience was being able to play games in various stages of development at the Showcase, and one of my favorites was Karmaka from Hemisphere Games. Evidently, the wisdom of the crowd agreed with me, and Karmaka took home the Best Artwork and Best in Show awards in the tabletop category. Karmaka is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to fund its first printing.

Our current article series, Mid-Game Structures, is all about the mechanics and other design elements associated with the transitions and turning points in games. Karmaka’s design centers around moving up the karmic ladder, where each rung represents both reincarnation as a higher life form and a new phase of the game, so we thought it was a perfect fit for our Mid-Game Structures series. Today, we’ll be speaking to Dave Burke, one of the developers of Karmaka, about his design.

Games Precipice: Welcome! Thanks for taking some time out of your busy Kickstarter schedule to talk to us. Before we dig deep into the mechanics, I wanted to talk about your theme–how did you decide on something as ambitious as reincarnation?

Dave: The idea of karma has long-appealed to us (co-designer Eddy Boxerman and I) as a thematic idea to build a game around, particularly a card game.  “What goes around, comes around.”  “You reap what you sow.”  “An eye for an eye.”  That kind of stuff.  Conceptually it’s a really straightforward economy: what I do, comes back at me.  So from a design perspective, it’s simple, everyone understands it and so you’ve got a theme that people can grok quickly — you have only to mention ‘karma’ and the light bulbs start switching on in people’s minds.

karmakacards3So how to take it further?  What else does karma evoke that could inspire a mechanic in a game?  We’re not very well versed in eastern religion, but the high-level idea of living multiple lives and reincarnation maps really well onto a card game, where each life is a round of cards, say.

Or even more interestingly, what if your life ended when *you* are out of cards — but other players could play on if they still have cards.  And so everyone’s life ends at staggered times, depending on when they run out of cards, how quickly they play, etc.

And so on.  But it started from that “what goes around, comes around” pop-culture notion of karma as a simple economic model, and went from there on towards reincarnation, the Karmic Ladder, etc.


Mid-Game Structures – Player Ecology

Written by Alex Harkey

We’re re-lighting our lantern to go deeper into our game structures series where we are headed toward mid-game structures to look at how games change their environments to keep the experience engaging.

What are Mid-Game Structures?

Mid-game structures comprise the median phase of a game’s timeline or game play. The underlying motive of mid-game structures would be to build elements of player engagementBy this point in a game, players have likely figured out their purposeorganization of play and their own approach to decision-making.

Now is our opportunity to shake up the formula. We’re still building the replay value we initiated in Early Game Structures, but it’s now a secondary goal. By engaging players with changing objectives and key transition periods of strategy, we can ensure the novelty of innovative mechanics also has substance and longevity behind it. Basically, we don’t want the game to get stale once players have gotten into the meat of the game.


Worker Placement – Observations & Innovations

Written by Alex Harkey and David Satterfield

wptitleWe’ve been exploring Worker Placement over the last month, creating a working definition and identifying just a few of its strengths and weaknesses as a game mechanic. Before we move on from the mechanic, I wanted to touch on some innovations and a few final observations of Worker Placement.

This final article was an ambitious overview of seemingly countless Worker Placement games. I was thrilled when close friend and gaming partner Dave Satterfield was interested in contributing his thoughts and observations on a plethora of games. Dave is one of my favorite people to bounce ideas off of and without his tremendous input, this write-up would be half the size and a quarter as effective. Many thanks to Dave for his contributions.

Variations in Worker Allocation

One of the ideas frequently seen in Worker Placement is the harmonious match of one worker = one action. Placing a meeple and taking the desired action is simple and free from the transaction costs, tireless exchanges and tenuous bookkeeping we see so often in games. The process is direct, intuitive and usually quick to resolve. It’s also such a common trend it makes for a great opportunity to differentiate a game.

Stone AgeStone Age is one of the best examples of a game that deviates from this idea. Two workers are necessary to place on the love hut for an action that yields a new worker. Furthermore, a player may place multiple workers in the resource collection areas in order to improve the number of resources the action will yield. In any case, players place all workers on an action at once, cutting down on the number of rotations around the table that may be needed.

dominantspeciesDominant Species follows the more common dispatch process of “one worker at a time”, but players are able to return to that area and place additional workers on subsequent turns. Later workers can achieve the same output, but may be resolved later and achieve another variety of power or position of the action reward.


2015 Year in Review Mailbag – Influencers & Collaborators

Written by Alex Harkey

fireworksWe’re wrapping up year two at Games Precipice and we’re as thankful as ever for the support, feedback and readership growth we’ve received this year. We recently launched an ambitious series of topics titled Game Structures which incorporate some of the foundational decisions we’ve observed in game design. We’re currently in the middle of our topic dedicated to the wide world of Worker Placement games.

As we look forward to 2016 I wanted to highlight some of our influences and pass along a few things I’ve learned over the last two years. Many thanks to everyone who has helped us reach this point, now we want to get to your comments and questions…

The Comments:

I’ve enjoyed reading Games Precipice almost from the very beginning. I appreciate the effort you guys put into what you do. But sometimes you couldn’t be more wrong. [Previous Mailbag – The Best Year in Game Design] This is one of those times. In what alternate timeline was 2007 better than 2012?
– Nick

Worker Placement – The Perfectly Average Middle Ground Mechanic

Written by Alex Harkey

wptitle2In a hobby with with so many divisive subjects, we can hardly agree on a definition for Worker Placement. Earlier this month, Matt responded to this very debate by identifying the key characteristics that shape our working definition of Worker Placement.

We’ve been mapping board game mechanics for a long time and although I may never understand the unwavering loyalty some have toward Worker Placement games, it has a lot of characteristics that help it to achieve a broad appeal. I’ll tackle some broad trends of the mechanic before weighing a few selected strengths and weaknesses.

Worker Placement – The Perfectly Average Middle Ground Mechanic

Worker Placement as a mechanic tends to gravitate toward a mythical sweet spot of player interaction; an area palatable a large percentage of people. It tends to drive indirect competition; a desirable trait for anyone with an aversion to conflict or “take that!” mechanics which can be perceived as experiences high in hostility. At the same time, the ability to block action spaces and redirect opponents can provide just enough contention to avoid the dreaded “multiplayer solitaire” identifier.


Mechanic Archetypes – Worker Placement

Written by Matt Pavlovich

wptitleWe’ve just concluded an article series about the early structures in games, including the distribution of resources to start the game and means to decide the first turn. We got some excellent feedback and had some great discussions in our comments sections, so thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts. Before we move on to mid-game structures, our series on turning points and phase transitions in strategy games, we’re taking a brief detour to start a semi-regular feature on some of the most popular and prevalent mechanics in game design.

This month’s topic is worker placement. I’ll introduce the topic by discussing what we mean by worker placement (a surprisingly controversial topic!) and giving some defining characteristics of the genre. Alex will follow up with a pair of articles discussing some classic and creative examples of worker placement mechanics, and what some of the genre’s weaknesses are and what can be done to improve worker placement.