Black Sun: Annotated Notes
February 01, 2006
Black Sun is a custom-made hex boardgame, made earlier this year. This is one of a set of three posts about the game.
This one covers how the game was created, focussing on a direct transcript of the notes in the notebook used to plan the game, allong with some annotations for clarity. It is probably only of interest to you if you want to look at the design process behind the game. You may prefer to read the rules before looking at the designer's notes.
Premise: use Fimo to make sets of pieces; placement and position of pieces is all the game, along with a scoring track with events. Set in stellar system – pieces shuffle…
Comments: I stuck very closely to this premise. I threw out the idea of a scoring track with events, and went for scoring counters in the end because it was simpler. Reading this again, I’m thinking of bringing back the scoring track, though, as the scoring counters are a touch clumsy.
Next, I began thinking about which hex pieces I would need:
Yellow Sun Red
Giant White Dwarf
Terrestrial Planet x 3
Gas Giant x 3
Asteroid Cluster x 6
Comments: There is a diagram here of the basic shape of the board, so I could count the number of hexes that would be needed. I went straight to how the board would be set up, as I knew this would have to be simple if the game was going to be fast enough to play:
1. Place sun
2. Add Gas Giants to 5 Space Hexes
3. Lay out in ring (6 of 8)
4. Use space hexes to move GG’s 2 away
5. Remove six centre space hexes
6. Shuffle all remaining hexes
7. Deal to fill 3-wide hex pattern
8. Add (up to) 3 hexes to complete each Gas Giants orbits
Comments: There were a couple of diagrams to accompany this setup description. I’m impressed at just how similar the final setup was! The only significant difference is that the hex pattern is five hexes across, not seven as originally envisioned, and it is necessary to add 5 hexes to a Gas Giant not 3 because of this.
There followed a revised list of required hexes:
3 Suns (use 1) – Sun, Red Giant, White
6 Terrestrial Planets
4 Terrestrial Binary
2 Terrestrial Trinary
3 Gas Giant
6 Asteroid Cluster
Comments: Just decided recently to remove 9 Space hexes, making it 15 Space hexes. Other than that, this is how the final game went. The reason for the overestimate of space hexes (I have only just realised) was that I was originally looking at a 7-wide hex pattern, not a 5-wide hex pattern, and this required more hexes.
I then began thinking about the factions the player would be able to play. This went around for a while before settling down.
Factions – Types
Supply – cannot be fought
Rogue – mercenary thief
Military – get many units, one powerful and
Supply – get many units, all weak
Rogue – get few units, all fast, or one unit fast and strong
Captain – 1 ship, fast and powerful
General – very many ships (slow and reasonably powerful) + 1 big ship
7 destroyers + 1 battleship
Medic – many ships, fast but weak
4 ships + 3 medsats
Governor – few ships, good quality + 1 planet
Comments: The Governor didn't make it to the final game.
There are some scribbled notes at the bottom of the page as I started to think about the properties of the ships.. I started to work on a points value system for balancing their values, which was eventually abandoned.
Fight (1), (2), (3)
Move (1), (2), (3), (4)
Move 0 = ½
Cost = m x f [x4]
24 points per side
Comments: There followed some attempts to employ this system, which failed. It was too rigid. Balancing by instinct, and then adjusting in the final game became the new order of business. However, you this formal balancing process undoubtedly did influence the final distribution of pieces and their attributes.
Captain: move 3, fight 2, indestructible
General: 5 x destroyer (m2, f2) (20)
1 x battleship (m1, f4) (4)
Medic: 3 x medsat (m0, f0), indestructible
4 x rescuers (m4, f0)
Rebel: 7 gunboats (m1, f1)
3 destroyers (m2, f2)
Dictator: move 2, fight ??
Comments: And now the first attempt to tabulate this data
Loyalists (General) 7 destroyers
(m2, f2), 1 battleship (m1, f6)
Rebels (General) 7
squadrons carriers (m3, f1), 3 destroyers (m2, f2)
Medics 3 ambunauts (m3, f0), 3 medsats (m0, f0*)
Syndic 8 transports (m2, f1), 1 yacht (m4, f0*)
Smugglers – Lone 1 freighter
Smugglers – Gang 4 cutters (m3, f1), 1 gunsat (m0, f3)
* = indestructible
Attack on D6 – 5 or 6 is a Hit
Can survive as many Hits as Dice
Defending player chooses casualties.
Comments: See how the combat system appeared after the stats for the vessels. I must have already been thinking about something like this, but not crystallised which particular approach I was going to take. The idea of having indestructible ships was one of my favourite aspects of the design – it really changes how you play when you know your ship cannot be destroyed, only captured.
Most of these stats are the same as in the final version. The most noticeable difference is the Gang of Smugglers (Gang of Brigands in the final version) have a Secret Base which can move, not a gunsat as it says above, and only have 3 ships instead of 4, and they were eventually called Raiders, not Cutters.
Each blocking ship of the same number of dice of fewer adds 1 more cost. If can’t move clear, fight all.
Each blocking ship of more dice interdicts.
Comments: There’s a diagram here which shows the idea. In the end, checking to see if a ship has more dice than the moving ship was removed (to save time as much as anything else) so the final rule was that every ship that you cross over adds 1 to your movement cost. This won’t make too much sense until you see it illustrated, but you can see it clearly in the rules (which follow or precede, depending whether you are reading this on RSS or on my blogsite).
The basic idea being espoused here is that players can ‘blockade’ areas by putting their ships in the way, thus adding to the number of moves that the other players have to make to get their.
On the next page, the names of the factions reach their final versions:
Alliance General Blue Military
Rebel Commander Orange/Red Military
Syndics of the Merchant Guild White Guild
Medics Guild Green Guild
Lone Smuggler Captain Grey Rogue
Gang of Brigands Black Rogue
counter = need supplies/relief
Yellow Need counter = need supplies
Military vessel enters orbit = Need
Any vessel destroyed = Crisis
When a Supply vessel leaves orbit = Need
Military 0 --> Need Need -->
Supply Crisis --> x (Need --> x)
Smuggler Need --> x Can carry Crisis tokens
Or just one type of counter?
Comments: This is nothing like how it eventually worked. It was just too complicated. I drew up a state transition diagram for the above system, thought about it, and concluded it was much too complicated for a game that I wanted to be playable in less than an hour. At the bottom of the page, I hit upon a better solution:
Each planet has number
3, 4, 5, 6, (7), 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 =
3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, (10), (11), 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 = 16
Roll 3d6 to place Need
If already Needy, causes Crisis
Comments: There’s a big tick mark by this, and this is how it works in the final game. Each planet is assigned a number; each turn you roll to change a token – adding a Need or, in the event of hitting a planet which already has a need, changing it to a Crisis.
The number lists are the numbers that can be rolled on 2d6 and 3d6 respectively, with the most likely to be rolled numbers circled (bracketed here).
Next, I start thinking about scoring:
Rebel scores 1 point cause Crisis (turn
need to crisis)
Military destroy 1 rebel = score 1 point (can relieve crisis +1)
Medics: relieve Crisis = 2 points
Syndics: relieve Need = 1 point
Smuggler: relieve Need = 1 point, run blockade = 1 point
10 to win
Smugglers & Medics win DOESN’T end game
Comments: this is pretty close to the final version. 10 points is a win in the final game, and the last three scoring conditions are pretty much as they were. There was much thought about the scoring on the next few pages though.
At this point, there is a revised version of the faction table, which I won’t reproduce as it is very close to the previous version, except it incorporates the final names and colour schemes and the new Secret Base attributes – move 2, fight 3.
Military (peace): +2 point for blockading crisis for 1 turn
Comments: The term ‘blockade’ here needs explaining. The game allows for ships to be placed both inside hexes and around the edges of hexes. I think this is the point that I begin to formalise this aspect. When a ship is on a hex edge, it is considered a blockade, and it costs +1 move to cross the blockade. The smuggler also gains a point for running blockades.
There follows a Venn diagram with Alliance, Rebel and Smuggler in three interlocking circles. I’m not sure what this was about; probably a tool for helping me think about any combinations that wouldn’t work.
Crisis or Destroy Rebel/Smuggler
Rebel: Need --> Crisis or Destroy Alliance
Medics: Crisis or Sacrifice
Smugglers: Need or run Blockade
Comments: This next section shows how I identified a problem with the game, namely that the Alliance and Medic player requires either the Rebel player (to make new Crisis counters) or an alternative source of Crisis counters. I start fishing around for ways to add Crisis counters.
Syndics: always work
Smugglers: always work
Alliance: Requires Rebels or source of Crisis
Medics: Requires Rebels or source of Crisis
Rebels: always work
If no Rebels, 6 = Crisis?
Comments: And then, the solution hits me:
When no Crisis, next die roll causes
When no Crisis, next die roll causes Crisis
Comments: This turned out to be the missing element for the Need and Crisis counters to work. In other words, when rolling the dice, if there are no Crisis counters, a Crisis is placed, otherwise a Need is placed. This removed the dependency problems described above, and pretty much completed the basic mechanics. (The Rebel player lost its effect of turning Needs into Crisis counters at this point too).
The only remaining notes are the final scoring conditions for each faction:
Rebel Ship = Points value
Peaceful Turn = 1 point (i.e. no Crisis without ship present)
Destroy Smugglers Ship = Points value
Alliance Ship = Points Value
Crisis Turn = 2 points
Need = 1 point
= 2 points
Sacrifice = 1 point
= 1 point
Run Blockade = 1 point
= 1 point
Raid Transport = 1 point
Comments: There were some slight changes in the final game. The Alliance player doesn’t get points for destroying the Smuggler’s ship; it’s indestructible, so it would be captured, meaning the Alliance player would just be constantly picking on the poor smuggler. The ‘Crisis Turn’ (meaning a turn with a Rebel ship at a Crisis) is only worth 1 point in the final version. The Medics do not get a point for sacrificing their ambunaut – but instead, when an ambunaut is destroyed, they get to place a Crisis token. And although Crises were worth 2 points for the Medics Guild, this has recently been changed to being worth only 1 point. I think the original fear was that there wouldn’t be many Crisis tokens, but of course the rule requiring a Crisis token to be placed if there isn’t one on the board changed this.
Overall Comments: looking back over my design notes for this one, it’s apparent it went very smoothly. The only hold up was in determining exactly how the Crisis/Need counters and scoring for each faction would inter-relate. Everything else just sort of fell into place naturally. Undoubtedly, the fact that I have made so many card and boardgames in the past made this one easier to develop.
Those who are interested in the process should feel free to ask questions! I’ll be happy to discuss it further.
looks to me like you go
from basic narrative (basic verbs & nouns)
to structural nouns
to attributes and adverbs (detailing the final set of verbs in relation to their subjects and objects)
to finally designing progression as a set of procedures generating contingencies and conflicts of interest
but also opening up a decently broad avenue to resolution / winning,
so in the end you try to adjust the challenge to the players just so that it remains fun (or flow) for your target audience
Posted by: translucy | November 01, 2006 at 12:10 AM
Well I would say I started with a premise, defined the nouns and verbs of play, then filled in the details and determined the causal relationships. Basically, my usual top down design method. :)
Posted by: Chris | November 01, 2006 at 10:46 AM