Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Designer Diary - Progress: Evolution of Technology

Civilization games… ask any heavy gamer what is their favorite genre and more often than not you’ll hear this answer: “civilization games, of course”. In today’s world, with everyone being busy – and this category includes the aforementioned heavy gamers – many people are looking for short, yet deep empire builders, games which offer the epic feeling and yet they last just a few hours. The civilization game playable in less than one hour has slowly become the fata morgana of the board games world.

As a designer – probably like many others – creating a civilization game is “the jewel of the crown”, the one achievement that I can be most proud of. So, there I was, about two years ago, with a pen in my hand and a piece of paper in front of me, thinking of the perfect civ, one game which would define my career as a designer. Now, let’s fast forward into the future. In November 2012, Agnieszka – my co-designer – and I were sitting on the couch, cutting and sleeving no less than 550 cards which made up the first playable prototype of the game we used to call Evolution (of Technology).

The idea

In 2012, everything and everyone at NSKN Games revolved around Exodus: Proxima Centauri. We brought it at several fairs and conventions and, curious as we are, we kept asking people “what do you like the most about this game?” and the most common answer was “the tech tree”.

Player board - Exodus first edition

It was one regular evening, one of our many game nights, when it suddenly happened. After an epic game of Civilization which I lost miserably, I said out loud “I love this game…” and the natural question was “What? Why?”

Indeed, why did I like Civilization, along with many other civ games? Well, it was the tech tree.

Well, I am guessing that now it’s time to state the obvious. The will to design a civilization game was fitting perfectly with the new idea of making a game which is all about the tech tree. So there it was, sitting in front of the eye of the mind, the idea we were looking for, a game about researching technologies, following the path of mankind from the ancient times to the modern days, discovering technologies and shaping the things to come.

The first prototype and the secret plan of our friends

In the beginning it was all about research. We went through the history of technology, the history of inventions and of religious ideas and we selected what we believed to be the most important technological achievements in human history. I keep saying we because Progress: Evolution ofTechnology was not an undertaking suitable for one man. The amount of information to process was huge and it required team work and since Agnieszka and I had done it before for Exodus, it was supposed to be the perfect team. And it was…

First prototype

Back to November 2012… The first tech tree required the entire back side of a one square meter poster and it featured no less than 160 technologies divided into five types (Culture, Engineering, Science, Military and Government) and five ages, staring with the Antiquity and ending up with the creation of BoardGameGeek. This did not discourage us, so we went on to make the first prototype consisting of 550 cards which would all be used in a 5-player game. Agnieszka warned me that the game might be “a little too heavy” but I went on and tested it with a group of good friends.

The original tech tree

The first play was epic indeed. Advancing to the third age after 3 hours of play, the table was not large enough to keep almost one hundred technologies. So I decided to end the experiment and ask for feedback. To my surprise, they loved the game but they all said “do not do this to me ever again”. Back then I could still pretend it wasn’t my fault and blame Agnieszka, because for all they knew, it could have been her who insisted on allowing all those technologies in the game, not me.

The second group had a slightly different reaction. After a little more than five hours, when they had finally reached the end of the fifth age, I asked for feedback. One of them stood up and said to the others “it’s just the five of us here, no other witnesses, if we kill him now no one will ever know”. As it turns out, they didn't go through with it. On the contrary, they quite like the idea behind the game, the flow of technologies and how it all came together. Progress: Evolution of Technology had an epic feeling and the only major problem was the length of the game.

A friend of mine came with a simple yet enlightened idea. “What you’ve got here is a game with like… five expansions. Trim it down to… just one game” he said and so we did.

From five ages we cut it down to three, from five technology types we chose three of them which made up the core of the game and went back to review the mathematical model.

So, what is Progress: Evolution of Technology?

The rest of the story is neither that epic nor that funny. We went on playing, designing and revising until we and our testing groups could agree we have a good game in front of us. The final version of Progress:Evolution of Technology features less than 60 technologies and spread over almost 200 cards and the play time is now less than 90 minutes from the original 5+ hours.

The final stage was to dress up the game with illustrations and graphic design.

We think of Progress: Evolution of Technology as a light civilization game, focused solely on technologies and their impact on mankind. In terms of game play, Progress: Evolution of Technology revolves around hand management mechanisms. Each card represents a technology which comes with costs and prerequisites, while it is also the “currency” used to pay for other technologies. Each technology offers game play enhancers (such as larger hand size, extra actions, etc) and means to compete for victory points.

We did not give up on the rest of the original game ideas, the ones which we had to cut out. We kept optimizing and we split the universe into a base game plus several expansions, trying to separate both game mechanisms and historical ages. We went even further and made plan for additional two ages beyond the one already designed with the idea in mind that it’s better to be prepared that otherwise and on the plus side it’s an awesome feeling to play with your imagination and try to anticipate which technologies humanity may develop in the near future.

Second stage of development


Is Progress: Evolution of Technology is the light civilization game I was talking about in the beginning? We think it is, but we created it, so you don’t have to take our word for it. All I know is that we have both learned a lot of history (and some physics, some anthropology, some… more of everything), we argued, we laughed and we met a lot of awesome people on the way. Designing Progress: Evolution of Technology was an amazing journey.

The final tech tree

Cards fresh out of print

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