Belfort was released to the world in the late months of 2011. Since then the game has done extremely well, selling out of two print runs, getting picked up for a German and a Polish version and now it’s getting a full expansion with funding through Kickstarter. The expansion started to get developed in August of 2011 – months before the base game had even hit the shelves! This is not to say that we were cocky and expecting that the game would be a huge hit, but we were excited about it and liked playing in the Belfort sandbox!
The publisher, Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Games (TMG) let us know about an idea he had about wanting buildings to be upgradeable such that players could get more gold, or more Gnome placements. At the same time, Sen and I had been toying with an idea about using roles and that these roles would be tied to turn order. We had quickly brainstormed some ideas of the powers for these roles and they were very basic yet beneficial. We thought it was interesting to tie these powers to the turn order, as that would make people want to use the King’s Camp more often.
Then we got Michael’s peanut butter mixed into our chocolate. We combined the two ideas and the powers soon became Assistants. Since the players are the Master Architects, it didn’t make sense to give them powers directly. Also, by making them Assistants we could introduce a lot of new races into the game – which meant new Josh Cappel artwork eventually!! We also added a new resource called Reputation. Players started with 2 Reputation and could earn more by going to the cathedral. The cathedral was a new tile that laid on top of the board, but right in the centre – in the middle of the Keep. The Cathedral had 1 worker plank on it and if you went there you got 2 more Reputation. Players had to use Reputation to activate their assistants’ powers or gain an expansion permit to upgrade a building.
We liked the idea of upgrading a building, but we weren’t too keen on upgrading it just to get discounts on resources. We had a brilliant idea that brought in individual scoring paths for each player – and that was to tie a specific scoring option whenever someone expands their building. We tried it and it was really interesting! By telling a player that they will get more points if the buildings they build have more wood in them – well, that makes players want to build buildings with even more wood. This cause people to play the game differently than they did before – which was very interesting, and I think a good direction for an expansion.
We playtested this a few times and tweaked the powers here and there and it seemed to be going well, but then had an idea from one of our playtesters: why not get rid of the Reputation altogether. This was interesting but frustrating. It was a new currency that made everything work, so we were perplexed at how to make everything work without that currency. Eventually we decided, why not just let people use the power for free every turn? Was that too powerful? Then for acquiring an Expansion Permit, players would have to NOT use their Assistant power in order to get it. Aha! That really worked! Now players were really motivated to use the Assistants’ powers, but they were also really motivated to expand their buildings.
OK, so now we were ready. But with 10 Assistants we couldn’t be certain of how each Assistant worked with each of the guilds. Would any of them be broken if a certain combination came out? To figure this out we advertised here on this site that we were looking for playtesters for the expansion. We had over 70 groups email us wanting to participate. We sent them a pdf of the basic art file (nothing by Josh Cappel yet – just clip art!) and waited for their feedback.
We did the playtesting in three phases. After each phase we gathered all the feedback from all the playtesters, assessed their comments and tweaked the powers of the Assistants. The most valuable feedback that came in (well, it was all really valuable – but this one stood out) was to allow players to choose their Assistant every round instead of having it locked into their turn order. We found that when the Assistant was locked into turn order – it didn’t motivate more King’s Camp action. Instead, players just hunkered down and devised a strategy for their one Assistant and stuck with it the entire game. By allowing players to choose – they could choose the same one every turn, but most players would change it out, and this offered even more strategy and created even more desire to go last (because Assistants were chosen in reverse turn order!).
After three phases, we were happy with all the feedback we got and locked the rules down. There was a conversation in the middle where TMG was wondering if we could do some smaller expansions instead of a big one. Could we divide this expansion into two? Fortunately we never had to because we were really happy with the direction we were going, the feedback we were getting, and how integrated the two ideas now were. In the third phase we decided to cut the rounds down from 7 to 6. This was mostly due to the fact that the Assistants were so powerful that players were building almost all of the buildings on the board by the final round. So thematically we said that the king has given the Architects one less month to make his city even more beautiful, but to help them out he’s allowing them to use his Assistants. The very last rule we added was to start players all at 6 points, thus making taxes happen even in the first month (unless you have the Halfling Assistant!).
In the last couple months we’ve seen the art start to come together, and now the Kickstarter campaign is in full effect! If you’d like to back Belfort: The Expansion Expansion, then please do so by clicking here!
Originally, The Expansion Expansion was called “Belfort: Reputations and Renovations” because of the now-missing Reputation points that were driving this new segment of the game. Originally, you would lose reputation by having to rely on your Assistant’s aid. Imagine – a Master Architect’s mere Assistant helping out? Shameful! Minus 1 Reputation to you! But if you accomplished the feat of renovating an existing building to be better looking and such, your Reputation for being an able craftsman would be bumped up accordingly.
It made so much sense! We had Guilds linked to Reputation points and other ways to use them planned – using them to affect majority scoring, trading for resources, and turn order were all in the works at one point or another. In the end, however, we are happy with having them out of the game (for now!) as they created another thing to track physically. The Reputationless method we’re using now is much leaner and faster – having to remember to have ANOTHER currency/resource made attaining an Expansion Permit and then build it very difficult and slow, in terms of average number of rounds it took to complete it. What we came up with after eliminating Reputation is essentially the same thing, abstracted down: We use the Assistant to either do their ability or obtain the work permits required to start an Expansion. This either/or dilemma, in effect, mimics the idea of gaining or losing Reputation enough to justify the removal of that resource.
I’m super-satisfied with how the final product is turning out! Josh Cappel’s artwork never ceases to both delight and amuse me. His work on the rules is somehow whimsical and precise at the same time and his characterization of the denizens of Belfort make me howl in delight. I personally can’t wait to get the Halfling, Giant, etc. into play! And, as much as I like/resemble the Halfling, I’m really hoping that nobody picks the Imp(s)!
And here’s a first look (world premiere, I believe!) at the talented Pixies, who bring a splash of even more colour into our beloved world of Belfort!
Interestingly enough, Jay and I got our copies of the German and Polish versions of Belfort while at Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends last week. We’re unsure if either Pegasus or Lacerta will pick up the expansion for our European friends, but we hope so!
Thanks to everyone who has supported our Kickstarter campaign so far and we’re looking forward to getting this product out into your hot little hands. It’s been a long time in development, so it’s high time that things got released to the wild!
~ Sen-Foong Lim