Akrotiri – Designer Diary, Part 1

AkroJay and Sen take a look back at how Akrotiri came to be!

Jay: Let me start by saying that Akrotiri is my favourite game that I’ve had a part in designing. I really love tile laying games and I love the unique mechanic that we came up with for the game. Though we’ve had other games published before this, you could say that Akrotiri was our very first game design ever!
When Sen and I decided to design games, we started to make a tile laying game about trying to find treasure in a jungle while avoiding natives.

Sen: Jay is a *huge* Indiana Jones fan so our first attempt at making a game naturally centred around a theme we knew well. Jay didn’t just want the players to find a map, he wanted them to find a map from combining random pieces. The trick here was that those random map pieces still had to make a usable map that would help the player locate treasures on an ever-changing map.

Jay: Yeah! So, these map pieces would say things like “Two paces north” or “West of a tree,” where the player could then triangulate the location of a hidden treasure based on location relative to landmarks and such.

Sen: We were on to something with that mechanism, but we couldn’t figure out how to make the *rest* of the game fun.

Jay: So, like many people, we kind of gave up. We’d talk about it less and less when we hung out and then eventually stopped talking about it altogether. Fast forward a few years and I had to move to the west coast of Canada for work.

Sen: We thought that making games together would be a great way to stay connected despite the distance between us, but we were so focused on new titles that we completely forgot about that first game.

Jay: Now, fast forward a few more years to 2010. Now, we have a few games designed and we’ve successfully signed our first two games (Belfort and Train of Thought with Tasty Minstrel Games). We’ve been using this 25-tile restriction concept to help us get games to a playable point faster and I had started to work on another small 25-tile game as a gift for someone. It was originally called Smokeboat because players were boating from island to island picking up meat and smoking them.

Sen: mmmmm Smoked meat…

Dec-2009Jay: In the first version of the game, players were supposed to lay tiles over 1/4 of another tile, which would create unique islands and pathways. This seemed really interesting at first but, upon playtesting, it became obvious that it was just too hard to figure out where to place your tiles.

Sen: So we removed this aspect and the game changed to a much more conventional and, thus, accessible tile laying game – instead of the Carcasonne rules of placement where you had to match similar aspects from one tile to the next, we put all the land in the corners and made the pathways vary on each tile. It was the pathways, or trade routes, that would vary but a tile could be placed and fit on any position on the map.

jan-2010-exampleJay: Yeah, it was more based on how you wanted the trade routes to line up that mattered. The game started out as a basic “pick-up-and-deliver” style game with the goal being about making as much money as possible. We fiddled around with it like this for a while, but it lacked that special spark. We did come up with a more interesting way to do movement though. Instead of a 1:1 movement where you count how many tiles you can go, you travel from dock to dock. Sometimes this might take you to an island that’s located on the exact same tile that you’re already on, but most of the time it will take you halfway across the board as you aren’t forced to stop at every dock you pass. This made the traveling part really quick and interesting.

Sen: Sometimes an island can get cut off from the trade routes, so we allowed players to portage from one dock to another – on the same island. This opened up the board and solved the issue of getting a blocked board!

We also had pirates! They would steal resources if you sailed past them. They weren't that interesting so maybe we can find a way to save them for an expansion!

We also had pirates! They would steal resources if you sailed past them. They weren’t that interesting so maybe we can find a way to save them for an expansion!

Now, for some reason, we stumbled back upon the idea of borrowing the mechanic from our very first game that we never finished – the random treasure map on a random tile map. Surprisingly, this worked out extremely well with very little alteration! Our tiles already had terrain icons on them to dictate resource availability per island, so we based all our maps around the terrain icons. Now a treasure could be located south of a mountain and east of a volcano, for example. Players were now placing tiles in order to create a world to make their map cards playable. At the time, we had never played any other game quite like this.

Jay: We decided to set the game in the Greek islands and called the game Santorini after the famous Aegean island. As we refined it, we wanted to create a believable reason for the whole “shipping in the Mediterranean” portion of the game. We created the backstory that players were not mere merchants but explorers who needed to dabble in trading goods to fund their expeditions. We learned that Santorini exists due to a volcano erupting and thus creating that island. Bringing your resources back to Santorini to sell made a lot of sense since they weren’t capable of growing their own resources.

One of our first attempts at the market where players impacted the cost of goods with specific cards. Not as elegant as our final solution!

One of our first attempts at the market where players impacted the cost of goods with specific cards. Not as elegant as our final solution!

Sen: We tried a bunch of different ways to make the market interesting and we ended up with one that players can affect in small ways, and one that also increases over time as the game ramps up. It was a stroke of luck that the market we use also matched the pace of our game! We also changed the hidden treasures to lost temples that needed to be excavated. When we checked http://www.boardgamegeek.com, we found that there was already a game called Santorini, so we changed the name to Akrotiri. That’s the name of an archaeological dig site on Santorini itself, and Santorini is also known as the island of Thera – it’s all a bit confusing, really!

On the right side is Atlantis and players would have to find clues or rumours about the location of Atlantis in order to win the game. Another expansion idea mayhap?!

On the right side is Atlantis and players would have to find clues or rumours about the location of Atlantis in order to win the game. Another expansion idea mayhap?!

Jay: So we had our name and we had our mechanisms. The game still lacked a strong narrative arc and we couldn’t figure out a solid end game. For the longest time, the game revolved around the players finding to find Atlantis. The volcanic eruption that formed Santorini was reputed to have also sunk Atlantis. We had players sailing around to the islands, finding temples using their map cards, all while collecting clues to where a gateway to Atlantis was located.

Sen: When a player found a temple, she would place a random rumour token under it. So then, the other players would sail to their opponents’ temples trying to collect these tokens to be the first to find the gateway to Atlantis.

Jay: There were so many other ideas that were tested with this game. At one point we had pirates that players controlled that would steal resources from you. We had flags that you placed on islands to claim them – which gave players different abilities than placing a temple did. We had meeples at one point too – I think they were priests that you would deliver to the temples for a benefit. There were contracts in the game at one point too – where you could fulfill by delivering a specific set of resources to Santorini to get points- but not many people ever did that because it was more fun to use resources to gain money and use that money to find temples!

Sen: We had huts on the islands for awhile which gave players more actions – but eventually we streamlined that by giving players more actions as they excavated temples. For a long time players could buy more boats and the boats had different attributes like speed and capacity – but that all was unnecessary as we found out through our playtesting when everyone pretty much focused on just one boat most of the time anyway. We had role selection in the game at one time too – with each role giving the player a specific bonus that round. That might be good for an expansion! With all the pieces in place, Jay pitched the game to Z-Man Games at BGG.con in 2010. Zev liked it and took it for further review.

Jay: Then the waiting began. We heard nothing back for a long time; months, really. Then Z-Man got bought out by Filosofia. This caused some delays so, wanting to be transparent and wanting to place the game, we asked if it was okay for us to send Akrotiri to another company. Quined, a Dutch publisher, had expressed interest in seeing it and we didn’t want to miss an opportunity. Zev was amenable to that and so we sent another copy of the prototype to Quined.

Sen: After some time, Quined got back to us. They said they liked the game, but felt that the whole “Quest for Atlantis” aspect of the end game was tacked on, so to speak. In retrospect, it, in some ways was. We discussed modifications with their team, but they still decided to pass on it.

Jay: But did that deter us? No! It gave us further motivation to figure out how to end the game properly! After tinkering with it for a couple months, we realized that the game should really just be about finding the temples so we stripped away all of the Atlantis references. This streamlined the game immensely, which just goes to show you that rejection can be a good thing because it helped us transform a game that we really liked into a game that we loved!

Sen: We sent the new version of the game to Filosofia for them to test and they liked it. The only challenge was that we originally pitched the game for 2-5 players. We had tested it under those conditions and it held up in all regards. Sophie from Filosofia was adamant, however, that the game would only be signed as a 2-player game. Her position was that there was too much down-time between individual turns with larger player counts. We conceded, agreeing that Akrotiri would make an excellent 2-player game.

Jay: And so, we signed on the dotted line! Needless to say, we’re extremely excited that the gaming world is finally be able to experience Akrotiri!

Next up we’ll take you on a tour of how the player aid changed throughout the development of Akrotiri!

-Jay Cormier

BGG.con – Games I liked, disliked and bought!

I had time to play some games while I was there of course and here are my likes and dislikes:

Likes:

Troyes – Warning – try to get someone who has played the game to teach you the rules!  The rules are very convoluted and hard to understand.  The game is also convoluted and hard to understand, but it gets easier and easier as the game progresses and by the end of the game I found myself really enjoying the mechanics.  The game has players rolling different coloured dice, depending on how many of their workers they place in the different coloured zones, and then using the numbers on those dice to fulfill specific actions.  What makes this game not as luck based as other dice-rolling games is that you can buy other players’ dice from them.  So, not intuitive at first, but a game I would like to play again.

Tikal 2 – Surprise, surprise – the sequel to my favourite game is a lot of fun!  The similarities between the two are mostly thematic and the fact that hexagonal tiles are placed on the board – that’s about it.  So if you’re one of the few who don’t like Tikal, then you should still try out Tikal 2!  Players sail their boat around the perimeter of the board and pick up one tile that gives them a specific action to do in the temple.  In the temple players are going from room to room placing flags and collecting points.  Gone are the 10 point action point system from Tikal, and instead players are free to go anywhere on the board that they want, as long as they have the right coloured key.  Overall a fun game (did I mention that I managed to squeak out a win in the end?) that I will definitely be buying!

Eminent Domain – the big deck building game from Tasty Minstrel that has received twice as much funding from Kickstarter as they needed.  The game is only in prototype form, but other people had printed out a copy for themselves and brought it with them – so it was being played by a lot of people throughout the convention.  I’m not a huge fan of space games, but there are some great mechanics in this game that makes it not similar to Dominion at all.  I enjoyed the fact that you could specialize in one area, and that players could follow the actions of other players.  That kept everyone interested on everyone else’s turn.  I didn’t like that the tech cards that you can research were too confusing for a newbie to understand.  Because of that I decided to not specialize at all in Research and that was a big mistake and I knew I lost early on in the game.  Still, with some minor refining, the game could be made more accessible to us newbs and will probably be a big hit for Tasty Minstrel.

Rattus – While it’s a bit unpredictable, I enjoyed the theme and variability the game has based on which roles you use in the game.  Players place their player markers in different regions and then move the plague indicator to a region.  If there are rat tokens and player markers in that region, then they are turned over to see if any player markers die because of the plague.  Fortunately players can recruit various roles to help them, though the more roles they use, the higher the probability that a player’s markers will be infected by the plague.  Interesting, but possibly a little too unpredictable.  I’ll play it again though.

 

Dislikes:

Merkator: This is Rosenberg’s next game after Agricola, Le Havre and Gates of Louyang.  The only good thing I can say about this game is that it at least doesn’t feel like a derivative of any of these games.  I like Agricola and Le Havre is pretty good, but there are a lot of shared mechanics between those and even Gates of Louyang.  In Merkator players move a shared marker around the world in order to collect a specific resource.  While he’s there a player can fulfill a goal card if it’s for that location and he has the proper resources.  Did I mention there are about 16 different resources?  The game feels very abstract and has no theme at all.  If I wanted to play a spreadsheet, I’d just go to work.  Boo.

Games that were getting good buzz but I didn’t get a chance to try yet:

Navegador – seemed like I would enjoy this new Rondel based game.

K2 – a very themey game about mountain climbing that was getting some good buzz.

7 Wonders – this was the big hit of convention, though it had its haters as well.  I learned the rules but never had a chance to play it.  It plays up to 7 players but probably is best with 4-5.  You only ever interact with a player on either side of you so some people didn’t like that.  Almost everyone liked that it could play up to 7 in under an hour though.  Still can’t wait to try it!

Hansa Teutonica – I saw some people playing this and it seemed to generate a lot of positive buzz, though it doesn’t look like a game I’d like.  I’ll reserve judgement of course, until I’ve played it – which I want to do.

Nuremberc – Had the rules explained to me and it seems simple enough but I’m worried that the theme is irrelevant.  Looks pretty, as it’s illustrated by our friend Josh Cappel!  I’ll try it when it comes out.

I managed to increase the size of my game collection as well as I purchased the following games from either the vendors or from the flea market that was held on Saturday:

Grand Cru – the new game about making wine.  I got this to play with my friend Matt who’s also making a wine game – which unfortunately is becoming a saturated theme!

Merchants in the Middle Ages – a ‘new’ game from Kramer.  It’s really just a reprint of Die Handler, which I haven’t played but I’ve been happy with Kramer’s game more often that I haven’t.

El Capitan – an older Kramer game that I never played – but as I mentioned above, it’s Kramer!

Gheos – a tile laying game – which I always like.

Aton – a 2-player game from Queen games. This was one of the free games that everyone could choose from.  I heard this was good!

Atlantis – a more complicated Cartegane ??? which is cool – plus it’s Atlantis…!

Money – a Knizia game I’ve enjoyed but never picked up.  Got it cheap at the flea market.

Pick Two – a good word game that I got super cheap.

Boardgamegeek the Boardgame – I heard it’s not really good, but it was another free game from BGG.con!

Now I have to go rearrange my game shelves to somehow accommodate these new games!

-Jay Cormier