Kingdom building, of sorts

A friend was talking to me about wanting to find a game that, and I can't remember his exact words, was a lightish, quickish kingdom building, strategy game, and he liked the idea of having elements interacting with each other by proximity to each other.  Actually, his words were quite a lot different from that as I am pretty sure I am conflating a couple of things that we were talking about, but let's run with this as a starting point anyway.  There are almost certainly some other games out there that would fit this, but I'm wanting to design things, right?
A bunch of stuff scribbled onto little squares of card, all put on a chessboard with some cubes.  All the glamour of game prototyping.

My first thought on this was to do a tableau building card game.  As you build up the tableau and activate cards for special abilities, the effects are influenced by how far away certain other cards are in the display.  I can see a couple of potential problems here right away: firstly that card tableaux can easily take up a lot of table and I would prefer light games to take up controllable amounts of space in general, and secondly this might result in little direct player interaction and I think we were really looking for a game that allows you to attack your rivals.  That said, I quite like the idea of attacking players adjacent to you around the table, but not further away, which can have some interesting repercussions in games with four or more players.

I next thought of tile laying.  I very much like tile-laying games, whether open ones like Carcassonne, where a map is built which can sprawl over the table in unpredictable ways (though see my earlier comments about table space) or ones that restrict themselves to a finite grid, like in Kingdoms.  Tiles as a game component don't really do anything that cards don't, but can have a wonderful tactility and would generally allow for a more compact play area than cards would allow.  I like the rapid flow of both of those games where each turn is not much more than draw a tile and place it somewhere.

Another game that comes to mind at this point is Tigris & Euphrates, which is a kind of kingdom building game which I haven't played for some years, which has players building up blocks of tiles, though the blocks don't necessarily correspond with player-controlled kingdoms.

I think this time I'll try going with tiles.  Here are some of the thoughts I noted down to try to develop the idea...
  • Tiles contain locations like farms, markets, forts, castles, etc. 
  • A row of tiles equal to one more tile than the number of players is on display.
  • Each player on turn chooses one tile from the row, then places it on the board.
  • If there are no tiles available at the start of a player's turn, then that player draws replacement tiles (1 + number of players).
  • Most tiles provide some sort of resource (food, gold, military strength...).  That resource is projected over a number of spaces (-1 per space).
  • Most tiles require a certain number of resources to allow their placement (projected a number of spaces as above).  Resources can contribute to placing a tile if they are either controlled by the active player, or are neutral (no control marker on them).  So, for example, a Market might project 2 gold, meaning that 2 gold is available to tiles on adjacent spaces, and 1 gold to tiles two spaces away.
  • When placed, a player places one of their control markers onto the new tile.  If they have no control marker available, they move it from another tile.
  • Conflict: a control marker can be removed from a rival controlled tile or added to a neutral tile, subject to influence projected by castles and forts (work out  the details) plus a card play (I envisage something like having cards numbered 1 to 6, allowing you to play one card to add to combat strength, and having to cycle through all cards before restarting).  Details to be figured out.
  • Victory: no idea as yet, but having something that pretty much requires conflict to take place would be good.
  • Also... I think this is likely to be pretty dry as is, so some sort of wackifying influence is required. This could be event cards, special abilities, secret victory conditions, etc.  This needs more thought, but I think only really needs to be worried about if the basic mechanics are solid.
So, I thought, let's try some of this out.  I figured that I would start off with the very basics and made a couple of dozen "tiles", each with a title, a requirement for building and something that it provides.  For instance, a market requires 1 food and provides 2 food, while a fort requires 1 food and 1 gold, and provides 1 military.  Adding a couple of starter tiles and a few cubes in two colours, I was able to try playing this at its most basic level, using a chess board to provide the playing area.

Some thoughts on this experience...
  • The "game" such as it is plays pretty smoothly, even though it is boring.
  • Without a scoring or victory system in place there is nothing to do here... but I knew that when I started trying this out, so this isn't a problem.
  • Even using just half a chessboard, it took several turns for player moves to even look like they were going to affect each other.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it needs to be noted.
  • I had basic production tiles producing 1 of either gold or food, but that seems to be too limiting.  Making the base production 2 would allow a lot more flexibility.
  • I had a few "advanced" tiles (like a castle, which is an upgrade for a fort), which are utterly useless if they turn up in the first couple of rounds.
  • Related, there should be a way to allow a player to discard a tile instead of drawing one.
  • A "flat" board is dull.  Having some sort of terrain would be good, and could restrict placement of certain tiles (e.g. mines on mountains, farms on... not mountains).
  • Maybe some strategic locations added to the board could help things along.
  • As it stands, production and supply only affects placement of tiles.  There is not really a "machine" to build.  This isn't necessarily a problem (driving a machine can be fiddly) but may limit depth.
So, some things to think about here.  I think my next step has to be to provide some sort of objective, turn the board into some sort of a map (maybe as simple at first as black squares are mountains, white are not), and maybe have a setup phase where players have an initial hand of basic tiles to play before we get into drafting tiles that may be more advanced.


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