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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

THE CREATIVE GAMER - Making mini-"Troyes" (OR, my impatience overshadows the potential for the reprint)

(Warning - this is a really long post with a lot of pictures! If you don't feel like reading everything just jump down to the sections that look interesting and look at the pics, especially near the end although the ones in the middle are cool, too. I thought about breaking it up but thought I'd just make you, poor reader, suffer instead. You're welcome.)

Last year just after Essen, Lorna brought back a bunch of games she'd purchased (as she always does) and invited a few people over to play (as she always does). I got to try out some the previous year (after Essen 2009) and enjoyed the experience and didn't want to miss out this year as well. I had a couple of games I really wanted to try including The Great Fire of London 1666, Norenberc, Key Market, Porto Carthago, Sun, Sea & Sand, and Troyes (among others).

Of those, I still haven't played Norenberc or Porto Carthago. Lorna traded away Norenberc after a couple of plays and I didn't even get a chance to try it :(  I'm hoping to get to play it eventually (even if she didn't like it), as well as Porto Carthago. The Great Fire was good but not quite what I was expecting. After a 2nd play earlier this year I enjoyed it a bit more than the first and would still eventually like to get a copy as I love the theme.

PLAYING TROYES FOR THE FIRST TIME
Troyes had some of the best buzz coming out of Essen so I was really looking forward to it. And, I think it ended up being the first game I got to try out of the bunch. The first round took well over an hour as the mechanics were so different, the iconography was puzzling, and the rules were a bit of trouble to get through.

Eventually we struggled through it enough to complete a game. I REALLY enjoyed it. I loved the interesting usage of dice and all the things you could do with them. The idea of competing for which color dice you get, the different benefits of each type, plus being able to improve upon/change bad rolls was all very interesting and exciting.

FAILED ACQUISITION OF TROYES
I decided I wanted a copy for myself. So, I went looking for one but it was almost no where to be found (or at least not for a very reasonable price). They had pretty much sold off all their stock at Essen and only a few remained for retail purchase. I found a couple of copies on the BGG Marketplace but they were all in Europe with high price tags and just as high shipping. And, there were murmurs of Z-Man publishing it in the future. I decided to wait although I knew it likely would be a longish wait. Could I wait? Hmmmm, well yes.

THE SEEDS OF DESIRE ARE SOWN
At first I DID entertain the thought of making my own copy. I know some people frown on this but generally I only would consider it if it was out-of-print and hard-to-get or just not available at all. Really, all of this was true and murmurs of re-prints can often take months or years, if ever. Although, I was pretty sure this game would get a new printing and probably not too horribly far off either to meet the demand that Essen had generated.

So, I waited. For a while. Well, ok, it ended up being only a couple of weeks. I originally played it for the first time on October 25th. I had a mostly usable copy made by November 11th and it was pretty much completed by November 17th.

Now, in my defense, I REALLY WASN'T planning on making a copy. Anyone who knows me knows that I'll do things the hard/long way because if I'm going to make the effort to re-create a game I'm not going to do it half-way. And, because of this, I knew it would be a lot of work. So, I decided against it and figured I would just wait.

But THEN one evening I remembered I had some miniature dice (100 to be exact) that I'd purchased for $1 from some online deal earlier in the year. Hmmm, I wondered if it had the correct distribution of dice....? I checked. It did! Well, except there weren't enough WHITE dice if you can believe that. And not enough BLACK dice. BUT, it had enough yellow and red dice. I found I DID have enough green dice to maybe use in place of the white dice. And, there were enough purple dice to replace the black. Those seemed like reasonable trade-offs. Although, I was concerned the yellow and green might get confused. And I knew I'd have to deal with the fact that the white building and spaces would now have green dice associated with them. But ah well, I was excited to possibly have found a use for some of these dice that had been sitting around for months!

But did I really want to make this game? Did I have the rest of the components to put it all together? Did I really want to spend the time doing this project?


THE IDEA OF MAKING TROYES GROWS
Yes, I was interested in doing it. Finding the dice had got me thinking about it. So, of course, I had to look around at what I had available. I remembered having an old Scrabble game that I'd pilfered for the wooden tiles to use in Dicke Daemonen and in Frischfleisch. I thought maybe I could use the board from it. I pulled it out and started imagining the Scrabble board grid for the town area.

Next, I found a Carcassonne: Inns and Cathedrals expansion box that wasn't being used as I had merged the tiles into the base game box. It was obviously too small to house the full Scrabble board, but I figured if I cut it down into pieces it might work.

Digging around a bit more I went through a box of components I had. I found I had a set of decent cardboard tiles from Delta V that might work in place of the various cards used for the building activity cards and the event cards. I wanted something smaller to both fit with the small dice and also fit onto the smaller Scrabble board. The square shape JUST about fit a 4x4 grid area of Scrabble spaces. Well, it was closer to 4-1/2 x 4-1/2 so a bit of overlap.

Also, many of the tiles had big colored asteroids on them (not so appropriate although I had a weird theme idea that might 'make sense') and they had colored numbers in the corners that matched the green, red and yellow dice colors and also matched up almost perfectly with the numbers of spaces on the different event cards! NICE! I counted the tiles and counted the number of cards needed. I had enough plus a couple of extras to do a couple of additional things with perhaps (such as a starting player marker). Also, there were some smaller tiles that I thought could be used for making tiny player aids and such.

Hmmm, things really seemed to be coming together nicely!

RAIDING CHESS FOR TROYES
Finally, for playing pieces I pilfered a small magnetic travel chess/checkers board I had. The chess pieces could be black and white player colors and the red and white checker pieces could be another red and....more white player pieces (just different shapes - I could always color them later I guess)s. These pieces would serve as counters for the various tracks as well as meeples to represent workers in the buildings. For the neutral player pieces I used the colored rockets left over from Delta V. Ok, those don't exactly fit the theme, but they would do.

Speaking of theme, my initial idea was to maybe do a weird melding of Troyes and Delta V with the idea of space aliens invading ancient Troyes. Delta V came with some alien tiles and I was going to use those as the secret scoring characters for the end game, but ultimately, I realized that was just silly and abandoned the idea. The rockets remain though as do the asteroids on the event cards. I likely will update both in the future, but for now I can live with it.

To round out the player pieces I needed something for the cubes. I had a few lying around, but not the right colors and/or amounts. I DID have a lot of glass beads and was able to match up similar colors to the chess/checker pieces.

And, to top it all off, I had some extra colored petri dishes I had picked up in early 2010, so I used one for each player's pieces, a 5th for the neutral player, and a 6th to hold the dice and some tiddlywinks that I was going to use to place under the player track markers to represent having wrapping around when exceeding the highest values (not likely, but possible for the money and VPs)


Some of white's player pieces in a clear petri dish (and black partially shown -
in a blue petri dish as a black one wasn't available)


THE MOCKING OF TROYES
To see if this would actually all work on the Scrabble board I started mocking it up:

Early mock-up of Troyes copy

You can see the Scrabble board was cut into three pieces (the top section is two halves) - I cut them to fit into the Carc expansion box when folded. The city is on the main board above and the event cards are on the board below 'across the moat'.

Something that is not immediately noticeable on the original board is that you have the walled city surrounded by a moat and then the event cards are 'attacking' the city from below. I wanted to simulate this a bit more using the distinction between the city and the land leading up to the main gate where the event cards are by creating a physical separation between the boards. It also leaves a bit of room for moving on the influence track (which would go along the top of the events board) and the city board.

In my version, I decided to get rid of money tokens and VP tokens making both open information and tracked on the board, just as Influence points were. The money track would go around the outside of the main city board (actually, along the top half) and the VP track would go around the event cards on that board.

I liked this general layout - it wasn't perfect but I liked trying to keep it on the Scrabble grid such that it echoed the board's origins without detracting from the game.

TROYES RISES - STICKER BY STICKER
On my computer I started creating all the bits and pieces I would need for the different parts of the board, etc. I decided to make Scrabble space sized squares, print them onto sticker paper, cut them out and then sticker them to the board. The benefit to this was I could lay out where I wanted everything to go first physically on the board. The drawback was I had a lot of little stickers to cut out and then apply....one.....by......one......... (see, I told you I like doing things the hard way)

Here's the beginning of the final layout with many of the stickers on the board and some laid out as I planned for where the different colors would go:

Updated board with many of the stickers applied

Note that the tiles all take textures from different parts of the original game, but with modified colors. Also note that everything that was originally WHITE I had to change to GREEN. I figured out some tricks to making this relatively painless that I won't go into here. Actually, after printing everything, I found the yellow and the green looked very similar in some cases. For the most part, this really ended up not mattering too much, but I would probably do it a little different if I had to do it again.

You will notice a few key changes I made to my board versus the original:

  1. I got rid of the player districts in the middle of the board (these will be handled by the petri dishes as noted further below)
  2. I changed the direction of the 'push' action for the buildings - all player pieces get pushed toward the center of the board instead.
  3. I moved the Cathedral to the other side of the board. It seemed to make sense to put it near the Bishopric and it fit my self-imposed restrictions of fitting within the Scrabble squares section.
  4. I moved the activity cards to the 'front' of the city all together so they are easier to see as a group when evaluating them.

ACTIVITY CARDS TAKE SHAPE
In addition to laying out the board I began working on the activity and event cards. For the activity cards, I tired of having to look up what each one did, so I incorporated the title as well as the function directly on the cards. I also got rid of the flavor pictures and just stuck with the basics as I didn't have a lot of room to work with:

The activity cards

I applied stickers to the back indicating color and level.

Closeup of one of the activity cards ('Monk' shown here)



PLAYING BEFORE THE WORK IS DONE
At this point, I actually had a semi-working copy with the activity and event cards done and enough of the board laid out that I played a game of it with Bob (although the money track wasn't completed yet so I think we used poker chips for money, or maybe drew one up in pen on a piece of paper). I found the activity cards worked well as I didn't have to use a reference sheet to determine the function most of the time. Bob did well the first game and ended up winning. I really liked having the VP information open as you could immediately see who was ahead and how much work you had to try to catch up. And, with the character cards still hidden, there was still tension around what the final score would be.

However, two things were problematic when I played with Bob. 1) He wasn't able to tell easily which character he had and what the scoring was for each one based on the goal icons, even with a reference sheet; and 2) because I had left the alien picture on the tiles rather than adding the actual Troyes character picture, it was a bit confusing because they all looked the same. Thus, I revamped those tiles by adding text explaining exactly the goals and I changed the pictures to match the actual game characters. 

The character (i.e. secret goal) cards
Except, there was still a need to show ALL the characters so that you could play for the other secret goals. This was resolved with a custom player aid....

MINI-TROYES DREAMS
One of my goals for creating this game was getting it to fit into the Carcassonne expansion box. To do this I needed to keep everything small. So, for the character reference, I took the smaller Delta V tiles and came up with a method for stickering them such that it would all fold up neatly. Here's the result:

Character reference folded up


Unfolding the character reference


Everything at a glance!
I used a similar method to create tiny player aids using the same small tiles:

Miniature player aids

Yes, I made four but only 3 are in the picture to show both sides and then how it folds up. And no, I don't have giant hands (actually I have kind of small hands) -- the reference cards are very small!

Turn summary

Dice purchase costs and special action summary
Also notice I re-designed the reference information slightly as well - the flipping action I think it more clear here as is the re-roll action. Hopefully :)

THE DREAM BECOMES REALITY

Finally, after everything was built (I didn't cover everything here, but you'll see the rest in the pictures below) I created stickers for the box. Here is the final result showing the box and how all the components fit into it, then finally a sample game layout.

Carc expansion box covered with stickers

Bottom of the box - in reverse!

Let's see what's inside....

The boards are on top and bundled together

Taking the boards out reveals all the tiles and petri dishes

The bundles of activity cards

Stacked activity cards + event cards bundled next to them

The player aids

Dice and tiddly winks in a clear petri dish, neutral player in blue

White/clear for one player, red for another

White/silver in yellow petri, black in a blue petri

The farmer/money action tile and the start player piece

Event cards sorted by type
The tile at the bottom is the Marauders that is the 'permanent' event - I just made it as another tile and place it in the first event position on the event board.

Close-up of the DROUGHT event tile
The event tiles are what I'm least happy with at this point. I literally made separate stickers for each 'spot' and another sticker for the bottom showing the event, dice combo required, and VPs awarded. I like the pre-printed numbers that mostly matched up with the actual event cards, but ultimately, they don't really help much and the colored meteors are distracting to the theme. I want to re-make these as solid stickers like I did with the activity cards.

The boards with no pieces/cards on them
(sorry for the poor exposure)


Fully set up for the initial turn
Notice I'm using the petri dish lids as the 'districts'. Each person assembles their workforce as normal and then rolls their dice in their own dish (marked with one of their markers to show ownership). Then, everyone can push them together in the center of the table for the action phases.

Closer shot of all districts pushed together

This actually works really well and makes handling the tiny dice a lot more manageable (as opposed to having tiny dice rolling around all over the table, onto the floor, etc)

Notice the separate petri dish on the far left holding the purple (aka black) dice for when the invaders attack.


Closeup of the black player's district
after assembling the workforce

Closeup of the event board with the influence track (top)
and VP track (around the events)

Just like in the regular game, once the event card spaces on the board are filled up then they will simply go off to the side as necessary.

Close-up of the city board
Finally, for the city board, there is a money track that runs along the top half of the board - basically where the split between the two board halves meet is where it stops/starts. It's hard to see but each space is labelled with a coin and a number.

Along the bottom part of the city is the city wall which allows for glass bead placement for the delayed action activity cards - just place the beads on the wall near the appropriate card (as there isn't space for them on the cards themselves). I noticed none of the Level III activity cards have a delayed action so they were put more towards the middle where they don't need space to store the beads.

One issue I ran into with the city walls was that the actual board proportions didn't fit the proportions of my board. So, I found sections that I could cut out and repeat several times to make the wall look mostly ok - little gaps between the stickers actually helped with this as it disguises the mis-matches really well. There are a couple of places where they don't quite match up or the perspective is backwards, but unless you're looking closely you won't really notice.

ARE YOU NUTS!?!? THAT LOOKS IMPOSSIBLE TO PLAY!
Yes, I am nuts. Just ask my gaming friends. 

But, it's not really all that difficult to play. Actually we played a 4-player game in January and it went very well. Occasionally someone would accidentally flip a die when trying to move it around, but with them being in the plastic petri dishes it's pretty easy to just push them around with your finger to group them. I saw accidentally flipping with the regular dice when playing the regular game, too, so I don't think this is anything unexpected. In fact, it was kinda fun playing with the tiny dice. 

The rest of the game functions just as you expect it would. Playing with open VPs didn't seem to detract from the game at all and, in fact, gives you a better idea of who to target when stealing buying dice from other players.

Overall, my version has gotten a lot of attention when I bring it with me - there were several people looking it over at the EGG convention in February (although it didn't get played as there were original versions there)

I'm happy with the final results and I'm glad I spent the time to make it even though I still haven't gotten to play it as much as I'd like. I still plan on buying the Z-Man version once it comes out, but I'll always treasure my own copy as well.

If you actually read through this entire post I just want to say THANK-YOU! I hope you enjoyed the read. And, even if you just skimmed through it, thank-you as well for stopping by to take a look! (If you didn't read this post, then shame on you! Ha, you probably didn't read that, did you!?)

Now, go buy Troyes when it finally hits the stores (or at least some other cool dice game like Yspahan, Alien Frontiers, Stone Age, Kingsburg, etc)

(BTW, I obtained permission from the designers that it was ok to post my pics. I won't be providing any files to anyone though out of respect for their design and due to the reprint coming out soon - sorry)

5 comments:

  1. Absolutely incredible! I don't know what to say!

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  2. Very nice work, Matt. Of course, now that you've put in all that effort, you have guaranteed that Troyes will be available soon from Z-Man. Thanks for that!

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  3. One of the key things in Troyes is buying dice from the other players. Moving dice about, and not dropping, rotating accidentally, etc can be difficult. I dread to think how hard it will be with these tiny dice!

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  4. I also cobbled my own together, but instead using the pieces from Caylus and Hansa Teutonica. I applaud your effort, but am dismayed at your misguided enthusiasm for the Hobbit gamer niche.

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  5. @Speechless: Glad you like it!
    @richtoosoon: Yes, that is part of my evil plan....mwa-ha-ha-ha :)
    @Anonymous: It really isn't too bad - one of my friends who has largish hands seemed to do fine. I think the petri dishes is what helps as there's plenty of room in each to move stuff around and keep it under control.
    @Tim: LOL! You should be careful what you say as my Hobbit friends may start to come after you for saying that! (yessssss my preciousssssss)

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Comments are open to anyone. Criticism is fine if it's clean and reasonable. Anything deemed inappropriate by me will be removed.

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