Monthly Archives: April 2017

Crescendo mechanic

A discussion on Reddit a little while ago pointed out a common mechanic (or mechanism, if you prefer) that many games use, but which lacks a name. I love this mechanic, and I call it the crescendo mechanic. Once I started looking for it, I saw it in more places than I expected.

Crescendo is an Italian word meaning “growing” and it usually shows up in music to tell the musician to gradually get louder. The long “greater than” sign that appears below the music staff in the image above is the crescendo symbol, and it is telling the reader to go from “mezzo forte” (medium loud) to “forte” (loud) over the course of a few notes.

In board games, the crescendo mechanic means that something the players could choose gets bigger or more valuable the longer it goes unchosen. If you pass over it, some resources or points get added to it so that it becomes more attractive to choose in the future.

Examples of crescendo mechanics

No Thanks: If a player doesn’t want to take the card, they must put a chip on it. The card keeps gathering chips until someone agrees to take it, at which point they get to keep the chips.

Image credit: Sampo Sikiö on BoardGameGeek

Agricola: Certain resource collection spaces get more and more resources on them with each passing turn, until a player eventually spends an action to take all of them.

Image credit: Robin REEVE on BoardGameGeek

Puerto Rico: Every role that does not get selected in a round gets a coin on it. Whenever a player takes a role, they get all of the coins that have accumulated on it.

Image credit: Miquel Garcia on BoardGameGeek

Small World: If you don’t want a particular race/class combination, you can put a coin on it to pass over it to move on to the next one. Whenever a race/class combo is taken by a player, that player gets the coins on it. I’ll note that Daniel Solis talked about this specific type of crescendo mechanic in 2014 as “pay to pick.”

Image credit: Manuel Pombeiro on BoardGameGeek

Alchemy Bazaar: The longer a shop has gone unchosen, the more valuable the goods it will pay to the player who eventually chooses it (liquid, then metal, then gem).

Why Crescendo is a great mechanic

There are several reasons that I love the crescendo mechanic, reasons that explain why it shows up so many places.

Feeling of building. Players love to feel like they are building something in a game. With the crescendo mechanic, you get some of that building feeling as a choice gets better and better. And it can lead to memorable moments: “Wow, I can’t believe you let me get nine wood from that spot in Agricola!”

Press your luck. In many games with crescendo elements, you might be willing to take the choice at its current value, but you might decide to “let it ride” and hope that you can take it later, when it’s even more valuable. This adds some great tension to the game and gets the players to judge one another – are you going to take this if I let it get more valuable, or do you want something else even more?

Automatic balancing. Figuring out exactly the right cost or reward for every game element can be extremely difficult for a game designer. The crescendo mechanic lets the designer put choices in front of the players at a low value and let the players decide when the choice is valuable enough to take.

Rewards skill. Crescendo is a very low-luck mechanic. A player who is better at figuring out what one choice is worth relative to another is going to do very well in games with crescendo elements. It’s a bit of a “shopping” mechanic: How good does the item have to be before it’s a good deal for the price? This gives players a great deal of control over their fortunes.

Other implementations?

I have a feeling that crescendo is a mechanic that shows up in subtle ways in all sorts of games. Does a drafting game where your first set of cards might come back to you have a bit of a crescendo element to it (take this good card now, or take a different good card plus the original one if it comes back)? Are there games where players choose where to crescendo, making only one possible choice among many more valuable when they choose something else? How else might crescendo be used in the future?

I’d love to hear about other interesting uses of crescendo in games. Definitely let me know if you’ve seen some good ones, either here or on Twitter.

Michael Iachini, @ClayCrucible on Twitter

State of Clay Crucible Games, Spring 2017

Over on Reddit, someone asked me about the status of a game they remember I was working on a couple of years ago, and that made me realize that it might be fun and informative for me to write a “state of the company” post, focused on where my various designs stand right now. Let’s dive in!

Chaos & Alchemy: Out of print, still available from some retailers

This was my first ever game design, and the game that inspired the name of my company (Clay Crucible was one of my favorite cards from the game). I published the first edition in 2012, and Game Salute published the second edition in 2014.

The rights to publish Chaos & Alchemy have now reverted to me, but I don’t have any plans to do anything with them. You can still typically find copies of the second edition on Amazon or the BGG marketplace for somewhere around MSRP.

Otters: Available via print-on-demand

Otters was my second published game, which was also the first Kickstarter campaign I ran on my own. This was quite a pleasant experience, start to finish! It’s a simple game, aimed at kids, with cute pictures of otters on the cards. The Kickstarter campaign exceeded the funding goal, and I delivered rewards ahead of the promised date.

Now the game lives on in a print-on-demand format from DriveThruCards. I’ve just added a printed tuck box to the game there, which should make for a much nicer overall product.

Alchemy Bazaar: Under development by Grey Fox Games

As I wrote back in 2014, Grey Fox Games signed Alchemy Bazaar for publication. The company went through some changes in the intervening years which led to Alchemy Bazaar being slower to see print than originally expected, but they are now actively developing it. I don’t know when to expect it to actually come out, but let’s say “someday.” Probably within the next year, I’m guessing.

Everest: Technically unsigned, maybe will be published by Grey Fox Games

Everest is in an odd little limbo. I wrote about this in that same 2014 blog post. Randy from Foxtrot Games put me in contact with Shane from Grey Fox Games due to Shane’s interest in Everest. I showed Shane both Everest and Alchemy Bazaar at Gen Con 2014, and Shane liked them both. He wanted to do Alchemy Bazaar first, and that’s the only game we have a contract for. But Everest might come from Grey Fox someday, I suppose. <shrug>

Fibercraft: Forthcoming in 2017 from Clay Crucible Games

As I wrote recently, Fibercraft is my newest game, and I’m planning to publish this one myself. Stay tuned!

 

And now for the really obscure games:

Gods & Champions: Shelved

This was my second game design attempt, started during NaGaDeMon 2012. I wanted to build a card game where you had a Champion that you were adding powers to, but each round the Champions could be swapped around,

Mansion Builder: Shelved

I put up three designer diary posts about this game, and I continued developing it for several months past the final diary post (my last version of the game is dated July 2014 and the last blog post was April 2014). I took it to a local convention for playtesting, and it went okay, but not well enough for me to get passionate about polishing it.

This was also about the time that I decided I needed to spend more time with my wife and less time developing and playtesting games, so I intentionally backed off for a while.

Robo Battle: Shelved, almost certainly forever

I never blogged about this game, but I demo it at a couple of local conventions. The funny story here is that it has been totally superseded by Mechs vs. Minions.

A little known fact about MvM is that it was based on an older, never widely published game called Weapons of Zombie Destruction. That game was designed by Stone Librande, who is a friend of a friend of mine. Our common friend had a copy of WZD that I played back when I lived in San Francisco.

I always though WZD was an interesting game, so I started designing Robo Battle as my own twist on it. I didn’t get especially far, but then last year Mechs vs. Minions came out. I’m definitely not going to be able to compete with that! So, Robo Battle is on the trash heap.

Corporate Rivalry: Shelved

This is one you would only know about if you closely followed my tweets in early 2016. I enjoy Twilight Struggle, but I would love to capture a similar experience in a shorter play-time. So, I started designing my own twist on it, where the two players are rival corporations trying to gain market share in a region. A game like this needs a strong theme in order to direct the development, I think, and I don’t have that theme yet. I could see coming back to this one someday.

Clay Crucible Catan: Freely available!

This isn’t really a full-on design, but just a one-page printout to modify the rules of Catan (aka Settlers of Catan) to remove the luck of the dice. It’s basically a mash-up of Concordia and Catan. Honestly, I don’t think this one gets enough love, especially because I regularly see people complaining about how the dice can wreck a well-played game of Catan. Take out the dice!

 

So there you have it: The state of all of my games that have gotten at least as far as the prototype stage, as of spring 2017. Do any of the shelved games pique your interest? Have you seen any of these out in the wild? I’d love to hear about it!

Michael Iachini – @ClayCrucible on Twitter

Fibercraft – new game under development

I haven’t published any games since Otters in 2014, and that an intentional choice – game design and publication take a lot of time, and I have been devoting my time to other parts of my life.

However, I’m excited to announce that I’m working on a new game that I’ll be self-publishing. It’s called Fibercraft.

Fibercraft has two sources of inspiration. The theme is inspired by my wife Barbara’s business, Kitty Mine Crafts. The mechanics are inspired by an old Magic: The Gathering draft style that I don’t believe is used much anymore, called Winston Draft.

Fibercraft is about operating a business where you dye and sell various types of yarn and fiber (wool, alpaca, silk) to people who want to knit or crochet or spin or felt or whatever. This is what my wife has been doing for the past five years, and she’s built it into a successful business. The products are really pretty, and it sounded fun to me to make a game that would cross over with her shop.

The mechanics are inspired by a two-player Magic: The Gathering draft style known as Winston Draft. The idea is that there are three piles of cards to choose from, and on your turn you will look at the first pile and either take it or pass. If you take it, your turn is over, and you put one card from the deck in that pile’s place for your opponent to look at. If you pass, you put a card from the deck on top of the pile, and you then look at the second pile. You either take that one or pass. If you pass, add a card to it and look at the third pile. Take it or pass. If you pass, add a card to it, and take the top card of the deck.

The related inspiration here is 7 Wonders Duel, which is a two-player drafting game that my wife and I enjoy very much. Two-player drafting is just not a very common game type, and Duel does it so well. I liked the idea of something like Duel that wouldn’t take up so much table space and that would be a little more straightforward, so I decided on Winston Draft.

My first “proof of concept” playtest for Fibercraft was to take the 7 Wonders Duel cards and deal them out à la Winston Draft. I was pleased to discover that it worked pretty well! So, if you’re ever looking for a variant on 7 Wonders Duel, try Winston Drafting it instead of laying out the pyramid of cards.

I’ll write more about Fibercraft as the game development process moves along, but I’m pretty excited about it! I plan to self-publish this game in a manner very similar to the way I published Otters in 2014 – a Kickstarter campaign to cover the costs of doing a small print run. Nothing too fancy – I like to keep things simple.

If you enjoy games like 7 Wonders Duel and Patchwork, I think you’re going to like Fibercraft. That’s my goal!

Michael Iachini, Clay Crucible Games

@ClayCrucible on Twitter