News for October 2008
Kingsburg Designer Diary, Part 2: Astronomer
Interview by JR Godwin and Jay Little
Kingsburg | Published 16 October 2008

Kingsburg's Luca Iennaco talks about the work that went into the game after Andrea's initial design.

 
What was the original inspiration for Kingsburg?
 
Andrea. It was his own project; I just worked on it trying to remain faithful to that original concept while improving it where possible.
 
How long did the entire process take from your design concepts to the final product?
 
I saw the prototype of the game that would become Kingsburg for the first time on 3rd June 2006. The definitive version of the game (as far as design, development and playtesting were concerned; excluding production issues like artwork, etc.) was ready sometime around April 2007.
 
However, while I had been actively working on it for about a year, Andrea had already been tinkering with it for some months, and the production took a few more months after that, thus overall it needed a couple of years or so.
 
 
What are you most pleased with about the game design?
 
The originality of the idea to "use dice to draft resources" — the setting is far from original, but I'm more interested in gameplay than theme. It is what gave Kingsburg a special appeal to me, intriguing me enough to work on the prototype to polish it.
 
After playing hundreds of different games, it's harder and harder to find one with some original idea — nothing bad with it, some re-implementations of old and trusted mechanics are still excellent, but when I feel again the joy of discovering something new, thinking "how clever" or "how intriguing" as soon as I've read about it, I'm immediately more interested in it.
 
Besides, I'm personally pleased with the overall balance of the game (it's what I've been working upon for most of the time, after all!) and how it has simple, intuitive rules, yet leading to several choices and offering different strategies.
 
What can you tell us about the upcoming Kingsburg expansion?
 
The expansion is going to be composed of five "modules" — think about them as five mini-expansions all in one box, if you prefer. One or more modules can be added to the game in order to customize it to your liking (and/or to have a slightly different challenge each time).
 
They are:
 
Two extra rows of buildings — one more expensive than any other to build but granting a lot of resources once you get it going, the other the cheapest of them all, giving small but nice bonuses.
Seven "alternative rows" of buildings, each replacing one of the seven standard ones. Each player gets two of these during setup and thus has a slightly different board than the others to manage.
More than twenty Characters, each one with a special ability. Every player gets one of them (chosen within the three randomly dealt to him in the setup) and enjoys his/her special power for the whole game. The power may be points, resources, small rule-bending triggering upon actions of the opponents, etc.
More than twenty Events. They're shuffled and one is revealed at the start of each year, producing a special effect for that year only, which may be helpful, neutral or detrimental, but it's always equally applied to all players.
An alternative (deterministic) way to handle wintry reinforcements: rather than the die, each player gets six tokens numbered 0, 1, 1, 2, 3 and 4 during setup; at the beginning of each Winter you use and discard a token to get that many extra soldiers from the King. The token that you still have after the fifth year is converted into that many points.
 
 
Which pathway in Kingsburg do you feel is the most underrated?
 
Is there one? If you listen to enough players, you're likely to hear all sorts of answers about the strongest or weakest building, line, advisor, etc.
 
Personally, I think all games offering this sort of "varied effects" during play lead people to believe some effect is better (or worse) that the other; but when the game is properly designed (as I think Kingsburg is), it's more about your tastes, your style when playing (and those of your mates) and also the tactical situations such as number of players.
 
In the same vein, one can ask: which side (or character) is stronger in Lord of the Rings — the Confrontation or World of Warcraft: The Board Game? I'd give the same answer to both these questions that I said before: ask enough people, and you'll hear all sorts of opinions.
 
How do you change your strategy when playing with three players as opposed to five players?
 
More players mean a more crowded board, so dice manipulation is more important (or relying only on what you roll is more risky, if you prefer to see it in that way). Thus, I value the first two buildings of the two topmost rows (Statue, Chapel, Inn and Market) more necessary with five players than they are with three.
 
As long as general strategies are concerned, no matter how many people are playing, I tend to go with something that no one is trying in that game. That's not due to a particular desire to distinguish myself, but merely to "duty": since most of the times I've played Kingsburg it was during development (of the basic game first and of the expansion after), I wanted to confront as many different approaches as possible.
 
What is your favorite councillor on the board? Which councillor is overlooked the most?
 
I'm going to give the obvious answer: the Astronomer (Advisor #7). Because it's a nice homage the graphics guys (Luca Somaschini and his team) made to me (it was really a pleasant surprise!) and because it showcases one of the major contributions I added to the original prototype: the "+2" tokens.
 
About the second question, I must go with the same answer I've given about the "pathways"… ask enough people and you'll hear all sorts of answers (except maybe no one seems to overlook the Queen).
 
What is your favourite story about Kingsburg?
 
When I played the prototype for the first time (at that local convention, in June 2006), I liked it (especially the idea about rolling dice to draft resources), but felt that it was still quite unpolished. Andrea was perfectly aware of it; in fact he was gathering feedback from players exactly for that reason: improving the game.
 
It would have all ended there, with me thinking "I'd like to try it again at the next con, to see if and how it will have been ameliorated", if one of my friends who just took part in that game hadn't asked me to reproduce it in order to play it between us at one of my "gaming evenings". I asked Andrea for permission to annotate the stats of the game and proving again to be the kind gentleman that he is, he allowed me to do so.
 
So, in the next days I created my own copy of the prototype, wrote a draft of the rulebook, played the game some more times and made some changes to it for my own enjoyment — I was just customizing "my own copy" with house rules, as I do at times with published games too.
 
At that point, knowing that designers are always looking for feedback on their game, I e-mailed my thoughts (and additions) to Andrea. In his reply, he thanked me and also asked to work with him to develop the game! And so I became part of the team, and spent many hours in the next months playing the game, tweaking it, thinking about it and discussing about it.
 
I hope whoever will buy the final product will be as pleased with it as I was during the journey that lead to it — a journey I perhaps wouldn't have started if a friend of mine had not been so enthralled by that first prototype!
    
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