Alchemy Bazaar: A new game design begins

Those of you who follow me on Twitter have probably seen some mentions in the past week of a new game I’m working on. My first game, Chaos & Alchemy, has been very successful (by my standards) and is in the process of moving toward publication by Game Salute.

My second design, Gods & Champions, was my NaGaDeMon project this past November, but it ended up not exciting me all that much, and I set it aside.

My third design, which I’m tentatively calling Alchemy Bazaar for now, is rolling along and I’m starting to playtest the alpha version. As of this writing, I’ve run three playtest games, and each one was better than the last.

Alchemy Bazaar is shamelessly inspired by one of my favorite games of the past year, Lords of Waterdeep. I love worker placement games (Agricola is still my all-time favorite game), and I really liked the buildings in Lords of Waterdeep. So, I decided to make a game that essentially takes those buildings and makes a whole game out of them.

In addition to buying buildings and doing worker placement, I also wanted to have the placement of buildings matter, somewhat like Alhambra but not quite. I wanted the players to build a common board, and then be able to not just place their workers, but also to move them around.

How does it work?

The game progresses through a series of rounds, each of which has two phases.

In the first phase the players are landlords of the bazaar. Each player gets to choose from three available tiles (representing shops that want to set up in the bazaar) and puts one on the board. The player collects some coins from the shop proprietor, who is eager to get a spot in the bazaar.

In the second phase, players get to move their tokens around the board, shopping in the bazaar. They’re trying to collect reagents (gems, metal and spirits) to complete alchemical formulas (similar to Lords of Waterdeep quests), which will give them knowledge. The player with the most knowledge at the end of the game wins.

The part I’m experimenting with here is the placement/movement rules for “workers” (alchemists and their apprentices). You can start by putting your token anywhere you want and using that shop. Then, you may pay a coin to move to an adjacent shop and use it. Then, you may pay two coins to keep going, then three, and so on. In the next round, your token starts wherever it ended the last round, and you begin your shopping by moving to an adjacent tile, then paying to keep going if you like.

My expectations

Unlike Chaos & Alchemy, I didn’t sit down and immediately create the game as soon as I had the general notion. I noodled on this one for a while. When I did start to create it, I expected that it would more or less immediately break down in play because of all the moving parts (tiles, formulas, actions, four currencies, movement on the board, etc.). I expected that I’d try an aborted game with my wife, then fix the fundamental flaws, then try again in a week, etc.

Happily, that hasn’t been the case at all. Much like Chaos & Alchemy, this one has been fun from the start. It’s only been played three times to this point, but those are some very encouraging games. The most recent game involved me flagging down a couple of strangers at the local game store, playing a game with them, seeing them have a great time, and only after the fact learn that they’re not even board gamers. That’s a very encouraging development!

Interestingly, I’m finding out how much fun good game components can be. After my first game, I replaced the Lords of Waterdeep cubes I had been using with some cool beads to represent the reagents. After my second game, I printed the tiles onto sticker labels and put them on matte board to create actual tiles instead of the cardstock I had been using. Such an improvement!

Next steps

I haven’t yet gotten to try the game with my favorite playtester, and I’m sure he’ll have some great suggestions for me. Also, the Formula and Action cards haven’t gotten a whole lot of thought yet, and I’m sure I’ll be able to refine them to include more of the fun stuff. But so far so good!

Watch the blog for future updates. And who knows? Maybe I’ll have a second board game out in the wild before long!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Lords of Waterdeep, and a break to build MapTool macros

I don’t usually go multiple weeks without a post here on Online Dungeon Master, so I thought I’d give my loyal fans an update.

I’ve been traveling for work a lot in the past  couple of weeks, which certainly interferes with blogging time. However, I HAVE been using the time for D&D stuff – specifically MapTool work. You may recall that I had built and shared some macros for quickly creating monster powers a few weeks ago. Well, I’ve been working on the same thing for PC powers in D&D 4e. It’s been tremendously time consuming to build the macros, but actually using them has been fast! (Aside from bug killing, that is.)

Three of the players in my long-running Friday night War of the Burning Sky campaign created new characters for last week’s game (one new player, two existing players switching to new characters), so I had the chance to put my new PC power creation macros through their paces. I’m pleased to say that they worked like a charm! No problems at all so far, and the ability to recharge a power with a button click has been awesome.

The next step is to add a character sheet frame, similar to what I’ve done for Marvel Heroic RPG. I’d love for my D&D players to be able to scroll through their powers in a custom frame rather than the buttons in the Selection window. I could include the rules text of the powers in a small font, links to recharge powers individually, some nice-looking tables for organization purposes, and so on. But for now I still have a little tweaking to do on the PC power creation, though I hope to start sharing pieces of it soon. It’s a complicated family of macros, and I have not yet figured out how to break it into blog-post-sized chunks.

I haven’t run Madness at Gardmore Abbey in the past few weeks, which is a bit of a bummer. I finally have that whole campaign prepped in MapTool, so I’m ready to go at a moment’s notice! But the timing hasn’t worked out with my players.

I was going to try to revive my ZEITGEIST campaign for today’s gaming session, but two players had to bow out at the last moment. The day wasn’t a total loss, though, since the rest of us used the time to play three games of Lords of Waterdeep!

I’ve played a total of five games of Lords of Waterdeep now, and I absolutely love it even though I haven’t won yet. LoW feels like a streamlined fantasy setting of Agricola, another game that I absolutely love. We haven’t discovered a “dominant strategy” yet, which is a good thing. I love the design of the box itself – there’s a great insert to organize all of the pieces. The rulebook is excellent, too – very clear, with a handy summary of the rules on the back cover. It’s tons of fun, and everyone who has played it so far has loved it. I highly recommend Lords of Waterdeep.

I’m going to be out of town on vacation starting next weekend, so I hope to get another post or two up before I go. But if not, don’t expect to see anything from me until late April.

-Michael the OnlineDM