This is a compilation of the designer diary entries posted in the Tapestry Facebook group. They are listed here in chronological order, with the most recent entry at the top.
August 22: Automa (by Morten Monrad Pedersen)
The Stonemaier Automas (artificial opponents) have come in various numbers in our games. Scythe had 1, Between Two Cities had 2, and Charterstone allowed any number of Automas up to the maximum number of players.
For Tapestry the number of Automas is different than all those. It’s non-integer. One and a quarter or there about 🙂.
SIMULATION COMPLEXITY AND PLAYER COUNT: A major factor in deciding how many Automas to include is the complexity of handling one.
From an Automa point of view the most complex elements in Tapestry are the income turns and the conquer action. The complexity is lower than for example the movement actions in Scythe, but since Tapestry is a lighter game, we decided that these two aspects were enough to rule out multiple Automas.
THE SHADOW EMPIRE: During the development process we realized that the Automa advancement track system was so simple that it would hardly increase the player’s workload to have another one that did nothing except advance on the tracks and compete for landmarks and the end-of-track achievement.
We called this new opponent the Shadow Empire. It plays by the exact same rules as the Automa for the mentioned aspects of the game and so the rules overhead is basically non-existing.
2-PLAYER: The simplicity of the Shadow Empire means that even non-solo gamers can figure it out 😛, so we decided to make a separate rulesheet with rules for using the Shadow Empire in games with 2 humans. This is of course a completely optional variant for a game that was designed from the ground up for 2 to 5 players.
MULTI-AUTOMA: Since Tapestry was announced we’ve been asked multiple times whether there’ll be support for multiple Automas. As you can see the answer the answer is “yes and no”.
We’ve also been asked whether there’ll be support for playing with different combinations of human and Automas. While we don’t support this out of the box, we wrote the rules so that only minimal tweaks are needed.
You can replace the Shadow Empire with a full Automa and with an additional set of Automa cards (not sure whether that’ll be released), you could in principle play with any combination of humans, Automas, and Shadow Empires. You can even avoid thinking for yourself and play an Automa-only game. Depending on the exact combination, you’ll need to substitute or provide some components.
I can’t stress enough that this is in not properly developed variant, the full extent of its testing is me playing most of a game as part of writing this post, it’s not in the box, and there’ll balance issues such as neighboring an Automa not being the same as neighboring a human.
The attached picture shows the board during my test play. I cheated a bit with the action selection of the Automas so that we all went heavily into the military track where the interaction is the most complex. The weird splotches and coloring are the death throes of my printer.
RULEBOOKS: If you’re interested, you can read the Automa rulebook here. Now I’ll leave you so that I can go work on to the next project where the number of Automas will be the square root of -1.
August 21: Rules!
It’s no secret that Tapestry’s rulebook is short; it’s just 4 pages. But does that mean the pages are each 1×1 meters? Or that we crammed each page with 10 columns of 6pt font with no visuals or examples? Or that we left out crucial information?
Before I reveal the truth, let me explain the reasoning behind the short rulebook, as it was very much part of my design process. My goal was to design a robust, complex civilization game that could be learned from the rulebook in 20-30 minutes and taught while you play (instead of sitting through a lengthy explanation).
Concordia was a major inspiration for this. Concordia has a very short rulebook, allowing instead for the complexity to emerge through the cards (cards that included explanations on them so you didn’t need to constantly refer back to the rulebook).
So with that in mind, Tapestry’s rulebook was 4 pages for the vast majority of the design process. That doesn’t mean it always worked—it benefited significantly from blind playtesting and a ton of editing and proofreading.
That said, I cheated a little bit (but for good reason!). While the core actions are explained in detail in the rulebook, there are a total of 48 benefits on the advancement tracks. Each benefit has a description on a single-page reference guide. It’s a separate, thicker piece of paper, and I included 2 of them on the game so you’re not constantly passing it around (and once you’re familiar with the game, you won’t need to look at it often). The back side of it lists what the tech cards do, though they don’t need an explanation if you know the icons on the tracks.
In addition to that, there are 6 reference cards in the game (1 for each player plus 1 if we ever decide to add a 6th player, which is unlikely). This card explains the core actions and outlines the steps of an income turn.
Also, it’s 2019, so there are other ways to learn the rules for the game. We contracted Rodney at Watch It Played to make a rules video for the game, which you can now watch here.
The Tapestry rulebook, reference guide, and reference cards are available as downloadable PDFs here (make sure to download it if possible, not just preview it, as previews can sometimes distort the text/layout).
What you won’t see in that folder yet are the Automa rules (Morten will share them soon) and translated rulebooks (our localization partners will share them on their websites when they’re ready).
Thank you for joining me on this design diary journey, and I look forward to hearing about your experiences learning Tapestry in September and beyond. Please keep in mind that teaching/learning games will definitely take longer than the normal 90-120 minute playing time!
August 20: Odds and Ends
This is the final day of my design diaries leading up to tomorrow’s reveal of the rulebook, so I have some odds and ends to cover today.
Preorders and how they work: The direct preorder for Tapestry from Stonemaier Games will run on our webstore from September 4-7 (starting around 9:30 am CDT on the 4th; subscribe to our e-newsletter to be notified as soon as it goes live). That’s also when the price and reviews will go live. We have plenty of copies (25,000), so please take your time and see if the game is for you before you order.
We will ship preorders from fulfillment centers within the US, Europe (UK), Canada, and Australia. Anyone can preorder (max 2 per order). People who preorder from us will receive the games in September. While we will offer a preorder discount, delivery much earlier than the retail release date, a guarantee that you’ll actually get an individually numbered first-run game in a timely manner, and the option to add on extra dice, I absolutely support anyone who wants to order the game from their retailer of choice. Every copy of Tapestry is identical (except for the individual numbering, which is limited to the English first printing).
Player token colors and accessibility: I carefully selected the 5 player colors in Tapestry based on colorblindness and differentiation from other colors used in the game. An app called Color Blind Pal helped me see through the eyes of people with various forms of colorblindness to select these colors: green, red, white, yellow, and blue. Also in regards to accessibility, we actually made a pretty late change to make the tracks and icons much bigger than they originally were, as I wanted them to be very visible from across the table.
Replayability and variability: Before some of the recent design diary posts, some people asked about the variability in the game, namely: Can’t you just try to advance on the same tracks every game if you want? In a way, the answer is yes—you have a lot of freedom in Tapestry. But there are so many different elements that push you in different directions, some more random than others: 48 territory tiles and 15 space tiles, the science die, conquer dice, 33 tech cards, 43 tapestry cards, 16 civ mats, and what other players decide to do. A lot of it is about timing—can you get to a landmark before another player? Can you advance on a certain track at the right time so you maximize a benefit on another track? Do you take an income turn now or wait a little longer? And so on.
Civilization Balance: There are hundreds of blind playtest sessions logged for multiplayer Tapestry, and even more for the solo mode. We tried our best to balance the civilizations. But…there are 16 of them. They’re very different. And there are so many combinations of them and player preferences. Basically, we think they’re balanced, but when we have 10,000 plays of Tapestry instead of 500+, some patterns may emerge.
So I built a counterbalance into the game. On the last page of the rulebook in the “end game” section, we invite players to log the winning faction and its score on our website. Over time, if it’s clear from a substantial amount of hard data that certain civilizations are better than others, we may add a note on our website saying that other players start with a certain number of victory points when playing against those factions. Hopefully this won’t be necessary, but I plan on supporting Tapestry for a long time, so I wanted to make a long-term commitment to balance.
I’ll see you tomorrow for the rulebook reveal!
August 19: Giving Credit Where It’s Due
While I (Jamey) am the designer of Tapestry, there were quite a few other people who were involved in bringing this game to life. I’m sure I’ll forget someone here, but I’ll do my best to give proper credit below.
Rom Brown: Tapestry wouldn’t exist without me being inspired by Rom’s sculpts and him agreeing to work with me. His sculpts defined the look of the game and created a foundation for me to design around. I’m hoping for the chance to thank him in person when I travel to New Zealand later this year.
Andrew Bosley: I’ve wanted to work with Andrew ever since seeing the Everdell Kickstarter, and he was a pleasure to work with on Tapestry. He’s extremely talented and versatile, and I think his style works well for the game. The box was a pivotal illustration, and we considered several different designs. Here are images of a few of them, as well as a timelapse video of the final version: https://youtu.be/19Flo9VuRII
Christine Santana: Christine is our graphic designer, which for this project meant layout out the various rulebooks (Automa and multiplayer) and reference guides, setting the text, incorporating all proofreader revisions, and creating/checking the printer-ready files. Here’s what she put together for the bottom of the box.
Morten Monrad Pedersen (with Lieve Teugels and Nick Shaw): Morten is the creator of the intelligent AI system called Automa, which is typically used for solo play. He creates a new version of this system for almost all of our games. As he mentioned in his design diary post, the Automa playtesting of Tapestry made a significant difference in balancing the game and identifying (and eliminating) infinite loops.
Dave Hewer, Ben Doran, Eric Summerer, and Kim Euker: These 4 people have contributed to the marketing plan for Tapestry. Dave is our web dev/designer; he created the new banner at the top of the Facebook page, as well as other ads and content. Ben made the teaser trailer with Eric’s voice. And Kim is the professional photographer who took some of the photos I’ve included on this post.
Shannon and Panda: Shannon is my project manager at Panda (our manufacturer), and he was extremely helpful throughout the 2-year process of creating Tapestry. It was he who told me about the frosted board option, and he was instrumental in adjusting the box height after we found that everything didn’t fit well into the original box (we added 2 centimeters).
Playtesters and proofreaders: We have a ton of playtesters and proofreaders listed on the side of the Tapestry box, too many to name here (see image instead). I do want to mention Alan Stone, my cofounder, though, because he has the dubious distinction of testing my games when they’re very much still awkward works in progress.
Translators: Tapestry will have a worldwide release in 10 languages thanks to our localization partners. Because our English first printing closely overlapped with those 9 languages, it allowed us to make corrections to some of the text in Tapestry as translators caught things that the rest of us missed.
Distributor/Retailer Focus Group: After I underestimated Wingspan’s first printing demand and learned some hard lessons along the way, I formed a group of trusted distributors and retailers to help me decide on the first printing size of Tapestry. Back in the early spring I provided them with pretty detailed information about the game so they could give me their best guesses as to how well the game would sell, leading to the 25,000 unit quantity for the first English print run.
Rodney/reviewers: Later this week you’ll see a Watch It Played rules video for Tapestry from Rodney Smith, followed a few weeks later by unbiased opinions from reviewers around the world who were willing to commit to a very specific review period. I have no idea what these reviewers will say about the game—my intent is to offer you their perspectives about the final version of the game so you can decide if it’s a good fit for you.
There are many others that continue to contribute to Tapestry every day, including you! Thank you for your questions and enthusiasm, and I’m excited to hear your thoughts on the final game in September if you preorder it from Stonemaier Games.
August 18: Influences and Inspirations
Leading up to and during the design process for Tapestry, I played and researched a number of other civilization-themed. I wanted to make sure I fully understood what a civ game felt like, what players would expect, and what I could add to the genre. I also just play a lot of games in general, so there were some other influences as well.
Among the games that label themselves to be civ games that I played were: Golden Ages, Civilization V (video game), 7 Wonders/Duel, Civ: A New Dawn, Through the Ages, Clash of Cultures, Nations, Nations Dice, Antiquity, Imperial Settlers, and Through the Ages. I also played Sid Meier’s Civilization (the board game), but not until after Tapestry’s design was complete. I’ve also played and enjoyed Trade on the Tigris since then.
If you’d like to see my favorite things about those games and an overall ranking, here’s the video I filmed earlier this year: https://youtu.be/Hg6v-slQFTg
I think the quintessential civ game is the Civilization video game. I actually hadn’t played it, but my company’s cofounder, Alan, had played it a ton in college. So he was a great resource, as were videos on YouTube about more recent iterations. I also ended up playing Civilization V a bit, especially to understand the “one more turn” aspect that I’ve heard so many people talk about. I really liked that you started with so little and ended up with such a vast, advanced empire—I tried to replicate that in Tapestry. I also enjoyed the asymmetry and the look of the map. Oh, and the tech tracks were a great source of inspiration for Tapestry’s advancement tracks.
From among all of those other games, you’ve probably seen the influences (things I liked and disliked) mentioned in my other design diary posts. For example, it didn’t make sense to me that if I, say, invent the wheel, that you also wouldn’t be able to invent the wheel (i.e., I claim a card, preventing you from claiming it). I also knew that some of the punishing elements in acclaimed civ games—while thematically sound—just weren’t a good fit for my style of design. Also, as discussed yesterday, I wanted to make sure Tapestry was a civ game in scope, not a dudes-on-a-map game.
A few common elements I decided not to include were religion and happiness. For religion, while it’s certainly had a huge impact on our real-world history, Tapestry doesn’t feature real-world locations, events, or people. Religion is a sensitive subject, so I figured it would be best not to include it. As for happiness, I just wasn’t sure how to quantify it, especially given the scope of Tapestry’s story arc. If we’re spanning from the beginning of mankind into the future, it didn’t seem to make sense to look at the happiness of everyone in your vast civilization at any given time.
During the blind playtest process, I think every survey I sent included the question, “Does this feel like a civilization game? Why or why not?” The prototype had no art, as I wanted the mechanisms themselves to have that civ feel. The answer wasn’t always “yes,” but I got a lot more affirmatives as each wave of playtesting progressed.
A few other games that influenced (or resembled) Tapestry are A Feast for Odin (spatial element, lots of actions), Mombasa (use of tracks), Everdell (no rounds), and Russian Railroads (tracks and escalating VP).
I’m sure there are other influences that I haven’t mentioned—perhaps you’ll notice them in the final game.
To date, what is your favorite civilization game, and what makes it feel like a civ game to you?
August 17: Military, Conquering, and Player Interaction
So far I’ve explained the core actions on 3 of the advancement tracks, which leaves just 1: military. Today I’ll discuss the military track, conquering, and recap the various forms of player interaction in Tapestry.
From early on in Tapestry’s design, I realized that I needed to do certain things so Tapestry was a civ game, not a dudes-on-a-map game or an empire-building game. That isn’t a knock on those genres (Scythe fits into both of those genres). Rather, I really wanted Tapestry to feel epic in scope, and that meant implementing a macro view of map expansion, not a micro view of troop movement over a specific period of time.
Real-world history is bookmarked with famous wars and battles, so I did try for a long time to capture those memorable moments in Tapestry. But it always seemed to detract and distract from the core gameplay when tried to implement combat mechanisms.
So conquering in the final version of Tapestry works like this: If you gain a “conquer” benefit (usually on the military track), you choose a territory adjacent to a territory you control and place an outpost token on it. That territory must have at most 1 other token on it (usually an outpost, but there are some civs/tapestry cards that let you place other types of tokens), and it can’t be one that you already control.
Next, roll the conquer dice and choose the benefit on one of them. The red die gives you VP and the black die typically give you a resource. As I mentioned on Thursday, you only need 1 set of dice, but extras will be available during the Tapestry preorder in early September
If you conquer an opponent’s territory (i.e., a territory with an opponent’s outpost on it), you “topple” that outpost. It’s tipped over on the territory. It’s very important that their outpost remains in place, as it means the territory has 2 tokens and thus can’t be conquered again (this prevents players from just fighting back and forth over the same territory—it gives meaning to the final conquer for each territory).
This is also the reason why each player starts out with 2 of their outpost tokens on their starting territory—those territories can never be conquered. Each player has 10 outpost tokens, and once they’re on the map, they can’t be moved or removed.
Even though conquering an opponent’s territory can permanently switch control and improve your board position, there is a risk: trap cards! These are disguised as tapestry cards, and they’re why players keep their hand of tapestry cards private.
If you try to conquer my territory and I reveal a trap card, your outpost is toppled instead of mine (both tokens still end up on the territory). I also gain 1 of any resource for the pleasure of luring you into my trap.
Just so drawing a trap card is never a wasted action, you can alternately play it as a tapestry card on an income turn to simply gain 10 VP.
Why does territory control matter? Part of it is just that expanding gives you access to more places to explore and conquer. Also, on both your income mat and other places in the game, you might see a red hex icon inside the VP icon. It means, “Gain 1 VP for each territory you control.”
Also, there are some achievements on the board related to control, such as if you topple 2 opponent outposts or if you conquer the middle island on the board.
That segues into the overall topic of interaction. During the development and blind playtesting process, I focused a lot on giving players reasons to pay attention to their opponents. That’s the type of interaction I enjoy—you’ll see very little “take that” in our games.
So here’s the comprehensive list of all of the types of interaction in Tapestry (reasons to pay attention to other players):
–exploration (if I place a territory tile, it takes away a place that you could explore, but it could be a place that you’ll expand to)
–conquering and traps (should my civ move towards yours or away? Do we broker peace with each other? Do I set you up for a trap?)
–achievements (can you be the first to achieve these goals before other players)
–face-up tech cards (if I really want a card, I need to take it before someone else does)
–a number of tapestry cards compare you to other players or impact other players
–advancement track landmarks (a race among all players to reach new tiers on the tracks)
–a number of the asymmetric civilization abilities create interaction—often positive—with opponents
–neighbors (you can look at your neighbors when trying to upgrade tech cards, and if you’re the first of your neighbors to enter a new era on your income mat, you gain some extra resources)
Even though players can’t disrupt each other’s core actions in Tapestry, I think that list indicates a fair amount of player interaction.
I just have a few remaining design diaries before the full rulebook of Tapestry is revealed (though at this point, I think you may know all rules in the game—it is, after all, only a 4-page rulebook)!
August 16: Debugging Tapestry (written by Morten Monrad Pedersen)
One of the challenges when designing a game is to avoid strategy “bugs”. This can be weird and overpowered strategies (“The Halifax Hammer” in A Few Acres of Snow), infinite loops (the “Roofing Company” infinite resource loop in Glass Road), strategies that end the game prematurely (“Rusviet-Industrial” in Scythe), etc.
Spotting such bugs is what playtesting is for, and in this regard solo gaming has a major advantage because…
… when playtesting solo there are no other players to annoy
When I hunt for bugs, I’m annoying for other players. During the Tapestry playtesting I sat there apparently doing nothing, and nothing, and nothing, and nothing, and nothing while thinking many turns ahead to look for exploits. Other humans would have been bored to tears, but the Automas (artificial opponents) behaved like they were patience incarnate.
I would roll the game back to an earlier state, play again slightly different from there, roll back, tweak, etc. Sometimes meticulously writing everything down. Instead of complaining about this like humans would, the Automas even let me write on them when I couldn’t find my notebook.
Humans generally don’t take kindly to players who take over their game pieces and control their every action. The Automas on the other hand sat there as if they were just mindless stacks of cardboard and let me make all their decisions for them, so I could experiment with weird strategies.
They were happy to play the game for hours on end, never got bored, never said they wanted to switch games, and as if by magic they were available whenever I wanted to play, which meant that I’m probably the person who has played the last revisions of Tapestry the most.
Interaction, engines, and exploits
Because of this the solo playtesters and I could experiment with Tapestry and look for potential exploits in ways that few multiplayer testers could, which was good, because Tapestry has a couple of features that can lead to exploits.
First, there’s limited negative interaction between players, which means that it’s harder to prevent an opponent from pulling off a specific strategy than it is in games with many ways to hurt each other.
Second, it’s an engine builder so unfairly gained advantages can potentially be snowballed into landslide victories.
Solo testing improves the multiplayer game
During the development there were a few times where we managed to tune our Tapestry engines so that we could max out basically everything in the game and building more than the capital city could accomodate and we found ways to string long series of moves in just the right order to combo excessively.
We worked with Jamey to tweak the issues away after which we pounded away at them again to make sure that the holes had been closed properly without opening new ones.
The result of our work was that not only did the game become available to solo gamers, it was also made better for those who’ll never open the solo mode rulebook.
August 15: Science
What is a civilization without science?
It was really important to me from the beginning that each track—technology, military, exploration, and science—to have a core mechanism that really *felt* like you were doing that thing.
The way science ended up working is one of the most pleasant surprises for me to discover during the design process for Tapestry. Basically, early in the design process, back in the days when there were 8 different tracks on the board, I decided to try using a dice mechanism for science.
My reasoning was that early forms of science started out as a bit of a gamble. You might hope to discover one thing, but you actually answer some other mystery of the world.
The mechanism was simple: To “research,” you rolled a d8, advanced once on the corresponding track for free (remember, there were 8 tracks back then), and gained the benefit.
Much to my surprise, this version of research was an instant hit with playtesters (including myself). Which is pretty odd, right? Instead of choosing the track you want, you’re leaving your fate to a die.
BUT IT WAS SO MUCH FUN.
I’m not kidding. People were positively giddy every time they rolled the science die. They would do it early in the game when they felt overwhelmed by other choices, and they would do it late in the game in the hopes of getting a “free” benefit on a more expensive track.
I was so bewildered by how much fun it was that I did some research into the psychology of random rewards. If you’re interested, here’s an article to check out: http://www.psychologyofgames.com/2018/07/fortnites-success-is-due-to-random-chance/
As the game evolved, so did the research mechanism. But the science die remained. After we switched to 4 advancement tracks, the custom die only needed to have 4 sides, but rolling a d4 or even a d8 isn’t nearly as satisfying as rolling a chunky d12 (my favorite die). So the final die is a custom d12.
Here’s how research works: You roll the science die, and then you *may* advance for free on the corresponding track. If the research icon has an X below it, it means that nothing else happens. You’re just advancing, not gaining any benefits or bonuses. You’re just pushing yourself forward on a track, moving towards better benefits and landmarks.
The science track also has research icons with no X. For those, if you choose to advance, you’ll gain the corresponding benefit and you may pay to gain the bonus (if any).
Eventually you’ll advance far enough on the science track that you’ll stop rolling the die. Instead, you’ll simply choose from the available tracks (specific icons), advance for free, and (as long as there’s no X), gain the corresponding benefit (and pay to gain the bonus, if any).
The science track ended up being one of the most difficult to balance. At times it was too powerful; others, not as much. And it was almost irresistible to playtesters either way, making it even more difficult to determine that it needed rebalancing. But as Morten will tell you tomorrow, I think we figured it out.
One quick note about the Tapestry preorder from Stonemaier Games in early September (4 days, games will ship to you from regional fulfillment centers in September): There are a total of 3 custom dice in Tapestry—1 for science and 2 for military, which I’ll discuss on Saturday. You only need 3 dice. BUT if you want a set of dice for each player, extra sets will be available on our webstore during the preorder (and after, while supplies last—we can always make more too). A “set” is 1 of each of the 3 dice, so if you think you’ll only play Tapestry with 3 total players, you could buy exactly 2 extra sets of the dice. If you want. It’s totally not necessary, just an optional perk.
August 14: Tech Cards
Let’s talk about tech cards today! There are 33 of them in Tapestry, all unique.
You already got a good look at the technology track on the game board, which I revealed in the first design diary post. Here it is again to jog your memory.
The card icon you see here represents an “invent” benefit: Gain a tech card and place it to the right of your capital city mat in the bottom row. There are always 3 face-up tech cards next to the board, and if you don’t like any of them, you can draw randomly from the deck.
That’s it! For now. It’s as if you’ve conceived the idea of paper, penicillin, or time travel, but you haven’t actually figured it out yet.
It’s only later—typically during an income turn, but also elsewhere—that you get to upgrade a tech card. You then slide a card of your choice up to the middle row and gain the benefit in the circle.
Or, if you already have a tech card in the middle row, you can fully invent it by sliding it to the top row and gaining the powerful benefit in the square. The catch here, though, is that you can only upgrade to the top row if you or a neighbor (an opponent sitting directly to your right or left) has achieved a specific prerequisite like “be in the second tier of the military track.”
In this way, the tech cards are a little bit like a Magic mechanism called “suspend,” which is one of my all-time favorite mechanisms. You’re playing a card that does nothing at first, but simply by being patient, it’ll burst into action with a powerful ability (and help you a little bit along the way).
Most of the 33 tech cards are actual technologies. I picked some of the classics—eyeglasses, dynamite, and the printing press—but I also tried to include some important inventions that don’t get as much credit as they should, like ammonia, canned food, anesthesia, and plumbing.
But there are also 6 tech cards that result in you gaining a landmark (the other 12 landmarks are gained from the advancement tracks), like the library and the com tower (one of my favorite sculpts in the game).
Which tech card are you most looking forward to inventing?
August 13: Exploration and the Map
While Through the Ages and 7 Wonders have shown that civ games can work great without maps, I couldn’t couldn’t resist putting one in Tapestry. Today I’m going to talk about Tapestry’s map and exploration.
It took quite a few months and iterations to figure out the foundation for the map system, though. Originally I experimented with a hub-and-spoke map system, which I tested using a map of Europe. It was fine, but it didn’t scale well, and it felt stagnant–with it, players would be using the same map every game, while I wanted each session of the Tapestry world to feel different.
Eventually I switched to the hex map/tile system that’s in the final game. I think I was designing this around the same time as the Scythe modular board, as the two share a combination of (a) a partially preset board (b) tiles that you place on the board. Unlike the Scythe modular board, though, there’s no tile setup required for Tapestry. You just put the board on the table.
The style the Andrew Bosley (the artist) and I settled on was inspired by the latest Civilization video game. The beige areas are unexplored, and the art in those areas is just background art waiting for you to place tiles on top of it. There are 6 starting regions for this 5-player game, with each starting hex’s terrain corresponding to that player’s capital city mat.
Each starting area is designed to give players the immediate option to explore (3 adjacent unexplored hexes) or conquer (3 adjacent explored hexes). I’ll talk about conquering soon in a post about player interaction (there’s conquering, but no combat).
To explore, you’ll typically choose to advance on the exploration track onto an “explore” benefit (it’s an icon that appears several times on the track).
You’ll select a territory tile from hand (you’ll collect these during the game as income and on the exploration track; there are 48 unique tiles), place it on an unexplored hex adjacent to a territory you control, score VP based on how you oriented the tile, and gain the benefit on the territory tile (e.g., 1 resource). I wanted to give players a feeling of discovery when explore, hence the different benefits on the tiles.
This is a pretty powerful benefit, as you’re getting a lot all at once. In playtesting Tapestry, I found this to be the right balance for exploration, as (a) your ability to explore is limited by your expansion on the map and (b) you’re just placing tiles, not gaining ownership of them, so you could potentially be helping militaristic opponents.
For scaling reasons, I decided to make the game board double-sided. One side has a tighter map for 1-3 players; the other side has a larger map for 4-5 players.
It’s rare that you’ll fill the entire game board with tiles, but it’s still neat at the end of the day to see the nations and continents you created, especially since the tile-placement mechanism incentives players to align terrains with each other.
But wait, there’s more!
In addition to playing and researching civilization games during my design process, I also read a lot of comments from people on BoardGameGeek and reddit about what they wanted in a civ game. One comment in particular stood out to me: A person mentioned that they wished civ games didn’t only take place on the ground (Earth, a single planet, etc).
So in Tapestry, if you advance far enough in exploration, you can explore outer space.
There’s no map for space, just tiles that you’ll place next to your player mats. There are 15 of them in the game (also drawn randomly like territory tiles), and like benefits at the end of other tracks, they’re all VERY powerful.
That’s all for exploration! What do you think of this style of exploration? Do you prefer civ games to feature maps?
August 12, 2019: Tapestry Cards
The name of the game is Tapestry, but why? How is that concept manifested in the game?
Let’s start with the name. I typically brainstorm dozens of names for new games. We narrow it down to a few favorites, and our lawyer runs a trademark search on them, and we pick from those that survive the search. We often pursue this process while a game is in the design process (we don’t wait until the design is complete).
In this case, I really liked the name “Tapestry” because many medieval civilizations in history used ornate tapestries to record important parts of their history. That’s exactly what I wanted the game to be–not only did I want stories to emerge from the advancement tracks and interactions on the map (more on that soon), but also from specific memorable developments and bookmarks in your civ’s timeline.
This is what the tapestry cards do. In yesterday’s design diary, I mentioned that players each take 5 income turns over the course of the game. The primary way they track these turns is by playing tapestry cards on your income mat–you’ll play them at the beginning of your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th income turn (there’s also one, the Maker of Fire, built into every income mat to start the game). At the end of the game you can look at your tableau to see how your civilization’s idealogies changed over time.
The 43 unique tapestry cards are a mix of “when played” cards (instant benefit) and “this era” cards (ongoing benefit for the era you just began). Like other aspects of the game, timing is crucial with many of these cards–they don’t dictate your strategy, but if you plan on playing a certain card, you may make adjustments around maximizing it.
Unlike tech cards, which I’ll discuss soon, tapestry cards are a blind draw. This is related to my design philosophy that players shouldn’t be required to read text from all the way across the table. However, to counteract this randomness based on feedback from playtesters, I decided to integrate a tapestry card draw into the income mats. That way you end up with an abundance of tapestry cards in hand from which to choose (as well as ways late in the game to discard cards you didn’t use to gain points).
I also want to mention here that Andrew Bosley was wonderful to work with on these cards. I always ask our illustrators to feature a diversity of people in our games (gender, race, age, etc), and Andrew was very receptive to that. While the cards don’t refer to real historical moments, we also tried to be respectful and sensitive to events and developments these cards might remind people of–if we missed something, it was not intentional.
Also, thanks to some last-minute tips from Josh Ward, who you often see in our Facebook groups, we added some fun Easter eggs to a few of the cards. Can you spot any in the photos I’ve featured today?
August 11, 2019: Income and Game End
My Sunday Sitdown YouTube video today will be about how games end, so it seems like a good time for me to talk about that aspect of Tapestry today.
I’ve mentioned that the main type of turns players will take in Tapestry are “advance” turns (advance once on a track of your choice). The other type of turn is an “income” turn. Each player will take exactly 5 income turns during the game.
I knew I wanted players to collect income in Tapestry, as it’s a staple of many civ games (including Sid Meier’s Civilization). It conveys a sense of progress, and it feels good to get an increasing amount of resources over the course of the game.
The traditional tabletop method of letting players collect income is by structuring the game with a set number of rounds. While this works for many games, it just didn’t feel right in the early playtests for Tapestry. If we’re running separate civilizations over thousands of years, why are we pausing at the same time to collect income? Does turn order or first player change (and if so, what does that mean thematically)? Also, since there are sometimes interactive elements during income turns in Tapestry, they can’t be taken simultaneously anyway.
So I subconsciously took a nod from Everdell (which happens to be the game that Tapestry artist Andrew Bosley is most known for) and incorporated income turns into the flow of the game. You either take an advance turn or an income turn, and income turns are limited to 5 total.
At the beginning of the game, your income mat (all income mats are identical) is filled with income buildings. Like the landmark buildings, these were hand-sculpted by Rom Brown. Each player gets 20 of them, so there are a total of 100 income building miniatures in Tapestry.
Many of the benefits on the advancement tracks let you gain an income building (remove it from your income mat and place it on your capital city mat–see the August 9 design diary for information about that). Doing so reveals an income benefit.
When you’re ready to take an income turn (usually when you run out of resources, but not always), you’ll check to see if your civ ability triggers, you’ll play a tapestry card (more on that in an upcoming post), you’ll upgrade a tech card of your choice, gain all VP based on your income tracks, and then collect all other income (resources–which you keep track of on your income mat–territory tiles, and tapestry cards).
Over the course of the game, the VP and income you receive on income turns will increase exponentially, which is one of the reasons I’ve compared Tapestry to Russian Railroads. In both games, you may only gain a few victory points the first time you take an income turn, but in the final round you might collect 100+ VP. I really like that sense of progression in any game.
All of these are organically integrated into each income turn, including the very first turn of the game when you pretty much just collect resources and the last turn of the game when you pretty much just gain victory points. There’s nothing else to remember to do at the beginning, end, or middle–everything is always shown on your income mat.
As for the end of the game, because players choose when to take their income turns, it means that players will finish the game at slightly different times, with the player who finished first keeping a close eye on the VP track to see if opponents will catch them. It’s rare that player who have finished must wait for more than a few minutes, because the remaining players are waiting for fewer players to take their turns.
I think that’s it for today! If you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them.
August 10, 2019: Asymmetric Civilizations
One of my favorite elements of civilization games are asymmetric factions/nations/leaders. So I knew from the start of the Tapestry design process that starting and ongoing asymmetry would be a part of the game.
As is my typical method for asymmetrical design, though, I playtested the game (locally and blind playtesting) for a long time to make sure the foundation was solid before adding the different civilizations. During that time I was amassing a number of ideas (and getting increasingly excited about implementing them).
By the time we started testing the asymmetric civilizations, I had over a dozen concepts. I figured we would eliminate those that players weren’t enjoying as much and eventually end up with 8-10 unique civs.
But what I found is that most of them actually worked quite well. They needed tweaks and adjustments for clarity and balance, of course, but there were very few civilizations that needed to be outright cut.
As a result, the final version of Tapestry has 16 unique, asymmetric civilizations, each illustrated by Andrew Bosley. We didn’t hold back anything for an expansion.
At the beginning of the game, each player randomly draws 2 civilization mats and selects 1. Typically you’ll also end the game with just 1 civ, though there are a few ways to gain another.
Consistent with the rest of Tapestry, the civilizations don’t represent real-world nations. They’re more like cultural identities and ideologies. Each is designed to give players something unique and powerful to do without pigeonholing them into a prescribed strategy.
Also, with all the other things going on in Tapestry, I found that playertesters sometimes forgot to use their civilizations. So many of the final civ abilities trigger during your income turns (when you’re specifically reminded to check your civ mat).
With yesterday’s reveal of the capital city mats and today’s reveal of the civilization mats, you might be curious about the material we used for these mats. It’s really hard to tell in the photos, but we used a special process called “frosting” the cardstock to give it a really nice texture. If you’ve played Monolith Arena, it’s the same procedure used to make those mats. So they have a premium feel to them, but they’re also designed not to warp.
My hope is that these 16 asymmetric civilizations create a ton of replayability for Tapestry (in addition to the other variable elements that I’ll discuss in future posts). Hopefully you might even have some ideas for new civ mats after you play Tapestry, and if you share them in this group, we might test them, develop them, and include them in a future expansion!
August 9, 2019: The Landmarks
I’ve wanted to design a civilization game for a long time, but it wasn’t until 2 years ago that something clicked and made me move forward with it. That something–more of a “someone,” really–was a sculptor named Rom Brown (http://cultofgame.blogspot.com/).
Rom’s hobby is to create tiny, detailed sculpts upon request for pretty much any game. They’re made out of clay, hence “Codename Clay.” I happened to stumble upon his website to see a building he had created, and instantly I had a vision for what the civ game could look like.
I reached out to Rom and explained the idea, which involved making a test batch of a few sample buildings to see if Panda could replicate the look of clay in painted plastic miniatures. So we gave it a try, and they turned out great at both levels (the only nervewracking part was sending the sculpts from New Zealand to China!)
This initial process took several months, which gave me time to start to work on the initial design for Tapestry–I needed to figure out what these fancy buildings would do in the game!
I also had to balance the cost of making these types of miniatures, as prepainted minis are very expensive. I knew I wanted at least *some* of them to be prepainted–there was just something really special about the aesthetic. I was only going to make 1 civ game in my career, so I wanted it to be really beautiful.
Along the way, the buildings separated into two groups: Prepainted “landmarks” and unpainted “income buildings.” I’ll talk more about those income buildings in an upcoming post–today is about the landmarks.
There are 18 prepainted landmark building miniatures in Tapestry. They range in height from 28mm to 70mm. They all fit into a custom insert, accompanied by a diagram on the side of the box indicating where each building fits:
Each landmark represents that you are the “first” to do something in the world of Tapestry. For example, if you’re the first to invent metallurgy on the technology track, you gain the forge building and place it in your capital city. You have the world’s first/oldest forge. Rom designed the landmarks so that as you advance further, the aesthetic of the building becomes more futuristic. The result is similar to what you see on the front of the box, cities with a mix of old and new.
12 of the landmarks appear on the advancement tracks. The other 6 show up on tech cards, which I’ll discuss in a future post. Of note about the advancement tracks is that the buildings were originally going to be placed on those tracks during setup, but we found in playtesting the final board with the final minis that they made it hard to read the icons on the board from certain angles. So we added a separate landmark mat for those 12 landmarks:
So why do these landmarks matter in the game? Each player has a capital city that is represented (a) on a starting hex on the game board and (b) as a randomized player mat matching the topography of the corresponding area on the board. You will place landmarks and income buildings on this mat during the game to try to complete rows and columns (to gain ongoing victory points) and complete 3×3 districts (to gain instant resources).
The income buildings are each 1×1, but the landmarks feature a variety of base sizes. The only restriction is that they can’t be placed on impassable terrain (red dots on the landmark mat; though, the red dots are also good, as they count as “complete”). So there’s a bit of a puzzle–inspired by A Feast for Odin–to decide exactly where to place your landmarks.
The height of the buildings doesn’t really matter (other than adding to the dramatic skyline of your capital city), though in the rare case of a tiebreaker at the end of the game, the player with the tallest building wins.
I anticipate that some people might ask why we don’t offer a version of the game with unpainted minis or tiles instead of these fancy landmarks, and I think that’s a perfectly reasonable question. We debated those options. But in the end, I decided that these prepainted buildings were an integral part of the experience of playing Tapestry. Your civilization will be vibrant, colorful, and elevated!
Which of these landmarks do you look forward to featuring in your first capital city?
August 8, 2019: “Advance” Turns
Thanks for joining me for the first design diary post for Tapestry! I have a lot to cover over the next few weeks, and I want to start with something specific and meaty so you know what the game is all about before I delve into other anecdotes that happened during the design journey.
So right from the start, I want to share with you the core mechanism of Tapestry.
Like many of my games, there are no rounds or phases in Tapestry. Each player simply takes turns clockwise until the game ends (I’ll talk about how the game ends in a future post). On most of your turns, you’ll be taking something called an “advance” turn.
An advance turn is short and simple: You’ll pick one of the four tracks (technology, science, military, exploration), pay a cost, advance your token one space on the track, and gain the resulting benefit (then optionally pay to gain a bonus, if any). All players have tokens on all 4 tracks–there’s no blocking.
This is your main choice on pretty much every turn of the game: In what way do I want my civilization to advance? Other than increasing costs on each track, the game doesn’t limit your advancement. It’s perfectly normal in Tapestry for a player to focus on 1 or 2 tracks and neglect the others. This is part of the narrative of the history you’re creating–you may not have invented wagons, but you understand nanotechnology. Or you may not know the basics of mathematics, but you wield drone assassins.
As you advance on each track, the benefits you gain become increasingly varied and powerful. In total, there are 48 different track benefits. That’s a daunting number, and there are a lot of icons, but at any given time, you only have 4 options. This narrows your decision space while giving you a distinct feeling of progress as you advance.
It also allowed the game to cover a wide variety of advancements in a fairly accurate order (within each category). Each track starts near the beginning of mankind and extends into the future.
The action-selection system wasn’t always this way. For the first few months of playtesting, the board had a wild, busy layout. It was overwhelming, and fortunately I realized that the variety of options on the board could be maintained while streamlining the system down to 4 tracks instead of 8 branching tracks. The 4 tracks that were removed were shifted to another system in the game that I’ll talk about later.
When I shifted to the more streamline system and eventually entered blind playtesting, I gathered data on which tracks people were completing and which felt more fun to use (often the two answers were the same). There were some big adjustments along the way to update the core actions, then a lot of fine-tuning specific actions and identifying problematic benefits.
So that’s it! Pay the cost, advance your token, gain the benefit.
Part of the reason I’m sharing this with you today is because it’ll help tomorrow’s big component reveal make more sense. There’s a hint about this in the photo.
If you have any questions about this action system, feel free to ask in the comments!