Playtesting Lost Ruins of Arnak: Expedition Leaders (part 3)

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In this third and last part of our report, we’ll talk about how we finalized the game design, and at the end also share some interesting stats and give our thanks to the people who helped us on this endeavor.

DATA BECOMES ACTION

Based on all the data and feedback we gathered, the game evolved constantly. The game design went through five bigger updates marked by the five phases of online playtesting, and many smaller tweaks and changes. Some things were obviously broken and needed fixing. Some issues were sneakier, and it took some time to recognize them. In the end, we believe that we managed to hunt down and tweak most of them, if not all, and we are happy with the final product of our work.

We spent many hours discussing and debating in our company chat, on calls, and in person. After one physical playtesting event at the end of August, eight people spent nine hours around a table with Expedition Leaders laid out, discussing each and every aspect, little detail, and last-minute ideas about the expansion. Similar meetings have happened quite often throughout the whole development process of course, with many people joining in and debating for hours at a time – but this one meeting was by far the longest.

And right now, we’re entering the very last finishing phase of the development. The scores appear to be in balance, and we are happy with how the expansion plays and feels. The art is finished, the design done, and most of the things were recently sent to print, to be ready in time for SPIEL’21. It’s all exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time 🙂

As always, having a printer here in the Czech Republic is a great advantage to our timelines – we can afford to spend more time on designing because the delivery time is much shorter, and there is a certain freedom in deadlines when one has such close contact with the manufacturers. However, COVID is not making things easier for us – there is a shortage of materials and of workers on all levels of the production and distribution chain. Still, we do our best to make the most of these uncertain times and we are grateful for the unusual and special options we have at our disposal.

FINAL THANKS (AND SOME INTERESTING STATS!)

The playtesting was possible thanks to many factors and many people all working in sync and helping us on our journey. We would like to thank the folks at BGA for lending their platform for our purposes. Huge thanks also go to Adam Španěl who prepared and fixed the implementation on the go and with incredible speed. To our CGE colleagues and friends who debated and analyzed and worked with us not only during the playtesting but also throughout the whole development process. And of course big thanks to the 102 testers who were willing to spend hours playing the expansion again and again, and giving us their unique perspectives and feedback.

And here are some final interesting stats for you 🙂 From a total of 567 play sessions, players gained:

·      8,484 Fear cards

·      11,123 Jewels

·      6,129 Artifact cards

·      7,852 Item cards

·      1,967 Temple tiles

They’ve also gained 33,368 Coins that would let one buy all items from the base game 330 times, and 37,518 Compasses which would be enough to discover the whole island of Arnak 781 times or buy all the base game artifacts 320 times.

To collect this many resources at once, you would need roughly 1390 boxes of the base game (this many boxes would weigh over 3300kg or 7200lbs which is almost as heavy as one Scorpion Guardian from the base game). And if you put all the gained compasses, coins, idols, and tablets on top of each other, the final pile would be 267.7 meters high which is almost as tall as the Eiffel Tower.

Read Part 1
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Playtesting Lost Ruins of Arnak: Expedition Leaders (Part 2)

In this part, we’ll talk a bit more about what information we were actually tracking and looking into, and why digital playtest is not everything and real-world tables actually matter.

If you’ve missed Part 1 of this series, you can check it out here.

PROCESSING (AND EVALUATING) THE DATA

During playtesting we were tracking a lot of data, both from the feedback forms the players filled out and from the game stats. The data we’ve gathered was highly rewarding, but processing and evaluation of all this data were also quite challenging.

As was mentioned before, this data is invaluable to us – the data and the option to replay each game session directly on BGA are both the strongest tools we have to make sure different elements of the gameplay are balanced. The expansion is highly asymmetrical, so we had to be extra careful with tinkering and tuning.

One of the most important things we tracked was the average and maximum scores of each leader, to see how consistent their performance is. From this data, we saw which characters needed tweaking, and over time we were also able to define which leaders were more suited for beginner players and which are more difficult to play.

We also tracked other things like what scores were achieved on which of the two new research tracks, the number of cards gained and played, the number of turns per leader and per round, how often different leader-specific bonuses were used in case of the Falconer and the Mystic, and much more.

Often, when interpreting the data, we even had to go through particular gameplays to identify what caused some significant score deviations. Sometimes these anomalies were indeed caused by that leader’s abilities, but often there were other factors in play as well, like big differences in players’ experience or an unusual combination of conditions (like cards in the card row, sites discovered, etc.) that were more favorable for that particular game situation.

Sometimes, the differences between beginner and more advanced players were also quite significant – it was visible both in the base game and in the expansion implementations that some cards and strategies were often neglected by the beginners but turned out to be quite powerful in the hands of experienced players. We had to take these differences into account as well before we could start drawing conclusions.

DIGITAL AND PHYSICAL WORLDS COLLIDE

Of course, digital playtesting is not everything, and it was crucial for us to playtest Expedition Leaders with people on the “real-world” table. Some things that are working smoothly when everything is automated might turn out to be not ideal when translated to a physical environment. To identify this, we had to see how people were operating the game with their hands. How is the tablespace working? Is anything too fiddly? Are players forgetting anything? These and more questions were constantly asked and observed when we brought the expansion to the physical table – various live playtesting events, limited of course by the current COVID situation, helped us check and tweak the experience.

The Mystic, for example, had a special token that went through some iterations after seeing players handling it on the table. Under specific circumstances, players were supposed to store the Fear cards under this token. However, it turned out to be too fiddly and the token often ended up buried under the cards instead of being on top of the pile. So we reworked our original idea and the token became a board on which you could store the cards.

This is just one of the many changes we made thanks to the feedback we got from the people attending our testing events. We feel very fortunate that so many amazing people were willing to help us with the playtesting! Many things were fine-tuned and perfected thanks to their help and we believe these changes, though sometimes seemingly subtle, made a world of difference. 


Thank you for joining us on this journey! Come back next week on Thursday, September 23, to read the third and last part of this series.

Read Part 1

Playtesting Lost Ruins of Arnak: Expedition Leaders (Part 1)

Today, after a month of wild playing, experimenting, and iteration,  the online playtesting of Expedition Leaders is over. Now seemed like a good time for us to look back and reflect on this challenging yet so interesting and rewarding process that we’ve been engaged in for the past few weeks.

Our report is split into 3 parts – we’ll be releasing parts 2 and 3 on a weekly basis, so you can expect the next two articles to pop out on September 16 and 23. We hope you’ll enjoy this little peek behind the curtain and let’s begin!

INTO THE UNKNOWN

As usual, the prototype has been developed and discussed in-house for quite some time, with many CGE colleagues playing and commenting on the expansion. And once we saw that the core was solid and we were happy with how the expansion worked and how playing it felt, we decided to take one step forward and let other players from outside of the company join the process. In general, this playtest was important to us on multiple levels.

The base game of Lost Ruins of Arnak is played and enjoyed by many people – the game has a strong fan base with very invested and committed players. This motivated us, even more, to make the expansion as polished as possible, because people enjoy it so much and we don’t want to disappoint our fellow board gamers (which is not a small pressure in itself).

The second biggest reason for the playtest being so important is the element of asymmetry that the expansion brings to the table. Each new leader has their own features, abilities, starting decks, and their play styles are just different. Asymmetry in games is great when it works, as it keeps the games more exciting and fresh, but it’s also so incredibly tough to balance.

Playtesting launched on 10 August, and it was one of the biggest and most intense playtest events we’ve ever conducted.

Its scale definitely added to the feeling of uniqueness and gratitude that we’ve felt throughout the process. Almost 100 active players from all over the world joined our efforts and more than 560 games were played throughout the span of one month – this number roughly translates to an average of 18 games per day which is an incredible number. In the final week of the testing, there was a point where at least one game was played at any hour of the day, including workdays (and nights). It was exciting to see players so engaged!

GETTING READY

To make this playtest happen, we’ve had to do a lot of preparation and work on our side before the action even began.

The most obvious step was to put together a concise rules overview because up until that point, the rules were in our heads and in multiple docs and sheets, and we’ve had to translate all this into rough and functional bullet points that people who’ve never seen the expansion would understand.

We’ve also had to prepare a Discord server and, after its virtual gates were open, manage the community there. In order to populate this server, we had to make sure we picked enough players and, of course, prepare the digital implementation itself – the virtual table where the most important things would happen.

Preparing the digital version of the expansion was made much easier because we already have a quality implementation of the base game on BoardGameArena, so the groundwork was already laid with lots of basic rules and processes being in place. However, there was still a lot of work left to be done for the expansion to work. 

This process was made even easier for us because the creator of the base game BGA implementation, Adam Španěl, joined CGE and was in much closer contact with the team and deeply involved in the design process itself. Adam managed to prepare the expansion’s implementation much faster than we could’ve hoped for. During playtesting itself, he was also quick to help the community by fixing bugs and implementing design changes in record time. It was almost unbelievable how fast the implementation progressed in Adam’s hands 🙂

BoardGameArena also served as a strong source of playtesters, since there are many active and engaged Lost Ruins of Arnak players on the platform. That player community has a great knowledge of the game and is well-versed in different strategies and play styles suited for different game situations. We picked some of the best, most experienced, and most active players and offered them a chance to help us perfect the expansion content. Besides the BGA player base, we also talked to many folks in our Czech community and invited them to join us on our endeavor. In the end, we’ve managed to bring together 100 players for whose feedback, comments, and ideas we are very, very grateful. You guys have put a lot of time and effort into this – thank you!


This is all from us for this week’s post – come back next week, on September 16, to check out part 2 of this series 🙂

The Road to Arnak

Developing and publishing Lost Ruins of Arnak amidst a global pandemic has been a harrowing adventure of its own, to say the least. Hitting exciting milestones, like recently winning the 2020 Golden Geek award for Medium Game of the Year, certainly helps to keep our spirits high, but this trek has had its share of pitfalls, too. As we plot a course forward through these difficult times, we also wanted to take a moment to look back to appreciate the journey itself.

The Evolution of Arnak

Once per year in March, we invite all CGE employees and our friends from the Czech board gaming community to gather together in one place. There, we mostly playtest games, focusing the most on games planned to be released the same year. In 2019, that was Sanctum and the Through the Ages expansion.

Besides testing games already in development, we also spend time trying out new prototypes, too. And that was the case with Arnak from Mín and Elwen, who both happened to be our friends and have been working with us in CGE for some time. They started showing their prototype to several people, and I remember that at some point, I heard from several people that we definitely should try it out. 

When something like this happens, it’s usually quite promising. So we tried it, and we were pleasantly surprised. Not only did we see its potential, but we felt that the prototype was in such good shape that it would be possible to release it the same year. I am glad, however, that we resisted that temptation.

Releasing it in 2019 wouldn’t allow us to make all those beautiful illustrations and develop the game properly, as some crucial ideas came to us only one year later. And the production wouldn’t be on the same level as it is now, as those arrows, tablets, and jewels wouldn’t have been possible to make in time.

So we agreed that we were interested in the game, with a preliminary launch date for Essen Spiel 2020. Throughout the rest of the year, designers continued playtesting, iterating, and expanding on the core design. By Spiel 2019, the game was in great shape, and people were enjoying it a lot, so shortly after that we made the formal decision to publish it in 2020.

But nobody quite expected the crazy times ahead.

2020: A Wild Ride

The world of Arnak really started to come alive in the first weeks of 2020, as Mín and Elwen worked closely with graphic designers and illustrators to expand the game’s lore and visual style. It was an exciting time for the project. With everything coming together, 2020 was shaping up to be a good year for Arnak.

Then the lockdown came, and COVID-19 completely turned the world upside down.

Fortunately for us, CGE originally started as an online company. When we worked on our first games Galaxy Trucker and League of Six (and the original Through the Ages even before that), we worked from our homes and met only at gaming events. Only after several years of existence, we decided to have an office. But even after that, not everyone was visiting the office regularly, as some people were living too far from Prague for that.

So we knew how to work remotely and test our games online, as we had done that before. But not being able to attend gaming events and playtest games there was new for us, and from our experience, we knew that it is crucial. Games can feel very different when you are playing them online compared to playing with actual physical components. Fortunately, during the summer, events here in Czech were allowed again, and we were able to playtest Arnak in person.

Arnak was announced on July 1st, 2020, and the reception was amazing! It was a relief to see the game make a successful launch in October, winning numerous awards and receiving lots of critical praise from press and players alike. Interest in Arnak was even higher than our most optimistic predictions, however, and it didn’t take long for demand to outpace supply.

In late 2020 and early 2021, the pandemic also put limitations on wooden component manufacturing across the industry. Cardboard and paper supply issues, alongside slower shipping times around the world, have further exacerbated those challenges in recent months—making it exceedingly difficult to keep the game in stock. We know this is frustrating for players who’ve been waiting to delve into Arnak’s depths.

The good news is we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to battle this, and things are starting to look up! Big praise here goes to our partners who publish Arnak in other languages with us, as they committed to a second print run of Arnak even before they received the first one!

The Adventure Continues…

On the digital front, we are glad that the Beta of Arnak was recently released to play online on Board Game Arena! It’s still in active development by our friend Adam Španěl, but it’s fully featured, and you can enjoy the game online for free. But what about newly vaccinated players who can’t wait to get Arnak to the table with their gaming group this year?
We have more copies en-route to retailers as we speak, and we’ve worked out a solution to increase our global production capacities. Our hope is that we’ll soon be able to deliver enough games worldwide to meet demand and keep copies in stock.

We are very grateful for our amazing player community, and to everyone else who has been patiently waiting to enjoy Lost Ruins of Arnak for the first time! Looking ahead, we have some exciting developments in the works, including a hefty solo campaign (and companion app) as well as some other fun surprises for you.

Stay tuned and stay safe!

Through the Designer’s Notes, Part 3

To be honest, when I started this blog, I had no idea it will be this long. It was meant mostly as some intro text to the designer notes for expansion cards we are adding to the game web. But when I was digging through that old history, nostalgia surfaced, and the text is now living its own life. Let’s see where it takes us today 🙂

Through the Graenaland to America

Since the previous millennium, Czech players are visiting Essen “Spiel” show – to hunt for new games, to compete in Europe Masters tournament, and generally to celebrate their love for games. But in 2006, it was different. There was a Czech booth in Essen! And one of the games on that booth was the first print of Through the Ages. Just a few hundreds of copies, not that nice art or production value, but done with love and hope.

Well, it was a small booth, in a small hall, and those usually do not attract much attention. But Czech Board Games was an exception, that small booth was crowded since day 1. Because of Through the Ages? Nope. Because of another game called Graenaland.

It was another of my games, and we managed to finish it soon enough to send a few copies to reviewers. And lucky for us, Rick Thornquist, sure one of the most influential reviewers of that time, really liked it. He liked it so much he put it as #1 on his list of expected Essen games. That of course dragged attention to that little booth of unknown Czechs. Curious people came to see Graenaland – and they discovered also Through the Ages. Thank you, good old Greanaland 🙂

One of these people was Jeff DeBoer of Funagain games. He bought a copy of Through the Ages, and they played it back at the hotel that night. And the next day, he was back, with a publishing proposal. Whoa, my first business meeting with an American publisher!

When working in videogames, I had few formal meetings with suits from game acquisition departments, so I was curious how it is in the board game industry. And I must say I loved it from the first moment. Jeff and I were just sitting on stairs in the Essen hallway, next to an overflowing trash bin, friendly talking about my game. And this meeting then led to the US edition of Through the Ages.

Back to the Czechs (and Poles, and a Frenchman)

While that US edition was being prepared, in the Czech Republic, the first amateur print run of Though the Ages started something. Something that was going to hugely impact my life and lives of people around me, and indirectly also many players around the world. Czech Games Edition was born. During the hundreds of hours of work on the first edition of TtA, my friends and I realized this is something we want to do for a living. And thus, since 2007, CGE is visiting Essen show with new games every year (damn you, stupid virus, for breaking that nice tradition).

Well, this blog is about Through the Ages, and it was produced in China and published by a US company at that time. Yet, something important for the future of the game was just happening here in the heart of Europe.

Some smaller publishers were interested to have their own language versions, and since these were usually just small print runs, I agreed with the US publisher they will be handled by Czech Games Edition. One of our first partners was a Polish publisher, and they wanted to add something extra to the game, something that would convince Polish players they want their edition (such a heavy game was not for everyone, and many of those who might enjoy it already had English version).

So, they asked us to add a few extra cards with famous Polish historical figures and landmarks. Wow, that’s a great idea, said the Czech publisher. And then the Spanish one. They all came with ideas for their own national bonus cards, and we balanced and tweaked them a bit, and then included them to their language versions.

And here comes the Frenchman I promised in the caption– Nicolas d’Halluin, author of boardgaming-online.com, the first site where you could play Though the Ages comfortably online. Besides all that great work on the online version, he also implemented those extra national cards. And he and the community around his server even came with some more extra cards just for his online site.

Why was it so important? I always knew Through the Ages would benefit from a bigger selection of wonders and leaders, but I never decided to go for it – I was aware it will require a tremendous amount of work to balance the game again, with all the new cards. However, after playing few games with a random mix of leaders and wonders on boardgaming-online, I also realized how much it actually adds to the game, and I decided it is definitely worth the effort, even if I spend a year with it. It was actually more years in the end, but yes, I still think it was worth it 🙂

— to be continued —

Brazil in quarantine

With our friends from Devir, we work together to bring our games to several countries. They already sent us how it looked in Spain, and now the situation in Brazil.

Brazil is, as we write this message, the epicenter of the pandemic in South America.

All our territory is officially in quarantine, and some regions are already in lockdown. Only essential activities are permitted, and most of us are struggling to keep social distancing, many times, against the bad example of some of our federal authorities.

Business is also struggling to survive, those who were prepared to sell online are in better shape; those who weren´t, now face extinction.

The government has approved some economic aid measures for the population and business (as low-interest credit), but in both cases, the help doesn´t seem to reach those who need it.

And as we thought Amazon already had all the advantage they needed to expand their market share here, well, we were wrong.

For now, in the short term, for some sectors of the economy, the gain from the increase of online sales should compensate the loss of income from the brick and mortar stores.

And despite all the grave global repercussions of the pandemic, the ones we are facing now, and the ones still to come, the undeveloped Brazilian board game market has an opportunity to grow, due to the intrinsic social nature of the board games.

Quarantined families, couples, and even people who leave alone share their experience with board games on social media more than never.

Our analogical hobby is spreading through the digital.

There are many reasons to be concerned, but not to be a pessimist.

Through the Designer’s Notes, Part 2

In my last post, I was writing about how the leaders sneaked to Through the Ages from an older prototype of mine. You probably wonder also about the wonders. But before diving into it, I owe you one more explanation.

Who Leads the Nation

Even if you accept that kind of random approach to leader selection I described earlier, you may still wonder – why the heck I thought Aristotle, James Cook, or Sid Meier are leaders of a nation? Well, I haven’t. In my Czech prototype, they were called “osobnosti”, which means “personalities” or “great persons”. Their texts were not meant as effects of their leadership, it was rather the influence and legacy of those persons that affected the entire nation for centuries. The nation had only one leader, kind of timeless and transcendent – you.

When Jason, our translator, translated them as “leaders”, I was not happy with that. He argued that calling them “leaders” is much simpler and easier to grasp than “great persons”, and people get used to it. I was not sure, but I reluctantly agreed. As a memento, we still call them “osobnosti” in all Czech versions of the game.

When writing rules for the new version, I stumbled upon it, again. I tried to make it clear how it was meant (in the section about Leaders, there is written: “A leader is a great historical figure whom you choose to be the spiritual guide of your civilization. The leader’s legacy gives you special abilities and benefits.“)

But well, artificial reasoning does not work much. They are called leaders, so they are considered leaders. We are even displaying the current leader as the player avatar in the digital version of the game (and you usually remember your opponents by them), and when playing the game, players seem to accept the fact a nation can be led by Shakespeare. At least I sure got used to that – Jason was correct 🙂

And Those Wonders

As you might guess, that old game had wonders, too, as while having great persons is optional in a civilization-themed game, wonders are simply a must :). Although many wonders were shared between that game and Through the Ages, the changes of the selection were much bigger in this case. I might say it was because they worked very differently – they were only of three ages, they were dependent on certain techs, they were picked and constructed by different ways, they belonged to a certain territory, etc. – but well, the fact I had just a googled background image and not a hand-drawn a picture for each one of the original wonders sure made the decision to change them easier 🙂

Some remained for obvious reasons – how can you make a list of wonders without Pyramids or the Great Wall. But there were also some less typical that were amongst the original selection.

One of those I was proud of back then was Internet. You might say – why, Internet is a typical wonder included in most of Civilization games. But at the time when I was creating that game, Civilization III, where Internet first appeared, was not published yet. And I said to myself – hey, is there anything that changed humankind more in the last century than this instant access to information and the affordable way how to produce content for others? Sid Meier should include internet as a wonder into his games. I will sure do it 🙂

Well, today, when I see what Internet and social media do to people, I am not that thrilled, but still, Internet affects the world more than anything else. It does not have to be only positive. Which brings me to Fast Food Chains, another wonder that came from the first game. That odd “wonder” might cause some people to question my values :). But no, I am not a regular Mc-Taco-King-Whatever consumer. The idea was to show that the culture points mean how much you affect the world, and it does not have to be objectively positive. You can spread your culture by great artists, by your swords – or by hamburgers. So, I included Fast Foods also into Through the Ages, as a symbol of globalization, which sure affects the world a lot.

By the way, Age III wonders were more interesting in that old game, they had some strong and cool ongoing effects. But that just didn’t work well. You cannot balance effects if you do not know whether they will be in the game five rounds, or just one. Changing them just to “giving a crazy amount of culture when finished” was a good solution, I lost some of the thematic variability, but now, finishing an Age III wonder is the true climax of the game while considering “whether the wonder still pays off or not” wasn’t. In the expansion, I toyed with it a bit more, all the wonders are more interactive, but I was still keeping in mind their main effect should be lots of culture (in case of Manhattan Project, it may be culture gained by a war 🙂

Ah, I just went through those old cards and found something I already forgot. Statue of Liberty was a wonder in that old game, too (in Through the Ages, it was added in the expansion). However, its original effect was different – you had to build it on a territory of another player, you both produced some culture, but you both suffered huge culture penalty if attacking each other. Sounds familiar? Yeah, this wonder was the first pact in the game.

part 3

Situation in New Zealand

Since the start of the blog, we had a lot of coronavirus reports, but none was that far from the Czech Republic as this one. Our friends from Pixelpark sent us what is happening in New Zealand:

March 24th, the New Zealand Government enforced a 4 week National Lockdown at level 4. This means all Schools, Universities, shops, services, and public transport must close and for everyone to remain in their homes till the end of April. Travel is restricted, and all social gatherings of any kind, other than the people we live with, are banned. Essential services (Supermarkets, drugstores, and Freight Companies) remain in operation but in a restricted capacity. This is going to have a major impact on our operation for the foreseeable future.

We have had to close our warehouse and will not be sending any orders to stores till the lockdown is lifted. As of today, all the stores in New Zealand we supply have closed. All new releases scheduled for April will now ship in May.

The Tourism industry in New Zealand – which is a significant portion of our GDP has effectively been shut down and will stay that way for quite some time. NZ will see a significant increase in unemployment. I imagine everything that is going on will take a toll on retailers’ cashflow, which will have consequences well beyond the lockdown.

We have survived 3 recessions, an earthquake swarm that lasted several years, the mass shootings last March with the subsequent 3 weeks in a police cordon (we are next door to the Christchurch Mosque). We’re getting pretty resilient. But it will still be a challenge, especially taking into account the hammering our currency has taken over the last few weeks, but we’re in a strong position to get through this difficult period, which is unprecedented.

May 16th – After 7 weeks, stores have finally opened, with COVID19 seeming held at bay. Social distancing is still required along with customers signing in and out of stores for contact tracing, but at least stores can begin trading again. Sales have been strong as stores have been restocking after solid sales the day before lock-down, (it turns out that boardgames are the ideal product for quarantine). But how all this will impact business over the next year is unclear at this stage.

How to play Trapwords over the internet

We are continuing to work on many projects to help people survive social distancing. A few weeks ago, Tony Gullotti, our PR manager for North America prepared a video showing how to play Codenames with friends over the internet. Today he shared a video showing how to play Trapwords using Discord, you can watch it below.

Many of the conventions that CGE usually attends will be virtual this year, so we have been focusing on things to make playing games easier, and more enjoyable when played online. Next week we will be sharing a big project that I feel will benefit upcoming virtual conventions we will be attending, and Tony will continue to make more videos showing instructions for more of our games with another videoconferencing software.

Through the Designer’s Notes, Part 1

If you have been playing Through the Ages for a while, I suppose you got used to that mix of leaders and wonders in the game. But there was probably a moment when some of you asked yourself – how the designer picked those wonders. And especially – why just those people as leaders? Such an experienced designer sure had very good reasons, right? Or, are we missing something here?

This text might help you to understand what’s behind that 🙂

Before The Ages

What is important to realize – Through the Ages was not created by an experienced designer. And it was actually not even created “for publishing”. Back then, I was designing various board games without any plan, just because I loved to, and then, I was playing them with my friends. I was actually quite surprised when a friend of mine who happened to be a hobby games publisher said about one of them (Arena): “This is good, I would publish it”.

One of these old games was an epic Civilization-themed game. No, it was not Through the Ages and the mechanics were different – there were big territory cards (with tiny cattle, wheat, iron or coal icons), players were competing for them and put little people tokens on that icons, there were wooden houses (for labs, temples or libraries) etc. But there was also some familiar stuff – four Ages, four types of units, science points to unlock new techs, cultural points that served as victory points, events that messed with the game, and more. And especially, there was a set of 24 great persons, six per age. When an age ended, you picked one of them secretly and used them later for a strong one-time effect.

When creating that game, I just picked random historical figures that came to my mind. You know, I didn’t even know whether the game will work. But I toyed with everything back then and wanted my prototypes to look nice. And since it was impossible to find pictures of all those persons in a similar style, I have just personally drawn a picture for each one.

Well, it was so many years ago I think I didn’t even have my own camera back then, so I have no pictures of that game. But I was digging deep in my old prototype boxes, found the cards and took a picture for you – as you can see, I am not kidding, you probably recognize most of those people… Sorry for the texts, this prototype never existed in other than the Czech language. But at least, you can realize how old these cards are – they come from the era when using Comic Sans was not listed amongst mortal sins! 🙂

Anyway, the game worked quite well, my friends loved it, but I was a bit unhappy with one or two parts of it. Several years later, I returned to it with fresh ideas – but instead of just replacing the problematic parts, I have built a completely new game around those new ideas. The one you know as Through the Ages now.

The True Ages

Well, the truth is, neither that new game was created with publishing in my mind. I was just not thinking that way, I had my job I loved (doing videogames) and creating board games was just a very passionate hobby, that only rarely ended with a publishing agreement for the local market.

So when I was looking for some great historical figures to test those new ideas on, I didn’t hesitate – I already had a set of 24 hand-drawn portraits :).

Well, I used only 23. One of the original ones was created specially for a particular mechanic of the first game (freeing the slaves), thus I had to pick another one. So, this is also a story of why Johann Sebastian Bach was the only leader without a portrait in the early prototypes of Through the Ages 🙂

Thus that random pick from many-many-years-ago made it also to another game many-years-ago. I wrote some mechanics for these personalities, my friends and I started to playtest with them… and when we started to love the game to the point when we were considering publishing it, we already got so used to them (and had their abilities relatively well balanced), so no-one questioned the selection.

It would be sure different today – someone would probably notice shameful lack of female leaders and strong dominance of western culture amongst the selection, but well, political correctness was not a thing here in Czech back then, and we were producing and publishing our first BIG game, so we had lots of other issues to solve. And also – for us, games were always first and foremost about gameplay.


So, be sure there were no hidden intentions behind the selection of the leaders for the game. There was just a young geek who sat down to his computer one evening around the end of the millennium, trying to recall 24 historical figures he remembered from the history lessons he had at school, to spice up a civilization-like game he was creating for his friends.

part 2

Hope you enjoyed this piece of old memories. Next time, I will tell you a bit more about the intentions behind leaders and wonders in the game. Meanwhile, you may read some interesting stuff about selected leaders and wonders from the expansion here.