The Guilds of Kutná Hora

In our last article, we took a deep dive into mining and the role it plays in both the city’s history and our upcoming game alike. Today, we have a special treat — a designer diary article written by Kutná Hora co-designer Ondřej Bystroň that sheds more light on the asymmetrical guilds in the game, where they come from historically, and how they factor into the experience. Enjoy!

Ondřej writes:

The whole idea of asymmetrical guilds is connected to the concept of the dynamic economy. The inspiration for having a dynamic economy came at the very beginning of development, when I was looking at a historical illuminated manuscript depicting Kutná Hora’s silver economy and thinking about how to turn it into game mechanics. Everything in the painting was clear. Miners, ore smelting, workers in mint…and it made sense. However, I was especially intrigued by the group of people sitting around the table who were checking the ore presented to them. Who were they? What was their purpose? 

As it wasn’t easy to find an answer, I picked up the phone and called the Museum of Silver in Kutná Hora and asked. I was lucky, as that was during the time of COVID lock downs and the museum was closed to the public. So, the museum director was generous enough to explain all events happening in the illumination.

Image copyright: GASK – Sbírka Galerie Středočeského kraje, Kutná Hora – used with permission

It turned out those dudes in fancy cloth were silver ore merchants, buying ore for their own smelters or for further resale. The whole trading operation was organized as a blind auction. Merchants checked the quality of ore, and after that they whispered their offer to the seller, who then decided on whom to sell to. And the part where my head exploded? They were called “Masters of Whispers.”  

It was decided. The game won’t be just another city building game. There will be a dynamic economy – with a real supply and demand system. That’s where the different guilds entered the picture.

Copyright: Wien, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek – used with permission

The evolution of guilds

First, we just had Miners and Metallurgists, as this was the core Kutná Hora economy. At that moment, we have decided to link the price of those commodities – silver ore and silver ingots. That made perfect sense. The more silver there was, the lower the price and vice versa. It has stayed like that even until today.

Of course – the more I’ve read, the more I wanted to make the game more realistic. Mining buildings were just wooden constructions that enabled workers to operate under the surface, and this is how they are in the game. They’re the cheapest of all, and they enable mine construction. On the other hand – Metallurgists had to build more technically advanced structures, especially smelters. And they are doubly expensive. The interesting thing this creates in the game is that you must always balance between the inflow of ore and Metallurgists plants available to process it. The price of ore varies a lot.  

Right after that came Scribes. Administration in Medieval Europe was surprisingly important. The absence of central government and universal rights created lots of specific legal situations. One was allowed to sell some goods in one town but not in another. Having a court in the town meant that citizens could better self-rule. If that didn’t exist, towns had to rely on external authorities, and nobody liked that. Eventually the King invited Italian lawyers to Kutná Hora and asked them to prepare the Royal Mining Law in 1300. The curious thing is that this law was used throughout the coming centuries and was canceled only in 1854. 

In our game, Scribes are connected to the production of ore, as the main need for administration in Kutná Hora came from mining. Kings simply didn’t want to be cheated. Nevertheless, the price of “booking” is important for all. Everybody is buying the “rights to build” or mining, and for that you must pay an administration fee — which is connected to ore production and compared to hte number of scribes in the city.  

Historically, in medieval towns each profession would have its own guild. You weren’t allowed to perform your profession unless you were a member of the guild. At the same time – guild membership was strictly regulated. This is another element that we brought into the game. If there are not enough customers for a specific commodity, you are not allowed to build another guild facility.

After integrating miners, metallurgists, and scribes to game, we were at a crossroads. In bigger towns, specialization would go ad absurdum. In Prague, even needle makers had their own guild, and at the peak of guild organization there were around 200 different guilds. Somehow, we felt that 200 guilds in a euro game might be slightly more complex than the average euro gamer would appreciate. So, we had to choose. 

Builders were no brainer. As the city and mines are expanding, there is a huge need for skilled builders. We know from historical records that even Parler’s workshop moved to Kutná Hora. Builders are not directly connected to mining, rather to the growth of population. The more people there are in the city, the bigger the need for housing, the more expensive buildings became.

This guild offers interesting decisions that can be hard for certain types of players. By building new workshops you are decreasing the price of building not only for yourself, but also for all others. Some players can’t overcome that fact, and don’t progress in the guild — shooting themselves in the foot in the process. On the other hand, nothing beats the feeling when your opponent’s spend a fortune for construction, and you, as a builder, decrease the price in next turn to benefit yourself.

Grocers and Innkeepers are tied to the population of the city. As explained in the dynamic economy post, the more people there are, the higher the yield. And when there are not enough people, nobody is buying your beer.  

That idea was even more apparent during development. When there were too many pubs and too few customers, your income was just miserable. We have balanced it a bit, but believe me, you are going to feel it if your pubs are empty. Innkeepers are important from a lore perspective, too. They represent fun in the city and fun there was. So much, that there was a long fight over the jurisdiction of city spa houses – largely due to taxes.

In the game, Grocers and Innkeepers stand for the prosperity of the city. They show the transformation from a purely industrial town to a service economy. And therefore, they were connected to the most apparent proof of the city’s prosperity: St. Barbara. By advancing in those guilds, you are also advancing the construction of the city’s main temple.  

How do you benefit from that? That we are going to explain in another article soon enough!

Curious to learn more about the other mechanics and systems at play in our upcoming city-building heavy euro? Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes articles and don’t forget to subscribe to the BGG page so you don’t miss any important updates!

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

Read Part 1
Read Part 2

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.


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.


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
Read Part 2

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.


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.


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!


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!


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 🙂