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!

Mining for Prosperity in Kutná Hora

In our last article, we covered the strategic essentials of building out the shared city board in Kutná Hora, as well as some of the historical building elements the game is based on. Next up, we’re taking a different kind of deep dive: straight into the mines.

Mining was an essential part of the city ecosystem in Kutná Hora, and the city might not exist today without having brave miners who were willing to harvest ore to smelt into silver. It was a dangerous job that paid extremely well, considering the risks involved in delving far underground in narrow tunnels to dig out ore.

In the early days of Kutná Hora, there wasn’t much of a city to speak of, beyond a few scattered nearby settlements. Things kicked into high gear in the second half of the 13th century, when rich silver ore veins were discovered in the area, drawing thousands of people to the region from all across Europe. Everything temporarily sprouted up around the mines, initially.

“During that period, when a new city was founded, it was typically well planned, with a central square, good defensive positions, and often regularly squared town blocks. That was definitely not the case with Kutná Hora,” notes history enthusiast and co-designer Ondřej Bystroň. “First settlements were built around mines, unconnected. Chapels for the miners stood literally in the middle of the mining operation, and when mines turned out not to be prosperous, people moved without hesitation to different settlements.”

This historical tidbit is reflected in the building aspect of the game, as extra neighborhood marks are situated at the edges of the game board to motivate players to start building there. As the city became richer and more prominent, more permanent buildings sprouted up, including beautiful chapels and other critical infrastructure to support the ever growing mining operation

Thematic tie-ins

Mining was a complex operation. Getting people in and out of the mine was a time-consuming process, fresh air had to be pumped in through ventilation shafts and surface blade fan towers, and water also had to be pumped out. Ging gangs—large mining machines that acted as horse-powered winches—were used to transport ore and other material to the surface. If you look closely at some of the mining guild building tiles included in the game, you’ll notice many of these important elements are included.

Kutná Hora grew out of industrial roots, and the juxtaposition between life above ground and life below ground—and the contrasting light and darkness—is woven throughout the game’s visual style. “I wanted to recreate that sense of illumination for players, says Ondřej. “Above, you have a busy city, where everything is happening all at once. Below, you have a dark underground, with very narrow shafts and miners working. The city at the time was not particularly beautiful as it is today: there was a huge ore processing industry on the surface.”

How mining works in the game

From a game mechanics standpoint, mining in Kutná Hora is a viable way to earn a substantial portion of end-game scoring. To build a mine, you must play the mine action card on your turn, and have enough money for the permit needed to unlock a miner from your board, enough to pay the wood cost of the mine, and there must be an available space in the mine. When placing a mine tile, you can build it to the left, right, or below an existing mine tile, and you pay the highest of the neighboring costs.

Mine tiles are drawn from the bottom of the stack, and they have a wide range of bonuses on them that get better as the game progresses and the stack thins. Some tiles have rich ore veins, some help you advance further in the mine with greater ease, and some help you gain a technological majority in one level of the mine—each can be useful, but it depends on what your specific plans are game-to-game.

At the end of the game, players will score differently depending on who has the majority of star symbols in each of the four mining levels. The score is also impacted by the total number of stars on tiles across each level of the mine, too.

“Mining creates a small puzzle, where players are influencing each other, and you always have to consider how your mining operation is influencing others and you,” says Ondřej. “Mines, when played skillfully, can be a major source of income and also a huge VP boost. What is happening on the surface is also important for the mines. In Kutná Hora, the more supportive mining buildings there are, the bigger the range of choices players get in the mines, and you want to have good choices.”

Mining’s impact on the game’s dynamic economy

The mines and the city above are directly tied together in many ways, which is both a visual connection and a game design connection, Ondřej explains. “Miners and Metallurgists are economically interconnected. So, when there is not enough ore coming from the mines, metallurgists are not earning. The same works in the opposite direction. If miners produce tons of ore, but there is no one to smelt, prices of ore go down really quickly,” he says.

Scribes, another of the game’s six distinct guilds (which we’ll look closer at next time), are also directly connected to mining. “The whole point of having bureaucracy in the city was to somehow put a legal frame to the mining,” he says. “At its peak, Kutná Hora’s silver mines accounted for roughly 30% of the whole of European silver production. Therefore kings wanted to be really sure, that everyone plays by the rules and everything is in books. But if you want to be a scribe in a city without mining, soon you have to search for another source of income.”

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!

Building the City in Kutná Hora

In our last article, we explored the ins and outs of the uniquely dynamic supply and demand economy at the heart of Kutná Hora’s historical city building strategy. Of course, you can’t have a thriving city without…buildings, right? Let’s take a closer look at another key aspect of gameplay: building an awesome city!

Though there are multiple ways to score and create combos in Kutná Hora: The City of Silver, a big focus of the game—both thematically and mechanically—hinges on how well you build out the city itself. At the start of the game, the city’s infrastructure is empty, but it will gradually begin to fill up over time, as players collectively add their own structures into the mix on the shared city grid.

The nuts and bolts

Building in Kutná Hora is a multi-step process. Before you can construct a building, you first must pay for a plot of land to develop on. This requires you to use the “plot” action card on your turn and pay for the development cost of the plot. In most cases, you’ll be buying plots next to already existing buildings, and the price of the plot depends on the neighboring buildings—the more prestigious the buildings next door, the more expensive the plot will be.

Once you’ve secured a plot or two, you’ll need to purchase the rights to construct a particular building from the offer. Each building type aligns with one of the six guilds in the game, and you may only purchase building tiles that match one of the guilds you’ve selected on your player board. The one exception is the larger public buildings, which are expensive and trickier to build. Public buildings are not owned by the person who builds them, but they provide lots of benefits to the person who constructs them as well as anyone who builds adjacent to them. These special structures also bring important people to the city, which we’ll explore more in a future article.

To claim a building tile from the top of one of the stacks in the offer, you must play the “rights” action card on your turn, and pay the associated cost. The permit price you pay depends on the position within the row the building is located in the offer, and it ties directly into the current market value of the scribes. Historically, there was no universal code of law during this time, and everything was handled very locally. This represents securing the right to build from the king. Once you’ve secured the rights to a building, you’ll add it to an available storage slot at the top of your player board and shift the stacks in the offer accordingly. 

For the third and final step, you must play the “build” action card on your turn. This lets you replace one of your plots with a building tile you own, completing the building process. To build, you’ll also have to pay for your structures based-on the current market cost of wood, so timing can be critical to squeezing the most value out of your purchase. It makes good strategic sense, for example, to wait until the price of wood drops to a reasonable value before constructing an expensive building.

All of that sounds like a lot of work, right? So what do you get for your hard-won efforts?

Rewards for your labor

When you complete a building, you’ll first resolve all of the icons on that tile. This usually includes getting some juicy rewards, and typically also impacts the economy in some way. Then you’ll flip the building tile, and remove one of your house tokens from the corresponding guild track on your player board and place it on the corner to mark the building you just created. In doing so, you’ll also immediately gain another bonus, based on the guild track and location you removed the building piece from on your player board. 

Some of the guild perks include the potential to get free rights for public buildings, earn brotherhood tokens that can be spent towards building the St. Barbara’s cathedral, and reputation that can make the cost of plotting free and give you bonus end game victory points. They are a nice little extra perk for furthering one of your guilds’ influences and expanding the city.

The other major bonus that buildings can provide, is a substantial endgame scoring bonus. If you build carefully and plan things out well, you can squeeze out quite a few points from thoughtful construction. You’ll notice there are groupings of special symbols of different colors “neighborhood marks” in the upper left corner of each building tile. At the end of the game, every building you’ve completed will gain 1 victory point for every symbol on adjacent buildings that match its own (as well as any symbols that match along the edge of the board). 

Interestingly, the symbols at the edge of the board represent nearby settlements that existed when silver was first discovered in the area. With mining driving the regional economy, those settlements grew and eventually merged into what historically became Kutná Hora.

Drawing on history

Thematically, the designers drew heavily from the city of Kutná Hora’s actual history when deciding on types of buildings to include in the game, the way they can combo positionally, and the general arrangement of structures in the city. Most of the major building tiles are even visually designed after real architecture that remains in the city today. Situating buildings to better align with how they were historically positioned throughout the city increases their scoring potential. That’s where the symbols, which are actual stonemason marks that were used during that time period, come into play. Beyond being tied to how the city originally looked, layout-wise, they also represent how various buildings in the city tended to work together.

“If you think about it from a historical perspective, what we are trying to do is nudge you to build the city the way Kutná Hora was built historically, because some of these symbol marks are from the inner city, and some of these marks are from outside of the city,” notes co-designer Ondřej Bystroň. “You can always put a building somewhere else, but if you can arrange into neighborhoods that are closer to how the original city was built, you will get more points.”

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!

A Closer Look at Kutná Hora’s Dynamic Economy System

A lot of classic euros tend to skew towards players plotting out and executing their own plans each turn, without much interaction or connection between what they’re doing and what their opponents are doing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing of course, but the designers behind Kutná Hora: The City of Silver wanted to create a very different heavy euro experience.

In Kutná Hora, everything is tied together by a dynamic supply and demand economic system that makes for an ever-shifting journey as the city evolves over the course of the game. Every action a player takes affects almost everyone else on the board in some way, and that keeps cycling in different directions from turn to turn. This makes for highly interactive rounds where you have to keep a close eye on what other players are doing and be willing to pivot, if you want to keep up.

Economic balance is the key to prosperity

“The dynamic economy is something really unique,” says Petr Čáslava, one of the game’s trio of co-designers. “Kutná Hora was designed on really dynamic elements — it’s not just the economics itself, it flows through other areas of the game, too. What we tried to do, and I truly believe we achieved, is to produce new stories around the table each time you play the game.”

Over the course of the game, players will be mining, smelting, acquiring plots of land, building guild structures and engaging in other key activities that go towards enhancing the city’s (and their own) prosperity. Their choices and actions can have a dramatic effect on the market over time, as you might expect with the flow of a supply and demand economy. When someone constructs multiple buildings of the same type and floods the market with a particular resource, for example, the price of that resource goes down — which can help or hinder others, depending on the circumstances. As more people come to inhabit the city and population grows, however, the price of that devalued resource will slowly rise back up. Things are always in flux.

As such, no two games of Kutná Hora are quite the same, which makes for high replayability due to the sheer level of player interactivity with the game’s systems and one another. The first time you play, for example, you could suddenly find that other player’s choices make the cost of wood very expensive. Consequently, this makes it harder to build as often, depending on the configuration of guilds you control, which instead nudges you to double down on mining instead because it’s cheaper for you. Other times, your experience could be the complete opposite, and it will tell a very different story.

Kutná Hora is also not a zero sum game where you can only narrowly focus on your own goals and win easily. All players are tied into the game’s economic systems, which connects strongly to the theme of collectively working together to build a grand city. You have to balance your own self-interest with the greater good of progressing the city, or you will struggle.

“Sometimes in Kutná Hora what you have to do is make decisions that will give points to yourself as well as other players…that’s unique,” adds co-designer Ondřej Bystroň. “You need to think in terms of ‘in this action I will give some points to myself and someone else,’ and if you can distribute victory points cleverly enough, then you can win the game.”

There are other nuances to that across the game’s other systems, of course, which we’ll explore in future articles.

The evolution and design of the dynamic economy

All resources in the game are handled as one currency: coins. When you gain a particular resource based-on what your earning capacity is for that resource, you gain it in the form of coins. When paying for a resource requirement, you spend coins based on the economic market value of that resource. 

Using coins simplifies some aspects of the game’s economic systems, but finding a way to help players easily track the flow of the dynamic economy over the course of the game proved to be a challenge that took several years of iteration to iron out. Early prototypes involved complex charts that only Ondřej could decipher. “Developing the math to make it all work was a very gradual process,” he notes.

The wheel system prototype

The initial tracking system soon evolved from impenetrable charts to a multi-layered wheel system, which worked far better but had some difficulties with readability, depending on the angle you viewed it from. Eventually, Petr and the production team at CGE came up with the idea to create “cardboard computers” — little stands featuring decks of swappable cards that could be slotted in, allowing for much greater variability in the economic systems and easier tracking with simple pull tabs.

Two sets of cardboard computers are used to track various resources tied to the game’s six guilds, which allows for more layers of economic systems to be in play at the same time. One focuses on how much silver ore is being produced in the city — which includes combined tabs for mining and smelting, which are tied together, as well as scribes. The other cardboard computer focuses on population, with tabs for lumber production, entertainment, and food production.

A prototype of the current cardboard computer system

“We had to change our mindset to work with the cardboard computers, but it allows us to do so much more with the system compared to the wheel design,” says Petr.

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!

Kutná Hora: The City of Silver – Official FAQ

Hot on the heels of our exciting new game announcement today, we wanted to share some FAQs and behind-the-scenes info for you about our next big upcoming heavy euro, Kutná Hora: The City of Silver. Curious to learn more? Read on for details!

Q: Errr…a Kutná-whatna now? What’s that?

Kutná Hora (phonetically pronounced as “koot-nah-hor-ah”) is a real historic city in the Czech Republic that you can visit even today. It’s home to St. Barbara’s Cathedral, lots of beautiful views and European architecture, and even the super cool Sedlec Ossuary (The Church of Bones), among other things.

Our euro game follows the discovery of silver in the mines in the region, and the establishment and economic prosperity of Kutná Hora, which quickly became one of the most important cities in central Europe — due to its thriving silver economy that fueled massive growth in the region throughout the 14th century.

Here are some photos of present day Kutná Hora:

Q: Another historical city building euro? What makes this one special?

The dynamic economy mechanics in Kutná Hora are based on real-world economic systems that shift and change in response to each player’s actions turn-to-turn. The choices that each player makes will affect other players, too, depending on which guilds you’re playing with. The heart of this game is not about simply trying to outdo your opponents. Instead it’s about making calculated decisions that may help more than one player in the moment, but gradually nudge you ahead in the end game. It’s a highly interactive, always evolving experience that can also change dramatically game-to-game.

Every game of Kutná Hora tells a different story depending on how players engage with the economic systems. Some resources may suddenly become less or more valuable, depending on what types of guild structures are created, or how much mining and smelting has been done in relation to building. It’s all about balance, but also seeking to find creative ways to gain an edge over your opponents. With each game playing out very differently, depending on the choices players make, you’ll find a lot of replayability in Kutná Hora.

Kutná Hora also features asymmetrical gameplay, as every player starts with three different configurations of guilds that each affect vital aspects of the game and economy. 

Q: This economic system sounds complicated…how do you track everything?

Very easily, actually — actions and events in the game will trigger corresponding shifts in the economy, which are handled and tracked via two “cardboard computers” we’ve designed. By swapping out cards slotted into the cardboard stands, or by moving one of several sliders over a notch (depending on the result of the action), you’ll see the immediate result of how the economy was impacted.

Once you understand the systems a little better, it becomes easy to anticipate how any player’s actions will potentially impact the current in-game economy at any moment in the game.

Q: What kind of game can we expect?

Kutná Hora is a fairly heavyweight historical city building euro for 2-4 players. Core game mechanics include a dynamic economy and income system that shifts based on player choices, tile placement on a shared board, area influence, and action selection.

It’s a highly interactive game, where players take turns selecting actions from a hand of double-sided cards to engage strategic plans like mining, purchasing plots of land to build on, gaining permits, raising buildings for their affiliated guilds, gaining profit from their production, and of course working towards the construction of Saint Barbara’s Cathedral.

Q: When will the game be released and how much will it cost?

We’re aiming for an Essen Spiel 2023 launch in Europe and hope to have copies for sale in the US at PAX Unplugged, with a retail launch following shortly after. It’ll be priced at €59.95 EUR / $59.95 USD.

Q: Will there be any chance to try the game before the release?

 Of course! We’ll be demoing the game this year at UKGE, Origins, Gen Con, SPIEL, and PAX Unplugged.

Q: Where can I find out more info?

1) Be sure to subscribe to the game page on BGG! You’ll be notified of updates, as we plan to release a number of detailed articles that explore the game’s key mechanics.

2) Check out the live-stream replay of our interview with the designers over on our new VODs channel! 

3) Join our Kutna Hora mailing list to receive updates about the game’s availability.

Q: Can you tell us more about the designers?

The game is co-designed by Ondřej Bystroň (Bistro-nyo), Petr Čáslava (Chaa-sla-va), Pavel Jarosch (Ya-rosh).

Some of you may recognize Petr, as he previously worked with CGE and is one of the biggest content creators in the Czech Republic. He also lives close to the actual city of Kutná Hora.