DESIGNER DIARY pt 5: AGENTS IN TIME — UK Game Expo 2017 and Clocks…

— June 2017: UK Games Expo, Birmingham

The beginning of June has become the traditional time for the UK Games Expo: Britain’s biggest annual boardgame convention, and last year we took an early prototype version of Agents in Time along to one of the many Playtest sessions organised by those rather brilliant Playtest UK peeps — you can find out more about them here:

Back then, the game was still called Kairos, and each player had a separate player board to keep track of their Victory Point and Black Spot count (they were still called Black Stones back then). Changing this proved to be a great move, but I’ll get to that…

This is what the game looked like at UKGE last year:

The original board and set-up as demonstrated at UK Games Expo, June 2017…

The overall impression from players who joined us at the table was that of a solid, playable game, that perhaps ran a little too long, but otherwise had some pretty cool concepts, and looked pretty good, too!  That last bit was particularly important to me, because the design and general look and feel of the game had been my main focus for the last few months (indeed, ever since its inception).

As it happened, one of the players belonged to a publishing company that had a window open for early 2018, and he said he’d certainly be interested in seeing how it develops. Alas, evidently not much came of that, but at this point we knew we had something well worth pursuing, but more tweaking and playtesting was definitely required.

It was on the way home that the concept of using a clock-type mechanism to enhance the theme and feel of the game struck me — what if we had a clock with 12 points on it, and players had their Victory Points going round one way, and their Black Spots the other, with the idea being that a player couldn’t win until they’d achieved 12 VPs and zero Black Spots…?  It would take a little while longer before we introduced the concept of Black Spots knocking back your VP score, but that also proved a game-changer…

Indeed, this concept proved a master-stroke (excuse the pun), but having a set of clocks with plastic dials, etc. seemed pretty impractical and costly from a game production point of view, and it eventually evolved into the somewhat unique Scoring Tracker that we have now…

The somewhat unique Scoring Tracker proved a game-changer in many ways…

Obviously, VPs were changed to “Paradox Points” (PPs) and Black Stones became “Black Spots” (or Blots) at this point, but this is where the game really started to take on both shape and structure, and also where the concept of PPs and Blots jostling for position came to fruition.

Blots would always hold up your actual PP score, and although completing Objectives in the game allowed you to knock either your PPs down, your Blots down, or a bit of both, players could also affect the Blot count of other players by either catching them on a flipped or ‘Paradoxed’ tile (and thus generating Blots on someone else’s score track) or catching them on a ‘Resolved’ tile (and thus removing Blots from other players). This soon became the core concept of the game, with the idea being that players would need to balance completing objectives with stitching up their opponents, and in turn, trying not to get stitched up by others!  As bloodthirsty as this may sound (and I’ve said before that the Scoring Tracker turns into its own battleground towards the end), it added immensely both to the amount of planning required to succeed, and increased the player interaction significantly…

The game was now hitting all the right spots for many months to come, and we finally had something that was clicking on many levels with a whole bunch of successive players and playtest sessions… We now needed to speed play up a little (it was still a two-stage process), and perhaps apply a little more theme to the various Event Cards in the game, so that was our next challenge, although thankfully it proved a little easier than originally thought…

A video of the game, introducing many of the concepts and how things work, can be found here: Agents In Time early VIDEO PREVIEW

And yes, we’ll have a couple of copies available for playing at this year’s UKGE as well… 😉

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