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Going Back For Seconds: Designing the Expansion for a “Small Portion” Game

Posted by Ryan Sanders on

Going Back For Seconds: Designing the Expansion for a “Small Portion” Game

 by John du Bois

As my first published design, my aspirations for Avignon’s commercial success were not high. I was fairly certain it would fund. I thought we’d hit a stretch goal or two. But how popular could a two-player only game about the Catholic Church really be?

It seems that I underestimated our chances.

It was never my intention to design a full expansion for Avignon. I’m not a big buyer of game expansions, and tend to think that if something was good enough to put into an expansion, it should have been included in the base game. However, after the game was sent out, and play reports started to come in, I saw a couple of design spaces that we could start to fill:

  1. Complicated Abilities. I left a lot on the cutting room floor from the original design of Avignon – more than half the game, in fact. The game started with over a dozen unique abilities, and I shaved them off as they proved too complicated or idiosyncratic for a ten-minute card game. Some of those ideas remain cut – like a Character with different Petition abilities for each player – but some got resurrected, refined, and included. The Courtesan in one of these – her Petition ability is one of only a couple in the game that allows you to gain position without losing any, but she can only affect Characters that you’re already close to losing. This kind of ability requires a little more consideration than the Petition powers in the base game, but it works well for an expansion.

  2. Location-Based Abilities. The addition of the Location cards was not in the design originally submitted to Button Shy, and as a result, the game was published with an entirely unexplored design space. Pilgrimage let us play with that space a little more by adding Characters that cared about where they were on the board. For example, the Hermit doesn’t want to be in the power centers of Avignon or Rome, and if he’s there at the end of your turn, he retreats a space. It’s a really interesting mechanism to play with, but it simply didn’t work without the named locations, making it a perfect addition in the expansion.

  3. New ways to play. When using just the base game, Avignon is very nearly a perfect information game. Neither player has any data the other doesn’t, and the only information hidden from both players is the order of the seven Character cards remaining in the deck after setup. And yet, significant parts of the game’s tension relied on that tiny piece of hidden information – which Character would come out after a Character left play either by joining a Congregation or by Excommunication. The bonus pack added a little bit more information hidden to both players by adding a setup option that randomly selected which two cards within a faction of four were included. In Pilgrimage, we expanded this idea with a totally random setup option, as well as a setup option that gives each player control over half the deck’s contents to add an extra layer of hidden information and strategy.

  4. Less-used actions. In the base game, the usefulness of the Beseech and Petition actions were clear. Excommunicate got used less often than I thought it would, and Chastise ended up being more situational than I intended, being useful in only a small handful of alternate win scenarios. With the expansion, we took the opportunity to make excommunicating more evident as a play option, and used some of the new cards’ abilities to hopefully increase the number of situations in which Chastise is a useful action.

And of course, the first question to get asked after an expansion gets developed is, will there be a second expansion? I don’t know. There are a couple design spaces in Avignon I feel like we could still fill, but I’m not sure how or if we’re going to fill those. We might use published product, POD, or an official or unofficial PNP variant posted on BoardGameGeek. There’s also the chance that the way players engage with Pilgrimage will change how plans for any additional content unfold. Letting the game grow naturally has worked so far, though, and I don’t see any reason why I’d stop as long as people keep playing and the design environment stays fun.

Avignon: Pilgrimage will be on Kickstarter

January 3, 2017. 


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