Akrotiri Designer Diary, Part II
Akrotiri designers Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim continue to reflect on the game's development
To celebrate the recent release of the revised edition of Akrotiri, designers Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim continue to look back on the game’s development in the second part of their designer diary.
Finding That Spark
Akrotiri began its life as a basic pick-up-and-deliver game with the goal of making as much money as possible. This, of course, lacked a solid hook. The game had a working tile-placement system and a great movement mechanism, but we did not want to make just any old “trading in the Mediterranean” game. We wanted players to have an interesting reason to not only trade, but explore.
This is where our original idea, now a decade old, of having a random goal indicate a very specific location on a randomly generated playing area came back into the mix.
We developed a backstory where the players were not just traders, but explorers looking for prestige by searching the Aegean sea for lost temples. As the tiles already had icons indicating terrain, we created map cards that used them as landmarks. Players could now use their tile placement to create the situation dictated by their map cards and locate a temple. For example, if a player had a map card indicating that a temple was on an island with a volcano to the east and a mountain to the north, that player would need to place tiles and create an island that matched those conditions in order to excavate a temple there.
At this time, neither of us had played a game that used a mechanism even remotely similar to this at - we were onto something special!
What’s In A Name?
The specific setting for Akrotiri was actually decided upon late in the game’s development. From its inception, the idea was that players were shipping resources back to some fictional island that could not sustain itself. One of our well-travelled playtesters mentioned that this was the exact situation that occurs on the Aegean island of Santorini.
Our research revealed that Santorini (also known as Thera) was created from a volcanic eruption and, as such, does not produce enough natural resources to sustain its population. So, for a long time, we called this game Santorini.
However, after checking www.boardgamegeek.com and seeing that there was already another game named Santorini (designed, coincidentally, by a fellow Game Artisan of Canada, Dr. Gord Hamilton), we changed the name to reflect its archaeological ties, calling it Akrotiri after a famous dig site on the island.
Cornering the Market
One of our first attempts at the market where players impacted the cost of goods with specific cards. Not as elegant as our final solution!
The concept of an island that imported the majority of its goods directly lead to the market system we designed for Akrotiri. Simple, yet effective, the market is strongly impacted by player actions and reflective of the principle of supply / demand. The landmark icons on the tiles were tied to the market, making each mechanism tightly integrated with the other.
Tile placement became important for more than one reason. When placing a tile, the active player has to take resources off of the market board, changing its current value. Thus, players can affect the trade value of resources with a good deal of predictive power. Resource placement on the play area becomes an important strategy as resources that are unreachable will inflate the market price longer than those that can be picked up and traded back quickly.
On the right side is Atlantis and players would have to find clues or rumours about the location of Atlantis in order to win the game. Another expansion idea mayhap?!
What’s The Story?
With mechanisms in place and a name solidified, we had 9/10ths of the game completed. The last pieces of the puzzle to put in place were the narrative arc and game ending. We concocted a storyline revolving around finding the lost city of Atlantis as the volcanic eruption that formed Santorini is believed, in some circles, to have also sunk Atlantis.
Armed with this lore, we created a system where players needed to find lost temples and collect clues to ostensibly locate the final gateway to Atlantis. The clue system incentivised players to sail all over the playing area instead of sticking to their own little corner of it as they could only find new clues in temples excavated by other players.
While this was very interesting, designwise, the cost to include this storyline was threefold: the game took longer, it required more components, and the rulebook grew significantly in length. The introduction of a narrative arc created mechanisms that felt disconnected instead of being well-integrated. The death knell for the Atlantean backstory came when playtesters noted that it was less compelling than the main game itself.
Again, we took the feedback from our playtesters and compared it to our own findings. In the end, the evidence supported the removal all of Atlantean elements from the game. Less is often more, as they say!
But Wait, There’s More!
Akrotiri is really a tale of emergent design. We tried to add things to it, but, each time, the core of the game shone through.
Here are some examples of other things that eventually hit the proverbial cutting room floor:
- Player-influenced pirates that would steal resources from unwary sailors
- Flags used to claim islands providing different abilities that excavating temples did
- Priests that had to be delivered back to the temples in order to revive the ancient religions
- Houses on the islands that gave additional actions to the players that visited them.
- Different classes of boats, each with a different cargo capacity and speed
- Roles with asymmetrical powers that players could select
- Contracts to fulfill for bigger payouts
As is par for the course, the vast majority of these ideas were axed based on playtesting and player feedback - we both value our testers’ input greatly and this respect has paid off. Anything not in the final version of Akrotiri was removed to streamline the game or integrated into the core mechanisms in a different way. For example, the houses were built right into the player mats. When a player finds a temple and takes it off of the player mat to place on an island, the reward of additional actions or Goal cards is revealed. Not only did this reduce the number of components and rules, but it allowed players to strategize about their pacing and pivoting.
While it is difficult to cut elements that we put a lot of time and effort into out of a game, maybe some of them will become a seed of inspiration for another great game, just like how our still unnamed jungle exploration game became Akrotiri, Only the future will tell!