Design Notes for Workshop of the World
There is something mysterious and awe-inspiring about canals, something that railways don’t quite match. Having thoroughly enjoyed researching and designing Canal Mania it was exciting to learn that Martin Wallace had started from the canal revolution in his game Brass. This game has been brought to table frequently in various Ragnar groups and is rightly a favourite. However, on first playing we felt a trick had been missed. Instead of taking the canal counters off, why not flip them to the railway side? This simple question was the starting point in the designing of Workshop of the World.
Of course, the very next step was to scale the game to match and eventually exceed that of Canal Mania. All (or nearly all) of those lovely canals had to be incorporated. From the start this felt like it could be a ‘gateway game’, but with the size of map and the mission to follow canals with railways, the mechanics of play would have to be simple in order to achieve a ninety-minute playing time.
At about the same time, the Esher Gaming Group happened to play Gypsy King by Corne van Moorsel. This is a game in two halves. The second half is a little more powered up, but otherwise there’s not much that happens in the first half that affects the second. Not much that is, except for the driving knowledge that some players are clearly doing better than others - good, old-fashioned ‘tall poppy’ gaming. Amon Re by Reiner Knitzia is similar, but in this there are rather more ripples from the first half that wash into the second. In Workshop of the World we were determined on more.
Other things that we wanted were:
- Recognition that the canals of Britain were more expensive and slower to build than the railways, and that the canal network was never so vast as that of the railways.
- Recognition of different types of Industry across Britain.
With this basic structure and these principles in mind, the designing was more like an exercise than any previous Ragnar Brothers game. Though the thematic elements are robust, Workshop of the World is one of our most abstracted games.
From the start a drafting of Town cards was used. No system could be found to drive this important choice except an auction. Auctioning each individual Town card may have ‘valued’ cards more accurately, but would have been time-consuming and quickly tedious. Auctioning Turn Order was a neat, fun solution.
A persistent problem was in achieving smoothness of play. It became apparent that it was not good to work entirely with cash or entirely with a Revenue track. The combination of the two eventually solved the problem, but balancing them was imperative.
Much time was spent in manipulating numbers to make things work elegantly. This included:
Initial play-testing was encouraging, with players more up-beat about this game than they had been on any other RB launch. Thanks are due to a number of friends who suggested the following ideas, either directly or by their comments and initiatives when playing.
- How many Links could be built per turn
- The value of towns. Initially set at 1-2-3, an important development was changing to 2-3-4.
- Canal Links costing £3, railway Links costing £2. This always felt right, but was dropped and re-introduced on more than one occasion.
- How to raise extra cash from the Revenue track.
- Enthusiasm for building a track from London to Scotland led to exploring ‘length of track’ bonuses common to games such as Ticket to Ride by Alan Moon. The network system has an original feel and gives an important third way of collecting cash.
- Disappointment at not being able to build a Link from towns already fully-connected, led to the use of the Set-aside cards. This does not always pay off, but ‘a gamble is a gamble’.
- Removing another player’s Industry caused disgruntlement when town values were at the 1-2-3 level. At the 2-3-4 level, removals are not as common and create tactical opportunities to hinder the progress of leading players.
Many months of game-testing passed before the Demand token system emerged. Previous to this, players were issued with Bonus cards that were declared at the ends of each half of the game. Not a bad idea, but the luck of the draw was too influential, particularly as the numbers of town types is, and always was, unequal (eight ports, four Crafts etc.) It may seem obvious now, but what the Demand tokens introduced was very new: all players have equal chance to benefit from the Demand values of Industries and all players have chance to drive up those values.
For much of its development Workshop of the World was played on a map based on Canal Mania with sections of Scotland and Wales added. Only at a very late stage were the connections re-examined and finalised. For example a direct connection from London to Portsmouth was removed and a route created via Guildford, whilst the highly influential East Coast mainline was established by connecting Peterborough to Hull. As with most of the routes, these are approximations and it should be borne in mind that canals were not built on all the connections shown (particularly the double connections).
As with previous RB games the introduction of Steve Tolley’s graphics added a new energy to the design. In the case of Workshop of the World there was an unusual twist. The first copy of the map appeared with circular towns and bright yellow rectangles for connections. Play-testing showed that placing Links on the rectangles was far more satisfactory than on the wiggly lines used previously. Steve was surprised at our enthusiasm – he’d positioned the rectangles purely to space out the towns.
And finally, what happened to the flipping of canals to railways? Well, we tried it once, found it totally confusing and never looked back!
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