The Complexity and Balance of the Game Board

In Nomad’s Land, one of the most striking and greatest complexities of the game comes from the board. A 3 x 3 “zoned board” each having 9 x 9 smaller tiles in the middle made the game a great chaotic mess of nomadic players attempting to scramble across the land while path-finding the best way to claim food or water resources. Traps, weather, and specific shelter points all were key things to the board design. But the game came with its many flaws with the board being utterly very unbalanced in our first early iteration.

Early Design Concept

Our earliest board was split off into 2 zones for each of our teams while I was tasked as the main board designer to do my 2 zones and the special oasis zone. From our first version of the board, we first associated “themes” to each zone. For instance, both Tip and Wild zones all feature a tunnel and more shelter type tiles as a “safer” haven for wandering nomads. Food and water were plentiful and were designed to be easily obtainable. In addition, the tunnels were created to combat the risk of players having to travel a very far distance. Each corner zone also had a theme of representing a dangerous wilderness which made path finding harder and resources more scarce. A special corner for each of these zones was added for players to travel there for water should they need too. Finally, the oasis is a special zone in which players must pass 4 sand tiles and three tiles from any direction in order to get there. This design concept becomes much more important in later versions. Currently, each “haven” zone had 4 food and 2 waters, while each “wilderness” zone had only 3 food tiles, 1 water, and corner water ponds.

Second Iteration, First Playable Version

After a long play-testing session of our first board, the first thing I began to notice was the balancing of food and water. Besides some more additional rule changes being added, all zones swapped a food tile for water and gained corner tunnels as another option for players to traverse through the entire map. This way, the board zones appeared to be more “balanced” in which players are not at a disadvantage if they failed to reach any food source. This playable version was enlarged for player convenience as playing on a tiny board was frustrating and difficult. However, with no actual inexperienced players, there was no way to test the board’s capabilities until we discovered if the mechanics played as well as it did with our group.

Iteration 3, A Circular Flow

One of the biggest problems of the last board was that players found it difficult to traverse through the terrain. The issue with so many walls and mountains made it difficult for players to choose favorable paths that are fast and safe enough for players to reach for resources. Often times, they have stated the board conflicted with the mechanics of the game and also stating how unbalanced the oasis was. In this iteration, a complete overhaul was made on the entire board. The most striking and obvious changes come from the middle. With the addition of the new quicksand tile, symmetrical changes were made in the start areas so that there was no advantage in any of the starting tiles. Players, who repeatedly traveled to the oasis as a guaranteed way to win, are now completely stopped by the quicksand tiles and an additional trap was added into the oasis. With this change, the only way to effectively enter the oasis now was to go around and prepare for a last-effort journey to make it there safely on the corners of the desert.

Moving forward, the other areas of the map were completely redesigned to be a lot fairer and easier to traverse than the previous iteration. Multiple pathways were created for players to go in any direction they choose, fewer mountains were used to not force path-finding, and more shelters were added to combat weather difficulties. However, a difficulty in redesigning comes with the constant idea of balance. How was this easily achieved? By essentially grasping the idea of creating a “circular flow” of difficulty. Essentially, the board was balanced with the idea that one side was easier to travel into while the other was incredibly difficult. Keeping in mind of tunnels and food sources being closer to one side than another, applying the circle theme to the entire board effectively allowed better board balance while maintaining the game’s interesting and varied board layout. Furthermore, the addition of the quicksand tile made “walls” less punishing for players to choose a direct path and opened up many more options for players to take at the cost of losing a turn.

Finalized Version

After our group’s second playtesting, the board was still shockingly semi-difficult to traverse. Although most of the issues from the early iterations were solved immediately with a new rule change and better food and water positions, there were still issues trying to get from A to B. To combat this, I re-adapted the circle theme back into the board to move around the food tiles some more. In this iteration, water was moved closer to the center and was spread into three sections: Close to the central desert, Close to the middle of the zone, and Close to the edge of the zone. The same thing was done with food tiles, but one food tile was much safer to claim than another. Additionally, more sand, trap, and quicksand tiles were removed, and more shelter tiles were added to allow greater flexibility for players to move. This can be directly seen near the tunnel areas, where most of the old sand tiles close to them were removed to further incentivize players to take the tunnels to move across the board. Finally, one last tweak was made for the oasis which forced players to pass two quicksand tiles. Since was never intended to be a game-winning strategy, but as a comeback strategy, it was tweaked further to match that idea.

With a newly remapped and balanced board, it was decided to be our second and final version of the board. Encompassing a stronger balance of every element in the game, we hope that the recent changes made to Nomad’s Land’s board kept the same joy of path-finding while not punishing players too heavily for sacrifices they had to make in their journey to survive.

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