Length Of Game, Downtime, Clarity

The game requires players to navigate a board with obstacles and severe weather conditions that pose as a threat to everyone playing. The board is littered with traps as well as food that players must obtain for survival. Everyone is given 9 tokens that represent a nomad in their group. There are shelters in which players can take refuge to avoid dangerous weather conditions. Different kinds of terrain also fill up the board. Quicksand is dangerous and should be avoided. They are represented by Q on the board. Grass is represented by G and is normal terrain that players move around on. W represents water and can be used as a resource. X represents traps around the board which should be avoided as well. The game goes on for quite some time considering the scale of the board and the fact it is split into 9 zones. M represents walls. These spaces cannot be walked on by players. A weather dice is rolled on everyone’s turn to determine if a player will penalized for a weather condition. Weather conditions may or may not allow a player to progress along the board. If the weather dice lands on a sun or clouds then there is no penalties but if it lands on a thunderstorm, blizzard, or rain then the player is affected by the penalties of landing on those weather conditions. There is also a trap dice for when a player lands on a trap to determine what penalty they will receive for moving onto a trap space. If the dice lands on an arrow then the player can pass safely through the trap. If they land on an explosion then the players turn ends on that tile. If the player rolls on a skull then a nomad from the players group dies.These dice provide for a sense of competition and urgency along with the mechanics to make the game length longer. There is also a way to revive dead group members. In the center of the board there is an oasis and when landed on will grant the player up to 4 members revived as well as food and water supplies. The group is then teleported to where they started at the beginning of the game. The goal is for a player to navigate their nomads and obtain resources to help them survive. The player with the most nomads on the board at the end of the game wins.

Playtesting, Feedback, and Changes

After we developed our initial iteration of Nomad’s Land, it was time to test the game and get feedback on our ideas. After having our game tested and testing others’, we received a lot of valuable feedback, which gave us a few ideas for improvements to make to the game.    

The most common criticism was that the Oasis was too strong and too easy to get to. Since the Oasis restored 5 group members and there were only 3 traps for any given way into the Oasis, it was almost always “profitable” to go to the Oasis, especially if the weather was good and the player got not-terrible rolls for the traps. This led to a situation where the Oasis was essentially becoming a win condition since it almost always had a net positive effect. To solve this, we first increased the number of traps required to get into the Oasis, increasing the chance of getting a trap that stops all movement. Additionally, we added a new type of tile called “Quicksand” which uses all of the player’s movement when they move to it, and surrounded the Oasis tile with it in all four directions. We believe these changes will cause players attempting to get to the Oasis to get hit with the hunger penalty more often, which is much more effective at killing off group members than traps.

The new Oasis

In addition to the Oasis, we also received feedback about player interactivity and about the game board in general. As a result, for our second iteration, we did another pass of the game board, attempting to balance it and create more scarcity so that players are forced to interact more. Additionally, we swapped all tiles that used to be “Walls”/”Blocks” to be quicksand in order to allow more possible movements and to make every tile unique (since walls and mountains were functionally identical before). We also decided to change the game from two teams with two players each to a free-for-all where there are no explicit teams.

In order to try to reduce randomness, reduce symbolic complexity, and allow more planning by players, we also decided to change food zone selection from completely random to a system where there’s a set order of the zones and at the start of the game, the initial position in the order is randomly chosen. This allows the game to have different zone orders each time, and also allows players to know which zone will be next, allowing them to plan ahead. 

Another criticism was that while players were learning the rules, they constantly had to look things up in charts in the rules. To help alleviate this, we added additional simplified infographics for the most common charts, like tile effects, weather effects, trap effects, and zone names, directly onto the board.

Other than that, we believe our first playtesters misinterpreted some concepts, specifically the difference between food, which moves according to the food die, and water, which does not move and is always valid across the entire board. As a result, we reworded that rule in an attempt to make it clearer. In general, another pass was done on the rules to make sure it was clear when events happen and how to handle them.

The Conception of Nomad's Land

Most games are conceived over a long period of time by people who know what they want the product to look like and who have the money and resources to get the materials they need. Nomad’s Land started life quite differently. Instead of starting with dice, cards, or any sort of coherent set of items, we were presented with miscellaneous materials from play-doh to clown noses to random game pieces to dice with unusual symbols on them. We couldn’t even necessarily take what we wanted, since other groups got to choose before we did from the rapidly dwindling pool. What we ended up with was a set of gold and blue glass tokens, and 5d6, each with different themes. One has the word “challenge” followed by anywhere from -2 to +3 on each side, one has different weather on each side (sunny, snowy, tornado, the usual), one has various verbs, one has various symbols that could either be related to combat or fireworks, and one gives directions. While we discussed the possibility of creating some sort of wargame, we quickly realized that about 42 glass tokens and five dice would not be enough to create a solid wargame, so we instead started thinking about how the dice could instruct movement. Once the idea of the combat die being linked to a trap mechanic was brought up, the natural jump to a survival game was made.

All of our materials we had to make a full game

The primary issue was how to make such a game with our limited materials. How much movement? How big of a board? What do we do with all these unrelated dice? The weather die presented little challenge to work in. Tornadoes would move players, everything else would hamper movement around the board. The movement die could choose the next destination, and how the tornado might move players around the map. As we designed the game board, we considered having the verb die be special actions, but as we came up with different tiles to alter movement, we decided to use it to determine where the resources would move to on the map. We entertained the idea of the challenge die allowing players to increase their forces, but instead it ended up as a turn counter. We even added a rebound mechanic, where players willing to brave a harsh desert could bring back a group of their people.

As work continued, we refined the mechanics of Nomad’s Land and invented lore to accompany it. An oasis spring of immortality, an ancient civilization lost to insane weather patterns and sudden desertification, and a group of nomads struggling to survive in the new and hostile environment. In the end, we spent a few days tweaking the lore and mechanics to line up properly, and by the end we felt ready to begin testing.

– Jaden Smith-Borne

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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