Home Game Design Cortiça Part 2 – Theme – Games by Manuel Correia

Cortiça Part 2 – Theme – Games by Manuel Correia

by dev

The first prototype for Cortiça, handmade and still without a theme, or a name.

At the end of Part 1 I had a high level idea of how the game could work, but it hadn’t been tested and I had yet to define what it would be about.

At this point I could either look for a theme to design the game around, or try to get the game’s basic rules to work and then find a theme that fits. The good thing is, there is generally no wrong answer here. As long as they’re in tune in the end, you can start however you want.

Given the strict component count for the competition (18 cards!) there was a risk of falling in love with a theme that demanded more components, or that would make me want to stretch the definition of a worker placement game to the point where it would no longer qualify for the competition. Gameplay it is, then!

There was still one question left to answer before assembling the first prototype: I knew what 13 of the cards will be used for, but what about the other 5? I gave each player an additional resource type to allow for more depth in their actions. The other three were made into public double-sided goal cards which would change throughout the game. These were meant to add variability and to help prevent a dominant strategy, which is when you have a strategy that’s so powerful that there is no reason to do anything else. Watch out for those, they can sap all the fun out of a game!

The first playtest went well. The core system worked, the economy needed another pass (but that’s to be expected!), and the game took exactly one hour, which is a lot longer than I would like. After a few tweaks, it worked a lot better! It was finally time to start looking for a theme.

Putting together a prototype in Affinity Designer

As I wrote in Part 1, I wanted this game to be about a facet of Portuguese culture that I hadn’t seen represented in boardgames before. Turns out, there are plenty of those! After a fun brainstorm session with Sara Mena, we ended with an A4 page full of possibilities. There was one tricky aspect, however…

The core of the game is resource conversion, which could suggest a theme of harvesting or manufacturing something, but there is an extra wrinkle that doesn’t line up with the standard manufacturing process. In the game you use your workers to gather A to turn into B, which you can use to get C. Think of C as points: once you reach a specific amount, you win. There are several ways to turn combinations of A and B into C, but you can also can turn C back into a larger amount of B! That’s because I wanted to give players the option to spend their hard-earned points for a chance of getting even more later on – but will they have enough time to do it? This could also work as a catch-up mechanism, because it gives a losing player a chance to sprint ahead.

The obvious solution would be for C to be money, so exchanging it for B could represent buying it, but since getting C is the goal of the game, that could easily be interpreted as “money is good”, and I did not want that at all. I’d much prefer if my game could help people forget about capitalism for a bit.

Fortunately, there was one theme on the list that could fit all of the gameplay so far: Cork!

Three wallets made out of cork fabric.

Cork is a big deal in Portuguese culture. You may have only seen it as wine stoppers, but has long been used to make tools and the recent invention of cork fabric has greatly expanded its possibilities. Not only can you make things like wallets, umbrellas, hats and even postcards out of it, but it can also be recycled.

So now I have a theme! When applied to my game, the result is: The players will assign their workers to grow cork oaks, extract the bark and process it into different products made out of cork. Players can also recycle their cork, which gives them raw material which they can turn into other products. I also had a name: “Cortiça” (/kuɾˈti.sɐ/), the Portuguese word for Cork.

On the next article we’ll cover playtesting during a pandemic.

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