Iron Game Designer: Rum Rebellion Challenge

At the wonderful LFG convention this month we got to try out the wonderful world of Iron Game Designer, this time with semi-professional and soon-to-be-semi-professional game designers rather than a wider crowd. With such well-heeled designery types I gave them a much more specific theme: to remake the classic (as in old, not as in good) Australia board game Rum Rebellion, which is named for an important event in Australia’s colonial past, where the military was used by a local merchant called Macarthur to conduct a military coup on the head of state, Governor Bligh (yes the Mutiny on the Bounty guy). As one of very few mass-produced Australian board games, almost everyone had a copy of this along with Squatter (Monopoly but with sheep). But I digress. Their challenge: make a better game about the Rum Rebellion, in only two hours. Five teams squared off, and OH MY GOD Martin Wallace was there to help with playtesting and game advice, for their current games and design in general!

The pairs paired up, grabbed their implements and started brainstorming. I noticed that with more experienced hands, there was a lot more brainstorming and idea-work before prototyping began. Interesting. I wonder if previously though I’ve stressed the need to grab items too much lest the good stuff be taken.

The old hands were also quicker in general. These guys were very quick off the mark with and almost everyone had developed, playtestable stuff before the first hour. It was exciting to watch things literally develop before your eyes, from basic to polished.

And no, I wasn’t kidding about Martin Wallace stopping by and providing insight. That was GREAT.

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Our final games were:

Macarthur’s Sheep had players taking the role of the Marine Corps troops trying to decide if they should follow Macarthur and betray Bligh, or stay loyal. This was a card drafting bluffing game where each round you were passing cards to your fellow players. The goals being aimed for were like high-low poker. If you threw out low, people would know you were going for high, allowing them to go low and score the low “pot” alone with perhaps the high pot being split. Hedge your bets or try to double bluff too much and you would be left in the middle with nothing. The basic mechanic worked and I think if the cards had powers as well, or suits, this has potential for something very clever.

Wharves and Sheep was also a card game (card games are simple and easy so tend to be common) where players took turns drafting from a central deck like canasta then passing cards around as well (I didn’t get as good a look as I wanted, sorry guys), aiming to get sets of dockside wharves and farms of barley or wheat or sheep, which they could then trade in for rum (victory points). As so often happens at IGD, this was probably the most complex game with the least testing done on it, but it felt nicely complex, with lots of cards forcing players to weigh up different returns.

Rum Runners was mostly random but it came together quick, was super engaging and only took ten minutes to play so might be the fan favourite of the night. Random dice rolls put rum on boats one to four boats, with 5s and 6s bringing Governor Bligh closer and closer to the colony to end your boondoggling. Players then could choose between collecting rum from one of the four boats, or going back to their warehouse to safely move the goods to their hidden cache. Getting stuck with rum un-hidden when Bligh arrives means negative points, so pushing your luck could easily get you burned!

Control the Rum was even more like gin rummy – a two player game of set building, where players had to build sets of four different suits of colony needs, with rum as the wild card, drawing from the top of the deck or the discard pile. Twist was, like Takenoko, you could instead draw from the deck of goal cards, hoping to get an “order” you could more easily fulfill. Completing an order would get you a one off bonus as well as VPs. This group was running out of time so got the least playtesting – but more than one contestant lamented not being able to try this. I think this might be the most publishable of the five.

The Rum Districts was a riffing off of controlling-base games like Smash Up! and Brawl! and Lost Cities, except unlike Lost Cities cards are played face down, unless special cards forced reveals. Powerful cards (high colonial influence) would be more likely to win a base (districts of the colony) but lower cards had special powers to force said reveals or assassinate higher opponent cards. Although derivative and still a bit too luck based, this was strong and well developed and a derivative game has a pre-made audience, and was making people really think about card placement.

All of the games survived multiple play throughs by their designers, and not just because they had to – they were fun. Without time for judging, I declared everyone a winner for getting to that point, and we broke for real rum rations. Even for pros, two hours is a very limited time frame, and everything we saw was interesting and amazingly creative, as always.



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