A dragon’s tale (Part 2)

We started talking about Simurgh and its beginnings a few weeks ago and it is now the right time to tell the rest of its story. In 2013, with a cool name, dragons and a designer on the rise, Simurgh seemed ready to “go to Essen” and have its first encounter with the general public. But before we present a game to such a demanding audience, we usually take the game through a stress test – those of you working in the banking system should know exactly what this means.

So, just a month before Spiel 2013 we organize a large play-testing session of Simurgh with heavy gamers hellbent on breaking the game. Let me alleviate your concerns… the game almost came out on top. It was not broken in any way, it was simply too long even for experienced players. And what do you do when you have great design concepts, a theme you believe in, consistent rules and yet a game isn’t quite ready for the market? The simple answer is game development.

Simurgh as you see it today (or you will see soon in Essen) is, in essence, the same game as it used to be two years ago – but with a few tweaks. The biggest change was the elimination of AP* prone elements which reduced the game length from over 2 hours (sometimes even 3 hours) to 45-75 minutes.

The first step was the reworking of the dragons. Dragons in Simurgh are represented by tiles with special abilities ranging from simply gaining resources to interrupt abilities able to create quite intricate combos. This part was taken care of by the designer himself, who brought us a lighter, faster version of the dragons roughly one year ago. The abilities became easier to understand, combo-making was really straightforward.

One of the dragons in its full glory. Art by Enggar Adirasa.
One of the dragons in its full glory. Art by Enggar Adirasa.

Simurgh was originally structured in 5-7 turns, each of them consisting of players taking 4 to 9 actions. While the first two turns were short and somewhat scripted, with players collecting and stockpiling resources, the last two turns were lasting around 45 minutes each, with everyone trying to gain the most victory points in the very last moment. This made the ending so prone to AP that made us want to rethink the whole system. And we did!

The core mechanisms of board building and worker placement are still parts of the game, but the turn system was radically altered. Simurgh is now played over a variable number of turns, until a game end condition is triggered, and each turn a player takes exactly one action, making the game streamlined and leaving each other player just enough time between turns to plan their next move.

Our first play with the new system made us go “wow” because the time to set up, play and remove Simurgh from the table was just a little over one hour. The next plays simply confirmed our assumption that Simurgh had evolved past its prototype stage and became a finished board game. Its story does not end here though, because we had to add one more twist to make it truly inspiring… but we’ll talk about that in the third part of this mini series.

*AP or Analysis Paralysis is an anti-pattern, the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome (Wikipedia).

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