My first approach to my dice game was to keep some of the same elements as Eminent Domain (or Race for the Galaxy for that matter) while changing the theme. First, I thought about making it a game about getting people to join your faction. This can be done through persuasion or coercion. Each die represents a person: a priest (persuasion), a soldier (coercion, attacking), merchant (money which acts as a wild card of sorts), or a worker (builds buildings).
On your turn, you roll all of your people and choose an action (persuade, coerce, attack, build). Each die type requires a certain amount of persuasion or coercion to join your faction. If you have enough of the appropriate symbol showing on your rolled dice, you can perform that function. There are also buildings to build that, again, require an appropriate number of "building" symbols to show on your dice. I never fleshed out how attacking would work, but I saw it as a direct conflict with another player.
After your choose your action, each of the other players also rolls their dice. Then, each player chooses either to perform the same action as you or to "freeze" one of their dice, locking it's result in place. Frozen dice remain frozen until the player chooses to roll it again, or until the player performs any action (regardless of whether the frozen die is used or not).
Each person (die) and each building is worth points. I'm not sure what the game end was going to look like, but it would like it to be controlled by the players to some extent, as opposed to a fixed number of turns. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game has the most successful faction and wins the game!
The original goal was to create a "light" dice game. I originally planned on having different costs for each type of die, but I decided this was unnecessarily complex. To simplify it further, I threw out military as an option in order to create one way to gain dice, and to avoid having to balance direct conflict between players.
Finally, I started to think about theme. The labels for the various people and buildings were generically medieval. Not only was this boring, but it didn't really make sense -- why were there various factions trying to recruit people to build buildings? I went through various tropes for games in my head, and decided on a post-apocalyptic setting. While it's not that much more unique as a theme, it does lend itself to explaining the game play, and will hopefully provide a platform to solve some of the design problems. With a specific back story still to be determined, we find each player attempting to find and recruit the best and brightest of those that remain after the (again, TBD) apocalyptic event. Your recruits and the buildings they produce will contribute to your ultimate goal of being the most prestigious leader in the new society.
At this point I was still working under the constraints of the design contest; most notably, I was limiting myself to 40 dice and 16 half-cards. The cards were going to represent buildings constructed by the player. Having dropped military, I felt it was important to focus on multiple build paths for the buildings. I created 4 specialist types (Farmer, Architect, Mechanic, and Engineer) that would each specialize in locating different resources (food, structural, fuel, and electronic) and also serve as prerequisites for the buildings. All of the resources would be used to create buildings, but only food and structural resources were used to gain additional specialists. I added a fifth type, Laborer, that could be gained for free. They aren't worth any points, but are able to produce all resources with a higher probability of producing food and structural resources.
My first concern that with the limited number of dice, the game wouldn't be able to scale for a larger number of people (another contest-driven design consideration). To work within this constraint, I made the specialists a permanent gain for player, but the Laborers would be returned to the dice pool after they are used to gain a specialist or building. This allows for a smaller number of Laborer dice.
I playtested the game once or twice using a spreadsheet. The biggest problem I ran into was that food was too important, which made Farmers dominant. I exacerbated this problem by creating a "Farm" building that provides one food resource each round.
I felt that there was a foundation for something, and perhaps some simple balancing could solve some of the problems. However, I had moved away from a game where the action chosen was the more important decision, to a game where the resources and upgrade path chosen was the more important decision. At this point I had no more time to work on the game for the contest, so I decided to relax the constraints in order to allow for a larger design space to be investigated.
In the next post, I'll look at the game again by reducing the number of different types of resources, adding in a scouting action (to find the recruits), and toying with the idea of military.