There’s kind of a lull in the gaming world right now…do you feel it? I was looking at a lot of the games that are coming out, and I’m just not that interested in talking about any of them. So I figured this would be a good time to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while – a Designer Spotlight. This is going to be an extremely irregular series where I look at the career of a designer I like and try to put it into some sort of context. We’ll start with one of my favorites – Carl Chudyk.
Carl Chudyk made his debut in 2005 with four games published by Cambridge Games Factory. One of these was Ice Pirates of Harbour Grace (designed with Erek Slater). This is an exploration game where players are sailing around Conception Bay, trying to avoid icebergs and find the treasure (as pirates do). Another of the games was Splat!. This one is a game about a food fight where players are trying to be the cleanest in order to win. Another of the games was Sneeze, a kids’ game about trying to make your opponents’ allergies act up. I haven’t played any of these titles, so I can’t speak to how they work – all three seem to have been met with a mighty “Meh.” However, Chudyk’s fourth 2005 title really put him on the map:
Glory to Rome is a 2-5 player role selection card game set in ancient Rome. You are trying to use different professionals to produce the most points. On each round, one player is the Leader, and chooses to either Lead or Think. If you Think as the Leader, you either draw up to your hand limit, or one card, or take a Jack (which can be used as any role). The Leader passes to your left after you Think. If you Lead, you choose a card from your hand and lead it as a role (you can lead with a Jack, just specify what role it is). All other players then get a chance to Think or Follow. If they Think, they draw as you would have. If they Follow, they play a card from their hand matching your role.
Once all players have chosen what they are going to do, the Leader begins to take the specified action:
- Laborer: Take a card from the pool in the center and place it in your stockpile as a material. These are used for constructing buildings.
- Patron: Take a card from the pool in the center and place it in your clientele. Each card in your clientele gives you an extra action when the matching role is lead. So if you have a Laborer in your clientele and Laborer is led, you’ll get two Laborer actions on your turn if you Follow. If you choose to Think when a Laborer is led, you still can take a Laborer action since it is in your clientele.
- Architect: Play a card from your hand on a foundation to begin constructing a building. Alternately, you can remove a card from your stockpile to add to the building under construction.
- Carpenter: Play a card from your hand on a foundation to begin constructing a building. Alternately, you can remove a card from your hand to add to the building under construction.
- Each building requires a foundation of the matching material type. There are in-town and out-of-town sites you can take. If all in-town sites are gone, you need to take an out-of-town sites. These take two actions, so you’ll have to have someone in your clientele. If there are no more sites available, you can’t construct that building.
- Additionally, each building requires a certain number of materials – one for rubble or wood, two for brick or concrete, and three for stone or marble. Once you have added all necessary materials, the building is finished and you can start using its abilities. You can also score the foundation.
- Legionary: You may demand a material from the players on your left and right. The material you demand must be present in your hand, and if they have any, they must give you one. Additionally, if there is any material of that type in the pool, you get one. Materials collected in this way go in your stockpile.
- Merchant: Take a card from your stockpile and place it face down in your vault. These will be extra points at the end of the game. You’ll get a bonus three points for each material type that you have more of than others.
The game continues until the deck runs out, or until all in-town sites are gone, or until one of the two special buildings that end the game early are finished, or until everyone agrees to stop. The player with the most points wins (unless someone has completed the Forum and has one of every role in their clientele).
Glory to Rome is a game I enjoyed the first time I played it. I remember that it was near the end of a gaming session, and people needed to leave, so one of the players just built the Catacombs really early on – that building ends the game as soon as it is finished. The final score was 8-5-3. But I really liked how the role selection worked, specifically how you had to weigh how much it will help you versus how much it will help others. There’s great variety in the cards, and there’s always more you want to do than you can. Part of the fun is figuring out which buildings will be the most useful towards your overall strategy. A lot of the cards seem horribly overpowered, but this is a common feature of Chudyk games that I’ll talk about later. Much has been made about the art in this game, which is admittedly inconsistent and cartoony. A new “upgraded” edition went with more of a minimalist look, but I happen to like the charm of the “bad” art.
After a big 2005, Chudyk did not appear again until 2010. In that year, three new games appeared. Rootword was published through The Game Crafter, and is a word game where you are playing cards to start and extend words. Organic Soup also came out through The Game Crafter, and is a game about combining molecules to eventually create life. Chudyk’s big game in 2010, however, came from Asmadi Games (which has published nearly all of his games since) and was called
Innovation is a 2-4 player civilization card game where your goal is to have the most achievements. At the beginning of the game, ten stacks of cards are formed from the decks of each of 10 ages. One card is drawn from ages 1-9 to form the achievement pile. Players begin with a hand of two cards, one of which gets played in front of you before you start.
On your turn, you get two actions. There are four possible choices:
- Meld: Take a card from your hand and play it out in front of you. There are five different colors of cards in the game, and the card you play must go on top of a stack of that color. If there is none, start one. As the game goes on, a stack may be splayed left, right, or up, and you will continue the splay if you meld on top of that.
- Draw: Draw a card from the deck equal to the value of your highest top card. If that deck is empty, go on to the next age.
- Achieve: As you play, you will be amassing a score pile. If you have enough points, you can achieve – 5 points for #1, 10 points for #2, etc. You must have a top card in front of you that is equal to or higher than the number achievement you are trying to get.
- Dogma: Take the action of a top card in front of you. The first thing you have to do is check the symbols on your card. If you have the most, you and you alone get the dogma effect. If anyone else is tied or beats you, they will also get to do your dogma action, and they’ll get to do it first. If they do, you get a free Draw after the action is completed.
- Some card effects begin “I demand…” In this case, you are only demanding from people with fewer of that symbol type. Players with equal or more of that symbol are immune, and don’t share the effect.
The game continues until someone has earned a certain number of achievements – 6 with 2-players, 5 with 3, and 4 with 4. They win. There are also cards in the later ages that can end the game with a different win condition.
I first learned Innovation at WhosYerCon in 2011, taught by none other than John Richard, formerly of Game On! with Cody and John. I loved it instantly, and got my own copy soon thereafter. I appreciated the building mechanisms in place as you built up your “civilization” – having cards steadily get more powerful gives the game a very nice arc. And it’s amazing how much variety there is in the box – each of the 105 cards works differently, and provide varying benefits. It’s pretty remarkable how a card in this game can seem completely over-powered in one session, then be completely worthless in the next. The use of symbols and sharing effects gives this game some great interactive depth, and I think it’s a phenomenal game.
Innovation, by the way, so far has two expansions – Echoes of the Past, published in 2011, and Figures in the Sand, published in 2013. There’s a third expansion, No Place Like Home, due out in 2015. At least, that’s the hope.
In 2012, Iello (who handles the international distribution of Innovation) published Uchronia, which was essentially Glory to Rome with dinosaurs. There was also an expansion for Glory to Rome (the Republic Expansion), as well as
FlowerFall is a dexterity area control game for 2-7 players where you are essentially trying to create the largest garden with your flowers. You start with the field seeded with several terrain cards. On your turn, you drop one of your cards from eye level to the table. Your goal is to have the most flowers of your color in a patch in order to score the points for the patch. Once each player has dropped all twelve cards in their deck, the game is over and you score the patches to find the winner.
I have only played this game once, at GenCon. I liked it better than my wife did, but we were only playing a demo, and I think the guy who was trying to sell it to us was trying to force the fun a little too hard. You’re dropping cards, so it’s difficult to strategize. You can pick a general area where you want to drop, but chaos theory tells us that you have no idea what the result will be. It may go too far to one side, it may flip in mid-air. It’s a very interesting concept for an area control game, but I think it got a little lost in the shuffle. I also think it ended up getting overshadowed by Jason Tagmire’s Maximum Throwdown, which has a similar concept, though you actually throw cards and there’s a bit more of a theme. FlowerFall is more of a Eurogamer’s dexterity game.
Chudyk’s next game was available in a pre-release form in 2013, but didn’t get officially published until 2014. That game was
Impulse is a space-themed 4x game where players are trying to be the first to 20 points. On your turn, you first add a card to the Impulse, which is a line of actions that will be available to all players. You can then use one of your two techs if you wish – two basic techs are pre-printed on your mat, and you can change those as you go. You can then take the actions of the Impulse, beginning with the first one and moving all the way to the one you just added. There are ten possible actions that you will find on cards:
- Command: Move an indicated number of ships an indicated number of spaces. If you pass through an unexplored sector, you pick up the face down card that was there, add it to your hand, then replace it with any card from your hand (it can be the one you just picked up if you wish).
- If you’re moving a transport, you’ll get to do the action of the card you land on. The numbers can be boosted if you are moving more than one ship.
- If you move a cruiser through a sector that holds only enemy transports, you destroy them, scoring one point per ship. If you move a cruiser through a sector containing enemy cruisers, you have to fight them. This is done by playing a number of cards from your hand, then adding a random card from the deck per ship you have in the fight. The player with the highest number of symbols is the winner and scores one point for the battle, plus one per ship that gets destroyed (the enemy loses all ships in the fight).
- Build: Construct a new ship (or ships).
- Research: Add a card to your techs, replacing one of the two already there.
- Execute: Use the power of a card, then discard it. The advantage of this is that it’s not in the Impulse, and only you get to do it.
- Plan: Add cards to your plan. This is an extra set of actions that you can use later.
- Draw: Draw cards.
- Trade: Sell cards for points based on the number of symbols they have.
- Refine: Sell minerals for points based on the number of symbols they have.
- Mine: Add minerals to your mine. These can be refined for points, or can be used to boost action cards of the same color.
- Sabotage: Draw cards from the deck to try to destroy ships without a battle.
After the Impulse, you can then choose to execute your Plan. If you have four or more cards in the Plan, you must execute it. Go through the cards one by one, then discard them. You’ll then score the Central core – one point per fleet you have there – draw two cards, and finally discard the first card in the Impulse. The game continues until someone gets 20 points. They win.
Impulse seems like it has a lot going on, but the game plays really quickly. Actions don’t take nearly as long as you think they will – the only place it gets sticky is in the Command action. There are a lot of different strategies to explore, and cards are very situational. The theme doesn’t really matter – it’s a card game where you are trying to get points. Nonetheless, it’s a fun game, one I’ve only gotten to play a few times, but am looking forward to playing more.
2014 saw the release of will probably end up being Chudyk’s most successful game:
Red7 (co-designed with Asmadi Games owner Chris Cieslik) is a quick card game where the object is to win. If you are not winning by the end of your turn, you lose. The game has 49 cards, 1-7 in each of seven different colors. You begin the game with seven cards in hand and a card out in front of you. The initial rule card is placed in the middle. This card is red, and tells you that the player with the highest card wins. The player to the left of the current winner goes first. On your turn, you can play a card from your hand to the table in front of you, or play a card to the discard pile (changing the rule), or both. If you can’t win, you’re out and can’t play for the remainder of the round. Ties are broken by the player having the higher number, then the player with the higher color (using the ROYGBIV color chart).
The secret to this game is trying to manipulate the rules in your favor. Here are the seven possible rules:
- RED: High card wins.
- ORANGE: Most of one number wins.
- YELLOW: Most of one color wins.
- GREEN: Most even cards wins.
- BLUE: Most different colors wins.
- INDIGO: Most cards in a row wins.
- VIOLET: Most cards below 4 wins.
The last one standing wins the round. There’s an advanced scoring variant which I alway use now where you remove the cards that won you the game and use them as your score. In this case, the game continues until someone reaches a certain score, or until you don’t have enough cards to deal everyone a full hand.
Red7 is incredibly brilliant. It’s a puzzle everyone is trying to solve. It’s a simple concept, but it’s still really tough to get your head around it in the first play. It’s fast to play, is portable, and everyone seems to like it a lot. It changes every time you play it, which is remarkable for the amount of cards that are present. I enjoy it immensely – I even had it as one of my top five games of last year.
Chudyk doesn’t have much announced for the future. He and Cieslik co-designed a game called Consequential which has been in development since at least 2012. It is a board game that uses an app to help with the storytelling aspects, and has different episodes that will be available for download as time goes on. I keep hearing that it’s still coming, and I’m very interested to know more.
As part of this Designer Spotlight, I don’t want to just do an overview of the career of the particular designer. I want to try to take a broad look at the work, and how it all fits together. In the world of cinema, there’s a concept called auteur theory that refers to a director as the major creative force behind a film. In other words, you can look at a movie by Quentin Tarantino and point to all the different aspects that make this a Tarantino picture – pop culture homages, long conversations that don’t have much relation to the story, violence, etc. That’s really a very simplistic explanation coming from someone who doesn’t have much film education. But I like the idea that directors leave their stamps on movies, and I think it can be applied to board game designers. Ultimately, it’s the publisher that determines the final product, but I like to look at what makes a game the product of its designer.
So let’s look at Chudyk for a moment. Obviously, I’m only looking at the five I highlighted here since that’s what I’ve played. What common concepts are there?
- Cards. Chudyk does card games. He hasn’t ever done a board game or a dice game (I think – I haven’t looked too deeply into those early Cambridge games). Not only that, but the cards always serve multiple purposes. In Glory to Rome, cards can be materials, roles, buildings, or points. In Innovation, cards can be a dogma action, a source of extra symbols, part of your score, or achievements. In FlowerFall, cards can be flowers of your color or a green patch to separate fields. In Impulse, cards can be an action, minerals, combat points, or victory points. In Red7, cards can be used to improve your standing to win a rule or to change a rule. So this is something I expect to see in all Chudyk games – multipurpose cards. It’s kind of a minimalist design technique – the more stuff that can go on one piece, the fewer pieces you need to include in the game.
- Variety. A lot of times, games with a single deck of cards can start to feel the same after a while. It’s a hallmark of Chudyk’s games that they always feel different. Part of the reason of that is the sheer number of ways a card can be used. Another part is that there’s just a lot of variety within the deck. Glory to Rome has 144 order cards, which works out to 40 different types. Innovation has 105 cards, and all are different. Impulse has 108 cards, all different. Red7 has 49, all different. FlowerFall has 84 cards (7 identical decks of 12), so it has the least variety, but with a shuffled hand, they’ll come out differently every time. The variety of cards helps every game to feel different from others.
- Situational Balance. One thing I’ve noticed in a lot of Chudyk games is how insanely over-powered a lot of cards feel. This is weird, because in other plays of the same game, those same cards feel useless. For example, in a recent game of Innovation, I was able to play Mathematics and use it to charge ahead in the tech race. I was way behind in score, so I thought I’d just try to get to age 10 and find a card that might win me the game. Mathematics is an age 2 card that allows you to return a card, then draw and meld a card of value one higher than the one you just returned. So, on my turns, I would discard the one card in my hand, draw and meld one higher, then use my next action to draw a card from the deck of the card I just melded. I got all the way from age 5 to age 9 with this before Mathematics finally got covered up. Unfortunately, I then accidentally caused someone else to win with a shared effect. In the next game I played, I got Mathematics again, and it was covered up almost immediately. You’ll find this in all games – Glory to Rome has buildings that are useful in some situations and not others; Impulse has powers that are very helpful sometimes and not others; Red7 has rules that are great for you sometimes and not others; and FlowerFall has patches that come out at the perfect time sometimes and not others. I call it situational balance because there’s so many “over-powered” cards that it all balances itself out.
- Lack of Theme. By this, I don’t mean that his games have no theme, I just mean that it’s not as important to his design aesthetic as the mechanics. Glory to Rome has an ancient Roman theme that is evidenced in a lot of the names of cards, as well as the artwork. However, I don’t think it necessarily feels like you’re building a city, you’re just playing cards, paying for them, and gaining extra benefits. Innovation has a civilization theme, but you’re not so much building a civilization as racing to discover the best technologies. I think Innovation probably has the strongest theme of Chudyk’s games especially with how the card powers tie in to the concepts they represent, but you never really feel like you’re building a civilization. Impulse is a space-exploration game, but it’s all about playing cards. Even the “map”, which is a hexagon made up of cards, is not really a good representation of exploration as you get to decide what is in that spot. FlowerFall is about flowers, but that theme doesn’t make much sense. And Red7 doesn’t even try to have a theme – it’s just about colors. I’m not bringing this up as a bad thing, because it’s not. Chudyk does try to tie theme into what’s going on, but if it comes down to a thematic or mechanical choice, he’s going with the mechanics every time.
- Mats. Chudyk’s bigger games (Glory to Rome, Innovation, Impulse) utilize player mats to help players organize their stuff. And while this is a seemingly nice feature, this is the biggest complaint I have about his games. Particularly in Glory to Rome and Innovation, you end up collecting so much stuff that the act of tucking stuff under your mat becomes a major hassle. Impulse is not quite as bad because you honestly don’t ever have to tuck as much – plan and minerals. Tech sit on top of the mat. But Glory to Rome has you tucking lots of materials, roles, vault items, and completed building foundations. Innovation has you tucking score and achievements, as well as foreshadowed cards in the Echoes expansion. I’ve taken to just putting my collected cards off to the sides of the mat rather than under because it annoys me so much. But I would say that the mat is a hallmark of a Chudyk game. At least the bigger ones – Red7 and FlowerFall don’t have them.
- Uniqueness. Finally, I want to compliment Chudyk on his uniqueness. If you’ve played one Carl Chudyk game, you’ve played ONE Carl Chudyk game. You can point to some common ideas (as I’ve tried to do), but they are all completely unique. There’s a role selection game, a tableau building game, a 4X game, a dexterity game, and a player elimination filler within the five I’ve mentioned here, and they’re all their own games. This isn’t really a tangible trademark of Chudyk’s games, but it’s something I can expect whenever I play one.
So that’s that. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. If you have any opinions about Mr. Chudyk and his games, let me know. If you’ve never played one, I encourage you to seek them out – they take a while to get into, but once you’ve got them, they are fabulous. Thanks for reading!