March 11, 2012

Expanding the Farm: Learning about Expansion Design

The Kickstarter campaign to raise money to manufacture Farmageddon went insanely well. It went so well, in fact, that our backers began clamoring for a fantastic stretch goal. our solution was a full expansion to the game. By full expansion I don't mean the 2-3 promo cards that folks might throw into a game, but something that significantly adds to the game.

I found, and still find, this prospect a bit terrifying. I'm worried it's a tinge cart before the horse and I'd vastly prefer to design without the pressure of over 1200 excited people. But, this is a good problem to have.

Expansion design is quite different from creating a new game. You have an existing structure you must work within or expand very carefully. You need to take what was balanced, add a few layers, then polish it again. But, unlike a digital game, you cannot just patch or overwrite the base experience. Oh boy.

The purpose of this post is to share some general lessons I've found as well as discuss some aspects of the expansion, which is currently titled Livestocked and Loaded. 

To give you some context before I go into detail on lessons and the game, the expansion adds the following:

  • Weather Events cards: These add a little randomness to the game to create opportunities and shake things up. These also allow bidding on Animals.
  • Animal cards: These add new abilities that add a layer of strategy to the game as well as a new avenue to gain points. Overall, animals exist to add strategy to an otherwise very tactical experience.
  • Action cards: New Action cards have been designed to give players ways to modify the Animals.

Lessons Learned
Don't Break the Flow: This is one of the first pieces of feedback I heard when explaining my first design to one of my most regular testers. Originally, I had the idea to create 4 cards for each of the 4 Seasons (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer). Players would draw these after an event would occur and then rules would change. Players would also have Animal Action cards which they would draw instead of regular Action cards.

My tester (and fellow designer), Matt, responded pretty bluntly with something along the lines of "that's really stupid." He reminded me I could not, at all costs, upset the flow of the game. A turn in Farmageddon consists of Drawing 2 Crop cards, planting Crops and playing Action cards, then Drawing 2 Action cards to end your turn.  I was talking about adding 2 varied steps to this.

I took a step back and thought upon the problem and as a result came up with some solutions I'm pretty proud of.

Weather Event cards are randomly shuffled into the Crop card deck. You don't know which ones will be drawn or when they'll be drawn.

New Action cards are mixed into the old Action card deck. To manage the fact that there are now 65 cards, not 45, I've given the players several ways to manipulate the Action deck and their cards. Finally, the Animals exist in the center of play, much like the Crop fields.

As a result, a player turn in the expansion will be Draw 2 Crop cards (and sometimes a Weather Event card), plant Crops, play Action cards, and interact with Animals, then Draw 2 Crop cards to end your turn.

Don't Complicate things More than the Original: It's important to remember the amount of information you're expecting your players to track and keep the expansion relatively similar. For example, initially I had a few really important cards that had multiple abilities, their position could change, point variables you needed to track could change, PLUS you had to play the original game.


I streamlined all of the new cards to have one purpose. One piece of text for the player to read. Animals all have a value and an Ability, that's it (very similar to Crops or the Frankencrops). To make things even easier, the four Abilities will never change with the Animals, which means by the second game you should be quite comfy. Weather Event cards are quite simple. Their one other special function is indicated with an icon and that's as much as is needed.

In the expansion, players can watch their Crops, watch their hand of Cards, and keep track of their bids on animals (which are fairly static). It's more than the base game, but I think it's a reasonable increase in complexity.

Fill in the Holes: Don't add more of the same! The purpose of the expansion, at least in my opinion, is to add something special. Don't just add more of the same, unless you're a very scenario driven game like Memoir '44.

Farmageddon has some obvious areas to expand, both thematically and mechanically. Animals were an obvious choice for a farming themed game. If Agricola has them, so should I! Heck, the first name for the game was Barnacolypse. Weather was another obvious thematic option. I imagine if you ask farmers what has the biggest impact on their profession, Weather would frequently be the answer.

Weather is random and powerful in real life. After playing Farmageddon for months and months and months, I assume players will want something to shake things up. Weather will do that.

Animals add a strategic layer to the game. Crops in Farmageddon are ridiculously flimsy. They can be stolen, destroyed, made worse, and more. It made sense to give players something to think about more than 1-2 turns in advance.

Finally, I wanted to add a new way to earn points. Something substantial. That would be the animals. All of the animals are up for auction. Players will bid on them with Feed, a currency they create throughout the game.
None of this matters until I begin testing the thing. After 3 designer re-writes and scrubbing most of the cards at least twice. I put in an order for the expansion from The Game Crafter. Why Game Crafter? Well, I have a version of Farmageddon and the new cards need to be the same size as the old. So, one, big, happy, new version of the game it is.

The expansion currently totals 54 cards, broken out like so:

  • 4 Animal cards
  • 20 Action cards (6 different types)
  • 10 Weather Event cards (all are unique)
  • 20 Feed Marker cards (5 for each player with a unique color)
Farmageddon's getting pretty big with all of the cards! The base game is 108 cards plus 10 FrankenCrops. That's 172 cards total if my math isn't failing me entirely.

One of the ideas we had for the expansion was to increase the number of players to 5 or even 6 players. Unfortunately, this isn't something we pursued. I actually tested this a few times before the Kickstarter campaign, but the game just wasn't the same. The first problem is that there's too much chaos before you can take your turn again. If you plant a Crop in a 4 player game, there are 6 Action cards that can be played until it's your turn again (3 players x 2 Action cards per player). In a 5 or 6 player game, that number just gets out of hand. Secondly, the pacing of the game slows unacceptably. It takes too long for your turn to come back around and people get bored. Finally, the Crop deck isn't big enough to accommodate that many players. Folks don't seem to get enough turns to really have a meaningful game.

If you want to try the game with additional players, create a piece of paper and scribble "planting field" on it. 4 fields for 5 players should suffice. You can experiment by restricting players to only a single Action card, but this removes the ability to pull off some of the fun combos. But, you're welcome to try!

Questions? Thoughts? Enjoy the last few hours of your weekend.

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