Every project teaches you something and then taunts you with that knowledge—it whispers, you could always do that part better on the next project! Root taught me that it’s possible that good aids can do more than help players remember rules they already knew, but actually teach large parts of an intricate game: in tests, I often asked players to learn their factions just by reading their player boards, and it paid off. In a perfect world, people could sit down at the table and learn the game without looking at the rulebook or watching a how-to-play video.
Today I plan to speedrun you through all of the development — that I can remember — that eventually turned Hyperspace Smuggler into Ahoy. So buckle up, we have a lot to cover!
I’m so excited to get to reflect on the history of Ahoy this week! In the first part of this piece, I’ll go a bit more into the nitty-gritty of how the game developed between the time I first started conceptualizing and when I turned the prototype over to Nick for development. In the second part, I’ll share a bit about my own life and how it impacted the game’s journey.
Initially, we had planned on building Arcs like Oath. The idea was that it would probably be a big box game, with tons of cards and a pretty hefty price point—likely around $130 dollars or more. The game was designed initially as primarily a campaign game, and I didn’t want to present it without that mode. However, over the past several months we have decided to split the game into essentially two product lines.
In general, my designs tend to have a lot of thematic overlap but very little mechanical overlap. Arcs is a little different. In this design, I consciously built on mechanical elements from both Root and Oath. I wanted the game to be easily to teach and learn for players with some passing familiarity of our games and to serve as a good entry point into our other titles. I also didn’t want to innovate in a space where innovation wasn’t warranted. For instance, Oath had presented some very interesting design challenges when it came to movement and demanded a novel solution. However, for Arcs, it was pretty obvious early in the process that the game would have pieces coexisting and moving in a manner very similar to Root. It seemed obvious that Root’s general movement system would work just fine within Arcs.
One of the earliest goals of the design of Arcs was to have a fully emergent asymmetry that went beyond what the positional differences in Oath could do. I wanted players to start in roughly similar positions. However, by the end of the campaign, I hoped that those positions would be as different as any two factions in Root or two roles in Vast. I saw this as a way of approaching an essential problem in asymmetric design.
In writing about this subject, I’m going to be using the word “temporality” a lot. First, I’m sorry for that. It’s a bad word with far to many syllables for its own good. When I use this word, I’m specifically referring to how something (say a board game) both uses time and is used by time. This is a particularly useful word because it captures the fact social spaces (like games) can organize and regulate time. In this way, the word’s oddness is useful too. It reminds us of the artifice inherent to all measures of time and the degree to which structure informs perception.
Unlike Root, Arcs is not a fundamentally asymmetric game. It’s not Root 2 and it doesn’t really try to attack the same design space, despite, as we shall see later, sharing a few rules. However, in one key respect, Arcs does respond to fundamental problem in Root.
Most of my games have very long incubation periods. Traces of both John Company and Oath can be found in decades-old notes. Arcs is not like that.