Designer's Diary part V - Few words about developing the Sanctuary

When we encountered the Sanctuary the first time (“The Farm” at that time), we were sure it was a good, nearly finished and ready to be printed boardgame. We could have done that – just print it – and gamers would have a very, very good two player game about managing a farm and its animals. In the previous entry, I explained why did we change the theme of the game. The other important thing was to extent it and adjust for 3 and 4 players gameplay. 
I'd like to tell you something more about challenges we had to face during the process. 
The first, most basic thing was changing names of game elements to adjust them to a new theme and at the same time fit into game's mechanics. Managing a farm and managing an animal sanctuary have few things in common so some changes were pretty obvious. We've exchanged cows, horses and pigs with endangered species which we still care about during the game and try to increase their population. We've exchanged farmers with volunteers and mice with general threats. Flooding and foresting make even more sense now as we try to recreate natural habitats. On the other hand in the previous version of the game players needed to cut woods in order to get more space on their farm. We've decided that it didn't make to much sense and now players have to purchase land parcels to extend their sanctuary. In the end we've also exchange a cat and a dog with rangers and animal rescuers. 
The second, and much more challenging task was to increase the players count from 2 to 3 and 4 players. Our initial idea was to simply double the number of action cards and to use them proportionally (half more in 3 players game and twice more in 4p game). This option didn't work too well though. First of all – it made the game much longer and complex especially for 4 players. „The Farm” was such a good game also because its pace and short turns – we didn't want to resign from those. Second of all – the game was already perfectly balanced for 2 players at that time. Making action cards twice as much didn't mess with this balance but in 3 player game we had to decide which actions will have less cards and which more. This change would cause a situation where some strategies would be more or less profitable in 3p games – and we didn't want to force players to follow any path that obviously gives you more points at the end. Finding a right solution wasn't easy but after many, many hours of tests we decided to put the most unusual actions cards (that formed two separate decks before) into one „wild” gray deck of action cards. Most of actions in the game worked very well with 3 players but those „wild” once were actions that caused problems. When we listed all of them it was impossible to divide them into action decks for 2, 3 and 4 players. That is why the gray, wild action card deck has more cards than the others and is constructed differently in 3 and 4 players games. 
We really liked the idea of storehouse improvements but some of them were so powerful that they decided about victory while the others were never chosen by players because they were too weak. That is why we spent a lot of time and effort to balance them without decreasing their variety. There are very powerful effects in the game that allow players to have two or even three improvements of the same color (usually you can have just one) and those effects sometimes created overpowered combos which gave players tons of points. We couldn't allow that to happen because it would again destroy the balance and encourage players to choose those few improvements before even looking at the others. That's why we decided that improvement tokens will be double-sided and unbalanced combinations are placed on opposite sides of each token. Those crazy combinations cannot even happen now and that's another thing that works great for the balance of the Sanctuary. 
When we started to develop the game which Przemek (the designer) brought us, it was already well balanced – which doesn't mean it was perfect. We've played it hundreds of times in different player counts, using different strategies and approaches, we've made some changes to make it as good as it can be. We changed the scoring for foresting and flooding so it might be a very important part of a player's strategy, we slightly modified animal scoring to encourage people to take care of them – in the end it is a game about animal's sanctuary. We added few more minor things to the game, to make it even more dynamic, smooth and full of interesting tactical choices. 
As I mentioned in the beginning. We could have publishes „the Farm” without any changes, but I am really satisfied with all work and effort we put into it. I am sure you will get a game that's developed in every single detail, play-tested and well-balanced. In other words: the game that you will enjoy playing every time it hits your table.
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