For those of us who got our starts in digital games in the age of the internet, there’s something strangely final about printing a board game. With digital games, if you make a mistake or there’s a little bug you missed, you update the code and assets, submit a patch, and pretend like nothing ever happened. But if you make a typo in a tabletop game, you’re living with it. Every time you explain the game, you’re going to have to point it out. You’ll get random messages asking about it all the time. You’re not weaseling your way out of this one.
And that’s how most games stay. Perhaps fondly remembered, but always imperfect. Even for games that get a reprint, it’s often not possible to correct errors, because it’s less expensive to simply reprint than it is to change files. The finality can be relieving, but it can also be frustrating.
But some games are lucky enough to not only get reprints, but second editions. I’m excited to be in the middle of revising Corporate America for just such an update.
Updating a game for a second edition is a great opportunity, but it’s also a daunting task. Where do you start the changes? How much is appropriate to change? Today I’ll discuss my approach to the challenge as I’ve been working with a great community of fans to help
Long time readers of the blog will know where I started when it was time to update Corporate America: I discussed some of the weaknesses of the game two and a half years ago. Briefly, here are the issues I identified:
- The game takes too long, scaring off players and making it difficult to fit in busy schedules.
- Some of the rules of the game, in particular the Wall Street Phase, need to be a little tighter.
- The much loved Media industry and its Sponsored special ability need a power boost. (Other balance tweaks are necessary as well.)
- Legislation needs to be more positive so presidential candidates argue about what to do rather than agreeing on what not to do.
- The nastiest cards in the game are just too nasty.
I still generally believe that these are the worst problems with the game, but here’s an important addition to the list:
- Presidential races need to be contentious–players need to want to be president, and different players need different platforms.
This list has been the main focus of the update process, but not all items on it have been equally easy to address. Some, like making the media industry stronger, has been relatively easy. I improved the numbers, making media businesses more competitive; I changed the Sponsored special ability to make it smoother and give media a bit more of a unique, linear strategy; and I removed the legislation that hurts media businesses, because did it really need only negative legislation? The changes to media have gone over very well, and I’m excited for all the fans out there to get a shot at the new, improved media!
Shorter games have also been pretty easy to achieve by simply reducing the number of turns played. Aside from one other small change (reducing the number of bid rounds each election), that’s it. Ideally, I’d figure out a way to make turns shorter and still have several each game, but I don’t want to rock the boat too much.
But other problems are much more difficult to address. Negativity in the game can be tempered by removing the direct attack cards, making sure no one will ever lose a business again, but I can’t completely eliminate negativity from the game. For one thing, it’s important to the theme and spirit of the game. For another, so much of the legislation is based on negativity, it would require a complete overhaul to weed it all out.
The biggest challenge is definitely in making the presidency more contentious and attractive. Balancing the presidency has always been difficult. For many players, the excitement of winning an election is enough to enter the race, but for more passive groups one candidate can easily dominate an election, which eliminates a lot of the fun of the game. Even worse, some groups are so passive that no one steps up and campaigns to be president! It’s really important that players want to be president, and that different candidates will handle the job in different ways.
So the legislation and executive privileges need to be attractive to get players to run for president. But there’s also a danger that the president will automatically win the game if the legislation and executive privileges are too good, or at least that losers of an election will be knocked out of contention in the overall game. It’s a fine line, but here’s how I’ve been addressing the issue:
More positive legislation. I’ve already mentioned that the legislation has been skewed more towards helping players than hurting players. Theoretically, this shouldn’t make a difference: hurting your opponents should be equivalent to helping yourself and your allies. But in practice, most people just don’t want to hurt their friends (or at least don’t want to flaunt that in a campaign). By having players fight over which legislation they want to pass, there should be more clear divisions between candidates.
Less do-nothing legislation. There are a couple of classic pieces of legislation in Corporate America that explicitly do nothing: Filibuster and Defense of Marriage Act. But depending on the game state, there’s frequently other legislation that looks like it should do something that in fact doesn’t. By weeding these cards out or making them more impactful, there should again be more differences between presidential candidates.
More focused negative legislation. I can’t eliminate all of the negative legislation from the game, but I have worked towards making some legislation more focused in who they hurt. This legislation still might not be attractive, but legislation that hurts a subset of the players should be more controversial than legislation that hurts everyone equally.
Less restrictive protests. Protests are an interesting feature of Corporate America. They’re very thematic and perform the important tasks of somewhat limiting the president’s power and forcing legislation to pass that otherwise never would. But they’re also relatively complex and force presidential candidates to have similar platforms. To combat this, a single piece of legislation will now be able to satisfy multiple protests, and a president will only have to satisfy two protests, even if there are more than two active protests. That means that even in the face of a very angry population, presidential candidates will always have some wiggle room to make themselves stand out from the crowd.
More exciting executive privileges. Of all the cards in the game, the executive privilege cards are getting the biggest changes. I’m getting rid of some of the lackluster cards that made it into the original edition and adding several new spicy treats to encourage players to go through the trouble of running a campaign. Since the executive privilege of a president is hidden until after the election, this won’t help differentiate candidates, but I’m hoping it will entice players to throw their hats in the race.
Of course, not all of the changes we’re making to the game are directly mechanical. Lots of jokes are getting updated, the graphic design is getting some attention, and businesses are getting logos. That’s right, that impressive business empire you create every game is going to get that much more impressive!
Even though it’s a huge undertaking, updating Corporate America has been a total blast. Designing and releasing Corporate America is definitely one of my proudest accomplishments, and it’s a huge honor to get a chance to improve it for another edition. I can’t wait to share all the fun of the new edition with you in the coming months!