Posts about 'Ohana Proa

Hippodice round 2


Subject: B: 'Ohana Proa
From: J C Lawrence 
Date: Fri, 31 Oct 2008 17:39:25 -0700

J C Lawrence would like to submit 'Ohana Proa to the Hippodice
competition.  He is the sole designer and his email address is 'Ohana Proa is designed for 3-5 players, age 10+ years
and lasts about 150 minutes.

Please find attached a description, the rules and a player aid.

J C Lawrence                        They said, "You have a blue guitar,
-------------------------(*)        You do not play things as they are."                       The man replied, "Things as they are          Are changed upon the blue guitar."

Capstan turning chanty

The kula model is interestingly incestuous.


  • Added track markers
  • Added boat marker
  • Simplified delivery rules due to boat marker
  • Added missing text that when delivering through another player’s kahuna the other player gets VPS
  • Clarified 8th proa/prestige text to indicate that it may apply to both delivery rounds
  • One extra prestige awarded for every two gifts given at an island
  • 1 prestige point for each two kula given when a market is delivered

New rules for ‘Ohana Proa.

New Player Aid for ‘Ohana Proa.

Hey ho and up she rises!

Another playtest of ‘Ohana Proa last night using the knocked back rules (no reciprocal giving, shorter prestige track, single prestige for extra explore or extra proa etc). This time I got to sit out and watch them play rather than participating directly. Game-wise it worked well.


  • Several requests to add a boat marker so that players can move the boat along the routes during their deliveries and thus more easily visualise their positions and potentials. This seems a fine idea.
  • Just like the last playtest, many comments to the effect of the game being mechanically simple and yet quite un-obvious.
  • Many exclamations on how well balanced the game was. While one player fell far far behind in prestige, he was able to catch up through clever route building and bidding in the late game. Scores ended up with a ~25% spread from first to last (the eliminated).
  • Single prestige discard for extra explore or extra proa worked well and was regularly used. Player who used it the most later cursed this as he ended one turn in the lead with 29 prestige and was then second when the game ended. I was delighted.
  • Complaints that the board is too busy and difficult to visualise. Primary problem seemed to be that the route markers are round and easily visually confused with the round markets. The result was that there were many Oh dear that route is/isn’t claimed yet! during the game. Discussion suggested that making the route markers rectangular and visibly directional so that they clearly indicate the claimed routes and strongly visually suggest the connected network.
  • Only one kahuna was placed during the entire game and it was central to that player’s success. Early kahuna are clearly worth more than late kahuna. The players were not convinced that kahuna were really useful, but most indicated that they’d look hard at putting down early kahuna if they played again.
  • Remembering whether kula were fresh or stale when given was found a problem. The kula tiles are too small, easily flipped, easily lost track of etc. Some of the current problem is simply due to the tokens being too small. Cards may be a better option. -The game again ran long: ~200 minutes. These latest games have run far longer than previous playtests, despite the accelerated start, simpler end-game, faster economy and other game-shortening measures. I suspect this is due to the majority of prior playtests being conducted with experienced Age of Steam players who quickly grokked the delivery patterns of the game.
  • The game nearly ran out of markets before players broke 30 prestige. This is concerning. Prestige production rates are slightly lower now that prestige is not rewarded for making new kula. There are a few obvious addresses: 1) Lower the end-game prestige bar, 2) Increase kula production rates, 3) Increase kula production opportunities. It feels like the kula pool needs to be sweetened by 15%-2o%. The problem with sweetening the pool is that it then also becomes more volatile. A little more volatility would be nice, but 20% would be far too much. I don’t want to drop the bar. I don’t want to re-introduce prestige for new gifts. Thematically prestige for stale gifts works better but is also richer than I want. So far the most tempting idea is to award an additional prestige for giving away more than N gifts at a single island where N is probably PlayerCount-1. Another idea is to multiply the points received by the recipient by the number of gifts given at the island. This would be a much more indirect approach but have faintly similar outcomes(?). Interesting…

Good stuff. Yep, gifts for gift-giving parties seem a fine idea. Now to run some models.

Revisions of review

We did a semi-blind playtest on Monday. I was there to answer direct questions but otherwise intended to be silent. As happens we also lost a player at the last minute so I also participated in the game which was regrettable.

They taught themselves the game from the rules, pretty much just reading it aloud in somewhat backwards order. This took roughly an hour. I can easily teach the game in under 15 minutes, but I also know it well. I’m a little unsurprised at the length involved as none of the players were prepared; they simply sat down, picked up the rules and attempted to learn the game from scratch A repeated complaint was the large number of forward and backward references in the rules. I’m not sure what, if anything to do about that. More distressing was that they did not use the introduction section to gain an overview of the game and thus provide context for the rest of the rules to fit into. Conversely I was pleased that there were no questions left unanswered by the rules and that all questions they did have were answered by the rules as written and roughly about where they thought that data would be.

The game also developed unusually. All initially claimed routes were adjacent in the initial exploration with many shared islands. Kahuna and a gift were purchased on the first turn of the game (first time ever for that). The game ended explosively with all players earning more than 30 prestige points in the last round. Final prestige scores ranged from ~56-75, which is a little ridiculous.

A few of the more specific complaints:

  • Calling exploration costs bids, while accurate, was confusing. They understood the costs as a bid towards turn order but felt that calling it a bid suggested an auction for the route explored. I’ve changed that language.
  • They missed the entire Game Start section (setting initial turn order and initial route explores). They suggested I either fold that into Setup or provide a link to Game Start (the immediately next section from the Setup section.
  • They missed the ability to trade VPs for resources ability. The text was there but they skipped over it for some reason. As a result they were confused over how anyone accumulated shells during the game. When I pointed this out the paragraph they’d missed there were no surprises as to where the text was or confusions over its contents.
  • Requests for simpler language in the (long) Delivery section. Done.
  • They noticed that the rules did not specify that delivery resources were taken from supply. Fixed.
  • Wayfinder was called out as a clearly visible antecedent design. They’re right. Added.
  • Kahuna were considered confusing and likely unnecessary.
  • Reciprocal giving caused an overly exponentially explosive end-game. This was considered a big problem. I agree. Reverted.
  • Playtime was over 3 hours. That’s far longer than any other recent playtest. I’m not clear on why.

On the reaction level the summary roughly summates to:

  • Very unclear what to do, what to head for, what to attempt from reading the rules
  • Mechanically simple, surprisingly mechanically simple
  • Too long
  • A (ver)y good game that still needs rough edges knocked off

Changelog for the new rules:

  • Bids are now costs
  • Corrected later/lowest language for turn order
  • One prestige for 3rd explore
  • Simplified delivery language
  • Specified that delivery payments are from the supply
  • Removed market colour game ending.
  • One prestige for an additional proa
  • Kahuna moved at cost on delivery
  • Added credit for Wayfinder
  • Moved Prestige multiplier boundaries
  • Reciprocal giving is gone (it was exponential in the end-game). Old-style gift/points are back.

I also reduced the prestige costs for extra explores and proas so as to make those choices more viable and interesting.

Thorn polish

With Hippodice drawing near it is time to dust and prune about the edges.

The changes aren’t large. I’ve shortened the end-game in “Ohana Proa a bit, hopefully lopping off 10 minutes or so, and allowed a pass action and end-game qualifier for Muck & Brass. I’m not convinced the latter is necessary but it is at least consistent with the rest of the pattern.

Reflections on an atoll

In a recent comment Ben Keightly argued that ‘Ohana Proa both is and should be a resource management game, and to an extent he’s right. And wrong – well, if not-what-I-want can be accounted as incorrect then he’s wrong. Ultimately all games are resource management games: players have a variety of fungible resources, abilities and opportunities to exercise them during the game and the player that manages the use of their resources, abilities (really just another resource) and opportunities (yet another resource) most effectively will (should) win. Ergo all games are resource management games and it is thus a uselessly global and tautological definition.

At a lower and more useful altitude I define resource management games as games in which the resources in question are (generally) enumerable, limited, and usually highly granular. At heart resource management games are exercises in scarcity. At a crude character level players must mete and dole and shave their pennies while still accomplishing the victory conditions. However, that’s not my interest or goal for ‘Ohana Proa. I’m not interested in ‘Ohana Proa being a game of managing scarcity, rather it is intended to be (and is) a game of jocund excess. The resources I’m interested in players managing are not discrete enumerable elements of fish and shells and VPs and kula, but of opportunities and mutual player (dis)incentives and posture. Any reasonable player in ‘Ohana Proa will have more fish and shells and kula etc than they necessarily know what to do with, they are going to be fundamentally rich and they are going to stay rich if they pay even marginal attention1.

Being rich is not the problem. Spending the wealth is not the problem (there’s always the turn order auction for that). The problem is simple: prestige. To get prestige the players must individually create and sustain situations in which the other players consistently give them disproportionately more than they give each other. It really is that simple. You have, more or less, all the wealth of the world, you are rich, but there’s a strict protocol for prestige-generating gifts and you need to manipulate the system so that you get to give more, more efficiently, than the other players. There’s a big machinery behind that prestige-giving protocol. There’s routes and auctions and fish and shells and kula and rot and a whole mess of details, all of which, Ben is quite right here, are almost busywork details.

There’s a common (and false) stereotype of rich people’s visiting gifts being things like a small pot of hand-made jam or the like (recently reiterated in Six Degrees of Separation, a wonderful movie BTW). ‘Ohana Proa perpetuates this sorry model except that now the players have to grow their own berries, pick their own fruit (for themselves or each other), boil their own mixtures and in general go through a whole big and somewhat extraneous ritual just to get the little jar of hand-made jam to give their friends when they visit. But they have lots of friends and managing (there’s that word again) both the production pipeline of jam (kula) and the rate of opportunities to deliver (density of deliveries to islands connected by multiple players) as a set is difficult and the heart of the game.

Ahh, so there are resources to manage: the kula production pipeline and deliveries to multiply connected islands! Too true! Those are the primary resource challenges of the game, which makes it kinda sorta a resource management game except that the primary resources are:

  1. Opportunities to make deliveries to islands which are connected by multiple other players
  2. Network meshes that generate sufficient resource flow to afford those opportunities

And those things are not generally enumerable, particularly limited (scarce) or granular. They are more akin to diffusive field effects. Yeah, at a grand-level it is all busywork. All the little fish and shell etc stuff is noise, but it is important noise. It is busywork that builds the stuff that starts the multi-step inferential pipeline that establishes the incentives for the players to emergently create those opportunities and network-properties for your personal victory.

Quoting Ben again:

The way markets and kahunas interacted with the network is so interesting. It reminded me very strongly of the illustrations you sometimes see depicting gravity, with large planets sagging the 2D space-time grid. The way these interactions worked was clear as day. Unfortunately we were watching them happen from behind a pane of glass, and not consciously participating in the process.

Again, he’s right. My challenge is to diffusively but yet tangibly connect the players with that rubber sheet. I think, hope, that the recent rules changes, especially finishing splitting kula and damping the effect of kahuna will help make that diffuse connection more tangible.

  1. The concept of continual affluence is, in part, a deliberate swimming-upstream against the flood of managing-scarcity games. There are a great many games which manage scarcity in variously interesting ways. I don’t know of any other games which require the players to manage largesse without also drowning them in micro-management. 

Curmudgeon rescinds generosity

New rules.

New player aid.

The really short version is that my response to recent playtester feedback was overly generous and enthusiastic. The correct response is more conservative and curmudgeonly. I’m keeping the response to Slow Start, albeit slightly muted. That’s fine and even admirable. Automatic proa upgrades is not such a good idea. I considered that model extensively in the early development of the game and threw it out then, which I then forgot more recently. The game needs an additional drain on fish/shells for the first few rounds while the players build their networks. The drain doesn’t have to be big, but it has to be non-negligible. This prevents a too-early and crippling kula rush before the route-network can support it. I tossed out the ability to cash in kula for VPs immediately upon receipt as it destabilised the kula and VP markets in oddly feed-back-prone ways. The split kula remains as a fine way of maintaining off-turn player involvement while also adding pleasantly collusive elements, but the prestige and VP allocation is heavily adjusted with an eye to reducing the total number of manual transactions per turn and per gift.

Note: The kula/prestige/VP values are not final – I’ve not quite finished running models.

I also threw out the redundant About Fish & Shells section of the rules, which saved half a page. The only original material there was the statement that VPs could be discarded for fish and shells, which has been moved further up the document.

In summary two changes remain in the offing:

  1. Adjusting kula/prestige/VP values
  2. Pull in the end-game prestige line a bit (~27?) while also shortening the prestige multiplier brackets.

When in doubt, sink the battleship

Kublacon saw another ‘Ohana Proa playtest with a response ranging from I want to play this again, I want to play it on Monday, bring it with you on Monday! to This is good but these bits need fixing. Happily all the complaints aligned with the extant problem list. Against my better and more generous nature the current idea is to make the following sweeping changes. They analyse Okay but I’m not sure I like the resulting picture, but suspect parental bonding for this latter.

  1. Tone down kahuna:
    • 1.5x production rather than 2x.
    • When a market is delivered to an island over a player’s route that also has a kahuna on that island, the kahuna-owning player earns VPs for the delivery in addition to the moving player. This may allow VP doubling for one’s own kahuna. not sure yet (ie the models haven’t finished running)
    • Building a kahuna once both have been built teleports one of the pre-existent kahuna to the new location
  2. Rejigger kula:
    • Rework all cost relations
    • Kula do not reward VPs upon receipt, but may be immediately discarded upon receipt for VPs or fish & shells
  3. Gut proas.. Players proas increase by one every turn unless their proas are already larger than the turn count. Automatic proa increase may be refused in return for resources and players may buy ahead for standard cost. If they buy-ahead then the next free proa doesn’t affect them. This is a standard tide-that-floats-all-boats

The most interesting change here is gutting the proas. Automatic increment removes a primary concern from the game, but also adds a potentially interesting decision without affecting any of the other base structures of the game: buy ahead for this-turn advantage or hang back for this-turn resource advantage? Removal of VPs from kula receipt is a little less interesting as the primary effect is to make kula dumping (stale kula gifts to players earlier in the turn order in the second delivery round) less significant. The second order effect of adding a thin kula management layer to the kula dumpee is mostly uninteresting.

New rules and player aids are on the slip.

Compressed freckled waves

A productive evening:

  • Put in a double switchback exploration round for the start
  • All players start with 2 explorers and 2 proas (need more resources too! forgot that)
  • Advanced Game has been made default, Beginner’s Game added for the kahuna-less game
  • Reciprocal kula implemented.
  • First pass at new kula value/pricing done

So far the models look Okay, but I’ll probably need to adjust the Prestige Track end-point upward a bit to 37, 39 or 42 or so.

The new kula language:

There are (blue) fish and (red) shell kula items, each available in two values. Small value kula items may be enhanced to larger value kula items.

Kula token costs:

(Table here of values. In short, fish kula are 3 or 7 VPs, shell kula are 5 or 11 VPs and costs are 7 or 5 resources for low value kula (basic/beginner’s game), 17 resources for big kula, and 11 for upgrades.)

Players may only spend resources on kula if that kula item is immediately given to another player as part of a delivery (see Deliver). Enhancing a stale kula item (face down) to a larger value creates a higher value stale kula item (face down).

When a market is delivered to an island containing a market of the same colour, the moving player may give a kula item to each player with a route connected to the destination island. The kula item given may be newly purchased with fish and shells, or may be an item previously received from another player (optionally enhanced). The gifting player receives all the following:

  • 1 point on the Prestige Track for giving the kula item
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if it was a large kula item
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if the kula item was just bought with fish and shells for this gift
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if giving the kula item to a player with a kahuna on the destination island

The player receiving the kula item receives half the value of the kula item as victory points rounded down, or full value if their kahuna was present on the destination island. They also receive one victory point for each kula item they already possess.

Upon receipt of a kula item, the recipient may immediately give a kula of the opposite type in return to the giver and may spend fish and shells to buy a kula for this purpose. In this case the player reciprocally giving the kula receives:

  • 1 point on the Prestige Track for giving the kula item
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if their gift was more valuable than the gift they were given
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if the kula item was just bought with fish and shells for this gift
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if giving the kula item to a player with a kahuna on the destination island

and the new recipient receives:

  • 1 point on the Prestige Track for receiving a kula in response to their gift
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if it was a large kula item
  • half the value of the kula item as victory points rounded down, or full value if their kahuna was present on the destination island

At the end of each turn old face down kula items are discarded back to the supply and new kula items rot and are turned face down (see Rot).