Interview with the designers of Complexcity
We’ve been in the search of unity for centuries now. Religions, prophets, and activists have all struggled and fought for this idealized and cherished notion of co-habitational balance. However, the implications, systems, and overall functionality of this new society are a complete mystery to all of us. But what it if we could start theorizing what that world could look like through a different type of lens? Maybe through the textured and colorful view of cardboard, perhaps? Complexcity is a city-planning game where you are tasked with creating the perfect habitat for a host of disenfranchised alien species. Yet achieving harmony with each of these beings won’t be simple. Each have their own lifestyles and requirements for you to meet before they can welcome any of their new neighbors. Is it me or does that sound vaguely familiar?
Jay, we have to stop meeting like this! Well no, I don’t mean that. Board games are pretty much the best reason to meet…ever! Could you tell us a bit about your newest game Complexcity?
Jay: Complexcity is a tile laying game for two to four players. Sen and I were trying to solve the two main issues that tile laying games have: downtime since you can only start assessing the board at the start of each of your turns, or multiplayer solitaire. I love tile laying games a lot and wanted to contribute more to the genre in addition to Akrotiri that Sen and I designed. Players place a tile onto their own city on a distant planet in an effort to enclose areas and make a complex based on one of the four species present in that area. Each species gives players bonuses that are all vital to winning! There are ambassador cards face up that all want specific requirements, and at the end of each round the ambassador with the most votes on it will be the one that scores. To score, you compare your total of complexes specified by that ambassador with your two neighbours and the highest total receives points.
Sounds like a great time. I have to say: I love the artwork! Its highly inventive and unique. The detail put into each of the four species really shows in the components. Are these designs indicative of each of the needs and behaviors of those species?
Sen: We don’t often get the “full Kwanchai”, but when we do… he just blows it out of the water! Kwanchai took the design note for each of the species and went to work, trying to capture the nuances of each of them. If you look really carefully at each instance of a species, you’ll see cool little features like seaweed fronds growing *inside* of the bubble-bodied Neridians while the rock-hard Terramorphs have dogs made up of lava and stone! Even the complex in which a species resides has its own distinct flavour. The plant-based Phytons, for example, live in complexes that are based on rows of raised gardens. The technological Replikons live in cuboidal complexes that have circuitry traces running all over them – they’re like a kinder, gentler Borg. Resistance is still futile, of course.
Ha, guess we all become part of the Collective at some point in our interplanetary lives. With so much attention put into differentiating the species, I’m assuming they all work very differently as well. What type of abilities can players expect to utilize for each of the four alien species?
Jay: The green Replikons allow you to grab a specific tile from a set-aside pile. These tiles will help you close in complexes and are very powerful.
The red Terramorphs allow you to change one of your complex markers in your city to a different alien species (as long as it’s present in that area). This can be super powerful in the 2nd and 3rd round when ambassadors are scored and you don’t care about some of the colours any more. Use the Terramorphs’ power to change the useless complex markers into something that will help you score this round.
The yellow Phytons help you grow your city, which is how you win the game. The ambassadors are only influenced when they see growth. Want a different ambassador to score this round? Create a Phyton complex and spend some of the growth tokens earned to influence a different ambassador!
The blue Neridians provide a different scoring path that tugs at your ability to compete for the Ambassadors.
Are these powers improved depending on how large the sectors are?
Sen: Kind of . When you create a complex by surrounding various alien habitats with transport tubes, you count the number of habitats contained in the complex. For every four habitats of any type that there are within a complex, you get to place one complex marker on that new complex. The more habitats you have that match the new complex marker, the more Bonus Items you’ll be able to pick up. These items are critical for winning the game as they let you use the alien abilities that Jay just described. So really, the bigger the complex, the more likely that you’ll generate the Bonus Items needed to execute a species’ ability.
Go big or go home I suppose! How exactly do players gain influence and affect the ambassadors throughout the game?
Jay: Any time a player closes a complex off and decides to declare that complex a Phyton complex, they will get one growth token for every Phyton building in that complex. As they’re acquiring these growth tokens, they can place them on any ambassador to influence them. The ambassador with the most growth tokens at the end of each round will score. Each growth token at the end of the game is worth a point, so it’s tricky to know how many you should spend on influencing ambassadors.
I really appreciate the light take on urbanism that you’ve captured here. The idea of meeting the needs of different people while emphasizing the importance of co-existence and viable infrastructure through the lens of an alien species is wonderful. In what point in the design did the city planning aspect come into play and that each species would have its own identity and culture?
Sen: The original game was not based in space, but on Earth and so we didn’t have the various species to deal with. Once we changed the theme to creating a city for the survivors of a pan-galactic disaster, the idea of different species living in harmony through thoughtful urban planning came into being. From there, we created the different species and made each responsible for one aspect of the game’s special abilities. In Complexcity, you have to rely on the strengths of all of a city’s inhabitants to build a strong and prosperous city. By working together, immigrants forced to flee their homes can build themselves a brighter future.
Beautiful, I know of a particular planet that could benefit from that type of mindset…Speaking of building though, how exactly are players allowed to form their Complexes? Are tiles required to touch on their sides, or can players place them in quarters to take advantage of the grids laid out on the habitat tiles?
Jay: Each tile has transport tubes that either make a PLUS shape or a T shape. When placing your tile down, same has to match same, and that’s usually a transport tube touching another transport tube. Once a transport tube has encompassed a set of buildings, then a complex has been created. For each set of four buildings in that complex, the player can place one complex marker. They can only choose from complex markers that are in their own supply and at least one of those buildings must be in the complex.
Makes sense, you wouldn’t want a metrorail to stop in the middle of nowhere. I’m looking at you New York. Can you elaborate on the importance of the Ambassadors for Complexcity? How exactly are players able to influence them and what effect do they have on the overall strategy?
Sen: As Jay alluded to above, Ambassadors are the primary scoring mechanism in Complexcity. At the end of each cycle of the game, one of the Ambassadors will be resolved and give Growth points to the player who best meets the conditions outlined on the Ambassador’s card. A Neridian Ambassador could give Growth points to the players who have the most connected Neridian complexes, for example. The large complex markers were a real design coup for us. Having a 3D shape on the tile allows players to simply count those markers instead of having to count 2D tile elements during scoring. Because majorities are compared between the players to the left and right, the 3D elements also help players quickly count what their fellow city planners have so they can best spend their Growth points to influence the Ambassadors! Since the Ambassador with the most Growth tokens on them is the only one to be resolved each cycle, players must decide which Ambassador they want to place their Growth tokens on when they have a chance to. This can only be done when you build a yellow Phyton complex, but remember: the Growth you use to influence an Ambassador is lost! Growth tokens are straight points at the end of the game, so you have to be sure you can earn more back from the Ambassador than you spent to get them into the scoring position!
I like the risk/reward ratio that brings to the game. Going back to your history for a second, I wasn’t aware that you both partnered up for Akotiri! How long have you two worked together for?
Jay: Sen and I have been designing together for a long time! We both spew out new ideas all the time and we can’t keep up with turning them all into games. We did have one small game we called Hot Property, which was twenty-five tiles and had players placing tiles in an effort to enclose neighbourhoods in a city with roads. The game was a fun two player game, but we always thought there was more to it than that, so one day we brought it out and started brainstorming how it could be a bigger game. We stumbled onto something pretty quick once we knew that players can’t assess a garbled mess of buildings in any other player’s area, so we came up with the complex marker to help opponents see what each other had. This was the catalyst to turn this into a full fledged game and we kept refining it ever since until it is what it is now!
Before we finish up, what can we expect to see on the April 29th Kickstarter? Anything you can share about potential stretch goals or quality improvements?
Sen: What I can share with you at this point is that Big Kid Games is looking at larger tiles with thicker stock as well as box quality upgrades. Nothing was cut from the base game just to turn them into stretch goals. Backers will be getting a complete game experience right from the get-go!
Jay and Sen, you’ve been wonderful. It’s always a marvelous time when we can talk about games together. If only everyone could find some common ground like this, maybe the world would be a better place. I guess until then all we can do is ask: if we all had funky shaped houses, could we get along?
If you’re curious about your ability to make a perfect civilization, Complexcity will be launching on Kickstarter on April 29th with a host of wonderful surprises.