Area movement: The players take turns to move (or push) meeples.
Changing board: Tile after tile disappears, making the board gradually smaller
Collective but competitive decisions: The tiles disappear based on the players' collective decisions
but the result affects the players individually
Deduction: By observing other players' movements, player may deduce safe and unsafe areas
Take that: The players can push each other to unsafe areas and trigger cataclysms.
I fell for it again. Although I had promised my old games to focus on promoting them instead of designing new ones,
I couldn't resist the contest
The requirements included a survival theme and the size of a small box and such a game must be simple
and quick to design, right?
My first ideas for Apokalypsis' game mechanisms were simple enough: move meeples from a central city tile to a coastal edge tile,
where a ship can be used to sail to safety. Add to that the
Tre Kronor Infernum mechanism of drawing coordinate tiles, to determine which ones
that will disappear, and a cooperation element, where players may cooperate to help each other up from disappearing
tiles or even build bridges to cross them. The only printed components I needed were some terrain hexes.
The game shouldn't take more than a week to complete. Why do I never learn?
My initial concept testing showed that the idea was too simple to work. Moving meeples from A to B was too repetitive.
Drawing coordinate tiles had too little room for strategy and tactics. Cooperation was rare and (literal) runaway leaders
were frequent. But having come this far, I didn't want to accept that the idea couldn't work and started iterating various
Hex tiles instead of Square tiles
Areas instead of Coordinates
Stay on the island instead of Escape from the island
Push opponents instead of Block opponents
2 meeples per tile instead of 1 meeple per tile
Accept Fate instead of Defy Gods
Draw 2 omens instead of draw 1 omen
Square tiles are excellent for coordinate mechanisms, since all tiles can be named with a letter and a number
(A1 etc.). However, they make movements clunky, particularly when tiles can disappear and players have to spend twice as
many moves to move around a missing tile (instead of moving A1-A2-A3, you have to move A1-B1-B2-B3-A3). Hex tiles
allows more flexible moves and were a natural choice.
However, hex tiles work less well for coordinates. It requires more time to identify which tile that is referred to
by a specific set of coordinates and some combinations of letters and number do not appear at all. Instead, I turned to
overlapping areas instead. Some areas could be based on compass points (North, South, East and West) and others on
distances from the center (inner, middle and outer circles). Thematically, this made more sense than coordinates,
particularly when I translated the distances into cataclysms (volcanic eruption strikes the inner tiles etc.).
Still, even with hexes the gameplay of moving meeples from a central city to coastal ships became repetitive and I
also got a (literal) runaway problem, as the first player to be blocked by a disappearing tile would have to rely on all
the other players being blocked twice to get in the lead. The simple solution was to let the players stay on the island
and move around to avoid the disappearing tiles. Not only did this offer more variation but also
equal winning chances, as I could let the winner be determined by the last survivor
rather than the most refugees, giving all the players a chance to win as long as they have at least one meeple left.
Nevertheless, more work was required regarding the movement. The early iterations only allowed 1 meeple on each hex, something that offered blocking opportunities in a "escape game". However, since I wanted to have more flexible movements, I couldn't have too many blocked hexes and instead tried a push mechanism. This gave the players not only more ways to move to safe land but also a way to move other players to unsafe land. An excellent take that mechanism! By increasing the limit to 2 meeples on each hex, I made movements even more flexible, while still allowing blocks if both the hex moved to and the hex pushed to are full.
So far so good when it comes to the meeples but what about the tiles? In
Tre Kronor Infernum, the players select coordinates and when they happen to intersect,
tiles are affected. This works, since there are only 3x3 coordinates for the 9 rooms in the game. However, Apokalypsis'
bigger board requires more than that so I started by letting the players draw random cards to determine which tiles to disappear.
This was according to the theme of letting the players react to things outside their control but removed too much
control from them. How to return the control?
One intriguing idea, that kept being included and excluded, was the idea of defying the Gods. By letting the pile of
affected tiles grow until a player decides to reveal them by "defying the Gods" (and draw the wrath of the Gods upon the
island), I added a gamble mechanism where players could move their meeples in safety first before causing the other
players' meeples to be lost. In reality, this didn't turn out that way as the players got an incentive to defy the Gods
every turn. The attempt to add a cost (at least 1 lost meeple to the player defying the Gods) didn't help either as the
players now got an incentive to wait too long to ensure that all other players lose more than 1 meeple.
The simple solution was to let the players draw 2 omens and choose 1 while returning the 2nd to the bottom of the
pile. This gave them two levels of control. First, they could choose which tiles disappear later in the game (and move
to those more safe tiles). Second, they could choose which tiles to disappear earlier in the game (and move away from those
less safe tiles). Also, each player's movements could be observed by the other players in an attempt to deduce which
omen was chosen and which was discarded.
After all those changes, my "simple and quick game" was still simple and quick but considerably different from the
game I started with!
The only thing that didn't change during the design was the theme. Not only was it determined by the
contest requirements but it also fit in the series of games set in Ancient Greece that I had started
working on recently. Like the other games Demokratia and
Politeia, Apokalypsis was given a Greek name and the true (?)
island behind the Atlantis myth, Therea, contributed with the historical setting. Although I had
never played any Atlantis game, I realized that the theme could be a worn out one, but I felt that
the game was different enough from
games like Survive
(While searching, I also found the interesting and very different game
proves how little a theme tells about how a game plays. I'm surprised it hasn't been commercially
The rest of the design became a rushed affair due to a pleasant surprise: an order of 5 copies of
Find the Bug!. To include the prototype of Apokalypsis, I worked hard to
complete the components. The tiles were already completed, using basic map colors for the land side and
water colors for the sea side. The omen cards were simply small scale maps, showing which tiles that are
affected, and the box reused the template from Demokratia, since both
games belong to the same series. The rules were not completed but wise from earlier attempts, I order my
prototypes without rules and print them myself later when they are finalized. I also went for a
a bigger medium box, partly to make it the same size as Demokratia and partly to fit meeples and
wooden bridges. The contest version had to make do with discs and tile bridges to fit in a small
box but that's another story.
So how did the story proceed? Well, the game didn't win the contest but was picked up by a local store
so all is well that ends well (unlike the historical Thera that was completely destroyed).
Spurred by the success of the first edition (and by a component upgrade at
The Game Crafter, that allowed more tiles for the same price),
I started to think of improvements for the second edition. One idea, suggested by a buyer, was a larger island
but then I would need more omen cards for the new areas. Or? The omens of the first edition did not trigger an apocalypse if two
similar cards turned up, something that sometimes confused new players. But what if similar cards would trigger
an apocalypse in those new tiles? Two storms could strike stormy areas and so on. Thus, the island tiles outside the coastline
were born. Another idea originated from the idea of defying the gods. How about certain areas that were either protected by the
gods or targeted by the gods depending on their mood? Thus, the temple tiles and their corresponding temple cards were born.
For the rest of the tiles, I simply added mechanics that would create a more unpredictable island. The castle tiles could be
accessible to some meeples while the mountain tiles could go through the stages inaccessible-accessible before finally turning
In addition to the extra tiles, I also started to look more critically at the game. With only six meeples per color,
the score ranged from 0 to 6, something that made draws and tie-breakers frequent. Could that score range be increased somehow?
Yes, by giving the gods a bigger role in the game! Instead of playing a people trying to survive, the players could play gods
trying to save one people (and score for survivors) and eliminating another (and score for casualties). This would also add
a hidden color dimension, successfully implemented in games like
Clans. Thus, the open "people variant" and the
hidden "gods variant" were born.
But the hidden variant highlighted another issue. With 12 meeples to save/eliminate, 2 actions weren't enough. More actions would
not only increase the downtime but also make it even harder to keep your colors hidden. Besides, the concept of only moving 1
meeple at the time was not consistent with the theme of panicked crowds escaping for their lives. The solution was so obvious that
I blame myself for not seeing it at once. Instead of focusing on the individual meeples, the actions should focus on the tiles
and all meeples on or around them. Thus, the evacuate and rally actions were born.
The second edition of Apokalypsis clearly shows that even a game that appears to be ready can be improved.
36 meeples; 9 blue, 9 green, 9 red, 9 yellow
37 basic double-sided tiles; 1 volcano tile (front and back), 24 non-coast land tiles (sea on the back), 18 coast land tiles (sea on the back)