Tile Placement: The players place tiles, both horizontally and vertically.
Area Control: The players take control by grouping tiles and stacking towers.
I've always been intrigued by simple and elegant abstract games like chess and go.
Iconoclasm was one attempt to design such a game but the rules
were not as straightforward as players expect from an abstract game.
The game built on three fundamental mechanisms:
Circular relations: Colors form units where each color supports another color
External struggles: Stronger units win over weaker units
Internal struggles: Winning units get weaker and potentially overtaken
The mechanisms sounded good in theory but were hard to realize in practice. The first one was not intuitive.
(Why does fire supports Earth etc.?). The second one was hard to assess. (Fire supports Earth against Water but
does Fire support Earth against Fire?) The third one was not elegant. (When I get weaker, which ones do I remove?).
I think the main issue was that Iconoclasm couldn't decide whether it should be a thematic game about shifting
allegiances or a purely abstract game. A thematic game could move in the direction of masterpieces like
Tigris & Euphrates
and weave an interesting story around the struggle between the players while an abstract game could focus more on
All my attempts to move in the first direction were overshadowed by Tigris & Euphrates - why try to design a
game that has already been designed to perfection? Instead, I got inspired by the recent success of abstract games
like Santorini and
Learning from my reengineering of my first game, Nova Suecia, I returned to the core of
the game: What did I want it to be and how could I remove everything that wasn't this?
But how could I abstain from any of the three fundamental mechanisms listed above without removing the core of
the game? They were all needed to design the game of ebb and flow that I wanted. Perhaps they could be combined
into one visual element?
It was probably Santorini and Tak that gave me the inspiration I needed. What is a symbol of power if not a
tower, rising towards the sky? The "strength" would come from the height of the tower, the "support" from different
colors in the tower, pushing the top tiles higher, and the "weakening" simply from the removal of the top tiles. This
realization was the Eureka moment that got me started.
The name of the game was perhaps the easiest. During a visit to Tuscany, I really came to like the city of Lucca
with its many towers, so what else could I call a game about towers? The components were easy as well, I really
didn't need anything else but a checkered board and colored tiles. The game could be expandable as well, increasing
the size and the number of tiles with the requested game length, and a luxury look could easily be obtained with
for example natural wooden components made of birch, ebony, oak and cherry for the different colors. Now I just
needed to carve out the rules, because I was convinced that they were just waiting for me to release them.
Well, as you may expect, that wasn't entirely true. Even the simplest game require a lot of rule
Which colors may a player play per turn?
How many tiles may a player play per turn?
How may tiles be played to blocks?
How may tiles be played to towers?
What happens when two towers struggle?
Should more than two towers be allowed to struggle?
Which tiles are removed from the weaker tower?
Which tiles are removed from the stronger tower?
How does the game end?
How can you win the game?
Unlike earlier designs, I couldn't prepare my search for the answer through probability calculations and scenario
simulations. Instead, I had to play through games over several iterations. I experienced many issues on the way, such as
runaway leaders (strong towers couldn't be stopped), kingmaker effects (weaker towers could only weaken
stronger towers with no chance of winning), scripted gameplay (games followed the same path) and lack of
tension (towers were better off waiting than fighting). Some times I was simply stopped and forced to start over when
the rules became incoherent or complex. Nevertheless, I could see a game in the fog and eventually I found it.
Some critical design decisions included the following:
One color must not dominate a tower too much to allow hostile takeovers.
Players must be able to use other colors to allow taking advantage of them for furthering own colors.
Winning towers must lose not only tower tiles, to allow takeover of the tower, but also block tiles, to allow takeover of parts of the block.
New towers must be possible to extend at a higher rate than existing towers to allow challenging towers.
There must be multiple victory conditions to allow different strategic paths.
The real breakthrough came when I linked the color mix in the tower to the color mix in the block and
forced towers to have all four colors to grow. Not only did it set the stage for the ebb and flow
gameplay that I wanted but it also ensured that even weaker players remained in the game until the very
end. At last, the game of Lucca had been excavated!