Area control: The greater the area, the more trades it will attract.
Mutual trades: Most trades will benefit one or more opponents.
Value chains: Basic resources are combined into advanced resources and eventually into victory points.
Mergers: Marriages may be used to merge infrastructure and increase the productivity.
Suecia returns to the early Nova Suecia Series games set in the 17th century Sweden, particularly my very first game Nova Suecia. One of the objectives of Nova Suecia was to design a game where the players trade with each other and influence market prices. Eventually, the first part of this objective was abandoned due to the downtime associated with direct trade but the idea of cooperative/competitive game with trade never left me. After 5 years and 30+ games, I finally felt ready to realize this idea.
It's hard to point a single source of inspiration. Perhaps the first seed was sown by from Lisboa, which inspired me to design a similar euro engine game that told the story of the birth of my own city - Stockholm. The idea was a game where the city planning would "evolve" due to game events in the Swedish Empire. The game would tell the story of how Sweden grew from a poor farming country, via trading with the Hansaetic League and establishing own trade routes across the Baltic Sea, to become a major European power engaged in the Thirty Years' War. It would have trading routes, battle fields, and political intrigues, a bit like Mare Balticum but deeper. In essence, Stockholm would boil down to who built the best resource supplying buildings in the city given the game event driven demand outside the city.
Then came the The Game Pieces Only Challenge, a contest for non-printed materials where I could explore the idea of upgrading goods in a city. The result was the successful game Dyce, where the players build buildings to attract moving merchants.
However, in Dyce the players are fierce competitors for the resources supplied and demanded by the merchants but I wanted them to also cooperating by supplying to and demanding from each other. This idea was combined with the idea of the "evolving" city, where certain cities attract certain businesses. How about letting the players supply resources along certain rows ("streets") in a city grid? From that idea, it was natural to also let the players demand those resources along certain columns to make the the optimal business locations more challenging to decide. Thus, the city of Stockholm would see resources entering and exiting the city from different directions until the cheap basic resources have been refined to expensive advanced resources. Sililar to Dyce, each new step in the value chain would require two old steps (e.g. 1 blue and 1 yellow to get 1 green) to force the player to constantly innovate to stay on track.
Thematically, the players came to supply basic domestic goods (to the first side of the city) that are first demanded by foreign merchants (from the second side of the city) in exchange for advanced foreign resources. As advanced resources entered the economy, the players could start building their own buildings for refining resources in the city and using the advanced resources to set up advanced production facilities for supplying advanced resources (to the third side of the city). Eventually, those advanced resources could be demanded by the Crown in exchange for victory points (from the fourth side of the city). Those victory points were initially linked to military campaigns but were later replaced by less historical but more peaceful objectives to satisfy euro gamers. The game's name was also changed from Stockholm to Suecia, partly to reflect this grander scale and partly as a nod to the (in spite of the name) older Nova Suecia.
One remaining question was the action mechanic. Should the players be free to choose their own actions or should they be restricted (and if so, how to have this restriction adding meaningful decisions rather than becoming an annoying obstacle)? The solution was to be found in an old idea inspried by Deus. The players could be free to choose action cards but also combine them in a grid and activate previously placed cards in the same column. This also solved another question: how to motivate basic resource actions when the advanced resource actions are unlocked? Simple, let the advanced ones require the activation of two cards in a column!
However, instead of using this a solid foundation for the game I had wanted to design, I began to hesitate. Would the game be better with additional mechanics or would that just clutter a clean game? Was the game in its current state clean enough or would the different trade directions and value chains be perceived as too complex? It didn't help that I struggled to convey the simple game into comprehensible rules. Similar to my earliest game, I had to balance between concepts first, gameplay later and vice versa.
The final decision to keep the game clean came not from my designer view but from my gamer view. I had simply got weary with the many convoluted point salad games that many newer games suffer from and wanted to return to the more elegant ideas of the "Golden Age" of boardgames.
After all, what is particularly interesting about Suecia is that all resource transactions and conversionstake place on a city grid where all players are present, allowing the players to engage in mutually beneficial trades (or piggy-backing if you want) as well as beating each others to the best deals. Adding anything beyond that would simply go against Knizia's principle that a game is finished when there is nothing more that can be taken away.
1 game board, featuring the capital of Stockholm, 1 resource market track, and 4 card holders