Player-Determined Starting Positions
We imagine that participants of any race would make some kind of pre-race preparation. This is simulated by a one-off setup at the start of a game of Race for the Chinese Zodiac.
There are two types of resources in Race for the Chinese Zodiac, namely energy and karma. While the amount of starting energy is static from game to game, the number of starting karma tokens for each player is determined by all players before the first round of play. This is done via a one-off play of an action card and comparison of the played action card with one another. The played action card also remains played and all players then start the first round.
The unique determination of the number of starting karma tokens and starting played action card is coupled with a one-off randomised arrangement of actions on the inner wheel. These collectively ensure every game starts in a different manner, thereby increasing replayability exponentially.
Simultaneous Action Selection and Bidding
Bidding is a core game mechanic of Race for the Chinese Zodiac. The player with the highest bid of energy for a movement action gets to progress on the race track. Any outbids also lead to additional movements for the player. Bidding introduces a high level of interaction among all players during a game.
In addition, bidding by all players is simultaneous. This is reminiscent of any racing situation, where all participants are making decisions at the same time about whether to expend energy to push ahead or to hold back and conserve energy. Simultaneous bidding and the threat of being thwarted adds tension to the game. More importantly, simultaneous play shortens downtime and improves game flow, resulting in a shorter game that is suitable for the entire family.
Evolving Benefits vs Risk
In a typical race, numerous courses of action are open to all participants. It is also easy to imagine that taking the same action at different points in the race will yield different benefits. The amount of energy to expend on a chosen action and whether it pays off was our inspiration to using two wheels to allocate benefits.
In Race for the Chinese Zodiac, the benefits of the actions that players bid for are determined by the interaction between an inner wheel, which holds the actions, and an outer wheel, which holds the benefits. The inner wheel rotates one segment around the outer wheel after every round of play, resulting in evolving benefits for the same actions from round to round.
On top of that, each action takes up two adjacent segments on the inner wheel. Which segment’s benefit is awarded depends on the total amount of energy played by all players taking that same action. As such, and taking into account the possibility of being outbid, each action is inherently risky and players have to read all other players’ intentions well to be able to take the action of his/her choice.
Player Count and Game Balance
As we envisioned Race for the Chinese Zodiac to be a family game, we wanted to include in it as wide a player count as possible. This would be our first attempt at designing a board game with more than one player count.
The initial design and playtests for Race for the Chinese Zodiac was as a 4-player game. When the 4-player variant proved satisfactory, we moved on to playtesting the 5-player, 6-player and 3-player variants (in chronological order). We soon found out that applying the exact same rules across all player counts led to the game becoming too loose for lower player counts and becoming too tight for higher player counts.
We therefore tweaked some rules, a few game components and the animal special abilities, before playtesting again. The 5-player variant saw the introduction of a new outer wheel with different benefits and the loosening of the non-movement actions. The 6-player variant saw multiple tweaks and playtests, e.g. another new outer wheel, a new action etc. Though a few playtesters enjoyed it, we did not like it sufficiently to deem it worthy of inclusion as a viable player count and it was ultimately rejected. Finally, the 3-player variant saw the removal of one movement action and an increase in the benefit for outbidding other players.
All in all, Race for the Chinese Zodiac enjoyed more than 200 playtests across all player counts and will be published as a 3-5 player board game.