Talia Rosen: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Publication

Initial rough draft artwork

I finished designing First Monday in October in 2020 after years of working on the game.  Or I thought I was finished.  I had published the first designer diary that summer and a follow-up article about the game’s design a couple months later.  BGG News even covered the game that year.  The game just had to wait until the fantastic Shores of Tripoli and phenomenal Votes for Women were completed and delivered… but those productions were of course held up significantly due to the global pandemic.

In the meantime, I continued to play First Monday in October over and over just because I really enjoy it.  I made a game first and foremost that I would like to spend hours playing repeatedly for years.  I wasn’t really playing the game to develop changes, but just to have fun.  But then in mid-2022, I happened to play it with the brilliant Brian Mayer, designer of Freedom: The Underground Railroad, and he had a curious idea that stuck in my brain…

As described in the designer diary linked above and in this GeekList about the 17 unlikely games that inspired my Supreme Court design, one of the defining characteristics of the original game came from the inspiration of 2003 Z-Man game Santiago in which you had to spend money to make money.  For years, First Monday in October challenged you to spend renown points to take more powerful actions in an effort to earn more renown points.  I wanted to challenge myself to “Stop Worrying and Love the Expenditure of Points.”

This feature presented players with a binary decision over and over on each action – whether to take the free standard action or to pay points to take a more powerful version of that action.  While I think this was a really interesting and challenging decision, it was time-consuming, somewhat repetitive, very hard for new players to play well, and made players that were behind feel unpleasantly constrained.  The question Brian posed is what would happen if instead every player got to perform one powerful action for free each round.

Initially, I said that sounded like an interesting different game, but this game was done.  It had been done for a while and was about to be published.  But like any good idea, I couldn’t get it out of my head.  A couple months later, I decided on a whim to mock it up and try it out.  At upcoming-breakout-star-designer Connie Vogelman’s house, I suggested she draw a star on one action disc of each player to indicate it as the “El Grande” disc and she happily set about defacing the completed game with a marker.  We tried the new (and it-turns-out improved) version of the game, and it felt completely different!

I didn’t like it.  It felt so weird after years of playing the original version.  Everyone else liked it way better. 

I played the new version again and again, refining the new Action List from game to game, and it gradually grew on me.  I showed it to dozens of people, and every single one has preferred it to the original version.  And it continued to grow on me.  It has a free-wheeling, lively, and much more fun feeling.

The new version, which I’ve informally dubbed the supreme version, confronts players each round with a fascinating six-way decision (instead of repeated two-way decisions).  Each round, you are faced with deciding which of the six possible actions will be your “supreme” action for the round.  I think this has turned out to be a really compelling and difficult decision.  I seem to have discovered or unearthed an interesting twist on the original design.

You can take a really strong gather influence action to prepare for later, or you can put two clerks on a case or judge, or you can just about guarantee removing a Justice from the Bench, or you can directly move a judicial philosophy two extra spaces, or you can advance two spaces on the Cloak Room and trigger both spaces!  These are all incredibly powerful, and I think you’ll want to do all of them.

Over the past year of playtests, I’ve been tracking how often each one is used, and they’re certainly not equal.  But that’s okay.  Some of the actions will “be supremed” more often than others, but all of them will get used occasionally depending on the situation.  Each of these tools will be in your toolbelt for whenever the circumstances demand it, and it will be up to you to evaluate those circumstances and make that decision.  I think it will be a difficult and impactful decision each round, which is always what I look for in games.

The full new rules and action list have been published today.  So you can read them for yourself to see the “supreme version” of the game.  The rules are available here, and the prototype action list is available here.

Do I miss the original version where you got to spend points to power up your actions?  Yeah, for sure.  It was repeatedly a painful and gut-wrenching decision to part with those scarce and hard-earned points.  It was a puzzle and a challenge to figure out when, where, and how to give up your points in an effort to earn more points.  Will I still play the original version on occasion?  Yeah, I think so.  You can actually still play the original version fairly easily with the new game.

It’s actually kind of remarkable that the two games use the same components and are almost identical, but feel completely different.  With a relatively small change to the action list, the game feels much more open and full of possibility.  And just like in the titular Sondheim musical, the journey has changed the destination, but a happy ending prevails.  I can’t wait for people to get their hands on this game, and have the opportunity to shape the composition and judicial philosophy of the Court for themselves!

Initial rough draft artwork
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1 Response to Talia Rosen: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Publication

  1. Matthew Strickler says:

    Really looking forward to your game’s release Talia.

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