Designer Journal: Pioneers?

Recently, while listening the the Dicetower Podcast, I heard Tom and Eric discuss the lack of games on the market that use the “I split, you pick” mechanic. Essentially this is when one player takes a group of objects and divides them into groups as they see fit. However, the other player(s) get to pick a pile of objects before the the player that created them. This is a simple way to allocate objects to players in a balanced way. This mechanic encourages the player to divide objects evenly, because if they fail to do so, another player will simply take the better pile. I really liked the idea and my brain quickly went to work coming up with a slightly different mechanic.

themeideaWhat I came up with was a mechanic that is best described as “I split, let’s have an auction”. In this method the active player draws random objects (in the case of this design they are harvested resources) and divides them into pile equal to the number of players. The active player must then trigger the auction phase by either making a bid or passing. Once a player passes they may not reenter the auction. Players bid using workers (or pioneers). The auction runs clockwise until all players have passed. The auction is open, so all players see how many pioneers each other player is sending out to harvest. Once all players have passed, the player that bid the highest picks the pile of resources they want. The choosing of piles continues in order of number of pioneers bid until all piles are gone. Ties are resolved by giving the advantage to the player closest to the active player’s left.

This is just the core mechanic in the game, but it works really well. In fact, of all the playtests I have ever run, this was by far my most successful first playtest. But this is just the beginning of how the game works.

The resource tokens that players bid on now sit in front of the player. They must immediately make a choice after receiving new resources. Do they store them for the winter (to score victory points at the games end) OR do they use them to feed their pioneers? The resource tokens are double-sided you see, and on one side is the resource (carrots, fish, berries, etc) and on the other side in a pioneer (in some cases two pioneers). To feed a pioneer, the player simply flips the token to the pioneer side. These new pioneers will be used in future rounds for bidding. Once all players have either stored their resources or turned them into more pioneers, the turn ends, and the player to the left becomes the new active player.

IMG_2593Storing resources is how you score points and eventually win the game. So players must decide if it is better to store goods or create a bigger pool of pioneers so they can win more auctions.

Each player has a player board which represents their store house. There are seven resources in the wilderness and each player has seven slots in their store house. Players are strongly encouraged to store a variety of goods, because this was actually the custom in these days. Variety, especially in regards to fruits and vegetables, directly effected their health and helped fight off deadly diseases like scurvy. Each slot in the store house has a number and as goods are stored players must fill in the first slot first and work their way up the track. The trick is that when a player stores a good they already have, it is placed on top of that existing good. This is only limited by the total number of those resources in the wilderness. Here is the catch. You score increasingly more points as you move up the track. For example, the first good stored is worth 1vp. This means that ever time you store that specific type of good, it will be placed in that same slot and each one of those goods will only be worth 1vp at the end of the game. However, the seventh slot is worth 5vps and each good in the spot will be worth 5vps. This means that players should attempt to get a variety of goods to move up the track quickly.

The game ends after a certain number of rounds based on the number of players. Once over, players simply add up their scores.


This a look at the prototype Store House card that each player will have. It will be jumbo sized (5.5×3.5″). On the left is where the resources are stored, from bottom to top. To the right is a reference of the seven resources with a number indicating the number of each type in the game. 

Raccoons and Bears!!! To encourage players to create pioneers instead of simply storing everything they get, there are a couple of nasty tokens that can come into play. The Raccoon and Bear tokens are mixed in with the resources and are dived into piles by the active player. They can be mixed with resources if the active player so chooses. Both are not welcome and often cause players to bid a bit higher than normal in order to avoid them.

The Raccoon, if received, stays in front of the player. The Raccoon will eat the next resource the player gains. If the raccoon came in a pile containing a resource, it will eat that resource and be on his way. If the Raccoon is gained with more than one resource, the player gets to choose which resource to feed the raccoon. If the raccoon is gained by himself, it camps out in front of that player until the next round, when it will then eat the next resource that player gains.

The Bear is a bit nastier. When gained he eats one resource from the highest valued slot in your store house. Meany!

NOTE: The reason for the escalating values in the store house has to do with freshness (or rot). The linger an item was stored in pioneer days, the less fresh it would be, an in turn, the less valuable it would be for that family.

NOTE#2: I am not 100% set on the theme. I also have considered Native Americans, Vikings in Greenland, and Early Human Civilization. Essentially the mechanics work really well and feel quite organic for any hunting and gathering theme. So the theme could change, but I am really liking the idea of American Pioneers in the north woods.

Thanks for reading and more to come…

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