Designer Journal: Who Wears the Crown?

This morning I want to talk about a game I am currently working on called Who Wears the Crown?  (Boardgame Geek) and the process that has lead it to its current state. This blog will go over the the design Intent, a bit of history of this game, what the largest points of challenge are, and what the current design is like. The point of this initial blog is to give you wonderful readers some insight into a game that I am very excited about and want to share with you all.

Design Intent

Even before I started working on Who Wears the Crown? I wanted to experiment with some of the parts of gaming that are common. I was reading through the book Rules of Play and it occurred to me while reading about the phenomenon of kingmaking that there is not a game that focuses on this ‘issue’ in gaming. For those not familiar with the term, kingmaking occurs when a player who has no chance of winning intentionally makes a move to cause another player to win. I want to make a game to examine and (hopefully) solve this problem in game-making and make the game fun too; that is the intent of Who Wears the Crown?


Now, at this time I started thinking about the problem of Kingmaking and why is it despised? As I observed more games I noticed that the most frustrating thing is that the Kingmaker had no in game logical reason for their choice of who the winner would be (other than spite). This led me to an idea, what if there was a second win condition? What if being the kingmaker was a way to also win? This idea stayed with me in my early designs had two winners (one of the things that has stayed constant while designing) the king and the king maker.

With this intent in mind I saw an opportunity late last year, I was wrapping up with Collectors and Capers on Kickstarter and was done with the design of Affectionate - Cats and Cuddles. Initially, I wanted to make a resource collecting, tableau building, trading, and negotiation game where players can trade resources for influence or use a player’s influence to to force a trade (calling in favor) and use resources to accomplish goals. The influence would also track who was the kingmaker (and thus the other winner).

This idea quickly became more complicated with trying to balance the difference kinds of resources, how they were collected, etc. The simple act of trying to write up the different cards and make it balanced was massive even before playtesting and balancing. From this idea there were two important parts that became clear to me: the trading and use of influence were key to the idea that players would work together.

So in order to try to make this idea work, I had to try to simplify the rules to just the bare essence that was trading and using influence. The first thing that I simplified was removing the tableau and resource aspects of the game and just focusing on the trading. This was manifested as just a deck of cards with different backs depending on the potential point value of the card or if the card would be an intrigue card or not. The intrigue cards were one of 6 different actions that could be taken by playing the card. With the trade focus, every target of every play became a subject of negotiation and that the negotiation would be relevant open like in Catan.


Since the change to a negotiation card game, the core concepts have stayed relatively the same but there were some design challenges to overcome.

The first of these challenges was in how to word the trading rules themselves. What became clear quickly was that there needed to be some natural way to limit what could be negotiated in a trade. Some of the more hilarious offers that I witnessed included offers with items (like drinks or money) from outside of the game. With this in mind, I had to limit the trading to just using influence tokens and targets of that play without opportunity for future promises. In addition to this, with the rules as they were there was little incentive (aside from hard, unintuitive limits) for players to trade with multiple players. This left players out of the trading and game.

The second thing that has consistently been a challenge are the intrigue actions. Initially these actions were cards in the deck which led to a few problems: 1) the actions were situational meaning that they could just take up space in a player’s hand leaving players frustrated. 2) the actions were not being used. When designing a game and an element of the game is not used it means that there is little reason for the players to use it. To solve the first problem I took all of the Intrigue cards out of the deck and made them actions that could be paid for with Honor (a separate mechanic that also allowed for lying). Even with this change though some actions were not used and thus I limited the Intrigue actions to the three most used actions: Draw, Spy, and Steal.

Finally, a friend of mine was disgruntled with the experience and proposed an interesting mechanic based on Eurogames: have the cost of the Intrigue actions be based on the Influence from other players that a player has. This solves a few problems: first it eliminates extra mechanics and ensures that the rules are more streamlined. Second this provides players with a natural incentive to collect influence from many players so that they can use these actions and keep the influence of players that they are trying to back. Many thanks to this friend who gave me what every designer should look for, honest, candid feedback.

Current State

Currently, there have been major changes to streamline Who Wears the Crown? ranging from the previously mentioned fixes to design to even eliminating different phases of the current player’s turn to promote the use of different intrigue actions. This has resulted the game which was originally an hour to play to 30-45 minutes depending on the group. The basic gameplay emphasizing trade is still key and I am focusing on some of the finer points of design instead of the basic mechanics.

Some of these tweaks range from the cost of Intrigue actions to the triggering of the end game condition. As I see the game so far, it is polished to the core experience of trading but the biggest challenges to come is to explain how open that trading can be. Most confusion seems to originate around the fact that the game breaks most conventions that are normally in games. To start with the cards have different backs to convey their value to other players (and to help keep track of who is where) this makes people confused on which side is the face of the cards and which is the back. Then there is that to counterbalance this oddness you can draw from the top or bottom of the deck. Finally, the whole concept of Intrigue actions are confusing to most including how to pay for them and that the targets of the action are still up for negotiation.

As I keep working on refining these elements, I am also looking to eventually Kickstart and am in the process of getting an artist to help bring this idea to life. Eventually, I want to have this game on Kickstarter with a lore behind it to help explain the theme and motivations of the players. In the meantime, however, I am going to keep playtesting with differing ideas on cost, end condition, and explanation to help crystallize the experience of Kingmaking and thus the design intent of Who Wears the Crown?

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