When designing Sumer, we really wanted to make sure that playing the game felt like playing a board game designed from the ground up to be a video game. While there are digital versions of existing board games, we wanted make something that couldn’t just as well be a traditional board game.
Some of the advantages of the digital format are straightforward, like the fact that the computer takes care of all the setup and busywork for you. (Good riddance!)
The computational power lets us use randomness in a more controlled way than is easily possible with cards and dice. This lets us use subtle random elements to make sure the game is a different experience each playthrough.
Another difference with board games is that simultaneous action becomes much more viable. The benefit being that every player is engaged throughout the game. A few board games try this but in Sumer there is no need to worry about hands knocking into each other and having arguments about who grabbed the token first.
The two board game mechanics at Sumer’s core are worker placement and auctions. We gave each of them a new twist to bring them to video games.
Worker placement games have players take turns placing one of their workers into locations on the board. This provides you the location’s benefit and blocks your opponent from using that location until next round.
Sumer introduces a real-time element to this mechanic. Players can decide what they want before the turn, but they have to race to get there once it starts! This tests both your twitchy action reflexes and your ability to read into the wants and needs of your competitors.
While auctions are commonplace in board games, they are a rare sight in video games. Early in our development process, we played the classic Atari game M.U.L.E., a masterpiece designed by Danielle Berry. Our games share a mutual inspiration: the desire to merge video games with board games. Veterans of M.U.L.E. will instantly recognize the influence of its charming, tense land grant auctions on our own system.
Auction mechanics in board games are usually turn-based. But anyone familiar with eBay knows that real-time auctions can be an incredible thrill.
Putting a uniquely digital spin on these mechanics is the heart of Sumer’s design. Each mechanic has it’s own phase in the game but they are deeply intertwined. Use the worker placement phase to compete for points and prepare for the auction. Then use the auction phase to build your strategy with items that will help you get more points in the worker placement phase. Only the player utilizing their knowledge of both these phases can win.