Behind the Board: Scott Almes on Cosmic Colonies

Luke: Hey folks, welcome back to Behind the Board! This week, we had the chance to sit down with Scott Almes again to chat about his game Cosmic Colonies, which was recently released through Floodgate Games. Glad we didn’t scare you off last time, Scott.

Scott: [laughs] I don’t scare the easy.

Luke: So 2020’s been a pretty busy year for you! With Food Chain Island, Tiny Epic Dinosaurs, and a ton of projects on the way, what makes Cosmic Colonies stand out from the rest of your work coming out this year?

Scott: Cosmic Colonies stands out as my big box, casual game for this year. It’s a great fit for those new to the hobby or those gamers who want to add some casual/casual+ games into their collection.

Luke: Which made Floodgate a pretty good fit for it, huh?

Scott: Absolutely. I first connected with Ben [Harkins] back in 2016 to start working on a game together. I showed him two prototypes at the time, and we started to work on what would become Cosmic Colonies! This game was very long in development, which really made the final project shine!

Luke: Wow, 4 years! I’m sure you’ve seen more iterations of this game than you can count.

Scott: For sure, but the core mechanic was always something we had in mind.

The “play and pass” mechanic was derived from my love of drafting games. From a mechanical point of view, drafting does such great things for a game’s design. It allows players to make decisions at the same time which reduces downtime. It is a natural balancing agent because the cards get circulated.

For these reasons, I wanted to add my own little twist to the drafting genre. After some experimentation, I came up with the core loop of Cosmic Colonies; every player has a hand of cards, and the cards that are played are passed to the next player. It adds a bit of a head game to it, too.

Luke: Which, naturally, led to the outer space theme.

Scott: The theme changed a lot, actually… when the mechanics were figured out, we knew the players needed to ‘build’ on something, but we needed to figure out what. After some discussion, we decided that a space thing – building colonies on asteroids – was a great, family-friendly theme that brought in some imagination and sense of wonder!

Luke: The thing that, to me, makes this such a good family title is how customizable it is to a player’s taste, with advanced card pools, scoring, and so on. What led you to create such a malleable design?

Scott: I would say the very long development process helped with this. Since we’ve been working on the game together for 3 to 4 years, we learned that many different versions work with different audiences. Luckily, the features that change the difficultly level, strategic overhead, and such are fairly component-light. So, we were able to work in some customization options into the game.

Luke: It must have been a nightmare to try and balance all of the abilities on the cards, especially with the advanced card pool.

Scott: There is a big excel sheet that breaks down the abilities, which are given weight based on turn order, number of resources it can collect, potential points from the ability, and more. I use this as a starting place to balance out the cards, and then the rest of it needs to happen through play.

Some abilities are easier to balance by others: it’s easy to compare two cards that each give a resource bonus. But, putting the cards against one another in a play situation is the best way to check more disparate abilities. Math gets you started, but you need to verify through play.

Luke: As to be expected in any game you make, the solo mode for Cosmic Colonies is very impressive, particularly because of how easy it is to learn and run. How did you design a solo mode for a fairly interactive game in such a concise manner?

Scott: For most of my games, I actually have a solo mode developed to help with quick testing. This won’t give you a perfect test, but if I’m wondering if an ability is useful, or something is overpowered, it can give me some quick insights during the development process.

Because of this, I accidentally spend a lot of time working on what a commercial-ready solo game would look like. So I get to iterate on it a lot to make sure it plays very smoothly. I really take pride in having low overhead solo modes for my games. I want players to spend their fun managing their own materials, not a robot player’s!

Luke: Last question for today, Scott; what do you hope folks get out of the Cosmic Colonies experience?

Scott: Truthfully, I hope they have fun puzzling out how to best build their cosmic colony! And, I hope they get a lot out of how the different abilities can work together. Especially when you start to use the advanced deck or the advanced modes, there are lots of opportunities for very clever play!

Luke: Oh yeah, I love dipping into some of the more advanced elements of the game. Definitely one of my favorite games of the year thus far.

Scott: Well, thank you, I appreciate it.

Luke: So as we close out here, what other projects should folks be keeping an eye out for from you in the coming months?

Scott: Other than Cosmic Colonies, of course, I have a few other games hitting stores soon. As you mentioned above, be on the lookout for Tiny Epic Dinosaurs, which will be arriving in retail very soon, and Food Chain Island will be coming out late August. Also, my solo game Warp’s Edge with Renegade Games will be released in September.

Luke: Thanks again for joining us today, Scott, a pleasure as always. And thanks to all you readers out there! Leave your thoughts down below, and we’ll see you next time.

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