Thursday, October 20, 2016

Essen interview with Würfel Reviews - role of the developer, among other things

One of the things I enjoyed most at Essen this year was an in-depth interview I did with Würfel Reviews about the role of the developer, as well as a bunch of other topics. It's about 45 minutes long, but I watched it and I am pretty sure I didn't sound too foolish! :)

Actually, I think it's pretty good, with a lot of good information in there. And I got to tell several good stories :) 

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Deities & Demigods playtests at Essen 2016!

I managed to get not 1, not 2, but 3 whole playtests of D&D in at Essen 2016! Well, 2.8 at least...

First off, I went to Motel One on Thursday night and joined the UK Playtest meetup. I mainly went there to connect with Matthew and maybe play D&D with him, but he was late, and the person herding cats got 3 players sent my way to play! I sat out to facilitate, since the playtesting round was only  hour long, and we had to do rules... we made it through 4 (out of 5) cycles and got some commentary afterward. 2 of the players seemed to grok the mechanics, and went about their business. One player had a really rough time grokking the rules, got nothing done, and predictably complained at the end that there wasn't enough time to do anything.

We used the recent Hera's Spite rule that when Hera arrives, players either sacrifice the demanded item or else take a Spite token. If they sacrifice twice, they can discard a spite token. Like previous versions of Hera, I think this just served to slow the players' progress without any real benefit.

Matthew arrived near the end of that game, and we got to talking, and ended up playing a 2p game of D&D, trying the same Hera rule. After that we both agreed that maybe Hera just isn't necessary at all. We also discussed changing movement to simply be 1-troop-1-hex rather than the whole Army thing (moving multiple troops at once), to make the rule easier to understand. We also talked a little bit about "terrain" meaning both some stuff to make movement more costly, but also some beneficial things such as a gold mone, and whenever you step on it, maybe you get 1 gold.

A couple of days later Matthew and I had a scheduled meeting to play D&D, so we played another game, this time with Andy as well, who had played only once before. This version is much improved from the one Andy played last year at BGGcon, but beyond that he didn't have much in the way of comment.

We played without Hera this time, and just counted cycles - neither of us missed her. So yet again, Hera has been cut from the game! Maybe she can come back as another expansion module, where you simply reckon her scoring condition at the end of each cycle.

In discussion afterwards I think we may have agreed that terrain may not be necessary after all. We did change to the simpler Ares movement, and added 2 to each level of Ares so as not to remove overall movement from the game, and frankly the added movement wasn't necessary. Next time I'll try without adding any movement, and if that seems too tight maybe I'll try adding just 1 movement instead. 2 was way too much.

We talked a little about theme, as Andy pointed out that Oracle of Delphi would share a description almost entirely, and especially where it comes to god tracks where you increment them until you eventually use their ability and reset them. of course, the two games are nothing alike, but it might be nice to avoid that conflation. Andy and Matthew suggested Norse gods, or Egyptian ones. I don't know if I have the impetus to make that change though, as I like the Greek theme, and by the time this comes out, people will likely have moved on from Oracle of Delphi anyway (or even better, this might re-invigorate sales of that title) :)

I would still like to get some player powers worked in, since players ted to expect those nowadays. I think I have a few already, but I'd like at last 4 different ones, and possibly more like 6 or 8.

As a minor note (and I say this mostly to remind myself), I think I'll add like 3 more troops per player to the game. Also, instead of placing a disc when you do a quest, maybe you should just lie your troop down, thereby losing it for the rest of the game. I think that could be good, and now that the number of discs remaining isn't a game end timer, there's no need for them to mark both quests and buildings.

I feel like this one is in the home stretch, so to speak!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Essen 2016!

As I sit here, in a SUBWAY Cafe in Atlanta International airport, entering the 2nd hour of 6 hour layover waiting to board a plane to Dusseldorf, I am trying to remember whether this is the 4th or the 5th time I've been to Essen.

A quick perusal of my blog indicates that the first trip was in 2012 - Michael and I went on what I described as a 'scouting mission', and at the time I had envisioned potentially returning to the big show to man a booth, much like we do at GenCon.

If memory serves, we skipped 2013, but returned to Essen in 2014, this time with Mischa. We did not have our own booth, and in retrospect I am pretty happy with that decision. Instead we scheduled meetings with various european designers, publishers, and distributors about partnerships and the like.

In 2015, Michael decided he didn't need to be at Essen himself, and that he much preferred Tokyo. So while he has now attended Tokyo Game Market a few times (making great friends and partners, and picking up great titles such as Flip City, Yokohama, and Ars Alchimia, to name just a few), Mischa, Daniel, Andy, and took on Essen by ourselves. And a bit more organized this time. Daniel and Mischa filled their schedules with business meetings with partners (for both incoming and outgoing licenses), while Andy and I spent our time taking pitches from designers and checking out new releases for potential licensing.

This year will be pretty much the same I think. Andy and I will be taking pitches and checking out new releases (that reminds me, I'm supposed to be identifying potential titles to pick up!), while Daniel and Mischa again maintain existing foreign partnerships and forge new ones.

Unfortunately, I haven't had the bandwidth to really get excited about any new offerings... the only one I can think of offhand that I'd like to try, The Great Western Trail by Alexander Phister, is already picked up for US market by Stronghold Games. Lucky for me, W. Eric Martin puts together a terrific list of all the new releases each year, and Richard Ham (a celebrity in the game review space who has similar tastes to mine) maintains a list of his games of interest, and recently posted a 3 hour podcast discussing the games and expansions of interest to him. I've already listened to most of that podcast, but in a minute I'll be diving into both of those resources and looking for potential TMG pickups, as well as stuff I might like to check out for myself.

I'm curious to see how Essen goes this year, and whether I am going to think it's worth it for me to go, or if I'll do what Mike did and start opting out of the trip in future years. Last year we only signed 1 title from those pitches (though Guilds of London has been a successful title thus far), though it's refreshing to see designs from European designers - they seem different from the pitches we see at GenCon.

Side note: A further inspection of those blog posts have reminded me that I did not think to bring my Camelback this year. Drat. Fortunately I seem to recall water being more available last year than it had been in the past.

Deities & Demigods update

I haven't been posting as often lately, nor have I gotten in as many playtests of Deities & Demigods as I'd like (though apparently I've been testing more frequently than Matthew... I haven't heard from him in a couple of versions now!). However, I HAVE gotten some plays in, and I've learned a thing or two about the recent tweaks and proposed changes. Here's what's come up in the last few plays, using the last blog post as a point of reference:

1. Building reward icons in cities
I have been playing with the most recent versionI described, and I think I like it. Each city has a particular reward, and when you build you get 3/2/1/1 of it. At the start of the game (in reverse turn order) you select a starting city and place your marker on the LOWEST reward space and collect that reward. However, when building in a city where you already have a marker, you stack atop your other marker and collect no additional icons, whereas if you Ares over to another city first, then building allows you to collect the highest remaining reward icon.

For now I'm keeping this version of the rule, because it seems to be working well. It also means the buildings have no icons printed on them, just a big effect or endgame scoring bonus. The artifacts have a smaller effect plus an icon. The monuments still increase your minimum devotion, they also have an icon PLUS a favor token PLUS potentially another icon from the city. I think this makes monuments compare favorably to B+A.

2. Cutting virtual Zeus
I currently think that just having 1 Zeus in the deck is the way to go, especially with the initiative bumps available on artifacts and in cities.

3. Simplifying to a simple hex board
This has been working well. I would still like to see some semblance of terrain (even just water vs land) in the end, but maybe that's just unnecessary complication :/

4. Favor of the Deities
I did some more tweaking of the deity scoring, which makes them worth a bit more (at least potentially more)...
Zeus: 2vp per unique deity in your display (rewarding diversity)
Hermes: 2vp per devotion track at level 4, 1vp per devotion track at level 2/3 (indirectly rewarding showing devotion to deities)
Ares: 1vp per minimum devotion increase (indirectly rewards doing quests)
Hephaestus: 1vp per city with your building marker (rewarding building)

As a side note, I'm beginning to think that level 1 Hephaestus should give 1 gold per building marker, not per city with your building marker... so it doesn't require Ares to do something. The Hephaestus favor bonus could be harder to cash in on, and therefore be "per city with your marker".

5. Adding a cost for increasing minimum devotion
This turned out to be a bad idea, I didn't like it and I removed it after 2 tries.

It's possible that nothing needs to be done about this beyond making the min bump on the initiative track harder to get.

6. Game duration and Hera
I think forcing a 5-round game is the way to go, and adding Hera made it feel less arbitrary. The version I tried was this:
Shuffle 4 Hera cards into a face up stack. At the end of each cycle, add the top Hera card to the deck - if there isn't one, then the game is over. When Hera arrives, she makes a demand (each Hera card has a different demand).

The 1st version I tried was that Hera was simply an opportunity to earn extra points by satisfying her demand. Choosing not to only cost you the opportunity to score points. This turned out to be fairly boring though because often times players would ignore the demand and nobody took advantage of the opportunity. Maybe that could be addressed by tweaking the values of the rewards, but I tried something else that I thought might be more interesting...

The 2nd version I tried was that you MUST meet Hera's demand, and if you do then you earn a favor token. This was a bit better because players actually had to care hat Hera's demands were, and she actually had an impact on the game. However, it amounted to just handing out a bunch of points to all players most of the time, and also we had to lose random stuff whenever Hera arrived. Sure, we theoretically knew it was coming, but it could have worked better... this seemed a little harsh.

What I would like to try next time is this... when Hera arrives, she makes her demand. If you refuse to (or cannot) give her what she demands, then you get a Spite token. Spite tokens come with a scoring penalty at the end of the game. If you do meet Hera's demand, then you avoid the spite token. If you DOUBLE the demand though, you get to DISCARD a spite token (or if you have none, collect a favor token).

I hope this will make people WANT to pay the demands sometimes, and if you specialize in one type of thing, then maybe you'll overpay those demands to make up for failings elsewhere.

I was thinking the penalty would be triangular negative scoring, but maybe a majority thing would be better.

I still might like to see city control matter more during the game, and I worry that going heavy Zeus and dominating the initiative track might be too strong. But other than that I think the game is in good shape!

Friday, October 07, 2016

Eminent Domain: Still good!

Last weekend was RinCon, and I'll probably write a separate blog post about that. This post is about one thing I did at RinCon...

Old college friends Becky and Chris ran an Eminent Domain tournament, and they billed it as a Play With The Creator event. The idea was that ahead of the tournament I would teach the game, but I had a scheduling conflict, so my friend John taught it instead. I arrived in time to play, and so as advertised, players got to play Eminent Domain with the creator of the game!

There were 10 players other than me, and most of them had never played EmDo before. John is a shark, besides me he's probably played more EmDo than anyone in the world! And he's very good - he said that when he and I play, results are probably 60% in my favor. I think another player had played once a long time ago, the rest were brand new.

With 11 players, we had two 4p games and a 3p game, and the winner of each went on to play in the finals against me. Also, if I won the 1st game, then the 2nd place player from my table would advance.

It has been a REALLY long time since I've play Eminent Domain, and it's been EVEN LONGER since I played the base game without Oblivion expansion stuff. The first game was really interesting, as one of the new players seemed to grasp not only the rules, but perhaps a more advanced strategy... She took a Produce role in the 2nd or 3rd turn, right after colonizing her start planet - a move I usually warn against when teaching the game, because it puts a Produce/Trade card into your deck, which are mostly useless early in the game. While this may be considered a mistake, it's not the end of the world, and this player got a few more planets into play and called Produce and Trade rolls left and right, quickly getting to a P-T cycle of 3 or even 4 resources! Seeing this, and drawing some planets with Produce symbols on them, I tried to pivot into a P/T engine as well, though for some reason it took me a little while to get there so I wasn't able to capitalize on it too much. In my penultimate turn I did a produce role, fully expecting that opponent to fill up her resource slots, but lucky for me she only had 1 of her many P/T cards in hand! In the end I beat her by a single point, a margin which may have easily been reversed with just slightly more efficient play in the early game, or even just a better draw on that previous turn!

The finals ended up being that opponent and myself, John of course, and a guy named Taylor that I used to know 20 years ago from when I played Magic. In this game I started with an Advanced planet, and I happened to get more Advanced planets off the top of the deck, 2 of which had Research symbols (I;m sure John was jealous, those are his favorite). I went quickly and heavily into Research and obtained the level 3 adaptability tech with several rounds left to play. Online some players complain that this tech is too good, because if you get it early then you dominate the game. Well, in this case I didn't feel like it really helped me very much, apparently I didn't have a high concentration of standard Research cards. I only used it about twice. but the fact that it was worth 5 points was a big deal, and I was able to get a big Specialized trade off on the last turn for another 4 extra points, and I ended up winning by a wide margin. Of course John came second, then Tyler 3rd and the other opponent (I'm sorry, I forgot her name!) was last.

TMG had donated a couple copies of EmDo and each expansion as prize support, and I of course passed down any prizes. John already has EmDo and Escalation, so he only took Exotica. Tyler already had the base game as well, so he took the other Exotica and an Escalation. So even in fourth place, the other opponent walked away (very happy I might add) with copies of EmDo and Escalation in hand!

Everyone seemed to really enjoy the game, and I had a great time playing EmDo again. Man, that game holds up. I really am proud of it, and I feel like I should promote it more.

So if you still haven't tried it, play Eminent Domain!

Monday, September 26, 2016

General update to The List

About a year ago I revisited The List to take stock of the status of my game projects. I thought it might be nice to update that list a little bit, as some of the games on it have made some progress...

Published Games:
Terra Prime (BGG)
Eminent Domain (BGG)
Eminent Domain: Escalation (BGG) (expansion)
Eminent Domain: Exotica (BGG) (expansion)
Eminent Domain: Microcosm (BGG)
- Isle of Trains (BGG)
Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done (BGG)
- Isle of Trains: All Aboard (expansion)

Finished But Unpublished Games:
Exhibit (BGG link)
Eminent Domain: the Dice Game
Dice Works (BGG link)
Wizard's Tower (BGG link)
Now Boarding
Suburban Sprawl

Current Active Designs:
Deities and Demigods
Eminent Domain: Oblivion (expansion)
The Pony Express
Odysseus: Winds of Fate (BGG)
Alter Ego (BGG link)

Old Standbys - games which have been around, 1/2 done and untouched, for years:
8/7 Central
Hot & Fresh
Reading Railroad
All For One (BGG)

Old Ideas that Haven't gone Anywhere (Yet) - some of these have been getting stale as well:
Rondel Role Selection
Investigative/Tabloid Journalism
Red Colony
Clash of the Kingpins
Time = Money
Dating Game
Ticket Please
Moctezuma's Revenge
Scourge of the High Seas

Let's take a closer look at some of these:
Published games:
Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done (BGG)
I'm excited to say that Crusaders is moving forward at TMG! Adam McIver, now a full time TMG employee, has been spending some of his time working on the art and graphic design of the game (I shared the box cover recently), and it looks fantastic!
Isle of Trains: All Aboard (expansion)
Dan Keltner and I finished our expansion to Isle of Trains for Dice Hate Me/Greater Than Games almost a year ago, and we've recently been told that it will finally be on Kickstarter in the next week or so! The final title of the expansion is Isle of Trains: All Aboard.
Terra Prime (BGG)
In the near future (perhaps for TMG's 10th anniversary) we will be bringing back Terra Prime as a 2nd edition, with updated rules, expansion included, and set in the Eminent Domain universe. It'll be called Eminent Domain: Origins.

Finished But Unpublished Games:
Exhibit (BGG link)
I'm disappointed in the current status of Exhibit. A European publisher was very interested, but a difference of opinion between me an another designer on "IP rights" sort of nixed that deal. I checked with an IP lawyer to ensure that my understanding was correct, which it was, but the whole thing has left a sour taste in my mouth.
Now Boarding
I worked on this with Tim Fowers (Wok Star, Paperback, Burgle Bros, and most recently Fugitive). Since we made this game he has taken it in a bit of a different direction, and I think he might be making that version of Now Boarding his next project.
Suburban Sprawl
Based on another DHMG/GTG contest - this time a dexterity game (which uses 57 cards, plus score sheets)- I designed Suburban Sprawl with Matthew Dunstan. In Suburban Sprawl you toss cards into play to build Residential, Commercial, Industrial, and Civic buildings. I was going for a light, quick game with a sort of SimCity feel that's easy to learn and play, and at that I think we succeeded. Unfortunately, we didn't win the contest :(
Current Active Designs:
Deities and Demigods
Another attempt at Deck Learning, Deities and Demigods is like a role selection game, but the game calls the roles, and in random order. Players will have some control over which roles are in the deck, and can upgrade their efficiency at each role. The effects of the roles will allow players to move armies around a map in an effort to complete quests and control cities. Matthew Dunstan has been working with me on this one, and it has taken shape quite well, dare I say it's nearing completion. I still would like to add some more interesting board elements (terrain, or at least water), and I have yet to try the "expansion module" featuring Hades, a deity that was cut from the base game.
Odysseus: Winds of Fate (BGG)
I keep circling and iterating on this one. I need to implement the mot recent change ideas and try it again.
Eminent Domain: Oblivion (expansion)
3rd expansion to Eminent Domain. I worked out how this would play several years ago, and once Exotica was in production I finally started prototyping and trying it. I've gone through an iteration or two so far, and I think I'm close to something I could call the final phases of development, but I've been concentrating on other games lately so this one hasn't been played in a while.
Alter Ego (BGG link)
Mike's always been a fan of this one. Alter Ego was finally shaping up, but it hasn't hit the table in a while now. I think with a little TMG Utah input and some nice art, this could potentially be ready for a GenCon 2017 release, but looking at the release schedule, that seems really ambitious (I don't think I can count on TMG development help on this one... too much going on over there).

Recent Designs That Are Not On The Front Burner:
Rondel Role Selection
Another variation on role selection, this one got off to an OK start, but hasn't gotten any attention in a while.

Old Standbys:
Hot & Fresh
I'm a little disappointed I never finished this one, but the most recent changes (several years ago now) seemed like a big step in the right direction. I'm just not sure how excited I am about a press your luck pickup/deliver game anymore.
This is my shelved design that I'm probably most interested in, or at least the one I think might have the most promise as a "mediocre euro."
Reading Railroad
I always think that Reading Railroad would be a fun word-building / connection game, but the truth is that people who like word games probably don't want to play a connection game, and people who like connection games probably don't want to play a word game. Still, I'd like to finish this one day.
All For One (BGG)
All For One might be my single biggest disappointment. It is the game that really got me into the design hobby, and I thought it was good - really good - but it never got any publisher interest. It's suffered some setbacks, and now, almost 10 years later, I feel like it might be a bit old fashioned and in need of an overhaul, but I don't have the impetus to overhaul it.

Old Ideas that Haven't gone Anywhere (Yet):
Investigative/Tabloid Journalism
I think a game where you put together parts of stories and embellish them to make them work would be a cute and fun game, but the theme may not really be very desirable, so I never revisited this idea, even though I think I had the main mechanism completely thought out.
Ticket Please
A game about controlling gates in airports and moving people to their destinations, in the same scope as a Ticket to Ride seems like it could be really successful, I'm not sure why I haven't revisited this yet.
Moctezuma's Revenge
Maybe it's because I don't really like press your luck games or deduction games much, but I never got back around to Moctezuma's Revenge, even though it sounds like a system that could make for a solid game.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

No fun blog post title, just a Board Games Insider interview, and some fancy art for Crusaders.

 A couple of weeks ago I recorded a quick interview with Ignacy Trzewik for Board Games Insider's new special interview episode series. That interview went live yesterday, so check it out and let me know what you think. (Is there an easy way to embed audio from someone else's web page here? Or is that like stealing or something?)

At the end of that interview I mentioned that I was giddy for another Seth Jaffee title (Crusaders) to be moving forward. Adam McIver has started on the art for it, and has been knocking it out of the park (as per usual).

I'll just leave this right here...

Yes, I used the word "giddy" (Michelle made fun of me for that), and it's true. I didn't realize how excited I would be to have another designer credit under my belt. I figured with Terra Prime (watch for the re-release as Eminent Domain Origins, coming soon!), Eminent Domain, Escalation, Exotica, Microcosm, and Isle of Trains (watch for Isle of Trains: All Aboard, coming to Kickstarter soon!), as well as all my developer credits (don't worry, I won't inundate you with those here), that the novelty would have worn off a bit.

But no. Maybe because it's been a while, or maybe because most of my design credits are for the same line of games... for whatever reason, I'm finding a feeling of excitement and yes, giddiness, at the thought of my next game coming out.

And it might help that I really like Crusaders. I think it's good. "Good" like I enjoy playing it over and over, but also "good" like I think it has a good chance of going over really well with players, leading to commercial success, and all the riches and popularity that accompanies being a "big name" game designer :)

Yeah, right. Someone on BGG the other day said they were buying Exotica and contributing toward my Lamborghini... I was like "Lamborghini? I am just hoping I can pay my bills this month!" :)

But wouldn't it be cool? Every time I have a game come out, there's a small part of me that thinks it would be so cool if that game somehow blew up, and really did lead to fame and fortune! Realistically though, the best I can hope for is that players do like the game, and that it sells enough to warrant reprints and becomes an evergreen title for TMG. Note that most games DON'T do that, many games don't get a reprint, and those that do may not get a 2nd reprint. If Crusaders warrants a reprint and an expansion, I'll count that as a success!

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Revisiting a classic post: Balancing Game Elements

I've been working on Harvest lately, an upcoming TMG title in the Harbour universe (side note: watch for Harbour on TableTop with Wil Wheaton, season 4!).

Here's the description of Harvest from BGG:

Mind the fields of Gullsbottom! Plant and fertilize your seeds, tend your crops, and utilize the various buildings at your disposal. You'll need to work smarter, not harder, as harvest season is coming to an end! Who will have the best harvest this year? Will it be you?
Each round in Harvest, you first draft turn order (and the benefits that come with it), then send your two workers into town and into the fields. Plant seeds, tend fields, and harvest crops to make room to plant some more! Utilize buildings and magical elixir to amass a bigger and better harvest than your neighbors at the end of five rounds of play.
Harvest is a worker placement game where you first reveal worker cards (spaces that will only be available this round), then draft turn order (the later you go in turn order, the bigger the bonus you receive), then place your workers and take the associated actions. In developing this game I've been working with the designer to figure out the appropriate power level of the actions in the game -- both the standard spaces on the town board, as well as the value of the worker cards, and the buildings you can build. As that's mostly accomplished, lately we've been working on the power level and balance of various characters you can play in the game.

At several points during this process I've been reminded of an article I wrote back in January 2014 called Balancing Game Elements... re-reading it now I think that might be the best game design article I've ever written. It continues to hold true today, as I have been using the same process to balance the elements of Harvest.

You see, a major benefit of working this way, finding an average value for an element (say, the buildings in Harvest) which incorporates all the costs and benefits of that element including opportunity costs, is that it leaves you with only one variable when designing things that interact with that element. This makes it relatively easy to determine things like the value of an action which gives you that element.

By way of example

Without knowing anything about the game it may be difficult to give you a concrete example, but I'll try:

In Harvest, there's a town board that has 3 main areas that offer a variety of different effects or resources. Each of these areas has a "Choose 2" space (letting you get any 2 of the things on offer in that area) which is limited to 1 worker, and a "Choose 1" space (letting you get just 1 thing) which is unlimited. In addition, each round you'll turn up a number of worker cards which have more action spaces on them. The value each of these spaces confers is defined as follows:

Choose 1 space: 1-2 units
Choose 2 space: 2-3 units
Worker card space: 3-5 units

So ideally you'd prefer to take a worker card space first, a Choose 2 space next, and a Choose 1 space only if you had no other option, just based on the value of stuff you would get.

However, the game is not quite that straightforward. A space that's technically worth 5 value might only be worth 3 to you because you can't use all of it's benefits at the moment. So there are plenty of times that a Choose 2 space is just as good if not better for you than a worker card space. Very seldom do I want a player to choose a Choose 1 (default, fallback) space over a worker card space though.

Note that these values are sort of average values, and they may depend on your situation and whether or not you can make full use of the resources you get from these actions.

That said, there are buildings in the game which can confer abilities, one-shot resources, or an end game scoring bonus. There is a wide variety of buildings, with 6 face up to choose from at a time, each supporting various strategies. It's difficult to evaluate exactly how much each of these buildings is worth, which is where my Balancing Game Elements post comes in handy. If you read that post, you know that step 2 in the process involves choosing a desired power level for the elements and designing the elements to be worth about that much. I'm currently choosing to assign a value the buildings in Harvest at "4". This means that I'm targeting an average value of 4, some buildings will be worth a little more or a little less, depending on whether you can utilize them to full effect or not.

One of the things you can get from the town board, an action that's always available, is building a building. So, if the buildings are worth 4, and the default "choose 1" space is supposed to be worth 1-2, and you can use that default space to build a building... then it follows that there should be a cost of 2 to use the build action on the town board. Also, if the worker card spaces are supposed to be worth 3-5, then perhaps one that just allows you to build a building for no cost is appropriate. Simple math, which can be applied because I wrapped all the variables into the valuation of the buildings.

Now, I may be incorrect in that evaluation. If I've over- or under-valued the buildings then that should show up in playtesting a players recognize and either ignore or capitalize on the imbalance. If that turns out to be the case, then I can easily re-evaluate them and adjust the actions that allow you to build accordingly. Let's say I significantly overestimated the value of buildings, and that they should really be worth only 2. In that case the standard build action on the town board should not cost anything, and a worker card that allows you to build should also come with 1-3 value worth of more stuff. Similarly, if I'd under-valued buildings and they are really worth an average of 6, then the standard build action should cost more, and the worker cards that allow you to build might also need some kind of cost.

An alternative to tweaking the actions is to make an editing pass at the buildings, either powering them up or down until they are more closely averaging the targeted value of 4, which would then justify the cost of the town board and the worker cards.

Hopefully that makes sense, and indicates the usefulness of incorporating all of the costs and benefits (including opportunity costs) into the value of the game element itself (in this case the buildings), rather than trying to think about things separately.