Game Designer Journal – Moloch expansion

Today we remind Game Designer Journal about the creation of the Moloch expansion to the 51st State Ultimate Edition.

‘I don’t like it’, I said when Joanna approached me with her idea for the newest expansion for 51st State. ‘Try it though, give it two or three weeks, see what happens. It won’t work, but you need to see it by yourself.’ I said and gave her the green light.

It was early March 2020, and her idea for the expansion was a semi-coop variant for the game. Moloch attacks all players at the table, and they need to fight against each other, as usual, and additionally against Moloch cards. It makes perfect sense for the theme of Neuroshima world, but I really hate semi-coop games.

I had so many bad experiences with semi-coop games that I am basically done with this genre. It is tough to design a game that keeps everyone equally engaged for the whole game and to keep players who know that they have no longer a chance to win interested in the game.

So I said Joanna, I vote against the idea, but she should try it anyway.

COVID hit, we all ended up at home working in home office mode, and the playtesting process became super difficult. After a few weeks, Joanna said she finally had it ready to show and that she built the prototype on Tabletopia.

I am not a fan of playing board games on the computer. Back then, in March or April 2020, when it all was new to us, I really was not a fan of the tool. But that was the only tool we had. So we played.

The test took us more than two hours. Operating on Tabletopia was a dreadful experience, talking over Skype, trying to understand the prototype, trying to understand Tabletopia, trying to keep my dogs silent for more than 5 minutes. It was 2 hours of horror, but…

‘It’s not that bad.’ I said. ‘Maybe I was wrong. Keep working on it. You might have here something.’

Joanna worked on the expansion for another few months. We all struggled with playtesting, the brainstorming was difficult on Zoom, creating new versions of the prototype was taking much more time than the regular pen and paper method when you can scribble on the card, tweak one or two words and continue playtesting with the new version.

At some point, after months of work and many iterations, it was ready. It was much better than I expected. And what’s more, it was everything I would never create by myself. I would never create a semi-coop expansion. I would never create an expansion with double-sided cards. I would never do an alternative co-op variant in 51st State.

Moloch changes the game. Adds a new angle. Throws at players new challenges and choices. It’s manifest of Joanna’s talent and manifest in general of diversity in design. The beauty of different approach and ideas. It’s like First Martians and On Mars and Terraforming Mars, three great games, three different methods, three examples of the power of design.

I was wrong when I said semi-coop is a bad idea. But man, I was so right that I let her work and do what she wanted. She did something I would never do.

So the bottom line, kudos to both of us, right?

Ignacy Trzewiczek

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We are bookworms. Movie maniacs. Story addicts. We grew up reading Tolkien, Howard, Herbert, Dick, Lem… We were watching Willow, Blade Runner, Never Ending Story, Robin Hood…

And yet, we don’t write books… we don’t make movies. We don’t make those things, because we make games. We make games that tell stories.