As part of a series of posts looking at the core gameplay mechanics of Fruit, I'm breaking down some of the fundamental elements that make the game what it is, talking about how they work, why they were put into the game, and how they integrate with other mechanics both to make the game rewarding and to convey a cohesive theme.
In this post I'll be delving into how water plays its part in the game.
Design and development
At its core, water is the currency of Fruit.
When I first started developing the concept of Fruit I needed a way for players to be able to choose tiles to lay to grow their plant, and after pondering over various mechanics (open drafting, drawing from a bag, playing from a hand of tiles. as well as several others) I decided on a straightforward purchase system.
There were two main reasons for this. Firstly, I wanted people to have the freedom to create the plant they wanted, so I decided not to go with a mechanic that would place a random tile in the player's hand or restrict the freedom of choice; and secondly, if the currency is water then it fits perfectly with the theme. A plant can't grow without collecting and then expending water, after all.
The randomness of rainfall
In the same way that there are many different mechanics by which a player could take a tile, there are many different mechanics by which a player could collect an in-game currency. A worker placement mechanic would be one obvious one; probably the next most obvious would be dice. I chose to go with dice for Fruit.
Having players roll a dice to determine the amount of rainfall provides another good fit with the game's theme, as weather is unpredictable. It also allowed me to include a fair and balanced way for players to play tokens to harm their opponents, as well as to make heavy rainfall less frequent and thereby reduce the likelihood of runaway leaders - the six-sided dice has two single droplets, two double droplets, and only one triple droplet, as the sixth side is used for the "special" event (I know this doesn't make much sense yet, but don't worry - I'll explain it all).
A lot of people seem to dislike randomness in board games, and I understand that - seasoned gamers like to feel that they won through the application of their own skill rather than the will of the gods - but it's difficult to find a game that eliminates randomness entirely. Shuffling, dealing and drafting is random, as is taking anything from a bag, as is rolling dice, etc etc. The trick, I think, is to incorporate randomness in such a way that it seems fair, that it fits the theme, and that it is implemented in a way that doesn't prevent or hinder player strategy.
I've always been comfortable with a level of randomness in a game. For one thing it provides that perilous, pit-of-the-stomach, all-or-nothing feeling of "come on six, come ooooooon six, I just need a six" that I personally find a lot of fun, either when I get the roll I need, or when my opponent doesn't. Well-managed randomness also means that there is always a chance for a weaker or less experienced player to beat a stronger or more experienced player - and to me that's always a good thing.
Rainfall isn't enough for a plant, of course - it needs roots in order to collect that water from the soil and convey it up into the plant so that it can grow.
In the game it's no different: players start out with a starter tile that counts as one root, and every additional root that they put down multiplies their ability to collect water in the future. In this way the plant can obtain water and grow even during periods of low rainfall.
I liked the idea that players could put down a root system early on to increase the amount of water they could collect, partly because it provided a different set of strategies - put resources into roots at the expense of growth, go for a balanced approach, or get a basic root system quick and then put everything into growth - and partly because, again, if fitted the theme so well.
So, how does water work in the game?
Apart from the starter tile, every tile in the game has a water cost. This is the amount of water tokens needed to acquire it and place it on your plant.
The special tokens have no water cost; they can only be placed by rolling the star on the dice.
On their turn, after they have rolled the dice and collected their water tokens, players may spend as many water tokens as they want to, acquiring and placing as many tiles as they want, as long as the water cost of the tiles does not exceed the value of the water tokens in their hand.
So if you have six water tokens then you might buy a stalk (3) and a branch (4), you might buy a flower (6), but you're not getting a fruit (7). Not until it rains again, anyway.
Players can also choose not to spend any water tokens, and instead hold on to the water tokens to spend in a future turn.
The aim of the game in Fruit is to have the most fruitful plant, which is calculated by adding up the fruitfulness score of each tile in the player's hand. As they're used as currency and aren't part of the plant, water tokens do not score.
During early play testing a couple of players suggested that water tokens left over at the end of the game might be added to the overall plant score, but this doesn't fit the theme - plants don't benefit from water that they haven't taken in through their roots - so currently this mechanic is not part of the game.
But in the future...who knows?