Monday, July 22, 2013

Now Boarding - The Board Game: A cooperative, real time airport rush for 3-4 players

Now Boarding - The Board Game

A cooperative, real time airport rush for 3-4 players

In Now Boarding, 3-4 players will control airport hubs (and eventually cities as well) and manage randomly drawn passengers, sending them to each other's hubs en route to their specific destinations. Time is of the essence as passengers' patience run low and the days draw to a close. Work together to service as many passengers as possible, and try not too let too many run out of patience and storm off in a rental car!

88 Passenger tiles (22 each in 4 player colors)
4 International Hub ("A") boards (1 each in 4 player colors)
12 City boards (3 each in 4 player colors, labeled B, C, and D)
4 Jet tiles
XX Upgrade tiles (Concessions, Commuter planes, Gates, New Planes)
Countdown timer

1. Give each player the International Hub, 3 Cities, and 22 Passengers in their chosen color. All Passengers should be sorted by Destination.
2. Each player places their International Hub "A" and City "B" boards in front of them, and shuffles their "A" and "B" Passenger tiles into a face down supply in the center of the table. City "C," City "D," and their associated Passenger tiles are set aside - they won't be used until later.
3. Give each player 1 Jet to place on the Gate on their International Hub board, and 1 Commuter Plane tile to place below their boards.
4. Set the countdown timer to 5 minutes. If you like, you may use more time per day as a handicap for new players, or less time for expert players.

Return any unused components to the box. You are now ready to begin.

Game Structure:
Now Boarding takes place over three days, and each day is comprised of a series of rounds. During each round players will play simultaneously, managing the Passengers in their airports and sending them to each other's hubs in order to take them to their destination cities. Each round follows this sequence:
Step 1: Departure
 - Draw new Passenger tiles
 - Load and depart planes
Step 2: Arrival
 - Receive planes
 - Score or age passengers
Step 3: Purchase
 - Spend scored passengers to purchase infrastructure

Players must sync up their play at each step of the round. 
No player may move to the next step until all players are ready to do so.
This is very important! Things get very confusing if any player gets ahead of the other players.
Let's look at each step of the round in detail...

Step 1: Departure
The first thing that happens during the Departures step is that each player draws new Passenger tiles from the supply in the center of the table. One Passenger is drawn for each airport, and is placed into that airport in its starting orientation, with the text on the tile aligned vertically (as it would be read normally).

If a Passenger is drawn for an airport that exactly matches their destination, that passenger is returned to the supply face down and another is drawn in its place.

After drawing, players simultaneously manage their Passengers by loading them onto planes in their Gates, or by loading them onto their Commuter tiles.
Jets: The starting Jets have Capacity = 2, meaning that 2 Passengers may be placed inside that plane.
* Orientation of Passengers is very important and must be maintained at all times!
* Passengers in an airport may only be placed into Jets that are currently in Gates at that airport. Passengers may not be placed into Jets on a Tarmac or Runway.

Commuters: Commuters have Capacity = 1, meaning that only 1 Passenger may be placed onto a Commuter at a time. Each player starts with 1 (2?) Commuters, and unlike Jets, the Commuters can only shuttle Passengers between a player's cities and hub. Commuters can never be used to send Passengers to another player!
* Remember, orientation of the Passengers is very important!
* Commuters do not use Gates, they are virtual shuttles that are constantly moving back and forth between airports. 
* Passengers from any airport may be placed into Commuters.
Also during Departures, Jets in a player's Gates or Tarmac may be sent to other players' International Hubs (with or without passengers in them). Players each start with 1 Jet which has Range = 1, meaning that it can fly to a neighboring player's Hub. Later in the game, Jets may be upgraded to Range = 2, meaning that they can fly to the Hub of a player 2 seats away.

To send a Jet to another player, place it onto their Runway. Remember, orientation of the Passengers is very important, so it's useful to place the Jet so that it is oriented properly for the receiving player.

Once all players have completed the Departure step then it is time to move on to Arrivals. Remember, all players must move to the next step at the same time! Note: when moving to the Arrivals step, no player should have any Jets in any of their Gates*.

* During Departures it is legal to move a jet, with or without passengers, from your gate onto your own Tarmac. You would do this if you want to add a passenger to that jet next turn before sending it to another player.

Step 2: Arrival
The first thing that happens in the Arrivals is that all players receive Jets on their runways. Move all Jets from all runways to the Tarmac. from the Tarmac, jets can be moved into Gates. Each Gate can hold 1 Jet, so if a player has more Jets on the runway than Gates, some will have to wait on the Tarmac.

Next, all Passengers in Commuters and Jets in Gates (NOT Jets on Tarmacs) deboard and are placed in the airport.
* Passengers deboarding a Jet are placed on the same airport where the Jet is located.
* Passengers deboarding a Commuter may be placed into any airport.
* After deboarding, there should be NO Passengers on any Commuters or in any Jets in Gates. There may be Passengers in Jets on Tarmacs. There should also be no Jets in Runways.

Now each Passenger will either score or age.
* If the Passenger is currently in the location printed on the tile, congratulations! You have successfully delivered that Passenger to its destination! Score that Passenger by placing it aside, face up, in a personal score pile. Note: Passengers on the Tarmac do NOT count as being in the airport, they never score!
* If the Passenger is in ANY OTHER LOCATION (including the Tarmac), instead of scoring, age that passenger by rotating it 90 degrees clockwise. passengers have colored edges (Green, Yellow, and Red). This indicates how much patience they have left. When a Passenger's patience runs thin, they get sick of waiting and storm off in search of other transport (a rental car, or another nearby airport). The color along the TOP of the Passenger tile is important - Green means the passenger is just fine. Yellow is a warning that the passenger's patience is wearing thin. Red means that the passenger is just about fed up... any time a passenger is rotated off of it's red side, place that passenger aside in a Lost pile - that passenger is lost and will never be scored this game!

When all players have scored or aged each of their passengers then it's time to move on to the Purchase step of the turn.

Remember to age all passengers in Jets (on Tarmacs) in addition to passengers in airports!

Step 3: Purchase
During the Purchase step, players may spend money printed on face up passengers in their score pile on upgrades and infrastructure. Passengers used to pay for these things are turned face down, but kept in the score pile for now. No change can be given, so when using a $2 and a $3 passenger to purchase a $4 item, $1 will be wasted.
The items and upgrades available to purchase and their prices are...
$3 Concession (Place at an airport. Each round 1 passenger at that airport does not age.)
$4 Commuter
$5 Gate (be able to deboard additional Jets)
$6 Upgrade Jet (turn the Jet to the back side)
$7 New Jet (see below for possible non-standard Jet)
$8 Upgrade a City into a Hub (comes with a Gate and a Runway - other players may send Jets there now)

Additional ideas for items to add:
$? Helicopter (Range = 1, Capacity = 1, Does not require a Gate)
$7 Jumbo Jet (Front: Range = 1, Capacity = 3 Back: Range = 1, Capacity = 4, Passengers do not age)
$4($2?) Commuter Train (Place between 2 adjacent airports. Capacity 2)

When all players are ready to move on, the next round begins with another Departure step.

Rounds continue like this until the countdown timer (started at the beginning of the first round of the day!) runs out. The timer running out signals the end of the day. After the current round is complete, the game will progress to day 2.

During the Purchase step at the end of the day, players MUST purchase until they can no longer afford anything. Then, all face down passengers from all score piles are shuffled back into the face down supply in the center of the table. Note that players with an extra $1 passenger face up may keep that passenger!

As time goes by and players service passengers, their regions grow and new airports open up nearby! Before the next day begins, each player places their City "B" board in front of them alongside City "A," and adds all of their "B" Passenger tiles to the face down supply. Mix the supply well!'

Reset the timer and Day 2 is ready to begin. NOTE: Now that players have 3 airports, they will each draw 3 new passengers during the Departure step - 1 for each airport!

Day 2 plays just like Day 1, though with more passengers and more destinations it will be a bit harder. Hopefully the players will have built up some infrastructure to help deal with all of the customers.

At the end of Day 2, each player adds another new City ("C"), and all of the "C" Passenger tiles, and the processes is repeated 1 last time.

At the end of Day 3, each player adds the total value of all passengers in their score pile - both face up and face down (so it doesn't matter if you've 'spent' them on upgrades). Add each player's total together and divide by the number of players to get a final score. Go ahead and round up. Refer to the chart below to see how well you did:
00-10: Keep trying!
11-18: Notable
19-24: Great
25-29: Epic
30-32: Legendary
33-41: Mythic
   42+: PERFECT

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Game Design Retreat

This weekend I did something new and cool. It's something that's crossed my mind before, and in some ways it's similar to Protospiel - a design convention I've gone to for the last 3 years, only a bit more focused perhaps. Here's what happened...

I met Tim Fowers, designer of Wok Star and the recently-kickstarted Paperback, at OrcCon last February. We got to talking, and he had been wanting to do what he referred to as a Game Jam or Game Design Charrette, something I guess they do in the video game world where a handful of designers get together and discuss design, work on specific problems, playtest games, or whatever. I thought it sounded like a lot of fun, and I told Tim I'd love to join him - and if he wanted to do it here in Tucson, I'd even host it. This seemed like a good plan, as it would save hotel money.

So that's what ended up happening. Last Thursday Tim, James, and Brent flew in, and we ventured out to a 4-bedroom house on the outskirts of town. After some introductions, we got right to talking about game ideas and design stuff. Tim mentioned some thoughts he'd had about making a sort of board game version of his online game Now Boarding. It reminded me about all the thoughts I've had while waiting in airports... So I shared those thoughts, and we talked up the idea and how it could work - I felt like I wanted to prototype the game and try it right then and there!

Friday morning we did just that. We cut some index cards into 1.25" squares and put some data on them to make Passenger tiles, we made Hubs and Cities for each of 4 players, and we brainstormed a list of upgrades you could buy... and then we gave it a try. We went through a series of iterations very quickly as we came to see how the game felt - free form, turn based, with and without time pressure... It was great! It was a mix of analysis on one hand, and trial and error on the other. It quickly coalesced into a game experience that worked and was fun! over the course of about 5 hours we had created a working, fun, cooperative game from scratch.

Later that night, David Short was able to join us, and we showed him the game, and it held up. That is to say that it still worked, though we all had thoughts on how to improve it. Saturday we took the game to SAGA's Ides of Gaming event and played a couple of games with players there. With the exception of 1 player, everyone was able to play well and succeed. Since then we have refined the game a little bit further, and I look forward to getting home and making a nicer prototype to continue testing.

In addition to creating Now Boarding (tagline: "Now Boarding - now boardgame"?), Brent got an asteroid mining game idea together and we tried that as well. It was a very early (maybe first) draft of the game, and we all had lots of ideas about changes to make before moving forward. We implemented some of them and tried again, and it was definitely a step in the right direction.

Over the course of the weekend Tim got some valuable feedback on Paperback and Wok Star, both of which he's finalizing now that they have funded on Kickstarter. I also got several prototypes/submissions to the table, such as Shadow Puppets by Scott Almes, and Captains of Industry by Michael Keller. I also taught the guys Eminent Domain, which they'd never played - something I wanted to do so that I could discuss my thoughts on the upcoming Political expansion.

James had an idea for a game based on Dominion, but rather than drawing cards and playing them to add more cards to your deck, you move a pawn around a board and activate the spaces you step on. So it was kind of like you took your Dominion deck and laid the cards out in a grid, "drawing" them in the order that you want. That was the basis of the idea, but as he, Brent, and I discussed it the game  quickly diverged from just a modeling of Dominion to something fairly unique, with a shared geography which seems like it could lend a fair amount of interaction to the game. He got some great ideas to carry that game forward as well.

David Short and Den Keltner came by again last night and got a test of their current version of Bomb Squad - specifically the Training Missions - and I think they got some great feedback on how the Training Missions ought to be set up.

All in all I think it was a very productive weekend. I look forward to doing it again sometime, hopefully soon!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Eminent Domain - getting ahead of myself (Political Expansion thoughts)

Last night I met with Mike Watne, a big fan of EmDo who did a lot of playtesting of Escalation for me. At this point he's pretty much an unofficial member of the EmDo team. It was great to meet him and his wife Holli (sponsors of the Hostile planet Odonata, which you'll see when you get Escalation). Among other things, we discussed some ides for the upcoming and final EmDo expansion... the Political expansion. I don't have a name for it yet, but it would be amusing to choose a subtitle whose first letter is symmetric so it fits the scheme of ED:E and ED:X... maybe ED:B, ED:C, ED:D, ED:H, ED:I ED:K, or ED:O? This is really not a big deal, it's just something that comes to mind when I think about what to call the expansion...

The thrust of the final EmDo expansion is intended to be Politics. To an extent, this has been planned from the very beginning. I intend to have a new role stack (Politics role), filled with cards very similar to the Politics cards that already exist in the game. The only difference might be that they also have a Role box which says 
"Select Agenda. Leader: +[Politics symbol]"
Agendas are intended to be global effects that players will have some control over how, when, or whether they come into play. I was planning on doing some kind of voting mechanism based on following (you follow with symbols to cast your vote, or you dissent and effectively abstain from the vote). That still may be interesting, but I think there might be a smoother way to do it. In the conversation with Mike, this is what came up, and it's sounding pretty solid to me:

The Politics role could work just like the Survey role does in EmDice- pay 2/3/4/5 Politics symbols (leader bonus = +1 symbol) to put an Upcoming Agenda into play from the display, OR pay 2/3/4/5 Politics symbols to discard an Active Agenda from play. Agendas would come into play in the 5 slot, bumping older Agendas down to the next lowest slot, making the older Agendas easier to dispose of.

When following a Politics role, the leader would get to use your symbols, making it easier to afford higher valued Agendas - allowing players to work together to get an expensive Agenda either into play or out of play. In return for your support, you would get 1 Clout token for supporting the leader (whether they need/want your support or not). A Clout token has a Politics icon on one side, and a random icon on the other, and can be spent to boost or follow as either of those icons.

New tech cards can mess with Agendas, making them cheaper or more expensive to get into/out of play, translate icons to Politics (L1?) and Politics to other icons (L2?), and could let you draw Clout tokens - stuff like that.

I could add planets of each type with Politics icons on them (Political Planets?) (inc. Exotic, and an Asteroid). Maybe a bustling planet that lets you discard a Clout token to search for one of your choice, or just get one of your choice as an action, or discard 1 for 2 of your choice, or something. Maybe planets with Politics "translators" as well.

That sounds to me like a decent structure for the expansion. I think it would integrate very well with the game as it is, so players won't have to figure out how to play again, but the global effects could really shake things up and force players to play differently. Now I just have to design Agendas that shake things up and force players to play differently :)