Thursday, August 31, 2017

GenCon report

Last week I returned from GenCon 50, my annual pilgrimage to Indianapolis, which started about 7 years ago when TMG was a fledgling publisher.

I fondly remember our improbable endcap booth... here's an excerpt from my blog post after he fact:

Michael, Erin and I went to Gen Con a few weeks ago. I have never been, I've always thought of it as more of a commercial event. I don't like he idea of going to (and paying for) a gaming convention and then having to pay extra to play in events, or simply to get into the Open Gaming room! However, this year I didn't attend the con in the capacity I normally attend game cons - We attended as Tasty Minstrel Games. We had a booth, and brought 6 different games to sell, including Eminent DomainBelfortMartian DiceTrain of ThoughtJab: Realtime Boxing, and Homesteaders 2nd Edition. Our booth was rather busy all 4 days of the con, and we did many, many demos. Looking up and down our booth at all 6 of our offerings I noted that, while no game is for everybody... within their target demographic, each of our games is really very good. They are the highest quality game, and the art and production (now that we've moved to Panda) are also the highest quality. I felt proud to stand behind each and every one of them! Even Martian Dice, which is the type of game that generally doesn't interest me at all, is really very good for what it is - I heard people saying it was better than Zombie Dice (a similar quick filler).

One of the best feelings was when someone who had bought EmDo or Belfort the day before would stop by and tell us how much fun it was or how much they liked it when they played it that evening! Another high point for me was when 2 different people stopped by our booth with a copy of Terra Prime asking me to sign it, and telling me how much they like the game! We also had a number of EmDo Kickstarter supporters stop by tell us they were anxious to get their copy of the game.

That was 2011. Fast forward to 2017, the 50th anniversary of the convention, and the first time in history that they sold out badges. First, the 4-day badges sold out. Then, in the weeks leading up to the convention, even the 1-day badges started selling out. For a long time now GenCon attendees have had trouble getting hotel rooms in the byzantine lottery system they use, but now it seems tickets to the show themselves will start to be a hot commodity as well.

To be honest though, I didn't feel like the dealer room was any more crowded than usual. I didn't spend much time outside the dealer room, but the halls and the little food court area nearby didn't feel more crowded to me either. I've long since sworn off trying to go to a group outing at a restaurant at mealtime, but the Noodles place, and the food court at the nearby mall, both had short lines when I went (which was often at normal mealtime). Only Steak & Shake seemed to be slow, but I think that's not unusual for them anyway -- as Michael said, GenCon seems to take them by surprise every year!

This year TMG has utilized the services of Envoy, who provides demo staff to help in the booth. That's been pretty great, though it's possible we underestimated the number of staff needed for GenCon. I spent a little time in the booth, giving demos of Okey Dokey and Joraku, two new small box imports from Michael's trips to Tokyo Game Market.

Most years at GenCon, Andy and I end up with meetings with designers, back-to-back-to-back every 30 minutes. This time our schedule was a little more relaxed. I'm not sure if that's because we did a better job of pre-screening, if we scheduled in 1 hour blocks instead of 30 minutes, or if fewer designers tried to schedule appointments with us. I got smart and as soon as Andy had set up our page, I scheduled up the 12:00 hour each day for lunch :)

Even still, we did end up with a fair number of meetings with designers, and listened to a fair number of pitches. Some were not for us, some were submissions we'd already seen and had made suggestions for changes. Some were even from the two Designer Speed Dating events (one Thursday night and one Saturday night). I've been pretty down on Publisher Speed Dating lately. I like the idea of the event, but the signal to noise ratio has been so low for me that I was starting to feel like it was a waste of time. However, Andy and I have economized the effort by splitting up and each sitting through 1/2 of the pitches, then if we see anything we think the other should check out, we revisit that pitch. It seemed to me that the average level of designs in these particular speed dating events were higher than usual, and indeed, we asked several of the designers if they'd like to meet with us and show us more about their game. One we even took home with us!

In fact, we brought home a number of prototypes to evaluate -- 6 or 7 I think. That's a huge number, usually it's 1 or 2. Of the four I took home with me, one was from speed dating, one was from a designer we knew, and two were games we'd seen before and had asked for change before resubmitting. Another submission we played in our hotel Sunday night, and a few others Andy took back to Utah with him.

I got a chance to play 3 of those last weekend, and one was very well received by the players. It may be one of the rare "accept and publish as-is" types of submissions!

This year, Andy and I were able to take some of our meetings in our booth, which was very nice. I hope we can find a way to make that a standard. A few years ago we actually had a demo room, which was great -- I'd love to gt back to that!

So that was basically GenCon. I got to see some industry friends -- my brother-in-law volunteered with my friend Sara over at Renegade, and my friends over at Iello traded me a copy of Bunny Kingdom (which Michelle and I are enjoying so far, but I think we'll both like it better with more than 2 players). I got one of my prototypes played (but only 1), and I played a couple of other prototypes after hours by the blue noodle (unofficial unpub area). I played a couple of published games (Photosynthesis and Jump Drive) there with some of my game designer friends as well.

And then, just like that... 5 days, 20 hours of sleep, 3 trips each to the Noodle place and Steak & Shake, and 1 dead car battery later, I was back home. Sadly, I won't be attending Essen this year, but I will return in the future. Which means my convention trips for the rest of the year will be RinCon at the end of September (Friday only, then I'm off to a wedding in California), Sasquatch at the beginning of November, and BGGcon around Thanksgiving time. See you there!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Two upcoming TMG titles: Harvest and Pioneer Days

Two of the games I did a lot of development work on are finally coming out!


At Essen in October, TMG will be debuting Harvest, by Trey Chambers:

Harvest is a compact worker placement game set in the lighthearted fantasy world of Harbour. Take on the role of one of the denizens of Gullsbottom, and put together the best harvest of the season!

A game of Harvest lasts just 5 rounds. In each round you will:
  1. Reveal new cards with new worker spaces for the round.
  2. Draft an initiative card, which will give you your turn order for the round, as well as some bonus resources or action. The earlier turn order you get, the less of a bonus will come with it.
  3. Place 2 farmers on actions, resolving each immediately.
In addition to the initiative bonus and two actions for the turn, your character card will confer an additional power or option to take advantage of. So even with only 2 worker pawns and 5 rounds of play, you can get quite a bit done!

Over the course of the game you will obtain and plant seeds, tend your fields, and harvest crops to make room for more planting. You will also build helpful structures for more abilities or bonus scoring.

I really enjoy Harvest, and I could see it being a big hit due to the fun and interesting decisions packed into the simplicity and compactness of the game.


Also coming this year from TMG is Pioneer Days, by Matthew Dunstan and Chris Marling. I've been working on Pioneer Days for quite some time, and I'm glad to finally see it getting printed!

In Pioneer Days, you take on the role of a pioneer heading out west along the Oregon trail, collecting cattle and townsfolk, panning for gold, and dealing with different disasters that befall you on your journey. I was intrigued by this game from the start due to its clever dice drafting mechanism, as well as the way it really evokes the old Oregon Trail computer game.

Each round in Pioneer Days you'll roll some dice -- 1 more than the number of players in the game. On your turn, you'll choose one die and do one of three things with it: take income, take a townsfolk, or take an action. After each player has chosen a die, the remaining one indicates a disaster based on its color. That disaster track is advanced, and when it reaches the end, the disaster strikes, and each player must contend with the disaster as best they can!

I've put a lot of work into these games myself, and I know the designers have as well. If games from TMG, or these designers, or with me as a developer excite you, then keep your eyes peeled for Harvest and Pioneer Days -- coming soon to a FLGS near you!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Alter Ego insight

n the up-side, I have found someone willing to print and play a couple of my games. He's an amateur designer himself, and so far he's played a handful of Automatown, and also 2 games of Alter Ego (one 2p with his wife, and another 4p with his co-workers).

I had said I was worried the game may be too easy, but so far he hasn't seen that to be the case, he's lost both times. So maybe I'm overthinking that aspect. Maybe it's easy for me due to familiarity or something.

One thing that happened in his 4p game, and I've seen this happen before as well, is that they felt like they were doing fine... only 1 yellow hostage had been taken (leaving 4 remaining), when in 1 round, 5 more yellow hostages were taken, and they lost.

I don't know how common that would be, or how easily it could be avoided (perhaps they didn't have any choice in the matter, or perhaps those of them that did felt safe choosing a henchman who takes a yellow hostage, since the only way they could lose is if they ALL chose that AND one was an Alarmist, who takes 2 hostages). What I do know is that it's not fun to feel like you're in control or safe, then instantly be told "sorry, you lose" -- even if you COULD have avoided it.

So that's a problem that needs fixing, for sure. But how? Perhaps that happening needs to count as 1 strike against you, and it takes 2-3 strikes to actually lose the game?

Maybe what I need is a 4th type of Civilian token (black or whatever), of which there are only 2. When you must take a blue/red/yellow hostage and there are none left, take a black one instead. When black hostages are rescued, remove them from the game rather than returning them to the supply. THEN if you cannot take a hostage, the game is over.

Think that would help the situation? If that makes things too easy, I could ratchet up the difficulty elsewhere.

Just wanted to get this idea down so I don't forget! Now, off to GenCon...

Monday, August 14, 2017

Automatown rules post

A game of assembling automa armies
by Seth Jaffee
2-4 players, 45-60 minutes, ages 14+
V3.0 8-3-17


1 Start player marker
4 Reference cards – 1 per player
21 Worker spot cards (poker size)
30 Blueprint cards (1/2 poker size)
1 Basic action card
36 Worker pawns
140 resource cubes:
   20 white
   10 each in pink, natural, light blue, and gray
   10 each in red, yellow, blue, and black
   10 each in clear red, clear yellow, clear blue, and clear black


  1. Shuffle the blueprint cards to create a deck. Place the deck near the turn order card, then deal out 3 blueprint cards face up in a line to the right of the deck. This is the supply of blueprints available.
  2. From the blueprint deck, deal 1 blueprint card to each player. You may look at your blueprints whenever you like, but don’t show your opponents.
  3. Shuffle the worker spot cards to create a deck. Place this deck below the blueprint deck, then deal N+1 worker spot cards face up in a line to the right of the deck, where N is the number of players in the game. These are the available worker actions.
  4. Place the basic action card to the left of the worker deck. This card is available every round.
  5. Randomly determine a start player and give that player the start player marker. This marker will pass clockwise at the end of each round.
  6. Sort the resource cubes by type and place them within reach of all players.
  7. Give each player a reference card and 3 worker pawns. Place the rest of the pawns in a supply pile within reach of all players. Return unused reference cards to the box.

You are ready to begin!

Gameplay Overview

You are a criminal mastermind, determined to take over the city, and then the world! To achieve this goal you will build an army of automata to do your bidding. As you complete robots, you will put them to work building more of your army. The first player to amass a force strong enough to take over the city will be victorious!

Turn Order

The game is played in a series of rounds. In each round, players take turns collecting, upgrading, and exchanging resources until they have used all of their workers and have passed. After all players have passed, the round ends, and you’ll have a chance to spend your resources building new automata.

A Game Turn

Placement Phase: Send automata to collect, upgrade, swap, and trade resources

On your turn, you will place 1 or more automata onto a worker spot card, your reference card, or the basic action card and resolve its effect immediately.

  • Worker spot cards have 3 tiers, and when sending your automata to a card, you must use the lowest unoccupied tier. [NEW: No you don't!] The first tier requires 1 worker pawn, the 2nd tier requires 2 worker pawns, and the 3rd tier requires 3 worker pawns. When sending workers here, resolve the effect of the tier immediately. Each tier on a worker card has a similar effect, but gets stronger at the higher tiers.
  • Reference cards also have 3 tiers. The first tier requires 1 worker pawn, the 2nd tier requires 2 worker pawns, and the 3rd tier requires 3 worker pawns. When sending workers here, take one of the available blueprint cards into your hand and replace it from the deck so that there are always 3 blueprints available.
  • The basic action card does not have tiers, and is not limited – any number of worker pawns may be placed here. Unlike other worker cards, you only ever place 1 worker pawn at a time on the basic action card. When placing here, immediately take one of the available rewards of your choice: 1 white cube, 1 swap, or 1 upgrade.

When placing automata, you may also use the abilities of your built blueprint cards, at most 1 card per automata placed. Turn the card sideways to indicate it’s been used.

When you are out of workers to place, you must pass. When all players have passed, the round is over.

Build Phase: Spend resources to build automata

All players may play the build phase simultaneously. Each blueprint card has a resource cost on it. You may discard those resources and place the blueprint face up in front of you. This represents an automata you have built. It counts as strength toward your score, gives you an ability to use and allows you to use more worker pawns in future rounds.

Note that the cost always includes 1 cube in each of 4 types of low/medium/high quality:
Pink/Red/Clear Red: Head

Natural/Yellow/Clear Yellow: Arms

Light Blue/Blue/Clear Blue: Torso
Gray/Black/Clear Black: Feet
White = scrap

For example, a red cube represents a medium quality head component.

Each card can instead be built using 4 white cubes. In this case, place the blueprint card face down in front of you. This represents a basic automata which provides 1 worker, 1 strength, and no abilities.

Note that for any given color, you may “overpay” by using a better quality resource of that color. For example, a “pink” cost indicates a low quality head piece. This cost may be paid with a pink resource, or a red resource (medium quality), or a clear red resource (high quality).

On the same note, a black resource may be used to pay a cost requiring black, gray, or white, but not clear black, and not yellow.

This also means that the “4 white” cost on the back side of the blueprint cards can be paid with ANY 4 cubes.

You may build as many automa from your hand as you can afford during the build phase.

[NEW: Try allowing builds whenever you want, so doing it during a round would get you a new worker pawn immediately!]

Reset Phase: Reset the game for the next round
Do the following to prepare for the next round:
  1. Remove all worker pawns from the worker cards and return them to the supply.
  2. Discard the rightmost worker card, slide the rest to the right 1 space, and deal a new card from the deck in the last space. In a 4 player game, instead discard the last 2 cards and replace them.
  3. Count the number of workers on your blueprint cards in play and take that number of worker pawns from the supply -- plus 3.
  4. Count the strength of each player’s army. If anyone has reached 15 or more strength, then the next round will be the last.

Game End and Scoring

At the end of each round, count the strength of each player’s army. When a player has 15 or more strength, the game will end at the end of the following round. At that time, count your strength again.

The player with the highest total strength wins! In the case of a tie, the victory is shared.

[NEW: Maybe end immediately, if you can build whenever?]

Guy from Raytheon (v1.0)
Tony Ewing (v1.0, V2.0)
John Haremza (v1.1)
Michael Brown (v1.1, 2.0, 3.0)
John Heder (v2.0)
Becky Pusch (v2.0)
Staci (v3.0)
Jordan (v3.0)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Automatown progress

I played two more 3p games of Automatown today with the latest card set.

This game is feeling pretty smooth so far, and it's lasting about 6 rounds (which feels OK). It's clear some of the cards aren't balanced correctly, but that's to be expected at this point... for example, there's 1 card that costs 16 (highest possible), counts as 3 workers, and is worth 0 strength (vp). I had thought all those workers would get you so much value it would make up for being worth 0 strength, but I may have overvalued that.

Here are a few changes I'll be exploring based on today's games (I tried some of this already, and so far it' seems ok):

* Generic robots may get the ability "Swap x1" - so if you build a robot face down, instead of 1 strength and no ability, it'll have 1 strength and the ability to swap cubes (different color, same level). I don't THINK this will make them too good, and if it does, I can just power up the other robots a little to compensate.

* Allow skipping tiers - currently you have to take the lowest available tier, even if you'd prefer a higher one. I tried removing this restriction, and so far it seems OK. After all, the way the cards are set up, it's a little less efficient (total-value-wise) to do that, so why not let people?

* Build whenever you want - Instead of building at the end of the round, what if you could just build a robot whenever you wanted, and get the worker pawn from it right away? That could be fun and interesting, and would remove a little bookkeeping at the end of the round.

I will implement those changes in the next games I play (like at GenCon next week!) and see how it goes. I already tried the Swap on generic robots and skipping tiers, and they seemed to work alright.

I still need to post a better description and rules to this game, which I'll get around to eventually.

Alter Ego: first test in 2 years

So... Today I got in a (2p) game of Alter Ego with one of my testers. David had played an earlier version, but it's been several years... I haven't even touched the game since updated the rules in August of 2015 (see previous post. I'd link it, but I'm on my phone, and that's too annoying to do right now)!

David remembered that he didn't like the game last time he'd played, and that he generally doesn't care for cooperative games at all, but he did enjoy it this time, and he said it did feel like we were cooperating - especially with the teamwork tokens. So that's good.

The game took about 60-75 minutes, including rules. We brought the Anarchist into play, and it was the version where we needed triple wits over and over to beat him, which is the one with the fewest tokens (5 tokens for 2 players). We really didn't have much trouble building up, getting rid of all the henchmen and staying on top of that situation. We got the Anarchist in play without fear of bringing anyone else in too, and we won pretty handily.

The game worked, but I fear it may be too easy. That's one of the issues I've had - either it's trivially easy, or you just lose all of a sudden. I wonder if there's any loss that doesn't feel sorta lame. I guess Pandemic is like that to an extent.

The overall structure of the game is solid, and works well. There are some details that need to be addressed though:

* Strength curve. Ideally, I'd like the Arch Villain to come into play JUST when the players are ABOUT to get on top of the henchmen situation... earlier if they play poorly, and never later (because later means it's trivial to win).

* Teamwork. I think it works well now, but could use more testing. A Teamwork token allows a player to join your "team" for the turn, and players on a team may spend their fight icons together as one unit to take out henchmen or hit the Arch Villain. Currently, the Teamwork token also gives you a fight icon of your choice. I'm not sure why I decided on that, it seems a bit extraneous. Maybe at one point it seemed hard to get the right mix of icons to beat bad guys or something. I'd like it if that didn't need to be the case. Maybe removing that rule would address the "game is to easy" issue.

* Penalties. Currently, if you don't play a job/family/community card, then you get a penalty token for that phase, and if you get enough penalty tokens, then you are penalized -- you're required to take a card of that type from the stacks instead of a hero card. This is supposed to be bad in the short term because you can't fight as well next turn, and in the long term because it waters down your deck a little bit. But frankly, I'm not sure this penalty is doing the job. David suggested that as you pile up penalty markers, you should LOSE icons, which would be a more consistent, more palpable penalty. Then maybe taking that card from the stack (or playing it from hand) could remove penalty markers, restoring your abilities.

For example: For every 2 Penalty markers, you get -1 income/AE card/henchman icon, which means you get less money (to buy and use equipment), fewer cards to choose from for next turn, and fewer henchmen to choose from - minimum 1, you must always bring a henchman into play, and it's pretty bad to be "off the top" (without any choice)... so if you pile up 4 penalty tokens on the Community phase, then you're at -2 icons, meaning if you want to even draw 2 and choose 1 henchmen, you'd need 4 icons.

I like the sound of that, and I might say that anytime you DO play job/family/community cards, you remove a penalty counter (or 1 per card, maybe, so you can take a turn off of fighting to really clear out some penalties?) or maybe not... maybe the penalties stick around for the most part, and you temporarily remove their effect by playing cards?

I could see it working both ways, need to try it to decide... either you only collect penalties, or else you either remove or add 1 penalty marker each turn (depending on whether you played a card of that type or didn't).

* Family phase/card draw timing. Currently the phases are 1. Income, 2. Support (where you draw cards for next turn), 3. Patrol, 4. Fight, 5. Recoup (where you play cards drawn in phase 2 for next turn). It has been suggested that the Support phase move to just before recoup, so that you never have cards in hand, you just draw some, play some, and discard the rest.

I've been happy with the phases as-is, because you can get Teamwork tokens before fighting this way, and you can use Events (cards played from hand) this turn. But maybe I should make the Events into cards you put into your display (or I could say you put them in play, and they don't count against your display limit), and the teamwork tokens would just be delayed until next turn.

It also means you wouldn't know what you may be playing next turn until after you've made all your fighting decisions... is that good or bad?

* Equipment/Events. Are they too strong in general? Should the events be played from hand as current rules say)? Go into your display? Get played like display but not count against your limit? I might try mixing this up and seeing which feels cleanest.

I look forward to playing again. I don't think I'll change the prototype just yet, but I can try different penalty rules and I can nerf that Teamwork token thing and see how that goes.

Off to the store. Maybe someone will be there to play with me!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Alter Ego revisited, a lesson in keeping prototypes up to date

In the last week you may have seen a tweet or two from me about Alter Ego. Looking back, the last update was made almost exactly 2 years ago!

I've been thinking about this game a lot lately, wondering why it's been so long since I've gotten it to the table. The answer isn't really anything to do with the game, more to do with other projects taking precedence or pushing their way onto the front burner.

I'm about to head out to the local shop to do some playtesting (just 2p today, I think), and after re-reading the latest version of the rules, I gathered up my Alter Ego prototype bits and took a look at them. Sure enough, after my not-so-recent posts, I had fully updated my prototype, and it's ready to go!

Imagine if I hadn't. Especially in this case, as my posts don't detail the changes I'd made to add simultaneous play. I'd have a heck of a time now trying to re-invent that particular wheel. But since my rules and player boards have been updated this whole time, the game is ready for me to test on a moment's notice!

I cannot recommend enough keeping your prototypes up to date. You never know when a project will get shelved and sit for a time, in this case over 2 years since the last playtest!

Monday, August 07, 2017

Casual Q&A post #3

A couple of times now I've posted inviting people to ask questions that I could answer, like an AMA, but not confined to a short timeframe, and not on Reddit. In the last installment, I got a few more questions from another reader, and I answered them in the comments, but I suspect that could be easily missed. So here's a post repeating them. Questions are compliments of "Patricio:"

How much of an impact do you think board game reviewers have on board game sales?

I think popular reviewers have a decently large impact on the gamerati - the influencers that are deeply entrenched in the industry. However, unless they're on the level of Wil Wheaton (spoilers: they're not), their impact on the larger market is a bit limited.

So for games targeted at the hobby market, the Vasels, Rahdos, Eddys, Vikings, etc have a decent impact on launch (or on a kickstarter project), which is important. But it's not the be-all-end-all of board game sales.

Do you think companies that already have the funds to make a game should use Kickstarter as a pre-sale tool?

I think those things are not mutually exclusive. Kickstarter is a tool that can be leveraged for cash flow and advertising, and it has pluses and minuses. The question is meaningless -- everyone can "have the funds to make a game" through money in their pocket, loans, investors, or whatever. Kickstarter is just another way to get that funding.

Cash flow is different than simply having funds or not, and kickstarter helps with cash flow tremendously.

I get a little irritated when people complain that someone is "using kickstarter wrong"... do those same people complain when someone uses a screwdriver to pry a nail out of the wall instead of using the back of a hammer?

Kickstarter is a tool, and there are costs and benefits to using it. If it makes sense for your company to use that tool, then yes, that company should use that tool. It would be foolish not to.

Do you have a board game designer you saw as an inspiration and influence when you began to design board games?

Yes and no...

I was always impressed with how prolific Knizia was, and I really liked the simplicity and elegance of some Leo Colvini designs. But mostly I lumped published designers into a group, and aspired to be like that group.

Thanks for the questions, Patricio!

I welcome more questions in the comments below, I'll answer them in a future post. The more questions I'm asked, the more frequently I'll do these posts!

Nuggets of game design advice from designer Matthew Dunstan (Relic Runners, Elysium, Pioneer Days, Professor Evil and The Citadel of Time)

A while ago on Twitter, people were posting in a format such as "for every like this tweet receives, I'll post a nugget of wisdom." As a result, a few threads of potentially useful information appeared, but as is the nature of Twitter, those threads were relatively easy to read in passing, but difficult to reference, copy,/paste, or be otherwise useful in the long term. As such, they're probably effectively lost to the annals of history, only to be stumbled upon via random google search every now and again.

One of my friends, renowned game designer Matthew Dunstan, did one of these threads, stating:

I left it open in a tab, but hadn't gotten around to reading it until now, and I realized that the a tweetstorm may not be the best format for reliable access to good advice, so I took a few minutes to copy, paste, and clean up the list. I'm presenting it here (with permission, of course). And I took the liberty of correcting some of Matthews British misspellings..:

Nuggets of game design advice from designer Matthew Dunstan

1. Where possible, start your design with pen and paper - it's much easier and quicker to get started, and forces you to simplify.

2. Ideas may be cheap, but that doesn't mean you have to be wasteful. Give your ideas enough time and effort to find their best form.

3. There are no excuses for not trying a new prototype as soon as possible - most games can be played solo perfectly well. Don't put it off!

4. Find information about new games deeply and often, especially games you don't think you'll like. The best inspiration can come that way.

5. It can be very easy to get caught up with a cool new mechanic or system and forget why the players should care or notice each other.

6. Try to have each decision point in your game have several different consequences - the game will be just as strategic but quicker.

7. When starting out in game design, be very careful of starting too many projects without actually finishing one, even if it feels easier.

8. If you have rounds or upkeep in your game, ask yourself whether you need them. Can you fold these parts into the regular player actions?

9. Having actions in a game which are the inverse of each other (and mixing this ratio) mean players can be in control of the game flow.

10. Game design isn't a solitary pursuit. Even at the start, cultivating communities that you can be a part of and contribute to is vital.

11. Follow @CardboardEdison - they do a great job hunting down game design content so you don't have to!

12. When you start on a new game, you really want to do it. Don't give up when it becomes something more like work, both stages are needed.

13. Game design is like any other skill: to improve you need to practice often. Even if the game doesn't work, you'll get better.

14. For me, the best way of pitching games is at conventions; it also allows you to get to know editors which can lead to opportunities.

15. Write down feedback from playtesters as soon as you get it. You will forget it otherwise, and it shows your testers respect.

16. Good games are easy to design, but the best games require struggle and doubt in their inception.

17. Never underestimate the joy that players get from the physicality of board games, and try and find ways to make the most of it.

18. If you have to design a game with abilities or special effects, first design 1/4 of what you need, make 4 copies of each, and test.

19. If you want to get published, recognize that there is a lot of work beyond a contract. Development, editing and promotion are important.

20. Entering design competitions are a great motivation to finish games, and provide useful feedback (sometimes) - use them!

21. Design progress = # iterations/ time.

22. Watch @britishgaming Game Makers Toolkit on YouTube. While based on video games, very thought provoking for tabletop design as well.

23. Find software that has Data Merge, and read @DanielSolis articles on how to use it. Big time saver for iterating on card games.

24. Have a prototype on you at all times. You never know when you'll have a playtest opportunity (eg. At the film festival this week).

25. Wherever possible, insist on an advance payment in contracts, even if it's small.

26. Constraints-based design is a great way to turn ideas into a first prototype. How can I turn theme X if I only had Y cards?

27. Avoid requiring players to make decisions that effect future turns, but giving them no way of knowing what is a good choice now.

28. Any change to a design that simultaneously solves multiple problems is probably the right change to make.

29. Keeping up with trends can be useful; both by knowing what has already been done and what publishers might be looking for.

30. Try co-designing a game at least once. At worst it's a learning experience. At best you'll make better games, and new friendships!

31. Try to find out what situation or activity best stimulates the game design part of your brain (mine is going for a walk).

32. Whenever you sit down to design, no matter how much time you have, set a goal. It makes the process much less daunting.

33. Be aware of absolute versus relative values. Having a range of 1-4 (points, resources) can be very different to a range of 2-5.

34. In open systems, giving players some direction early is important. Starting quests, special powers etc are only some ways of doing this.

35. The best special player powers are ones that make the player feel powerful, but not restricted to only one strategy.

36. Adjusting the level of randomness is a good way to make a cooperative game more resilient to alpha players.

37. Try to give every game an arc. Even if it's a short game, try and make the start, middle and beginning feel different to play.

38. Some of the best games keep players involved even when it's not their turn, e.g. Catan. Keep your players engaged as much as possible.

39. Collaborating is much like theater sports - designs progress more quickly if you always say yes to different ideas and viewpoints.

40. Once in a while, try designing a game in an unfamiliar genre. It's good exercise for your design brain.

41. Where possible, encourage the publishers of your games to include characters of diverse backgrounds and gender.

42. Don't put off updating your design - the longer you wait the more chance you will miss the opportunity to playtest the changes.

43. Be professional at all times, with publishers, developers, designers and players. You never know where an opportunity might come from.

44. Elegance in game design often comes from simple systems with interesting and deep interactions between players. Interaction is key.

45. Early in a design, don't be afraid to make large changes. Exploring more of the design space makes it possible to find the right fit.

46. If you are going to pitch to publishers, know their games, and know how your games could fit their line. Respect their time.

47. Don't spend too much time turning an idea over in your head. It will all change once you play it, and you won't know how beforehand.

48. Even if you're not led by theme in a new design, finding a good theme early ensures a close match between experience and setting.

49. Don't settle for a mechanic or part of your game that is 'good enough'. It will be found out sooner or later.

50. Down time is as important as active  time. Sometimes when you step away from a problem the answer comes when you least expect it.

51. Use the 2:3 rule - whenever  you design a game where you upgrade actions, the upgrade should double its cost and triple its effect.

52. Think about how your game can have memorable moments for a player, things they will remember many weeks and many games later.

53. For majority games, use prime numbers for the number of different majorities, it means that players will be forced to compete.

54. Having a mix of short and longer term goals keeps players having to weigh tactical vs strategic considerations.

55. Beyond making a game with multiple paths to victory, try to make the experience of these paths feel different, not just the label.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Life imitates life - the beginnings of a designer diary for Autoatown

A few months ago (circa April 2017) I was responding to interview questions for Initiative Magazine. I was being featured in the June issue of their Game Mechanics section in an interview by Robert Nolan about refining games. It's not a free magazine, or I'd just link right to the article so you could read it.

I may have gotten a little carried away with some of my responses, in particular to the question about what it means to be "finished" with a game. At the time I had ants in my pants about people cavalierly saying "I designed a game," in the past tense, implying that they'd finished a process, when what they mean is that they've only started that process. I may be in a pedantic minority here, but I feel like conflating "I designed a game" with "I conceived of a game idea" really belittles and diminishes the hard work of game design. As a game designer (as well as a developer and a publisher), I stand firmly against anything that minimizes the work of design, and especially development.

Aside: Really, he crux of it is agreeing on where "design" (invention) stops and "development" begins. We don't really have sufficient (or sufficiently agreed upon) vocabulary for this, so as long as the word "design" is used to refer to both a finished game design, as well as just the initial, unfinished game idea, we're going to have a communication problem, one which I maintain is bad, as it leads to people putting unfinished, underdeveloped games up on Kickstarter and therefore out into the wild.

Here's an excerpt from my response to the question I mentioned above:

It's a lot of fun to brainstorm a game idea, come up with the story for a game, maybe suggest a loose framework for how might go, and leave it at that:
"It would be cool to nave a game about building automatons to do your bidding! You should have assistants to help you, so maybe it's a worker placement game. Oh! And When you finish an automaton, could put it to work for you as an additional assistant! Your assistants would gather materials to make automatons, study ways to make better automatons, and eventually your army of automatons would grow in strength until you can take over the world.”

That was right off the top of my head as sit here replying to these questions. It might have taken me 3 minutes. It's an OK idea for a game, it could work, but it’s obviously not finished as you can't sit down and play it! But it was fun to think about. I not say at this point "I have designed a worker placement game about building automatons." Rather, have come up with an idea for a game.
The next step would be figuring out rules of the game. What do you do on your turn? What do the worker placement spaces do? What does it cost to build an automaton? What constitutes a “better automaton"? What does it mean to "take over the world"?

Many designers get to this point in a design. I have several rule sets in my notebooks that seem fully fleshed out, and need to be tested before going any further. Since you’ve got a fully written rule set, it's tempting at this point to say “ I’ve designed a game!” But as most designers have probably experienced, the first time you test a game, it doesn’t necessarily go as planned. Game design requires testing and iteration. So, if I got a complete rule set written down for the automaton placement game described above, I still wouldn't say “I have designed a worker placement game about building automatons," because I'm not done yet.

Now that we have rules, the next big hurdle is to create a physical prototype and test the game. Sometimes this is as simple as creating a deck of cards; other times there's a lot more arts and crafts involved. for the aforementioned automaton placement game, I would need to gather some pieces to use as assistants, resources, maybe victory points as well, and create a board where worker placement spaces exist. This does not need to be very fancy, and if geography doesn't matter, it could just be a simple grid of spaces. Again, I'm assuming the goal is to create a game to pitch to publishers, not to self-publish. Either way, art and graphic design come later.

Once I have cobbled together a physical prototype, I STILL haven’t designed a game! I'm no further along than the last step until I've tried the game. Upon playing the game - either solo or with other people - we are sure to find details that don't work, aren’t ideal, or could use improvement. This is where the nitty-gritty work of design and development come in: iteration. We make improvements and we test. Make more improvements and test again. Each time, presumably, making the game better and closer to finished. 
As you see, buried in the response to that question, I came up with the seed of a game idea. A pretty neat game idea, one that stuck with me and might be fun to work on. Let's fast forward to July 2017...

Since I was attracted to the idea, this automaton game idea swam around in my head, and eventually made it into my design notebook, along with many other game ideas. In the middle of the night one night I had an epiphany about how a certain part of the game could work, so I went downstairs, got on my computer, and filled out some spreadsheets, and the next day I scrounged for bits and pieces to use, and cobbled together a prototype.

That Friday at RocketCon (a local game day my friend put on on Raytheon campus), I got a chance to try the first draft of the game. As predicted in my quote above, "it didn't go as planned." We made a couple of audibles during the game, and I immediately had ideas about what needed to change. But the players and I all felt like the game had potential.

1/2 a new prototype later, I played again the next day at a store, revealing more information about what I'd changed, and what still needed to be addressed. A twitter follower was nice enough to volunteer to print and play the game, and he returned feedback that very night, leading to decent design conversation over the next few days, and further updates to the prototype.

The following weekend (we're up to last Friday now), I took yet another version to a local game day and played two more 4 player games. I was homing on on how I wanted the different aspects of the game to work. Yesterday I finished another version of the prototype, and I'm ready to test again - though I think I ought to update the rules before I forget anything.

I think it's amusing how an off the cuff idea for a game that I spit out as an example for an interview question turned out to be something I was inspired to work on, and something that seems to work fairly well. I think it's even more amusing that the process of designing and developing this game has mirrored the narrative of my interview response almost exactly!

In my next post I'll describe the game as it stands. Maybe one day I'll finally be able to say "I have designed a worker placement game about building automatons to take over the world."

Quick post: The FULL List?

Every once in a while I do a blog post to check in on "The List" - a list of my published games, current active designs, designs on the back burner, and "old standbys," or game ideas that I'd like to get back to one day.

Mostly those posts are intended to highlight progress or changes of status in some of the designs. For example, yesterday I updated the status of:

* Isle of Trains: All Aboard (coming to KS early 2018, or so I'm told),
* Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done (on Kickstarter now),
* Eminent Domain: Oblivion (pre-production copy should be waiting at my house while I type this),
* Deities & Demigods (moved to active, because it's about done),
* Joan of Arc (a recent design added to active designs), and
* Automatown (a brand new design added to active designs), and a few other adjustments to better reflect the status of some of my projects.

And I updated the descriptions of some of the ones I had more detail on to reflect the current status as well. But that list isn't really complete.

In actual fact, I've got a lot more designs at various stages, from ideas in a notebook, to playable first draft prototypes, to games I've actually played several times, but that I'm not really focusing on right now. I sometimes wonder if that's the type of thing people would be interested in reading about, and whether I should expand The List to cover all of my projects more comprehensively.

I usually say that I write these blog posts for my own benefit, so maybe the better question is whether that would help ME out or not. But in truth, I do like it when people read my posts and comment, so if a lengthy diatribe about all of my various ideas sounds like a turn-off, then I'd like that to weigh into my decision.

Also, is it enough to just categorize the games into various categories (such as "Currently Active, Back Burner, Old Standby, etc)? Or is the descriptive status helpful/enjoyable to read?

Let me know what you think. The next time I look at The List, maybe it will have a lot more entries!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The List - July 2017

GenCon is coming up again, and it's been a while since I've taken a look at The List to take stock of my designs and prototypes. Let's take a look at where things stand, shall we?

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)
Eminent Domain: Oblivion (expansion)
Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done (BGG)

Finished But Unpublished Games:
Exhibit (BGG link)
Eminent Domain: the Dice Game
Dice Works (BGG link)
Wizard's Tower (BGG link)
- Now Boarding
- Isle of Trains: All Aboard (expansion)
Suburban Sprawl

Current Active Designs:
Deities and Demigods
Joan of Arc

Recent Designs That Are Not On The Front Burner:
Odysseus: Winds of Fate (BGG)
Alter Ego (BGG link)
The Pony Express
Moctezuma's Revenge

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:
Investigative/Tabloid Journalism
Red Colony
Clash of the Kingpins
Time = Money
Dating Game
Ticket Please
- Scourge of the High Seas
Rondel Role Selection

Let's take a closer look at some of these:

Published games:
Terra Prime (BGG)
Last time I said "I'd love to bring back Terra Prime as a 2nd edition, with updated rules, expansion included, and set in the Eminent Domain universe. It'd be called Eminent Domain: Origins, and one of these days it may be possible."

Well, the time is growing nearer and nearer! Eminent Domain Origins is officially on the list for TMG publication. At this point it might be good to have that be a "TMG's 10th anniversary" release (maybe along with Homesteaders re-release) -- but like James Ernest did, maybe we could do that, but not really wait until the 10 year mark. Maybe a 9-1/2th anniversary would suffice, which would be late 2018 (which is when this might actually happen).
Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done (BGG)
I'm happy to report that this game is about to go into production, not only as a fine game from TMG, but as a Deluxified(tm) product! The kickstarter for it runs through August 4th (6 more days as I type this), and we're currently about to break $230,000 in funding. With 6 more days, and considering the common influx of funding at the end of a project, I would not be surprised if this game breaks $300k. Not TMG's biggest funding, but close!

The Deluxified version will have awesome plastic minis for knights and buildings (in addition to silkscreened wood), spot UV on the knight order tiles and game board, and a few other great upgrades. The retail version will be very nice as well, but the Deluxified version is going to be super fancy!
Eminent Domain: Oblivion (expansion)
The 3rd expansion to Eminent Domain is finally in production, and should be out later this year -- possibly debuting at Essen!

Finished But Unpublished Games:
Exhibit (BGG link)
No change here. I'm still disappointed in the status of Exhibit. A European publisher was very interested, but a difference of opinion on whether a certain person's IP rights were infringed caused it to be canceled altogether. I checked with an IP lawyer to ensure that my understanding was correct, which it was, but I don't blame the publisher for not wanting to get into the middle of it. The whole thing left a sour taste in my mouth. It's too bad, because the game is good.
Now Boarding
I worked on this with Tim Fowers, who's since published several games via kickstarter: his co-op game Burgle Brothers, his 2 player deduction game Fugitive, and most recently, a follow up to his deck building word game Paperback (the follow up is called Hardback). He took Now Boarding in another direction, and I thought he was about done with it. Maybe it'll be his next kickstarter project :)
Suburban Sprawl
My entry to the DHMG/GTG dexterity game contest also fits their previous contest, using only about 56 cards. In Suburban Sprawl you toss cards into play to build Residential, Commercial, Industrial, and Civic buildings. I'm going for a light, quick game with a sort of SimCity feel that's easy to learn and play. Matthew Dunstan helped with this one, but it did not win the contest. Maybe it'll see the light of day some day, but I haven't tried to pitch it to anyone yet. I was thinking maybe TMG could set it in the Flip City universe, with similar artwork, but I'm afraid that perhaps a dexterity game might not go over too well with our audience.
Isle of Trains: All Aboard (expansion)
Dan Keltner and I created an expansion to Isle of Trains for Dice Hate Me/Greater Than Games to follow up our contest winning entry. We submitted the final game to them quote some time ago (December 2015 I think), and they kept planning a Kickstarter, then delaying it for various reasons. However, Chris Kirkman assures me that they're still excited about it, they've started getting art done for it, and that it will likely go up on Kickstarter in 2018.

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/tasks and control cities.

I put a lot of work into this one lately, and I think it's about done. Most recently I added a bunch of player powers to try out, and I haven't had a chance to do that yet.

- Automatown
A new idea that I quickly made a prototype for and I've tested a few times so far. The idea is that you work in a factory making robots, so you make robots to work the assembly line for you. But why stop there? With an army of robots behind you, you could take over the factory, the city, or even the world! It's a worker placement game where you get and exchange resources in order to build more robots from blueprint cards. Each blueprint has a specific cost, a strength, and an ability, but any blueprint can be built out of scrap to just be a simple robot with no ability. So far it seems to have potential, but it still feels like an early design.
- Joan of Arc
I had an idea to do a follow up game to Orleans about Joan of Arc, co-brand it and put it out as a TMG/DLP partnership. I have made some good progress so far, but I still have a lot of work to do on it. In the game, players are each a different saint, giving visions to Joan of Arc. That is to say all players control a single Joan of Arc figure on the game board. You'll move her around, train her in different weapons, and have her win battles for points or in-game benefits. The action is driven by a bag building mechanism, where you draw tiles out of your bag and place them on your player board, then activate certain subsets of them. Originally, your player board was going to be a rondel, but that didn't work right. I tried a different idea, and that was a step in the right direction, but now I have what I think may be an even better idea, I just need to try it. There are a few other changes I know I want to make, I just have to get around to making them and trying the game some more.

Recent Designs That Are Not On The Front Burner:
Alter Ego (BGG link)
Mike's always been a fan of this one. Alter Ego finally shaped up a while ago, but I just haven't been playing it, so it hasn't finished up. I had hope that with a little TMG Utah input and some nice art, this could potentially be ready for a GenCon 2016 release, but that never came to pass. I need to get this one back on the front burner and finish it up!
Odysseus: Winds of Fate (BGG)
I keep circling and iterating on this one. I need to implement the most recent change ideas and try it again. This is basically the story of this game's life... I should probably move it to the "Old Standbys" section.
Moctezuma's Revenge
This one ALMOST returned from the dead, as John Gilmour started to work on it with me, but that was short lived, as he had something come up and couldn't devote the time to that project anymore. Still, revisiting the game brought some improvements to it, so some progress was made. I don't know if or when I'll revisit it again though.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

On the theme of Crusaders

The Crusades were a thing that happened in history, and with them are associated myriad things -- not the least of which were atrocities committed in the name of religious war. There are some who have seen the title of my new game on kickstarter, Crusaders: Thy Will be Done, and assuming it is based on those atrocities, have decided it's not for them -- which, to be clear, is perfectly fine. However, just to let everyone know where I was coming from, here's how I came to that theme and title.  If you are a long-time reader of my blog, then you probably know this already: 

Originally, the theme was the Knights Templar. Players would increase the influence of the Templars until such time as King Philip freaks out and disbands them. However, as players competed with each other to win the game, it didn't make a lot of sense for them all to be Templars, so I looked up a bunch of other similar factions. Sure, they weren't all active at the same time, and they didn't all suffer the same fate as the Knights Templar -- but this was never intended to be historically accurate to begin with, so I took some artistic license there. But now that there were other factions, I needed a title that made sense, one that incorporated various different militaristic orders of knights, and preferably one which sounded cool. "Crusaders" made sense, as many of those orders were notably involved with the crusades.

That said, the game is mostly about those order building up their influence, not about the crusades themselves (and the atrocities involved there). Hence the name "Crusaders," and not "Crusades." Unfortunately, I guess those two words are similar enough, and the proximity of those orders to the action of the crusades is close enough, that some people are not going to be interested in the game just based on the theme -- and again, that's fine. There's a thread on BGG about it, which is pretty civil as complaint threads go. It's odd, on the one hand I have people saying "how can you have a game about the crusades that doesn't include the Holy Land on the map!?" (i.e. it's not realistic enough). And on the other hand I have people saying "how can you make a game glorifying wars based on hate?" (i.e. it's too realistic).

I'd take a lot of flack if I said the game wasn't about the crusades. I mean, it's called "Crusaders," and there's a "crusade" action in which you fight against [enemies that wikipedia told me those orders fought against]. So I've been saying that it's LESS about the crusades, and MORE about the orders building themselves up. But even if that information would assuage some people's concerns (and for some, it won't), they probably wouldn't get that far before getting a bad taste from the title and perceived theme :/

This is the first time I've had to wrestle with this kind of dynamic on one of my games... nobody complained about the potential genocide involved in annexing planets in Eminent Domain, and nobody worried about whether the rail workers in Isle of Trains were paid a fair wage. I've played a host of games with potentially problematic themes or dynamics, some, like the slave cards in Five Tribes, spurred a lot of discussion in various forums, while others, like assassins in Five tribes, notably didn't. 

Maybe I'm naive, but when I learned and played Puerto Rico so many years ago, it did not even occur to me that the "colonists" were de facto slaves. I just assumed they were your "workers", which meant they got paid -- just outside the scope of the game. Only years later did I notice people pointing out that the pieces used to represent the colonists were dark brown in color. I never considered that that might have been a deliberate choice, or have any meaning to the game. Even still, Puerto Rico was played by thousands, and topped the charts for a decade, despite this whole colonist/slave thing.

But I digress... As far as Crusaders is concerned, I reiterate that from my point of view, the game is about the militaristic orders building up influence until eventually disbanded by the king. I do not support the atrocities associated with the crusades, but neither do I think this game glorifies them. That was certainly not my intent.

I hope that people aren't being mislead by the theme of this game! But if you are, then maybe my comments above will help give a better idea of the extent to which the theme applies. And if it's still not your thing, then that's fine -- plenty of other games to play!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Crusaders: Thy Kickstarter be Funded

TMG has been seeing some success with our Deluxified(TM) line of games...

Orleans Deluxe was (and still is) a big hit. Yokohama Deluxe set a record for TMG first-day KS funding ($85,000) as well as total funding for the project ($430,000). The people have spoken, and what they've said was basically "I don't want to miss out on TMG Deluxified(TM) stuff!".

As such, I was super excited with the decision to make my next game, Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done, a TMG Deluxified(TM) product! I was sure this meant that a lot of people would go in on it, and the game would end up being played and enjoyed by a wide range of people. And based on Yokohama's performance, I was pretty sure we'd see some decent funding numbers as well.

Now on Kickstarter!

But Yokohama had been released by the original publisher, a bunch of people had already played and liked it, and I would wager Hisashi Hiyashi is a bigger name than Seth Jaffee. So I did NOT expect Crusaders to outperform Yokohama's first-day AND second day funding! Crusaders hit $85,000 by 5pm on launch day, and hit $100,000 by the time I woke up the next morning.

But I guess it makes sense. With each Deluxified(TM) project, we gain more followers. More people who miss out on the deluxe copies and regret it. More people who get excited for the next one.

I hope this trend continues, it would be great if my game holds the record for biggest funding level in TMG history, at least until the next Deluxified(TM) kickstarter ;)

And I think there's a strong chance it will continue... the stretch goals are really nice, and they certainly add a lot of value to the box. Here's the current stretch goal image showing what we've unlocked so far, and the next few items which we'll unlock if we reach the funding levels indicated:

Stretch goal graphic from KS page - 7/15/2017

We have some more ideas for good, useful things to add if and when we exceed $230,000 as well.

So, if you read this blog, then you've probably seen me ramble on about my Knights Templar game for the last 4 or 5 years. If you haven't done it yet, check out the kickstarter project and see how it's shaped up!

I don't like to ask people to buy something, but please take a look and see if it seems like your thing. If not, no big deal. The only favor I'd ask is that if you know someone who might be interested, please let them know this exists so they can check it out too!


Frustrating mistake! Deleted comments and they hadn't posted :(

Yesterday I noticed 3 comments on my blog, and they were from a new reader. I love to see that people are reading what I write! I mostly do this for myself, but it makes me feel better to think I'm not just screaming into the void :)

Blogger has a page where you can review comments, and you can publish them by clicking "publish," delete them by clicking "delete," and mark them as spam by clicking "spam." Unfortunately, I get WAY too many spam comments to avoid this type of moderation, but it's not that big a deal... I just go to that page sometimes to see if anybody's posted, read it to make sure it's not spam, then publish the comments.

So last night I hit "publish" on each of these comments, and then I deleted them Only it turns out that for whatever reason, they didn't actually post! So they're gone now :( I don't see any way to get them back (no "trash" tab like email has, for example).

So I apologize, Anonymous User (who said his name was.... dang... Michael I think?) who has just started reading my blog. I am very sad to have lost your comments! I hope you keep reading an comment again in the future!

- Seth

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Dallas and Seattle trip

Not much game design in the last week or so, as I've been on summer vacation...

I spent the 4th of July in Dallas with Michelle's family, and was also able to see my friend Brian. We ddin't do much in the way of gaming, but one afternoon we did play some Werewords and a little Wordsy. Werewords has gone over really well two out of two times so far.

In Seattle I normally play a lot of games, though so far we've done some touristy stuff and have only played one. We went on the Underground tour, which was cool, and we saw a lovely winery (Chateau Saint Michelle). We also saw what my sister billed as the tallest waterfall in the country (Snoqualmie Falls in Issaquah). We went to a movie, Wonder Woman, which was OK I guess, not sure it lived up to all the hype I've heard. And we met some of my friends for dinner. After dinner, we did play one game: Rialto, by Stephan Feld. Rialto is one that TMG imported a few years ago, and I haven't played it in a long time. I enjoy that one, and managed a win despite having very little board presence for end game scoring. I got some blue buildings, and used them to get quite a few points directly, I scored one of the two 5 point bonus tiles, and I dominated 1 region for 12 points or so, and got a 2nd place and a few 3rd place majority scorings.

Today I'm heading to MOX Boarding House, and I look forward to playing some more games! I'm bringing a full-art prototype of Crusaders with me to show off, and I intend to get photos of people playing, and maybe record reactions afterward for potential use in the kickstarter project, which goes live NEXT TUESDAY, July 11!

I will probably try and play Bear Park to show my Seattle friends, but Michelle isn't as big a fan of that one as I am, so maybe that's not as high a priority.

Time to go to MOX! :)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Recent playtests: Deities & Demigods & Joan of Arc

Deities & Demigods

There are 33 playtests recorded in my Deities & Demigods record sheet google doc. This covers several iterations of the game, going back to May 17, 2016. In the last few playtests at Origins 2017, I used the latest version of Hera cards to determine start player each round. The first time I just shuffled all the Hera cards together and laid out 5 for the game. It was kinda lame that for the first few rounds, those conditions were irrelevant because, for example, it's completely impossible to have done a quest before the first time the condition is checked. But I thought of an easy solution to that - I took all the cards that WERE potentially relevant in the first round, and labeled them "A," and I took all the cards that were not relevant in the first round and labeled them "B." Then I shuffled them and used 3 "A" cards for cycles 1-3, and 2 "B" cards for cycles 4 and 5. I've played a few games with that setup, and it's really worked well.

I've tried a few of the draft player powers, and I guess they're alright. I'm not sure if I think they're necessary, but I suspect people would dig them, so I ought to try them some more and make sure I have at least 4 that I like. One problem with including them is that if you have diverse player powers, it's boring if you only have 4 for a 4 player game. So I'd really want to have 6-8 for more variety.

I'd still like to try the Hades expansion module, but that need not be in the base game box, so it's not all that important. Still, it would be cool to try out.

Joan of Arc

Since my last post on the topic, I did get a chance to play Joan of Arc (twice) at Origins.

The new column format for the tiles is cool, but frankly, for the current implementation, cards would
be more appropriate than tiles. So I have two choices...
* Give up on it being a "bag building" game. This could be OK, even if it is intended to be related to Orleans, but as a product I'd like to keep the bag building. Hopefully that's not just me being stubborn.
* Change the format such that tiles become the appropriate component.

Daniel made a comment that sparked my interest - he said it would be neat if you laid out the tiles in a more organic way or something, and activated them like a neural network. I'm not entirely sure what he had in mind, but to me that inspired the idea to connect tiles in 2D space (as opposed to vertical columns), and instead of the tiles having 2 sections with income (one that gets covered up), maybe they have an icon in the center, an little 1/2-icons on some of the edges.

So instead of columns, maybe you have three 2x2 square areas to put tiles, and you want to combo up tiles so that they have matching 1/2-icons on the sides so you get extra income.

I actually can see several different ways to do this... 2x2 squares, plus shaped areas where the 4 tile spots are orthogonally adjacent to a center space with printed income, or even columns where the tiles have the 1/2-icons on the top and bottom only.

Today I showed the idea to David Short, and he had an idea for a single, bigger grid of spaces to put tiles into, and then you activate a row or column. I added that maybe you could activate a 2x2 square instead. So you add tiles to a 4x4(?) grid, then activate a row, column, or 2x2 square inside that grid, take the income, then discard the used tiles from the board. I'd have to figure out how exactly you add tiles to the board and activate them to make it non-trivial (add 3 in a row, activate that row). David suggested that you could have 3 activation tiles, 1 showing a ow, 1 showing a column, and 1 showing a 2x2 square, and when you use one to activate that configuration, it's gone till you've used them all. There's something interesting about that, but I'm not sure it solves any problems. However, maybe if you had to place in one of those configurations and activate a different one, that could start to work. For example, maybe you place in a column, then you activate a row or square. Then you can't possibly activate more than 2 of the tiles you just drew. Or maybe you can only place in a single row or column, and then activate the other, but you can do a 2x2 square if it's complete (4 tiles). Or only the center 2x2 square. I'll give this some thought, because it might be a better personal puzzle than the three columns thing.

Another, different idea that David also suggested, more similar to the current column idea with the tiles I already have, is to stack them... so you place 3 tiles into the column, but not overlapping, then you stack the next 2 tiles on top of those, offset so you cover the top half of 1 tile and the bottom half of the next. Finally, if it gets that far, you stack the last tile on top of the top 2, making a sort of pyramid. This would maintain the idea of getting 1/2 of the stuff on the tile sometimes, and it would make tiles the more appropriate component, but I'm not sure it would work as well as some of the other ideas.

Those are all juicy ideas that are very interesting, but they are almost completely separate to some of the other changes I want to make, such as adding static effects on spaces for when the battle tile is gone, or changing up the stat tracks, or adding cannons. I DID increase the costs of sieges, somewhat arbitrarily. I probably will need to revisit those costs a bit. And I'd like to maybe make some more end game goal cards, perhaps a series that wants you to advance a certain amount on the stat tracks, so you'd be extra interested in training.

That's all the updates I have for now.