Hey all! A few of you, perhaps 30 or 40 people out there, may have noticed that we were reviewing on average about 1.3 games per week! That’s pretty rad and I’m happy to be back in the saddle with that. However, I’ve got to take a quick break from it because we have these holidays here like Thanksgiving that take up a lot of cycles in the most fun way possible. Also, I’m working on a new, small design that has me pretty excited. Like many new designs, it may amount to nothing or it may be the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s too early to tell right now!
I can say that for the first time since I had my shoulder rebuilt and then shortly after that my Mom passed away, I really feel like I’m back. Back reviewing, back creating and pretty much on a more even keel creatively. I honestly had no idea it would take me this long – but these things just have to happen naturally. Oh and then when I was starting to feel my old self again I stayed up for 25 hours play board games. Every year it takes me just a little longer to recover from that!
On the few times I’ve talked about designing games with folks who aren’t into designing themselves, I get asked what a new game design looks like. I think people are naturally curious as to how the whole process goes. For me, it looks like this:
That’s a bit of it. Right now it’s entirely on paper. I won’t be able to do much in the way of prototyping until perhaps Sunday morning as I’ve got family commitments between then and now. But once I do have time I’m going to break out those 400 blank playing cards I bought a year ago, my kid’s markers, and I’m going to go to town! This will be my first game about trading. Sure there will be conflict too but primarily it’s all about the Benjamins in this game, which tickles me to no end. I’m working in a pretty small design space, which means there are some interesting problems I don’t encounter when I can use things like say… anything other than a card.
I’ve gotten perhaps 35-40 games to real, playable prototype status. Of those, I’m still actively working on 4, (5 once I get this puppy real) and have abandoned or openly shunned the rest. Why am I excited by this one? Well, it’s small, it’s got a bit of complexity, lots of player choice and very little luck. All things I enjoy – but it also just feels right. As someone who’s played over 200 different game titles and churned out 30 or 40 of them himself, a lot of them feel like they’re good but need work. This one feels like a nicely oiled machine even on paper.
Which means that instead of going through a hundred little and big iterations before it’s a real, polished game, it may only need 80. Still, it’s a good feeling. Whether this one works out or not, I’m still pretty excited by it – if by nothing else than I feel like I’m back. The piece of me that was missing for a while has returned to fill that little game design/creative hole in my soul. That’s priceless.
I’m also paring down one of my existing prototypes to fit into the realm of the nano – a 9 card version of a dexterity game I mucked about with before. Fish Pitch is the game and with a few rules changes and a bit more playing about I think I have a very workable, tiny little version of this.
For those interested, the next review I’m working on is a fun, entirely wooden game called The Climbers, which I hope to have published next week.
Here we are in 2016! This is looking to be a good year for me games-wise and will be starting off with a bang! First though, I have to comment on the lack of activity here on Troll. You see, I’m a new man. Literally.
About a week before Christmas I had surgery to repair my right shoulder. Since then I’ve been confined to a giant, sling-contraption that severely limits the mobility of my right arm. I eat with this thing on, sleep with this thing on and do everything with this thing on – I’ve come to thoroughly loathe it. The good news is that as of this week I’ve been cleared by my surgeon to do computer stuff (i.e. typing).
Another reason why the content from me has slowed considerably on this site and why the Indie Talks podcast has vanished is simply time. With a full time job, a lengthy commute, a wife and two children, there simply isn’t enough time in the day to devote to everything I really want to do. One of the things I really, really, REALLY want to do is design games. I’ve chosen to give that priority over blogging and podcasting. That doesn’t mean I’m gone from this site completely – though I wouldn’t expect Indie Talks to return any time soon. I’ll be here periodically updated, reviewing other games and whatnot. Now on to the cool things coming in 2016!
As of yesterday, Bellwether Games have confirmed that Swamped is shipping to Kickstarter backers and off to retail distribution as well. Dennis from Bellwether produced a wonderful How To Play video for the game and it should be available for order from their site in the very near future for those who didn’t Kickstart the game. Also check out your friendly local game stores for copies!
Ninja – Silent but Deadly
I’m very happy to say that Button Shy Games have picked up my game Ninja and will be bringing it to Kickstarter this year. There are no firm dates or details available yet other than the image at the top of this post but I can tell you that I had several offers on this game. I went with Button Shy because I’m really interested in what they’re doing in the small games space and they wanted to do Ninja the way I had done Ninja.
Button Shy are experts at producing small games that play well, are super portable and most importantly fun! Please do check them out.
Total Confusion 30
My local gaming convention – and my favorite convention to attend, Total Confusion is going off again this year from February 18-21 in Mansfield, MA. This is their 30th year running and it’s going to be fantastic! I’ll be there as an industry guest, with a few copies of Swamped on me and running a few other events as well. If you’re planning on attending for a day or for the weekend, please don’t hesitate to let me know and stop me to say hello! I’ve included my schedule at the end of this post. Last year TC hosted a flea market on Thursday evening which was a huge success. This year I’ll be helping to organize and run it so that’s your best chance to bump into me in a psuedo-random fashion. My Saturday is also fairly free as I’ve left some time for me to get some games in.
The Rest of 2016
So that takes us through February. Hopefully I’ll have more exciting table top related things to talk about for the rest of the year! Regardless, 2016 is starting off strong!
Total Confusion Schedule
This doesn’t include scheduled games that I’ll be signing up for to participate in as pre-registration hasn’t opened yet.
Arriving in the late afternoon/early evening.
7pm – Private game.
1pm – 3pm: Seasons
Seasons is the beautifully illustrated, wonderfully designed game of magicians battling to score the most points, as magicians are wont to do. If you enjoy a bit of card drafting mixed in with a ton of card combos, a few ‘take that’ moments and lots of interesting decisions, come play a game of Seasons! If we have a novice player, we’ll use the basic set. If we have experienced players, we’ll use some of the expansions.
6:00pm – 10:30pm – Flea Market at the Auditorium
10:00am – 12:00pm: Clubs, Villas and Rhinos – The Friday Morning Ugg-Tect, Dexterity Game Spectacular!
Have you ever wanted to construct a fabulous monument that will stand the test of time, while being directed by a slobbering, pre-literate, club wielding task-master with zero language skills? This is the event for you! In this Friday morning event, you can begin your day with a bash! Also build your own Villa – but do it carefully or it’ll all fall down! Then assist a ½ ton rhino to climb a less-than-stable apartment building!
1:00pm – 3:00pm – Small Board and Card Games: Big Fun!
I love small box games. Cards and board that can almost fit into your pockets make for a great experience in quick games. Many people call these filler games but sometimes what you really want is to get 3-4 games into a two hour period. If you’re curious to check out some smaller games, from Love Letter to Diamonds, Eight Minute Empire Legends to My Happy Farm and more – this event is for you! I’ll be bringing a bunch of my favorites, maybe even my own game, Swamped!
7:00pm – 11:00pm: Talisman with the Dungeon, Highlands and a few house rules
Talisman is the classic roll and move quest game that brings players together so they can all kill each other. In this version, we’ll include an expansion or three and have one house rule – The +1 rule! Every character gets one extra Strength and Craft, turning this 5 hour game into a 3-4 hour game. Also in force – the rule of 5. It takes 5 points to upgrade your Craft or Strength, not 7.
12:00am -> Private event.
10:00am – Noon: Prototype Pitch Workshop – Board and Card Games
Bring in your card and board game prototype and give us a 15 minute pitch! We’ll give you a 15 minute review in turn! First come, first serve! Last year’s event was a big hit so stop by and say hello. Please limit one prototype per person.
I’ll also be around for the rest of the day Sunday to close out the convention – so if you’re hanging about, let’s game!
Airship Challenge is a race game for 2-6 players, ages 8+ and takes 20-30 minutes to play.
The Year – 1899. The challenge – Your tandem team of dirigibles, racing through canyons, valleys and the open air, must field at least one airship that is the first across the finish line. It’s the first ever Airship Challenge!
Players are owners of Dirigible Manufacturers in this grand age of steam from an 1899 that never was! To highlight the latest in steam technology and lighter than air travel you have organized the first annual Airship Challenge.
How Airship Challenge 1899 Works
Got to run my first live game of Airship Challenge 1899! Of course I immediately changed some of the rules and we restarted. It was a 2 player game, me against my 9 year old (who won in the end). I also only had to scratch out 50% of the text on 1 of the tokens, which may be a new record for me in the first live playing of any game I’ve designed.
Each Owner has ships represented by colored pawns. Each player has 2 ships in their fleet. One player should take all of the ships in their hand, shake up the pawns and grabbing them randomly one by one place them in a line on the table. The first pawn on the table represents the pole position to start off the race.
Each player then places one Minor Tail Wind token in front of them. This creates the beginning of the race conditions in your game.
Place the rest of the 48 hexagon tokens into the bag, and shake it vigorously. Then the first player draws two tokens for every player, plus one extra token. (Tokens could also be hexed shaped cards)
These tokens are placed on the table where they are easily reached by everyone. The player to the left of the first player begins the draft by picking 1 token and placing it face down in front of them. The draft goes around the table until every player has 2 tokens. The last remaining token is put back in the bag.
These initial tokens form your hand of 2 tokens. At the start of the game, savvy players will know what each other player has in their hands. Your hands however will change rapidly during the game and it’s up to each player to decide which of the three race conditions in their hands they’ll encounter.
The first player then begins the game by drawing 1 new token from the bag. After looking at this token, they then choose one of the tokens in their hand and play it. Tokens must always be played touching at least one other token. When that token’s action is revealed, it triggers every other token it is also touching. Tokens triggered in this way do NOT trigger other tokens they are touching.
In this way, each player can trigger between two and five tokens on their turn. They may trigger these in any order they choose but they must carry out the actions on every token triggered.
If, through the play of tokens any player is allowed to take a token from the table and place it into their hands, they must only take tokens that will not leave any other tokens unconnected. All tokens must be touching at least one other token throughout the game.
This allows for some fairly strategic play, where you end up with race conditions like mine (above) where I chose to trigger only two conditions many times, or like those of my daughter (below) who chose to trigger multiple conditions, multiple times.
When the last token is played, the race is over. Score the race in the following way:
A ship in 1st place = 5 points
A ship in 2nd place = 4 points
A ship in 3rd place = 3 points.
All other ships = 1 point.
Here are the immediate issues I’ve found and I’m always open to suggestions as to how to handle them or what a change I could implement to make the game better.
Tokens. First, in a two player game there were way to many tokens. My first initial change before we even started the game was as follows:
2 Player games use 24 (of the 48) tokens chosen randomly.
3 Player games use 36 tokens.
4+ players use all tokens.
I would love to have an additional set of tokens say 2 of each, 3 different types for six total new tokens so that even 6 player games would have some variability over what was in the game or so that a six player game could use all of them and extend out for an additional turn.
Pawns. I really like the mechanic of the actual race – the pawns really don’t go anywhere, they don’t travel around a track or move around the table. It’s only their position that changes. This works really well in every aspect except that its, for lack of a better word, fiddly. They do tend to migrate slowly up and down the table, depending on which pawn is moving ahead of another. Were I a publisher spending money on this game I may consider some kind of sliding cardboard thingy which would facilitate this. When you’re acting on these pawns up to five times a turn, while that bit is quick, its still… fiddly. I’m thinking on this aspect now but would love to hear any thoughts or ideas on it.
Adjustment to player expectations. Lots of people see the nice, chunky race condition tiles and think “Ooh! We’re going to make the game board as we go along!” This isn’t the case in this game, you’re simply constructing a series of conditions through which your airships (and other players airships) may travel through. My 9 year old is very adaptable and ran with it and I was expecting it but I can tell from initial reactions and responses to the pictures I posted on line that most folks don’t immediately go to that. I think this can be managed simply by being very up front with how the tiles are used.
The Two Player Problem. The game, with two players, is enjoyable and interesting but there’s just as many pawns out there as I’d like to make it really engaging and to make it feel like each player is making a real, tactical decision every turn. Two solutions I’ve though of is either adding in 2 extra pawns of any color, or giving each player 3 airships to race with. Either way the total pawn count climbs to six – in the first solution there are two extra ships you’re just trying not to let get in front of you. You’d prefer they be in front of the other player however. In the three pawns each situation, each player is managing three ships and have to take into account the scoring (that a 2nd/3rd place combo will beat a 1st/4th place combo). I feel like the second solution is the better but I’m going to have to play it out to find out.
So there it is – the second game I’ve put together over the past few weeks!
I’ve put together a few card games, some of which I’ve opted to sell the Print on Demand route and others I’m currently working with third parties to see what happens. There are also a bunch more that haven’t yet seen the light of day. I’ve been creating these card games for three reasons. 1. I love creating games. 2. Card games are (to me) easier and faster to create, prototype and design. 3. I wanted to teach myself some design basics and card games seemed like a good place to start.
So start I did, and I’m cranking through designs like nobodies business. Now that I’ve got a few games out, a few games skulking around other people’s business and 5 other designs still in the works, it’s time to move on to something a bit… more.
I still really enjoy the thought of deck building and using cards in games but I’m getting a bit frustrated with the old starter deck. I think the main reason behind this is the 12 or so Ascension games I have going on my iPad, plus the umpteen games I play there solo. I used to be enamored with that ‘fresh start’ feel. Then, thanks to my friend Mark, I got introduced to the game Seasons, and with that game, a form of card drafting I’ve come to love. The gears in my head started to turn a few months ago.
Early this week, they ground to halt and an idea was there. What if I made a game that incorporated a deck of cards – say 120 of ’em. 60 unique cards, doubled. In any given game you’d only use a portion of the full deck so every game would feature different cards. And rather than start with your basic 10 deck (2 of these here attack cards, and 8 money things) you just drafted a starter deck from the main deck of cards. Each player draws 10 (or maybe 8 – I’m still working on this aspect) cards. They pick one, hand the rest off in a clock-wise motion and do it again until everyone’s drafted a started deck of 10 (8?) cards.
I’ve also been toying with some simple worker placement, like that found in Lords of Waterdeep. So, thought I, what if each player not only had these cards to play, but could use workers on a board to affect the game as well? By this time I had finished my walk where I was thinking of all this and was on the train. I started making some notes and this is what popped out yesterday.
Working title: Magic City. Potential theme: You’re already rich, and already powerful, so what more could you want? Why full control, that’s what! Become the elected leader of Magic City (I already don’t like that name, by the way) by using your political advantage, the events of your times, hiring the right people and of course, a bit of the old magic. The prototype is just about the ugliest thing I’ve ever done. Although I will admit it has a certain Soviet-era architectural charm too it.
Here’s how it works
Each player gets a player track board thing – it’s got the meeples on it in the picture above. This is how you keep track of your hand size, your reserve size (more on that in a bit) and the size of your worker pool. As the game starts, every player is handed 10 cards from the Market deck. Depending on the number of players, this deck will be 60 – 100 cards in size. The market in Magic City (ugh) is where people meet, deals go down and anything can be had, for a price. Each player looks at their cards, chooses 1 that they wish to keep and then hands off the remaining 9 cards to the person on their left. This continues until the last card is handed off.
Cards come in four flavors. Politics (A), Events (B), Magic (C) and Hirelings (D). Each card type allows you to do one of three things when you play them, depending on where you play them. If you play a politics card, you can either score a point or use the card effect. Events let you either remove workers from the board and return them to your pool, or they have effects. Magic cards simply have effects. Hireling cards can be used to place workers on the board or you can use their effects.
Now each player has their starting deck of 10 cards. This gets shuffled and put to the side as the rest of the board gets set up. The remaining Market deck is put next to the Market. The market has 12 spaces for cards, divided into 3 areas by cost. The top four cards cost 3, the middle four cards cost 2 and the bottom four cards cost 1. What is this cost? Why it’s cards of course! I’m a big fan of making cards do more than one thing, so in this game, they are not only things that happen, but they are the game’s currency and allow for two ways to score victory points. The top 12 cards from the deck are used to fill in the 12 spaces in the Market, starting with the lowest cost spot on the right and ending with the highest cost spot on the left. These are cards you can purchase during the game. After all of this is done, the bottom 10 cards are removed from the deck, and the Election card is shuffled into them. They are then placed back at the bottom of the Market deck. When the election card is drawn from this deck, it signals the immediate end of the game.
Each player now has their starting deck, and the Market is set up with 12 cards that cost between 1 – 3 cards. To pay that cost, you discard cards from your 5 card hand. Each player also has a pool of meeple workers provided to them. At the start of the game, that pool consists of 1 worker. The rest of your meeples are used to either keep score, keep track of your current game state or put off to the side where they wait desperately to be included. At the start of the game, each player not only has their 5 cards in hand from their 10 card drafted deck, but a meeple in their worker pool, a hand size of 5 and a reserve size of 3. Again, we’ll get to the reserve in just a bit now.
The second portion of the board is where you’ll find the Challenges. Challenges come from a separate deck (which in a fit of originality I called the ‘Challenge Deck’) made up of 60 unique challenge cards. Right now the theme is non-existent so rather than have cool names and images, these cards have between 2 and 4 letters on them. These letters are in combinations of AA – DDDD. I’ve put the full list of combos at the end of this post. Each Challenge card is worth from 2-6 points. The way you complete challenges? You play cards to your reserve, rather than to the board. In most cases (a few cards break this rule) cards played to your reserve have no effect on the game. They can be stashed in your reserve to do one of two things.
They can be added to your hand at a later time, or be used to meet challenges. Each Market card has a letter associated with it – Politics (A), Events (B), Magic (C) and Hirelings (D). If you’d like to complete the AB challenge (worth 2 victory points) you need to have any A (Event) card and any B (Magic) card in your reserve to do so. Astute readers will now note that your reserve size is 3, and some challenges that are worth the most, take four cards.
Also along the edge of the challenge board is the score tracker. Ideally if this game makes it to a publisher and begins development, the board will not consist of three 8.5″ by 11″ pieces of paper and will have some art too. The score tracker would then go above 69.
Now you know that players have cards, and that there are challenges that need to be met. So what about those meeples? There’s also a portion of the board that has spaces for 8 workers to be placed. Each worker placement spot does something different for the player who puts a worker there. Here’s what the 8 spots do:
Turn Order. Most workers placed goes first. If no workers placed, 1st player changes every turn, around the board clock-wise.
Hand size increased by 1.
Reserve size increased by 1.
Hire a worker (4 max, 5 in 2 player game).
Play an additional card.
Take 1 cost 1 card from the Market.
Remove and replace 1 challenge (your choice).
Score 1 point.
You’ll also notice on the worker placement portion of the board, there are four more spots for cards, and these card have a cost of 4. These are generic cards, five of each available to anyone who needs to purchase them. They are basic Politics (A), Events (B), Magic (C) and Hireling (D) cards and are there should the deck not provide the cards you need to complete a challenge. But they’re expensive! Each player has a chance during the turn to place workers. When a worker is placed, it remains on the board, in that spot, until it’s pulled back into that player’s worker pool. Placing workers, and pulling workers back into your pool are both accomplished by playing cards (for the most part) that allow you to do so.
Now that you have the general layout of the game, let’s walk through a turn to see how all of these things mesh together.
Each turn is divided into four phases, with every player going in player order during each phase.
Phase 1 -Draw cards up to your hand limit (5 without modification). You may choose to draw any or all of your cards from your reserve first, and then from your deck.
Phase 2 – You may play up to two cards and immediately resolve their effects or play them into your reserve. If you play no cards you may place a worker onto the board, or move a worker back into your worker pool. You must do one of these three actions.
Phase 3 – Resolve worker actions for all workers currently on the board. You may also resolve any challenges during this phase.
Phase 4 – Any cards played to the table are moved to your discard pile and the Market is refreshed.
That there is one turn. Lets dig a little deeper! The key thing to remember in this game is that to do anything other than resolving a challenge or playing a card, you must have a worker available.
In Phase 1, you draw up to your maximum hand size. The default hand size is 5, but certain happenings in the game can increase this. If you have previously played any cards into your reserve, you may put any, all or none of them into your hand before you draw from your deck. Then you draw from the deck you constructed in the draft that happened during the game setup. If you do not have enough cards in your deck to make a full hand, shuffle your discard pile and this becomes your new deck. If you still don’t have enough cards, you simply won’t be drawing as many as you have the potential to draw.
Phase 2 is where you get to play cards. Any Hirelings (D) card you have in your hand will allow you to place a worker on the board (it’s got a Meeple icon with a + sign next to it) or you may choose to do what the card says in the text. Early on in the game it may make more sense to place a worker. If you wish to purchase a card, you must place a worker in that space in the market. There’s only room for two workers per market space. If you choose to place a worker in one of the 8 other board spaces, here’s how it works. First player in that spot gets the benefit by placing 1 worker. Second player in that spot also gets the benefit by placing 1 worker. The third player who also wants to utilize that space must place 2 workers. There are only spaces for 4 total workers on each spot. The only exception to this is Spot 1 – turn order. There are 4 spaces available, and 1st player is determined by the player with the most workers on this spot.
Playing almost any Event (B) cards will allow you to remove a worker from the board and place it back into your pool, or use the effect on that card. They have a Meeple icon with a – sign next to it. Politics cards allow you to score between 1-3 points or use the effects on the cards. Magic cards have effects but do not allow you to use them in other ways. Cards played for effect go into effect as soon as they are played.
You can also skip playing cards in this phase and choose to either place or remove a worker.
Playing cards or using workers happens in player order, around the table. Any cards played to your reserve, sit in your reserve. Any cards played to the table for effect remain on the table, visible, until Phase 4.
Phase 3 is where you resolve what all those workers on the board are doing, again in player order starting with player 1. If they have placed 1 worker on the Market spot that costs 2, and one worker on the Hire a Worker spot, they’d take one of their spare meeples and add it to their worker pool, plus they would discard 2 cards and select one of the cards in the Market that costs 2. The card they bought would be placed in their discard deck. As soon as a card is purchased from the Market, all of the other cards move down the line to fill in the blank spot, and a new card is drawn off the Market deck and added to the highest cost (3) row, on the left. Cards move from left to right, top to bottom.
Workers placed to purchase cards in the 1-4 cost slots allow players to discard cards to purchase them, but do not require players to do so during this phase. Other workers will automatically do what their board spots say they will do.
Remember, unless you remove a worker from the board (or someone else does it too you) they’ll remain in their spot, allowing you do take whatever actions they’re triggering.
Phase 4 is the cleanup phase. The card in the right most slot of the 1 cost area in the Market is discarded. All other Market cards are moved forward on their track, and a new card is drawn from the top of the Market deck and put into the 12th space (the left most top space in the Market). This means that regardless of whether or not any cards were purchased, the deck always moves closer to an Election at the end of every full turn. It also means that higher cost cards will eventually become lower cost cards as they are cycled through the Market on their way to being discarded.
Also in this phase, any cards played to the table for effect are placed in their player’s discard piles.
And that’s where I stand with this right now. The picture above shows the 2 player play test I did last night, which was the first time this game has ever been to any table, anywhere. I should note that I was playing both players. So far things are going well! There’s a hell of a lot of play testing in my future with this game, as there always is. This will be a bit of a challenge for me as well as it’s the first fairly deep game I’ve ever designed. I’d class it right now as a middleweight game, a bit heavier than my Upgrade Wars or Lords of Waterdeep.
There’s a lot going on in this game, which is something I was looking for so I figured I’d just build it. There are multiple paths to victory, with a bit of a “point salad” thing going on where doing lots of things can earn you points. It’s also going to be a slightly different game with every play, as the cards will not be the same – there will always be at least 20 cards from the full Market deck left out in every game, and the Challenges will change with every game as well.
I’m hoping there’s enough player interaction to keep everyone on their toes throughout the game, with tension rising as the Market deck gets thinner and the election comes closer. I’ll have to keep an eye on kingmaking though. I don’t think there’s a runaway mechanism in the game but I won’t find it if there is until I do a lot more testing. I was also toying with the idea of throwing in some secret agendas but I think there’s enough moving parts right now and adding more into this game may take away from the game play rather than add to it. As it stands, you have to build your card engine, keep your workers where they need to be, watch out for other players doing nasty things to you and your workers, spend cards that could be very useful to you to purchase other very useful cards, put cards out of play temporarily to overcome challenges and score points.
Now, about that theme….
Also, for those interested in the Challenge card breakdown, here’s the list I went with, followed by their victory point value if that challenge was met.
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Let me set the scene for you. That image above is what I’m working towards. Now let’s take a look at where I’m currently at.
That right there is a pretty accurate depiction I think of where a finely polished game design can end up (top artwork), and where many designers start out (bottom image). They also both happen to be images I’m using for my latest project, Gaido. How does a budding game designer get from the bottom bit of clip art to the top piece of art? Let’s dive in!
Game imitates art
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about small, compact yet satisfying card games. I’ve been reading up on a lot of them, dreaming about Seiji Kanai’s Love Letter and toying with ninjas, zombies and pirates. All of that is very fun and totally worth it as far as gaining design experience.
I wanted something a little different though – something that was inherently my thoughts in theme and design and not a reflection of popular or easy mechanics and pop culture. I had also been spending a little time thinking about the artist in the above picture and all of her artwork. Normie Herd was I think an exceptional artist, who loved Japanese culture, language and art. She also didn’t start studying all of this until in her late 50’s. The painting above was done when she was nearly 80 years old, about half a decade before her death.
That picture above, combined with my thoughts on compact games sharing what little space is left in my head inevitably smashed together and I knew I was going to use Normie’s artwork in a game of mine. Preferably a nice, subtle and almost calming card game, but with a bit of the bite and whit that I enjoy playing with in other games.
Last, I want to keep this game very small – on the order of 24 cards or less. I was really looking to challenge myself to do this and still create a 2-4 player game. Working on sharpening my skills as a designer, part of that is learning to cut away the neato stuff if it impedes a game. What better way to force that on myself than limiting the range of cards and components I could use.
I’ve realized something today, as my kids are waking up and heading for school and the college students, staff and faculty that surround me get ready for their day. I’ve just enrolled myself in a school of sorts as well.
I’ve always been a tinkerer of games, mostly RPGs in the past. I’ve enjoyed deconstructing and then reconstructing game ideas, and going off into wild tangents with magic items and strange characters. Over the past few years I’ve also found myself falling deeper under the spell of board and card games. So I’m going to lump all of this into one massive category, called Table Top Games, focus more on board and card games and with that, let’s swing open the doors of Game School and find out what we’re in for.
I’m not proposing to teach you how to build a game, or the best methods for finding illustrators. I’m certainly not a professor in Ludology. Like most of you, I’m a student as well. I have put together a few board and card games, some of which I’m quite proud of and many of which we shall never speak of again. Really though I’m just scratching the surface of what there is to know about table top games – their history, construction, evolution and the underlying concepts that keep them balanced and appealing. That’s why I’m officially opening this game school and inviting all of you along for the ride.
This is where I’ll be talking about what I’ve learned – anything from math and statistics that underly the games we play, through finding artist, publishers and the old do-it-yourself Print on Demand route. My goal through all of this is to increase my understanding of table top games and how they really work, from the crunchy bits underneath to the human psychology that drives us to play them and enjoy the experience. I won’t attain that goal, at least not unless I live through a technological singularity and buy myself a lot more time.
What I do hope to realistically achieve though is a dialectic with you all. On this blog, I’ll be the conversation leader, dropping ideas, mechanics and related topics into your laps with the hope of fostering some great conversations and learning a lot. That doesn’t mean that you can’t carry on the conversation in other social media or your own space. I’ll happily follow along just about anywhere you want to lead in this! To that end, this will by my portal into Game School. I’ll set up a group over on Google Plus and I heartily invite you to use that as your portal to post your own ideas, discoveries, thoughts and opinions. If you have your own sites, blogs and forum posts, please feel free to link to them through this group. Linking is encouraged!
Primary: Information should be free, and you should be able to find it! There are a few blogs that I follow where designers and hopeful designers post great stuff. I’m always discovering more! My biggest problem though is finding new resources and then keeping track of them. I’m hoping that the Game School group will be a jumping off point where others can discover great online resources and discuss their findings. For those using Game School as their online resource, I hope to foster meaningful conversations, usable criticisms and a safe, fun and interesting environment in which to learn and expand the skills of game creation.
Secondary: To get me off my duff and into learning and creating mode. By starting off this community, and creating a category specifically for it on my own blog, I’m forcing myself to be active and write about this. It’s a way to kick myself into gear and keep me there. I plan on using this, and using all of you to keep my ideas flowing and new stuff coming into my head as ideas and coming out as partially or fully formed games. I hope you do the exact same thing. If I come up with something you like, use it!
Tertiary: I’m taking a page from two presences in the game design and publishing world that I really admire, Daniel Solis and Fred Hicks. They’re both very open about the business of gaming, whether it’s design and mechanics or fulfillment and shipping. Our world of table top games can use more people like this and I hope to foster just that spirit through Game School. Like them, I plan on posting as much as time and circumstances will permit me about my own ideas, thoughts and the progression of the games I’m designing.
I also honestly believe that ideas are cheap and easy to come by, while good games are not. Games are what happens to ideas when someone or a group of people have invested a lot of time and effort into an idea. With that in mind, I’ll be sharing as many of my ideas as I can. They may or may not work for me. Perhaps they’ll inspire you!
Here’s a few topics I plan on talking about, with a few talking points built in. Really anything that has to do with the art, business or science side of game development, up to and including my own and other’s ideas will be posted here.
Art – where to find it, how to commission it, free art.
Layout & Design – what makes a good component or card? Iconography and symbology, rules and readability.
Mechanics & Design – The stuff that makes the games work, rules, statistics, the evolution of game mechanics and more.
Revisions – When and why throwing stuff out is good, trying to spot that ‘new thing’ by how others react to ideas, and spotting when a game is ‘finished enough’.
Play Testing – Solitaire play, testing through spreadsheets, finding blind test groups, print and play as a means of testing.
Publishing – To self-publish or not to self-publish, who’s taking submissions? How to prepare your game to be seen by others, conventions and the elevator pitch.
Online Resources – From font files and public domain art to great people to follow online.
Psychology – why people play the games they play, what keeps them coming back, and pushing the right buttons for an enjoyable experience.
Business – Don’t lose your shirt, basic business strategies for table top games, publishing 101.
That is enough to get me started. I hope it’ll jump start some ideas and energy from all of you as well!
In my copious spare time, I’ve been reading up on old games. Some of them, really old games. I’ve become increasingly interested in card and board games from the 13th century through the 18th century. I know that’s a pretty wide historical swath, but in that 500 year span of time, there weren’t any Catans to urge the hobby forward as rapidly as it’s been going in the last four or five decades. While there are an interesting variety of games out there, on that really caught my eye is a game called Poch, Le Poch, or Pochspiel depending on where in the hell you’re playing it. If you’re curious, here’s a great page with very readable details about the game. I’ve been tweaking the rules just a bit on this, and trying to find a suitable theme to pop on there. Here’s where I’m going to take a page from Daniel Solis and bring this entire game, the theme and anything else about it into the public eye to open it up for discussion.
Now here’s where I may lose some readers, so I’m going to ask you for a tad of patience and to hear me out when I tell you that the changes I’ve made to these elder rules involve some elder gods. Mainly those who exist in the public domain under the guise of Cthulhu.
Yes, yes I know. It’s been done before. A lot. Why then am I choosing to go with this particular mythos? Several reasons actually. First, it’s in the public domain which makes licensing a real breeze. Second, it’s not really about Cthulhu or the Lovecraftian mythos so much as it’s about those other creatures of the wide and bleak universe who just sort of hang around the elder gods, looking for a good time and maybe every once and a while a new dimension to hang out in. That’s why I’m calling it
A Little Bit of Evil (working title)
While I like 95% of the basic game Poch, the board and theme (consisting of wood, and playing cards) are about as interesting as, well a piece of wood and a deck of cards. There were also a few minor mechanical things I wanted to work out to help move the game along slightly faster. Here then, is the blog pitch (17% longer than an elevator pitch).
The Elder Gods have returned! They are gathering followers to them in vast hoards as they compete with what few resources the Earth has left to fight such occult happenings. With followers comes power, and with power comes more followers! Like a vast reactor, these hefty beings of chthonic evil are filling up on human fuel!
You sort of tagged along with them.
You are the chthonic peanut gallery. The last little bits of the everliving evil that condensed on the great beings like sweat on a glass of iced tea.
On a level of universe shattering evil, you’re roughly a 1 on a scale of 1-10. Yeah, you live forever. Sure you’re evil but in a laid-back, I’ll get around to the evil when I’m done toying with this pocket universe kind of way.
Now that the Elder Beings have returned, and you belatedly realized that the worship of those humans will be the fuel that allows you to exist in this untapped new universe, it’s time to get into gear. There are only 120 of those squishy little suckers left unclaimed, so it’s every godling for themselves!
If you’d like to skip all the crunchy bits and my ramblings about this game and just give it a spin, you can get a print and play version (3rd beta edition) here or at the bottom of this post.. You’ll just need a deck of cards and $1.20 in pennies. EDIT: Yes, suit/suite – this has been fixed in the forthcoming beta 4 release! 😉
The game comes equipped with 32 cards, a playing board consisting of 9 spaces, and 120 soul trackers (pennies, glass beads, jelly beans, etc.). There’s some bidding, a bit of set collection and also a bit of bluffing involed. Each turn involves all of the players, and takes place over three rounds. You’ll need 3-6 players, about 45 minutes and you should probably be at least 12 years old, give or take.
First, a dealer is chosen at random. They take the 32 cards and shuffle the heck out of them. While they’re doing this, the other players distribute the 120 human pawns (chits, chips, beads) amongst themselves, and possibly laugh maniacally. Each player gets an equal amount, so any extra pawns go into the Pawns space on the board.
The dealer then deals all of the cards but one. This card determines the ruling suite for this turn. Now each player has to ante up a few human pawns. You can’t get ’em to worship you unless you put them in the right mindset, am I right? Each player takes 8 of their pawns, and places them in every space on the board except the Pawns space.
Next, comes three game phases. The Gathering, The Not So Great Ritual and the Building phase.
The Gathering: Here’s where we determine who gets what pawns. Every player looks at their hand. If they have cards from the ruling suite (say spades in this beta edition) they get to claim any pawns in the corresponding board space. Going around the board from the player to the left of the dealer back to the dealer, each player takes their pawns. If I had the Queen of Spades and a King of Spades in my hand, I take the pawns from those board spaces (above they’re the Wonderfully Wicked Alter (queen) and the Pleasingly Evil Temple (king). I’m also in luck because I get any pawns in the Ritual Space (king + queen).
Any pawns not claimed remain in their appropriate board spaces until they are claimed or the game ends.
The Not So Great Ritual: Here’s where you convert your pawns into honest to god (that’s you) worshippers! Players make up to two bets based on the cards they have in their hands (which, if other players were paying attention during The Gathering, they may have some idea who has what). Betting goes around the table clockwise until everyone has had a chance to bet at least twice, or until everyone passes. Pawns bet in this way are placed into the Pawns space on the board.
Once the betting is done, players reveal their cards and whoever has the best combination, cleans up on the pawns by attracting these measly humans to their divine(ish) presence!
Building: In this last phase, each player takes their newly converted pawns and puts ’em to work building temples, occult devices and whatnot to better attract even more pawns. Again players ante up a pawn from their pool and place it in the Pawns space on the board.
The player who won The Not So Great Ritual phase now plays a card from their hand. Whoever holds the next higher card from this same suite then plays that card. In this phase of the turn, the Sufficiently Musty Tome can be worth either 11 or 1, as determined by the player who plays it.
Play continues until the point is reached where no one has the next card because it has either already been played, or is the face up Suite card. The person who has played the last and highest card, then discards the pile of played cards and begins again, playing any card from their hand. This continues until a player runs out of cards. The first player to run out of cards takes all the remaining tokens in the Pawns space, and each player must also pay them 1 token for every card they have left in their hands.
That’s the end of the first turn. Play continues until the first player can no longer supply a pawn in any of the three phases. At that point, the game is over, all players count up their pawns and the player who’s got the most, wins! Want to take a look a the third beta edition, which has much more robust rules descriptions and a printable board? Here you go!
Here’s what’s great about this game if you’re perhaps a publisher with an eye on it.
As a currently unpublished board game designer, I’m cheap.
The game is a lot of fun!
A good mix of skill and bluffing based mechanics, with a slight bit of randomness supplied by the cards.
The rules work – 500 years of play testing, and then about six months of double checking my tweaks.
45 minutes for a six player game! Holy filler game Batman!
Cthulhu – no licensing, plenty of interest, lots of tentacles.
Fairly low production cost. 32 cards, 120 chits, relatively small cardboard playing board.
I’ve got Ninja under my belt and Upgrade Wars has gotten some very helpful feedback by one publisher who passed and is at another who’s presumably still scratching their heads over it. So the sensible thing to do would be to step back a bit, take a break, focus a little on Total Confusion XVII which is rapidly approaching.
But no, my stupid brain can’t take a hint.
Two evenings past, I was sitting on the train on my ride home trying to stay awake so I wouldn’t end up far, far away from my stop when it hit me – Village Idiot. It’s a term that’s not much in use anymore, but still has traction in our collective unconscious. It would fit perfectly with this idea for a fairly casual card game I’d been toying with all day. Once my brain latched on to that thought, it wouldn’t let go and I spent the entire train ride home, a very distracted dinner and most of the evening putting all the mechanical bits together.
I’m not going to go into deep detail about the mechanics at the moment because there’s still some tweaking that needs to be done. The basics though are simple. It’s 2 – 4 players, 60 cards and is played over various hands until someone achieves a previously agreed on number of victory points. Each hand consists of several face down cards that you cannot look at, and several cards in your hand that you will see. Drawing certain cards causes you to discard your hand and draw more cards.
Each card has a point value assigned to it, and 5 of the 60 cards do different things altogether (or can be used for their points, depending). There’s a bit of maneuvering, perhaps a bidding element (but I haven’t worked that bit out to my satisfaction yet) and then you flip over your face down cards, and add up your points. The player with the most points wins that round and gets 1 victory point. Fairly simple. And I had the perfect theme and name to go with it!
CTRL + C + SHUT-THE-FRONT-DOOR
Except that, as I developed the theme further, and the artwork started coming together, I realized that my name stunk.
The theme is that of a once a year tourney held in the realm of Fairy. All the top dog fairy kings and queens gather their followers, get together and have a war/party. The cards represent those who have the potential to distinguish themselves in the field of battle. Whether they will or not depends on how well they’re used. Add to this mix the fey love of drunks and fools – well who better to grab from the mortal realm? A drunk won’t work because they tend to fall down, be sick on themselves and others and really won’t work well in a game that’s ages 8+. A fool though… who doesn’t love a fool, except that person currently the focus of the fool’s attention.
Fools are interesting, witty, do unexpected things and generally work to mess up all of your well laid plans. Fate and circumstance can see them deployed in your army, or stealth and maneuvering can get them from your hand into your opponent’s army, where they’ll wreak their own brand of havoc. These fools were to be the original village idiots that gave my concept its title.
As I gathered artwork (all of this is public domain, and modified by me) I realized that I was drifting much closer to a 19th century playing card design and not a 21st century whimsical fairy design. Turns out those people doing art in that style just are not giving their work away, and that is as it should be. Working with what I had, the cards coming fast it was clear that there were no villages and no idiots present. Fools in motley were to be had in plenty though. The game that started off with the catchy Village Idiot moniker has now morphed into the (I feel) equally catchy Fools! This also has a slightly more classy feel to it, which matches the theme I’ve gotten together a bit better.
That’s not to say I won’t head back to Village Idiots. If, say a publisher becomes interested in this but thinks that Village Idiots is a more attractive, catchier or more marketable title, and has the artist and graphic designers to go to town with that theme – then I’m on board. If I do the more likely avenue and publish this as a Print on Demand game through The Game Crafter, Fools! it will be.
Another interesting happening with this game, as with Ninja – Silent but Deadly is the design time. It was 2 days ago that the idea really gelled. It’s been a hair over 24 hours since I really sat down with this and started working.
It’s based very loosely off of a game you can play using a standard deck of cards. I’ve tweaked it quite a bit and have already done some me vs me play testing. It plays nice and quick. I’m fairly certain the card designs/designations are good to go, and that game play will be solid, fast and easy enough for an 8 year old while being strategic enough for an adult as a filler game. Even so, it was damned quick. If I get lucky with printing times, I may even have a prototype to show off at Total Confusion.
While I plan to do regular updates here, you’re much more likely to find instantaneous thoughts, design changes and requests for feedback on our Facebook page, on both Fools! and other things happening in and around the TC sphere.