Timing is Everything

Post by: Grant Rodiek

About this time last year I conducted my first test of General Staff, which became Field Marshals, Empire, Empire of York, and currently, Dawn Sector.The test was held with index cards and a really shoddy map scribbled atop cardboard. The game was horribly tuned and only lasted 15 minutes, but hey! We finished! Most importantly, I saw something special and spent the next year working on it.

70+ tests, Protospiel, GenCon, and a little PPP exposure later, I’m very happy with the game and how it plays. Every designer says this, but I enjoy the game. I really have fun playing it and it seems most people with whom I play it enjoy it as well.

A month ago I bought a game called Kemet. The game is an area control/war game hybrid with spectacular components and a lot of good reviews. I bought it for those reasons alone, but it also stood out to me as it is a diceless, card driven, area control/war game. That’s competition, so I wanted to see what they were doing.

As it turns out, they were doing a lot of what I’m doing. It seems like they approached their design with my same goals and in many cases solved problems the way I did. Their meta-game is almost identical: a fuzzy hybrid of holding territory and battering opponents for points. While not faction based, players have unique abilities based on a tech tree to differentiate themselves. Combat is card driven. Rounds are broken down into players taking a set of actions. They even have an atypical turn order mechanic, I’d wager for the same reasons my game has one. Hell! They have the same disclaimer/strategy tips in their rules that I’ve been working on with a potential publisher.

It’s disappointing, for sure. But also, somewhat comforting that perhaps I wasn’t going the wrong way all along. It seems I was just a little too late to the party. How crazy is it that two teams of designers could arrive at so similar a solution to a design thought/problem?

I have a few options:

  • Continue seeking a publisher with the awkward, “Uh, you haven’t played Kemet,have you?” in the pitch. I don’t think that’s the way to go about things! I think it’s wrong to mislead potential publishing partners and I don’t think my game is unique enough (now) to do a full publication run for it.
  • Continue tweaking. I don’t think this will change the game sufficiently and frankly, I like the game where it’s at.
  • Take the core mechanic (dual use cards) and apply it to a new game. I think I’ll do this — later. I need to move on for now, though.
  • Just release it.

I’m going to do the last option, or at least try. I can greatly scale back the art asset needs so that I get a little bit of card art, a few icons, and then I put it together myself. It won’t be a mind-blowing tour de force but it’ll look respectable and I’ll be pleased. My hope then is to put it on Print & Play Productions. I think they’ll be able to make a nice game with a nice board, box, and all the things needed to make the 1 or 2 of you who buy it pleased. Wood pieces, linen cards — I’ll do my best.

I’m also returning to the faux-Napoloenic theme. It was my favorite all along and now that I don’t need to pitch it to thousands, I’m doing what I want to do.

Imagine that, but awesome and ridiculous.

Not every game needs to be published. Not every game needs a massive Kickstarter project. Frankly, some games just need to be thrown away — thankfully, this game isn’t one of those. I honestly hoped and thought this game would be my second published game and I thought it would happen this year. That’s no longer the case, but I’ve learned SO much about…

  • Faction design
  • Game balancing
  • Map design
  • War game design
  • Randomness, variance, and player decisions
  • Balancing a more complex scoring system
  • Pacing pacing pacing
  • Graphic design

So this wasn’t a waste of my time. In fact, the fruits of this year will be seen not in Battle for York, but in the next game I make.

I’m going to quietly pursue a nice Print on Demand version of Battle for York. I’m going to test a few more slight, final tweaks and hopefully before too long I can share a link to buy it. Hopefully one or two of you pick it up. At the very least, hopefully you’ll play it with me at GenCon or wherever else our paths cross.

Thanks for helping me make this game. It’s been awesome. Now, go buy Kemet!

9 thoughts on “Timing is Everything

  1. Grant, both happy and sad for you. Great that you finished it and feel satisfaction about the accomplishment of creating a game you are happy with. Unfortunate to be late to the party.

    The learning process there is the big reward I think. You have a better understanding of the components, and can now use those components in other game designs and you will already know exactly how to use them in the new games. It justs make the design process in future games that much faster.

    I think you make another good point in there, some games are created and will exist only as an exercise in design concept. Could I make a game that does this and is fun to play. Paper dragons is that sort of game for me. I enjoyed making it and playing it with my son, but it isn’t enough of a game to publish from what I can tell. So it is available for download on the website and I have moved on to the next thing.

    Finally, last thought, just another reason why asking playtesters what other games are out there that are similar is important. Also we as designers have to constantly be out playing new games to broaden our knowledge of what is out there.

  2. I think you’ve just described most creative’s nightmare right there. Great positive spin on it, but that’s got to be heartbreaking!

  3. Bummer, man. At least you got it to a point where you were happy with it and you didn’t have a design that failed.

  4. I’m so sorry to hear this. In any case, I’m glad you’re moving forward with releasing it, even in a scaled-back format. Kemet doesn’t appeal to me in the least, but the faux-Napoleonic theme is right up my alley.

  5. Definitely a bummer, but you’re graceful response is telling of your professionalism and, by extension, the number and quality of games you will release in the future.

    Now seems like a good time to refer people reading this rough news to another post from this very site, Convergent Design. Grant is right to be frustrated, but also validated. Kemet proves that their was a hole in the market begging to be filled and that Grant was well on track to fill it. He’s also right to focus on the lessons learned rather than the fame/profit/whatever lost.

    I’m putting my pre-order for Battle of York in now.

  6. Pingback: » Beaten to the Punch - GameBugle

  7. I’m sad for you that Kemet beat you to the punch. But I think there is room for your game especially with the new theme, which I like. Thanks for being a positive model for us when we find out someone else made our games first. I can’t wait to see the game in all its glory. The art looks fantastic.


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