Journal: 10/25/2017

Day two without Twitter, day two of these journals. I've actually been thinking about this and looking forward to it all day, so maybe that's a sign it's worth doing? A few short topics today.

Pushing the button: I ordered 300 copies of the cards for Five Ravens last night. It cost $2000, which is 1/3 of the revenue I took in from the KS. Whoo! This is always terrifying, whether it is as momentous as ordering from China or simply using POD services. I have a very good track record...except my last game, in which I screwed up one card. I replaced it for free, everything is fine, but it just means I had even more anxiety doing it this time. I'm thankful to Josh for helping me proof. I need to triple check the rules once more and I'll push the button for the rules and box as well from The Game Crafter. That'll be the rest of my money! Oh and I still have to ship things...

I'm sure it'll work out. It always does.*

*I'm super in the hole as a publisher.

The Lonely Wheel: I had a very difficult pitch meeting today. It's been weighing heavily on my soul for a few days as I've prepared, and I went home early today just to escape. I'm the lead producer on a big, successful game team, working directly under the executive producer of a big, successful game team, and there are times when it's tough. 

The thing is, I'm responsible for the game, its creative direction, and how well it emerges and is received by our customers. Notice I said "responsible." This doesn't mean I pick all the themes, or write all designs, or make all decisions (though I do some, of course), but that I'm ultimately responsible for it. This means I get a veto. Wielding the veto might mean:

  • Make this bigger. Sometimes, that's received in a fun way. "I get to do MORE? Awesome."
  • This isn't good enough. This is similar to the first bullet, but more negative. There can be disagreement on it being good enough. This leads to...
  • ...cut this. Veto. Done. Nobody is ever happy with this.

Saying no sucks. Whether it's to an artist, an engineer, a designer, or even a junior producer who really wants feature X to do a thing that we can't afford, don't want, or...something else. Nobody likes hearing it. Eventually, if you've spent years being the "guy who says no," well, it wears on you. 

Boo hoo, I'm the lead producer. This is what I get paid for. But, it's lonely. It wears on me. It often feels like the marathon I'll never win. And, when I look up to my boss, she experiences the same thing. Every decision has to be defended 15 times from every angle. New topic, same result. So, in five years is that still me? Can I handle that. 

Bah.

The Presidential Daily Briefing: In the intelligence world there is a daily meeting called the PDB, or Presidential Daily Briefing. This is where the CIA compiles a hyper secret magazine of the previous day's best/most interesting/most important intelligence and shows it to the president. It's been a daily feature since Kennedy requested it in the 60s as has been somewhat of a topic of note lately due to the current president.

A podcast I really enjoy is Pod Save the World, in which a former White House staffer interviews folks with experience and expertise in foreign policy. In this week's episode he's talking to Michael Morell, who was an analyst preparing the PDB for some presidents, the one delivering the briefing on 9/11, and the one overseeing the briefing for Obama. He's lived through some moments that are hard to fully grasp. Him describing 9/11 again, as well as the intelligence hunt for Osama bin Laden brought back a lot of memories. I was a freshman in college when the towers fell. It's hard to forget.

Anyways. It made me think that the PDB is a good premise for a game. A serious game. A potentially dark game. But one that I think illustrates a fascinating and important aspect of presidential life. I've always been fascinated with games that can teach as well as entertain. The basic premise is as follows.

You have three entities:

  • The President - One player. 
  • The CIA - One player/a small team of players (1-3)
  • The Terrorists - A small team of players (2-4)

Every round is one day. Using cards that dictate actions and/or open movement choices, the Terrorist team, representing cells and operatives, move around the map in secret and execute their operations. All of them know their final target, but how they get there to pull it off is up to them. They cannot communicate. This is similar to a game such as Werewolf, where the wolves know who each other are, but after that cannot discuss how they'll fool the villagers. 

So, the Terrorists may have to perform an attack in Los Angeles. They have a hand of cards that let them travel, meet with assistants, or distract. They have to gather a subset of things, then gather in LA with all of them to succeed.

I said this was dark. It's meant to be a serious game, so hopefully your takeaway won't be that I'm "having fun with terrorism." I hope. Hopefully the abstraction of attack (and not something more precise) is sufficiently vague.

The CIA team is given cards and information from the Terrorists every day. They have to sort through it, discuss it, and ultimately choose a subset of it. Perhaps they all know one final truth that they have to convince others of. Ultimately, it's a deduction exercise. After they discuss the facts, they present a small subset of these to the President.

Imagine that there are 7 items needed to 100% solve the case without any shadow of a doubt. But, there is only time to deliver 4 or 5 of them. The president must use the information provided by the CIA to make a decision. If the PDB, and the President's instincts, are strong enough, the CIA and President win. Otherwise, the Terrorists win.

This is dark. It's clearly something nobody would publish. It's also clearly something that would need to be carefully researched to be informative, because if it isn't, then you're just creating a game out of tragedy. This may be too much of a terrible idea, but I do think there is value in using real events, or abstracting government procedures, to educate folks on civic activities. Like model UN in a sense. 

So much drama in the DBG: Actually, there's very little drama. I just wanted to make that weak-ass joke. 

I've been working on a deckbuilderish game for a few weeks now. I designed it flying to SHUX and have conducted three tests so far. Testing is moving slowly as it takes about a half hour to play, which means we have to wait until lunch or after work (as opposed to grabbing a quick game over coffee like with Five Ravens). 

When I started it, I felt a strong burden to not make Dominion and not make Ascension. Both great games copied to death. I also wanted to focus on being a pure card game. As in, not a Cry Havoc or Clank! style deckbuilder. This is a high bar to clear, so I took a step back and thought about some ways in which I could do something fresh.

  • Most deckbuilders give you a lousy starting deck. Every card sucks. Copper copper more copper and dead cards. 
  • Most deckbuilders highly emphasize drawing and culling cards.
  • Most deckbuilders ultimately lead to you buying stuff. You're making an engine of materialism (which is the name of my next album).

I came up with a simple framework in which you choose one card for its action. Many actions can be "pumped up" by playing cards with a like symbol. For example, I can harvest 1 additional crop for every farming card I play to modify it. This is intentionally a half twist on the Star Realms' combo mechanism. Though here you don't get secondary bonuses, it's just a flat increase. Furthermore, there are six categories to further dilute it. 

I also made it so you don't buy cards from a row or pool in the beginning. Instead, you're all dealt X cards at the start of the game from a central deck. Boom, that's your starting deck. You also get two random goal cards which have a Concordia style end game goal as well as a modifier that's wild (as in, works for every category). Your deck may not be super cohesive with your goals. You may not have an engine. How do you get more cards, then?

Well, players can place cards from their hand in a trade row. Other players can buy them from you, which means you get a token to buy more cards AND you get a bonus card. This is how you cull cards that don't work for your deck (while interacting with others) and how you gain new cards. Furthermore, as you build a town, you add more random cards to your deck. Some may work...some won't. Therefore, trade continues throughout the game. 

Currently the cards are simple, you're seeing a variety of strategies, and it feels different-ish. It's a dash of deckbuilder, a little Race for the Galaxy, and belongs in the family of other multi-use card Grant Rodiek games. I'm going to keep at it. As in, after three tests I'm not killing it, which is common.

Going to go update the cards from today's test, actually.

Hope you enjoy the journals. From my brain to yours. Or, whatever you use to internalize this super deep knowledge.