Windmills

don-quixote-windmill

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I don’t sit idly well. It drives my girlfriend positively batty and I’m sure my boss will soon fill my yearly review with comments to this regard. I stay busy, often for good, sometimes for ill.

I’m not letting myself touch Wozzle, at least not the version people are testing for us. It’s a good build, it’s testing very well, and it’s important to us that people download it with confidence knowing we won’t just yank it out from under them every 30 seconds with an update. That’s fine with a digital game, but when people take the time to print, cut, and sleeve, we owe them a steady build.

But. The mind wanders. We really want Wozzle to be just awesome. We’ve chased after a few rabbits already. Some entirely fruitless, or mostly fruitless with one tiny benefit. This weekend has revealed yet another rabbit hole.

Naturally, we dove in head first.

Let’s talk about why I chase them.

Note: Forgive the mix of singular (I, me) and plural (us, we) in this document. I’m semi-writing from my own perspective and that of me and my design partner, Joshua Buergel.

What would your favorite publisher do? Or, what would a great publisher do? I had a mental revelation yesterday. When it hit me, it made so much sense that it astounded me it hadn’t guided my thinking prior to this. As I thought on it further, I realized it had influenced me in the past, but not to the same degree. The thought was simply, in regards to Wozzle, “How would Gamewright handle this?”

I think Gamewright is a pretty incredible publisher of games and I own a few of their products. My most recent addition from them, Cube Quest, has already been enjoyed 16 times in the 2 weeks that I’ve owned it. Their games are simple, playful, beautiful, and just fun to own.

I’ve done this with other games in the past. I designed Sol Rising to be something Colby Dauch and Jerry Hawthorne of Plaid Hat Games would enjoy. I have another in-progress prototype that is meant squarely for Portal Games. But, in those cases it was more a high level “who could I pitch this to?” type question.

With Wozzle, it led us to nitpick our rules. Gamewright only publishes a few games a year. They are aimed at a very wide market of parents, families, and children, which means they need to be colorful, clean, easy to learn, and well-refined.

When viewing Wozzle through the same lens, we started asking quite a few questions. Which of these rules add more complexity than they add fun? Which of these rules don’t suit our target audience? Where can we condense and focus the fun?

An example of something we skimped out is the kicker. This is the concept in poker where you have two people tied with, say, a two pair. Neither of them has a higher pair, so you need a kicker. This could be the card in the Community, which means they split the pot, OR a card from somebody’s hand. The problem is, this is a fairly unlikely occurrence. Furthermore, it’s a really complicated thing to explain. Is it so bad in this rare occasion people just split the pot?

No, we determined. The ratio of fun to complexity wasn’t where it needed to be.

In some cases, this process involves us doing a lot of extra work to go from an 85 to an 87 on a quiz, to use an American school system metaphor, but it is what a big, real publisher would do. Therefore, shouldn’t we hold ourselves to that same standard? Another change is that I re-made all 30 cards to not change the mechanic, but the presentation. Why? We think it’ll be more accessible. It was a pain, but it’s what a AAA publisher would do.

In the software world, we often branch our builds. This is often for the purpose of a demo at a convention like E3 or Gamescom. We branch, isolate, and polish a build for the show. Meanwhile, the majority of the team continues to work on the actual, shipping software.

Another, more recent phenomenon is the notion of A/B testing. Pioneered (I think) by free to play game developers, different tuning variables, art, UI layout, or even mechanics will be shown between different sample groups, called cohorts. The purpose is to find out which solution works the best and propagate it to every build.

We’ve branched Wozzle before with minor changes and now we have not one, not two, but three rules documents that we’re testing and pondering. Why? For the same reason our nefarious government overlords have R&D. We want to see if we can learn anything from our branched skunk works projects that can make the main line better. There’s a pretty high chance that these branches will result in fruitless dead ends. But, by chasing these windmills we’re able to determine that the mainline is in fact the superior solution OR, just maybe, find something even better.

I realize all of this sounds like the indecisive spinning of a mad man. But, we’re not! If anything, I think this is some of the most sophisticated, mature development I’ve ever put into a personal project. I’ve personally taken inspiration from other sources around me lately.

At work, we had a few key features “locked down.” We thought they were done. Then, someone asked if they should really be locked down. We all grumbled, sighed, and then thought about it. Like the multiple stages of grief, we soon found ourselves at acceptance. No, it wasn’t as good as it could be. Yes, it can be better. The result? We made it better.

In another case, I have a beloved elder project that I thought was pretty good. As it turns out, the foundation was pretty good. The core was good. But the details? Not incredible and not as good as they could be. I’ve had all of my beliefs and assertions challenged and it has led to a great leap forward.

There’s acceptance of the known and the embrace of potential. Potential, though, like ideas, is everywhere and sometimes just hot air.

Calculated, thoughtful questioning may be the best thing for your design. If you make an B game, is that good enough? Can you make it a B+? Then an A-? The line for when to stop and when enough is enough is really fuzzy. I clearly haven’t found it, or I simply haven’t been able to identify it.

Who then, can show us the line?

Our players and loyal testers are potentially the greatest line identifiers. With each rabbit hole we’ve engaged a mixture of our most dedicated testers, team members, and peers. The response hasn’t been universal yet and I never expect it will be.

Twice, today, we had our survey return with an answer of “No! Don’t do that!” In a sense, it’s an incredible compliment. What the hell are you doing? Don’t touch it. I like what you’ve done. It’s comforting to know both that people like what we already have enough to yell at us AND that we’re humble enough to return from the depths of our rabbit hole, hats in hands, with nothing but shrugs and mud speckled grins.

The lesson I aim to share is this: when you think your rules are done, take another pass. When you think you have the best set of cards, identify your 3 weakest ones and try to replace them. If your mind conjures an alternate mechanic, branch and test. At least discuss it.

When you walk past the cute girl at the park, turn around. Introduce yourself. She may be involved with someone, or she may become the love of your life. That’s a bit hyperbolic, I agree. But, look around. Yeah, that’s right. I chose that name for a reason.

Farmageddon 2nd Printing Available!

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Post by: Grant Rodiek

2012 was a really big year for my first published game, Farmageddon. It was signed for publication, then my publisher raised $25,000 on Kickstarter. He ordered a larger than expected printing of 2700 copies which was very well reviewed, received a Parent’s Choice Award, and ultimately sold out. Very very cool, if you ask me. The game’s success far exceeded my expectations.

As of today, the game’s 2nd Printing is now available for purchase. I actually received my copies (I get a few every printing per my contract).

2ndEd

What’s different? Not much. In the rules, I changed the word “Actions” to “Things” in one of the early paragraphs as I had one (belligerent) friend who was confused by it. I added a clarification for the FrankenCrops in the back to future proof them better (we have 15 more coming in the future for a booster pack). Finally, I added a friend to the credits who was mistakenly left out.

The box is no longer a thick two piece, but is a big tuck box that holds the rules and decks. This was done to be more retail friendly and to improve margins. Phil’s hope is to get the game into bigger stores, so things like the hang tab and smaller box are important.

Finally, we’ve revised the text on a few cards purely for clarity. None of their functionality has changed. But, we listened to fans, saw what confused them, and tried to improve the cards.

One final thing is that the cards aren’t bowed. The manufacturer made a mistake with the initial printing and the cards were bowed. Thankfully, they flattened out naturally with time, but it made a bad first impression for folks. We’re sorry and I’m glad to see it didn’t happen again.

What’s Next? Hopefully, continued success. Phil made a big investment and funded a bigger printing of 5000 copies. He did this by putting money back into the business and by taking out a business loan. Personally, I’m very proud that he believes in my game to this degree.

If you have thoughts on Farmageddon, enjoy it, or know a family or group of casual gamers who would like it, please recommend it! Your word of mouth praise is literally the BEST marketing available. 340 of you have rated the game on Board Game Geek and it means so much to us. Christmas is approaching, so if you think of someone who would like this as a $15 stocking stuffer, recommend it!

The game is available exclusively via Amazon or 5th Street’s website.

In addition to the second printing, Erin Fusco, the artist for the original FrankenCrops, is coloring the new art for the Livestocked and Loaded expansion right now. This will be sent free to our Kickstarter backers and sold for around $10 to other customers. This expansion broadens the game with new Weather events, Animals, and new Action cards. There are new mechanics and the focus is to add more strategy to an otherwise unpredictable game.  Other than the fact I’m really bad at the expansion, I am really happy with it.

As a treat, here is some of the completed art.

Dry Spell Weather Card

Dry Spell Weather Card

Freak Blizzard Weather Card

Freak Blizzard Weather Card

Petunia Cluxity

Petunia Cluxity

Sauce the Pig

Sauce the Pig

woolsworth_f01

Woolsworth the III

Oola von Heifer

Oola von Heifer

If you like these, just wait until you see the Corgalohts, the Inland Tsunami, or the new Farmers…

We also have 15 new FrankenCrops designed and sketched. These will also be sent free to our Kickstarter backers as an apology for the bowed cards. In my opinion, this is really excellent of Phil. It is very kind. These will be sold to others as well who want more spice.

The Future? Phil and I would like to keep supporting Farmageddon as long as there is demand. It’s a silly little game, but I still love it and enjoy playing it. I have tons of ideas for expansions. The theme is rich and full of options. If the 2nd printing and first expansion sell, we have great ideas and more FrankenCrops.

As always, we love, appreciate, and value your input. We thank you for your support. Without you testing the prototype, printing the PNP, inviting me to your podcast, backing it on KS, or sharing Tweets, we would not be where we are.

Happy Farming!

Make the Experience, Scrap the Rest

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Post by: Grant Rodiek

Although not conceived as such, I realized this blog post is more or less a continuation of a previous post, Foundationing. By that, I mean being able to do the thing I state at the end is much simpler if the core of your experience is solid.

Earlier today, I tweeted the following (re-arranged here to be read top down):

#1

#2

Experience First

I’ve always designed with my experience goals in mind first and foremost. All designers come at the point of creation somewhat differently, but you can more or less boil things down to one of the two primary approaches:

  • I have a cool mechanic and I want to make a game with it.
  • I really love this theme and want to make a game with it.

Experience first, to me at least, has some of the fluffiness of the thematic approach, with a few of the nuts and bolts of the mechanical. Let’s use Blockades experience for an example.

  • Players are put in the role of a sci-fi fleet commander.
  • 45 minutes or less. That reigns in complexity.
  • Lots of dice – This means dice based mechanics, but also the inclusion of luck that, for my tastes at least, needs to be balanced with non-luck decisions.
  • Can I do something neat with formations?
  • There is a balance between capital ships and fighters, both present.

That was the start of the game. To this day, it continues to be the heartbeat that drives my design and decision making. Hold onto this thought while I briefly segue.

Darlings

“Be willing to kill your darlings” is a common design saying that more or less means: be willing to let go of things in your design, no matter how much you love them, that detract from the quality of the game.

I’ve always boldly thumped my chest about being really good at this. Honestly, I am, but only for a part of it. There are a few kinds of darlings:

  • Scope Creep: Additional features that can be added or lopped off without compromising the game. Example: In York I always wanted to add naval elements or commander Units. I resisted and held them at bay.
  • Means to an End: You may have a really clever mechanic that does what you need it to do. It may not be perfect (few are from the start). But, you tweak, and twist, and massage, and tweak, and try to make it the thing you want it to be. This is where I fail.

This second bullet is a real bugger and it’s something with which I’ve had a massive realization lately. Be it York or Blockade, I’ve desperately clung to some legitimately good ideas by refining them for months (and in the case of York, years), instead of returning to the experience and asking myself: Is this the best, most fun, simplest, and most unique way to do this?

Put another way: Sure, this is good. But is it good enough?

For Blockade, I have a few of these mechanical darlings that I’m killing in favor of ideas that are already better and simpler. For example:

  • My color-based d6 mechanic to convey weapon strength was neat, but it was obtuse for new people, increased the number of components needed, and required additional reference material to explain.
  • I was forcing a lot of awkward, fiddly behaviors into my formation mechanic. There’s a much similar way to get to the same experience.
  • And others…

I always stated that really interesting battles were the focus of York, yet I never fundamentally revised the battle mechanic. I tweaked it, patched it, and added new layers, such as defensive abilities, factions, and unique content. But I never stepped back to ask: Is this the coolest, most fun, simplest battle mechanic for York?

It’s a question I should have asked a long time ago.

The Crucial Bits

At the outset of your design, whether you want it to be about space-ships or have an innovative worker placement mechanic involving yo-yos, think of the experience you wish to deliver.

What is the vibe you wish your game to convey? What is the one thing you hope players will leave the table thinking after a play of <your game>? Who is the game intended to please? Your goals may vary, and there’s definitely a bit more nuance involved, but these are some nice high level morsels to use as a launch point.

If you can answer these questions at the beginning and middle of the project, your end may result in something you actually want to play and, fingers crossed, somebody else wants to publish.

But, be willing to kill your darlings. This means cutting things your design doesn’t need, but also, replacing a mechanic with another one that arrives at the same destination, but better.

If a mechanic just works, don’t settle. Your mechanic should thrive and if a few tests don’t show great promise, scrap it for something different. Most of your ideas are going to be Cs and Bs. If and when you hit the ceiling, be ready to acknowledge that and explore new ways to fill that hole.

Push yourself and your game. Be willing to experiment, especially when your experience is a special one.

Molly’s Last Hope

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I spent a few months “in the weeds” of brainstorming, design, and thought, not emerging with much more than frustration and a pile of bad ideas. A month ago I wrote about one of those ideas, Insurrection. The idea had some merits, but I hit a wall regarding the team mechanics and the combat mechanic and shelved it.

Fast forward a few weeks. I bought several sets of assorted wooden game pieces for about $2 apiece from the Fantasy Flight holiday sale. I also read Paddy Griffith’s Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun while stuck waiting for my car to be fixed.

I really wanted to make a table top tactics game.  I  also really wanted to make something with the wooden pieces, so I sat down at my kitchen table, grabbed some index cards, some dice, and just started…playing.

If you look on the top picture, you’ll see there’s no board or grid. Like a traditional table top game, I was using simple rulers to lay stuff out and players would place 1 inch wooden pieces (roads from Catan) to measure out their movement. Ultimately a friend said it was tedious, so I shifted to a simple hex grid using Heroscape pieces.

The game that emerged was a simple, squad level tactics game involving dice. Players would roll a number of d6, which would indicate how far the player could move, whether they could shoot, or suppress the enemy. The board only contained blank spaces and cover, the latter provided a slight advantage against being shot.

Because the tactics game used dice exclusively (i.e. public information), I was able to play against myself over and over. The result is that I slowly built upon these very basic concepts and iterated in a way that made sense. I added Flanking to improve your hit chances. I added the ability to charge an enemy to oust an opponent out of cover. I added a way for drop troops to enter the battle randomly. I also was able to quickly tweak and improve the basic probability of hits and things like that, which meant I was able to bring the game to a solid state without having to waste a friend/tester’s time.

At this point I had a quick, super distilled, dice-driven tactics game. It wasn’t meaty enough to be its own game, however, and I didn’t see much point, at least in this stage, of beefing it up on its own. It seemed to defeat the point and the world doesn’t need me to create a Memoir ’44 clone. I realized I needed more game, then thought back to Insurrection. My main problems with that game were the team mechanics and the missing battle mechanic. I had an idea to combine Insurrection’s meta-game, use this battle game for its battles, and remove the team elements.

Insurrection had a few elements I really enjoyed. The map was a randomized grid of simple territory cards. But, instead of needing to memorize or read rules for the territories, I baked the functionality into the cards. For example, I can’t drop orbital troopers onto the Mountain or Forest territories. This info was just listed on the cards with a simple icon. This gave me territory gameplay without forcing players to memorize the rules of every territory like one must do in games like Memoir ’44. 

Insurrection also had a nifty mechanic regarding fleets orbiting this grid, which enhanced or restricted the cards you could play. Ultimately, the territories and orbit rules were smoothly incorporated to make card play varied and interesting.

Therefore, I fused the battle system with Insurrection. I realized I could create varied battle map layouts. When players fight over a territory, they flip the territory card to see the battle map layout. They then quickly build this on the battle board (takes less than a minute) and fight it out to resolve the combat.

Below you can see the 3×3 grid of territory cards on the left with a battle setup on the right.

To me, this presented an interesting combination of features. On one side, players have a more strategic game of quick card play. Players play cards to move their units, land new units, shift their fleets, and hinder their opponent’s efforts. Then, when a battle takes place, players quickly build a simple map and fight to resolve the actions. Every battle can have a unique and thematic layout as well as objectives based on the site. For example, assaulting a command center could and should play out differently than a quick skirmish in the forest.

Aside from my own tests against myself, I’ve only tested the game a single time so far. My friend really enjoyed the premise of the mechanics and we had fun playing a few rounds. I made some easy tweaks as a result of the test and I’m ready for a second test. My hope is to develop the game sufficiently in the next few months to enter it into The Game Crafter’s Map Builder Design Challenge in March. The requirement is that you have some form of dynamic or randomized map and this game has a few.

Beyond that, who knows? This game is more of a personal project, an itch I wanted to scratch. Whereas I wanted a publisher for Farmageddon and Empire from the start, here I mostly want to make a neat tactics game. If it leads somewhere, awesome! I also hope to enter it into the PPP once the design is stabilized and solid.

For now, I would love your input and feedback. What do you think about the concept and the ideas? You can read a full set of rules here and all are allowed to comment. The rules are still new, but I have created rough diagrams and examples for most concepts and have had 3 proofreaders.

Thoughts? Thanks for reading!

2013 Designer Community Preview!

Post by: The Design Community!

The question “what are you up to?” is often asked, but folks are busy, secretive, or just not quite ready to share. On a whim, I bugged the community a few times to send me blurbs about their 2013 projects: current hopes, great prototypes, and random inklings. The response was surprisingly large. Read or skim below to find out some of the cool things your peers are designing. 

Some quick notes! If you see text in Italics, those are my editorial notes. Click on the designer’s name for their Twitter link. Follow and join the community. Also keep in mind that I set the loosest requirements for submissions, so every designer’s “blurb” will differ. Questions? Contact me or comment below. 

Dave Chalker // Critical-Hits.com 

Dave is the designer of the incredibly popular Get Bit! Look for one, perhaps both of these games via DriveThruCards.com this year. Dave hopes to find a publisher for these games to attain wider release.

Criminals is a psychological game in the style of Mafia/Werewolf and The Resistance. Everyone is secretly guilty of a different crime, so players try to determine who committed which crime, while also disguising their own. Players can win individually or as a group depending on their ability to find criminals. Criminals supports a wide range of players, anywhere from 3 to 9, with no need for a moderator, and is quick-playing.

Inside Joke is a party game where players try to get one specific other person to guess a hidden word before anyone else does, while everyone is shouting answers. Inside Joke works for groups who know each other by making obscure references, or for groups who want to know each other better by having a conversation about what kind of references they would have in common.

Corey Young

I’ll be pitching Fiarrr! to publishers in the mainstream market. It’s a pirate-themed, 2-player board game for ages 8 and up. Players take turns blasting each others’ ships as they gradually pass each other in the classic broadsides tradition. I’d love to see Gamewright pick it up as the next entry in the Loot and Scallywags dynasty.

Santorini will be my first tile game, as well as my first “artisan” game. Inspired by the beautiful architecture and scenery of the Greek island region, the game will feature a nearly vertical playing board representing a growing tourist city. Players will play hexagonal tiles on the inclined playing board, building up from the waters’ edge to the windmills at the peaks of the caldera. Players compete to locate their hotels such that they have the most beautiful view of the blue domes and fountains below. I’m focusing on the game mechanisms, but the art is going to be key to this game’s success.

One Way Out (or 1WO) is getting a complete overhaul, so I don’t think I’ll have it ready to pitch in time for convention season. Primarily a racing and blocking game, the theme is time/space jumping, with each level being a different location and genre. The hooks for this game are its novel real-time level creation mechanism and its variety of themes. The core game will come with 3 level/worlds which can be played in any order. New worlds (expansions) will be sold as simple decks of cards.

Jay Treat

Completed Projects Seeking Publication

Intrigue - A trick-taking card game for 3-4 scheming spymasters. Deploy agents from different factions such as the Templars or the Shadowmen. Success will require working with your opponents, because every player shares one agenda in common with another. Can you manipulate enemy agents into advancing your own cause? The plot thickens when players plan secret schemes that can mess with the even the best-laid plans.

Assault on Khyber Station - A tense co-op for 1-4 players escaping from aliens on a failing space station. Your sleepy outpost among the stars has just been torn apart in a surprise attack. With blast doors slamming shut all around you and ravenous aliens teeming after you, can your team coordinate their unique skills to navigate the wreckage and find the escape teleporter in time to warn Earth?

Read more about Assault on Khyber Station here

Projects in Development

The Last Planet - A quick, tile-laying war game inspired by StarCraft. Three races vie for dominance on the last inhabitable planet in their war-torn galaxy. Establish your presence, claim valuable resources, and build your war machine before the others can wipe you out. The Last Planet features innovative tile placement for intuitive and quick play.

On the Horizon

Black Hills - A shared deck building game for aspiring chieftains of a demon-plagued village. The passing of your father, the chief of the village, has left you all vulnerable to the demons at the gates. Work together to save the village from disaster and hope that none of your siblings take the dark path when they realize only the most successful among you will win your father’s headdress.

Hollywood Disaster: Who can turn this mess of a film into something successful? Players compete to improve a random bad movie by re-writing, re-casting, re-shooting and editing the scenes to create more matching plot and theme symbols.

Brett Myers

“There are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.”

-Napoleon Bonaparte

One of the games I’m most excited about for 2013 is a compact tactical battle game I’m calling Sword & Spirit: Little Corporals. As you might guess from the quote, Sword & Spirit: Little Corporals is set in the Napoleonic Era. It tackles warfare in this period using a novel combat system that captures the positional tactics and volleying of the era, while encouraging dramatic action and swings of fortune. My goal in the physical design of Sword & Spirit is a compact size: it packs the punch of similar blocks-on-a-board tactical games in half the table space, and folds into a box about 8 inches square.

AJ Porfirio // Van Ryder Games

Note the images are placeholder art. 

Hostage Negotiator is a solo game where YOU take on the role of the Hostage Negotiator conversing with some unscrupulous terrorist or hostage taker hell bent on having his demands met. Your goal is, of course, to negotiate the release of the hostages and buy time for your crisis commander to hatch a plan to kill or capture the terrorist.

Game play features a mechanic I call Hand-Building (think deck building without the deck). The game encompasses the conversations that you have with the Terrorist. Conversation Cards are played to influence the Terrorist. The player faces difficult choices such as what cards to take and which to play and when. There is dice rolling to resolve cards, so there is some luck involved as well, but proper card choice and tactical reaction will separate the rookie negotiators from the veteran ones!

Players may take multiple paths to victory: do you concentrate on lowering the Threat level of the terrorist, which convinces him to release hostages and ultimately surrender, or do you concentrate on buying more powerful Conversation Cards to save hostages and eliminate the Terrorist? Or do you try a combination of both?

Hostage Negotiator plays quickly, in 15-30 minutes, and is one of those games you want to play again as soon as it is over.

Check out the Rules here. If you’re interested in playtesting the beta, email AJ at sales@vanrydergames.com.

Chevee Dodd // CheveeDodd.com

I’m working on two projects that I expect to have completed early in 2013.  I plan on seeking publication for both games, but one will be made available on The Game Crafter while I seek out publishers.

Leathernecks ’43 is a simple dice game for 2-6 players.  It started as a game I designed for my daughters, Princess Dice.  There is significant difficulty in finding publishers for a girl-themed dice game, so I am in the process of re-theming it for a more gamer-centric audience.  The game is the first of a series I am preliminary calling Assault Dice. The system revolves around seven total dice of 4 unique designs.  Three of the designs represent members of the players’ squad: the Officer, Sergeant, and Radio Operator.  Rolling these symbols may allow you to advance those units, but suppressing fire from the enemy may hold you back.  The player may collect and use Smoke Grenades, however, to move through the fire.  Once one player’s unit reaches the bunker, the game ends and the player with the most Advancement Points wins the game.  There are no mechanics changes from Princess Dice to this game and you can read about the development at my website.

This game will be available on The Game Crafter in early January.

Hedeby is a card driven dice game (isn’t it usually the other way around?) where the players roll dice to gain goods, and use those goods to purchase workers from an available market.  Once workers have been secured by the player, they may use them to build buildings which give them benefits as well as victory points.  It is based on the Viking city of Hedeby that formed around 800BC after a nearby Slavic trading center was sacked.  The city formed up very quickly as the craftsman and traders moved in. I will be seeking publication for this game as well and doubt that I will make it available on The Game Crafter due to costs.  I have made the game available as a Print and Play at my website for anyone that wants to test it.

I have a lot of playtesting to get through before the game is ready to show to publishers because the unique buildings need to be balanced and re-balanced.  To help with my playtesting needs, I also developed a VASSAL module for online play.  It’s available at my website as well!

Jason Tagmire // Champion Land

Maximum Throwdown is a light, 2-6 player card-throwing battle game. Each player has a deck of cards in their specific color / faction that they will throw onto the table one after another. Cards feature icons that will provide the player with points or special abilities, but only if an opponent doesn’t cover the icons with their cards. The dexterity is key, as cards must be touching each other when thrown, but you don’t want to cover your own cards.

The game is in its very early stages. I originally created it as part of an internal creative game jam at Island Officials (the video game development company that is making Pixel Lincoln, the video game, and now branching out into the awesome world of tabletop games), and I’ve been tinkering with it ever since. After a few intense discussions, Alex Strang came on board to help take it to the next level. That’s about where we are now.

My goal for Maximum Throwdown is to debut it at Unpub, get feedback, tighten, test, and tighten some more. As for publishing, it could be a fairly inexpensive game to produce, but let’s see what people think first!

John DuBois

I’ve got two games I’m hoping to complete significant work on in 2013:

Bread and Circuses: A 4-10 player bluffing/negotiation game in which the players act as Roman nobles trying to manipulate events and their fellow nobles to achieve their secret objectives and make the greatest profit from a revolting peasant population.

In 2013, I’m hoping to finish a TGC prototype in January for the PPP, pitch to publishers in the first half of the year (Protospiel at the latest), and investigate self-publishing if there isn’t other interest.

Microbrew is a 2-5 player light economic game in which the players are investors in a craft brewery, supplying ingredients to brew the recipes that give them the greatest return on investment. This game’s a little rougher at this point, and my goal for 2013 is to do further playtesting and determine whether or not the game is viable in the first quarter of 2013. If it’s viable, I’m hoping to pitch to publishers at GenCon.

And of course, I’m sure to have some crazy ideas during the year to chase.

Charles Beauvais

Charles intends to pitch these to publishers in 2013.

Standing In Line: 15-minute betting game, designed to be played while standing in line. This game is also a member of the PPP. Click here for more detailed information.

Chroma Cubes: A strategy dice game in which players color in puzzles with crayons.  Players race to complete figures in their puzzle before their opponents.

How does it work? Each turn has three steps, which all players do simultaneously.

  1. Roll: Players roll all their dice on the first turn. On subsequent turns, only roll the dice you’ve used.
  2. Color: Use sets of dice to complete sections of the puzzle.
  3. Score: When you complete an entire figure, you get the highest remaining score. Players who finish later score fewer points.

Click here for more information.

Mission Control: A map-building game with a space exploration theme. Click here for a walkthrough of the game.

Christopher Chung // Flash Forward Games

The main title I’m working on is called Bucket List.

  • 2-4 players
  • Ages 12+
  • About 45-130 minutes
  • Resource Management game.

The synopsis of it is that your Doctor has given you one calendar year to live because of your terminal disease, so you go want to go out with a bang and complete as many tasks on your Bucket List as possible. Each task, ranging from visiting the Mona Lisa in Paris or Base jumping in Machu Pichu carries its own Legacy, Thrill, and Fatality Levels, so you must allocate your Money, Sanity, and Vitality to as many tasks as possible before your time is up. You have control over what you put into your “IV Bag,” but what comes out of it is entirely random. Score the most Victory Points by the end of the year through completing Plans or scoring Counters at the end of each month and you win.

I’m working on balancing the prototype right now, and deciding if I want to introduce a cap on turns; rather than endless play, give each player 12 turns (one for each month) and see what they can do with them. I hope to playtest this at game designer meet ups, create some sell sheets, and then see where it takes me.

Daniel Baneson // Fishagon

Solar is a fast-paced deck building/dice fighting card game developed by Fishagon.

The game comes with 24 cards each being of a different “class” such as Knight, Pyromancer, Assassin, etc. It’s a 2 player game where players decide who picks first and then enter a draft with each player choosing 1 card each “turn” until both players have a 12 card deck. Then they will proceed to drawing 3 cards a turn using 1 and putting 2 back at the bottom of their decks. Players then proceed to battle with a series of offensive and defensive stages using 2 die and the class skills for combat. The victor of 5 battles will win the game!

The artwork shown is concept art by our newly hired artist “Kaorien” for the Pyromancer class. The game is scheduled for release around March 2013 after a hopefully successful Kickstarter campaign!

Chris and Suzanne Zinsli // Cardboard Edison

Cardboard Edison has one of my favorite feeds on Twitter. He collects interesting advice from board game designers and publishers and shares it. Follow them!

Skewphemisms

  • 4+ players
  • 30-45 minutes

The first game from Cardboard Edison, Skewphemisms is a party game built on alliteration. Guess the everyday expression suggested by a series of alliterative clues.

We’re debuting Skewphemisms at Cartrunk Entertainment’s Unpub 3 event in Delaware in January. Because it’s a mass-market game with lots of opportunities for expansion, our goal for 2013 is to find a publisher with wide distribution to get the game into as many word-lovers’ hands as possible!

Tessen

  • 2 players
  • 30 minutes

A real-time card game from Cardboard Edison, Tessen pits two players against each other in ancient Japan. To win, players will have to move fast and think even faster. Tessen uses set collection and hand management mechanics. The game rewards players who can keep track of their opponent’s movements as well as their own on the fly.

Tessen also will be at Unpub in January. In 2013, we plan to settle on a publishing plan for the game. We might self-publish, seek out a young publisher who specializes in quick, light games, or offer it through a print-on-demand service.

Jeremiah Lee

Zombie House Blitz from Stupid Awesome Games. Zombie House Blitz is a 2-6 player speed card game. Players race to get their family out of the house and safely into an escape car before the cars are full. Will be on Kickstarter in March.

Zombie in Your Pocket from Valley Games. Zombie in Your Pocket is a 1-4 player cooperative game of survival. Players are survivors trapped in zombie infested houses, malls, and game conventions. Find your friends, kill the zombies, and don’t let the bats poop in your eyes. This is a new cooperative game based on the popular Zombie in my Pocket print and play solo game.

Patrick Nickell // Crash Games

When I found out Patrick signed Tory Niemann’s new game, I immediately began bugging him for information. If Pay Dirt is as good as Alien Frontiers, this could be Crash’s break out hit.

Pay Dirt

  • 2-4 Players
  • 75-90 Minutes (Probably 2 hours on 1st play)
  • Worker Placement, Auction/Bidding
  • Industrial/Environment Theme

The inspiration for Pay Dirt came to Tory because he is a fan of the show Gold Rush and thought it would make a pretty cool board game. Tory just won a Golden Geek Award for Alien Frontiers:Factions and this would be his second published game and the follow up to the smash hit Alien Frontiers.

In Pay Dirt, a gold excavation game set in Alaska, players must manage and grow their entire mining outfit, from workers and personnel to equipment and gear. The Alaskan Yukon is an inhospitable environment, so players will face hardships that affect their entire outfit – not to mention the ever-dropping temperature that will eventually shut down their operation. The player with the most gold at the end of the game is the winner but this will be especially challenging since players have to sell gold in order to upgrade their equipment, gear and personnel.

On a personal note I have great hopes for Pay Dirt and I really feel that it will be my marque publication if it is successful on Kickstarter. I really love playing the game and I feel that it provides a unique and different approach to worker placement games. I feel the game plays very thematically and I have high hopes for the art.

I am planning on having the art completely done before the project launches on Kickstarter in September and I will be showing it off at UnPub3, Origins, GenCon and then launching it on Kickstarter in September.

Daniel Solis // Smart Play Games

Belle of the Ball: After a year of intense development, I’m ready to call Belle of the Ball a fully baked game. It’s the kind of game that apparently gets people to laugh out loud in bars and do impromptu interpretive dance. My plan is to put the current prototype up on a POD online store, build buzz, and pitch to publishers. Whether I DIY it or license to a publisher, I expect Kickstarter to be involved somehow, too. My hope is to have Belle of the Ball be my first published box title by the end of 2013. Ambitious, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

Diverse Testing! A few months ago, I noticed I had something like forty playtesters, but only five women. So, I actively put out a call for more women testers. It’s been a blast getting their feedback in the development and this is something I hope to continue in the new year. I’m going to highly recommend to all new game designers that they improve the gender balance of playtest pool.

My Measure of Success for 2013: I want the number of person-hours playing one of my games to exceed the number of person-hours I spent designing it.

Paul Imboden & Randy Field // Split Second Games

As designers, we’re in initial playtests for a trick-taking, everyone-for-themselves card game with changing contracts — possibly with a gangster theme, but virtually any theme would work, including none.

We’re rebooting Minimum Wage Gorilla, a blind-bid area-control game set in a zoo.  9 turns total, averaging 60-90 min with 4 players.  We’re excited about this one, and we hope it’s back into playtest mode.

And if we can find a way to not be utterly derivative, I’d love to take a crack at a modern-day ghost-hunting cooperative game.

As publishers, we’re also looking to import and/or seek out a few card games next year, as well as at least one dexterity game.  The Merchant of Venus fiasco has put us in “measure three times, measure once more” mode in terms of ownership, however, so expect us to call our shots VERY carefully.  This might mean pushing back to 2014… but rather that than the dual-ownership headache.

Also, this will not be the year we stop using Kickstarter.  We hope to rely on it less and less as Split Second Games becomes a known commodity, but we’re just not there yet.  Expect some offering(s) from us in 2013.

Marc Specter // GrandCon

Marc isn’t a designer, but he’s deeply connected to the community and is putting on a convention, GrandCon. He asked if he could share this info and I heartily agreed.

GrandCon features tabletop gaming in all its forms, as well as comic books and the creators behind them. We provide an atmosphere that will allow gamers and comic book fans to mingle and appreciate their shared interests.

Come to play or chat your heart out with fellow enthusiasts in a community that understands your passions.  Get lost in the adventure of your favorite role-playing game.  Admire costumes and art from vendors and attendees. Meet the creators behind your favorite mainstream and independent games and comic books. Check out unpublished games and sneak a peek at things to come.

Feel free to check out our Facebook page and website.

Michael Coe // Gamelyn Games

I’m currently working on 3 game designs to watch for.

1st being Lords, Ladies & Lizards. It’s a one-of-a-kind role playing adventure set in a medieval fantasy world threatened by an all powerful Dragon! Up to six Players get a chance to create and develop Characters through a complex journey that involves strategy, economics, politics and war! Players are able to play as either a Lord, a Lady or a Lizard, each with unique properties and leveling bonuses. Over the span of many game years, players will face personal struggles with jealousy and greed, deceit and rage! They will travel across three continents by land, by sea and by air, clearing the way of treacherous monsters. But there will only be one winner and that is the one who defeats the Dragon! Do YOU have what it takes to defeat the Dragon!?

2nd being Icefall. Players take on the role of ice climbers risking it all on the world’s most dangerous icefall! With a modular game board players will be adding to the top of the board as they climb and must stay away from the bottom of the board as it is removed periodically.

Every round players face the challenges of ice climbing by revealing tiles they are approaching. These tiles will present varying degrees of ice thickness, how slippery the surfaces are, the moraine gradings, crevasses, boulders and more! Each tile requires a different response from the player. Do you dig in and keep climbing? Do you swing to another location (tile)? Or, do you bust out the ice screw and hook in? Either way, you better decide fast, because every time the sand-glass runs out the lowest portion of the mountain crumbles into an avalanche. The players’ positioning on the board (mountain) will determine if they become part of the avalanche or live to make another tough decision.

The goal of the game is to reach the summit, where a rescue helicopter is waiting. The game incorporates press your luck elements with time control and quick decision making. Co-op games involve a steeper challenge requiring extensive team work including rope systems, leading and belaying.

Lastly, King’s Town. A 2-4 Player Civ Building Card Game. More about this one coming soon.

Matthew O’Mally // Black Oak Games

Knot Dice and Crossing Swords will be presented at UnPub 3, and I am discussing both games with publishers and considering self-publishing as well.

Knot Dice – Knot Dice is a box full of games, puzzles, and art. The dice themselves are custom Celtic knot pieces that can be put together like tile-laying games or into more traditional knot designs.

There are 40 dice in the box along with a two-sided game board and a scoring board. The game rules included are:

  • Kells – a cooperative game for 2-6 players, in which you try to form a closed design using as many dice as possible
  • Celtic Cross – a competitive game for 2 players, which feels somewhat similar to Scrabble
  • Speed Knots – a competitive game for 2-4 players, in which you try to form a closed design with your dice as quickly as possible
  • Hill Fort – a competitive game for 2-4 players, in which you try to form closed designs on a verticals space
  • Gordian Knot – a competitive game for 2 players, in which you try to form closed designs that wrap around all of the sides of the dice in a 3-dimensional space
  • Osbox – a competitive game for 2 or 4 players, which feels somewhat similar to Tetris, designed by Cameron Browne (used with permission)

I’ve come up with some other game ideas that won’t go into the game box, but will be posted on the web along with player-contributed games that I hope players will come up with once they have the dice in their hands.

Finally, there are a number of puzzles to be worked, solo or with 2-4 players, and plenty of designs to create and enjoy using one or more sets of the dice.

Crossing Swords – This is a sword-fighting card game in the fencing era (think musketeers, pirates, all those great sword-fighting movies). The idea was to come up with something that approximated the feel of a film sword fight, including both speed and strategy. I’m still working on some of the gameplay, so I hope to do a lot of playtesting at UnPub.

Unnamed – Lastly, I’m starting work on a worker-placement game. This is the kind of game I actually spend the most time playing, but it’s taken me a while to come up with something that I feel is good enough to pursue. I’ll post more on my blog as the game develops.

Grant Rodiek // Hyperbole Games

Ready to Go?

Empire: This is my big hope for 2013 and has been submitted to a publisher. Pending their input, it’ll hopefully be developed and published, or I’ll revise it for the Con season and new pitches. Empire is a medium heft area control Euro/war game for 2-4 players in about an hour. The game features four unique factions and entirely card driven gameplay for a low-luck game of strategy. The cards are simple and provide one key piece of decision tension: Do you play the card for Reinforcements, or combine it with others for a powerful Tactic? Read more, check the rules, or get the PNP here.

Livestocked and Loaded: This is the expansion to Farmageddon and will be published by 5th Street Games. The game adds Animals, Weather, and new Action cards to the mix. The game still needs testing time for polish and balance. The game will be put into circulation in the PPP soon and should be out sometime in 2013.

In Development

Insurrection: I’m on my fourth significant design revision for this game. It is now a 2 player tactics game broken into two distinct layers. Firstly, you have the high level game, where players play powerful cards to position their fleets and put Units in place. Actions take place on a 3×3 grid of cards with “orbiting” fleets on the outskirts. The key is positioning to strike when it is most advantageous.

Then, when a battle takes place, players bust out the dice and meeples and quickly battle through a simple skirmish game that incorporates cover, suppression, and flanking tactics. You can read about some of the earlier ideas for this here. My hope is to enter Insurrection into the TGC Map Builder Design Challenge. We’ll see where it goes afterwards.

Extra! Extra!: This is a silly game where I’m trying to take some of the laughter of a party game and mix it with some light strategy. 3-5 players are newspaper reporters trying to gather and write the best stories for the deadline. Players will build stories out of Who, What, and Why cards. The key is playing the cards to the right story at the right time. This game is set to test early next year.

Poor Abby Farnsworth: This witchy game might make a return. Maybe. As something completely new.

Have a great and fortuitous 2013 guys and gals!

Outing Innie

Post by: Grant Rodiek

It’s been some time since I’ve said or written anything substantive about any of my new projects. One has more or less taken the slot of lead design, primarily as I have more ideas for it and was able to answer sufficient questions to push it forward.

I haven’t quite made it to the prototyping stage yet, but I’m about 90% finished with my first draft of the rules. I’ve discussed much of this with a friend, Chevee Dodd, via instant messenger, but I’d like to broaden the audience and gather early feedback. Many of the elements in the current design have gone through several iterative passes already, more than is typical for an early game of mine, so I’m hoping that pays off with some early success in the prototype phase.

My hope is to finish the rules tonight or tomorrow, develop the card content, then build the prototype. From there, test test test. For this post, I’m going to highlight a few of the game’s neat elements, followed by my thought process, concerns, and anything else that’s relevant.

What is Innie? This is the current abbreviated name I’m using for the game. It’s thematically about an insurrection against an interstellar empire. The game will combine drafting and tactics for 2 or 4 players in hopefully about 45 minutes. Note that those 2 or 4 players will be divided into two teams. I really love the team oriented play of Academy’s Birth of America series and I wanted to take a stab at it.

Drafting is really the overarching thought for the game. I was really inspired by some elements of Seasons, which did some neat stuff with drafting, but also buried it under many disparate elements. I want to use drafting, which I find to be a very simple and elegant mechanic in new ways and do so throughout the game. You will draft, and you will draft all the time. To be clear, I don’t think I’m innovating with the mechanic itself, but how it’s used. Hopefully.

One of the best things about drafting is that it keeps turns relatively simple and quick. You select a single card and do what it says. A big takeaway from Empire is that multi-step turns are both overly complicated and take too long. People get impatient and lose interest waiting for their turns. Drafting lets me keep the pacing brisk. Ideally.

And now, onto some of the features…

Territory…on the ground and from space

Developing a map for Empire was a PAIN. I really didn’t want to do that again (call me lazy), but I wanted terrain and spatial relationships. It’s difficult to do a tactical game otherwise. Another feature I left out of Empire that I wanted to incorporate was terrain type. How to make these things work?

A few things led me to my current design. Firstly, how can I incorporate territories into drafting? Can I draft a territory? Secondly, what if I just had a randomized set of spaces. Could the territories literally be cards?

I went to Google Drawing and created this grid that you see:

A simple 4×4 grid of what I envision to ultimately be punch board cards like in Forbidden Island. I gave each a simple symbol, many shared. This is its terrain type. I’ll go into this more later. I had to answer the question of how this would work for the FLEET player and how it would work for the GROUND player. Each team has one of each.

Ultimately, this is what I decided upon. A player on the ground must use orthogonally  adjacent spaces.

The fleet player is in orbit. He should have greater range and accessibility to territories, but nothing unlimited. For them, I went with this:

You’ll see here the blue fleet on the right is “adjacent” to all of the blue squares. The red fleet on the bottom is adjacent to the red squares. Both are adjacent to the purple squares. Essentially, fleets can access the 4 territories near their current side (fleets can only move to one of the four sides) and the 2 center cards facing them.

In summary, in every game you will have 16 territory cards that are arranged at random in a 4×4 grid. Players can access spaces differently based on their role. Territories have a property that will be used in the game. And, the territories can be drafted.

Drafting Territories

The game will be broken into rounds (approx. 4?) in which teams will draft 8 cards. I say teams, because the draft will take place as both teams will conduct and intra-team draft from a set of 8 cards. This was an idea that emerged as a way to make team play interesting, yet also a subtle part of the strategy. Can you intuit your teammate’s actions without speaking aloud? Can you watch what they draft and work together? I’m hoping to capture a little of the classic card game vibe that my grandparents would have enjoyed. It’s a solution to table talk without being heavy handed.

Cards will be drafted for their Actions and played: I draft, opponent 1 drafts, my teammate drafts, opponent 2 drafts, my turn again. These cards will be played to territories. At the start of a player’s turn, they select a territory on which to play their card. By selecting it, you prevent anyone else from selecting it, at least until you move your piece (which you must do on your turn). When a territory is drafted, you place its card (not the one from the map, but a separate card) onto a timeline. Your action is then played to this territory.

When all the cards are drafted, the phase ends and the actions will all be resolved, one at a time, in the order that they were played. I’m calling this the Action timeline.

In the (awful) diagram above, you can see that things are resolved from left to right. In the center with the orange arrow, multiple cards are played to a single territory. These are resolved from bottom to top (first in), then you go from left to right again with the blue arrow.

I think this will be neat and play out briskly. Players will play cards based on their desires, their positioning (remember the adjacency from above), but also in reaction to an opponent’s play. Players can also draft territories to use and block opponents, i.e. if I have it currently you can’t have it.

There are two variances that may or may not make it. One is that you can play a card face down, i.e. stealthily. To do this, you must discard an additional card from your hand. Essentially, you’re giving up an action to do one secretly. The other choice is that you can remove a card and play it face down. These cards will be used to bolster your chance to win a battle. Again, giving up an action to make one more effective.

Everyone will draft one at a time, then cards will quickly resolve. I hope this leads to a fast-paced, yet compelling team environment.

Card Mechanics

I have been working to bake a lot of potency and power into the cards WITHOUT a lot of complexity and fiddly content. I’m trying to build off the simple dual use of Empire in a way that works for this game. The cards in Innie will have a few properties.

Firstly, they’ll work with the territories. Instead of designing rules for the territories, things you needed to learn or re-reference, I’m going to bake it into the Action card content. Cards will have things like:

  • Required Territory: Card MUST be played to the specified territory.
  • Restricted Territory: Card CANNOT be played to the specified territory.
  • Bonus Territory: Card is more effective if played to the specified territory.

To use these cards, it’ll literally be a case of matching symbols. You don’t need to know what the comm center is, just that you need to play it to there. This gives me a way by which to balance and diversify the cards, give territories different properties, and make the territory richer thematically WITHOUT greatly complicating things.

Cards will also have a simple number in the top left corner. I’m calling this the Action Number. Currently it is used for a variety of simple things, like effectiveness of the card, Movement, improving your chances in battle, and hopefully more. If you don’t want to use the card’s Action, you can instead play it for its number. This is how I can (hopefully) make every card interesting while still giving them flexibility in their use. I want to avoid that “This card is only useful in this circumstance” scenario.

Finally, in case you haven’t gathered, cards will have Actions. Here’s a quick mock of a card. Ignore the content, focus instead on what I’m trying to do with layout and these variables I’ve discussed:

Strateg…er… Bluffing into a Fight

I really like Stratego. It’s ridiculously simple and fun. I wanted to continue what I started with Empire with my simple, one of a kind units. I also wanted a way to have an element of “fog of war” and hidden information as you maneuver on the battlefield and in space.

Therefore, the ground players for each team will have a limited set of two types of chips: Unit and Decoy. The Units will be worth 1 Unit apiece. The decoys will be worth 0. Chips will be played in a stack face down, so your opponent will know how many Units you might have, but not a precise number. My current thinking is that you’ll have limited quanties of each (15 Units/5 Decoys?). However, whereas decoys removed can be used again, Units are one time use. Once destroyed, they’re out of the game. Use your chips wisely.

Still to Solve

I have a few questions I need to resolve. I feel like I have an understanding for how ground combat will work. I need to figure out how the fleets factor into the game. Currently I have a lot of content envisioned for the fleets in a support role. Drop troops from orbit, move troops around, shell the enemy positions, send in bomber waves. But, how do the fleets engage each other? And, how can the fleet have an equal role with the ground units, not just a servant in the sky?

I have some hunches for the victory conditions, but I really need to nail this down. Otherwise, why are we fighting?

Those aren’t the only unknowns, of course, nor have I revealed everything, but I’m nearing 2000 words, which is about 1000 too many! Did anything seem interesting? Are there some holes you’d like me to address? Did anything seem boring? Have I blatantly ripped off a game of which I’m unaware? Fill me in with the comments below!

Paper Route: Developing in Real Time

Chevee recently released his game Paper Route on The Game Crafter and as a free print-and-play download. I checked out the rules several times and, though I haven’t had a chance to download the PNP yet, the game looks excellent and my Twitter feed is abuzz with people saying “Paper Route is fun!” 

Post by: Chevee Dodd

It all started when Cyrus Kirby (@thefathergeek) challenged me on Twitter.

I happened to love Paper Boy also, so I was really intrigued by the challenge.  I had some initial thoughts and ideas, none of which were real-time or action based.  My first concept was a “scrolling” game where the board unfolds as you move down the street, but the more I worked on that idea, the more I realized the game would be long and drab.  What I wanted was to capture the frantic action of the arcade game and translate that, somehow, into a board game.

I had never attempted to design a real-time game.  An even bigger challenge was that I had not played any real-time games either!  Because of my lack of understanding, I quickly dreamed up a system that I thought was going to be great!  There would be Houses and Obstacles.  These cards would have pictures of arcade controller buttons on them.  Each player would have a deck made up of button cards.  The players would simultaneously flip one card from the top of the House and Obstacle deck and then pick up their own decks and begin searching for the buttons printed on the House and Obstacle.  Once a player had found all the buttons, they would flip them over on the table.  The person to flip first would then score points assuming they didn’t mess up.  If they didn’t pull the correct set of buttons, they would lose a life.  This continued for 10 (or so) rounds and the person with the most points wins.  If you lost all three lives, game over for you.

Well, that’s a working game.  Done, right!?  No.  Not at all.  Just because the game “works” doesn’t mean it’s worth playing.  This game had exactly zero decisions which meant that the fastest player always won.  Remember me talking about never playing this type of game?  It showed here. BAD.  I had assumed that these types of games were entirely dexterity based.  So, the game worked.  There was no strategy, so there was nothing to break.  Nothing to tweak.  When that happens, there is no game.

At this point, I was personally out of ideas.  This is a direct limitation of me not being familiar with the type of game I am designing.  Some designers say that they don’t play other peoples games because they don’t want to inadvertently “borrow” ideas.  I don’t have that reservation.  I believe I can separate myself through game-play even though my mechanics may be familiar.  Does this mean I run out and buy up a bunch of games that are similar to what I am working on?  NO.  What it does mean is that I spent some time researching rule sets on the Internet, trying to see what makes them work.  I looked at games like Brawl and Falling from James Ernest, Icehouse, and Jab: Real Time Boxing, and even the classic card game Speed.  I found what I was missing: play options that required decisions.

There has to be decisions in a game.  If there’s not, we are just participating in an activity.  While that is fine, if that’s your sort of thing, it is not exactly interesting for a card game.  There needs to be multiple paths for each card played.  Should I play this to advance myself, or hinder my opponent?  Should I play this as a bluff or do I need it to better my position?  Can I take a hit, should I take a hit?  Will it help?  These are the decisions that turn an activity into a game.

The challenge for me was inserting these decisions into a game that had none, without ruining the frantic, arcade feeling.  Mashing buttons on an arcade stick is mostly mindless.  You are making split second decisions and using muscle memory to drive the action of the game.  You are processing things at high speed and that causes mistakes when something unexpected comes up.  Without decisions in my game, it was very improbable that you would make mistakes.  I had wrongfully assumed that speed was enough, because in a video game, it is.  When you are facing off against a human opponent, however, there needs to be a feedback loop.  Without graphics and on-screen action to clue you in on what’s going on, you have no way of determining if you are “winning” or not.  You need to be able to see what is happening on the table in order to react to it.  I needed to translate the visual feedback of arcade games onto the table.

Enter some awesome playtesters.

I have some really great playtesters that are very talented players and designers.  One tester had a really great idea: have multiple houses out at once and let the player decide which to go for.  This was exactly what I was looking for.  If I set out a line of houses, players have to complete multiple tasks simultaneously which brings some decisions into the game.  Because you can see what your opponent is working towards, you can decide where you want to play your cards.   Now you had to pay visual attention to your opponent’s plays as well as use pattern recognition and building skills to complete your own goals.

As soon as I switched to this system, I found the arcade action I was looking for.  Instead of searching the deck for some cards, you flip them over one at a time.  You have to stop at every card and make a decision where to play it or to discard it.  No take-backs.  Now you have five potential goals to choose from.  You can try to go for the ones with the highest points, or target only the houses your opponent is ignoring.  You can try to out-race your opponent on the houses they are playing on, completely invalidating the cards they have played there if you take it.  It’s fast, it’s furious, and you are prone to making mistakes.

A few rounds of playtesting proved to me that this was the way to go.  It actually did feel a bit like a frantic arcade game but also had great head-to-head appeal.  It still needed something a little extra.  Even with the five houses out, the faster player was heavily rewarded.  Now, this IS a dexterity game.  The faster player SHOULD win most often BUT, there needs to be hope for the slower guy.  With the system as it stood, you could steal a house from your opponent without completing it to mess with them.  This caused you to lose a life, but it could be strategically viable if you are behind.  While this was an interesting decision to make in-game, there needed to be another way.

This is where another tester influenced the game.  In fact, this player hadn’t even played the game yet, but came up with an awesome idea just from reading the rules!  An idea so perfect, that I added it directly into the game:  vandalism.  Just like the arcade game, you can vandalize houses.  Each player’s deck has four newspaper cards that are typically used to score obstacles.  Hit the dog with a paper, score 25 points… that sort of thing.  What if you could use these papers to vandalize a house, preventing EITHER player from scoring it?  Doing this removes the newspaper card from your deck permanently, but it is a great mechanic that provides you with another option to control the score without being too cumbersome.  That’s the whole point really.  The player should be making decisions, but these decisions should not be weighing the game down.  This is supposed to be an analog for arcade games, after all, and taking your time in an arcade game is the best way to lose!

After testing these two changes a few times… okay, MANY times… it was clear to me that this was the game I was going for.  I still had some minor tweaks to do to scoring and the button combinations printed on the cards, but that’s just balancing stuff.  That comes after the system is solid.  Going through this process really taught me a lot about not only real-time games, but myself as a designer.  I took on a project I was completely unfamiliar with that required me to think about game design from a whole new perspective… almost like designing a video game.  Giving the players decisions without allowing them time to think about those decisions was completely unfamiliar to me as a board game designer.  It was a real challenge that presented new problems I had not considered.  Typically, when I hit speed bumps like this, I collapse and give up.  I pushed through this time, and I think it turned out really great!  I hope I can keep up that momentum in future almost-failed designs!

Field Marshals Checkup #2

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I decided a short time ago to focus my development efforts entirely on Field Marshals in order to make it as excellent as possible. The end goal, at least for now, is to make it pitch ready for the GenCon board game convention, at which time I intend to show it to some hopefully interested publishers.

The game continues to make progress, but this past Sunday (6/3/2012) the game was really put through the grinder. I tested it in a 4 player setup with 2 veteran print and digital designers, both of whom are incredibly competitive and obsessed with winning (i.e. not how I play games). I also tested it with my friend Cole Medieros (designer of GUBS) who is also a fantastic designer, but way more laid back. This concoction of design experience and personality really helped me see some of the flaws in the tested version of Field Marshals.

Here are the problems I felt I needed to solve:

  • Despite having 3 Action choices (March, Attack, Diplomacy), and varied turn order, players almost always chose the same action in the same scenario. Basically, I built up two cumbersome mechanics (Action Choice + Variable Turn Order) that led to a very static player result.
  • A few supplemental features (Coal, Fortresses, Orders, Seaports) had grown out of a legitimate need, but been integrated poorly. As a result, tiny rules were being missed and the pacing suffered.
  • The component set grew a bit out of proportion with my intent. Keeping costs in mind is important for designers.
  • The cards, despite being everyone’s favorite part of the game (and the game’s innovation) weren’t as strong or widely used as I liked.
  • Players too quickly reached their Unit cap of 10 on the board. At that point, the game lost some of its excitement as a choice was effectively removed.

I spent several days thinking about these problems and the specific feedback. After a few days of drawing maps, researching the Peninsular War, and brainstorming during long meetings at work, I arrived at a philosophical solution that guided all of my efforts.

The cards and tactics are the best part of Field Marshals. They are elegant, interesting, and unique. The cards must be the focus.

Using this as my guideline, I began converting these supplemental features into Tactics and components of each player’s deck. For example, the Diplomacy turn action was a bit too powerful. I neutered it, but then it lost its potency and value. My solution, was to convert it into a Tactic. I added the Diplomat card and a few very powerful Diplomacy actions. Instead of an action that is always available, it is contingent upon having a set of cards. Therefore, it’s okay to make it more powerful. This also makes it more fun!

Similarly, building a Fortress is now a Tactic that’s based upon the Fortress card. This should make them less obvious and more of a choice.

All told, the set of 6 card types expanded to 8, with the player deck growing from 25 to 30 cards.

  • Infantry
  • Cavalry
  • Artillery
  • Imperial Guard (wild card)
  • General
  • Fog of War
  • Diplomat
  • Fortress

To make the additional cards more interesting, I expanded the number of Tactics from 5 to 8. I made it so that a few tactics could use any card for the third card in the set. This prevents cards like the Diplomat, Fortress, and Fog of War from being dead weight.  I also now allow players to play all 5 cards if they want to more quickly cycle through their decks.

Another twist is that the Imperial Guard can be used as any card to activate a Tactic. Really want a Fortress? Use the Imperial Guard, but now he cannot be used to fill the role of the Diplomat. Oh, the choices!

Previously, the Imperial Guard could only duplicate another card that was played. This made him fiddly and far less useful. Now, players have several ways by which to unlock and utilize the powerful tactics. Here is the current set of Tactics and combinations from the player reference board.

While we’re on the topic of Tactics, I streamlined many of them in very subtle ways. This is something I spent months doing with Farmageddon and it’s some of the most important work I did.  I wanted to remove fiddly rules (i.e. Encirclement couldn’t be used against Units in a Fortress) and make them as interesting as possible. Also, to help mitigate the impact of random turn order, I provided players with more defensive options. This makes combat a little more dynamic, but it’s still a strategic game.

To further focus the game towards the cards and streamline the experience, I’ve greatly modified how players select Actions and determine turn order. Previously, each player drew one numbered token out of a bag of 20. The lowest number would go first. My hope was that the uncertainty would make for a fun moment. “Ah, I’m at 12. I’m probably going in the middle.” In reality, it was just an uneasy choice and players had little control. Plus, you’d often have a situation of the player drawing a 15, assuming he was going third or fourth, then going 1st because the other three players drew worse tokens. This wasn’t fun, it just lead to frustration.

I’ve now reduced the 20 tokens to just 4 tokens numbered 1-4. You know when you’re going to take your turn. However, turn order is revealed 1 by 1, so the player who goes first doesn’t know the order of the next 3 players. Another upside of this is that I eliminated 16 tokens and a bag from my component list!

In addition to the simplification of the turn orders, players no longer choose one of 3 actions (March, Attack, Diplomacy) to use on their turn. At its best, this system made for a mildly interesting choice. At its worst, all players always knew what to do OR they picked one and ended up getting screwed by the random turn order.

Previously, the active player on his turn could:

  • Do his chosen action (March or Attack or Diplomacy)
  • Reinforce
  • Build a Fortress
  • Tactics
Now, the active player on his turn can:
  • March twice OR March and Attack
  • Reinforce
  • Play Tactics
The old March and Attack choices are now just always available and simplified. The diplomacy and Fortress options are now integrated into the cards/Tactics mechanic. It makes for a far cleaner, more streamlined experience.

Quick notes on other Changes

  • Total Unit pool is increased from 10 to 12
  • Previously, players could use the same card to both Reinforce AND use as a Tactic. Now, it’s Reinforce OR Tactic. Remember, 5 cards now per turn!
  • Coal is removed from the board as a separate token. Now, controlling a Coal territory is worth more at the end of the game.
  • Players receive just one Secret Order (out of a possible 6 total). Secret Orders no longer have tiers. Secret Orders are all worth 5 Points if completed.
  • Victory Points are awarded by controlling territory and having the largest army.
  • The Map has been revised to make each headquarter position more equal and drive more conflict.
  • Seaports have been tweaked slightly to pose a less obvious and more interesting choice.
  • The game ends after 8 rounds. This is more or less the same, but now it’s clear and distinct, as opposed to “once someone runs out of cards.” A good lesson: If your game has a fuzzy aspect that can be made crisp, always choose crisp.

I’m really pleased with the evolution of the design. Obviously, only testing will verify how good the iteration actually was, but I’m confident I’m on the right path. As always, you can visit the Field Marshals game page for links to the Rules, Card Distribution, Reference Boards, and Map layouts.

My plans, if you’re curious, are to prove this revised version through local testing, then send out one or two blind copies. Then, GenCon. Thoughts, questions, and comments are always appreciated.

An Interview with Pixel Tagmire

I’m a fan of Jason Tagmire. If you recall, he and his wife wrote one of Hyperbole’s first guest columns about cooperatively developing his game, Sandwich City. Jason’s latest game, Pixel Lincoln, recently launched on Kickstarter.

I was interested in discussing Pixel Lincoln with Jason, primarily because I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to design a good deckbuilding game for months now. I wanted to know how Jason approached it so that it could possibly help me (and others).

Note: HG and Italics means Hyperbole Games. JT means Jason Tagmire.

HG: Can you tell us about Pixel Lincoln?

JT: The game is 2-4 players. I intend to create rules for a 1 player version, because it seems very natural, but I just haven’t been able to dedicate any time to that aspect of the design as of yet. Game sessions are about 30-45 minutes each and game length scales fairly evenly from 2 to 4 players. I’m somewhat stumped on the genre because it’s very similar to an adventure video game.

In the game, [each player] plays as Pixel Lincoln traveling through time and space chasing after John Wilkes Booth, who has stolen Lincoln’s (unknowingly) magical top hat. You will acquire items and defeat enemies to build your deck. Once the levels are all beaten, or all of the bosses are destroyed, players will tally up their points and compare high scores. Just like video games, high score always wins.

The game is loaded with retro gaming nostalgia. There are power ups, cheat codes, boss battles, side-scrolling levels, level checkpoints, secret items, NPCs, and much more.

HG: One player version? How is that natural in a competitive setting? I’m very intrigued and you must elaborate.

JT: The style of video games that this emulates were for the most part, one player. You would play by yourself, or players would take turns playing one at a time. And in a lot of cases, you were simply playing to beat your previous high score. The competition was against the game, and yourself. I’d love to be able to preserve that and incorporate that into this game.

HG: Where did you get the idea for making a game about Abraham Lincoln? What drew you to him and the idea of making something fantastical with such a famous historical figure? I’ve long wanted to make a game about my hero, Theodore Roosevelt, but haven’t found the right design yet.

JT: It was 2008 and I was making one of my very first card games. One prototype had a 3×4 grid on each card and you would move a token from left to right along a series of cards. I was essentially trying to recreate a side-scrolling video game with cards. I had no characters and no story, just a really rough general idea of how it would work.

Even in early stages of development, my first ideas are always about production. I knew that I couldn’t afford to make custom tokens for this game, so I looking into buying some tokens from a parts company. At one point I read a post on Board Game Geek where the author said used pennies for his prototypes. At one cent each, they are the cheapest and most accessible prototype parts.

I was using the penny and sliding it across the grid and it hit me that I should just make Abraham Lincoln the main character and use the penny for the actual in-game token when self-publishing. And since Lincoln is so iconic, it was an easy choice. The beard, the hat, the penny, the Lincoln Memorial, log cabins… all of these are defining to most Americans.

I took the original Mario Bros sprite, changed it into Lincoln, and Pixel Lincoln was born. Even though he was pretty short and squat, and wasn’t wearing his hat he was instantly recognizable and instantly very cool.

The old card game was an homage to Mario Bros and Megaman, so I kept the standard level types in the game (underground, underwater, etc). I just needed enemies. Whenever I made them realistic, it felt out of place, so I turned to a few artist friends, gave them the template and asked them to create enemies. Within an hour I had the puking turtle, tommy gun cats, smiley slimes, tiny T-Rex, and many more. We went with it and those characters carried into to the DS game and now into the deckbuilding game.

HG:  Pixel Lincoln was a DS game, right? Why did you decide to convert the property into a print game?

JT: Pixel Lincoln was actually a card game first. Way back at the end of 2008, I created Pixel Lincoln and self-published a card game. The art was great and the concept was a lot of fun, but the game itself was more of a novelty than a game. There weren’t a lot of choices to be made, but people still loved the idea of Pixel Lincoln. A few years later, I connected with video game developers Island Officials and started development of Pixel Lincoln for Nintendo DS. I was a designer on the game and after 2.5 years of production my role was just about complete. I left the DS project and Island Officials asked if I would be interested in making an analog version of Pixel Lincoln, again. Pixel Lincoln is my baby so I jumped right on it.

HG: How long has the game been in development?

JT: I have worked on it pretty much daily since the beginning of March.

HG: Who is handling the art and graphic design for the game?

JT: One of the reasons we decided to make Pixel Lincoln: The Deckbuilding Game as my first analog project with Island Officials was because the art assets were already completed. I am using artwork directly from the game for both the cover art and card art. The cards feature the in-game sprites, but blown up 1200%. The cover art uses our concept art from artist John Fisher, who I’ve worked with previously.

I am handling the graphic design duties for this game. I made a deck of prototype cards for testing and everyone loved the mock ups. I was going for the feel of a Nintendo cartridge meets a Game Boy unit. Over the last 2 months, I feel like I’ve pushed myself as both a game designer and graphic designer to places I’ve never been able to reach before.

HG: Why did you choose to make a deckbuilding game? It’s always really fascinating for me to find out why a designer chose to frame his project a certain way.

JT: When I was chatting with Island Officials, they suggested a board game. My first thought about that was the high production cost, so I decided to go all cards. About two weeks later, I brought them some card mockups and very rough prototype and I think they were shocked that there wasn’t a board.

After I decided to go with cards only, I immediately flocked to the idea of a deckbuilding game. I loved the idea of combining some of the oldest video game concepts with some of the newest board game methods. And deck building is traditionally about gathering and collecting cards, which thematically fits very well with gathering and collecting items in older adventure video games. And finally, deckbuilding games are usually known for their customization, which is key in this game.

HG: Is each player essentially playing as Lincoln? Or is each player influencing a central character of Lincoln? What’s the players’ perspective in this?

Each player plays as Pixel Lincoln. On your turn you will play through the level defeating enemies, obtaining items, building your deck, and advancing your score. At the end of the turn, the controller passes to your opponent (not physically, but metaphorically) and they take a turn as Pixel Lincoln. Each player has a central card in front of them that says “Player 1″, “Player 2″, etc.

HG: What is the unique mechanic or setup for Pixel Lincoln? I’ve been working on a deckbuilder for months and it’s been incredibly difficult to create it such that it doesn’t feel like a “me-too” when played alongside Ascension, Dominion, A Few Acres of Snow, etc.

JT: There are a few things that set Pixel Lincoln apart from the others. I didn’t stray from the familiar concepts of draw/discard piles or anything like that, but I did play around quite a bit with the cards that are available to the player. In many deckbuilding games, you can obtain the cards that are in play. In Pixel Lincoln, you have the act of exploration. You can see what is in coming up in the level, but not too much as there are only 5 cards in each level at the start of each turn. You have the opportunity to see what is coming up in the level by playing specific cards or abilities. There are also multiple levels in each game, so you can see what cards are in an opponent’s level during their turn. This was influenced by classic 2 player games and watching an opponent explore a level that you’ve never reached.

HG: Could you explain the exploration mechanic a bit further? I’m intrigued and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

JT: The game has one level per player, and each level is its own randomized deck consisting of enemies, items, a boss, NPC’s, and checkpoints. So, in a four player game, there are four different levels.

During the game, 5 cards are drawn from each level deck and laid out from right to left. This represents everything that a player can see in front of them in the level. There may be enemies or items, and when a player defeats or purchases them, those cards are added to their discard pile. If a player decides to explore, they must discard a card from their hand and another card is drawn from the level deck and added to the table. That card is now available to defeat/purchase. If you have enough cards in your hand, you can continue to explore, etc.

Also, the levels are all accessible from the beginning, so each player will choose where they want to go. If I am the only player in Level 1, I am the only one with access to the cards that are drawn for that level. However, just like with a turn-based video game, I am still seeing what other players are doing in their levels. If I see cards that I need for my deck, I may decide to leave the current level and hop into one that my opponent is in.

Deckbuilders traditionally receive a lot of negativity for not having enough player interaction. This was big on my list from the start. I made sure that the players could affect each other. When players are in the same level, there are various things they can do to affect each other.

And theme is probably the biggest difference between Pixel Lincoln and Dominion or Ascension; Pixel Lincoln feels like you are playing a video game.

HG: Can you give some examples of the type of player interaction? This was an area I sought to improve upon as well (though I personally love Dominion). I really didn’t want to go the “Take-That” route, so I’m curious how you chose to incorporate player interaction.

JT: The interaction is both direct and indirect. When you defeat an enemy card, it goes to your discard pile. Enemies have big points and they are great for end game scoring, but they aren’t equippable like items. When they are in your hand, you can cash them in for money (to buy items) or use their abilities. The abilities on the enemies were the ones that would affect other players the most.

I added some “take-that” style cards because it fits the style and feel of Pixel Lincoln. There are enemy cards with a Cancel ability, which will cancel an opponent’s card effect. There are defense style enemies that give negative victory points and can be forced on your opponents. There are bomb style enemies that force everyone in the current level to discard cards. Time travel cards allow you to rearrange the decks, which can help you or hurt your opponent, depending on how you decide to use it.

The indirect interaction is within the levels and trying to get specific cards before your opponents do. Because all cards are not available to all players, players will see what their opponents are doing and then develop new strategies. Many cards are unique. Each enemy and item has an ability and an overall suit. These suits (stars, clocks etc) are used within the game for additional special abilities and scored at the end of the game as sets. If you talk to an NPC, they will tell you which set to collect in order to gain big points. There is a bit of a race to grab certain suited cards before your opponents do.

HG: Do you have a favorite deckbuilding game? Why?

JT: My favorite deckbuilding games have been games like Pond Farr (Salmon Run) (Noted: The Salmon Run on BGG is not the one to which he is referring) and Mecha Mayhem that I’ve played at Unpub. I’m loving what others are doing with deckbuilding, especially when it’s incorporated into a game that consists of more than just the deck of cards. Both of these games apply deckbuilding as a tool instead of making it the entire focus.

And although it’s not quite deckbuilding, Quarriors is my favorite “-building” game. The components are a big factor, but I think Quarriors has so much replayability in such a tiny package. By making 3 different cards for each character, the games are never the same. I’m also a big fan of culling down my deck and I like how Quarriors does it.

HG: I was fortunate enough to receive an early prototype copy of Salmon Run last year and I agree, it’s a really great game. I’m also very fond of Quarriors — I just love the premise, even though it is highly random. Seeing as how these are some of your favorites, did you at any point try to find a way to make Pixel Lincoln a bit grander in scope with the deckbuilding just a mechanic, not the entire game?

It’s funny that I didn’t design this in the style of my favorite games, but I tend to do that with many of my designs. I design to the game and see where it takes itself. If it starts to stray from my original intent, but the changes are for the better, then I am all for it.

The biggest reason I didn’t use deckbuilding as just part of the game was because I didn’t want to dive into other components. I was trying to hit a price point for production and couldn’t stray from the cards.

I’d love to mess around with different takes deckbuilding in future games. It’s a simple concept, with so much room for growth.

HG: What advice can you give to someone trying to design a deckbuilding game?

JT: Don’t let the haters get you down. Deckbuilding has gotten a little bit of a bad name lately. It doesn’t deserve it, because even with the common complaints, it’s still a very new style of game and it has a lot of staying power. I would suggest checking out games like Pond Farr (Salmon Run) and Mecha Mayhem to see how deckbuilding can work as a secondary aspect of the gameplay. It’s like deckbuilding without even knowing you are deckbuilding. It might even fool the haters.

HG: Why do you think people have been harsh on deckbuilding? From my perspective, like every genre, some people just don’t care for it. But, the other factor is that the success of games like Dominion has been so explosive that many other publishers have jumped in with “me-too” cash grabs. Do you think it’s something other than this or what?

JT: I guess it’s more like “people are harsh on Dominion“… but deckbuilding is like the new kid on the block. With each new deckbuilding game that is announced or released, comes the wave of Dominion and Ascension comparisons. As more and more deckbuilding games come out, we’re seeing less and less of this, but it’s been hard getting past the big names in the format.

I think there is a little-bit of the “cash grab”, but I see it more as a “following grab”. Something like Battleship: The Movie: The Deckbuilding game would definitely feel like a cash grab, but the games that we’re seeing today look like they’re trying to gain a following by using a popular and familiar format.

But… I would totally play Battleship: The Movie: The Deckbuilding game.

HG: What were some of the biggest challenges you had to solve for the Pixel Lincoln design?

JT: The biggest has been direct player interaction. There is plenty of indirect interactivity, but the direct interaction took a little while to develop. Each players area is wiped clean at the end of their turn, so when it came time for a player to affect one another, there wasn’t much they could do. The inactive players only had the cards in their hand, which could easily be affected by the active player, but I wanted more than that.

From the start, enemies would be added to your deck for big points, and enemies would be used against your opponents. But the way they are used has evolved quite a bit. I considered using them for direct attacks, but it pulled away from the video game feel. Now each enemy has an ability on its card, many of which affect your opponents.

Another big challenge has been printing test copies. The game has a lot of cards and I’ve started over with the design about 3-4 times. It’s been tough to test without solid prototype cards because the game is pretty deep in its theme.

HG: What do you mean by “each player’s area is wiped clean?”

JT: By this, I mean all cards that have been played during a player’s turn are removed from play and discarded at the end of the turn. Cards in hand may carry over to the next turn, but your playing area resets each turn.

HG: What’s your favorite part about the game?

JT: The nostalgia. I’ve been trying to cram every one of my favorite old school gaming memories into this game. I made a “Pause” card recently. I’m incorporating cheat codes into it. There are hidden items, warp zones, and extra lives. It brings back good memories.

HG:  What did you use to build your prototype?

JT: I have a method that I’ve been reusing over and over. It started with a set of black card sleeves with Pokemon cards inside for support. Then I’ll slide in a piece of paper, which is usually handwritten at first and start to test out the game. As it develops, I’ll print the next version as text only and slide in the printed version. Then when it’s time to show it off and get deeper into testing. I’ll print a full color version and slip that into the sleeves. This is exactly what I did with Pixel Lincoln as well as a few older games. If you look through the sleeves you’ll find various old games and various versions of Pixel Lincoln.

HG: Where did you find your testers?

JT: I’ve been testing at local events such as Unpub Mini and the NJ/PA Board Game Alliance. At both of those events I can play with both designers and gamers, and receive very different and helpful feedback. I’ve also been testing with designer friends and various individuals at the Island Officials offices. 

HG: What are some things you tried and removed from the game? Why?

JT: I tried direct conflict by using your enemies to attack your opponents, but it evolved into having special abilities on each card, and these abilities will directly effect your opponents. I tried player vs player battle as an out of turn sequence that was triggered by an action, but it just pulled away from the main game. I also tried using fixed levels in one variation, but with fixed levels you lose the variety and replayability.

HG: What do you plan to work on next?

JT: The next few weeks are very busy for me. I’m editing the Pixel Lincoln Kickstarter video and finishing some better versions of temporary cards. I’m heading out to Origins on June 1st and I’ll be promoting Pixel Lincoln‘s Kickstarter launch and demoing another game of mine, Sandwich City. After the weekend, Pixel Lincoln launches and it’s going to be 45 tough days. During that time, I need to finish and tighten the artwork and finalize the last 5% of the design tweaks, while also promoting the game as much as possible. I’ll be at the Too Many Games convention in PA in mid-June and then at WBC and Gen Con later this summer.  By then, Pixel Lincoln will be behind us and I’ll be onto one of my pending projects, which is most likely ZombieZone, a head-to-head Zombie vs. Human battle board game, which has the feel of an abstract strategy game.

HG: I’ve had my eye on Sandwich City for quite some time. Not to derail the conversation, but what have you done with it lately? Any plans there?

JT: After The Game Crafter contest ended I started working on a 3 and 4 player version of Sandwich City. The game was originally built for 2 players due to the cost and component limitations in the contest. I tweaked it and finished up the multiplayer version and now I’m starting to show it to people. Ultimately, I’d love to see it fully produced, so I’m about to dive right into unfamiliar territory and see where it takes me.

HG: Anything else you’d like to add?

JT: Thanks for having me! Glad to be part of such a wonderful, inspiring site.

HG: The pleasure is all mine! Thanks for taking the time for this interview.

Field Marshals Checkup #1

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I keep making good progress towards making Field Marshals solid. I’ve just changed/added a few significant components to the rules, so I wanted to share and discuss them here, as well as cover a few other topics related to my snazzy war game.

Rules Updates

You can read the latest rules in their entirety here. Here is a quick rundown of the changes the game has seen.

  • Now 2-4 players: When I originally designed the game I intended and tested it with 5 players. Since then, I’ve only tested it with 2, 3, or 4 players. For a while I toyed with the notion of taking it to 6, but ultimately felt it would be too chaotic with that many players. I feel the same thing about 5, so I’m reducing it to 4. 4 players makes each round a little more predictable and reduces my component costs. Also, as long as the game is fun with 2, 3, or 4 (which it is), I don’t feel that taking it down from 4 is a deathblow. Plus, I can always add it back.
  • Orders: Since the beginning, the game has lacked a great win condition or end point. I’ve tested it where players need to conquer X number of territories, earn Y number of Coal, and a few other things. Ultimately, it was a bit too scattered. Now, to focus players and have fewer things to remember, each player will receive 3 Orders. Each order will give a task (like Conquer X territories), that, when completed, awards a set number of points.
  • Better Tactics: I’ve upped the tuning on the Tactics so that they are more potent and useful. Encirclement now lets you capture 3, instead of 2. Bombardment kills 3, instead of 2. I want Tactics to be decisive.
  • Attrition: I’ve been trying to think of a clean way to incorporate more long-term attrition into the game, i.e. a way to reduce a player’s potential Unit pool. One of the Orders tasks the player with winning a certain number of battles. I needed a way to track it, so I came up with a neat little way to do so that also solves my attrition problem. The winner of a battle now takes one of the loser’s Units as a Trophy. (Note: Matt Worden also suggested this. If two of us independently came up with it, the idea must be good!)
  • 2 Player Improvement: I continue to touch up and improve the rules for 2 player games. I’m actually surprised how well the game plays with only 2. The puppet state (now Allies in the rules) idea has worked really well.
  • Civil War: A very minor tweak. Instead or representing foreign nations, each player is now a Field Marshal vying for control in a disintegrating empire. I always thought the map, a series of odd shaped territories, was awkward as different countries. Now, it’s regions of one large country.

Further Development

There are a few areas I’m worried about with the current game. There are always so many simple variables to tweak and I want to prove out more things before I say “done” and send out blind test copies.

  • Card Distribution: I’m toying with the idea of adding another General or another Cavalry to the deck. But, I don’t want players retreating too often or surprising attackers with a General too often.
  • Orders: I have no doubt tuning these will be a headache. The points awarded in many different combinations will need to be examined and put through their paces. I’ll also need to verify that it’s possible to complete 2 of the Orders in most combinations. I don’t want 2 of the 4 players to get hosed because they were randomly assigned a crummy combination of orders.
  • 5 Players: For some reason I want to add a fifth player! But, I’ll need to revisit the map (again, what a pain!) and make sure everyone is interacting with each other. I don’t want a 5th player off in the corner just keeping to himself.
  • Map Tweaks: I may need to reduce the size of the map slightly — just by 1 or 2 territories. But, where do I remove and where do I shift?

Expansion Ideas

One thing that really excites me about Field Marshals is just how many cool expansion ideas I have. Expansions come naturally for some games, but not all. For example, it wasn’t obvious where to take Farmageddon, but I have many great ideas for Field Marshals.

I don’t know what the future holds for this game, but I’d love to do some of these expansions.

  • Naval: Seaports are one of the better additions since I began prototyping this game. This naturally begs for actual Naval Units, Naval Cards, Naval Orders, and Naval Tactics.
  • Terrain Types: Definitely a smaller expansion, but I’d love to add forest and mountain terrain tokens to modify Tactics and potentially add new Orders. Also, potentially cities.
  • New Armies: Currently, the game features 4 identical vanilla armies based on the standard tactics of the Prussian, British, or French armies in the 19th century. I’d love to add new decks with new units and tactics, including one focused on Guerrilla warfare, one more focused on spycraft and deception, the massed infantry armies (i.e. Russia), and more. I feel this is a great way to add new content to the game in small chunks. Wizard Kings and Summoner Wars both do this and I love it.
  • Scenarios: This is one I’d deliver to players as a freebie. I’d love to create new stories and scenarios that change the starting positions of players, the premise, the team arrangements, the victory conditions, and more. This one naturally leads into…
  • Campaign: I love the idea of Risk: Legacy and the Memoir ’44 Campaign book. I don’t plan for players to begin drawing on the game board for Field Marshals, but I very much want to design a cohesive 3-5 game campaign setup that’s driven by the results of each game. You could think of each game as a few months or a year in the war. If X, Y, and W are present, go to scenario 5 and play it. It’d be the type of thing only for really hardcore players or people at a Con, but I think it’s really fun content to create and play.

The Awesome Version

I have this wild crazy silly idea. Very early in the Field Marshals‘ prototyping process I felt like the game gave off a classic vibe. It’s about controlling territory with wooden cubes and playing cards with simple silhouettes. It’s based on wars thought to be more “romantic” and “glorious” in their time periods and is meant to be fairly straight forward and elegant in presentation.

I want to create a really gorgeous wooden version of the game. Wooden board with little slots to place the initiative disks and turn order tokens. A hand-crafted box to contain everything. Little tokens with laser etched or carved symbols. Something like this.

This won’t be cheap. I’m currently researching several options to see what is and isn’t feasible. In all cases, there are basically 2 options:

  1. I personally finance about 10 copies and sell them out. My primary goal would be to still find a publisher.
  2. I go “whole-hog” and Kickstart it to try to sell hundreds of copies. This would prevent me (probably) from finding a publisher, but I’d have full creative control on the product.

I haven’t done a full business analysis of the costs and whatnot. I doubt it would be cheap. My question for you is, would you buy Field Marshals for $100 if it came in a gorgeous, one of a kind wooden setup? What about $125? If the answer is no, I’d love to hear that as well.