Solstice Beta Wave 1 Results

Post by: Grant Rodiek

You can read the rules for Solstice here. You can watch a still mostly accurate rules video here. You can download a Print and Play with all changes here

The first testing wave of Solstice has been going for a month now, and a lot of small changes are going to be incorporated into the design to make it stronger. The overall feedback has been good so far, and the testers have been great. We have a pretty active Slack channel to discuss things. but testers haven’t limited themselves to that. One tester recorded a 25 minute video of her group discussing the game and answering my question guide. Another tester took a break from work to discuss the game’s theme and other topics for an hour. Super cool.

I should also note, for people curious, that my experiment in selling a POD version of the game, at cost, has been successful. Several people took me up on the offer and they’ve generally been very engaged testers. Woo!

In this post, I want to write about the changes being introduced into the game for wave 2. I want to explain why I’m making the changes, and throughout, offer advice and insight that can benefit you when conducting a blind test program for your own designs.

Balance Changes

Balance has performed well so far, which is good. The game is lightly asymmetric, but unlike Hocus, the asymmetry can be balanced more mathematically and is less of a feel exercise. However, there are a few small notes that needed to be addressed.

Siege is an Event that exists to hinder players who dog pile on a single region and hinder the leader. Previously, it had the following effects:

“Monarchs cannot score this region. Strength Victor loses two points.”

This can be a real double whammy. If your Monarch (no Aristocrat, more on that soon) doesn’t score, that’s a 2-5 point swing. And if you then lose another two points…damn Daniel. The card has now been simplified and nerfed to be:

“Monarchs cannot Score this Region.”

This is a pretty good and clean stopper and doesn’t feel so punitive.

Regarding the player cards, they’re in pretty good shape, but I took some feedback and used it to investigate some issues. Basically, players felt that some clans have much easier ways to score their 3 Point cards. Now, this is true, but if you look into it, it is a little more nuanced.

The Warchief and Vizier that Score 3 are easier to resolve than the Assassin and Monarch. However, their 3 Point Score is minimized by the fact that the other factions score 2 points. So, it’s an advantage, but not a huge one. Conversely, the other Monarchs and Assassins don’t score nearly as much as the others. However, in one case, a faction DIDN’T score the two points others were scoring, so I brought them in par.

I then looked at the Elders and found a few more problems. The Sea Clan could score 4, when the others could only Score 3. I brought them to par. I also noticed some of the other clans were given more points in the stats for which they weren’t strong, which is an unfair tweak. That was an easy change.

Overall, balance won’t see a swinging shift, but it will be brought more in line, which is key.

Content Changes

I finally admitted some cards weren’t working and altered them. Supply Caravan has been a problematic card for a bit. It was too hard to execute, almost always resolved the same way, and didn’t make the game more interesting. Lame!

I replaced it with Escape.

“<Favor> Victory: You may add your Prisoner to this Region (ignoring card limit). It resolves normally.”

This is the first card to leverage prisoners, which makes it interesting. If you have this card, it can/will change how you use the prisoner, and can lead to a very surprising result.

Although not a direct result of the testing, we’re also rolling out the B Sides of the Regions. This is something we’ve been discussing behind the scenes, and many testers echoed a desire for such a feature. Essentially, there are the plain A Sides to every region, which just reward points. The B-Sides, however, reward fewer points, but grant players bonuses to resolve. This will change the game and add a new strategic layer without too much complexity.

The final content change is that we added a new disclosure rule to add variety. On the coast, you now disclose the card’s strength or favor values.This adds more variety.

Rules Changes

There haven’t been dramatic changes to the rules, but there is one that I think will really improve the game.

Players are now dealt a random card that is a prisoner at the start of every game. This has two subtle impacts. One, it increases the number of cards in play, which further reduces the already unlikely chance one player has none of their cards in play. Secondly, it removes the exception that players do not have/cannot use prisoners in round one. Now, all rounds have all content.

Otherwise, there’s a minor rule change regarding Region use. It was noted that players felt the need to control THEIR region, but there are no rules for that. But, previously, regions were associated with different clans so to aid in setup. For example, if you’re playing with the blue and green clans, you simply toss in the blue and green regions. No more. I removed the clan affiliation from the Regions. Now, you choose regions at random equal to the number of players.

Accessibility Changes

To make the game more accessible, I made a few tiny changes that I think will have strong implications. Firstly, I re-positioned some of the card diagrams to the top of the rule. This way, you have them in mind while learning the rules.

I designed a set of quick start rules for first time players. Effectively, players are dealt a specific set of cards, and use a preset pool of Events. This lets them have simple Events for their first game and they skip the drafting phase. Many players are scared or uncomfortable drafting cards before they know how to use them. This alleviates that.

I separated the two player rules for quick access.

I put all Prisoner rules in a single section. I reference them elsewhere, but I put them in a single place so you can learn them all at once.

Some players were missing the “Play face up” text on some cards. I made sure to bold and underline this text. I did a similar thing for “Discard a Farmer card” on a few cards in Farmageddon and it did the trick. Humans are really bad at glossing over information. Help their brains out and add subtle call outs to key exceptions.

I tweaked elements of the overview and added a few snippets of high level, guiding text to help frame the game for players. For example, I note that favor tends to grant powerful Event bonuses, whereas Strength tends to reward points. The initial overview does a full step by step of the 3 key decision points in the game, instead of glossing over it. These are subtle changes that only strengthen a player’s ability to learn the game.

I added a high level description of a clan’s strength to the back of the reference card. For example, it’ll tell you that the Mercenaries are dominant with their military, and have a total of 8 strength and 5 favor. At a glance, you now know  what you’re good at.

I changed the X on some cards to a 0. The X was meant as: this doesn’t resolve in order, it just is. But, the X was misleading. In one case, a tester noted that it reminded them of Magic The Gathering, where the X means a conditional variable. Always remember how other games use language! By making it a 0, players read the cards first, so they can resolve them before any other. This is such a “no duh” change that I’m ashamed I didn’t think of it sooner.

Finally, I added new diagrams to explain more situations in the rules to better show how cards resolve.

Theme Changes

I had to conduct a bit of theme re-work to mitigate some disconnects and improve the experience. Without art to help me, it’s tough right now, but it’s important to work at it as much as possible.

Firstly, many of the cards had name changes. Most of these are to accommodate the final art and presentation, so I want to change the names NOW to take them for a spin.

Secondly, I re-wrote the game’s introduction and premise. I wanted to better frame the conflict and the characters involved.

Thirdly, I removed the notion of clans. The final game will not be fought by geographic factions, but different ones in the same location. The game is now about the Merchants, Mercenaries, Wizards, and Seers. Four groups with different visions for the future. The players are Machiavellian figures manipulating these groups from the shadows. There was a concern, that’s best highlighted with the question:

“Why the heck is MY Monarch going here? I didn’t put him there!”

The idea behind Solstice is that you don’t have perfect control. You aren’t directing your characters. You’re merely doing what you can to move some people to one place, thematically alert leaders that a Monarch is there, and should be assassinated. If you look back 300 years, conflicts were very difficult to fight because allies couldn’t communicate like we can now. Hell, 100 years ago in World War 1 it was practically impossible to coordinate an assault beyond shouting distance.

The name changes are intended to support the fiction I’m positing. Some people might always have a slight…break with that, and ultimately, I have to accept that because this is the game’s secret sauce. The fact that you can draft and play other player’s cards is important and is one of the neat things the game does.

Shifting the factions around had a few implications. I had to move the military cards to the Mercenaries faction. It didn’t make sense that they weren’t the strongest in the military!

Lessons and Things to Keep in Mind while Testing

Blind testing Solstice is eerily familiar to Hocus, Cry Havoc, and Farmageddon. There are things that are always true, which, if you know, you can leverage to conduct better testing.

Testers are good at finding problems. They’re not always good at finding solutions. When testers share a frustration or a dislike, don’t ask how they would fix it. Ask why they don’t like it. Ask what they want to get out of it. Ask what experience they want to feel. Use that information, and knowledge of your design, to address the root cause. I had one tester recently note I should make Solstice a deckbuilding game to add more player control. Aka, I should completely make a new game! Focus on the why, not the “how to fix.”

Testers will sometimes say crazy things, and you need to ask questions to get to the root concern. Initially when testers said they felt there was imbalance, I disagreed. I had to ask, pry, and poke, and eventually I found out WHY they felt that. Guess what, they were right! Another tester had good concerns with the theme, and it took about 30 minutes on the phone to really understand his critique. You have to dig in most of the time. The initial comment won’t tell the full story.

Take rules, layout, and text seriously. Every time I take the lazy route and don’t update a diagram in the rules, or put off a change, it bites me. Testers always comment on these things. Take your testing as seriously as you can, and your testers will reward you with effort.

This is going to sound dismissive, but it’s not meant that way. But, more and more I think it’s very true. As long as a game is in a prototype state, people will always find things wrong with it. They just will. I bet that if Eric Lang took Blood Rage, a game that has fairly universal praise, but put it in front of people with prototype components, people would complain about it. How do you use this information? Well, know your game. Know your goals. Know where your game is at right now, and where it needs to be. At some point, the game will be finished and you’ll need to flip the switch. If you did your job, your testers will agree.

On Cry Havoc, Ignacy and I were arguing about cards and text until the moment we hit print. On Farmageddon, I was worried about tiny issues until my core test team said “Dude, it’s done. Seriously. It’s good!” It’s human nature to nitpick and critique things that are “in progress.” We go into red pen mode. Know that, and use that information wisely.

Be okay telling testers they are wrong. There are times when your testers will have comments that are inaccurate. But, you need to damn well know they are wrong. I’ve played Solstice 70 times. Most of my testers haven’t played it more than 5. Sometimes they will have a comment that is inaccurate. I need to be able to discuss this with expertise. This doesn’t mean you can be dismissive, or arrogant. This is a good opportunity to ask questions and get to the root cause, or learn more about their perspective. Know your game inside and out, and know your goals, before you go hands off and ask others to dig in.

Not all testers speak game designer. This is useful for evaluating customer feedback as well in reviews. Testers often confuse things like randomness, luck, strategy, and balance. I’m going to say this on almost every one of these notes, but do not fixate on the key term used. Instead, ask a question to better understand their point. They might say “the game is too random” when they really mean “I wanted more control.” They might say “the game is unbalanced” when they mean “I didn’t feel I could recover from the point deficit.” Don’t fixate on words that hardly anybody uses consistently. Instead, have a discussion and get to the root cause!

Work to understand perspectives in order to understand feedback. I had a long chat with a tester who was describing some of the frustrations two of his friends were having with the game. Initially I thought, man, I need to fix this, but then we dug into the play styles and personalities of the players. It turns out, Solstice just may not be their ideal game. Now, as is true with most of these comments, that doesn’t mean I can dismiss their notes! It does mean, though, that Solstice may never be a 10 for these guys. But, I should work to make sure it’s a 6 out of 10, not a 2 out of 10.

Again, ask questions and find out what their true concerns are. In this case, they wanted more control. I made sure there’s a prisoner in round one as a result as it gives more control and improves the probability of the card pool. These testers, who are more inclined towards Euros that have less direct player interaction in your decisions, were uncomfortable starting the game. It was tough for them to draft with imperfect information. Therefore, I made those quick start rules.

Solstice is a drafting game. It’s an interactive game. There’s not a lot of randomness, but players can and will upset your plans. Like with Hocus, and Cry Havoc, and Farmageddon, the game isn’t about a perfectly executed plan, but making the most out of the resources and things you can control. To make an extreme example, Solstice isn’t Caylus, but I need to improve the margins where I can to alleviate concerns.

There will be all types. Players who want more luck, more complexity, more strategy, more variety. Know your game, know your goals, and do your best to satisfy them, but don’t water down your game. You can never make everyone happy. But, you can thrill the pants off your target audience.

Conclusion

This post is beginning to run a bit long! Hopefully this information is of some interest to you, and hopefully these tips are valuable. If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, post them in the comments!

The Martian Empire Patch

Post by: Grant Rodiek

My development partner and life troll, Joshua Buergel, finally played Martian Empire this weekend. This means he’s able to chime in on the game and help as a developer. Woo! Some good things came about, including the fact that his group didn’t hate it, one clearly grasped the Dune vibe, and had some bones to pick.

This last part is key. I didn’t think the game was perfect. But, I didn’t know how to change it. Now, we know the direction to head. Josh noted that counter-drafting wasn’t strong enough. It didn’t feel worthwhile enough to counter-draft. I didn’t fully agree (having played about 50 games), but I didn’t fully disagree either.

Josh mentioned Twilight Struggle’s Space Race track for inspiration. There, you can ditch a card face down without resolving it. This is a good way to bury an opponent’s good card. So, okay, what if instead of playing a card, you can tuck it under your reference card? That’s easy enough. What’s the benefit? Here, I took inspiration from the chopsticks in Sushi Go. The change is called Interrogation. When drafting, if you Interrogated a card the previous round, you may draft your one card normally. Then, if you want, you can put the Interrogated card in your hand and draft a second card instantly. This gives you a powerful double draft, that you sacrificed the previous round for. And, it puts the tucked card back in circulation. Dangerous!

The other issue, which is one I’ve wanted to fix for a while, is to limit the number of cards that can be played to every planet. This limit will be six. The tension is that if you play a card soon enough to guarantee your spot, you may expose yourself. If you wait, you may miss your spot! This is a nice, simple rule that will force players to spread around.

A third issue is one that makes sense in light of some of the other subtle changes. A few weeks ago, every player had an Informant. Now, the Informant is an Event. This means there are only 6 player cards instead of 7. This means there’s a higher probability a player’s cards are kept in the deck instead of being dealt out. To refocus the deck, there are now only 8 Events instead of 10. Just a minor course correction.

But, with card casualties, how is there room in the deck to reduce the number of cards? Well, I’ll tell you. Again, as a result of losing the informant, it was clear removing a card semi-permanently after assassination was hurting the game. One, it put a player already behind too behind. Two, it led to a semi-fiddly phase where you had to update which card was removed. Now, at the end of the round, players put a token on their reference card for every casualty sustained. Then, the cards are shuffled back into the deck. This means all players remain equal. At the end of the game, every casualty is -1 point each. Furthermore, the Heir is no longer worth 4 points if kept alive. This means Casualties are less punishing before, but should still affect the end game.

There’s one final rule. This is a nutty one that I think is really exciting. Josh noted that it was lame that the last card you draft is not used. It’s often obvious which card of the two to draft in games like 7 Wonders and Sushi Go. He noted the card should have purpose. It should enter play. We talked about this quite a bit and came up with a fun solution.

Now, at the end of the round, the cards that aren’t chosen are played randomly, face up, to each planet. This happens before you begin playing cards. This does a few things:

  • Every card matters. Draft it if you want control on how it resolves.
  • It provides an anchor. Want to avoid Atomics? Want to protect that Ruler? Now you know it’s there.
  • It takes up one of the 6 slots on the Planet.

There’s not a lot of randomness in the game, so this adds some nice spice and makes everything relevant. Every draft is important.

If you’re curious about the new rules, you can see them here. And no worries, none of these rules affect the cards if you printed them.

There are a lot of cool changes going into Martian Empire as we dig in deeply. We’re going to experiment and really hone the experience. I cannot wait to try these changes!

Farmageddon: Sale and Shill!

2ndEd

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Howdy all! My publisher, 5th Street Games, just notified me that Farmageddon is ON SALE! It’s 25% off, which comes out to $11. The game is typically $15, so the savings here more or less cover your shipping fees.

You can get the game for $11 right here. In fact, all of his games are on sale. You can find the sale page here.

Many of you undoubtedly know about Farmageddon at this point. I’ve been quiet about it for some time, mostly because I’m waiting for the expansion, Livestocked and Loaded, before making a big marketing push. But, with the sale going live I wanted to give a quick overview on why Farmageddon may be a great small game for your collection.

Farmageddon is a great picnic or lunch game, fun for gamers looking for a light diversion or families looking for a laugh. The game takes 30-45 minutes to play for 2-4 players. The game is about hand management, action cards, and yes, take that.

I realize that last note is repulsive to some, so let me tell you why it’s fun in Farmageddon.

  1. Everyone has a relatively equal toolbox over the course of the game. Every turn you draw new Crop cards and new Action cards. You’ll never be stuck with nothing on your turn.
  2. Once you earn points, they’re yours. Nothing is more frustrating than spending the entire game earning something, only to have a single card reverse your fortunes. That doesn’t happen in Farmageddon.
  3. You can only play 2 Actions each turn. While every Action card is powerful, not all are aggressive, and with a limit of two, players really need to think about what they need to do most. This limitation increases the level of choice and reduces the chaos.
  4. The game is designed and tuned around constant interaction. You won’t have erratic spikes of screwage. What this means is that it’s a part of the game, fundamentally, and it should modify your tactics accordingly. You know your opponents can stop you, so where do you draw your attention? How do you get ahead with this knowledge. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

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For $11, I think you’ll have a good time and find a game that’s easy to pull out at Thanksgiving or social gatherings for people less experienced with modern board games. Farmageddon is a good replacement for games like Uno at the family picnic. I think one of the reasons Farmageddon has been successful is that it’s quick, relatively simple, and take that (which many non-gamers enjoy), but has enough choice and gamey elements to keep people coming back. Some of these choices come from:

  • Which two actions to play
  • What to use as Fertilizer and what to Plant (Crop cards are dual use!)
  • How many Planting Fields to take. Do you get aggressive (see also: greedy), or play it quiet?
  • Who do you mess with? And when?
  • What cards do you save for a big combo and what do you use RIGHT NOW?

The expansion, which will hopefully arrive this year, will really enrich the experience. It adds Weather, which presents new opportunities, Livestock, which enriches the Crop game and broadens the strategy, and new Action cards to fit into this. Now is a great time to get in on Farmageddon and support me and a small publisher who has been very kind and great to work with.

Thanks for obliging me! If you pick up a copy, be sure to tell me how it goes!

A Story of Rage

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Happy Friday! I have about 3 really good blog posts in the works that I haven’t had time this week to finish. I’ve been very busy with work and Wozzle in my spare time. I wanted to cap off this week with a short story I thought you might enjoy.

GenCon 2012 was my first GenCon, heck, my first board game convention. It was especially memorable because it marked the release of my first published game, Farmageddon, which was on display at my publisher’s booth.

I was very busy during the convention. From 9 am to 6 pm I ran non-stop Farmageddon demos at a table in the dealer hall. I grabbed a quick bite, then from 8 pm to midnight I was testing York in the First Exposure Playtest Hall. I was very tired, but I loved the work so it was really fine. In fact, I vastly prefer a GenCon like this to one where I’m not working.

That’s the context. Fast forward to Sunday afternoon. This is family day, when all the adults bring their children. I’m exhausted at this point and have slept about 5 hours total. A dad that resembled Eugene Levy comes up with two young children, one is about a 7 year old girl, the other about a 9 year old boy. They’re young.

They wanted to play Farmageddon, which is probably a little too advanced, but both children could read and I’m not going to tell them no. I walked them through the instructions and a turn, then stepped aside to watch the main table. I had 2 tables and I felt it better to let them play as a family with me within arm’s reach to answer questions.

About 10 minutes into their game I hear a kerfuffle. The girl is sitting on one side of the long table, the boy directly across from her, and the father is sitting perpendicular at the end. The boy played the Farm Futures card, which lets him draw 2 Crop cards from the top of the deck OR examine another player’s hand and steal 1 card.

Naturally, the boy chose to steal a card from his sibling.

“NO!” she screams. “He can’t have my card.”

The dad, somewhat aloof, asks his son to see the card. He reads it, and quietly notes, “Sweety, the card lets him take one of yours. That’s just how the game is played.”

Pan the camera just to the side to see me nervously standing there running my hands through my hair. I have no clue what is going to happen. Words keep moving to the front of my mouth, but none exit. Really, my mouth is just open and I’m awkwardly leaning towards the table.

“No!” she screams again. “It’s not fair.”

“Dad, it says I get a card.”

“Sweety, he gets a card. Let him see the cards.”

While the girl is looking at her father, the boy identifies his moment and seizes it. He leans across the table and plucks a card randomly from her hand (which isn’t how it works, but at this point, I’m no stickler). The girl turns her head to look at him with absolute murder in her face. She is LIVID.

The dad still doesn’t really care. He is emotionally on a beach somewhere, drinking rum, without children.

The littler girl then does my favorite thing ever. She let out a feral growl and slammed her remaining cards on the table. Then, like an alligator leaving the river to consume a gazelle, she leaps onto the table, flat on her stomach, and begins clawing at her brother. This young, enraged she-beast began scratching, flailing, and sending cards everywhere.

The boy is caught off guard by this maneuver. The dad casually says things like “Now honey” and “Don’t do that,” but she isn’t listening. The boy grabs the cards, desperately, bending them and trying to protect his young face.

My potential customers at the other table and those standing around begin fleeing. People awkwardly stare at my tables and the scene and just keep walking by. Eventually, the dad calms her down, thanks me for the demo, and leaves.

Naturally, they didn’t buy a copy.

It was then I knew that Farmageddon was the best thing I would ever create.

Windmills

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

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!