Interview with Maverick Muse

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oddball Aeronauts by Maverick Muse is on Kickstarter now. This clever 2 player game requires no surface to play, has gorgeous art, and has been in development for 2+ years. I really wanted to ask some questions of the lads who made this thing possible. 

My questions will be preceded by HG, with their responses as MM.

Hyperbole Games: Nigel — Welcome to Hyperbole Games!

Maverick Muse: Thanks Grant and thanks for this opportunity.

HG: Tell me about yourself, your brother, and Maverick Muse.

MM: Maverick Muse is actually 3 people. Myself – primarily game design, my brother Ash – primarily artist, and Debs our Creative Director. Between us we do everything including website design, fulfillment, administration, branding, legalities, accounts, customer service. Everything. I haven’t worked out yet whether we’re gluttons for punishment, stupid, or inspired? But we have a lot of fun with all of it.

Obviously, Ash and I grew up together and we’ve played and designed games together, as well as created worlds for those games, for as long as we can remember. As the game designer and artist you really get to see what we do – it’s right there in your face.

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Debs, my wife, grew up playing lots of traditional card and board games, but she’s really embraced modern games. As Creative Director, she’s our designer and graphic designer. She looks after the brand which means she’s had a major input into the look and feel of the world, the game, the company and, well, everything. Her contribution isn’t always so obvious as Ash’s and mine but no less impactful for that. We work really well as a team and without each of our contributions, oddball Aeronauts wouldn’t have been half the game it is. So it would have only been 23 cards . . . hehe!

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HG: Your first game, oddball Aeronauts, is currently funded (past its goal!) on Kickstarter. The most important question on all of our minds, firstly, is: Why don’t you capitalize the “o” in oddball?

MM: Because keeping it lowercase is in keeping with the world itself. It’s oddball. It’s a bit maverick. Simple as! It’s one of those branding thingys!

HG: Now that that’s out of the way, tell us about the game?

Right – oddball Aeronauts is a light strategy, play in the hand, no surface required, card game of dirigible dog fights in an oddball fantasy, steampunk-esque world for 2 players, ages 9 and beyond. A game takes about 15 to 20 minutes to play, but don’t be fooled into thinking there’s no depth to the game. A lot of reviewers and gamers have been happily surprised on this score.

Yep, you can say all of that in one breath! Test it for validity!

HG: Many Kickstarter games get the reputation for being under developed. I was really impressed by the fact that oddball has been in development for over 2 years. Walk us through your process. What was your inspiration for the game?

MM: I don’t think we do anything too different to other designers. The idea first, work out some rules, create a very rough prototype, play it a bit in house, fix any broken rules and smooth out the rough points as much as you can, then take it to beta testing and through blind beta tests polish the game off. As simple as that really. I know I can say that to you jokingly as it’s never that simple in practice but maybe one day, for one of our projects, it will be!

In all honesty, I don’t know how any small or start up publisher can bring a game to market in less than 2 years. They’re obviously doing something we’re not and I’d sincerely like to know how they do it. It’s the number of beta tests which are absolutely needed that takes the time. There’s a lot of back and forth in that period. Once we’re more established we’ll be able to get a lot of beta testing going at the same time, and so reduce the time it takes to thoroughly test games but until then its a slow-ish process. If you want to create a good game you can’t skimp on the beta tests unless you’re very lucky.

When it came to oddball Aeronauts, I grew up playing Top Trumps as a kid. It’s an incredibly simple game and really only suitable for very young gamers. I used to play it in the school yard a lot. Then a few years ago I stopped doing that and I thought it would be great if there was a game with more depth that kids could get into but with the same play in the hand, no-surface dynamic as Top Trumps. That was the impetus and when I nailed the core mechanic the gameplay slotted into place quite quickly. Then it really was a case of testing, testing, testing. Plus a bit of testing as well. Along with some testing that is.

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HG: What were some of the early problems you faced with the game? How did you solve them?

MM: The biggest issues have been around balancing the two factions. When you’ve got a primary and secondary stat on each card – the Skill Level and Skill Bonus – and one of those stats comes into play twice as often as the other, it makes it a bit trickier. We had to look at all 24 cards of a single faction as a whole and ensure that in their entirety these 24 cards balanced out with the other faction’s 24 cards. Solving it was a case of 1 part maths and a lot more parts trial, error and testing. We’re back to that testing thing again.

HG: What would you say are the top things that make oddball Aeronauts a must-own game? Who would love it?

MM: oddball Aeronauts is an incredibly portable game and can, literally be played anywhere two people can get together. It’s a fact. I’ve even seen someone play it on a ski lift. And up a tree. It’s the start of ‘extreme oddball Aeronauts‘!

So it’s an ideal travel game and great for “killing time” – say in a convention queue. Also, its so quick to play that you can play it in between long games or, with some of the games out there, while you are waiting for your turn to come around. You can also easily pause a game of oddball Aeronauts and come back to it later – simply put your deck away mid-game and get it out again later – it’s easy to carry on from where you left off.

As for ‘who would love it?’ Tough question. We know it goes over really well with kids and its great for parents to play with their kids as the game has enough depth to keep us oldies interested. So, we’re thinking anyone!

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HG: When did you decide to publish oddball yourself instead of using the traditional method of finding a publisher?

MM: Right from the start. As a studio we’re more than just the game design. We really enjoy creating worlds for our games and so with an artist, game designer, graphic designer, writers and world ‘builders’ between the three of us, we decided from the outset to publish our own games.

What’s fascinating is that we’ve found the game adding elements to the world and the world adding to the game. It’s an interesting experience. For example, we’ve been working on the ‘of Shot & Blade’ adventure game and from a game perspective have a number of skills that are used to overcome threats and obstacles – think scouting or sneaking – and so worked out all the different combinations of those skills. Then we look at the world and see if there is an obstacle or threat that would match the different skill combinations. Let’s say you’ve got scouting and sneaking as your combination and the obstacle is an enemy patrol – you can get by the patrol by either scouting a route, or sneaking by. For some skill combinations there just wasn’t an obvious world threat or obstacle to use so we had to get imaginative and create one. The result, we hope, is a game that fully complements the world and vice versa.

HG: You are both designers and artists, correct? Tell us about your art background.

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MM: I used to draw reasonably well when I was younger but never pursued it. Debs is an artist herself and uses that skill with the graphic design and so on. Ash is the illustrator and is mainly self-taught. He’s become as good as he is through hard work and a lot of practice plus innate talent.

I like to think game design is part art and part craft. Then I can say I’m an artist and use that to excuse my eccentricities and oddballnesseses.

HG: How did you pick the theme for oddball Aeronauts? The art is outstanding. It’s an 18th century steampunk style thing with animals. It’s really fantastic.

MM: Thanks. Ash has done a great job of visualizing all our oddball Realms ideas. And Debs steered it in the direction of steampunk. I just sat back with my feet up and cracked the whip!

The world of the oddball Realms came first. We all had a hand in creating that and still do. We wanted to have a setting that would have as broad an age range appeal as possible and so using anthropomorphic characters was ideal. Then we fleshed the world out (to a point) and established its look and feel. So the world building came first. We’ve got several ‘worlds’ created specifically for backdrops to our games.

So when the game design for oddball Aeronauts came to me, we looked at what would best suit it. We wanted this game to have a broad appeal as possible and so the oddball Realms was the ideal world fit. And as any reasonable person would do, we decided on the specific theme of duelling dirigibles. I mean, who wouldn’t?

HG: What did you learn through iteration with the art? What were some of the challenges you faced?

MM: We’ve got a big advantage in that we have both an artist and graphic designer as part of the company. This means we can all work very closely together to ensure all aspects fit. The challenge was working out how to produce the art in such a way that all three of us were happy with the results. Over the course of this project we’ve learnt to take the art in steps just like you do with game design. We start by going over a concept – or concepts – Ash then starts with concept sketches and runs these by myself and Debs. We then tweak the look and firm up the sketch before moving on to line work and finally colour with input from Debs and me at each point. We’ve streamlined this process along the way and the results speak for themselves.

Another great advantage we have with an in-house artist is the ability to tweak and adjust at any point. For example, during the Kickstarter, one of our backers had the idea to put a monocle onto one of the bots. We thought this was really cool and relatively quick for Ash to add the monocle in, so in it went! We’ve really enjoyed this kind of interaction with our backers and want to keep going with this after the Kickstarter when we start work on the expansions. So you can expect monocles on everything!

HG: What are some of your favorite games to play? Did they influence oddball in any way?

MM: We definitely prefer games that can be learnt easily. That’s a primary factor as we don’t have a lot of time to game. And we play the same games a lot before getting new ones. Recently we’ve been playing a lot of older games – Ghost Stories, Elder Sign, Blood Bowl Team Manager, Escape: Curse of the Temple and The Hobbit. None of them directly influenced oddball but you’ll see some key elements in common – player choices, random elements, easy to learn, different characters or factions, special abilities, variety and replayability. We definitely aim to include all of these elements in our games.

HG: What are your plans for oddball, aside from the obvious of publication? Is this a game that’ll work with more players? More complex deckbuilding? Peel back the curtain and tell us how the sausage will be made, if you don’t mind.

MM: Well, we’ve tested out a 3 player version and some of our backers are currently testing 4 players. In fact, one of them came back with a great suggestion that we need to fully test that I’m excited about. So, oddball Aeronauts does work with 3 or more players but we’ll always market it as a 2 player game with rules available for 3 or 4 players. The main reason for this is that you’ll need 2 sets to play 3 or 4 players and we have no plans on creating a version with 3 or 4 factions in the one box.

As to the future, we have 6 factions already worked out that need to get beta tested fully. These will be the first couple of expansions. We’ve also been playing around with Upgrade and Damage cards. Basically, the concept is that if you’ve got an oddball Aeronauts session going, after each game in that one session you play you select one Upgrade Card of your choice and add it to your deck. However, you also randomly pick one Damage card that you also add to your deck. There will also be Trophy cards to represent the winning of a game. It’s just a little thing but your deck changes over the time of the session which is fun – a ‘flash’ campaign almost.

And we’ve got ideas for giant dirigibles. These would be twice the size of regular dirigibles and so the 24 cards representing them would have higher stats and so on. You could play giant dirigible vs. giant dirigible or you could have 2 players with regular dirigibles go up against 1 player with a giant dirigible – 2 versus 1.

As you can see we’ve got a few ideas we’re working on and it’s possible that not all of them will work out. When it comes to more complex deck building I’ve been thinking about deck ‘rigging’ where players can decide the exact order their faction cards are in at the start of the game – so there’s no shuffling. This is literally just an idea as I haven’t even tried it out myself. The question is what to do with the Event cards? Maybe still pick 2 randomly but, again, you can put them anywhere you like in your deck? If someone out there wants to give it a go and let me know the results that would be great.

HG: Do you have any other games you’re working on? I remember you had a few when you contributed to my community preview article. I’d love to know what else is coming from you guys.

MM: Yes we’ve got quite a few games lined up in various stages of design. Some are just pure concepts whereas others are on the verge of going to beta testing.

We’ve got another 3, play in your hand, surfaceless card games. These all use the same core mechanic that’s in oddball Aeronauts but do provide different experiences in different worlds to the oddball Realms.

Then there’s the oddball adventure game where up to 6 players split into 2 teams of up to 3 players in each. Each team then takes on roles of officers and crew of an airship and the two teams race across the oddball skies from air island to air island in search of fortune and glory. It’s a modular board game that allows for many different adventurous scenarios and a lot of variety. I don’t think I’ve seen a game like it and that’s why we’re creating it. We’ve got a similar game to this called ‘of Shot & Blade‘ but set in our own fantasy world of Edath.

Those are ones that are closest to beta testing.

We’ve also had a request to produce an RPG in the oddball Realms and I think role-playing in the oddball Realms would be a lot of fun. Ash and I were RPGers before we were board gamers. I’ve got ideas on how to make it a bit different to other RPGs…but our focus right now is on our board and card games. If there’s enough demand though…

HG: Where do you see Maverick Muse headed as a company? Focused on your own games? Do you see yourselves taking submissions? What do you think defines a Maverick Muse title?

MM: We’re definitely focusing on our own games and the worlds they’re set in. We’ve started discussing the idea of taking submissions but haven’t decided on a policy as yet. If we did take submissions then those games would have to fit into our studio criteria and that leads nicely into your last question about what defines a Maverick Muse title.

Our worlds are designed to be adventured in and so our games are designed around the fundamental themes of adventure and action plus we aim to instill story and narrative into them. If our games can get players groaning, fist pumping, moaning, cursing, laughing and celebrating then I think we would be very happy.

HG: Anything you’d like to add?

MM: 3 + 3 ?

I just wanted to thank you for this opportunity and say that I’ve been following your blog for a while – your posts on game design are always interesting and get me thinking. So thanks for that as well.

I want to thank the folks at Maverick Muse for helping me with this interview. If you’re interested in oddball Aeronauts, it’s on Kickstarter (already funded) for another week!

Learning from Hoth

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Post by: Grant Rodiek

I wanted to write briefly about scenario and story design for Mars Rising. Primarily, I wanted to share why the Battle of Hoth from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is a driving inspiration for the experience.

Before we get started, it may be useful for you to read this military analysis of the Battle of Hoth posted on Wired. The article is a fun read, especially for military nerds, but it really opened my eyes to the general notion that is:

The Rebels couldn’t have won the Battle of Hoth, but they could have lost much, much worse.

Generally, scenario based games are reasonably balanced. When you play Memoir ’44, the scenarios are derived from historical engagements. Therefore, you’ll often see a 45/55, or even 40/60 balance in favor of one side. In my opinion, this is fair and reasonable. It’s fun. Furthermore, the rules state for players to swap sides and compare points and execution.

Battle_of_Endor

If I think back to the Battle of Hoth, the Battle of Yavin IV, or the Battle of Endor, none of them were balanced. In every case, the Rebel Alliance was up against a far superior force with seemingly insurmountable odds. Every Rebel pilot could be considered a member of the forlorn hope. Due to skill, determination, and a little luck (and/or Midi-chorlians) they came out ahead.  This is what made them incredible stories.

Therefore, my general thinking for the scenarios of Mars Rising is to NOT focus so much on balance, but instead, focus on epic, dramatic scenarios. Here’s the general gist for every mission:

  • Location: Where is it taking place?
  • Objective: Why are the players fighting here? This is a mix of narrative and mechanics.
  • Conclusion: Who do I expect to win within the “canon” of the story I envision?
  • Consequences: How is this mission affected by the previous mission?
  • Goals: What can players do within this setup that’s extraordinary?

Let’s discuss this last point. This is where the epic comes from, or so I hope. Imagine the following prelude scenario I’m tossing around.

There is a small outpost on Ceres, the dwarf planet/asteroid in the belt between Mars and Jupiter. Mars stations a squadron of fighters here to protect merchant ships and generally keep an eye on things. It is a sleepy, lazy post that some see as ideal posting (easy) or a career death sentence (too easy). Much like the Wermacht crushing through the Ardennes to invade France in 1940’s Case Yellow Operation, the United Terran Navy is making their push against Martian interests in the Jovian belts using this sleepy, poorly defended sector. Not expecting such an event, the Martians left their back door fairly open.

Imagine these two perspectives:

  • You’re a bored, Martian squadron leader, suddenly confronted with an invasion fleet that should not be here. Do you snap out of it? What can you do? This is the worst day of your life.
  • You’re a calm, well prepared Terran Admiral. Intelligence prepared you with precise details on the presence of the Martian outpost and its squadrons. You order a few Interceptor squadrons launched and dispatch a few anti-fighter destroyers to seal the deal. This is about as routine as a training operation.

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To quote Dennis Hopper, “What do you do, hot shot?”

Let’s be reasonable. I don’t expect the Martian fighter squadron to win. The deck is (intentionally) stacked against them. The Terran surprise attack on Io will proceed, because that’s the story and that’s what I want you to experience. BUT. What if the Martians bravely disable the Terran flagship, giving a lone fighter time to jump to Io to warn them? What if a Martian freighter moving through has a sudden rush of patriotism and, with the escort of the desperate Martian fighters, reaches the jump point before it’s captured?

This will have a light ripple effect on the next mission. Imagine if that ripple builds and by the very end, there are 3 completely different missions that might take place.

I don’t know, precisely, how I intend to to mechanize this. Yet. My general thinking is for the missions to have a strictly defined end condition. This would be something like, when N ships are destroyed, the mission ends. However, I am thinking of introducing optional goals that, if accomplished, will have distinct modifiers in following missions. When playing Mission 3, it’ll ask if A, B, or C were accomplished. If so, vary the placement, or the number of ships, or even the goal you need to accomplish.

In the end, my hope is that players can play a campaign multiple times and see new things and reach a different and satisfying conclusion to their war. No, this isn’t Risk Legacy. It’s not that open. But I love the idea that a group of friends have their own story for the Jovian campaign.

Thoughts?

Inspirations of Late

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Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’ve been inspired by a few standout games lately. It’s a bit shocking to me when I read interviews with super famous designers who note they are too busy testing their own games to play games from others. I love playing other games to learn about new mechanics, see clever component tricks, and even just find ways to diversify my personal designs.

I find my tastes are changing quite a bit. In the past I was far more mechanically focused. Lately, I find myself far more focused on some fuzzy aspects and holistic product design. Things like the experience, the components, and the vibe I want to convey.

There are a few constants I have always sought in all of my designs:

  • Hour or less play time.
  • Low complexity. I fail here often, but I try. It’s something I pursue constantly.
  • Interesting card play. So far, this has meant dual-use cards for me.

Here are the things I’m challenging myself to think about more and more as my tastes shift.

  • Story! By this, I mean compelling characters, a fiction and developed universe/world, and persistence. For example, can my choices in one scenario affect another? Note: I want to be careful to say I’m trying to make games more thematic. I feel that adjective is tossed around a bit erroneously. I’d like to tell stories.
  • Dice! I’ve dabbled with dice in a few designs (Frontier Scoundrels, Poor Abby Farnsworth), but they’ve never been front and center. I want to grow creatively and change that. Dice allow for uncertainty and calculated risk. They allow for EPIC moments. They are also a great way to make your game more accessible, something I’ve learned from Dawn Sector, where the majority of the outcomes in the game are certain (and therefore nerve-wracking for new players). That being said, LOTS of randomness doesn’t necessarily excite me. I like to find ways to use it in a compelling fashion.
  • Miniatures! Or, perhaps more accurately (and vaguely), neat components. In my personal play habits I find I’m way more inclined to get a game with neat pieces instead of, say, cube fest. More and more I’m a “eurotrash” guy — I want elegance and strategy in the design with fun presentation. Many scoff at miniatures for being that component that nets millions on Kickstarter. But for me, personally, and for many of my friends, they make things more exciting.
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Krosmaster Arena: Visually stimulating!

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Bora Bora: Not visually stimulating!

  • Toy-like! This is somewhat related to the miniatures property above, but is more abstract and difficult to precisely describe. Sometimes a great game shares more in common with a favorite child hood toy in that it ignites your imagination. You find yourself making sound effects and “moving” the pieces like a total kid. Toy-like also means it’s delightful to hold and feel. It’s something a video game can’t do.

A few games have really stood out to me lately to inform these new design desires.

X-Wing Miniatures Game: A poster child for awesome components and quality design. Super toy-like as well! The game is filled with constant, simple choices and is visceral. You move pieces, roll clunky dice. It looks and feels great.

starwarsRisk Legacy: A story you and your friends write every game. The stickers are also incredibly fun. The take on this has been 50/50 from my friends, but it really hit home for me.

risklegacyMice and Mystics: Story, persistence, presentation, and dice, oh my. Honestly, Plaid Hat Games is a poster child for beautiful games that have crazy pieces and relatively smooth gameplay. Mice and Mystics is just a goofy toy chest.

magRory’s Story Cubes and The Extraordinaires Design Studio: These creations from Rory O’Connor and Anita Murphy are just awesome. The simply look delightful, are fun to hold, and immediately broaden the imagination.

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My hope is to demonstrate these qualities with my latest game, which I’m tentatively calling Blockade. You can read about my early thoughts and brainstorms here and here. The physicality of Blockade will hopefully stand out immediately. Big blocks stacked next to and on top of each other. A pile of colorful dice. And cards with awesome, colorful, highly stylized characters. Maybe like these?

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Can’t you imagine a stuffy admiral with a big mustache and this glorious noggin’? I can.

Speaking of the admirals (and others), they’ll have names. Stories. Their abilities will be extensions of their personalities and they will live and die gloriously as you play through their stories. You’ll have moments of fanfare and seconds of terror. Well, mild, completely manageable amounts of board game terror.

So really, little terror.

Perhaps it’s due to my job, which is overly stressful lately, or the fact I find it so difficult to get my friends interested in more serious fare. Maybe it’s a byproduct of my frustrations in developing Dawn Sector? There’s something about the need to create something playful, even at the expense of being a serious game, that is moving me forward.

It’s an evolution and an interesting one at that. It seems I’m returning more to my roots (Farmageddon), at least for now.

How do you evolve as a designer? How have you changed? What excites you lately? Anything I should be playing to reference?

Interview with Wicked Boar Games

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Chris Urinko has been someone I’ve kept up with for quite some time on Twitter. We met at GenCon in person and have even had a long phone call to discuss game design. He’s a great guy with a diverse set of game design interests, one of which is custom woodcrafting. After he and his design partner won the Ion Award with their game Hold Your Breath, I reached out for an interview.

Bolded words are mine. Everything else is Chris Urinko. 

Tell me about yourself and your design partner. What should we know about you?

Daniel and I have been friends for 8 years or so. We have been designing games together for about 2 years now. Before that he helped me with playtesting the role-playing supplements I had written. The easiest way to describe our partnership is to think of a laser. I am the raw energy and Daniel is the lens that focuses it.

I see myself as the “lens” in your metaphor. Do you both contribute equally in these roles during the brainstorming/concept phase, or does Daniel step in more once you come to him with an idea? Elaborate on your partnership a bit more, if you would! 

I am not very good at being a lens, so I would say Daniel has a pretty strong hold on that aspect of our partnership. But, Daniel does bring ideas as well. I think usually the model is I have an idea, I get a prototype designed, we playtest it, Daniel says fix this and this, we brainstorm the approach to fix the issues, I then revise and we playtest again. Repeat until the game is finished.

Give us the high level details for Hold Your Breath.

Number of Players: 2-4.

Theme: Players push their luck to dive as deep as they can on the first play through the deck and then attempt to swim back to the surface on the second play through the deck. Players have a chance to hinder other players on both the way down and the way back up.

Play time: 15 minutes.

Unique Mechanics: Almost every card in the deck can be used in two ways, so in a hand of 5 cards you feel like you have a lot of options to best match your strategy for that turn.

So 5 cards and up to 10 uses. How did you keep this from becoming overwhelming? What information is on the cards?

One of my troubles with Dawn Sector is that every card can be used in two ways (which can be overwhelming). But in my case the cards only have a single number and symbol. How did you keep this easy to understand for Hold Your Breath

CardExample

Here is an example of a card from the prototype. As you can see there are two icons on the card, the top icon and the bottom icon. In this example the top icon is 10 air. The bottom icon is a the draw icon which lets you discard this card to draw another card from the Dive Pile.

To make it easy, each icon is large. We made sure the top icons are always either air or swim are in two values: 5 or 10. The bottom icon has green accent if it is helpful for the player and red if it is hurtful to an opponent.

We felt these visual “clues” made decision making very fast once you start playing.

Walk me through a turn of the game.

The player draws five cards. The idea behind the game is to dive. In order to do that, you must play one or more air cards from your hand. Once you have played your air cards you may then play a number of swim cards of equal or less value than the air you played. For example, you play a 10 air card and a 5 air card, you could then play a 10 swim card and a 5 swim card, but you couldn’t play two swim 10 cards because you had only played 15 air.

In this situation, you would have one card left in your hand. You could either play that card using the icon on the bottom of the card, so if that card had a Panic icon on it, you would play it on an opponent and they would need to play a calm card to remove it before they could dive any further.  Or if the card is not helpful, you could discard it and draw back up to five cards. Finally, if the card could be helpful in the future you could keep it and draw four more cards. That makes up your turn.

What was your inspiration for the game?

I was watching my 4 year old son and all the other kids practicing holding their breath and going underwater at swim class. It just kind of seemed like there had to be a game in there. By the end of the swim lesson 30 minutes later I had the mechanics all worked out.

What were your goals when making the game? What did you hope to accomplish?

I wanted a family game that could be played with kids. I wanted it to be colorful, fun, fast, easy to teach, and I wanted the cards to be interesting even for little kids that might not grasp the rules of the game. For example, for my son and I we just use the cards as a matching game. We draw a card and then he plays a card from his hand that has an icon that matches one of the two icons on the card we drew.

Our goal was to create a game that we could get approved by the Board Game Designer’s Guild of Utah in terms of being a quality game both worthy of submitting to publishers and that it would be attractive to publishers because of its ease to produce. After bringing it to the guild, multiple people told us to submit it for the Ion Award Competition so we did.

Tell us about the Ion Award Competition. What was it like? How did it go?

The Ion Award competition is an open competition held each year as part of SaltCon. There are two categories: Family and Strategy. There are four finalists selected for each category. What is exciting to me is that the judges are all from publishing companies. We thought it would be an excellent chance to get honest feedback from publishers on what they thought of the game in terms of getting selected as a finalist. Then, if things went well, to get offers from publishers without having to send a bunch of submissions out and waiting months and months on end.

In terms of the competition, it was really exciting! We had a chance to present our rules and then play the game with the judges. They then asked questions and gave their general thoughts on the game. We knew we had a pretty good game because our judges were very favorable towards the game in their comments. We ended up winning the competition in the family category and had two interested publishers after the event.

Did the award open any doors for you?

Winning the award got us the attention of three publishers in total in the end. Publishers that I had never dealt with or submitted anything to before, so I definitely would say it opened doors for us. That is the goal of the competition; to put unknown designers in front of known publishers.

What was a difficult problem with the game’s development? How did you solve it?

Honestly, the most difficult challenge with the game was figuring out how to take it from 2 players to up to 4 players. In the end, a couple of rule changes allowed us to prevent players from ganging up on each other so badly that it would be impossible to ever get back to the surface. The solution came at SaltCon after a little discussion, us mashing a couple decks together, and then creating two new cards for the deck.

Who would love to play your game? Who is it for?

It went over very well with game players who took it to play with their kids and non-gaming spouse. It went well with groups of kids, and even with a couple of grandparents that we practiced our presentation in front of to make sure I talked slowly and clearly.

What are you most proud of with the design?

It is clean, simple, fun, and very publisher friendly in terms of components. Getting all of that into one game is not the easiest thing, I have discovered.

What were the best parts about working with a partner on the design? Were there any problems you had to overcome?

Having Daniel around means we have two brains analyzing gameplay, considering the critical feedback, and coming up with solutions. Also, I have no graphical skill what so ever, so having Daniel design all the cards was a huge part of the success of the game.  Daniel and I don’t often run into “problems.” We sometimes start a long ways away from each other on ideas, but we both want to create something great so it is just a matter of testing all the design concepts and then fairly weighing the pros and cons of each before making a unified decision.

What recommendations do you have for someone interested in a collaborative design? 

Do it! Seriously, so much fun, not too mention easier to divide and conquer the tasks. Figure out what you are good at and do that as opposed to getting frustrated by doing things that you aren’t good at.

What are some of your favorite games lately?

King of Tokyo, Lords of Waterdeep, Ascension, and Monster Factory are all games I have played and enjoyed recently.

What is most important to you as a designer?

As a designer, I want to create fun games that are attractive to publishers and players.

Anything you want to add?

You can reach me on Twitter @Battlejack. You can see the other projects Daniel and I are working on at our website.

Daniel and I have another part to our Wicked Boar Games business and that is custom components for designers. Originally this started as just producing custom sized painted cubes and tokens in specific otherwise unavailable sizes. However, we have since then purchased a laser cutter and so now we can custom create components out of wood, plastic, leather, cardboard, and even aluminum to some degree. People come to us with requests for custom dice, meeples, keychains, medallions, game boxes, game appreciation pieces and even etched wooden board game boards. We have tools ranging from hand tools all the way up the 5 axis CNC machining and the laser cutter. If you are looking for something specific feel free to reach out to us on twitter, on the website or email us at wickedboargames@gmail.com.

We are actually going to be launching our first Kickstater project in conjunction with Daft Concepts to produce custom dice for people, so look for that to happen the end of April.

If you have other questions or input just add them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

The Music that Moves Me

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Fresh Air is an outstanding interview program that airs daily on my NPR station. The host, Terry Gross, interviews writers, comedians, musicians, politicians, scientists — anyone really — and rarely lets me down. Yesterday she interviewed Stephen Colbert, a person I greatly admire, about his love of music.

I also consider myself a huge fan of music (aren’t we all?) and I started thinking about the songs that inspire me. Inspiration comes in many forms and I don’t expect this to be the last column of this sort. Here are a few songs that cause a stir within me, excite me, and get me to think when I hear them. Click the song titles to listen to the songs on YouTube.

What are yours?

“3’s & 7’s” by Queens of the Stone Age

When I hear this song I immediately look for an El Camino so I can slide across the hood. Even though I drive a Honda Civic, if this song hits the radio, I’m trying to jump it General Lee style.  I may live in San Francisco, but deep down I’m a country soul and this song never ceases to thrill me. This song is about adventure, daring, recklessness, and fun. This is a song for fighting, kissing the girl, and child-like wonder.

“No Leaf Clover” by Metallica

I’ve never cared much for metal, but I love Metallica. Almost everything they do is epic, but it wasn’t until I heard their S&M album, a live performance alongside the San Francisco Symphonic Orchestra, that they absolutely clicked. There’s something about the beautiful smoothness of the orchestra paired with the hard rock that is just awesome. This song has great build up, great momentum, and an amazing and heroic finish. This is a song about difficult decisions and rising to the occasion. This song makes me want to create champions for whom to cheer.

“Einstein on the Beach” by Philip Glass

You may hate the repetition of Philip Glass, but there’s something about it that just rocks my skull. This song is an amazing love song. I don’t fully understand it in the way I don’t really understand physics and the way the world works. This song is beautiful and it makes me want to create beautiful worlds and environment. Much in the same way viewing Avatar the first time was a journey of exploration, I want to create something for players that evokes a similar feeling of “oh my god, wow!” This song does that for me.

“Stella was a diver and she was always down” by Interpol

This is a song of sadness for me. Why? That’s a story and a memory for me. This song is about loneliness, longing, sadness, and mistakes. This is about lost potential and missed opportunities. To me this means exploration, solitude, failure, and hope. How does this manifest itself into a game? Who knows?

“This Modern Love” by Bloc Party

This is a song about love and hope. It’s a happy song, a song for walking through the woods or being with your favorite person on an otherwise empty mountain. This sound bounces and pulses with life and excitement. It always makes me think of Beth and it always makes me smile. This song brings about some of the best human emotions, which makes it a good thing to think about when designing.

“Foreplay” by Boston

WHERE AM I NEEDED LET’S DO THIS.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

The first time I heard this song was when I saw Wayne’s World in theaters. I’m pretty sure that’s the case for many people my age. When the guitar bridge starts, it’s time to head bang. This is an incredible song by an incredible band that to me means epic fun. It’s bigger than life, hyperbolic, and way overblown. If Hyperbole Games had a theme song, this would be a strong contender. To me, this song is about a certain level of wild, unbridled emotion and energy. It’s ridiculous and I want it played at my funeral. And the birth of my children.

What are the songs that get you going? 

Co-operative Headache

Post by: Grant Rodiek

This was a difficult weekend of game design. Or, what, I should say game flailing. Is that a thing? Because if it is, I did it.

I’ve never designed a cooperative game and as a result, there are things I seemingly need to learn from scratch, re-learn, or throwaway from the experiences I’ve picked up the past few years. I hate starting over, yet here I am. Hi Square One, I’m Grant.

The biggest issue is that whole cogs have been added to this machine. Typically for a competitive game I must conceive a goal, a conflict, and choices players make to achieve that goal and contribute to the conflict. However, with a cooperative game I must consider and design a few more significant elements, including:

  • How does the game actively try to hinder and stop the players from accomplishing their shared goal? I have to create an AI that is interesting for hundreds of games.
  • How can players work together in interesting ways to accomplish their goals? Synergy is key.
  • How do I create an interesting goal that feels fresh and not immediately solvable? This is less of a problem when you have a human opponent at the wheel. Now, the AI needs to do it. This is somewhat like bullet #1, I realize.

On top of this, I need clever mechanics (as always) so players feel like they are doing compelling things every game. You know, a unique game that isn’t a clone of every other game.

This weekend I just spun my wheels and quickly found myself stuck in the mud. Do I have pre-set planets, purely random planets, or various components that create the planet. What’s the goal? Is it the same on every planet, but it’s just more or less difficult based on the planet itself? I fluctuated on this topic for quite some time, especially as I could see the component list exploding. I really try to corral my components from the outset. I like an easy setup, a low cost, and, with all things, focus.

What do players do on their turns? Or do they have turns? I toyed with an odd mix of simultaneous decision, followed by individual turns, then back, and…nothing connected. I spent hours on this until I realized I hadn’t even picked a goal for the game. What’s the point of figuring out what players are doing if you don’t know the why?

Really, this is a massive chicken and egg issue. But, I’m not familiar with this egg. And this chicken is acting really squirrely. Is he a squirrel? Gah!

I’m figuring it out, actually. I’m telling you about my failures, but not the interesting things I’ve discovered. I want to be careful about talking too much about things I’d like to see in the game before they actually get there. I’ve already talked about Personality, Chit pulling, and some other high level things. I need to shut up and make them all work first.

Back to work…

Mechanically Sound #1

In addition to writing as ideas come to mind and posting guest submissions, I have a handful of semi-regular features I’d like to introduce. Mechanically Sound is the first.The idea is to share interesting mechanics from existing games in the hopes of providing inspiration for your own creations. One of my biggest goals as a designer is to create more unique and innovative designs. One of the best ways to attain this goal is to immerse myself in the cleverness of others.

My other hope for this feature is that it’s easy for readers to submit mechanics they encounter. If you encounter a really clever mechanic, contact me! Explain the mechanic and tell me why it stood out to you. 

Post by: Grant Rodiek

For this inaugural post of Mechanically Sound, I thought I’d detail mechanics from 3 games I’ve recently encountered and enjoy: Discworld: Ankh-MorporkConflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! Kursk 1943, and Navegador.

The Card Choices in Discworld

Each turn, the active player must play one card from his hand. Above are three example cards from the game. There are approximately a half dozen Actions, represented by symbols (look at the top of the cards above).The player may choose all, some, or none of the Actions to take, with the exception of the pentagram Action, which must be executed.

The other twist is that players must execute the actions from left to right. You may want to take the second Action before the first Action, but too bad. It’s to the right.

Finally, if you see the Scroll symbol (shown on the left 2 cards above), you can choose to execute the Action written at the bottom. This allows the designer to creep outside the relatively small number of Actions when necessary.

The iconography is excellent and players generally learn the handful of Actions shortly into their first play. The fact that most cards have multiple Actions, some you want, some you don’t, and some you cannot at this time, makes most turns really compelling.

Damage Counters in Storms of Steel!

In Storms of Steel! every unit is represented by a small token like the one on the left in the image above. These markers convey the cost to take a Move or Fire action, the direction the unit faces, the range of the unit, its attack strength, and finally, its defense. That’s a lot of information!

In many war games, as units take damage they suffer a penalty to attack and effectiveness. That’s the case here, but the designers make it far more interesting, varied, and thematic.

All units in the game can absorb 2 hits, at which point they are destroyed. When the unit takes its first hit, the player draws a face down token from a pool, like the one on the right above. These tokens convey the feelings a unit in combat might experience, such as panic, cowardice, or like the one above, suppression.

Instead of forcing the player to memorize several stats for several states, the designers instead give you a token that displays the modifications to the specific stat in the same location as the unit token.

For the unit above, Suppression increases the Action Point cost for firing to 4 (the +1) and reduces the unit’s firing effectiveness against infantry and armor targets by -2 (bottom left).    I love how this mechanic introduces a little randomness and variety into the game without complicating things too much. Such a great idea and great component design!

The Rondel of Navegador

In Navegador, the player takes one Action each turn. To determine the Actions available, the active player looks at the location of their player piece on the rondel (see the blue token in the image above).

In the image above, the blue token is currently on the orange sliver: Building. For the player’s next Action, he may choose Shipping, Workers, or Market, i.e. any of the three Actions in front of his token.

The beauty of this mechanic is that your future turns are predictable and your choices are limited. On some turns you may take a less ideal option to move yourself along the rondel more quickly in order to cut off an opponent seeking the same goal, or slowly move around it while taking every Action possible. It was so simple, yet so compelling.

Do you find these mechanics compelling and innovative? Comment below! Post your submissions in the comments or contact me.

Chasing Inspiration

This post is a bit of a case of “thinking out loud.” It’s not overly personal and shouldn’t be awkward, I just wanted to arrange some thoughts that are relevant to design and my processes.

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I think every designer has inherent strengths, portions of the design process with which they have a certain affinity or strength. Alas, the universe more often than not seeks balance and with one’s strength comes a weakness.

My strength is in the execution. Play testing, streamlining clunky systems, writing clear rules, and adding balance where little existed. I work with data (like feedback or observations) well and can take a strong idea and make it better.

I suffer, however, with the inspiration side of things. I’m often thinking of polish before a concept is even solidified and as a result many of my ideas tend to be too conservative or too evolutionary instead of revolutionary. This is largely a result of my professional training (I’m a producer, i.e. design editor) and personality (I’m obsessed with simplicity).

I’ve designed a few games now and many of them were not good enough to pitch to a publisher or even post on a print on demand site. Many of my ideas fail conceptually in that they aren’t exciting or bold enough or they are too close mechanically to existing games.

A pattern seems to be emerging: When I approach a project with the thinking of “I’d like to design a game using this mechanic,” it ultimately leads to failure. Frontier Scoundrels began as “I want to make a game that uses a dice mechanic.” Poor Abby Farnsworth feels like it’s floundering and there I began the game from the basis of “I want to make a game that uses a deckbuilding mechanic.”

Like the aristocracy of old breeding, this is a shallow pool from which to draw (that’s a gene pool joke). For one, I’m immediately limiting my creative canvas. I’m setting boundaries at the onset of the creative process when really I should be coming up with crazy things. Furthermore, I’m setting myself up against some of the biggest names in board gaming at the moment. Doesn’t it seem a tinge foolish to point my spear at Dominion and Thunderstone and Eminent Domain and Ascension followed by a hearty “charge!”

Farmageddon is my most successful design to date. At the onset of the design my only goal was to create a simple game that played quickly and was easily understood. I didn’t specify mechanics or components. Really, the only thing I established was an overall vibe and a farming setting. Farming, by the way, is a setting that is FULL of mechanics inspirations, but we can discuss that in another post.

Similar to identifying your strengths as a designer, I think it’s important to identify the sources from which you draw the best inspiration.

The richest source of inspiration for me is history. It is, for me, the greatest story with the best characters. Characters from history like Theodore Roosevelt and Wellington. Or even the nameless characters, like the soldiers or spies or farmers caught up in epic events. History also provides settings that are rich and full of interesting conflict, like the dust bowl era, or the age of discovery, or the space race.

When I ignore that which excites and interests my mind the most (history), I’m eliminating a creative tool from my arsenal. Find what excites you, whether that’s the theater, comic books, cooking, or fashion.

Finally, it’s important to set yourself in a situation that makes you most likely to receive this inspiration. For me, the best time for this is when I take my dog on a walk. Or, when I’m sitting at a table that does not have a computer, iPhone, or iPad and is instead full of paper, pencils and stuff. Things for me to fiddle with and think upon.

I recently created a second desk in my office that has no digital devices. Just sketch pads, white boards, and writing implements. Distraction is good, but 90% distraction/10% creative thought isn’t.

It is perhaps a bit meta (correct usage?) that I’m iterating and designing my design process. Hopefully the result is something more outstanding or the fabled lightning in a bottle.