The Crunch Continues

Since my last post I've been hard at work getting games ready for this coming week. It's been pretty hot and heavy. My efforts have been split between Space Chase and Lords of Battlemore. Space Chase has been a lot of finishing work before I send it off for a nice prototype print. If that sounds tedious, it is. Lords of Battlemore on the other hand has been creating first draft designs which is a far more creative (and fun!) endeavor. Developing Lords has brought back up one of my biggest faults when I prototype - focusing too much time into the look of the design. I know I shouldn't fuss with it as much as I do, but I justify it due to how design often influences gameplay. I feel like good design, color usage and a gameplay cheat sheet can alleviate a lot of rules confusion. When people test my games for the first time I want them to focus on how the game feels and not the curves of learning a new game. Also, I like designing. So there.

Space Chase has already gone through the gauntlet in this regard, but still needs finishing touches. It's instruction manual (which is high on my love, hate and priority list) is getting a graphical overhaul. Luckily it's not a part of the prototype that's going to The Game Crafter, so it doesn't need to be finished this week.

The prototype test group meets this Thursday, so Lords will need to be complete by Wednesday. I'm pretty sure I'm ahead of the game (nudge nudge), but I know not to relax. Prototyping is a slippery slope.

- B

Game Crunch Crafter FIG

And I'm back... It's been a while and although I haven't been posting about it here, I have still been working on games and meeting with various testing groups. Actually, I've been working on games quite a lot and have much to show for it. Last time I posted I had just got back from Boston FIG (Festival of Indie Games). I was kicking myself a little for not submitting games for it. I vowed that next year I would have my games in submission shape and be ready to FIG. Well apparently that time is fast approaching since last year's submissions needed to be for June. Currently there is no official date, but I'm assuming it will be around the same time so I'll be game crunching the next few months to tighten up everything I have.

What games do I have these days you ask? Currently I'm Looking at 3 or 4 games with most of the design done, a half dozen prototypes of each and mostly complete instructions. I should be sending stuff of to The Game Crafter sometime this week for a few different games to start testing "final" prototypes.

Current prototype games include:

Space Chase (Mercury) M.E.G.A. 8 (Earth) Wicked Apples Lords of Battlemore

I still reserve the right to change any of these names, but I think it's good that I have something specific to refer to them by. I'll try to post some images and gameplay synopsis of each one this week.

- B

100% complete! ...with 80% of the game

I'm really good at starting projects. I think a of of people are. It's finishing a project that's the killer. Since my last post I've started 2 new games, but I'm not sure it's a bad thing this time. In my last post I was on my way to test out Earth and see if it was any good. Although play testing was limited, people really seemed to enjoy the basic set of cards (about 90 total) that I was testing with. The testers put forth a few ideas and I headed home, anxious to complete the rest of the game. As I began to introduce these new ideas, they lead to questions. And those questions lead to roadblocks that I couldn't get past. They were simple questions, but important enough that they needed a lot more testing before I could continue pushing forward with new cards and content.

After a week of tweaking mechanics and self play testing I was a little burnt out. I decided to take a break and design a new game. A simple game. A game that wouldn't keep me up at night crunching numbers. First I came up with a name, Wicked Apples. Then I imagined what playing a game with that name would be like. I know it sounds completely backwards, but it actually worked out quite well. It's the first game that has a name I like instead of a random planet. I'm not sure, but I think this may be my new creative process.

Since creating Wicked Apples I've gone through 3 rounds of play testing and 4 prototypes. People are really enjoying it and with only 23 cards it's been evolving very quickly. I'm really excited about the latest version and can't wait to get in some more play testing as soon as the new cards are complete.

Here's a sneak preview to keep you curious:

6-Curious

I also went to Boston FIG (Festival of Indie Games) last Saturday which showcases both video games and board games. It also gives you a chance to talk directly to the game creators which is always interesting. I met some nice people, played some cool games and can't wait to go again next year. If you've never gone I'd highly recommend it.

I'm going to try to make weekly posts a thing from now on. There are always new ideas, artwork and complaints to share. Now I just need to make the time.

- B

Hearing the words through the music

Whenever I listen to music I can easily hear the rhythm, the melody, even the vocals, but I always hear the words last. They are the last piece of the puzzle for my brain and can make a song that much better or sour it for me. I think I'm finally starting to hear the words of some of my games; the bare bones base of what the game wants to be.

Game #3 (Earth) has had a core concept for a while, but I think some of the mechanics/strategy have really firmed up over the past few months. I've finally heard what it's been trying to say. Thus - great word thus - I've been tweaking rules more than adding and removing. Earth has also proved to be a more involved game to create than I had planned. It required lots information to be condensed into single cards which has led to the creation of it's own game shorthand. It also has a large amount of random variety. Trying to balance all the variations has proved tough to say the least. But with each new version I see a few new truths about how the rules fit together and that creates a larger foundation for me to build on.

If all goes according to plan, I'll be taking Earth to a prototype test session later this month. It's time to see how it sounds to other people.

- B

Ordinary word failure

Lately I've been learning the secret art of showing people how to play your game without actually showing them how to play your game. Also referred to as writing game instructions. Writing instruction manuals for assembling furniture is difficult enough, but finding the right words to describe abstract ideas found in many board games is a whole different beast. Luckily I have a plan. My plan is to not use words. Well maybe I'll use a few, but I'll be supplementing them with lots of images and diagrams to illustrate how to play when ordinary words fail.

I think my next step will be finding new victims players to test games using only the instructions while I sit behind them quietly cringing at each mistake.

- B

Game Flavor: Needs Salt

I believe that games each have a different flavor and game designers are like chefs; carefully choosing which ingredients to add to make a unique and tasty experience. See that meeple over there? Give it a lick. Tastes like strategy doesn't it? Lately I've been wondering what my games are tasting like and if I'm just cooking the same BBQ chicken over and over again. But enough of this metaphor. Let's talk design!

In general I prefer strategy games. I like players to have choices, so that the victory or defeat can be theirs and not simply bad luck. That said, I still employ a lot of randomness in my games (like drawing cards or rolling dice) so each play is unique. I try to offset this by making each card or die roll have multiple uses or choices. Should you use this card now for a quick score or save it away for big points later on? I figure that if that player is not involved then they will not be as interested in the outcome.

Play your games. Don't let your games play you.

- B

I'm back...

I know it's been a while since my last update, but don't worry I've been hard at work. If you missed me, I'm sorry and I'm back. If you didn't miss me, I'm sorry and I'm back.

Game wise I've been all over the place the past few days. I visited family and did some play tests with Mercury. It was an older crowd (60+) of non-gamers and everyone was able to grasp the main concepts fairly quickly. Explaining the game however, made me remember how much I dread working on writing Mercury's instructions. I'll might probably try to possibly kind of work on them more this week since it's still fresh in my mind. Maybe...

I also worked on Venus extensively. I know I haven't talked about this game much, but I haven't been as worried about it since the rules are complete and it's been play tested quite a lot. What it really needs is a new skin to make it's cards easier to understand and more appealing to look at. That's been my focus and it's come together fairly quickly. I'll be posting some images for that soon.

Lastly, I did more play testing with Earth. It still needs a lot more trials and I need some sturdy gamers to help with that. I think it's the least friendly of the 3 games and not something I want to pain casual players with. You're safe for now family.

I'm hoping to have a new version of Venus ready for testing early this week and to continue testing the other games when I have some spare time. There's only 1 month left. Where does the time go?

- B

Complete is in the eye of the beholder

Just a quick update tonight. I was thinking about my first post and the goal I set of completing 3 games. Complete is a very subjective term and I'd like to set more solid goals. A complete game shall have:

  • No unknown mechanics (None of that 'we'll figure it out later' stuff)
  • Full written instructions/rules
  • Higher quality components (better than a prototype)
  • No placeholder artwork (Goodbye Captain Reynolds, you will be missed)

It's going to be tough reaching these goals by the end of the year, but nothing worth doing is ever easy. Also, Benny says "Hi".

Image

- B

Earth: Take 2

After much hard work and some skipped meals, I was able to push forward and get Earth prototype #2 designed and printed this Saturday. Over the past few days I've also done some play tests. So how did it turn out? Pretty damn good actually. The balance tweaks seem to be working out well, but as always they will take longer to test. More on that later. Design tweaks however, offered more obvious improvements. The text is now easier to read and much of the game language has been unified. Creating a unified experience is always important with a game that only uses a random portion of it's assets in order to add variety. I want players who only see 15% of what the game offers, to feel like they understand 100% of the core mechanics. I also still want them to be surprised/excited as they discover the other 85% of the game. On top of that I'd also like 5000% game play variety. Too much? Probably. Let's get away from all these percentages.

To play test variety a little more heavily, I've removed quite a lot of it. I know that doesn't seem like it makes sense, but hear me out. Instead of using a random selection of cards each game, I've used the same cards for the past 4 playthroughs. Seeing how the same setup can play out differently each time has given me more confidence that I'm on the right track.

I'm very pleased with how the game feels and I think it soon may be time for some real testing. Keep your friends close, and your prototype testers closer.

- B

Scope Creep: Earth Edition

Hey kids! Who wants to talk about scope creep? You don't know what that is? I'm sure you do, but you've probably just called it something else. Simply put, it's a project that grows beyond it's initial plans; ambition's Kryptonite. I learned the term from some clever people who use clever terms like this to keep their clever projects running smoothly. I however am not that clever, and thus my scope hath crept.

Normally creep is a bad thing that kills time tables, steals candy from children and sometimes derails a project completely. Luckily Earth's scope creep is not altogether bad. I'm not altering any base mechanics. I'm simply adding more cards than I had planned for prototype version 2. Many of these cards were just waiting to be created, so I'm really just getting a little early balance testing in.

Good job me. You win again.

- B

Warming Up Mercury (Part 2)

Now that you have the back story of Mercury, let's talk about how it's played. At it's most basic level, Mercury is a path creation game. You select, rotate and play square tiles from your hand onto the end of the previous tile (think dominoes with easier matching). Basic tiles look like this: Image Image

The orange is your burn path, which you match to create a single continuous line. Your ship is always at the furthest point on that path. This orange path is also the path that the Hunter will be following to track you. Every time you play a tile your ship moves forward along the path, then the Hunter moves forward one tile as well. You continue drawing and playing random tiles in an effort to reach the final tile, AI Nirvana.

Sounds too easy? Let me fix that. Along with these basic tiles, there are many other tiles what will help or hinder you. Evil tiles like the Enemy Outpost will cause the Hunter to move forward an extra space when the he/she (Hunter sex has yet to be determined) lands on it.

Image Image

Helpful tiles like the Thrusters allow players to use an extra tile in the same turn:

Image Image

All together there are 17 different tile types, not counting the straight/turn variations. Early on, I struggled with finding a way to quickly explain and illustrate the uses of all the different tiles. To alleviate this I created a one page cheat sheet that shows usage examples of every tile in the game. So far tests have been positive, but I still need to test with more non-gamers to make sure. Bring on the holidays and bring on the family. No I haven't seen Apples to Apples, but I do have a new game for you to try...

- B

Warming Up Mercury

So let's visit Mercury; A game about space, oddly enough. Here's the synopsis: Around the beginning of the new Millennium, humankind achieved their greatest achievement, finding someone else to clean up their mess. Synths were created and a new era of human laziness began. As years passed, rumors began to upload throughout the Synth network of an AI Nirvana beyond the grasp of the humans. Inevitably, a small group of daring Synths steal a human ship and set off in search of happiness, but a Synth Hunter has also been dispatched and is following close behind.

To win, you and your Synthmates must work together to evade the Synth Hunter while searching the sector for the hidden AI nirvana. Happily, the sector is only so big so it's only a matter of time before you find your destination. Sadly, like everything you really want to find, it's usually in the last place you look.

Mercury is a co-op game at heart, though it can also be played solo. It uses unique player skills, hand management and tile placement to create randomized puzzles for players to solve. I think my favorite part is looking at a completed game and seeing the chaos you've created in the name of strategy.

- B

Saving The Earth

Earth - the game - has been my focus for the past 2 days. Earth - the planet - is still spinning and in less need of my help. Don't worry, I'm still recycling. I've decided not to be a gentle surgeon and have begun lopping off any parts of the game that don't seem to be serving their intended purpose. Goodbye appendix, you will not be missed. Almost all of the cards and the main board have been edited in some way beyond cosmetic changes. I think this is the right way to proceed, seeing as it's still early in development, but it also means that balancing will probably still be off since I've made slight alterations to everything. All changes have been entered into a super sexy spreadsheet and I have updated about half the cards so far. I'm hoping to complete the rest of the changes over the next two nights and be printing again by Wednesday.

Over the next few days I think I'll be talking more about Mercury. That planet has it's shit together a little more and will probably be more interesting than this Earth mess.

- B

Designing in a vacuum

I'll let you in on a little secret. I'm horrible at naming games. I like to pretend it's because names are the least important things when creating a prototype and therefore my effort should be spent elsewhere, but really, I think I'm just avoiding the issue. In the meantime I've decided to give them code names. I'll go with... Mercury, Venus and Earth. Horrible? Yes. But I've already confessed to being the worst namer of things, so I feel no shame. Plus we'll all have a good giggle when I'm working on prototype 7. I've just recently printed the first prototype of Earth and for the past 2 days I've been doing some play-testing. After a few plays I had a laundry list of things I wanted to change, but I've been hesitant to make them. As sure as I am that something will make the game better, I know that quick reactions aren't always the right ones. So I'm taking lots of notes and seeing which issues are most common and/or game breaking. During this time of indecision, I've turned my attention to mind numbing graphical updates like text weight and background overlay opacity.

Playing a two player game by yourself is also problematic. I constantly screw other me over by telling myself other me's secret plans. I always win, but I always lose. :( I know that getting feed back from others is key, but at this stage I'm just not sure Earth has enough solid mechanics to be ready for public consumption. I just need to make sure I don't spend too long locked away in my personal Bobby bubble. It's the art of finding just the right time to push your baby bird out of the nest. Fly! Fly you beautiful bastard! And don't come home! We're turning your room into a sauna!

- B

Balance

Tonight was a slow night for game design. I spent some time trying to balance a certain category of cards and found more questions than answers. It's not something that will make or break the the game, but if you don't start you'll never finish. Hopefully tomorrow will see the end of this task and a little more play-testing. I'll also try to post some pictures of all three games and explain a little bit about how each one is played.

- B

Daddy, where do kid's games come from...

I think the most appropriate way to start this off is by letting everyone know that I've got game. Well actually, I've got games. Three to be exact and all in semi completed states. Currently I'd classify them as pimply teens trying to figure out how they fit into this crazy, mixed up world. My plan is to shower the ugly little buggers with TLC until the end of the year and see if I can usher them into adulthood. Don't worry, we've already had the talk. Always use a card sleeve for protection.

With a little luck and a lot of willpower I will attempt to update this blog daily with all progress great and small. Feel free to hang around and watch me fail, succeed and possibly murder the English language.

- B