I have good news, and I have better news

We’ll start with the good news. Terra Neo arrived in the mail. Alex and I were able to play the first genuine game with a mutual friend, and it went splendidly.

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The game looked great, first of all. The only tough part was how big the land tiles were. It meant we couldn’t actually play a radius 4 game on Alex’s table. It also made the temple pieces (small discs) look super tiny. The Halma pawns, though, were as awesome as we thought they would be. The profile is so nice. Anyhow, the game started off normally: with the special first turn sprint.

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Look at those land tiles. Beautiful. And maybe a little distracting. I’m not above admitting mistakes. I was the blue cloud guy, Alex was the yellow spirit dude, and our friend Ian decided to be the jolly fat character. Element wise, that meant that while Alex and Ian both had elements that were only native to them, I shared a land type with both players. If you wanted to get really technical, which I often do, this isn’t the balance you would want in a three player game. Unfortunately, due to cost constraints, we couldn’t include the two additional characters needed to achieve perfect balance. Alas.

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This is a great mid-game picture. It shows a partially built world with a huge gash of siphoned land. By this point, Ian had built two temples right along that gash, and he smartly picked the Death card as his first upgrade. I went a slightly different route with my upgrades, choosing a few that Alex and I had raised some doubts about. I really wanted to test the cards to make sure that we hadn’t designed any totally useless ones. Spoilers: we didn’t.

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So here’s the end. Final score: Alex 12, Ian 17, Me 19. It really was a good game for me, but Ian seriously gave me a run for my money, especially considering I know everything about this game and had a complex strategy from the beginning, and he had never played and chose upgrades fairly quickly. Alex and I like to think that means the game has a very shallow learning curve, not that it’s strategically shallow. All of that being said, I’m about to launch into a somewhat ridiculous analysis of this game, starting with the winning strategy.

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So this was my character. The Wealth card allowed me to access double the amount of cards in the “Source,” which is the four shared draw piles at the edge of the table. The Time card gave me the ability to then swap tiles on the field with tiles in the Source, which for me is now twice as flexible. Finally, the Dreams card gave me bonus points for native land left in the Source. If I didn’t have the wealth card, that would mean I only had four chances, but instead I had eight. In fact, that scoring combination got me three points, and ultimately the win. Something to mention is that I was the only player who was fully upgraded, and if Ian had upgraded with almost any other scoring card, he would have beaten me. Alex was, well, doing other stuff. He was trying to use some under-utilized cards as well, but it didn’t work out for him as well.

The next thing I want to talk about is the thematic quality of the ending. Now, this may not appeal to everyone, but for me, a lot of the fun of game is the implication of the final results. We created a world with unique and interesting geography. There are temples placed all over the continent, each dedicated to a different god of this world. The head of the pantheon is the Cloud God, prayed to by wealthy merchants looking to bolster their finances, and by children hoping that their dreams will come true in the future. His obese brother rules the underworld, sending plagues to the lands above to fill his banquet table with fresh souls. Finally, many pray to the Masked God of medicine, despite the fact that he is both arbitrary and unknowable, hiding his emotions and thoughts behind his mask.

See how cool that is? And once you start to think about it that way, even the craziest combinations start to make sense. I mean, you could really think about the Masked God as a genuine ancient deity. It would make sense that in the past, when medicine was a gamble at best, that the god of medicine would not be thought of as consistent or predictable, but rather cruel and arbitrary.

But enough of my weird world-builder over-thinking. The better news is that the Game Crafter has announced the finalists, and Terra Neo is at the top of the list. The top of a list in no particular order, but at the top nonetheless. So to celebrate the better news, I’m going to stop typing and go to bed. Not like there’s much else to say.


Reluctant Pirate Games 2.0

Before I begin this post in earnest, I’m going to quickly point out that the Game Crafter has published the list of Map Builder Design Challenge entries, and it is extensive and intimidating. You can check them out here.

So, Reluctant Pirate Games 2.0. An ambitious title befitting an ambitious time. Let me start with a sad, sad picture.

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When the Game Crafter updated their website, all old games had to be updated or else they would be un-published. Because at the time I was not updating my website or really doing much of anything, I just let it happen. When I finally went back to the site to check it out, this sad state of affairs greeted me. That “Need help?” button suddenly seemed like it was mocking me. Not only had my successful games become unpublished, but I realized how many games I recently made that never actually got finished. What’s more, it reminded me that all of the my old games could use revisiting. With that in mind, I am launching this campaign. By the end (whenever that is) I will have updated or completed every game on this list. To keep it interesting, I’m going to tackle them in pairs. The first pairing is, fittingly, Manic Mechanics and Satellite Salvo. My first two games, possibly my best, and two incredibly lame alliterations. Can’t wait.

Although I’ve done some text-based work on Satellite Salvo in the past few days, most of my time since Terra Neo ended has been spent going over Manic Mechanics. Tonight I actually sent out a survey to all of my collaborators to ask them what they thought of the potential changes. Let me lay these changes out for you.

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First, I want to tweak the card layout and appearance. Like an idiot I put the old card on the right, because I hate intuitive graphics. But either way, you can see the differences are small. Still, any change could be trouble, so I thought I would ask. This card also has a slight change in effect, but that’s not really part of the survey.

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I’m also thinking about punching up the artwork with a scribble effect. I’ve made some cards that integrate this fill into the vehicles, but I’m even less optimistic about that idea. Either way, it’s a really simple Illustrator command that produces this, so I’m not worried about big changes meaning big piles of work.

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Also, I’m totally changing one of the vehicles (Scorpedo used to be called Warpedo, and it did something totally different) and possibly adding a bizarre wild-card vehicle. It’s called Multiball. Get it? Like “multiple,” but referring to the roundness? I’ll see myself out…

The last two things I have to do are without a doubt the most difficult. One is to fix the boards, which is something I have tried to do repeatedly over the past few years. Every time I try to edit them, I realize that I am as stumped as I was the day I first drew them. The other big problem is the rules. Between these two things I may have actually won the first Game Crafter contest. But I didn’t because the board was ugly and the rules were incomprehensible. So that’s going to be an adventure, especially since I have decided to use this project to teach myself InDesign. Hooray…

What this means for my website is that I will finally have stuff to post again. I will be working on these two games continuously over the next  few weeks, with my tentative deadline being Easter. That way I can celebrate by eating donuts again after the horror of a gluten-free Lent. If my posts get increasingly angry until then, that’s why. Let’s hope not.


Terra Neo: Great game or greatest game?

I’m typing this at about 10 the night that Terra Neo is due. Alex and I are doing final touches and going over the shop page in preparation for the submission. But, while I have a few minutes, I figured I’d starting writing up the second development post for this game. Last time we left our heroes as they exited Prototype Forest and headed towards the Fortress of Final Graphics.

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Yeah, the cloud guy got even more awesome, if that’s even possible. This is why I always outsource the creation of soft things. Some people really have the touch, and I am not one of those people. Either way, there are 3 more, equally cool gods in the game, but I can’t show everything now, can I? Next up was the color scheme. As always, we turned to our friend Morgan, whose graphic skills have transformed our games in the past. Let’s see what he did with this one.
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And it’s not just that these colors are better. There’s a unity that comes from his approach. For instance, I just chose colors that I needed and I thought looked ok. Morgan reference sanskrit cave paintings to find earthtones and natural pigments that were geographically similar. Let that sink in. While you do, take a look at the thing that I actually did without anyone’s (direct) help.

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Unfortunately, there was just too much between the prototype art that the final art to actually go into it. Needless to say, shit got real. The resonance went from awkward outer coloring to an overlaid pattern of circles in 3 different scales. The land types below that became highly graphic representations of geography instead of bad drawings. All in all, really fun stuff. The last thing we did was update the upgrades. I don’t really have a good picture of this process, since it was mostly just a color shift, so instead here’s a few of the cards in a little gallery.

Anyway, I really shouldn’t be writing this when we’re right up against the deadline. But I wanted to officially put this whole process up, and here it is. I will hold off on an official “Publish” announcement until Alex and I have it in our hands, so any more news will have to wait until then. In the meantime, I’m going to take the weekend off from this kind of stuff, and early next week I will start detailing the upcoming rebirth of Reluctant Pirate Games. Hooray!


New banners, and fresh lies!

I was too busy tonight to do the full Terra Neo post that I wanted to do. Instead, I’m just going to point out that if you refresh the page, the banner will change. I made one for each game I’ve designed, complete or incomplete, and a generic one that matches my brand new business cards. Anyway, tomorrow is the deadline for Terra Neo, so I will post to my success at midnight when I submit/order.

Actually, I don’t like that there aren’t any images in this post, so I’m just going to post all of the new banners below so that you don’t have to refresh. Woo!

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Manic Mechanics

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Satellite Salvo

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Shima

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The Estate

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Energy Independence

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The Magnificent Mechanical Mosaic

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The Founding Fighters

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Terra Neo

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Business Card


Well that’s quite enough of that…

So many things. Not really sure where to start. So I’ll just begin with what’s happening right now, drop back into the recent past, then look forward into the next few months. Alright, let’s do this.

Alex Coulombe and I are 95% finished with a new contest game. Since I wasn’t really posting when this contest was announced, I’ll post it now. It’s called the Map Builder Design Challenge, obviously from the Game Crafter. It’s a pretty simple premise: design a game with a dynamic map, either created at the outset of the game (Catan style) or during the game (Carcassone). I hadn’t really produced a solid game in a while, so I decided to ask Alex if he wanted to do another collaboration, since the last one got us into the finals. If I had been posting at the time, I would have laid out the competing ideas we had, and how they evolved, but instead, here’s a picture of us playing a rough version of what would become the final game.

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A couple things to note here. 1 is that we are clearly using pieces from Alex’s award-winning game The Rum Run and pieces from the very cool Risk: Metal Gear Solid Edition. 2 is that I am dressed up. Not sure how that’s relevant, but it’s so rare for me that I thought I would mention it. Also, at this point, the game was tentatively being called “Super Little Demi-God.” Luckily, the title changed later. Anyway, I’ll try and explain the basics of the game based on this picture.

Super Little Demi-God was, and I guess still is, a hex-based map-building game. Without going too far into the story, you play as a Demi-God who, along with their siblings, is building a brand new world separate from the world of their godly father. Imagine Hercules and his brothers and sisters seceded from Olympus to make a new world, except instead of the demi-gods being heroic and just, they’re petty and obnoxious. Regardless, the game begins with no world existing, just a center tile (the white token for those following along on the picture). Depending on the number of players (in this case 2), the world has a limited “radius.” You can see that in this instance the world has a radius of 3. This is important because the main action of the game is to place hexagonal land tiles and fill out the world to its maximum size. Unlike other map-building games, though, you are not an all-powerful being who can do whatever they want. You are limited to placing land on spots adjacent to your characters, which in this play-test are two of the characters from MGS Risk. This creates an interesting early world, where each player attempts to build out a little private area, bumping elbows as the areas expand. The little blue and orange dudes in the photo are Temples, which you can also build. These are how you actually win the game. At the time of this play-test, the scoring rules were not fully formed, but basically the more temples you had the better.

So that’s where we were about a month ago. The game was pretty simple. Then things took a turn for the awesome. Here’s a great picture of a public play-test we did at a board-game Meetup in Tribeca.

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Pretty cool, right? At this point, the title of the game had changed to “New Pantheon.” I mocked up some land tiles, and we added upgrades. Also, that last sentence was way to casual for such a big leap. Either way, the game surged forward in both sophistication and strategy. The people who played it really seemed to like it too. As you can see, the basic structure is the same. There are land tiles of various types, some player pawns, and their corresponding temples. What’s more apparent in the picture is the concept of “Resonance.” If you look at the closest row of hexes, you will see that there are central land graphics surrounded by an outer color. For instance, there’s a red mountain on the right with a black background, and a yellow desert in the middle with a white background. The four land types (mountain, desert, forest, ocean) each break into three different “resonances” (black, white, grey), both of which affect gameplay and scoring. Now, look at the nearest “character” card (the one with the crazy dude on it). It has two land symbols on it, which correspond to that player’s “native land.” This concept is important, because you can only build temples on that kind of land. The resonance, on the other hand, is how temples are scored. But honestly, this isn’t really worth explaining here. There will be some fantastic pictures tomorrow which will do a much better job of explaining it.

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Lastly, and this deserves its own paragraph, is the upgrade system. See the black tokens on the board? Those are placed on a land tile when it has been “siphoned” of all of its magical energies, making it useless for scoring or temple-building. Every time you do that to a piece of land, you can take an upgrade from the pile. In this game, the blue demi-god chose to become the god of Hunting, Knowledge, and Chaos. This granted him powers beyond the standard actions in the game. This was probably the biggest leap for the game at this stage, as it went from a repetitive, hardly escalating game to a snowballing adventure of increasing power and madness. Plus, you know, more art is always better. More on that later. Oh, and take a look at the character card above. I stole the god drawings from the internet, so they couldn’t be used in the final game. But I seriously loved that cloud so much that when I commissioned the final art I specifically said that something like that had to be in there. And oh boy was that a good idea. And because I’ve tagged the post anyway, I’ll say that after these play-tests, the name was changed one last time to “Terra Neo.”

So, to the future. Tomorrow I will post the rest of the development of this game. This includes final art, and some tweaks to how the game functioned. It’s due on Friday night, but all that’s left to do is for Alex to finish the rules, so unlike with my last two games, I am hardly worried. Once that is done, this website and I will embark on a long journey to restore my productivity and publication to acceptable levels. But, for the last time, more on that later. Stay tuned.


Back on track (hopefully)

This is the first post in over a month. In that time I have acquired a new computer, moved to New York, and survived Hurricane Sandy. Things have been frenzied. The good news is I am settled and prepared to work on this stuff again. The bad news is this game is due in two weeks. Damn. I’m still not ready to post the dragon AI information, but within the week I will be running a play-test of the game, and that should generate a pretty interesting post. Until then, enjoy this great picture of George Washington.


If con is opposite of pro, then is Congress the opposite of progress?

Today’s terrible one-liner brought to you by the Continental Congress, which is exactly what you will be saving in my upcoming game The Founding Fighters. I’ve been hard at work at the gameplay, but the graphics work has been slow. That is, until tonight. So here’s some images and some explanations that are long overdue.

So besides the Dragon board, which I’ve posted before, your adventure will also take place on a map of early America. Starting at the Canadian border, a pawn representing the dragon will work its way down the board until it reaches Philadelphia. I don’t think I need to point out where that is. As you go down, you may enter fields (yellow circles), towns (grey circles), and cities (black squares). The path you choose is, um, a work in progress. More on that in another post I promise. Anyway, when the dragon takes its “turn,” it will roll for its thrashing attack, then determine its movement. While in a city or town, thrashing will not only throw you off, but will also cause “casualties.” This is a mechanic I’m introducing as a secondary defeat condition, although not an alternate win condition. The reason you might want to go into a city is that while there, the dragon may not move to the next space on the map, giving you more time to attack. The trade-off is that in the city they can potentially kill citizens. Again, a Dragon AI post will have more information about this stuff.

My god do I love those drawings. I don’t think I would even be considering doing this game without them. Obviously I’ve vectorized them, but basically I just followed what the artist drew. Anyway, here’s a shoddy character card that I’m posting to illustrate the basic workings of a Founding Fighter. First, there are the stats. During a single turn, a player must allocate 4 units of “effort” into three different actions. The first is movement, and the number of spaces that can be moved is determined by the character. For Franklin, using 3 effort to move allows him to run 5 spaces, while only using 1 lets him move 2. Effort can also be spent on attacks or special abilities, like the ones written on the card. Each character will have two abilities, with one costing a single effort unit and the other costing 2. Finally, whatever is left over will be used to “hold on” during the thrashing of the dragon. Benjamin Franklin is a very slow character, although you just have to take my word for it in the absence of comparison characters, but he is very good at holding on. Thrashing is a modified 2d6 roll, so you can imagine that having 11 hold strength means he can grab hold and stay on through some bad stuff. In terms of special abilities, I wanted Franklin to be a support character, who plods along creating improved circumstances for his teammates. Also, I’m not opposed to the idea that he could be used to slowly crawl up the neck and attack the head using his extreme hold strength. Either way, should be fun.

The other reason for this post, and I guess the title, is that I can’t be sure how consistent my progress on this game will be in the coming weeks. I’m actually planning to move within the month, and that will take precedence over game design. Obviously I will continue to dedicate brain time to the project, but actual work is less guaranteed. I do hope I can bring this game to completion, since I am increasingly excited with it, but I just have to put it out there now that it’s not my first priority right now.