An unexpected challenge, and an unlikely success

I didn’t think I would be doing another 24-hour challenge anytime soon. But suddenly the game-design subreddit decides to go and do a 48-hour Game Jam, and who am I to say no to an offer like that? Unfortunately, I didn’t really find out about it until it was half over, so it became my third 24-hour challenge. Luckily, the restrictions were much more inspiring than the Board Game Geek contest, and I was able to really make some significant progress very quickly.

The theme for the contest is “improving the world.” The mechanical restriction requires the game to involve a 2d6 roll (ideally on each turn). It is also stated that the game must be aimed at children, but still be enjoyable for adults. My response: Energy Independence.

It’s stuff like this that makes me realize how much work I’ve put into this stuff over the past year. I never considered myself an artist, but it’s getting harder to keep calling some of my work “doodles” or “graphics.” Self-congratulatory nonsense aside, these are the energy source cards that make up the core gameplay of Energy Independence. In the upper left corner you can see how the weather affects the production of energy for each source. The rest of the card is totally decorative, since the game is supposed the be for kids. And yes, I realize that geothermal energy isn’t usually a giant hole in the ground, but it’s a tough concept to illustrate for kids. Give me a break.

So gameplay: it’s important. At the beginning of the game, you choose two sources as your starting cards. Then you begin the first year. Each year consists of four turns, each representing a season, always starting with spring. On each turn you roll 2d6, one to determine the weather, and one to determine “demand.” Weather ultimately decides how much energy you produce, and is dependent on both the roll and the current season.

In case anyone is wondering, yes everything is balanced. With such a simple game it’s really easy to make sure things aren’t exploitable. Anyway, you roll the weather die, count up your production, and then compare it to demand. Demand is created by adding the value of the d6 roll to a set “yearly demand,” which starts at 5 and increases by 5 each year. This means that by the third year you will need to be producing anywhere from 16 to 21 energy per season. If the weather cooperates, this shouldn’t be a problem.

The endgame of Energy Independence is simple. After playing through 3 years, the fourth year is an “audit.” So far you’ve used your profits (energy production – demand shortfall) to purchase new power plants. During the Audit, you simply roll through an entire year without purchasing or profiting. All you do is add up the total demand shortfall that you incurred, and the player with the lowest value wins. Very simple, and, well, completely luck-based. I just don’t have it in me to create a complex, skill-based game in 24 hours. This is truly a kid’s game.

I need to do some housekeeping stuff, like write up official rules and prepare some Print & Play documents, but the game is effectively completed from a design perspective. If I were to print or market this game, each card would contain some sort of “fun fact” about alternative energy so that kids could learn while they played. I might even include that as an optional document in the Print & Play resources, although I wouldn’t put it together until the contest was over. So expect a quick little update tomorrow about the fate of this game, including some of the thoughts I had for creating actual strategy that were unfeasible within the time constraints.


I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name…

Or rather, I’ve been through a play-test of a game with no name. Here’s the set we played with:

As always, Legos have been used in place of counters and resources. I also only cut out half of the mechanisms, partially out of laziness, but also because it was really helpful to have a reference sheet to explain what they all did without having to rifle through the pile. Honestly, the best part was the Lego Cores. I’m hoping to do some tricky token stuff in order to achieve a raised effect. Spoilers: Four tokens stacked up with dice stickers along the side. I don’t think anyone has actually done that on TGC. Luckily nobody reads this who might steal the idea.

So the actual playtest. Above is the starting position with both dice. Yellow was for production (it matched the color of the energy) and red was the “event” die. We changed the events for the two playtests, and we had some mixed results. I’ll go into that later. After a few turns, we were at this state:

I realize that it’s a very unexciting picture, but it shows that the two major strategies you can start with. Red chose to spend their initial energy on a mechanism, and one that turned out to be game-breakingly good. Green ended up trying to have more gears. The way the game is balanced right now, that doesn’t really work.

This was closer to the end of the game, and our strategies had converged. We had about equal standing, but the awesome mechanism that Red purchased made the result inevitable. Also, we discovered that many of the mechanisms, while fun to read, were basically useless. Green bought the “Uncertainty Engine,” which allows you to roll the production die for a significant cost and likely failure. This turned out to be largely useless, and was purchased entirely for the three victory points, which is sort of the opposite of good design.

That being said, the game had something in it that makes me feel hopeful. We found ourselves wanting to be strategic, and gear placement was not arbitrary even in this broken version of the game. The core rules are basically great, it’s just the mechanisms that don’t work. In the next few days I’m going to concentrate on making new mechanisms and balancing the event die and victory condition. I’m also planning on watching Steam Boy, since I have been told that it’s probably the best steampunk piece of media you can get your hands on. I’m hoping to have a moment of inspiration mid-movie. We’ll see…

Other than that, I’m going on vacation next week, which means I will finally get around to fully updating and publishing The Estate, Punch, and even Manic Mechanics 1.1. Should be a good time.

Steampunk Dice Game: name TBD

I’ve been designing this game for about two weeks now. Things are going pretty well in my opinion. I’ve just printed out the materials for the first play-test, and there don’t appear to be any major holes in the idea. That being said, I still don’t have a name. The folder on my computer is called “Steam Gears,” but that’s terrible. I want the name to be simple but interesting, and something that evokes the imagery of the game. I’ll ask around I guess. Maybe someone will have an idea for me.

Above is the first sheet I printed for my play-test. In the game, each player will start with a Core (not pictured), around which they will place four gears (pictured above). In the final version of the game, the gears will have crests on them, not pips, but I made this copy to be used without a custom die. Anyway, each turn the player rolls two dice, one for production and one for events. Whichever crest, or number for now, is rolled with the production die determines which gears will have energy placed on them. So for instance, you could have built a machine with six gears, three of which have the 5 crest. When the production die rolls a 5, you place one energy on each of those gears. A gear can hold up to two energy, and overproduced energy is not placed anywhere else. It is essentially wasted. As the game continues, you will gather energy around your Core, and can then absorb it to purchase more gears, and even mechanisms. Speaking of which…

Here are the mechanisms I have designed so far. Obviously they are doubled on the sheet, because I wasn’t sure if while playing I would want to include multiples of any mechanism. Also, I got frustrated with the art and gave up half way through. Don’t mind that. For the play test I have cut along all the solid lines and folded along the dotted lines to create squares that can fit with the gears. To reference their ability, you will need to turn the mechanism over. Hopefully memorization will kick in after a while. So mechanisms: they do stuff. Firstly, they provide “Prestige” in the form of little octagons in the corner of the picture. These are the Victory Points of the game, and the goal is to collect a certain number of them (also TBD). The mechanism can collect energy from adjacent gears to perform their operations, which is the main mechanic of the game. Intelligent adjacency decisions and energy usage will be the key to success.

There is a lot more to explain, such as the mysterious “bolts” mentioned on a few of the mechanisms, and the different powers of adjacency, but I’m not really interested in typing all that out right now. In the next couple of days the play-test will happen and I’ll take some pictures. That’s it for today.

Steampunk doodles: confusing at best

There are a few reasons that this post is going to be very short. The first is that I don’t have even the beginnings of a name for my Steampunk dice game. The second is that I’m basically posting 13 pictures depicting my entire thought process over the last two weeks, complete with dates and all my random scribbling. The third is that it’s pretty early in the morning, and I have to be up in only a few hours to go to a mandatory company picnic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that I’m getting paid to eat free food and sit around a pool all day, but coming back from second shift then going to an early morning picnic is vaguely lame. Anyhow, I will post soon (hopefully over the weekend) about the game, and I will do some actual explaining. Until then, my crazed drawings will have to speak for themselves. Good luck.

Scope creep and the 24 hour challenge

For those of you unfamiliar with business jargon, Scope Creep refers to the uncontrolled expansion of an idea, especially expansion that eventually overwhelms the project. In a 24 hour challenge, this can be deadly. Let me first highlight the successes of Wednesday’s efforts.

Here you can see the process of creating the board (sort of). The drawings were obviously not done by me, but I was technically in the room, so I can take some sort of credit. Anyway, the final(ish) board is a hex grid overlay on the dragon, and is split into a few distinct sections. Blue spots are entries and red spots are weak points. When you are on the dragon, he will occasionally attack using his limbs, tail, wings, or head, and if you are on that part of the body you must roll to hang on. If you do fall off, the next time there is an attack with any of the entry sections, you may “grab on” and begin your climb once more. Attacking weak points will lower the strength of that area, making it easier to hang on, and you may eventually disable an area by hitting all three. The head and neck area is the most commonly used area, and as such is the hardest to climb. The aim of the game is to attack and kill the highest weak point at the top of the head. Strategically, you can choose to just go straight for it and constantly fall, or to spend some time weakening the dragon before you attempt to make it to the head. The game is meant to be played cooperatively with up to three players, playing as the following three characters.

These drawings are awesome. The Founding Fathers would be proud. Although it never got this far, the idea was to have three different characters with different speeds, hanging strengths, and perhaps some special effects. Washington was to be balanced, Jefferson would be quick and weak, and Franklin would be slow, strong, and really wacky. We were hoping to involve French prostitutes in his play. Sadly, the game never made it quite this far.

That’s about all I can say about this for now. Considering the great art assets I have now, there is reason to hang on to this idea and work on it later. In the next few days I’m going be posting pretty frequently. Work doodling has gotten extreme.

Three hours in, and things are getting weird…

So I’ve been thinking about the contest for a few hours, and I’ve had a good conversation with my friend about it. We’ve ended up in a really strange place, but I like it a lot. I mentioned earlier that I was hoping to have two thematic restrictions, and that I was disappointed that I only have one. So I instead decided to make my own conflicting theme decision: The Founding of America. It’s going to be weird. Here’s a little visual brainstorm.

Imagine this type of game:

But substitute this:

And people like this:

So all in all, a weird game. I have some ideas for the other players (Jefferson, Franklin, etc.), but that’s where I’m leaving it now. Actually, one more thing.

He would totally slay british dragons. Incidentally, British Dragon is a steroid, so that was a weird google search.

24 hours begins… now

Just throwing up a quick post to say that the next 24 hour contest is here. I’m a little disappointed though, because I was hoping to combine this contest with the BGDF design showdown that lasts a week. Just as a reminder, the 24 hour contest has a simple restriction, and the Game Design Showdown usually has both a thematic and mechanical restriction. Unfortunately, I managed to keep myself from seeing either of these things for a few days only to find out that 1. There is no posted Game Design Showdown this month, and 2. the theme for the 24 hour contest is just “dragons.” That’s it. Dragons. I’ve already done a contest about dragons. In fact, this is the second contest I’ve seen this week that is basically a repeat of something I’ve already done. The Game Crafter posted their next contest, and the theme is “Steampunk Dice Games.” Are you kidding me? I just did that!

Anyway, I’m just rambling here. Hopefully I can be inspired by a one-word restriction and will come up with something better than Farmer’s Nuisance or Jargon this time. Happy 4th of July!

The little game that never was, and doodling at work

Contests are interesting motivators. They force you to commit to an idea in a way that an ambiguous or even non-existent deadline never can. That being said, they can also be incredibly frustrating if you feel that the idea you have is no longer workable. Two days ago I attempted to complete a game in 24 hours as part of an informal competition on Board Game Geek. Obviously 8 hours of sleeping and 8 hours of working mean that there are only a few hours left in a day to create the physical manifestations of the game. The game, unofficially labeled as “Jargon” in my files, did not reach completion. Here, then, is the little game that never was.

I think this picture requires some explanation. Where I work, there are occasional gaps where machines are booting up or running diagnostics. It is during these gaps that I slowly fill a piece of paper with doodles and notes. I usually fold the paper into quarters, and I use orientation to link related ideas. The paper is constantly refolded so that I can unfold it one step and have a slightly larger area. You can see that quadrants 1, 2, and 3 are all related, but that quadrant 4 is just a measured perspective of the Justice logo. Not much of an explanation for that one.

Anyway, the game is heavily inspired by Rivals of Catan, a game I played for the first time last weekend with Alex Coulombe. The resource tracking system was beautifully done, and it really felt like a good basis for a rapidly developed game. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to create a game with too many elements, and I liked the idea of using square cards. Early in quadrant 1 I settled on the idea of representing businesses with the cards, and although my initial designs had a revolving design similar to Rivals, I drifted away from that idea. My resources became things like Employees, Innovation, Recognition, and of course, Capital. I really don’t think it’s necessary to go too far into the workings of the game, since it didn’t ever reach completion. I did mock up the four initial business types, although the weird names may have been overkill.

This card would have represented a “Design Firm.” I chose to use the name Innovacorp because I was considering having the entire game written in nonsensical business jargon (hence the name). The four columns of the left represent the different resources that the company could pull from. Green is capital, yellow is innovation, red is recognition, and blue is employees. The Design Firm archetype was supposed to use innovation as it’s main resource. I really had no concrete ideas for it beyond that.

The idea of moving resources from business to business was intended to be a major part of the game. With that in mind, Financial companies were just giant money pits that could absorb and administer money throughout your enterprise. The next type, Commercial, had a similar motivation, except with employees. There were supposed to be some special effects involving promotion and hiring, which would help you increase your workforce for a lower cost.

Finally, the last type was Consulting. I had watched the recent Don Cheadle show, “House of Lies,” which, while pretty negative about the business, made me want to include it as a type. Consulting Firms augment and improve all other business, but I would have made it difficult for them to function on their own.

Anyway, the game floundered and died towards the end of the 24 hour block. I just couldn’t pull it all together, and I wasn’t that thrilled with the idea after working on it for so long. There was more work done, but it was almost entirely text documents, and like I’ve said, they make terrible posts.

Finally, I’m going to end this post with what will hopefully become a new thing for me: work doodle posting. As you can probably tell, the two sheets that I am showing for this post were not scanned, but simply tacked to a wall and photographed. I have no excuse for this except that I didn’t want to go get the scanner and plug it in when I could just as easily take a horrible copy-shot with my phone without getting out of bed. I’ll try and scan them from now on. The second sheet from work is mostly industrial design stuff (possible motorized paddle-board?) and some strange math stuff. I’ll probably try and do a routine weekly posting of all the doodle on Saturdays, but I can’t make any promises.

Wall of text, ahoy!

So over on Board Game Design Forum, they run monthly design contests. These competitions last only a week, but they only require a description of the proposed game. This means that while the work is minimal, the density of thought needs to be very high. On top of that, the word limits mean that ideas need to be refined, condensed, and disciplined. This month, the theme was convention meta-games, and the following wall of text is my entry.

Con Ahoy! is a massively multiplier convention game. When checking into the convention, players may opt into the game, and will be given random “Allegiance” and Skill cards. Vendors who choose to participate will be given a set of colored flags, and will be expected to bring a standard deck and a selection of dice (d6 – d12).

Each area of the convention will have a name/symbol. The allegiance cards show each of these symbols, and the color of the symbol denotes that player’s allegiance in that area.  Skill cards list three skills, ranging from level 1-4. These skills are Fighting, Navigating, and Drinking. 

When out on the floor, anyone who is playing can turn to another player and challenge them to a duel. Both players check their allegiance to make sure that they are not allies in that area, and if they are not, they play a best-of-three game of Round-Pistol-Saber (Rock-Scissors-Paper). The winner of the duel can then look at the loser’s skill card and may choose to switch cards with them.

When players find others of their own allegiance, they can come together and form a crew. Crews can be up to four players. Players cannot duel as a crew, but if one member of a crew is defeated, their allies are allowed to immediately challenge the winner and win their skill cards back.

Vendors represent islands. Crews, or even individuals, can approach an island and attempt to claim it. To conquer an island, you must win at least two of the three challenges. Each challenge corresponds to a stat on the player’s skill card.

To complete the Fighting challenge, each player on a crew rolls one die, the type of which is determined by that player’s Fighting skill. Level 1 is a d6, level 2 is a d8, and so on. The rolls of the crew are summed and compared to the current challenge value. If it exceeds that value, the challenge is won.

The Navigating challenge is card-guessing. Players guess a standard suit, and a card is drawn from a standard deck. If the guessed suit matches the drawn suit, the player scores a point. Players get as many guesses as their Navigating skill level. The number of correct guesses must exceed the current challenge value.

Finally, the drinking challenge is a coin flipping game. A player flips coins, counting the number of heads flipped. If a tails is flipped, the player “stumbles.” A player can only stumble as many times as their level allows (1-4) before they pass out and are out of the challenge. The amount that the crew can drink before passing out is the challenge value.

The crew must attempt every challenge, but only has to win two of them. If the crew is successful, the vendor hoists their color’s flag, and records their challenge values as the new standards. After a crew raids an island, the “tides” come in and a new crew cannot challenge the island for a few minutes (the vendor can set a timer or just wait a small period of time).

In addition to the rooms deciding allegiance, at the end of the convention, or potentially at the end of each day, the vendors in each room will determine who the winner of that area is. Players can come forward and present their allegiance cards and claim either small prizes or points. The player who manages to have the greatest amount of winning allegiances will either have accrued the greatest amount of prizes, or will be recognized as the winner at the end of the convention.

This description leaves out many of the things that I had thought of, but that’s the way it goes when you have a word limit. What this really struggles with is thematic depth, since it barely acknowledges the fact that it makes everyone pirates. In fact, I really should have mentioned that the areas are “seas.” Either way, if people like this game and it wins, it could be played (in some form or another) at a real, upcoming convention. I’m not expecting anything, but I will admit that I’ve had some thoughts about graphics. I guess I’ll keep my finger’s crossed.

I really have no idea what I’ll be working on in the near future, so anything could be in the next post. Hopefully some graphics. Posts like this bum me out.

Well this is awkward…

I think the responsible thing to do at this point is to pretend that I didn’t just lapse for over a month. Instead, we are going to move on as if nothing happened. Forget this whole thing…

So the contest is over. The Estate didn’t make it into the finals, and obviously did not receive any commendations or mentions. What I will say is that having received the game in the mail and spent the better part of an hour putting the stickers on the dice, it does look pretty great. What should follow this sentence is a picture of said dice, but instead, I’m just going to reiterate my lack of camera and move on to the next thing.

PUNCH came out even better than I expected. I’ve played it repeatedly over the past month and everyone has loved it (except one person who had exceptionally bad luck and couldn’t catch a break). The only problem I ran into was that I didn’t anticipate the darkening of the images, and I have to re-color some of the artwork for clarity and appearance. Again, pictures will appear when I can borrow a camera from someone.

Here, then, is what I actually have been working on recently. While Shima was given an immediate 1.1 upgrade (mostly because of Alex), my first game, Manic Mechanics, has been awaiting the same treatment for some time now. I’ve been addressing many of the issues with the boards that players mentioned, including the clarity of where a player can move from a given spot. The above image represents my solution to this complaint, although it shows the fact that I still haven’t been able to work out how to represent the junk piles. I’ll deal with that soon.

In the immediate future, I’m looking to officially release the two most recent games. There are some graphic tweaks to be done on both of them, and a thorough spell-check of The Estate is in order. The fact that I wrote the entire story portion in a few hours led to some atrocious spelling and grammar mistakes, as well as some plain old bad writing. In fact, you can look at the one card I posted and find some. I know I did moments after posting it.

So in short, I didn’t disappear for a month, I haven’t made a series of stupid spelling mistakes, and any evidence to the contrary is slanderous propaganda.