So finally I’m getting around to posting these pictures. This is a mid-game picture from our recent play-test of Shima. It contains a good deal of new elements, so let’s work through them one at a time.
The first new thing, and probably the most obvious in this picture, is the little personal islands/circle things. After playing many cramped games of Shima on the shared board, it became clear that A) the shared board gains us nothing and B) there are real advantages to having separate islands, including a simpler scaling from 2 to 4 players. So I bought a pack of index cards and a box of crayons (top left), and we made some little islands. Here’s Ian’s island and storehouse (to be explained) since he had the most artistic approach.
For reasons I can’t explain, he drew his fields in this order (rice paddy, pasture, ocean), then proceeded to set up his storehouse on the ocean end. The intended order is storehouse-pasture-paddy-ocean, but hey, he spent the time drawing nice colorful lines, so I’m not going to argue with him. As you can see, he has workers in his fields and 2 cows in his pasture, neither of which are kobe (which would be denoted by red circles beneath them). He also has 2 fish in his storehouse, and a barrel of sake in-progress. Like I said before, the storehouse is a new concept, and one which we’re using to sort out a few different problems. The first is fish storage. The rule of “half your fish expire” was wonky and constantly caused problems and miscalculations, so now there are just X barrels (12 in this game, but probably 8 or 9 in the final design). We are also using the barrel system to produce sake: players pay three rice to place one rice token in a barrel, and a season later a red honor token is placed beneath it, and it becomes sake. We are also considering a system that allows sake to sit for months on end and accrue honor, but that’s still up for debate.
The other big new feature is the central “harbor.” In this playtest, we each chose a color (Purple/Blue/Yellow) and used the colored winks to place workers at docks on the central board. In this picture, I have a purple wink at the eastern and south-western dock, Ian has yellow winks at the same docks, and Morgan has blue winks at the north-western and eastern harbors. We’re still working out the precise mechanism of the harbor, but it worked very, very well in this primordial state. Morgan’s Diplomat card was just as valuable as in the older version of the game, but it wasn’t as over-powered. Speaking of boat mechanics…
These are the newest version of the boat cards. I’ve moved some things around from last time I posted, and I’ve made an… unusual modification to the rules text. If you couldn’t tell already, they’re haiku. I desperately wish I could do all the rules text in haiku, but the truth is I chose these two to preview because these are the only two I could reduce to haiku form. This may be a task that spend some time on later, because come on, how awesome would it be to have all the tomodachi and boat text written as haiku? Either way, I’ve removed the unsightly harbor texture from the previous version, and I’ve added in the lightened bar that’s present in other printed game elements. The only thing I’m unsure of is how best to represent the prices, and even more specifically how to help the Rice token stand out from the background. The dark lines here aren’t my favorite.
So that’s that. I’ll be finishing up the boats this week, and moving on to some more intensive Tomodachi design soon. We may have an opportunity to play, or at least experiment, on Saturday when Alex and I (along with many others) will be waiting in line at 5 in the morning to get tickets to Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart’s Broadway show, Waiting for Godot. Until then…
This will be pretty brief. The first bit is about Manic Mechanics. Last week I posted a diagram of the new Zone mats, and this week I’m posting another new diagram of even newer Zone mats. I think this design will be better and more flexible, not to mention easier to create.
So now the cards will be more universal. Instead of straightaways and turns, there are just diagonal lines that connect at the corners. What’s more, these cards allow for some interesting, smaller races. Lastly, this orientation creates space for about 7 spots per card, which makes the full 12-card race a very similar length to the original game.
The second thing I worked on this week was the update to Shima. Unfortunately, I’m really not supposed to be doing that. I told myself that I would work on the games two at a time, finishing both before I moved on. But I had a cool idea, and I wasn’t going to just let it go by. Instead, I did a really brief proof-of-concept for a stand-alone Sumo game. If you recall, when Alex and I published Shima, we created separate minigames to differentiate our versions. I added a Sumo game to my version, but it didn’t quite work. This new thing, on the other hand, does work.
Again, this prototype is made of a deck of cards and bits from Rum Run. In this new(ish) game, opponents play cards simultaneously to manipulate the pawns in the small, hex-grid Sumo ring. On the first turn, the players stand apart.
Then the cards are revealed, and the stronger player moves into the center. After that, the players push and pull each other around the board until one is pushed outside of the ring. There isn’t much more to say at this point, but I’m not really in the business of taking pictures and not posting them.
Anyway, I will eventually start to make real progress on Manic Mechanics, and hopefully post frequency will increase. Until then, once a week seems like a good schedule. Stay tuned.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.