November is upon us, and according to the internet, it’s National Game Design Month. I’m not sure which department of government makes these decisions, but there it is. So to celebrate/participate, I am doing two things. One is that I’m going return to this hobby, which I have mostly shelved since getting an actual adult job (which is itself in game design, hooray!), and second is I’m changing the name of the month from NaGaDeMon to NaGaReDeMon as shown in the post title. Instead of trying to tackle all my games like I did before, I’ve decided to only work on a few over the course of this month, and two of them are my Alex Coulombe collaborations, so that should hopefully help things along.
First project: Shima
So the original game had 8 different “Tomodachi” that you could hire to assist you at your farm. Over the last week, I created a few more. And even though it doesn’t really matter what they are for this post, I’m going to identify them anyway: Kabuki, Priest, Miko, Gaijin (foreigner), Carpenter, Smith, Daimyo, Ronin, and Sumo. Alex and I will be looking to change the way Tomodachi are hired and utilized, and part of that plan is reducing their abilities from 2 per card to 1 per card, and then allowing players to hire two workers. This should add flexibility and hopefully some more strategy. We’re also looking to radically redesign the board, but that’s for another post. Tonight, actually, I’m having a bit of a playtest party, so expect some pictures tomorrow and a more involved Shima update.
Next project: PUNCH
PUNCH is my only non-competition game, and it’s one that I’ve played with many people and received fairly positive reviews for. It’s also been ignored for a long time, and really doesn’t need that much work to fix. A few months ago I solicited some new colors from our resident expert, Morgan, and recolored all the gems to avoid some common confusions that players have had. Now the suits are shape and color, which allows me to update the face cards in a very pleasing way.
The new face cards feature brighter, color-coded artwork, and a new thick outline that seems to make them stand out. The original printing of the game was very dark and the art got lost in the stony background. As of now, this is all I’ve done outside of some minor wording changes on the cards. I’ll be looking to do more work on this soon, but I wouldn’t expect anything for a little while. This next project though…
Third project: Satellite Salvo
Thanks to the introduction of printed pads from The Game Crafter, Satellite Salvo may be able to exist as more than a print-an-play. The three people who purchased the game could tell you that it is outrageously difficult to play as a traditional board game, and that it’s so fiddly and delicate that it’s almost impossible to make it through a full game. While I’ve played Satellite Salvo dozens of time on paper, I’ve only attempted it once as a board game, and we didn’t even make it through the whole thing. Mind you this game takes like twenty minutes to play, so that’s saying something. Right now I’m trying to work out how to do the Arsenal sheet, and of course, re-writing the rules.
So that’s it. There’s always the chance that I totally abandon this effort and don’t post for like a year, but hey, hope springs eternal. I could be posting every few days if this goes according to plan. Until next time, whenever that is…
We didn’t win. Super sad. The winning game looks awesome though, so I guess slightly less sad. I’m not going to say any more about Terra Neo until it’s published (soon, hopefully).
Here’s what’s been happening in the meantime. Manic Mechanics is plodding along slowly, but I’ve started to work on something I didn’t expect to do: totally new board design. I don’t mean graphic design, I mean actual design. Here are some diagrams about that.
This shows possible track layouts for 12-card boards. The cards themselves would be the Game Crafter’s Jumbo Cards, which measure 3.5′ x 5.5′. I’m going to be cutting some out of paper to test out the sizing pretty soon. Might even do a playtest. Haven’t decided. Either way, this would change a lot in the game, including actual gameplay elements, since many cards reference their “zone.” If the zones get smaller and more numerous, certain vehicles will be gain power while others will lose power. It’s something I have to look at. But the ultimate goal here is to get this game to fit in a smaller box, which will be possible if I use these boards.
Meanwhile, back at Satellite Salvo, a new print-and-play has arrived. I still need to make some tweaks to it, but otherwise it’s pretty much finished.
The tricky bit here is the folding. By folding the sheet along the two horizontal lines, you get a very cool print-and-play object. The two upper sections stand up like a tent to shield the lower section, which of course is the secret information. All of the rules fit in the middle, so they can be referenced at any time, and the whole thing can fold flat, leaving only the top panel with the Enemy Planet and Arsenal visible. All you need are 5 dice and a pencil.
Well that’s it for now. Not sure what the schedule is in the next week, but my hope is to find some time to get serious about Manic Mechanics. It’s sort of the big project right now, and if I could knock it out I could move on to some other games that are frankly more interesting to me right now. Until then.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So a few important things have happened in the last two weeks. After the announcement of the new Game Crafter contest, I pulled together a few ideas that I was considering. I then made a post on Reddit asking for the opinions of random internet strangers. Although I won’t duplicate the post in its entirety, here are the three options I presented.
#1 On the Wall
Months ago I worked on an archery game that was tested and deemed “not fun.” I made some posts about it, so I’m not going to describe it here. The game was always a cooperative game, so it makes sense that I would pick it back up for this contest. I had devised a new and improved dice-rolling mechanic thanks in part to another Reddit post, so I felt like the game had potential. On top of that, there were parts of the game that really did work, and I had already done a good deal of the design work.
#2. The Founding Fighters (or America’s Founding Fighters)
On July 4th, I attempted to create a game in 24 hours. It didn’t go so well. But the things I did manage to get made were pretty cool, and the overall concept was, in my opinion, pretty solid. Although it didn’t have a title then, I’ve since decided to call it “The Founding Fighters,” although others have expressed an interest in the title “America’s Founding Fighters.” This is another game that I have already done a good bit of footwork on, and it has the most exciting theme of the three ideas.
#3 Untitled 2 on 2 Card Game
I’m not going to describe this idea because there basically isn’t much of an idea there. It was going to be a Bridge-style game where two pairs of players are competing against each other. The reason I was attracted to this idea was that I began to question the integrity of my other ideas, and the nature of cooperative games. I’m hoping to write a bit more of an in-depth exploration of this idea (the co-op thing, not the card game), so I’ll stop there.
Anyway, the response was pretty clear, whether on the internet or from people I asked in person: I should make The Founding Fighters. So I will. More on that later.
Finally, the finalists for the Steampunk Contest were announced. Some great games made it, and my rule-less submission was not among them. I was justly disqualified for, you know, not having rules. The best I got was that the judge said it “looked nice.” That’s about the highest praise I could have rightly expected. When I order the game (which should be pretty soon), I’ll actually be able to find out if the game works.
It’s been an odd few weeks as this competition wrapped up. I’m not totally happy with the outcome of this design, especially because I really felt it had great potential. I’m going to order the pieces in the next few days, and when I get a physical copy I will post a more in-depth discussion of how it went. Between then and now, I’ll hopefully post more actively concerning two different projects I’m considering. The first is an extremely simple card game that I co-designed with a guy I work with, and the second is actually one of my oldest game ideas that I’ve recently become more motivated to finish. Without a doubt there will be a more serious post soon.