The Shima play-test: success?


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…

Um… more Shima?

Ok, so this is cheating, but I’m going to post a bunch of artwork up top even though most of it has already been seen here recently.


I realize the majority of these were posted a few days ago, but there is one new one (top right corner) and it is also an excuse for me to premiere the new font: Nuku Nuku by Vic Fieger. I think I should start to credit the fonts I use, even though they are all free and what not. Plus, this is a really fun font that everyone should have in case they do a stylized, Japan-inspired project.

So the Shima party went well on Saturday: there was sushi and root beer, and someone brought a pie! More importantly, we played through an incredibly slow round of the game while debating rules and mechanics, and we came away with a few great ideas. We’ll be changing tomodachi mechanics (obviously), and we’ll work on making the processes involved in premium goods easier to understand. In addition, we’ll be working on a new barrel mechanic that we will use to fix the fish-storage problem. Currently the rule is “at the end of the season, half of your stored fish expire.” This has been weird and confusing, and the barrel thing will fix it. I’ll leave it at that until I download the pictures from the playtest so I have some pictures to reference in the explanation.

Something that we didn’t discuss, but which came up in conversation with Alex later, is pricing. Right now, each good has a set price, and there is one boat that simply pays double. This is not that interesting, and it means the boats rely entirely on their effects for personality. It also means that products never change value depending on situation. Here’s the solution.

Now each boat accepts only a certain combination of goods, and it sets its own prices for each. This means that the boats in the harbor can dramatically change the potential value of your goods, and it encourages you to diversify. Also, ignore the weird stripes in the wood texture, it’s an Illustrator error that I can’t quite work out. The other big thing to notice here is that it now appears that the boats are at a harbor, not just floating in the water as before. This is because we are changing the boat system entirely, and uh, that’s it. Something else that I can better explain with pictures.

So like the title said, more Shima. I’m kind of distracted right now watching Top Gear, so I’m going to get back to that and stop writing this sloppy post. Until Thursday (I think).

National Game (Re)Design Month!

Well then…

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…

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.


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.

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.


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!

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.

If nothing else, this game turned out quite pretty

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.