Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Moctezuma revisited

Every once in a while I review The List and spare a moment's thought for designs that have been sitting on the back burner, some for far too long.

Every time I do that, I invariably have the same thought... why did I never get anywhere with that one? I have this thought pretty regularly with respect to some games, less often with respect to others. But one of the games I often wonder this about is Moctezuma's Revenge.

Moctezuma's Revenge is a sort of deduction, action efficiency game about looting Aztec pyramids, but some of the pyramids are cursed. At the beginning of the game there are 10 pyramids, 7 of which are home to Aztec kings, and the other three contain clues to the location of El Dorado, the lost city of gold. Some (perusing the rules it seems between 3 and 7) of the 7 kings are cursed, and treasure from the cursed temples will be worth negative points at the end of the game. You don't know which temple is which, and you also don't know which of the temples are home to the cursed kings, so you can do research at the Library to find out.

That's the status of the game at the moment, you can see an old rule set in my blog. While I've thought about it every now and again, I haven't touched this game since 2008. For 8 years it's been one of those perennially back-burner-ed ideas, just sitting there wasting potential. That's why I'm happy about this next bit...

There's a prominent game designer you might have heard of... his name is Jonathan Gilmour. He designed something recently that's turned out to be very popular, and I know he's got some other stuff either out there or coming down the line really soon. I contacted Jon on Twitter a few weeks ago, and it turns out he was open to the idea of co-designing something with me. So I showed him my list, and Moctezuma's Revenge caught his eye. We had a chat about it at BGGcon, and it sounded like we were both on the same page when it comes to co-designing and the value that could offer to each of us, so when I got home I sent him whatever details I had about Moctezuma's Revenge, and today he put together a prototype and gave it a try!

I'm looking forward to the feedback, and to working with someone on this game, as it's not one I was likely to finish on my own anytime soon. Just discussing it with Jon has already got some creative juices stirring... here are some thoughts that came up in our conversation at BGGcon, some of which may end up being tested out:

* I don't know what I was thinking when I made 7 "cursed" chits - the possibility of all 7 temples being cursed seems like a lousy game experience to me. Perhaps I didn't want players to be able to win by just picking a temple, looting it like crazy, and just hoping it's not cursed. But I do like how the curse system works (and I think Jon does too). I suspect we'll want to cut that down to something like 4 "cursed" chits, so that 2, 3, or 4 temples will be cursed.

* As I recall from my one or two playtests 8 years ago, it was too tempting to sit in the Library and peek at all the curse chits before running off with good information about which temples are safe. There should probably be some incentive to not do that... one thought is maybe when researching kings, you flip the next curse chit (revealing it for everyone), and then peek at another 1-2 [alt: peek at a couple chits, choose 1 to turn face up]. Would sharing info like that make any difference? Or just serve to lengthen the game?

* Should you be able to research temple names at the library (look at X cards from the temple, keep none)? Maybe more efficiently than drawing cards when you’re AT the temple (so like look at 2/3/6 rather than 1/2/5)? Should this also be “reveal the top card, then peek at 1/2/5 (or 2/3/6) cards (again, so it helps others)?

* Maybe instead of action point allowance, you could just take a Library turn (Flip next Curse chit, then spend turn peeking at 1 Name tile, some (3?) curse chits (max 1 per king?), or maybe a few cards from a single deck) or an Explore turn (move and search or search x2, where “search” in this case is look at the top 2 or 3 cards of the deck where you’re at. Maybe it’s 2, and if you double search it’s 5).

* Maybe researching the name of a king (peeking at the name tile) should be done at the library by discarding a card from that temple. So you can pay points to learn the identity of the temple, or you can find it via exploration. If you learn that you have collected a cursed treasure, this would allow you an avenue to get rid of it. I would think you could only do this once per temple (leave the card face up in front of you to remember you did it), so you can't unload a truck full of tainted treasure, but maybe a limited discard would be good to have available.

* Instead of cursed treasure being strictly negative points, perhaps all treasure should be worth points. Maybe each treasure has 2 values, one for if it's safe, and a lower one for if it's cursed. In addition, the treasures could have curse icons which only count if the temple was cursed, and the player with the most of those at the end of the game simply loses (like corruption in Cleopatra and the Society of Architects or Unrest in Struggle of Empires).

I look forward to posting more about Moctezuma's Revenge, hopefully Jonathan likes it and gets some good tests and feedback in! 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Deities & Demigods: Due Diligence

Looking at the title of this post, it kinda reads like an expansion to the communal deck learning game I've been working on...

No such luck! This post is about the due diligence we have to -- or ought to -- do as designers. When we playtest games, we tend to get a lot of suggestions from players. As designers, it's our job to parse those comments and decide which suggestions would lead to good changes in the game, which to write off, and which could be indicative of underlying problems (even if they're not directly useful).

It can be easy to write off suggested changes, especially when you feel like the game is done. Taking the suggestion to heart would mean making changes to the components and doing more testing. If you are happy with the game as-is, then this can feel like extra work for no good reason.

A real life example.

I am personally guilty of this exact thing... 10 years ago I had a very good suggestion from a player of Terra Prime. The player suggested having the space hexes face UP during setup, so you can see where all the planets are from the outset, then covering the center of the tiles with Exploration tiles so you still have the exploration aspect to the game. I thought this was an interesting idea, and thought I might even like it if I tried it... but I was pretty happy at the time with the exploration aspect as it was - face down hex tiles, and you explored to find the planets. Specifically, I liked the idea that the player who explored a tile got to choose its orientation. So while I figured I might try the suggestion for a future expansion or something, I completely wrote it off at the time.

After the game came out, one of the biggest questions people had was to do with the rule (there's only 1 rule!) about tile placement: "no 2 adjacent sectors can contain planets". I was surprised by this, since I figured that one rule wouldn't be hard to grok, and as I said, I liked the agency players had to create the board layout. When working on an expansion I finally did try the suggestion from that playtester: I laid the tiles out face up, and covered the center of them with new Exploration tiles (with Aliens and Asteroids, and a few new things I added such as Wormholes and Sunstars). It turns out I liked this method very much, and it removed the potential for that one rules question people were having.

I hadn't done my due diligence. 

Had I tried that suggestion out when it was made, I probably would have used it in the original release of Terra Prime, and the game would have been better for it. With Terra Prime that might not have mattered too much, what with the poor manufacturing, and the fact that very few people every really got a chance to play the game... but the point is that I received a good suggestion, and I ignored it. I don't want to make that mistake again.

Learning from our mistakes:

A couple of weeks ago I was in Seattle for Sasquatch, and I got a chance to play Deities & Demigods with Tim Eisner and his brother Ben. It was a pretty good test, and Tim and Ben had some interesting comments. I took note of two of them in particular:

1. In response to my saying I needed a round counter, and the idea of simply putting a round marker on the initiative track and make that track do double duty as the game timer, Tim and Ben suggested that the round timer work like the minimum devotion markers, and as the rounds advance, the initiative markers get pushed along the track and begin on the 2nd/3rd/4th/5th space. That way the game would kind of ramp up, and it would support my desire for players to have easy access to 1 or 2 Deity rewards even if they pretty much ignore Zeus.

2. Tim and Ben suggested that the high end of the Hermes devotion track was boring compared to the other tracks. I hadn't had any problems with it thus far... 12 gold seemed like a pretty good thing to get, but it's true that just getting a handful of gold isn't terribly interesting. We chatted about it and came to the suggestion that perhaps less gold and an immediate cube bump would be appropriate, and more interesting than just a handful of gold.

In an attempt to learn from my mistakes, I made an effort to try these tweaks, even though neither one was really solving a "problem" that existed in the game. I updated my prototype files and sent them to co-designer Matthew Dunstan, and I got ready to bring my prototype to Dallas with me. I got Deities & Demigods to the table 3 times during BGGcon last week, here's how it went:

In the first game, I tried tweak number 1 (which I've since dubbed "rising tide" variant, as a rising tide floats all boats, and the initiative markers are currently boats), but while I had updated my prototype files for the Hermes track changes, I hadn't printed them, so I left that tweak off. The rising tide variant did a couple of good things - it was a little bit interesting to get easier access to the early rewards on the Zeus track, and indeed players were able to get deity cards without concentrating on Zeus. However, it introduced some fiddliness, and some timing questions... I wasn't sure it was worth the effort.

I wanted to try that tweak again before passing judgment on it, so I kept it in for the 2nd game. And this time I also tried the alternate Hermes track... I just explained that instead of 1/4/8/12 gold, you get 1/3/6/10 gold plus a cube bump in 0/1/2/3different tracks. As it turns out, this instant cube bump basically undermined the main mechanism of the game! Players could use Hermes to directly bump their cubes, and when other deities came up they could simply resolve them, hardly ever paying them. As a result of that, players were ending up with large amounts of gold just sitting around unspent, and I didn't like the effect of these cube bumps at all! I might have gone a little overboard with this suggestion, perhaps a single cube bump at the top of the Hermes track would have been ok, but this certainly wasn't. I might try just changing the top level, so Hermes would be 1/4/8/10+cube, but going back to the known quantity of just gold is probably the way to go.

As for the rising tide variant, having played it a 2nd time, I think I decided that overall it was more trouble than it was worth, and while it did do something sort of interesting, it wasn't a good addition to the game. So I'll just be using a round counter to track rounds.

In the third game, I didn't use either of the tweaks, reverting back to the game as it was 2 weeks ago. I think I like that better, so I don't think I'll end up using either of the suggestions from Sasquatch.

Back to square one?

So were those tests a waste of time? Well, to an extent one could argue that they were, but that's a hard sell. Unless you know for sure that a suggestion isn't going to pan out, then it's worth doing due diligence and testing it out. I was happy I tried both of those tweaks, even though I won't be keeping them. though I do think that the next time I try an untested tweak, I'd prefer to do it with a group who's played before, rather than in a learning game.

So there you have it. You've got to do your due diligence, because you never know which decent-sounding suggestions will be right for the game, and which just won't pan out, until you try them.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Yokohama rules PDF (retail and deluxe versions)

If you're reading this you are probably aware that I work with/for TMG. In that capacity, I was in charge of revising the English rules for Yokohama when TMG picked up the license for US distribution.

You may recall we ran a (very successful) Kickstarter project for a Deluxe Edition of the game, which included some nice component upgrades such as metal coins, custom wooden goods tokens and custom wooden president and assistant pieces. We even ended up with cute stickers for the presidents due to overfunding :)

While some of the component upgrades were for the Deluxe version only, the whole game got a graphic design overhaul which will apply to the retail version as well. In that same vein, the rulebook edits will of course also apply to both versions.

I worked pretty hard re-writing the rules, and I got a lot of great feedback from the community which all got taken into account before finalizing the rulebook, and I am pretty happy with the result.

So if you're curious about the game, or looking for a diversion to pass the time while you wait for our Deluxe version to arrive, there's now a web friendly version of the rules to check out on BoardGameGeek.com:

Retail version: https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/139827/tmg-retail-version-rules-english

Deluxe version: https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/139828/tmg-deluxe-version-rules-english


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Essen interview with Würfel Reviews - role of the developer, among other things

One of the things I enjoyed most at Essen this year was an in-depth interview I did with Würfel Reviews about the role of the developer, as well as a bunch of other topics. It's about 45 minutes long, but I watched it and I am pretty sure I didn't sound too foolish! :)

Actually, I think it's pretty good, with a lot of good information in there. And I got to tell several good stories :) 

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Deities & Demigods playtests at Essen 2016!

I managed to get not 1, not 2, but 3 whole playtests of D&D in at Essen 2016! Well, 2.8 at least...

First off, I went to Motel One on Thursday night and joined the UK Playtest meetup. I mainly went there to connect with Matthew and maybe play D&D with him, but he was late, and the person herding cats got 3 players sent my way to play! I sat out to facilitate, since the playtesting round was only  hour long, and we had to do rules... we made it through 4 (out of 5) cycles and got some commentary afterward. 2 of the players seemed to grok the mechanics, and went about their business. One player had a really rough time grokking the rules, got nothing done, and predictably complained at the end that there wasn't enough time to do anything.

We used the recent Hera's Spite rule that when Hera arrives, players either sacrifice the demanded item or else take a Spite token. If they sacrifice twice, they can discard a spite token. Like previous versions of Hera, I think this just served to slow the players' progress without any real benefit.

Matthew arrived near the end of that game, and we got to talking, and ended up playing a 2p game of D&D, trying the same Hera rule. After that we both agreed that maybe Hera just isn't necessary at all. We also discussed changing movement to simply be 1-troop-1-hex rather than the whole Army thing (moving multiple troops at once), to make the rule easier to understand. We also talked a little bit about "terrain" meaning both some stuff to make movement more costly, but also some beneficial things such as a gold mone, and whenever you step on it, maybe you get 1 gold.

A couple of days later Matthew and I had a scheduled meeting to play D&D, so we played another game, this time with Andy as well, who had played only once before. This version is much improved from the one Andy played last year at BGGcon, but beyond that he didn't have much in the way of comment.

We played without Hera this time, and just counted cycles - neither of us missed her. So yet again, Hera has been cut from the game! Maybe she can come back as another expansion module, where you simply reckon her scoring condition at the end of each cycle.

In discussion afterwards I think we may have agreed that terrain may not be necessary after all. We did change to the simpler Ares movement, and added 2 to each level of Ares so as not to remove overall movement from the game, and frankly the added movement wasn't necessary. Next time I'll try without adding any movement, and if that seems too tight maybe I'll try adding just 1 movement instead. 2 was way too much.

We talked a little about theme, as Andy pointed out that Oracle of Delphi would share a description almost entirely, and especially where it comes to god tracks where you increment them until you eventually use their ability and reset them. of course, the two games are nothing alike, but it might be nice to avoid that conflation. Andy and Matthew suggested Norse gods, or Egyptian ones. I don't know if I have the impetus to make that change though, as I like the Greek theme, and by the time this comes out, people will likely have moved on from Oracle of Delphi anyway (or even better, this might re-invigorate sales of that title) :)

I would still like to get some player powers worked in, since players ted to expect those nowadays. I think I have a few already, but I'd like at last 4 different ones, and possibly more like 6 or 8.

As a minor note (and I say this mostly to remind myself), I think I'll add like 3 more troops per player to the game. Also, instead of placing a disc when you do a quest, maybe you should just lie your troop down, thereby losing it for the rest of the game. I think that could be good, and now that the number of discs remaining isn't a game end timer, there's no need for them to mark both quests and buildings.

I feel like this one is in the home stretch, so to speak!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Essen 2016!

As I sit here, in a SUBWAY Cafe in Atlanta International airport, entering the 2nd hour of 6 hour layover waiting to board a plane to Dusseldorf, I am trying to remember whether this is the 4th or the 5th time I've been to Essen.

A quick perusal of my blog indicates that the first trip was in 2012 - Michael and I went on what I described as a 'scouting mission', and at the time I had envisioned potentially returning to the big show to man a booth, much like we do at GenCon.

If memory serves, we skipped 2013, but returned to Essen in 2014, this time with Mischa. We did not have our own booth, and in retrospect I am pretty happy with that decision. Instead we scheduled meetings with various european designers, publishers, and distributors about partnerships and the like.

In 2015, Michael decided he didn't need to be at Essen himself, and that he much preferred Tokyo. So while he has now attended Tokyo Game Market a few times (making great friends and partners, and picking up great titles such as Flip City, Yokohama, and Ars Alchimia, to name just a few), Mischa, Daniel, Andy, and took on Essen by ourselves. And a bit more organized this time. Daniel and Mischa filled their schedules with business meetings with partners (for both incoming and outgoing licenses), while Andy and I spent our time taking pitches from designers and checking out new releases for potential licensing.

This year will be pretty much the same I think. Andy and I will be taking pitches and checking out new releases (that reminds me, I'm supposed to be identifying potential titles to pick up!), while Daniel and Mischa again maintain existing foreign partnerships and forge new ones.

Unfortunately, I haven't had the bandwidth to really get excited about any new offerings... the only one I can think of offhand that I'd like to try, The Great Western Trail by Alexander Phister, is already picked up for US market by Stronghold Games. Lucky for me, W. Eric Martin puts together a terrific list of all the new releases each year, and Richard Ham (a celebrity in the game review space who has similar tastes to mine) maintains a list of his games of interest, and recently posted a 3 hour podcast discussing the games and expansions of interest to him. I've already listened to most of that podcast, but in a minute I'll be diving into both of those resources and looking for potential TMG pickups, as well as stuff I might like to check out for myself.

I'm curious to see how Essen goes this year, and whether I am going to think it's worth it for me to go, or if I'll do what Mike did and start opting out of the trip in future years. Last year we only signed 1 title from those pitches (though Guilds of London has been a successful title thus far), though it's refreshing to see designs from European designers - they seem different from the pitches we see at GenCon.

Side note: A further inspection of those blog posts have reminded me that I did not think to bring my Camelback this year. Drat. Fortunately I seem to recall water being more available last year than it had been in the past.

Deities & Demigods update

I haven't been posting as often lately, nor have I gotten in as many playtests of Deities & Demigods as I'd like (though apparently I've been testing more frequently than Matthew... I haven't heard from him in a couple of versions now!). However, I HAVE gotten some plays in, and I've learned a thing or two about the recent tweaks and proposed changes. Here's what's come up in the last few plays, using the last blog post as a point of reference:

1. Building reward icons in cities
I have been playing with the most recent versionI described, and I think I like it. Each city has a particular reward, and when you build you get 3/2/1/1 of it. At the start of the game (in reverse turn order) you select a starting city and place your marker on the LOWEST reward space and collect that reward. However, when building in a city where you already have a marker, you stack atop your other marker and collect no additional icons, whereas if you Ares over to another city first, then building allows you to collect the highest remaining reward icon.

For now I'm keeping this version of the rule, because it seems to be working well. It also means the buildings have no icons printed on them, just a big effect or endgame scoring bonus. The artifacts have a smaller effect plus an icon. The monuments still increase your minimum devotion, they also have an icon PLUS a favor token PLUS potentially another icon from the city. I think this makes monuments compare favorably to B+A.

2. Cutting virtual Zeus
I currently think that just having 1 Zeus in the deck is the way to go, especially with the initiative bumps available on artifacts and in cities.

3. Simplifying to a simple hex board
This has been working well. I would still like to see some semblance of terrain (even just water vs land) in the end, but maybe that's just unnecessary complication :/

4. Favor of the Deities
I did some more tweaking of the deity scoring, which makes them worth a bit more (at least potentially more)...
Zeus: 2vp per unique deity in your display (rewarding diversity)
Hermes: 2vp per devotion track at level 4, 1vp per devotion track at level 2/3 (indirectly rewarding showing devotion to deities)
Ares: 1vp per minimum devotion increase (indirectly rewards doing quests)
Hephaestus: 1vp per city with your building marker (rewarding building)

As a side note, I'm beginning to think that level 1 Hephaestus should give 1 gold per building marker, not per city with your building marker... so it doesn't require Ares to do something. The Hephaestus favor bonus could be harder to cash in on, and therefore be "per city with your marker".

5. Adding a cost for increasing minimum devotion
This turned out to be a bad idea, I didn't like it and I removed it after 2 tries.

It's possible that nothing needs to be done about this beyond making the min bump on the initiative track harder to get.

6. Game duration and Hera
I think forcing a 5-round game is the way to go, and adding Hera made it feel less arbitrary. The version I tried was this:
Shuffle 4 Hera cards into a face up stack. At the end of each cycle, add the top Hera card to the deck - if there isn't one, then the game is over. When Hera arrives, she makes a demand (each Hera card has a different demand).

The 1st version I tried was that Hera was simply an opportunity to earn extra points by satisfying her demand. Choosing not to only cost you the opportunity to score points. This turned out to be fairly boring though because often times players would ignore the demand and nobody took advantage of the opportunity. Maybe that could be addressed by tweaking the values of the rewards, but I tried something else that I thought might be more interesting...

The 2nd version I tried was that you MUST meet Hera's demand, and if you do then you earn a favor token. This was a bit better because players actually had to care hat Hera's demands were, and she actually had an impact on the game. However, it amounted to just handing out a bunch of points to all players most of the time, and also we had to lose random stuff whenever Hera arrived. Sure, we theoretically knew it was coming, but it could have worked better... this seemed a little harsh.

What I would like to try next time is this... when Hera arrives, she makes her demand. If you refuse to (or cannot) give her what she demands, then you get a Spite token. Spite tokens come with a scoring penalty at the end of the game. If you do meet Hera's demand, then you avoid the spite token. If you DOUBLE the demand though, you get to DISCARD a spite token (or if you have none, collect a favor token).

I hope this will make people WANT to pay the demands sometimes, and if you specialize in one type of thing, then maybe you'll overpay those demands to make up for failings elsewhere.

I was thinking the penalty would be triangular negative scoring, but maybe a majority thing would be better.

I still might like to see city control matter more during the game, and I worry that going heavy Zeus and dominating the initiative track might be too strong. But other than that I think the game is in good shape!

Friday, October 07, 2016

Eminent Domain: Still good!

Last weekend was RinCon, and I'll probably write a separate blog post about that. This post is about one thing I did at RinCon...

Old college friends Becky and Chris ran an Eminent Domain tournament, and they billed it as a Play With The Creator event. The idea was that ahead of the tournament I would teach the game, but I had a scheduling conflict, so my friend John taught it instead. I arrived in time to play, and so as advertised, players got to play Eminent Domain with the creator of the game!

There were 10 players other than me, and most of them had never played EmDo before. John is a shark, besides me he's probably played more EmDo than anyone in the world! And he's very good - he said that when he and I play, results are probably 60% in my favor. I think another player had played once a long time ago, the rest were brand new.

With 11 players, we had two 4p games and a 3p game, and the winner of each went on to play in the finals against me. Also, if I won the 1st game, then the 2nd place player from my table would advance.

It has been a REALLY long time since I've play Eminent Domain, and it's been EVEN LONGER since I played the base game without Oblivion expansion stuff. The first game was really interesting, as one of the new players seemed to grasp not only the rules, but perhaps a more advanced strategy... She took a Produce role in the 2nd or 3rd turn, right after colonizing her start planet - a move I usually warn against when teaching the game, because it puts a Produce/Trade card into your deck, which are mostly useless early in the game. While this may be considered a mistake, it's not the end of the world, and this player got a few more planets into play and called Produce and Trade rolls left and right, quickly getting to a P-T cycle of 3 or even 4 resources! Seeing this, and drawing some planets with Produce symbols on them, I tried to pivot into a P/T engine as well, though for some reason it took me a little while to get there so I wasn't able to capitalize on it too much. In my penultimate turn I did a produce role, fully expecting that opponent to fill up her resource slots, but lucky for me she only had 1 of her many P/T cards in hand! In the end I beat her by a single point, a margin which may have easily been reversed with just slightly more efficient play in the early game, or even just a better draw on that previous turn!

The finals ended up being that opponent and myself, John of course, and a guy named Taylor that I used to know 20 years ago from when I played Magic. In this game I started with an Advanced planet, and I happened to get more Advanced planets off the top of the deck, 2 of which had Research symbols (I;m sure John was jealous, those are his favorite). I went quickly and heavily into Research and obtained the level 3 adaptability tech with several rounds left to play. Online some players complain that this tech is too good, because if you get it early then you dominate the game. Well, in this case I didn't feel like it really helped me very much, apparently I didn't have a high concentration of standard Research cards. I only used it about twice. but the fact that it was worth 5 points was a big deal, and I was able to get a big Specialized trade off on the last turn for another 4 extra points, and I ended up winning by a wide margin. Of course John came second, then Tyler 3rd and the other opponent (I'm sorry, I forgot her name!) was last.

TMG had donated a couple copies of EmDo and each expansion as prize support, and I of course passed down any prizes. John already has EmDo and Escalation, so he only took Exotica. Tyler already had the base game as well, so he took the other Exotica and an Escalation. So even in fourth place, the other opponent walked away (very happy I might add) with copies of EmDo and Escalation in hand!

Everyone seemed to really enjoy the game, and I had a great time playing EmDo again. Man, that game holds up. I really am proud of it, and I feel like I should promote it more.

So if you still haven't tried it, play Eminent Domain!