Friday, July 15, 2016

Quick AMA on Reddit! Yokohama Deluxe and other stuff...

I'll be on Reddit for an AMA between now and 11:00am MST.

Yokohama is blowing up on Kickstarter, but it ends tonight! If you've got questions about that game or anything else, come ask them on Reddit!

Old news... a comment on Reddit about Eminent Domain (and a little Under The Hood about EmDo)

  About a year ago Eminent Domain was featured on Reddit as "game of the week", and I answered a bunch of questions there.

  I don't spend a lot of time on Reddit, but I logged in just now to set up an AMA about Yokohama (TODAY, 7/15, at 10am Mountain time!) and I noticed a reply in one of those threads that I never saw.

  That thread has been archived, and I don't think I can reply anymore, but it was a good question and I feel bad for not responding. Also, the person asking the question (Alex Churchill) is a friend and fellow game designer, with whom I worked developing Steam Works for TMG. Alex reads this blog sometimes, so I wanted to take a moment and respond to his old comment.


  In reference to my saying that Colonize and Warfare are early game actions in Eminent Domain, and that the point of the game is to hustle into the mid-game, Alex replied:

How can Survey and Colonize/Warfare be the early game? Getting points from planets is more effective than getting points from Produce/Trade 90% of the time, so people are doing it right up until the final round. I'm guessing the "mid/late" game you refer to must be Produce/Trade? But by the time you've got more than 1 or 2 symbols, your deck is full of Colonize/Warfare/Survey cards, diluting the Produce/Trade, which makes it much more natural to continue to focus on points for planets rather than try to switch focus and lose out on the follows.
  Alex has a point, if you invest (and especially if you over-invest) in Colonize or Warfare int he early game, then it looks like changing to a Produce/Trade or Research path mid-game would be inefficient, and so there's a temptation to just continue flipping planets. Indeed, this could be your strategy, and if you do a good enough job with it you might pull out a win. I'll note however that "doing a good enough job" against good players will likely involve targeting specific technologies to support your strategy (things like Survey Team, Fertile Ground, War Path, Improved Warfare...), as well as good timing of plays and correctly reading and reacting to your opponents' roles (as well it should).

  Therein lies the rub. That point of view is kind of a "n00b" outlook, and even if it sounds counter-intuitive, you can do better by minimizing the number of times you call Colonize or Warfare, making good use of following your opponents, and setting up a research or trade engine as quickly as possible. Level 1 technologies help you do this, as they have 2 different role symbols on them, which helps combat the dilution effect Alex mentioned. Using research to keep your deck slim is also a potential strategy there.

  The thing to note is that once you get 3 or 4 resource slots in play, a Produce/Trade cycle is actually more efficient than a Survey/Colonize/Settle or Survey Warfare/Attack cycle. Once you get a trade engine going, the longer the game goes on the more you'll outpace planet flippers. Mix in a well timed Genetic Engineering, Specialization, or Diverse Markets, and you can really pick up those Influence tokens in a hurry, possibly curtailing the game before your opponents get a chance to make their big endgame play (researching a level 3 tech, or flipping that last planet).

  Eminent Domain is not just a Role Selection game with Deck Building in it, it's a Deck Management game as well. The whole point is to find a way to make your deck perform better :)

  I hope that answers Alex's question, and I hope some players still find this kind of thing useful. It warms my heart to think that people are still playing Eminent Domain!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Big life changes! New house, and games for sale.

I've got a lot of big life changes coming up, the most immediate of which is that I'm buying a house. It's a nice, big house with a dedicated game room, across town from my current house. I'm pretty excited about the new house, especially the game room, for which I went in on one of those Duchess gaming tables :)

I'll talk more about my big changes later, but in packing up to move to this new house, I decided to catalog my games and maybe sell some of them. I didn't do it in the most efficient or effective manner, but long story short, if you're local and want to buy some of my games, take a look at this list:

Seth's Giant List of Games, Some Of Which Are For Sale At Good Prices

I intended this to make moving easier, so I don't want to be making trips to the post office or finding boxes to ship things in, and I don't want to be selling things and waiting until some future time to actually hand them off. Ideally we can make the transactions at the RinCon fundraiser game day this weekend.

Email sedjtroll at gmail with "Games For Sale" in the subject line if you're interested in anything, are local, and can make the exchange with in the next week.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Deities & Demigods: It's been a while... I've made some tweaks but haven't tested them yet.

The last time I posted about Deities & Demigods I mentioned that Hades didn't make the cut... at least not for the base game. I intend to keep him round as an expansion module (maybe on of those so-called "in-spansions").

After that post I did excise Hades, and I've played a few games without him... and I'm happy to report that it works just fine. Great! Now the game is easier to teach and learn, and is still interesting to play.

I have created all the stuff needed to try out the Hades module, but I have yet to try it out. As I was updating my prototype I made some other changes that I've also yet to try out, but I think will be pretty good...

* Buildings and artifacts no longer have set collection scoring.
I kinda liked the idea of set collection scoring on buildings and artifacts, like the Exploration cards have in Goa for example. However, it may have been a little out of control (or not), and more importantly, it was annoying to have to count up so many things at the end of the game. The more interesting rewards were the ones that gave you gold, favor tokens, devotion bumps, or advances on the Zeus track. So I just replaced all the set collection icons with those, and added another: 2 Troop movement.

* Building costs vs incentive to spread out and build in different cities.
Originally, each player was allowed only 1 building per city, so if you wanted to build another building, you had to move to another city before you could do that. There was some bonus for being the first player to build in each city, to give you some incentive to race to build in the cities before anyone else did.

More recently I've tried instead allowing multiple builds in a single city, with the rule being that you pay 1 gold per building already in the city... so if you stay put and build, it'll cost you more and more. Then the incentive to spread out is cheaper building. That was OK, but I wasn't sure I liked it.

My new tweak is this... each city now has 6 spaces for buildings. 5 of them each have one of the standard icons, the ones you find on the building and artifact cards:
- Advance x2 on the Zeus track
- 2 Troop movement
- 1 Gold
- 1 Favor token
- 1 Devotion bump

The 6th space has a better version of one of those:
- 3 Zeus track
- 3 Troop movement
- 2 Gold
- 2 Favor token
- 2 Devotion bump

The idea is that the FIRST time you build a building in a city, you may choose any remaining space to build in and collect the bonus. Any further building you build in that city is placed on top of your first building marker, and earns you no additional bonus. I had intended to also keep the cost of 1 gold for each building already built, but maybe with this tweak that's unnecessary... instead of paying more, you're giving up opportunity cost of getting those bonuses.

There's incentive to spread out so you can collect more bonuses, and there's incentive to act fast as the first player to build in each city has first dibs on the better-than-usual space.

One of those icons will be marked, and when players choose their starting city they will get the marked bonus (which will be the weaker version of whichever powered up bonus is in that town).

* Virtual Zeus phase in cycle #1.
I was thinking that Zeus was kind of boring in the first cycle or two of the game, so in the last couple of games I have tried starting the game with a Zeus round before drawing any cards. This way Zeus would come up twice in cycle 1, but only once in cycle 2 (unless someone added a Zeus card). I've enjoyed this, but I don't know if it's necessary or not. Especially with the possibility of starting with extra Zeus track advances from your starting city this might not be important anymore.

* Simplifying the board to a simple hex board.
I've always enjoyed the movement rules where you move on the vertices of the hexes rather than from hex to hex. But since I made the Quests and Cities reside inside hexes, that line has blurred. Some players get a little confused by the movement rules. It's possible the troops should just move from hex to hex and NOT reside on the hex nodes after all.

This dramatically reduces the size of the board, but if I similarly reduce the amount of troop movement you get from Ares then everything should still work similarly... so instead if 3/7/11/15 troop movement, you'll only get 1/3/5/8, and instead of costing 2 troop movement to bring a troop from your supply into play, it'll only cost 1. This simplifies Ares a bit, and the lower numbers might make movement turns easier and faster to execute.

I hope to get a chance to try these changes, as well as perhaps adding the Hades module back in with experienced players!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Shameless promotion - a couple of non-TMG kickstarters (plus Yokohama Deluxe!)

I'm not big into promoting other people's kickstarters, and as such I don't ask people to promote the projects I'm involved in either.

But tonight I played a game that a couple of local guys have up for crowdfunding right now called Martial Art. The project is funded, so this isn't a plea to help them reach their goal. It's a pretty fun little game of double-think. A 54 card deck supports 2 players for $12, and apparently you can play with up to 4 if you have 2 copies. I didn't play with more than 2, and I suspect I'd prefer 2 players anyway. However I also suspect that with 2 decks you could play a variant where each player has their own deck, which could cut down on any luck of the draw (or perceived luck of the draw) if you like.

I usually don't love the "let's both play a card at the same time" type of games, but this one was kinda fun. If you like that sort of thing then maybe give this one a shot.

Speaking of kickstarter projects, another local guy who made 3D models of the genetic component pieces for the upcoming TMG game Chimera Station is running a project for some software to help design 3D models for things like D&D characters. The software is called Desktop Hero, and you can follow the link to see what that's all about. I don't know much about the project or the software, but Andrew was a really nice guy and did a great job on our Chimera Station pieces.

So if you are in the mood to do some shopping on Kickstarter (perhaps you're backing Yokohama Deluxe from TMG...), maybe give those projects a look and see if they interest you at all.

And for those interested in Yokohama Deluxe, I'm going to be involved in fixing up the graphic design for the English edition, which is something that's definitely needed - the game is great, but the graphics make it a lot less accessible than it could be. So if you trust me, then you can be sure the game will look awesome (and I've played a handful of times, the game really is a lot of fun!)

Monday, June 13, 2016

R.I.P. Hades?

For a while now there was some question as to whether Hades has been pulling his weight. It's been a bit of a struggle to keep him relevant. Initially I was OK with Hades being a sort of support deity, enabling players to pursue building, quests, and city control. However, as Matthew Dunstan pointed out, you could pursue scoring from each of the other deities, but not Hades:

Zeus: Collect deity cards for end game scoring.

Hermes: Collect gold to spend on favor when showing devotion to deities.

Ares: Score points for controlling cities (Matthew would like to see even more in the way of scoring for Ares)

Hephaestus: Score points for buildings (I am strongly considering ditching the set collection scoring and going with something simpler, but still worth points in some way)

Hades does not provide any path to victory, and as a result, there's often no reason to add him to the deck. As yet he's served only as a way to get more troops into play, and then recycle them after doing quests or building. For me that was working, but it's become more and more apparent that it's not ideal.

I've got a couple of friends who tend to think that in a game like this, with 5 deities, a player should just be able to pick one, concentrate on it, and be competitive with another player who picked a different deity. I've never subscribed to that personally - I believe it's fine for games to have early game actions and late game actions, and I don't think it's too much to ask of a player to consider the benefit of the choices they make, and whether they make sense at this point in the game. For example, buying a big building early in a game of Puerto Rico is not the best choice, though I'll concede that they did make those too expensive for players to build right away.

But in the case of Deities & Demigods it does make sense that there be reasons to add any of the deities to the deck, so I was interested in Matthews suggestion to add a scoring avenue to Hades. He suggested adding Trial spaces to the Underworld that you could spend Hades points to occupy with troops, gaining some kind of end game bonus at the cost of permanently losing those troops. That scoring could even be interactive, like majority scoring for devoting the most troops to the trials for example.

While that does sound interesting to me, I can't help but wonder if it's really necessary. Maybe it's just too much... the explanation of this game tends to take longer than it should (EmDo is similar), so anything to reduce that would be welcome. So if Hades isn't really necessary, then it maybe better to just excise him from the game altogether like I did Poseidon.

So next game I'll try that -- no Hades at all, and no Underworld per se. Your troops will either be on your player board or in play. 2 Ares points will bring a new troop into play, and of course 1 Ares point will move troops around the board as normal.


But to stay true to theme, rather than just leave Hades on the cutting room floor, I think he could become a sort of expansion module. It actually seems like adding Hades as a module would be fairly simple...

* Devotion track for each player
* Underworld board (with Trial spaces)
* Hades starting Olympus card and a stack of 6 Hades cards
* Hades monument, talisman, and shrine (maybe other artifact/building cards that deal with Hades)
* Potentially a couple more troops per player
* Rules indicating how Trial scoring and Hades points work

If playing Hades-less works out, then I'd like to give this expansion module a shot. If it works, then maybe I can find a way to add other deities (such as Poseidon) back in as modules too!

Side note on controlling cities:
I've been struggling with city control scoring, and how it's sort of all-or-nothing. I'm beginning to think that perhaps you should only count troops, not buildings, for control of cities. Furthermore, I think the scoring should be 1 per city you have troops in, and an additional 2 or 3 if you have the MOST troops in that city. That way you can pursue some scoring by running your troops around the board, and you can score better if you make sure to outdo your opponents. I've been thinking of adding a couple of troops per player for this reason as well, so you can reasonably fight for a couple of cities.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Deities & Demigods -- quick update

I just tweeted about Deities & Demigods with a link to this blog tag, so it seems prudent to post a quick update on the latest few plays of Deities & Demigods.

The Deities

In short, I deleted Hera, Poseidon, and boats altogether so there are only 5 deities now:

Zeus: 
No longer a turn order track per se... turn order is clockwise from a start player, and the leader on the Zeus track at the end of the cycle becomes the new start player and choose a deity to resolve and add to the deck.

There are now triggered benefits every couple of steps along the Zeus track (devotion bump, God card for scoring, a Favor token, and a minimum Devotion bump), and everyone resets at the end of each cycle.

Hermes:
No change here, Hermes continues to deliver gold which you use to show your devotion to the deities.

Ares:
With the removal of boats, Ares is the deity in charge of moving your units (just "troops" now) around the board. I upped the values at each level, and I've been liking the recent update tot he board: 4 board pieces at all player counts, and you move around the hex nodes, and into the hexes at cities and quest locations.

Hephaestus:
Buildings, artifacts, and monuments haven't changed (still using a separate deck for buildings and artifacts), but the level 1 reward has changed. Instead of 1 favor token (1vp), you now get 1 gold per building you have in play (minimum 1). Having removed Hera, it's nice to have some additional income opportunities, and I like the idea of building just a couple of buildings in the early game and then ignoring Hephaestus and just taking 3 gold whenever he comes up (juxtaposed with concentrating on Hephaestus and scoring off a lot of buildings and artifacts).

Hades:
I like the existence of Hades, who brings troops back from the underworld. After removing combat from the game it was questionable whether this would be relevant though. I think I've found a way to keep Hades relevant...

Currently you start with just 2 troops in play, 4 more in your personal supply, and 4 more in the Underworld. Hades moves troops from the Underworld to your personal supply, or from your supply to play. So you can use Hades from the outset to get more troops into play. Whenever you build a building, one of your troops goes back to your supply, so Hades will help you get them back into play. When completing a quest, one of your troops goes to the UNDERWORLD, so you can either consider them lost forever, or you can show some devotion to Hades to get them back into circulation. Considering that you only have a total of 10 troops to work with, this could be a big deal.


The Demigods

Since I've changed the game so dramatically, my sample player powers kind of fell apart. I tweaked a fe of them, but rather than worry about that too much I made some standard player boards (same for all players). In the end I'd like to have A-side and B-side player boards like you see in Kings of Air and Steam for example, with more interesting, unique B-sides

Herekles:
Obviously Herekles should have some benefit when doing quests, or some small incentive to pursue a Quest strategy. I've been using "whenever you complete a quest, increase devotion to any deity by 1" which seems like a good reward. I might offer a few extra points for having done quests, but that might be too heavy handed.

Perseus:
Perseus had the ability to put units directly into play during Hades, but now that's the standard so I need to figure out something better for him. Perhaps allowing Hades to add troops to play wherever you have a troop (as opposed to wherever you have a building) for example. I'm not sure that would be good enough, but it might be interesting. I could also give a small benefit such as a gold whenever you take control of a city, or whenever another player takes control of a city away from you, to make city control more of a thing during play.

Nike:
Nike used to have a benefit on the turn order track. After the changes I think his ability has to change to something like "when resolving Zeus, move 1 extra space on the Zeus track". I'm not sure if that's good or bad though. In any case, I'd like Nike's ability to have something to do with the Zeus track.

Jason: 
As captain of the Argos, Jason's original ability had to do with Poseidon and boat movement. Of course after removing that whole section of the game, this ability will have to change! Currently the board is just an array of spaces, I have been ignoring any kind of terrain (such as water). However in the end I would like the board to have some more texture, and I would like to see water being a thing. Probably I will just say something like "water costs extra to move over", and then Jason's ability will counteract or lessen that movement penalty. Until that's added though, I think there just isn't an ability for this player board.

I'm open to suggestions as to other demigods to use, and types of abilities they might have!

The next thing I will try is to expand the starting Olympus deck to 2 of each deity, rather than just 1.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

London, Paris, Deities, Demigods, Stained Glass, and Rock & Roll

LONDON

I just returned from a 12 day trip to Europe. An old online friend, Sebastian Bleasdale, got married in London, and he was kind enough to send me an invite. I suspect he didn't think I would come, but I called his bluff! I had a really good time at his wedding, and though I didn't get too much time to catch up with the busy groom, I was able to get some quality time in with a number of UK designers that I rarely see such as Matthew Dunstan, Tony Boydell, Brett Gilbert, Ian Vincent, and even caught a glimpse of big names such as Reiner Knizia and Richard Breese!

A gathering with so many designers would be nothing without a little playtesting and prototypes. I was able to play upcoming TMG title Pioneer Days (something like an Oregon Trail themed board game) with one of the designers (Matthew Dunstan), as well as test a drafting game by Tony Boydell, play an excellent mancala-rondel game by Sebastian and Ian based on my Crusaders rondel mechanism, see an interesting deck building (ish) game by Matthew, and even get my latest Deities & Demigods to the table.

DEITIES & DEMIGODS

I had some good discussion about Deities & Demigods with Matthew, who has expressed interest in co-designing that one with me, and I decided on some BIG changes -- some of which have been hanging around waiting to be tried, and some new ideas that came u in those conversations. The big changes include cutting out Hera, Poseidon, and boats altogether, and attaching the the manipulation of the Olympus deck to the initiative track itself. The original initiative track was intended to be for turn order, and there was supposed to be incentive to care about turn order. We decided that it may be easier to just have clockwise turn order from a start player, and we could reassign start player at the end of each cycle based on the initiative track. The new version has a few rewards that you get as you advance up the initiative track, and then the markers reset for the next cycle. Without Poseidon, there are simply troops that navigate the board. When we get the game working better we can add texture by saying things like "moving over water costs extra" or something. These changes worked out pretty well, as you'll see if you read on...

PARIS

After the wedding, I headed to Paris where I saw a number of touristy things including Notre Dame, the exterior of the Louvre, Ferris Wheel, Arc de Triumph, Eiffel Tower, and even Euro Disney. I enjoyed each (well, the Eiffel Tower was disappointing), even Disneyland was more fun than I expected. But I enjoyed Notre Dame most of all. In fact, looking at the stained glass windows, I came up with a new game idea... and in the following days I have pieced together a new game design, ready to be prototyped and tested! The game is a simple set collection game about building attractive stained glass windows. Watch for a future blog post about that one.

ETOURVY

When I found out that Bruno Faidutti was having a gathering during the time I'd be in France, I was excited at the prospect of attending. Bruno was kind enough to invite me, so I took a quick trip by train and got to see people like Ignacy Trzewiczek, Bruno Faidutti, Bruno Cathala, as well as other French gamers and industry folk. At the event I got a chance to play Crusaders with some folks, as well as Deities & Demigods with all the new changes. The players were great sports as I stumbled through the playtest with brand new rules, and they said they enjoyed the game a lot. The changes worked out alright, but were a little wonky, so when I got home I made a few adjustments, and managed to get two 2-player tests in on Tuesday which went very well.

ROCK & ROLL

In Etourvy I also played a pirate themed press-your-luck dice game which someone thought TMG might be interested in, and then I pulled out my press-your-luck dice game, Rock & Roll. The latest version of Rock & Roll (with changes based on Game Design Attack #4) has players rolling dice to play songs and satisfy the crowd. I had been allowing players to lock in more than 1 die at a time where possible, but there was something unsatisfying about that... after this test comments implied that a better format might be to allow players to lock in only 1 die at a time. So every time you roll the dice, you first lock all Gaffes, then you must be able to lock the next die in the song or else you bust. Even if you have more matching dice, you can only lock 1 into the song, then you must either stop and score, or roll again.

This new format makes a lot more sense, and if the songs are designed such that they start fairly flexibly then they'll naturally get harder and harder as dice get locked. Players may press their lock going for more crowd tokens, completion bonuses, and making it harder for opponents to "outperform" the song. Or they can play it safe and stop early, risking that another player outperform their song and take the card away from them.

I suspect this is the correct format for the game. All that remains now is to tweak the cards to fit the new format, redesign the songs, and see if it's really any fun :)