Tuesday, September 22, 2015

An audio blast from the past - a design chat about All For One

Back in... I want to say 2007 [edit: turns out it was may 2005!], I thought it would be cool to do a podcast about game design. At the time, podcasting had started to become a thing, and a few people were starting up podcasts about gaming - mostly gamers talking about games they play, or games they like. Not much about design though.

Years later, there are now literally hundreds of podcasts about gaming, but still a relative dearth of shows about the design of games. There are some - I recently discovered Ludology, with Geoff Engelstein and Ryan Sturm (now Mike Fitzgerald), a show about games from an academic point of view. I enjoyed that one, consuming 4 years worth of episodes over the course of the summer.

Another one I found is Building The Game, with Rob Couch and Jason Slingerland, who document their trials and tribulations as they navigate the amateur design community trying to ascertain the golden formula to create a publishable game. After about 3 years at it, I believe each of them has gotten to the point of getting a game signed by a publisher, so props to them. One feature I like about this one is their Practicing The Pitch segment. Every week one of the guys pitches a game idea, either one they've just come up with (sometimes with a constraint from boardgamizer or a listener challenge), or one they've been kicking around for a week or so. It's a neat design exercise, though perhaps it leads to a little too much invention and not enough development.

So, back to 2007 [edit: 2005!]. After listening to an episode of Board Games To Go with Mark Johnson, I downloaded a program called Audacity and I recorded a half hour of myself talking about my big game project at the time, All For One. At this point some of the information about the game is well out of date, but such is life when you dig up old posts. Other then myself, nobody has ever heard that recording... until now:

Feel free to leave comments, either here or on SoundCloud. I don't know if I'll try this again, but talking through design ideas is something I'm interested in, so you never know. Ideally I'd like to team up with someone else (maybe someone who's savvy with sound editing) and talk design with them once in a while.

Anyway, enjoy this slice of history!

Increasing the 'scope (Q&A session on Periscope - 9/21/15)

Edit: Apparently I had the video set to "private" (heh, worked for me *shrug*). I believe it should work now.

Earlier this year a new technology came out, and I've been interested in playing with it ever since.

Periscope appears to be the next step in social media. Live streaming video has reared it's head, and at this point it's still sort of in its infancy - you can tell by the lack of features in the Periscope app. Though recent updates have allowed the broadcaster to switch to landscape orientation, users still cannot watch playback the way you'd expect - with the basic features of a media viewer such as being able to jump back and forth.

As annoying as that is, it's still pretty cool to be able to watch live streams of people doing interesting things. I'm a little surprised Periscope isn't just a rehash of Chat Roulette... while I do see guys in just about any woman's scopes asking for boobies, I have yet to happen upon a naked man playing with himself. Maybe I've been lucky, or maybe I'm just not looking in the right place.

I mostly just watch broadcasts from people I know. Since Twitter owns Periscope, it's well integrated and I get a notification whenever one of my followers starts a broadcast. Mike and the TMG crew used to do some, but I guess they found something new and shiny to play with. Some of my other twitter friends have scoped various gaming related things, from unboxing videos (why?), to playthroughs, to previews of prototypes at Protospiel and interviews with prominent people at conventions.

Every once in a while you happen upon something completely random yet interesting. The other day I happened upon some guy in Phoenix who was scoping something about how to draw... it's cool watching artists with their Cintiq tablets make a drawing come to life, and that guy was talking about some basic drawing techniques to boot.

The other week I went to a concert, and just to try it out, I scoped the entirety of Offspring's set (much to my girlfriend's chagrin). Someone I don't know thanked me on twitter, I guess they were a big Offspring fan.

The other day, Darrell Louder scoped a Q&A session with "world famous, Ion award winning designer" T.C. Petty while waiting at a game store for people to show up. I enjoyed that, and thought it would be fun to do the same... so when nobody showed up for Gamesmiths tonight, and I found myself in a quiet corner of a game store all alone, I decided to give it a try. I broadcast for about 45 minutes, rambling a bit about some of my prototypes, and answering some questions. I think it went pretty well. At any rate I had some fun, and a handful of people watched live. I uploaded the video to Youtube (something I'm not too familiar with doing), and if I figured out how to embed the video, then it should appear here:

Since I did enjoy it, it's likely I'll try again sometime soon. Let me know in the comments below if there's anything in particular you'd like me to address, and follow me on twitter (@sedjtroll) or on Periscope if you don't want to miss it!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Kings of Air and Steam: World's Fair

A few years ago I did a lot of development work on a game called Kings of Air and Steam, by Scott Almes.

Kings of Air and Steam

From the description on BGG:
On the cusp of the twentieth century, America is the undisputed land of industry. Factories fire their machines twenty-four hours a day, and demand is skyrocketing in the cities. A small but fierce rivalry of shipping barons must manage their amazing airships and the extensive railroad system in order to get goods to the cities before the demand is met by someone else. Anyone who can't stay competitive will be left with nothing but dust in their coffers!
The process is simple: Factories produce the goods (machinery, textiles, chemicals, food, and luxuries) that are coveted by the city folk. Airships – forbidden from landing in the cities but capable of carrying cargo over great distances – must be used to gather those goods and deliver them to depots along the rail network. Trains then haul the goods to the cities that want them, earning cash for the competitor who gets there first! Will you be the "King of Air and Steam?"
Kings of Air and Steam spans five rounds, and at the beginning of each round, players plan their Airship flights using four of their movement cards. When everyone is ready, everyone reveals their first planned card. According to the turn order and movement limits of their cards, players move their Airships, then take an Action; Actions include Building Depots, Upgrading your Airship or Train, Shipping Goods by rail, and Soliciting Funds from the bank. When all players have acted, the second planned cards are revealed, and so on through the four planned cards until all players have finished carrying out their plans for the round. All the while, players must keep aware of the rising values of the different types of Goods and try to get the most-valuable Goods from the specialized factories that produce them to the cities that want them. At the end of the game, the player with the most money and the greatest shipping network will be declared King of Air and Steam!
Kings of Air and Steam includes seven teams of characters, each with unique powers to give them a competitive edge, and a modular game board that makes each game a different experience.
I'm pretty proud of Kings of Air and Steam - Scott had a really neat concept, and he and I hammered it into a very solid final product. I like pick-up/deliver games, and as those go, KAS is very interesting with its 2-step delivery process.

In December 2011, 626 backers pledged $41,722 to help bring Kings of Air and Steam to life. After some delays, those backers received their games around February 2013, but it didn't hit distribution until June or July of that year. When the game hit store shelves, it sold out almost immediately, and fans have said it's been badly in need of a reprint ever since!

Reprint and Expansion

Now, 2 years later, that re-print may finally be possible! Kings of Air and Steam is currently on Kickstarter, along with an expansion called World's Fair. The expansion adds new teams, with new captains to play, contracts to encourage players to use more of the board, and technology cards which allow players access to powerful actions and abilities.

Here's an example of some of the tech cards:

And here are the new teams' special movement cards:

Unfortunately, the funding is not pouring in like I'd expect for a game that's overdue for a re-print, along with an expansion... in fact, with only 4 days left on the project, funding is barely over 50%!

If we're going to make it to the funding goal (let alone any of the stretch goals), we've got our work cut out for us!

You can help!

1. If you haven't got Kings of Air and Steam, then check it out on BGG and at the Kickstarter project.
2. If you HAVE got Kings of Air and Steam, and if you liked it as much as I do, then check out the World's Fair expansion on BGG and at the Kickstarter project.
3. If you want this project to succeed, please spread the word - share the project with your friends, and let people know about your good experiences piloting airships and delivering goods for fun and profit!

Thanks for your help - let's kick that funding into high gear and get thi great game (and expansion) into our hot little hands!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Odysseus is closing in on Ithaca!

I posted about a recent 5p test with my newfound playtest group, and since then I've gotten Winds of Fate to the table twice: with 4 players at Unpub Mini Az, and with 5 again last night.

Outcomes and the Death Spiral

For some reason - and I'm not 100% sure why - in both of those games the death spiral didn't occur, and in fact the Unpub game ended with a Safe Return, and in 2 different rounds last night Odysseus almost made it home as well. I changed the rule to be that after encountering a face down tile, the gods decide which direction Odysseus will go, but in neither case did that really come up. Perhaps players weren't driving him towards a death spiral - that could have contributed to the difference.

God Tiles

The god tiles seemed to have more of an impact in these last games as well, which is good. I think doubling up on their number was a good choice. In the next test I might reverse the scoring such that you get 2/6/12/20vp for having 1/2/3/4 DIFFERENT god tiles (rather than matching tiles). That way you get better score for diversifying, but you get stronger effects by specializing (like if you have 3 Hades tiles, you can kill off a lot of crew).

I'm also considering making Zeus "wild" and therefore trigger for EACH event (kill crew with Hades, revive crew with Dionysus, draw cards with Hermes) - but I'm not sure about that. I guess it would only matter for the players who get the Zeus tiles at Troy (first round), which might reward luck of the draw a bit.

Game Length

Both of these two playtests went very well, and the players all liked the game. The 4 player game took about an hour and a half, and the 5 player game took about 2 hours. Any longer and I think it would have been too long, but neither game seemed to overstay its welcome.

Reward + Consolation Reverse Turn Order

In both of those games I awarded both a Reward Tile and the Consolation when players passed, and that worked very well. I forgot at Unpub, but last night I awarded 1 additional card if you passed without having played any cards, and that worked, but I think I'll skip it from now on I don't think it's really necessary, it's an extra rule, and I don't like the idea of encouraging people to NOT play cards.

As for the number of rounds, last night they played through 7 rounds. At Unpub I think it was 6. In most cases it seems like maybe it's too easy to push the game toward round 12 with all the ways to advance the round marker. This may mean that Stranded is an easy outcome to bet on, or to make happen. I don't like that. I'm going to try changing the "advance round marker" action provided by one Reward tile and one card in each deck changed to "move the round marker up to 1 space in either direction."

Timeline and Destiny Rewards

I've been using the "add 1 cube per player, and then divide all cubes between qualifying shares" format, and it has worked alright, but it's complicated to explain and it involves more math than it should to resolve. For the Timeline bet I think I'll go back to a static pool of VPs. I used to use 30vp, which seemed to work, but maybe scaling it for player count would be better. So I might try 5vp/player, or 15/20/25vp for 3/4/5 players.

For the Destiny reward I might do the same thing, but for the next test I'll try something a little different... I am thinking that players could take a Destiny action each round when they place their Path bet (so you place 2 cubes, not just 1), and then at the end of the game the player with the most cubes on the correct outcome gets a bonus (a Zeus tile), and then players simply gather up their cubes from the correct outcome. I figure games will last about 6-8 rounds, so if you pick an outcome and stick with it every turn, and it turns out to be correct, then you'll score 12-16 points, plus maybe a bonus worth 2, 4, 6, or 8 points.

Next Playtest

I'm looking forward to getting this to the table again soon. I am going to a game store tomorrow night, but I don't know if anyone there will want to play O:WoF, but I'm also going to the Strategicon game convention in L.A. this weekend, and I'm sure I'll be able to drum up a playtest there. I can't wait to see these last few things tighten up!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Suburban Sprawl Submitted (Greater Than Games / Dice Hate Me Dexterity Challenge)!

Recently I posted about the Dexterity Challenge being put on by Greater Than Games / Dice Hate Me Games. In short, I had an idea for a dexterity based city building game where you toss buildings into play, and depending on what lands where, you score points... I imagined interactions such as "people don't want to live by factories, so there's a disincentive to put Industrial buildings near Residential buildings" and "Commercial buildings are better off near lots of Residentials, because then people will shop there."

Soon after that post went up, I was contacted by designer Matthew Dunstan (Relic Runners, Empire Engine, Elysium), who said the idea really struck a chord with him. He even asked if I wanted a co-designer on the project... "why not?" I thought - I like co-designing!

With Matthew on board, we iterated through 2 titles, 3 major revisions, and several versions of each revision. Each major revision was better than the last, and today as I sent in the submission email, I'm happy with where the game ended up. I'm not sure if it'll win the contest, but one of the initial design constraints I put myself under was to make the game fit Dice Hate Me's Rabbit line - the small box line of games in which Isle of Trains is a member. So Suburban Sprawl is merely 56 cards, and optional score sheets!

Here's a short description of the game:

Wish us luck!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Odysseus: Winds of Fate - 5p playtest with recent changes

Last night I had some players over to playtest - and I think these players are down to become a regular playtest group! I'm really excited about that. They're great, enthusiastic players who are willing and eager to play prototypes.

Playtest Night!

Last night we began with a game of Now Boarding while we waited for everyone to arrive. That game went alright, but it will need some ore testing to determine whether it's "just ok" or if it can be a great co-op game worthy of publication.

Odysseus: Winds of Fate

Once everyone arrived, I got out Odysseus: Winds of Fate because I really wanted to try it out with the recent changes I made to the prototype. I was a little unhappy with how fiddly the game is to explain, and I worry that that's a symptom of a bigger problem (that the game is too fiddly)... some of the players didn't fully grasp what was going on at first, though by about 1/2 way through I think everyone knew what was happening.

New cards - Adventure vs God tile
The new cards with an inverse relationship between Adventure value and God icons worked very well. I'm not sure why I didn't try that sooner - hopefully the answer isn't some dumb reason like I was too lazy to update the prototype!

Claim Rewards In Reverse Turn Order

I tried claiming rewards upon passing, so in reverse turn order, and that seemed to work well too. I liked the sound of removing the consolation to make the game less fiddly, but worried that card flow would be too low. In a moment of weakness I decided to try this: when passing, you claim a reward token, then EITHER take the reward OR you get your consolation based on passing order. I regretted this almost immediately. At first I felt like there was not enough card recharge... in the end that turned out to be not necessarily true, players were able to get cards if they wanted them most of the time, at the expense of the reward on the tile sometimes. The problem was more that players were OFTEN  choosing the consolation over the reward! This could mean a couple of things... maybe the consolation is too high,  maybe the rewards are too small. Either way, it was not fun to have to ignore all the interesting reward effects! I absolutely want to go back to getting BOTH the reward and the consolation - though it's possible that the strength of each of those may be off.

Extra Consolation If Passing Off The Bat

I forgot to include something that might be good... If you pass without having played any cards at all, I might like to award 1 additional card. This is a small thing, and may not be strictly necessary, but I like it for players who have spent all their cards to be able to recharge better. Then again, now that you get first pick of the rewards, maybe that's not necessary after all.

More God Tiles

I doubled up on the god tiles at each location. Actually, I didn't make more Zeus tiles, but I probably should have... The idea was to get more god tiles into the game, because I felt like players weren't getting enough of them. So at each location I had 2 tiles, and I awarded 1st choice to the player who played the most god icons, and 2nd choice to th player with 2nd most icons.

Of course, almost immediately I ran into the question of what happens on a tie. I had said "whoever played fewer cards wins the tie," but realistically that will often just leads to another tie. To solve that, I had the bright idea to add a unique index number to each card, and say that "the tied player who played the card with the highest index wins the tie," and then I painstakingly added a number from 1 to 72 on each card - numbering from high value to low (so the cards that fight for the god tile are better for tiebreaks on the god tile), swapping back and forth from Hinder to Help cards, trying to keep it fairly even. About 4 cards in I started saying to myself "you know, I should just break the ties based on turn order instead." I wrote all the damn indexes, so I'll try that next time, but I highly suspect I'll switch to simply breaking the tie in favor of the player earlier in turn order (the player who stuck in longer for this particular fight).

Destiny and Timeline Payoffs

I've been consternated about the payoffs for the Destiny and Timeline bets for some time. This time I tried using all of the cubes on the respective tracks, PLUS 1 cube per player, as the total prize pool for the bet, divided evenly between qualifying shares (you still get 2 shares for being exactly right on the Timeline bet, and 1 share for being off by 1). That seemed to work out, and I'll try it again next time.

I've been noticing that Safe Return seems to be less common, while most games end with a Dead or Stranded result. Most times Odysseus ends up in the "death spiral" - which may account for this discrepancy in destiny results. After the last few tests I've been thinking that when Odysseus encounters a face down tile, rather than a calculable outcome, I should just draw an Olympus card and let the gods choose which direction to send him. This would also allow for another of effect trigger, getting more god action in the game, and maybe this would remove the tendency toward the death spiral (though it could potentially still happen). I'll try that next time.

Next Test

I look forward to playing the game again. I've signed up to run it at the upcoming UnPub Mini AZ on August 29th, though I'd love to play it again before that.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Now Boarding - revisited

Two years ago I posted the rules to a game that Tim Fowers and I designed at Game Design Attack #1: Now Boarding.

Now Boarding is a cooperative optimization puzzle with time pressure for 3-4 players. Each player controls an international hub and nearby city airports, and together you must usher randomly drawn passengers to their destinations before they lose too much patience. This goal gets harder and harder each day as more cities enter play and more passengers come through your airports. In order to help achieve the goal, you'll need to build up your infrastructure, buying new planes and gates, upgrading local airports to hubs, and buying concession stands to keep passengers happy during layovers.

Tim and I discussed, designed, prototyped, playtested, and iterated on Now boarding at Game Design Attack #1, and later we made nicer prototypes. Unfortunately, my nice prototype fell victim to a robbery where the thieves took nothing but a duffle bag full of game prototypes - worthless to them, but invluable to me :(

Last weekend I finally got around to re-creating a prototype of the game, and I hope to play it tomorrow night. The latest changes (from September 2013) involved concentrating the time pressure on the Departure step of the turn, the step where all the puzzle-solving decisions are made, and leaving the bookkeeping parts of the turn off the clock. I think that sounds like a good idea, though I remember some of my friends (Mandy and Russell, who really like co-op games) wanted to get rid of the time pressure altogether - they just wanted to solve the logistical puzzle together. I think it's more fun with time pressure, as the puzzle itself isn't terribly complex. Perhaps the untimed version could be "easy mode," while to make it harder you could impose a time limit on the Departures step.

I've updated the Now Boarding rules accordingly. I'm sure I'll post after tomorrow's session if I get a chance to play this game. Also on the docket is the latest version of Alter Ego (with simultaneous play), so maybe it'll be a co-op night... though I'd really like to get Odysseus: Winds of Fate to the table as well now that I've finally updated my prototype.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Winds of Update...

I've been meaning to make a Winds of Fate update, so I figured I'd post here so I don't forget by the time I get around to it.

My latest thought is to give the Adventure cards cards two different values, one value for the adventure (as they have now), and a separate value for competing for the God tile. Of course I'll set them up so that if you're play is strong toward the god tile, then you're automatically weak for the adventure... if you want to score off the God tile, then you are probably giving up control of Odysseus' destiny. Or if you care about the outcome of the adventure, then you're probably not winning the God tile.

This solves one problem, however it doesn't solve the other... In both cases you're encouraged to stay in the adventure. No matter what you're just basically playing cards to get the bigger prizes.

I have a potential fix for that. Currently the structure is that you play cards until you want to bail (either because you are out of cards, or you don't care to play any more), and when you bail you get a "Consolation" of cards and/or points. The earlier you bail, the more cards you get back to make you stronger in future adventures. the later you bail, the fewer cards you get, but the more points you get, and the better reward tiles...

The fix I've been meaning to try is drafting the reward tiles in REVERSE turn order rather than the new turn order. Specifically, when you bail you draft a reward tile right then. So if you stay in, you're fighting for either control of the path, or for the god tile, at the cost of better rewards.

In fact, this could remove the consolation altogether. I worry a little about card recharge not being enough, but maybe players can draw a couple cards as a standard, or I could make more card rewards, or players could opt for cards in lieu of the reward (so if you spend more cards and stay in longer, then you get a lesser reward, you might just take cards instead).

I just wanted to get this down so I don't forget it. hopefully soon I'll get around to updating the prototype.

Edit: I have updated my prototype, and I hope to play by this time next week.