Friday, September 25, 2020

Another day, another prototype on Tabletop Simulator

I spent a few hours tonight making a Tabletop Simulator mod for a new prototype of mine. I haven't posted about this one yet, but I probably will do so soon. I'm pretty excited about it, I think the theme, story, and even the rules are pretty accessible, and the inaugural playtest went about as well as I could have hoped. So far, so good! Just gotta find some time to do some playtesting...

Here's a teaser image for Keeping Up With The Joneses:

Keeping Up With The Joneses - Tabletop Simulator prototype

Keeping Up With The Joneses is a rondel game in which you one-up your neighbors while trying to keep up with the Joneses down the street - who always seem to have it all together!

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Designing with competitive vs NON-competitive play in mind

No catchy title this time, just wanted to talk about how we should design games that hold up to competitive play… AND to NON-competitive play.

I've said before that all things being equal, games are better if they hold up to competitive play. That is to say that they don't break down when a player "tries to win." For many games, that's not strictly necessary, for example, many party games are not really played "to win," but just to facilitate a fun time. That's well and good, but my point still stands: the game would only be better if it did not unravel when one or more players do play competitively.

I've stumbled across a new observation that is related to this, and may be even more important. Not only should a game strive to hold up to competitive play, but it must also hold up to NON-competitive play! By this I mean simply: if one, some, or (worst case) all of the players do not aggressively pursue the winning condition, the game must not stop working, and it must still progress toward an end.

Case Study: Apotheosis

This has come up on my current design, Apotheosis. In every playtest of that game, at least one player (myself, if not my friend Dave) would treat the game as the race it was intended to be. We both strive to do tier-2 adventures as quickly as possible, as they're much more efficient then tier-1 adventures, and we press as hard as we can toward reaching the win condition (the end of a track). As a result, the duration of the game was always acceptable, and I thought the game was in pretty good shape.

The other day I had a test with 3 other players on Tabletop Simulator, and I decided to sit out and help facilitate instead of playing because TTS is kinda fiddly, and I thought it would go faster that way. This turned out to be fortuitous because it revealed what I'd consider a fatal flaw in the game: all three players went for even advancement to obtain the "consolation" level-ups I'd added, effectively spending too many turns building up rather than pressing to get to those tier-2 adventures and racing up a track. As a result, perhaps not unexpectedly, the game dragged on and ended up taking about 2 hours -- fully twice an acceptable duration!

Thinking about this problem is what turned me on to the axiom above: games must hold up to non-competitive play. First time players will not necessarily notice that you're intended to push up the tracks as fast as you can. In fact, the current incentives kind of suggest the opposite. And many players just play games to explore their systems, and don't try doggedly to achieve victory. Therefore, it is definitely appropriate to address this game-dragging problem in some way.

Brainstorming solutions

My first thought was to remove or reduce the "consolation" level-ups. I'd added them to ensure that simply picking one track and ignoring the other two wasn't necessarily the best path to take. To be honest, I'm not sure they were really necessary in that respect, but I did like having a reward for even advancement in a game where the goal is to advance any 1 track to the end. While that might have reduced the problem, it would not have eliminated it, as new or bad players could still dilly-dally too long and make the game drag. This might not be a practical problem, but it's certainly at least a theoretical one. The game should naturally push toward an end, no matter how players decide to play.

My next thought was to make some of the rewards on the tracks "1st come, 1st served" to encourage players to race for those. This might be good to do, but I'd also like to see players get those rewards more often, so limiting them might not be great after all.

Finally, the 3rd thing that came to mind was the biggest, and possibly best solution: add a game end condition that would trigger when players dilly-dally. Such a game timer would keep the game from dragging by definition, if players don't progress the game themselves, it will still come to an end. In general I'd say this is an obvious choice, except in Apotheosis, the win condition is reaching the end of a track. So what happens if the time runs out and nobody has achieved the win condition? How do you decide who wins? In some games it's easy to assess relative progress, and award the game to the player who's closest to winning. But here that is thematically odd because topping out a track is supposed to represent a big, momentous event.

Another option is to say that if time runs out, then nobody wins. This is an interesting thought, however it may be out of place in this type of game, and it's likely to make for a bad first play experience if players all lose in the first game.

Settling on a solution?

What I have decided to try is this: add a game timer (the king will return, and once he does, your opportunity to steal the throne will be gone!), and if you win before time runs out, great (the king returns to find you on his throne, controlling his army, or backed by a demon, or with his court turned against him)! But if nobody has won by the time the king returns, then the player with the best reputation across all of the guilds (evenly advanced up the tracks) is the winner.

Tangentially related: game end dynamic

In addition, I'm considering a variable, slightly random game length, something like this... When the adventure deck runs out, the king is ALMOST home. Put a King marker on a short (6 space) track that's revealed under where the deck was. Give the triggering player a marker as a reminder, and for the rest of the game, after that that player's turn each round, roll a die. On a 1-3, advance the king marker 1 space. On a 4-5, advance 2 spaces. On a 6, advance 3 spaces. Therefore when the deck runs out, you have 2-6 turns left to win by getting to the end of one of the three victory tracks. This way, if you don't think you can reach the end of any the tracks by the time the king returns, or if you think someone might beat you to it, you can advance your track markers more evenly in case nobody else achieves the win condition in time either. This gives you something to do if you feel you can't win, and it might also extend the tension (until the last minute at least) even if you know you can reach a track end before anybody else.

The game must communicate its dynamics to the players

This brings me to another recent observation, which we could put down as another axiom: The game must communicate its dynamics to the players. I have talked about this in the context of the "Alpha Player Problem" and what I call "Solitaire by Committee", or committee-style cooperative games, but it applies more generally as well. In SbC games, this axiom suggests that it's important to let players know that the game is not about making your own choices and having full agency with some incentive to coordinate with or help the rest of the group, rather in an SbC style game, the whole point is to have a little committee meeting to decide on a course of action, and then do that.

For the new perspective alternate end game trigger in Apotheosis, this axiom would suggest that it's important to make clear the "most evenly advanced" win condition is a secondary condition, and that the primary and most common way to win will still be by reaching the end of a track. Without clearly communicating this, I can see how it'd be very easy for a player to assume both win conditions are equally viable to go after, and I can just see reviewers now complaining that "the game is not well balanced, not all win conditions have the same win rates" (duh, they're not supposed to!)

I'm not exactly sure how to go about that communication outside of explicitly stating it in the rulebook, which is not ideal by itself, because it is too easy to overlook or forget about.

TL;DR summary

Games are better if they hold up to competitive play, but they MUST hold up to non-competitive play. Don't allow your game to drag on or fall apart if players don't pursue victory as aggressively as you expected them to.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

New Crusaders factions?

I don't think I've posted about the extra player expansions for Crusaders, but art is done for them, and they're ready to be printed (just as soon as everything else gets sorted out)...

There will be 2 boxes you could get to add a 5th player to your Crusaders game, Crimson Knight (red player color), or Amber Knight (yellow player color). You'll even be able to play with 6 players if you get both!

These expansions contain a player board and pieces for one new player, including Divine Influence stuff, and 2 new faction powers to choose from. These new factions were ones that I had been testing originally, but had not made the cut to the final 10 in the game.

As I mentioned, all of the art for these expansions is done, and has been for some time now. As I happened to be looking at those files recently, I noticed that I apparently included the same 2 factions in both expansion boxes. I don't exactly remember why I did that, it seems like the boxes should each have 2 unique factions. In fact, I think I remember choosing 4 different ones, but in any case, the art files have the same pair of new factions, and that's not great. So I decided to come up with 2 new factions so that players who get both boxes to play with 6 players won't have any duplicates.

That said, I needed to think of new dynamics. I got a few ideas from Twitter followers who responded to a request for abilities they'd like to see, and I decided on 4 powers to try. I had hoped that at least 2 of those would be good enough to use. Here are the 4 draft factions (sorry, no fancy names yet):

1. When resolving an upgraded wedge, you may add 2 virtual tokens. If you do, downgrade the wedge afterwards. 

This one seems good so far, it might be a winner.

2. Remove an action token from the game instead of taking a normal turn. If you do, resolve that wedge based on the number of tokens on an opponent's board. Distribute your own wedge as normal afterwards.

I think it might be better to NOT distribute the bin... But this power might not make the cut anyway. With 2 players it as a little annoying to see what was available all the time, but not too bad. However with more players it would probably get too AP prone or annoying.

3. Before resolving a wedge, you may remove a token on it and set it aside to upgrade it.  When you take an upgrade turn to upgrade a wedge, you may add a token set aside that way to the upgraded wedge.

This worked pretty well, and may be a winner also. I might want to change the wording so that the 2nd clause works with Divine Influence's Upgrade actions (in the expansion there are more ways to upgrade your wedges besides just taking an upgrade turn).

4. Instead of a normal turn, choose any wedge, distribute it, and resolve the last wedge you place in.

Could call that one the Feldian Order of Trajan or something :)

This one was neat. Very different, and probably way too powerful. Next time I try it, I'll add "-1 to each action" as a drawback.

If I can balance this one acceptably, I might like to make it a promo item, because it's so unique, rather than a regular faction power in an expansion.

Having played just 1 game with each of the draft factions, it looks like I have 2 that will work, and they both deal with upgrades, which is interesting because Divine Influence adds more ways to upgrade your action wedges. And I also like the idea of using the Trajan-styke one as a promo, if I can make it fair enough :)

Just need to get a little more testing in for those, and to look up some more faction titles I could use!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Revisiting old titles -- Reading Railroad and Exhibit playtests

Every once in a while I review The List and take stock of my active, back-burnered, and abandoned game projects. Early this year, in an effort to make progress on some of the stale games, I solicited co-designers - this has borne fruit in a couple of cases:

Kilauea was picked up by Thiago Jabuonski, who follows this blog. He had some great ideas to revive that, one of my oldest designs on the list. He made some prototype files of his new version, and I imported them into Tabletop Simulator, and we're going to meet online this week to discuss it.

I've probably posted before about Mike Brown coming on board for Automatown, and he made some big strides forward. I've played his latest version with my testers on the TTS mod he made for it, and he entered it into a contest recently where it unfortunately didn't fare too well in the first round.

And I've definitely discussed how Rick Holzgrafe has helped immensely to bring Apotheosis from pretty-well-thought-out-idea to basically-finished-design (to the point I've pitched it to a couple of publishers).

In addition to getting co-designers on board for some of my old games, I have decided to revive some of my old favorites on my own as well. At the tail end of last year, I finally revisited the first real design I ever worked on: All For One. It was fantastic to get that one back to the table and fix some niggling problems I've had with it for literally years!

More recently I got another couple of old favorites back to the table: Reading Railroad, and Exhibit: Artifacts of the Ages.

I had a rare playtest opportunity with Michelle a few weeks ago, so I brought out Reading Railroad for the first time since probably 2008 when I submitted it to the KublaContest (it didn't go over well in the contest as I recall). The rulebook in the box didn't sound quite like I remembered it, so we played the way I remembered -- I'm not sure that made any real difference though. The game went OK, but revealed a few things worth changing, or at least looking into:
* I could use some more buildings (like Factories) that do different things. As Factories are "size 4" (they take up 4 City Tile spaces), perhaps I should have a building of each size 1, 2, and 3 as well. I may be over enamored with symmetry :) I'm sure I could figure out 3 more effects to add... for example, "treat one of your City Tiles as wild." 
* Maybe allow buying ANY letter, not just vowels. This would make the word building even more forgiving, but it would still be much more efficient to use the tile you've drawn. This could even be a building effect!
* Instead of 1 letter per turn, players should probably draw at least 2 -- that would speed up the recharge and make the game more consistently fun, I think. You'd still get additional letters for every 4 City Tiles you have collected.
* Michelle suggested having multiple different endgame word sets, which could be worth doing, though I'm not sure if it will actually change the game at all.
* I'm unsure whether it would be better to "take 1 City Tile from each city you add to your network" or "take 1 City Tile each tine you build track" (this was the rulebook discrepancy I mentioned). The implication of the former is that you can get 2 City Tiles in a turn by starting a new network, but you can never get 2 Tiles from the same City, which might be annoyingly frustrating. The implications of the latter are that you CAN get 2 tiles from the same city, but only ever 1 Tile per turn.

I enjoyed playing this one again, and having made a TTS mod for it, I was excited to play it with my playtesters as well. Sadly, a TTS error made it so I couldn't play Reading Railroad with my playtesters after all, so last weekend when I got the chance to playtest, I revived another old game instead: Exhibit!

Exhibit is kind of a finished game, I even signed it with a publisher at one point (7 years ago!), but it never came out due to dumb reasons. At this point I think it's been long enough, it's time to revive this one, and maybe see if I can't get it signed once again!

I played Exhibit with Dave and Aaron on Saturday, first time since 2014. The game still worked, went well, and felt good. I've been hemming and hawing over the Art effect (+1vp vs +2vp), unsure whether one is too little a reward to matter or the other is so much it will destroy the set collection mechanism. During this last game, I thought of an alternative... instead of additional points, maybe art should score as if the set had +1 tile. This would make art worth +2vp on a 1-tile exhibit (on par with what I was already considering), and +3 or 4 on a bigger exhibit. This might overvalue Art in the late game, but I'm not sure that's necessarily bad. I'll give that tweak a try next time I play, but other than that, I think this game could be considered finished.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Jaffee Realms comments and questions from a player

A reader tried out Jaffee Realms, my custom mod for Jamey Stegmaier's Rolling Realms roll & write game, and left me some comments and questions in the comments of that post. I responded there, but since I doubt people will see that, I thought I'd copy it into a new post:

We played the Jaffee Realms twice. Never played any of these games, so maybe that would have helped? Never 
played any of the Stonemaier games either except Wingspan, but playing the realms game encouraged me to try them out.

I definitely designed those realms with the games in mind, so it would not surprise me if knowing the games would help understand the realms better. Perhaps playing these realms could spark people's interest in checking out the games they're based on, like what happened with you and Stonemaier games :)

I'm guessing that if I roll a 3/4, I could build, then the next turn, if I rolled 3/4 I could gain a star?

That's correct, the first time you use a 3 or 4 you get to circle a building, then subsequent 3/4s get you a star. In Crusaders, there are 3 enemy types. The brown ones (Saracen) give you a free building when you defeat them, and the other two (Slavs & Prussians) give you points. The Enemy tokens are circular discs in that game, so that's what those colored circles are supposed to represent.

Eminent Domain:
I assume that I can just circle the different planets whenever I roll 1-3. I had had the entire 1st column filled out, and then roll a 5, I could claim two stars...but I'm not sure if I could reuse the planets.

Close... Research (5) is based on having the SAME planet type, so your statement would be exactly correct if you had the first ROW filled out, not the first COLUMN.

If I only had two planets in a column filled, then rolled a 5, I could get a heart and a star...then after the entire column is filled, and rolled a 5, I could claim 2 stars using the same planets.

Correct (again, "row" instead of "column"). It does not "use up" the planets to do research. Same with Trade (4) -- if you have 2 different planets and use a 4, you get 2 coins and 2 pumpkins. Later if you get a 3rd different planet then use another 4 you would get 3 coins and 3 pumpkins.

I feel that there aren't so many rolls in a game, or maybe I'm not using pumpkins or hearts enough enough, but I haven't prioritized trades.

Depending on what other realms are in play, it might be more or less strong to get bunches of resources.

This is the most confusing one, because I'm not sure what "score" means? I'm guessing it means to cross out a dice that's in one section of the island.

Correct, "score" in that context means crossing off the boxes on the island. So you fill up the boats by writing numbers in the boxes, then when a boat fills up, it "sails to the island," and you get to choose 1 section of the island, and cross off ("score") the appropriate die icons on that part of the island.

It isn't clear if I need to roll a 1 in order to score, or if after using a dice to fill a box, if I had a 1 dice, I could gain a resource of a boat that just embarked.

The latter -- you "score" automatically when the boat fills up. When you score a boat with a 1 on it, the 1 doesn't ever let you cross off anything on the island... instead it gives you another resource of that boat's type.

The five dice confused me, because I thought it meant to fill a box, but I suppose it means to cross off a box on an island, because it says "score", but I suppose if I ever had a situation where I had left over dice to cross off, I could do that.

Per the text, you normally collect a resource when you write a number on a boat. If you write a 5, you do NOT get a resource as normal, BUT, when the boat fills up, the 5 is kind of wild. This actually corresponds to one of the worker types in Embark. I wanted to label them on this realm, but it was suggested that might be more confusing (and there's not a ton of room anyway).

The six die is super confusing, because I don't see how I could score a box if a boat is unfilled, but I need to copy something from the same boat that I just used to fill

If you score a boat (fill it up) that has a 6 on it, then that 6 can be a copy of any other number on that boat. So that's similar to a 5, but instead of your choice, you have to have another one of that type on the boat. In other words, if a boat has 1, 2, 2, 6 when it scores, then that 6 can only copy a 1 or a 2, not a 3 or a 4. On the other hand, if you have 1, 2, 2, 5 on the boat, that 5 could be a 2, 3, or 4.

Bomb Squad:
It says "matching completed clue card"...none of the clue cards match, they're all different shapes. So I interpreted it to mean matching die and at one point I interpreted it as matching item.

I don't love that wording... it is referring to the number. So if you use a 4 for example, you can either get resources by marking off one of the resources on the lower left card (heart or pumpkin), AND one from the upper right card (heart or heart), OR you can instead cross off either or both of those cards IF both resources are already marked off.

This was not really my version of the Bomb Squad realm. I had a couple of ideas for it, but they sort of broke the fundamental rule of Rolling Realms in that they involved a die roll or something that wouldn't necessarily be the same from one game to the next (like if someone else played based on the same rolls later). This version sort of captures the feel of giving clues and then playing cards once you have some information about them. Bomb Squad is like Hanabi - you don't see your own cards, so players give each other clues as to what they have in hand, then you play cards to move and act with a bomb squad robot.


Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Prototypes out of the woodwork and onto Tabletop Simulator

I've spent a few hours recently modding some of my prototypes on Tabletop Simulator (is that how you say that?). Some of them are older designs that I have decided to dig up and revive a bit. I thought I'd take a moment to talk about the prototypes I can currently play on TTS:


This is my most recent project, a co-design with my friend Rick Holzgrafe, and I've talked about it a lot already. I even shared a screenshot of the TTS mod for it:

Apotheosis is a worker placement game where each of your workers have a type and a level. Many of the worker spaces care about one, the other, or both of those attributes. Blocking is a big dynamic in worker placement games, and in this one you are allowed to use a space as long as your worker is at least tied for the highest level there when you place it. This means there's not as much blocking at the beginning of the game, but as players level their workers up, blocking (and therefor placement tension) becomes more and more of a thing. I like that dynamic in this game.

Another uncommon (though not unheard of) twist on worker placement in Apotheosis is that it's a race to the finish line. Doing adventures advances you up three victory tracks, and the first to reach the end of any one of them wins the game. Players can spend as much time as they want collecting resources and leveling up their workers, but if they are not focused on reaching the end of a track, they will lose to a player that is.

In the TTS mod, there are little tiles indicating the worker's class, with a die sitting on top showing the worker's level as well as the player color of the worker. In my physical prototype, those tiles have squares cut in them, so the dice nestle into the tiles so there's no risk of them falling off when moving the worker. In production I could see these pieces going a couple of different ways. The two front runners in my mind are:

1. Use dice as workers to track levels as I am now, but with a molded plastic holder (much like Coimbra) to set the dice in:

Attached to the die holder could be either a sculpted mini, or a flat plastic standee onto which a full art sticker could be placed to indicate the worker type. Two potential down sides to this... the standees/minis might obscure players' view of the board, and as has been discussed on this blog and elsewhere - when given dice, players want to roll them. It's not unheard of to have dice in a game that solely track status, but there are players for whom rolling the dice is the most fun part of having dice at all, and giving those players dice that they do not roll sort of takes that fun away from them (or fails to deliver on the promise of fun die rolls).

2. Instead of dice, in production I could see the game using a mini or standee with a Heroclix style dial at its base.

This would resolve the concerns above about using dice, it would make leveling p workers a little easier (no searching the die for the next number up), and it would also open up some design space with the adventures, because the max level wouldn't need to be 6 (currently I'm using 6-sided dice, so the max level is 6, and that works out well for this game, but I could open that up if I wanted to).


Automatown is another game for which I took on a co-designer. I had largely stalled out on the game, and Mike Brown has taken it to the next level. He also implemented the game in TTS:

Automatown is another worker placement game. In this one your workers are robots, and you use them to get, swap, and upgrade parts to build more robots (more workers), in an effort to raise a robot arm to take over the city!

The twists on worker placement in this game are that the workers you build can have abilities, and so there's some combo-building or engine building going on, and the worker placement spots cycle through from round to round, so each spot will only be there for a few rounds, and then will disappear.

Dice Works

An older design, from 2011, Dice Works (FKA Eureka!) is a real time dice drafting game ostensibly about building different inventions. Your player board has 4 columns, each representing a different possible invention, and the winner is the first player to make ANY discovery. This is kind of the same win condition I used more recently in Apotheosis (see above). The way that you advance on these "victory tracks" in Dice Works is by drafting sets of dice - in real time. Each round you roll a handfull of dice, and players, at their own pace, grab them one at a time and place them onto their board. When those dice are gone, you check your board for errors (in case in your haste you accidentally placed a die in an illegal space), then advance your marker up the columns if the next space is complete. You win by reaching the top of any of the columns, but there's a reward for advancing evenly on all columns.

This one might be difficult to play on Tabletop Simulator due to the real-time nature, and the physical fiddliness of the virtual environment. Then again, it may be even MORE challenging in that environment! However, I suppose a turn-based version could be played... I suspect it may be less fun than the real-time game though. Now that there's a TTS mod for the game, I may be able to find out!

Exhibit: Artifacts of the Ages

Many years ago (2007!), I discussed the idea of using Liar's Dice as a main mechanism in a larger game with a then-friend of mine. We worked together to try and build a game based on that main mechanism, and in the end we never finished. A few years later (2011), I decided that the main Liar's Dice mechanism (which we were calling a "bluff auction") was going to waste just sitting in that unfinished game, so I started over and made a different game using it. That game is Exhibit: Artifacts of the Ages:

In Exhibit, you are bidding for artifacts at auction before their true value has been assessed, and if you bid more than the assessed value, your funding will not come through, and you bid won't count! So the goal is to bid highest without going over the true value... but you only have partial information about that value, and you'll have to deduce the rest from the behavior of your opponents.

I think this game is great, and it was even signed by a European publisher at one point (circa 2014, I believe), but never got published due to that "friend" claiming I'd stolen his intellectual property and was trying to claim it as my own :/

At the time, that person was a big deal in the game industry, and the publisher didn't want to piss him off even if he didn't have any legal standing (and though he used legal sounding language, I am unsure he would have pursued any legal action if they'd published the game). That is no longer the case now, so maybe one day this game could potentially get published after all.

In any case, now it's on Tabletop Simulator, so maybe I'll rustle up a game of it sometime, so at least *I* can enjoy the fruits of my labor, even if nobody else will get to!

Isle of Trains boardgame

Dan Keltner and I took 3rd place in a game design contest, some 6 or 7 years ago now, with a multi-use card game called Isle of Trains. The prize was publication, and the game did well enough at the time that the publisher had asked for an expansion. Dan and I submitted something, but as of 2020, the expansion has not seen the light of day. In fact, a couple of years ago the publisher asked if we could do something a little bit different, they were interested in a bigger-box version.

So Dan and I set about making a board game version of Isle of Trains. We did some brainstorming, and after a little iteration I think we've made some headway... we're unsure whether to try and keep the game on the lighter, more accessible end (like the card game), or make it a deeper, more complicated game. I made a TTS mod of the "simple/accessible" version, but I think I'm coming around to agreeing that it ought to be different (specifically that the train car effects might ought to be more unique):


Another really old design of mine that is being given new life by way of a co-designer is Kilauea. In Kilauea, you use a Mancala mechanism to spread your tribesmen around the island of Hawaii, and make sacrifices to the volcano goddess Pele in hopes that she'll spare your tribe when the volcano erupts. In the original version (pre-2006), you scored points for all the spaces your tokens occupied, but spreading out made your tribe (a) more vulnerable to attacks from opponents, and (b) more vulnerable to the lava flow. Moving tribesmen onto a Altar allowed you to sacrifice them, and the player with the biggest sacrifice each round got some control over the direction that lava turned when the volcano erupted at the end of the round. The game might have had some potential, but it had been on the shelf for so long that I really haven't considered working on it anymore.

Thiago Jabuonski liked the sound of the game, and offered to jump on board as a co-designer when I put out a call for them at the beginning of this year. He has proposed a big change in how the board works, but the game still features most of the same details it always did. I haven't had a chance to play his version yet, in fact i'm not sure he's even written down the rules, but he sent me some files, and I made a TTS mod so that maybe one day I'll be able to give it a try:

Reading Railroad

Yet another one from the back catalog... I've always been enamored with Reading Railroad, a connection game with word building as a mechanism:

Since deciding to try and revive it recently, I've been describing it as "Ticket to Ride meets Scrabble," but that's not terribly accurate - the word building is simpler and more forgiving, and you don't place the letters on the board like yo do in Scrabble. Rather, you spell words to get coins, then spend those coins to build track connecting cities. When you add a city to your network, you collect one of the Alphabet blocks in that city, which you ill use to score points in the endgame by spelling specific words (i.e. collecting a specific set of Alphabet blocks). The number of Alphabet blocks you can use to score is limited by your largest network, so it matters a bit where you build (or at least hat you connect up your network before game  end), and you can build a Factory, which blocks up spots to store Alphabet blocks (limiting your endgame scoring potential), but allow you to draw more letter tiles to make words with - and longer words pay out much better than shorter ones, and leftover coins are worth points, so if you're good at word games, you could pursue that strategy and end the game with a bunch of points from coins saved up.The point of the game however is that if you're NOT particularly good at word building, you can still get along fine (so long as you can at least spell some short words!).

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Don't kill the messenger! A game about the post-funding KS process?

TMG in in the process of manufacturing and fulfilling 5 different Kickstarter projects right now. They are delayed, some much more than usual, and as I have taken it upon myself to handle Kickstarter updates and comments, I am pretty familiar with the kinds of things some backers post when a project is overdue, or when a project update is overdue.

Maybe I can make a game out of this dynamic! I don't think this is limited to KS projects, but for starters let's use that as a setting:

Play as a publisher working on crowdfunded projects. Get info on those projects, make progress toward completion, and post updates to your backers. Each of those steps informed by the real-world dynamics of running a post-funding Kickstarter.

This game would be from the POV of a publisher, so the logistics of design and development, even the quality of gameplay, could be abstracted away. Perhaps there's a way to pick up future projects (representative of taking submissions or pitches). And maybe the more effort you put into it, the more possible points the project could be worth in the end (representative of quality/sale-ability of the game).

These projects, maybe tiles or cards, could show a combination of different types of work that needs to be done (development, rules editing, blind testing, art, graphic design), represented by different colored cubes. One thing you could spend time or effort on (worker placements/action points) is getting those things together, and the more you have before launching a crowdfunding campaign, the better prepared you are, so the more backers you garner, and the more money you collect.

This could be an interesting sub-dynamic. Ideally, you'll have all the pieces in place, so you'll get the maximum cash when you launch crowdfunding (in this game, your project would automatically succeed, but the extent to which is exceeds would depend on how prepared you were when it launched). However, you may need money to do other things, so it might behoove you to launch early, a little less well prepared, to get less-than-the-max money, but get it now.

The other consequence of launching a project early could be the time it takes to deliver... if you've already completed everything but the manufacturing, and you have everything else lined up nicely before launching, then you'll deliver the game in the minimum amount of time, which would result in a maximal score for it. The more stuff you need to do after crowdfunding, the longer that delivery takes, and that could end up reducing your score (or some other attribute, such as backer satisfaction? Probably easier to just say "score").

Again, the ideal situation would be getting everything ready before launching, however the crux of the game could be finding ways to manage launching early, so that you can afford to do more things.

Worker Placement is an excellent mechanism because it encompasses a few different things: it offers interaction with regards to blocking (as players take the actions that other players were hoping to use), it provides a user friendly way to represent budgeting of actions/effort, and it does an excellent job of introducing opportunity cost.

Action Point Allowance is similar, but without the interactive blocking. Depending on the theme, it might not make much sense to have limited access to actions anyway - Agricola and Stone Age famously having the "Family Growth" space limited to 1 player per round, which just doesn't make any real-world sense.

In either of those cases though, it makes sense to be managing your own personal work force (whether or not they directly interact with opponents' workers). One extreme could be a company with a minimal work force, that concentrates on 1 project at a time, maximizing gains from it. The opposite extreme could be a company with a bunch of employees, that take on many projects at a time, even if they launch the early (to get faster income) and therefore don't score the maximum for each. Many economic games have this sort of "quality-vs-quantity" dichotomy, and in those I sometimes refer to the "quantity" side as a "Wal-Mart strategy" :)

As I alluded to above, the main (only?) source of income in this game would be launching crowdfunding projects. When doing so, the project would automatically "fund" -- so you would immediately receive money. The amount you get would depend on the project itself, and how "prepared" you were to launch it (how many of the required cubes are already on the project).

In an ideal world, you would have all the possible cubes at launch time, thereby maximizing your income for the project. However, just like in the real world, the realities of scheduling and of stretch goals and things like that mean you seldom see projects launched wen they are 100% ready to print. In this game, the abstraction would be that you need money to operate, and the only way to get it is by launching a project, so you may have incentive to launch early if the economy of the game is nice and tight.

I think the crux of this game would be managing your projects post-funding. This means continuing to get the necessary cubes to complete the project, and posting updates to backers to keep their satisfaction high. Perhaps some of the required cubes are only for after-funding, and you can't possibly get them beforehand, but of course you might also still need to collect whatever you didn't already have before launch.

The flow of these cubes would be that they first go below a project card, representing information about the next step in the process for that project, then from there they go onto the tile, representing that progress being made.When posting an update, the relevant thing is the info gathered for the project -- perhaps backers want a particular combination of cubes in the "info" position when you update. If you don't have the correct combination of info to share, then your backers may be less satisfied. If you wait until you do have more info, then your update may be "late," and again, backers may be less satisfied. And as a weird quirk of this game, if you "spend" the info cubes (by making progress, thereby moving those cubes onto the tile) then maybe that actually works against the info you need to update (unrealistic, but could help make the game interesting). Maybe this represents that you had the info, but didn't update until the progress was made, so it's akin to being "late."

To be honest, it's been about a week since I thought of this and started writing this blog post. I hadn't gotten far past what I'd written above, and while I can see some game mechanics that might work, I can't really see a hook yet. The idea was to make a game inspired by how the post-funding KS process goes. I guess the management of information and progress, as well as the timing of it, while having to also maintain backer satisfaction would be what the game is all about -- is that interesting enough on its own?

This feels like one of those ideas I'll file away, with little-to-no confidence I'll ever get back to it, so if it does sound interesting to you, then be sure to let me know in the comments below. And if you're a designer who wants to work on a game like this with me in a co-design capacity, feel free to let me know that too!