Thursday, January 12, 2017

Again with the mechanics first -- I more and more think "theme-first" is the way to go! (Also, YANGI)

Some time ago (over 3 years!) I posted some thoughts on Mechanics-First vs Theme-First design, as well as an idea I'd had that was A mechanical game, completed-lay devoid of theme.

Since then, a theme has emerged -- a theme that even seems pretty good -- and yet I have never gotten back to the game.

I'm starting to believe that Theme-First is the way to go, as it seems much easier and much more likely to maintain interest in the game, and to make progress with it.

That said, here is Yet Another new Game Idea (TM) which is, again, completely mechanical and devoid of theme. As a side note, I see a pattern: when I don't have an idea for a theme, I appear to gravitate toward color mixing as a place holder... basic resources of red, blue, and yellow combine into higher level resources of purple, orange, and green. As I said in my previous post, this just makes for easy grokking of the conversions in the game. It's tedious to memorize some chart of X+Y=A and X+Z=B, but everyone knows that Yellow and Blue make Green.

Worker Replacement game idea

I was listening to the Game Designers of North Carolina podcast last month, and they had an episode about turning a mechanism into a game. On the show they brainstormed a few mechanisms, and how they might build a game around them. The whole exercise kind of ties right in to what I was talking about above, and as I recall, after bringing up a mechanism, they immediately jumped to a theme to use with it. One of those mechanisms sounded like it had some potential, so I filed it away in the back of my mind to think about later.

Last week I started thinking about how that mechanism could work, and then this week on a plane trip, as I often do in that situation, I jotted down some notes and sketched out a game using that mechanism. As I said however, this is just mechanical rules, no theme to integrate, and as such it's pretty generic. Here's what I've got so far, let me know in the comments if you think it's any good, or what theme might fit...

As a player, you will be gathering resources, combining them into products, and trading in resources and products for money, points, or upgrades.

Each player will start with a neutral pawn in hand, and a board of 6 spaces will be seeded with 6 colored pawns. Each space on the board will be associated with an action. On your turn you will take the pawn in your hand, swap it with the pawn in one of the action spaces, then resolve that action -- and most of the time there will be a bonus available based on the color of the pawn in that space. So you will be making choices based on which action effect you want, as well as which color pawn you want for next turn.

As a placeholder for these actions I have put the following:
* Gather Raw Materials: Gain 1 red, yellow, or blue cube. Gain an additional cube of that color if the pawn matches that color.

* Refine Raw Materials: Combine 2 different raw material cubes into a product disc. Combine a second set of raw materials if the action pawn matches that color (same combination? any combination? Not sure)
** Red + Yellow = Orange
** Red + Blue = Purple
** Yellow + Blue = Green

* Buy Raw Materials and Products at Market: Buy any number of raw material cubes or product discs at the market prices (market is kinda like Glen More). If the action pawn matches color, then get a better deal or something.

* Sell Resources: Sell raw materials or products at market prices. Resources sell for money, products sell for money plus VP. If the action pawn matches color, get a better deal or something.

* Collect Money: Collect some money according to the color of the pawn placed (red, yellow, and blue pawns yield a little money, orange, green, and purple pawns yield more money. Neutral pawns yield a middling amount of money)

* Upgrade: Pay products/raw materials for cards with permanent abilities and VPs on them. Maybe there are 3 slots (color coded red, yellow, and blue), and if you use a red pawn, then you can take the card from the red slot, and if you use a purple pawn, you can take either the card in the red slot or the one in the blue slot.

That's all I've got so far. Maybe I'll make some more progress on the flight back home tomorrow. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Eminent Domain, Redux on Reddit

To be honest, I don't spend much time on Reddit. I find it somewhat not-user-friendly, and at times abrasive, and I just haven't committed the effort to make it a regular internet stop.

However, every once in a while I interact with Reddit, like hosting an AMA (when Yokohama was live for example), or when my game Eminent Domain was Game of the Week in Reddit's GotW forum.

Today I found out that Reddit also has a Game of the Week, Redux forum, where people look back at a previous game of the week and talk about how it's held up over time. And guess what... This weeks GotW,R once again features Eminent Domain!

First of all, let me say that it warms my heart to hear that people are still discovering, playing, and enjoying Eminent Domain.

In addition I'll point out that this is timely, as I have just secured an illustrator and a graphic designer for my long-awaited-by-me final expansion, Eminent Domain: Oblivion. The deadline to get files to the manufacturer in time for a game to debut at GenCon is coming up soon, and I was sort of expecting that to be when things would be due, but a deadline kind of sprung up on me quicker than that when Mischa at TMG lined up a foreign partner who is interested in co-publishing the expansion, maybe along with other EmDo products, because they need time to localize the cards.

So I've been scrambling to secure the artists, which I have done. They're getting started in the next couple of days while I further scramble to make last minute tweaks and design decisions so I can write and edit the final rules. Nothing like an imminent deadline to get things moving!

So if you're following Eminent Domain, or the Oblivion expansion, or just me in general, then pop into Reddit and make some comment or ask some question, so we can use this opportunity to let people know about the greatness that is Eminent Domain! :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Moctezuma playtest and tweaks

Last Saturday I was able to get in not one, but two 3 player tests of Moctezuma's Revenge!

One of the main things that has kept this particular game down, and I think it's the thing that keeps many prototypes from making progress, is simply not getting it to the table. That's why I was so excited to play Moctezuma's revenge again, for the first time in 8 years.

I was over at Isle of Games, the FLGS that's nearest my new home, and it just so happens my longtime friend Ben is a manager over there. Ben is the one who tested Moctezuma's Revenge with me all those years ago, so it was neat hat he was around this time too... unfortunately he was busy working and couldn't join us to play :(

Here are some notes from those two games, followed by some changes to try next time:
For reference, the rules I used: Moctezuma's Revenge rules v2.0.

The game went over pretty well with the players. I wonder if it couldn’t use some more fundamental changes...

Game 1
I used the "5 action point" rule set ("5AP"), and I used 14 cursed and 11 safe chits, requiring 2+ cursed chits for a temple to be cursed. This was a mistake, actually, and it resulted in 6 cursed temples out of 7 (I added chits to the prototype according to majority needed, not 2+, AND I counted wrong when deciding how many chits to use... OOPS). 6 cursed temples is almost certainly too many! I think 4 or 5 max would be better. The players thought it would be OK if the minimum number of cursed temples was zero, but I think it might be better to guarantee that at least 1 temple will be cursed each game. 

We all knew which temples were cursed a few turns before the end, which was lame. Jim and I had researched several times before going exploring, while Hillary just went out and started looting temples. She ended up with maybe the highest score, but the most cursed icons and therefore an automatic loss. Is an auto-loss too harsh? Maybe there should just be a bigger penalty for the player with the most curse icons, like -1vp/icon, while everyone else only loses 1vp/2 icons.

Game 2
This time I used the "2 actions per turn" rule set ("2A"), and I used 9 cursed and 16 safe chits, requiring a majority of cursed chits for a temple to be cursed. This resulted in 3 cursed temples. I had the most points, but also the most cursed icons so I lost. Jim and I did about 2 turns of double research before exploring, while Hillary did about 4 this time. The 2A version went quicker and felt a little lighter than the 5AP version, but I think we got to do about as much stuff. 

I didn’t like that it took a whole turn to move to or from the library, and I didn’t like the temptation to research everything first then go explore, and never really research again.

Here are tweaks I would make for next time:
  • In 2A version, it should only take 1 move to get to or from the library, but you shouldn’t be allowed to do both in the same turn (the Library isn’t a shortcut)
  • In 2A version, 2nd Research in a turn should cost a discard of any treasure card. This gives you another way to dump cursed treasure, and it also means you can’t double research until you’ve gone exploring. So you probably will turn 1 Research/Move and start looting temples, then later come back to do more research.
  • Asymmetric starting info would be nice, but how to implement?
  • Is “Most cursed icons = you lose” a good rule? Too harsh? Maybe just a bigger penalty? try "most cursed icons: -1vp/icon, everyone else -1vp/2 icons".
  • Try using 12 Cursed/15 Safe chits for a total of 27, so 2 are unused each game… so you can’t count. I think that leads to 1-5 Cursed temples (and more likely 2-4).
  • Maybe make the Loot action (2A version) 3 cards, then 4… so if you see the Name card in the first draw, you still have a choice of 2 cards to keep. Or else add a SEARCH action to look at more cards, keep none (see below)
  • Maybe make an option to look at more cards but keep none… for if you want to find the name of a temple at the cost of getting a card. So like:
    • Move 1/Move 2 (1 space in the first move action, 2 more if you move a 2nd time in a turn).
    • (temple) Search 4/5 (keep 0). Helps you find the Name card.
    • (temple) Loot 2/3 (keep 1). Gets you more cards.
    • (library) Research 2/3 (reveal 1. 2nd one costs 1 card). Gets you info, reveals some, allows a discard avenue for cursed treasure.
    • (library) Study: Discard 1 card to reveal that temple’s name tile. Discard avenue for cursed treasure, and a way to learn the name of a temple.
  • One idea I had to prevent over-researching was this: You can only research the CURRENT or NEXT column, not beyond that. Then if you want to see info in the 3rd/4th/5th columns then maybe you’ll return to the library once the game is about ⅓ (or ⅔) over. Alternatively, maybe you can always research any column, but it costs a card to research beyond 1 column ahead of where the game is currently at?

Here's the updated rules based on this playtest and commentary: Moctezuma's Revenge rules v2.1

Stay tuned for more playtest reports or info about this game, and the experiment in co-designing with Jonathan Gilmour.

Post script:
I just had a thought on card distributions: Maybe there should be some more texture to the cards as far as VPs vs Curse icons. For example, currently the treasure distribution is 5/3/3/2/2/2/1/1/1/1/1, where the 5 has 3 curse icons, the 3s and 2s have 2 curse icons, and the 1s have 1 curse icon.

Perhaps it would be cooler to have some of the cards with a disproportionate number of curse icons, not directly related to the amount of VPs on the card, something like:
5vp/3 icons
3vp/2 icons
3vp/2 icons
2vp/3 icons
2vp/2 icons
2vp/1 icons
1vp/2 icons
1vp/2 icons
1vp/1 icons
1vp/1 icons
1vp/1 icons

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Moctezuma revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Deities & Demigods: Due Diligence

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

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

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

A real life example.

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

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

I hadn't done my due diligence. 

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

Learning from our mistakes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to square one?

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Yokohama rules PDF (retail and deluxe versions)

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

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

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

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

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

Retail version:

Deluxe version:


Thursday, October 20, 2016

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

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

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

Let me know what you think in the comments below!