I went to KublaCon again this year. I had a really good time hanging out with Chris Hillary, Andrew Schoonmaker, Rick Holzgrafe, Derk and Aldie from BGG, Doug Garrett, JC Lawrence, and others. I also played a lot of games, some of which were very good, very interesting, or both!
Reading Railroad didn't do so hot in the design contest, but I expected that. I was a little disappointed in just how poorly it went over though, talking to the playtesters. One commented "I know what you're trying to do, you're trying to hit 2 markets." For some reason that comment hits me like an insult... I hate marketing, and I am not trying to weasel some shenanigans by trying to appeal to 2 types of gamers, trying to trick both groups into buying my game, which is the connotation I get out of that comment. Rather I am trying to make a fun, cool game - and in this case I think Reading Railroad could have "cross-market appeal." I expect some word game players would like it, and some eurogame players would like it. Sure, in either market by itself it might not be a smash hit, but that's not the point of the game. I did glean some good information which I hope to use to improve the game, some of which ties into things I already wanted to try. I think the game is good enough to continue to work on.
Rick Holzgrafe's entry Spatial Delivery did win the contest, and boy did it! Asmodee asked for a copy to review - they might want to publish it! Congrats to Rick on that! I remember when Rick first conceived that game for one of the Board Game Designers Forum Game Design Showdowns.
As for general gaming, I'm looking into a game purchase. There are some problems with this idea - some of the stuff I want isn't in stock at the moment. Also, I'm not sure I want to buy some of the games for one reason or other - I may have a blog post about that soon. I've been playing Container a lot, and I've grown to really like it.
Design-wise I've got some changes to make to Reading Railroad, and I've got some new ideas for that Airline game I'd mentioned. besides that, just more of the same. No movement on Winds of Fate, Dynasty, or Hot and Fresh :(
Friday, May 30, 2008
I went to KublaCon again this year. I had a really good time hanging out with Chris Hillary, Andrew Schoonmaker, Rick Holzgrafe, Derk and Aldie from BGG, Doug Garrett, JC Lawrence, and others. I also played a lot of games, some of which were very good, very interesting, or both!
Monday, May 19, 2008
I'm coming to realize that there are 2 different types of planning you can do... Precise planning and Conditional planning.
Precise planning is when you have all the information you can, and the only variables are player-created chaos: what will the other players do?
Conditional planning is when there is an element to plan around that you do not know for sure, based on chance. Often you can use probability to decide how to go about planning around this element.
Some gamers prefer to have all the information, they prefer to plan precisely, dealing only with the chaos of the other players' actions. Other gamers much prefer preparing for the random element as well. Let's look at some examples...
Railroad Tycoon is one of my favorite games, so I'll use it as an example. There are 2 instances of Conditional planning in RRT:
- Random cubes which come onto the board via City Growth/Urbanization/New Industry
- Whether or not a particular Major Line or Service Bounty card will come up.
Similarly, you can build track such that you can connect Baltimore and Toledo, Atlanta and Richmond, New York and Chicago, etc... and then whether you win or lose the game can come down to whether the Major Line card you've prepared for comes up. The player in the Southeast could get an 8 point boost because the Atlanta-Richmond card came up early, while the player who's built from New York to Kansas City is in last place because that major line never came up. While it's true you can't expect any particular card to come up. just the benefit gained by a Major Line coming up early in the area you're dominating is a huge advantage, and without knowing which Major Line will come up or when, there's no way to know where to build so as to take advantage of that boon.
Recently I tried playing Railroad Tycoon with a couple of variants to turn some of the Conditional planning into Precise planning:
- Remove Major Lines from the deck and make them all available from the outset.
- Display 2 cubes from the bag to be used whenever the next 2 "random" cubes are needed.
Reiner Knizia tends toward Conditional planning in many of his games. Ra for example is a perfect example: you evaluate each auction lot and make the decision to bid, or to wait for a better lot. This is something of a press your luck mechanism because whether the lot increases or decreases in value and by how much is entirely based on chance, not on player actions. A friend of mine cannot stand that, and feels "why should I even play if I'm just guessing if this is the right play or not?" While it's clear I prefer Precise planning to conditional planning, I don't mind as much as that friend seems to - I like evaluating the lot in Ra and thinking about the chances it'll improve. I likened my friend's play to "being greedy."
I think the main difference between Conditional and Precise planning is the idea of "working with what you've got," and it's tied to the difference between Tactical and Strategic thinking. In a game with precise planning, you can plan out a long term strategy, and your tactical play can deal with the chaos brought in by the actions of your opponents. In a game with Conditional planning you have to play a more tactical game, and there's less (if any) semblance of a coherent long term strategy.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Since I sent Reading Railroad off to the KublaContest, all weekend I've been feeling sort of weird about games - both design and just gaming in general. Maybe it's anxiety because I don't feel like Reading Railroad is as polished as some of my prior submissions, or maybe I just don't know what I want to think about now.
I have lots of ideas to choose from, but I think I might (finally) get to finishing a prototype of Dynasty. As I keep saying, the game is nearly done and just needs to be tested, and the prototype is nearly complete as well. Nothing has happened with this since those previous posts, but I think if I concentrate on it I can have a working prototype - I just need to stop getting distracted by other ideas!
This is why I like collaboration - there's always another person to sort of keep you honest. It's easy to let a design slip to the back burner if there's not another person mentioning it and thinking about it all the time (or even just occasionally).
Friday, May 09, 2008
I decided to take some pics of the Reading Railroad prototype before sending it off to the KublaContest today. Here's a picture of the board the way it might look midway through a game:
And here is a Player Board. The Purple player is about to spell CLAWS for 9 coin. So far he's collected Q, U, I, K, T, and E, and bought a Factory. He needs a C and to make sure he have 5 cities connected if he wants to score 25 points for QUICK. If he also get an H and has 8 cities connected by the end of the game, he'll score 25 for QUICK and 9 for THE. At this point in the game Purple draws 3 Resource Letters at the end of his turn, 1 normally, and 2 more since he's filled up 2 rows of City Tiles.
Finally we have a close up of the Factory tile. Factories help you draw Resource Letters faster, which in turn helps you spell bigger words each turn and earn more Coins.
And now to make a final pass at the rules, pack up the prototype, and head to the post office!
Thursday, May 08, 2008
I've updated the rules for Reading Railroad after Tuesday's testing and brainstorming. This is going to have to do for the KublaCon game design contest. I feel like this game isn't as solid or "finished" as previous entries All for One or Wizard's Tower, but at least I think it's refreshing and new as far as games go. I guess I'll have to wait until the end of the month to find out what the judges think!
EDIT: Please feel free to nitpick the rules and leave a comment on this post as to what needs fixing! Typos, inconsistencies, etc.
EDIT AGAIN, 5/10/08: I updated the rules for submission to the contest, and uploaded them again. If you want to see the new version you can check that out now.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
There has been some discussion lately at BGG and in the BGDF.com chat room about ties and tiebreaking rules. Jim Cote referenced an old blog post he'd made on the subject. I guess the big divide is that some players would like designers to include tiebreak rules, so there can be a definitive winner of the game even in the case of a tie. Other players prefer to treat the tie as a shared victory - or no victory.
JC Lawrence asserts that there should be no tiebreaks:
The goal of the game is to win. It provides a measurement of winning or not winning. You either did it or you didn't do it. Binary. There is one winner (or more in ties) and some number of losers.
That was part of the following conversation:
‹sedjtroll› If you and I run a race, and we get the exact same time, but I ran up hill the whole way, and you ran downhill the whole way, which one of us should win that tie?
‹clearclaw› Both of us. We were both competing for the same measurement. The terrain is beside the point.
‹sedjtroll› It's obvious running uphill the whole way is a bigger accomplishment than running downhill.
‹clearclaw› But the accomplishment isn't being measured, only the win.
I on the other hand am of the opinion, as I often am, that it depends. In this case, it depends on the game whether a tiebreak rule to determine a winner in the case of a tie score is appropriate.
A "win" is a measure of accomplishment, it has no other meaning. The game system defines the things to be accomplished. "I won, therefore I accomplished winning," while a valid statement, is not what I'm talking about - that's a different instance/use of the word "accomplishment." Having won a game, by definition, means having accomplished something else - as defined by the game system. Saying that that something else is "having collected the most VPs" in most games is meaningless - just restating the words "the winner has accomplished winning." The game system rewards certain accomplishments (often with VPs), and by winning you have accomplished whatever goals were defined by the game. In some games at least, there are multiple ways defined by the game system to "accumulate the most points;" multiple things that can be accomplished in order to win... and some of those accomplishments are bigger than others.
Therefore I think in many cases a tiebreak is perfectly reasonable. Like in my footrace example above, given the same time on the stopwatch, the winner of the race should be the runner who had the more difficult terrain (where difficulty of terrain is defined by the game system - in the runner example it would be defined by the physics of running).
Situations wherein a tiebreak rule is appropriate and justified:
* One strategic path is "harder" than another, or is otherwise encouraged by the designer
* Scoring is not fine grained enough to distinguish a winner when the delta is very small (the scores come out the same, even if one's theoretically incrementally higher than another)
* The game is intended for a competitive or tournament environment
* Games in which the goal can be reached more/less efficiently
Some people complain about arbitrary tiebreaks. I sympathize with those people to an extent, but I also wonder if their idea of "arbitrary" really applies.
A tiebreak rule can be used to subtly counterbalance a favorable (or unfavorable) starting position, much the same way that the first player in some games starts with fewer actions in the first round, fewer points, or less money than the later players. Nobody complains about those rules being arbitrary.
Tiebreak rules can be used to reward a player for accomplishing the game's goals more efficiently than another player - to finish with the same score, but with resources to spare.
Tiebreak rules can also be used by a designer to show a preference for a particular strategic path - be that for thematic reasons, or because that path was the one the designer thought most interesting.
It's important to note that a tiebreak rule is more/less important depending on how likely ties are to occur in the game. If ties occur frequently, then omitting a tiebreak rule would be unsatisfactory for the players. Also in that case, since it's likely to happen, playing such that you can win the tiebreak is a valid and important strategy. If ties are unlikely, then it may not seem worth your while to secure a decent tiebreak condition. However if you then lose on tiebreaks, you ought not feel slighted by such an "arbitrary tiebreak rule!"
I have little sympathy for the "arbitrary tiebreak" detractors because arbitrary or not (and it's not clear the rule is actually arbitrary to begin with), the rule is there from the outset and everybody knows it. The only case in which I'd agree with these detractors is in a game where the tiebreak is based on a random event, outside the control of the player - where a player could win on tiebreaks sort of on accident, through no fault of their own. I prefer a tiebreak rule which takes into account the actual play of the game, and rewards a player for playing accordingly - whatever that might mean for the particular game.
Lowski and I played 2 games of 2p Reading Railroad last night, and I tried a few variations to the rules which I've been discussing over the last few posts. Seems like a lot of progress was made, but maybe that's just because it's crunch time and I need to get this in the mail this week (eep!)
I tried the following configuration:
* Start with 3 letters and $3
* Buy Vowels (cost: $1, income: $1/2/3... per tile used)
* Factory = 4 city tiles, cost $10
* Endgame trigger = 15 City tiles
* Add partial scoring - 2vp per letter not in a word, up to LN
* !$! tile = Pay $1 or discard each letter tile in hand.
Starting with $3 and 3 Letter tiles seemed good. I had been starting with 3 tiles and no money, and I didn't like how some people had a word in front of them and some people had a pile of vowels. Starting with $3 is good because you can always build first turn, even if you don't have a word to make.
The biggest structural change I tried was probably Buying Vowels. I took out all of the vowels from the letter tiles. I also reduced the tiles to 2 of each letter (3 for the letters that had 4 or more in a Scrabble set). I kept the 4 Investor (!$!) tiles in. When building a word, you can use your tiles, and you can buy vowels for $1 apiece. You get paid for the tiles you use, then you pay for the vowels, so you can build a word even if you are broke. For example, if you have WDG you can make the word W-E-D-G-E, collecting $1+2+3 for the W, D, and G, then paying $2 for the 2 E's - for a net profit of $4. I liked this format a lot, it reduced the "can't make a word" factor tremendously, and it was kinda fun.
The Investor tile rule was bad. I finally drew one the turn I spent all of my cash, and buy the new rule I would have had to discard my hand. I think I had 4 tiles in hand at the time, and discarding them would have been pretty bad (one might argue I should have spent some!) In retrospect I might have forgotten that I wouldn't have to discard tiles drawn along with the !$! tile, but i didn't like the rule anyway... we brainstormed a little for a replacement rule and I decided that since the !$! tile was causing so much trouble, and wasn't doing what it was supposed to do, maybe better would be to remove it, and simply have a hand size limit to keep people from drawing and hoarding too many tiles.
After last Thursday's playtest I was worried about drawing too many tiles and making 7+ letter words turn after turn. A hand size would put a cap on that altogether. I decided to remove the !$! tiles and use a hand limit of 5 tiles, since I shifted the pay scale up*.
* You may have noticed I shifted the pay scale back up to $1 for the first tile, $2 for the second, etc. (rather than $0/1/2...) - this is because when buying a vowel, a 3 letter word such as D-O-G would pay $0 otherwise! now it pays $2.
I later decided maybe 6 would be a better hand size. I might worry that you could make $21 words and that would be too much, but that would be reduced by having to buy vowels (probably 2 or 3), and if you can only draw 4 tiles a turn then it won't happen every turn anyway.
Our first game was pretty cutthroat from the outset, Lowski grabbed a V and an E, going for OVER early, so I jumped in and took the other 2 letters he needed from the area. There are plenty of City tiles to go around though, especially O's and R's so he was able to finish that word eventually. He ended up with 13 cities in his largest network, $19 in coin, and he spelled FOX, LAZY, and OVER for a total of 19+9+16+16+2+2 (the +2+2 is from the 2 "unused" cities in his largest network) = 64 points. I ended up with 11 cities in my largest network, $12, and spelled JUMPED and BROWN for 12+36+25=73.
So I won by 9 points, and i spelled 2 bigger words than he did, though he did finish 3 words total, and had a larger network than mine. I think that's a reasonably close game, and was pretty happy with the outcome. The rules were sort of in flux during the game, so who knows how differently we would have played "for real."
Our second game was different. We continued to play without the !$! tiles, and all the same rules, but we allowed the Largest Network to be 'cheesed' - if you had built in adjacent regions on different builds such that it looked on the board like you had a contiguous network, then that counts as a contiguous network. I think that's horrible, but with the board as is I think the rule pretty much has to be that way.
In the first game nobody bought a factory, because we were after some of the same letters. this time I decided to go the factory route ans see how it worked. Lowski went for RAILROAD right off the bat. I played in various places around the board, collecting 2 City tiles at a time on turns 1 and 2. On turn 3 I couldn't afford a Factory, so I built another connection for 2 more city tiles. Turn 4 I could have afforded a Factory, but it seemed strictly better to get another 2 city tiles (cheaper, and I could use the City tiles). Turn 5 I did buy a factory and started to draw 4 tiles a turn. I never did have a 6-tile play, in fact the only time I had 6 tiles I couldn't use them all at once. I was raking in 5 or 9 points a turn, and I was still interested in placing track because I had the word BROWN (could have gotten QUICK instead if I'd tried). At one point I could have grabbed 2 city tiles and ended the game, but instead I went for connections to get my 25 points from BROWN, but in discussing it later it's possible that triggering the endgame might have kept Lowski from spelling RAILROAD (rather from connecting enough cities for it).
Instead I got my letter, and stopped building for a couple turns, trying to build up more Coin. The pressure was on Lowski (who was now winning) to end the game before my coin racked up too much. In the end, Lowski had 10 cities connected, $11, and 68 points from RAILROAD and 2 more tiles at 2 apiece. I had only 6 cities connected, spelled BROWN for 25 (+2 for an extra city), but I had $29 in coin. final score 79-56, Lowski destroyed me!
I think the point value for the big words (READING and RAILROAD is too high, and I think I've decided to bump them down to 40 and 50 respectively (from 49 and 64). these are nice, round numbers. I might also award partial credit for READ, RAIL and ROAD (16 points apiece), although that sort of defeats the purpose of having other words. Lowski mentioned something similar to one of the hidden goal words I'd already contemplated - he thought they could be like the Tycoon cards from RRT - you get one at the beginning, and you score if you make that word out of your City tiles in addition to the words you are already going for.
I'm also considering, with the Factories being so expensive now, I might try making them give +1 tile draw in addition to their filling up your board** with city tiles 9for more tile draws). I think with the hand limit and the cost of Factories that might be ok.
** One other thing I did last night was create player boards (with Lowski's help on Autocad), and Factory tiles as well. Maybe I'll take pictures and post them before I send the game off. The Factory tiles are sweet.
Monday, May 05, 2008
Last time I said I wanted to try the game without the investor tile because I thought maybe it wasn't necessary - maybe the natural incentives to build track would be enough to keep people from hoarding (or to punish people appropriately for hoarding). I also thought I'd raise the payout by sliding the scale over a notch (1/2/3/4... for each letter in your word rather than 0/1/2/3...). I tried both of those modifications last Thursday, and I also tried a modification to the Factory: I made it a single tile (counting as 1 tile toward ending the game) rather than 4, and I made it give an additional tile draw. So in effect, the Factory became 1.25 City tiles toward letter drawing, but only 1 City tile toward game ending. I still made them cost $4, a completely arbitrary number that I made up when I first thought of Factories and not based on anything real at all.
The sum total of all of those changes was disaster, which I could have predicted, but I wasn't sure so I wanted to see it in action. Especially with no investor tile, people just bought factories as fast as they could (I didn't limit it to 1 per player), and were quickly drawing 5 tiles a turn, making big words worth a ton of coin... I had clearly overcorrected for the problem I saw before of people being drained of all their coin all the time.
It was so bad I aborted the game and started again. This time I put the Investor tile back in, and made a limit on how many factories you're allowed to have (no more than cities in your largest network). that seemed like a fair limiter (you should have to have cities to put your factories in, right?), and it meant you couldn't buy a factory until you've at least built 1 link, which is kinda nice. But at $4 they were still a must-buy, and so people bought them as soon as they could, ant here was no good reason not to. One player avoided it for a while, but decided eventually that that was ridiculous and gave in to the temptation. I also shifted the pay scale back because I didn't see any benefit to the higher payouts.
Things I learned about Factories are...
- I still think they are a good feature, but they need to be implemented correctly
- They need to take up more of your city tile space, to ensure you're not going to score a big endgame bonus if you get the Factories, because you should be earning more coin.
- They need to cost more... a lot more. I noticed that a sort of average income was 6 coin a turn (a 4 letter word), which I feel is a good number to keep in mind when setting costs. In this case, a $4 Factory can be financed with a single turns worth of word building, which means you're not giving up much in order o get the factory. you could instead build onto the board and get a letter tile, or pay the $4 and get the Factory, which is like 5 letter tiles (under the rules we were using). A far better cost might be $10, which means you have to spend at least 2 turns not laying track to build up to the factory. I also think the factory will go back to being a size 4 tile (equivalent to 4 City tiles) for simplicity and to fill up your City tile slots, and there will be a rule that you can't buy one if it'll end the game. So at $10 you're spending 2 or 3 turns getting "4 City tiles" which you can't use in endgame, vs getting 2 or 3 that you can - and in return you get to draw extra letter tiles.
This version of the Factory will also put a natural limit on the number you can buy - no buying 4 factories and drawing 6 tiles a turn! People were drawing way too much and getting far too many 7+ letter words on Thursday.
The Investor didn't help too much, because I exempted 3 tiles to keep people from getting screwed who weren't trying to hoard tiles. The problem was that (a) when you draw 6 or 7 tiles a turn, you don't have to try to hoard tiles, you just draw all you need, and (b) if you're making huge words, you can easily afford the paltry taxes. I found myself thinking that maybe Scott's idea to have the Tax tile affect all players was a better idea for that reason, but there are all kinds of problems with that rule as well.
A suggestion was given to me that you have to (or can) discard tiles you can't (or don't want to) pay for when the investor comes up. This removes the whole idea of Debt, which is fine with me, and it still has the effect of costing you potential points if you're holding the tiles. In fact, discarding a tile instead of a coin could be giving up even more points. but it allows you to discard "bad" letters and not have to pay for them. I think I might go with that rule next time. I might try to find a way to make the investor not hurt if you draw it early, like before you have been able to make a word. Oooh... maybe it should depend on your City tiles... like you pay X coin, where X is your number of City tiles. If you haven't made a word yet, you pay nothing. And if you buy a factory, this boosts your tax payment up by 4. That might be neat!
I also think players should start with a couple coins to help jump start the early game. I'll try 3 tiles and 3 coins per player.
Oh, another suggestion a friend had was that the letter tiles could all be consonants, and you can make whatever word you want, but you had to buy the vowels you want to use - probably at $1 apiece. you'd only get paid for the tiles you use, so the word C-A-T would pay out $1+$2-$1=$2 total. For this system I might slide the pay scale back up, lest C-A-T pay $0+$1-$1=$0! Players would start with some coins to make this feasible, and the rule would probably be that you collect the income and then pay for the vowels, so if you're broke you can still make a word.
I'm liking the "buy a vowel" idea more and more over time, and I hope to try that out sometime. I'm running out of time to be finding new things to try!
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Jim Cote made a blog post about Pandemic, of which he's a big fan. I don't dislike the game either, it seems to me to be the best cooperative game yet because it really seems to encourage teamwork better than other games of that type (Shadows over Camelot and Lord of the Rings being some of the big ones).
Jim linked to this Google Talk interview with the designer of Pandemic, which is 50 minutes long, and is really interesting. He talks about the design process he went through, some of his experiences talking with publishers about the game, and then answers questions about it. It was a very cool interview, and on top of that, it's neat to see board gaming addressed in a sort of "mainstream" forum such as Google Talk. Admittedly, the target audience of Google Talk may not be mainstream America, but rather techy or tech savvy people who get their news from the internet rather than TV and the newspaper... but as far as board gaming goes, this seems like a big step outward!
Well, I just finished updating the City tiles for Reading Railroad. The endgame scoring phrase THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPED OVER LAZY DOGS - READING RAILROAD has the following letter distribution:
A:4 - - - J:1 - - - S:1
B:1 - - - K:1 - - - T:1
C:1 - - - L:2 - - - U:2
D:4 - - - M:1 - - - V:1
E:4 - - - N:2 - - - W:1
F:1 - - - O:5 - - - X:1
G:2 - - - P:1 - - - Y:1
H:1 - - - Q:1 - - - Z:1
I:3 - - - R:5
I began by using 1 City tile for every letter instance in the phrase. That's 49 City tiles. Then I added one of each letter, so there's enough to go around - enough for at least 2 people to get each word - for a total of 75 City tiles. I fear this may not be enough of each letter, especially the letters that only appear on 2 City tiles. I guess we'll see.
On the up-side, there were exactly 75 City tiles in the original set, so I didn't have to compromise or print more tiles!
The next playtest - hopefully Thursday night at game night - I think I may try it without the investor tile and see how that goes. I've been thinking that the rules for the investor tile may be more weighty than they're worth. I'll miss the tension as you sweat out your draw, but I'm curious if the whole mechanism is really needed for the game. I might also try bumping up the pay scale so the first tile you use is worth 1 instead of 0... so a 2 letter word is worth 3 coin instead of 1, and a 5 letter word nets you 15 coin instead of 10. This may be too much, another "we'll see" type of thing. The reason is because I want people to be able to lay track, even if they can only manage a tiny 2-letter word. The pay scale rewards longer words, so you'll probably always try to make the longest word you can, with the possible exception of holding back and going for an even longer word.
That brings up a question... without an investor tile to punish people for hoarding letters, will a player simply not make a word until they have an 8+ letter word on their 'rack'? I figure that might not be turn efficient. Maybe I should try that out and see how it goes. I think more likely a player will buy a Factory (or 2?) and then make 5 and 6 letter words every other turn or so.