Thursday, July 31, 2008

8/7 Central - Proposed changes

Proposed rules changes for 8/7 Central

Issue: Auctions take a long time and though the auction mechanic is cool, the auction system is problematic (causes problems with moving/placing programs as well).

Proposal: No auctions. Instead, there will be a display with 4 slots for programs which will be turned up from the deck. Actually, I'm thinking 2 decks (1/2-hr shows and 1-hr shows), 2 displays (4 and 2 cards) costing $3/4/6/9 for the 1/2-hr shows and $5/8 for the 1-hr shows. As an action you can buy a Program from the display for it's current cost. Then all programs behind it slide forward (become cheaper) and the last slot is filled from the deck. Programs purchased might go directly into play, but maybe instead they will go to a Holding Bin (see below).

Alternatively: 1 deck not 2, 1 display not 2... 1-hr programs cost X+$3 (where X is the cost based on the slot it occupies).

Issue: Moving/Placing programs rules have always been clunky, takes a lot of time, and will be affected by the removal of auctions from the game.

Proposal: Move a Program as an action. For no money cost, you can move a program to another time slot. If there is already a Program in the new time slot, it is "bumped" into a Holding Bin. A Move action could be used to move a Program from the Holding Bin into the Lineup (of course, potentially bumping another Program to the Bin). Programs in the Holding Bin do not count for scoring and are not checked for hits. Ads and modifiers cannot be played on Programs in the Holding Bin. Ads on Programs being bumped are discarded. Modifiers stay with the Program in the Holding Bin (or maybe they are discarded as well). Whenever a Program is moved for any reason, it loses 1 (all? 1/2?) Ratings Counter.

Issue: Starting Lineup - how to handle if not auctions?

Proposal: Deal out some programs to each player. Probably 8 of which they will choose 6 to be in their starting lineup. Because some programs may be "better" than others, the starting configuration will dictate how much money each player starts with. Basically players will start with some amount of money (probably 30 or so), and then will have to pay for their 6 programs at some rate. Maybe $3 per 1/2-hr show and $5 per 1-hr show... or $4 and $6 or something like that. or maybe each Program will have a printed value which is it's cost.

Alternatively: If programs have printed costs, then the Display could be redone to be COST+1/2/3/4 - which might automatically take into account 1-hr shows.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

8/7 Central, the current state

The current state of the rules for 8/7 Central is "in flux." the most recent printed rules I have are from December 2006, and they follow. The current ideas floating around to amend those rules are:

- Strike auctions. Initial Programs dealt to players in some manner. New Programs are available for purchase as an action, from a sliding display where each Program in line costs more than the previous one, and as one is purchased, the rest slide down and become cheaper (like the Civ cards in Stone Age, or the Civilizations in Vinci).

- Remove Ad cards from the game. Instead, any card can be played as an Ad, placed face down behind the program. Ad categories also removed from the game. When playing an Ad, you'd collect $1 per ratings counter immediately, then $2 each time the program 'hits'. Compare this to the Fundraising action, wherein you get $2 immediately and no money later at all, and consider that Ad space is limited.

- Reconsider Move/Bump Programs mechanics. It's important to be able to move a program, but it's important that 2 players not be able to go back and forth forever moving programs. Currently a moved program loses 1 ratings counter. Maybe losing all of them would be easier.

- Game length seems short to me. i'm hoping with the removal of the Starting Lineup and Supplemental Auctions there will be time for more game turns, which I hope will let the game develop more. I'd like to see shows get better and then see players move their good shows to combat opponents' programs and fight for the demographics.

8/7 Central

A card game for 2 to 4 players in which players control television networks and vie for the attention of the viewing public.

The game is made up of cards. Program cards represent various television programs which you run in your two 1/2 hour time slots each day, Event cards effect the state of the game and Programs in your lineup, Modifiers alter Programs in play, and Advertisements establish Revenue to pay the costs for other cards.

Game play is interactive as you bid against rival networks for Programs and place them in time slots to compete with opposing Programs.

General viewership for Programs is determined by a roll of the dice and tracked throughout the game. As your Programs gain a following, they become more valuable. But watch out! If a Program gets too popular it runs the risk of Jumping the Shark! Attach advertisements to your Programs to generate Revenue when the Program is viewed (when it's number comes up). Program Modifiers temporarily increase the likelyhood of your Programs being viewed, or otherwise make your Programs a little better or opponent's Programs a little worse. Event cards have a lasting effect on the game: altering the state of the game or cards in play.

New Programs become available to bid on each week. With careful choice of Programs and management of Revenue you can come out on top and run your competitors into the ground, blowing their Programs out of the water and stealing their viewers for your own.

Properties of Program cards:

Programs are television shows that players can run on their network.

* Title of Program


* Hit#s (numbers which when rolled produce a 'hit' indicating that the Program has been viewed)

* Genre (what the Program "counts as" - COMEDY, NEWS, DRAMA, or NICHE)

* Genre Level (a number reflecting how deep the show is in that particular genre)

* Ad Symbols (What type of ads can be attached to the Program) [THIS MAY BE STRICKEN]

Properties of Advertisement cards: [THIS MAY BE STRICKEN]

Advertisements are the your source of income. Selling ad space on your Programs creates Revenue each time the Program is viewed by the general public (represented by rolls of the dice).

* Name of product or service being Advertised

* Revenue ($ provided by the ad PER MATCHING AD SYMBOL per hit)

* Ad Symbols (What type of product or service it is. Determines which Programs it can attach to)

* Special Rules

Properties of Modifier cards:

Modifiers give bonuses to your Programs, or hinder an opponent's Program.

* Title of Modifier

* Cost (monetary cost to play the card)

* Additional Hit#'s (if any) supplied by the Modifier

* Effect (special rules)

* Duration (how long it lasts - End of Day, End of Week, or End of Game)

Properties of Event cards:

Events can have an effect and then go to the discard pile, or stay in play and have a long term effect on the game.

* Title of Event

* Cost (monetary cost to play the card)

* Effect (special rules)

* Duration (how long it lasts - End of Day, End of Week, or End of Game)

Game Rules:


Begin by shuffling the two respective decks (Programs and Play). Deal out 5 cards from the Play deck face down to each player (you may look at your cards at this time). Determine via some random method who will begin the game as Player 1. This title will change hands each week throughout the course of the game. Decide how many weeks the game will last (we recommend 1 week per player). Finally, distribute $30 worth of $ chips to each player.

The Starting Lineup: [THIS MAY BE STRICKEN]

To begin the game players bid on Programs to fill their lineup. This bidding is done in 6 rounds, and in each round a number of Program cards equal to the number of players in the game are revealed from the Program deck for auction. Players bid on Programs in turn order, starting with Player 1. Bidding continues as described below under "Bidding." Players take turns bidding first each round (i.e. in round 1, Player 1 bids first. In round 2, Player 2 bids first, etc.)

EXAMPLE: There are 3 players: Bob, Jim, and Sally. Bob is randomly selected to be Player 1. For the first round of the Starting Lineup 3 Program cards are revealed from the Program deck. Bidding ensues as described below, starting with Bob. For round 2 of the Starting Lineup, 3 more Programs are revealed and Jim (who is sitting left of Bob) begins the bidding. This continues until there have been 6 rounds of bidding.


Each time it is your turn to bid on a Program, first take back any of your bids which have been outbid by another player. Then you may either pass or increase the current bid (or place an opening bid) on ANY available Program. Players may not bid more $ chips than they currently hold. When all players pass in succession, the auction is over and the Programs are awarded to the last player to bid on each. Those players surrender their bids to the bank. Programs with no opening bid are placed in the discard pile. For the Starting Lineup this process is repeated 5 more times with players taking turns bidding first. Notice, it is possible to win more than one bid in a round, and to pass then bid again.

In our example, Bob decides to place a $3 bid on Program #2. He places 3 of his $ chips on the Program #2 card, on the edge closest to him. Jim then decides to bid $2 on Program #3, so he places 2 $ chips on the edge of the Program #3 card closest to him. Sally wants to outbid Jim and therefore places 4 of her $ chips on the edge of the Program #3 card closest to her (Jim leaves his bid alone for now). Bob is happy with the way things are going and passes. Jim now takes back his losing bid and can either pass or place another bid. Let's say he decides to bid $2 on Program #1. Sally passes. Bob, still happy, also passes. Jim can now end the bidding with a pass, or he an outbid either Bob or Sally. Technically he could up his own bid, but that probably won't happen very often.

Once bidding on the Starting Lineup is over players place their Programs one at a time in their 10 alotted time slots, following the rules for Movement and Placement of Programs (below). Once all Programs have been placed, fill vacant days with the Placeholder cards so everyone can tell which Programs run on which days. Remember, the time slots correspond to days of the week: two consecutive 1/2 hour time slots per day, Monday through Friday. Note that some Programs are indicated as 1-hr. These are printed sideways and take up both time slots on a given day.

Begin Play:

Play begins with Player 1 at the beginning of Monday and continues through a series of rounds called Weeks.

A Week consists of five Days (Monday through Friday).

A Day consists of the following:

* The player with the most Victory Points becomes Player 1 for the day. In the case of a tie, the tied player with the most money becomes Player 1. In case of a further tie, the tied player closest to the right of the current Player 1 becomes the new Player 1 for the day.

* Each Player in turn (beginning with Player 1 and continuing clockwise) may take up to two actions as defined below under Actions.

* Player 1 rolls the 2 sets of dice. Each pair of dice produces a number which is used to check for hits.

* Programs on the current day are checked for Hits.

* Actions that occur on Hits are resolved (Programs receive Ratings Counters and players collect Ad Revenue).

* Players score points based on the Genres and Genre Levels of their Programs- See Scoring below.

* Check Durations of all cards in play and discard any that have reached their Duration. Modifiers and Advertisements on Programs are checked at the end of the day their Program is on, Events are checked at the end of EACH day.

After turns have progressed through Friday the week is over. Before the next week begins there is some Week End business to attend to.

* Discard any cards in play with Duration: End of Week

* Roll to see which Programs (if any) Jump the Shark (see Jumping the Shark)

* Supplemental Auction- 1 Round of bidding for new Programs. [THIS MAY BE STRICKEN]

Jumping the Shark:

As Programs become popular it becomes more and more likely that they will Jump the Shark. This is a term named after an episode of Happy Days when the Fonze jumped his motorcycle over a shark, which is generally considered to be the point at which the show started to go downhill (see At each week's end, players roll a die for each of their Programs. If the roll is LESS THAN the number of Ratings Counters on the chosen Program, then that Program has Jumped the Shark. Remove all Ratings Counters from that program.

Supplemental Auctions: [THIS MAY BE STRICKEN]

New Programs become available for auction, ONE PER PLAYER (so in a three player game, 3 new Programs are revealed). Bidding on this Supplemental Auction is identical to the process used in The Starting Lineup. There is only one round in the Supplemental Auction. Players place and move Programs in the same order as bidding, and according to the rules for Moving and Placing Programs (below). Play then continues on Monday. The next section is a description of each step of the day listed above.

Moving and Placing Programs:

Managing your Programs and Time Slots is key to victory, but moving Programs means losing viewers. Any time a Program changes Time Slots for any reason, remove a Ratings Counter from it. If there are no Ratings Counters on the Program then ignore this rule (noone appears to be watching it anyway).

Whenever one or more players have Programs to place (we'll call that "in their hand"), players take turns PLACING a Program in an open time slot; BUMPING a Program at the cost of $1 (any Ads on such a Program are discarded and a Ratings Counter is removed) - a bumped program goes into the player's hand; or Passing. Players may not pass if they hold any Programs in their hand. Moving and Placing ends when all players have passed in succession.

Steps of the Day:

Pass Player 1:

The player with the most Victory Points becomes Player 1 for the day. In the case of a tie, the tied player with the most money becomes Player 1. In case of a further tie, the tied player closest to the right of the current Player 1 becomes the new Player 1 for the day.

Player Actions:

Players are allowed to take up to two actions during their turn. Each action can be any of the following:

* Play a card from hand.

* Refill hand from the Play deck.

* Fundraising.

Play a card from hand:

Play an Ad, Event, or Modifier card from your hand. Pay any associated costs (printed on card) and put the card into play or follow it's instructions as appropriate. Since Programs have limited Ad Slots (1 Slot for a 1/2-Hr Program, 2 Slots for a 1-Hr Program), an Ad may be replaced when a new Ad is played. Discard the old Ad.

Refill hand from the Play deck:

Hand size in 8/7 Central is 5 cards. When taking this action a player may discard any number of cards before refilling their hand (to 5 cards) from the Play deck. The first card can be discarded for free, but the player must pay $1 per card discarded this way after the first.


Discard a card from your hand and collect $2 from the bank.

Roll dice:

Viewership is determined by a roll of the dice each day. The probability of rolling a particular number on two 6-sided dice represents the expected viewership of a Program. The more viewable or popular a Program is, the better (or more) Hit#'s it will have. A total pip number [or pie chart] below the Hit#'s serves as a graphical representation of the Expected Popularity (or hit probability) for the Program. This number represents the chance (out of 36) that the Program will be Viewed.

After each player has taken their Actions, Player 1 rolls the 2 pairs of dice. Each pair results in a number which is used to check for hits.

Programs on the current day are checked for Hits:

Programs each have Hit#'s printed on them. These numbers represent how likely the Program is to be viewed. When the dice are rolled check each Program on the current day. If either or both of the resulting numbers matches one of a Program's Hit#'s then the Program is considered to have been viewed. Represent this by placing a Ratings Counter on the Program. While the Hit#'s represent the EXPECTED relative viewership of a Program, the number of Ratings Counters represents the ACTUAL viewership. Remember, only Programs in the current Day's time slots are checked for Hits, and it is not possible for a Program to hit twice in one day.

Actions that occur on Hits are resolved:

Some cards will have actions that occur when a Program is Viewed such as Revenue from advertising. Follow directions on cards to resolve each action. Resolve Player 1's actions first, then other players' in turn order.

Ad Revenue:

Revenue from Advertising is calculated as follows. If there is no Ad attached to the Program, collect no Revenue. If there is an Ad attached to the Program, collect the Ad's Revenue value for each matching ad symbol. EXAMPLE: Station Identification has a Revenue of "1 card". This means that on a hit you draw 1 card per matching Ad Symbol. Station Identification matches categories NECESSITY, CONVENIENCE, and LUXURY. On a Program with both NECESSITY and LUXURY a hit would provide a total of 2 cards, 1 for each matching ad symbol.


Players score victory points for the quality of their Programs. For EACH GENRE, the player with the highest Genre Total (total of Genre Level plus Ratings Counters for all Programs on the current day) scores a Victory Point. Note that two 1/2 hour Programs on the same day that share a Genre BOTH contribute to the Genre Total. The winner of the game is the player that collects the most Victory points before the game ends.

SCORING EXAMPLE: I have a News-4, Comedy-3 Program with 2 Ratings Counters on it, and I have a Niche-5 Program with 1 Ratings Counter on it. You have a 1-Hr Drama-3, Comedy-4, Niche-4 Program with 2 Ratings Counters on it. At the end of that day I would score 1 VP for my News Program (you aren't competing) and you would score 1 for Drama (no competition) and 1 for Comedy (you have Comedy-6 total, I have Comedy-5). We each score for Niche because we both have Niche-6....

Winning the Game:

The game ends at the end of the final week. The player who has collected the most Victory Points by that time is declared the winner.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Living in the past?

I actually haven't been living in the past for once - but in some respects I wish I were. In particular, I'd really like to revive and "finish" an old game design... well, I'd love to revive and finish several old game designs, but right this minute I'm thinking of one game in particular...

I've always been interested in game design, I just didn't always know it. The first game I really worked on with any kind of success was an idea by a friend of mine about competing television networks. The idea was sort of like Magic, where your TV shows are the creatures, facing off against each other each day (for a very loose description). Mohan had this idea for some time, and he told me about it one random Thursday when he was in town for the summer. At the time he didn't really have any plans on how the game would work, just an idea of the general scheme of the game. All weekend I could think of nothing else, and on Monday he was at my house again, I described in great detail how I thought the game could work. I'd dreamed up an entire game's worth of mechanics based largely on what he'd described to me the other day, and my experience with Magic.

The game was called 8/7 central, and Mohan and I worked on it all summer. It changed tremendously from one iteration to the next, and by the end of the summer we had a prototype of a game that certainly worked - though I think we both thought it could be better. Mohan went back to school, but I kept working on the game and corresponding with him about it. I posted about it on the Board Game Designers Forum - it was one of the first games in the Game Design Workshop over there.

After some time though, things sort of stopped. That was all several years ago now, and once or twice I stumbled across old cards and brought the design back to life, but those times were short lived, and he game has been relegated to the back burner ever since.

When I visited Mohan in Seattle last month, we mentioned the possibility of reviving 8/7 Central and thinking about "finishing" it and maybe trying to get it published. Since Jackson Pope at Reiver is looking for a card game or something cheap to produce, I got to thinking about 8/7 Central again... I suppose now is as good a time as any to revive the game. So I sent Jack a short description of the game, and if he thinks it's interesting then I'll be hitting up Mohan to think about the game again.

I just re-read the rules and remembered a significant change I thought of the last time I'd looked at it*. I remember being unhappy with certain rules**, but I'm sure with a little thought and some testing those can be ironed out in no time.

So watch for some posts about this, my first ever "real" game design prospect that I seem to have avoided posting about thus far...

* There is a deck of cards in the game that is 50% Ads and 50% Events/Modifiers. This can lead to getting a draw of too few or too many ads. The brilliant idea to fix that is to allow ANY card to be an Ad - just play it upside down. Then the deck doesn't have to have any regular ads in it - maybe just a few special or better ones.

** In particular the rules for moving programs, as well as perhaps the auction for programs, though I kind of like that, as it's a somewhat unusual auction mechanism.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reiver Games - prototypes

As I mentioned in my last post, All For One is being sent to Reiver Games for review. Jackson Pope over there read the rules and thought it sounded interesting enough to try out at least.

On his blog, Jackson said "I now need something to slot in early next year (potentially a UK Games Expo release), something cheap to make (like a card game) is the order of the day." So I emailed him with a description of Ariel's card game: Love Means Nothing. I sent him a paragraph I wrote for my KublaCon report describing the game, which Ariel liked so much it's now the intro paragraph in the rulebook:

In Love Means Nothing you have a hand of cards, each one depicting 2 parts of a tennis court. One half can be used for defense, returning a ball that comes your way. The other half can be used for offense, sending a shot across the net. You never use both halves of the card at once, it's either one or the other. A turn consists of first playing a card to cover the shot your opponent played, then playing another card to dictate which of the 6 zones you'll hit the ball to. Finally you play a preparation card, indicating which zones you're prepared to cover. The preparation card can be used to cover a shot if the appropriate zone is highlighted. Otherwise you must cover the shot with a card from your hand, in which case the preparation card becomes the attack. So by playing cards that your opponent cannot cover with their preparation card you maintain control of the match because you'll see where the next attack will come and will be able to prepare for that. Of course if a player cannot cover a shot at all, then the point is lost. There are also combinations of cards which create a special shot. Special shots, if not covered with the proper type of card, leave a player off balance... they will only draw 1 card at the end of the turn instead of the usual 2. this will leave them with fewer options and less likely to cover shots.

Jackson said the game sounded interesting, so I sent him the latest copy of the rules which I got from Ariel today. I just received an email from Jackson requesting a prototype of LMN too!

While I hope he likes and decides to publish All For One, I think the chances are better that he'll want to publish Love Means Nothing, as it fits his plan of a cheap-to-produce game. Hopefully he'll go with both - but I'd be pretty happy and excited if he goes with either one. I'm a big cheerleader for Love Means Nothing, even if I didn't have as much to do with it as I did All For One.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Too Euro for a theme that screams Ameritrash."

Last November I handed off my All For One prototype to Zev Schlasinger of Zman Games. Since then he got really busy undertaking many publishing projects, and he hadn't gotten a chance to play All For One - until last Sunday. I just emailed him to see how that went, and his reply was a little disheartening, though not really a surprise:

" just didn't work for us. I think perhaps it is too Euro for a theme that screams Ameritrash (to put it all in common terms)."

I got the impression after his comments last time that perhaps his idea of what a the Three Musketeers game would be like might differ from ours, and with the way he put it this time it makes perfect sense. I wouldn't personally think of Three Musketeers as "Ameritrashy" - but then if I made a Pirate game, it wouldn't be like Pirate's Cove either. I can totally see where he's coming from - All For One is definitely designed to be a Euro-style game.

The good news is that another publisher, Reiver Games, is interested in the prototype and I'll be sending it there next. I hope they're idea of the Three Musketeers is more about the intrigue and less about sword fighting...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Soliciting Suspense!

Scott has been mulling over a way to make a board game give the feeling of suspense you'd find in a good thriller movie, or perhaps a video game (though it seems many attempts at a video game aren't too impressive in that department). Off the top of my head I couldn't think of a good way to impart that edge-of-your-seat feeling to a player, so I thought I'd solicit ideas from my readers (both of them)...

What do you think? Got any ideas how to make a board game offer the feeling of creeping through a haunted house, not knowing if a ghost is about to pop out of nowhere? Or maybe looking through a campsite for a lost companion, suspicious that a psychopath is on the loose but unaware where he is or what he'll do if he catches you? Giving it a little thought I came up with a potential start to something, but it's not amazing:

Let's say there's a deck of cards, some of which are blank, and some of which are scary monsters or events of some sort that you don't want to encounter - let's say Werewolves. Players have a limited number of counters which will cancel out these bad cards, let's call them Silver Bullets. At certain times a player must draw a card, and if it's a Werewolf then they get hurt (or something else bad happens), but they can, before looking at the card, spend a Silver Bullet to escape the effects of the card (whether it's a werewolf or not). Maybe this is like shooting the person walking up to you - maybe it's a werewolf, maybe a regular joe - either way you're down 1 bullet and you don't get attacked.

Furthermore, if the player somehow is prepared, or has a particular item, or maybe knows something about the person coming up to him (that he's more or less likely to be a werewolf), then instead of just drawing 1 card, he'd draw a couple - maybe 3. He'd look at them, then decide to use a bullet or not, then shuffle them up and choose one at random to encounter. This means that you can see how likely the card is to be dangerous, which would give you a better idea whether you should use the bullet or not. Maybe some cards are actually good (like additional bullets, or health), so if you see one of those you might not want to use your bullet so maybe you'd get the good thing. But the main point is, you don't know exactly what you'll get, and you only have so many bullets!

The way to create suspense however would be not just in the existence of these cards, but in how and when you have to draw them. One quote from Scott's post stood out to me: "In other words, it doesn't just instantly jump monsters out at you, but alerts you to the fact that something MAY be jumping out at you in the very near future. Which makes a lot of difference." Suspense in the movies come from the anticipation of something happening, not the thing actually happening. The more you wait for it (knowing it's gotta happen any second), the closer to the edge of the seat you get. To capture that essence in a board game, I think you'd need to figure out a way to make the player know that at any moment they might experience some event (maybe drawing from that deck of werewolves), which could be really, really bad - or just completely unknown.

Not knowing what is going to happen, but knowing that whatever it is will happen any minute, is probably a great way to build suspense!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New prototypes to try out!

Ever since KublaCon I've been trying to get together a copy of JC Lawrence's 'Ohana Proa together to play with people around here. I've finally gotten "almost done" with that, and in addition I've got 2 friends in Chicago who say they're going to send me prototypes of their games to play.

Scott Slomiany has finished a prototype of Dark Water Salvage, his deduction game about searching for shipwrecks:

Each player is a salvage team, racing to discover and salvage the most valuable shipwrecks. Shipwrecks are initially hidden "on the board" and through logical deduction methods and triangulation of revealed information, players can determine the location of the wrecks. Additionally, players must carefully balance the need of overspending on the loans they take out from the local Naval Historical Society; it doesn't matter if you've found the most prestigious Shipwrecks if you can't pay back your loans.

And Dwight Sullivan has resurfaced at BGDF, now with a prototype of Noblemen which has been in the works for about 3 years. he asked if I'd read through the rules, and offered to send me his copy to play.

Scott's always got some clever gimmick or gizmo, and I like the sound of the way information is hidden in Dark Water Salvage. I read the rules to Noblemen, and it sounds like a totally solid eurogame, the kind I generally like. I look forward to trying them both out - and to finally finishing my copy of 'Ohana Proa!

And of course I'm looking to play the latest version of Terra Prime as well, and Homesteaders with the latest building changes. So much to do, and at the same time there's Stone Age, Brass, and Merchants of Amsterdam to play! Never mind that I'd like to try Wealth of Nations or any of the new stuff coming out... and eventually my copy of Agricola will arrive.

I'm swamped!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Game Design Central

There's a neat online publication I hadn't seen before called Game Design Central, and every month they ask 10 questions of established inventors or game companies and post the answers. I was reading this months answers, and I really liked a couple of things Mike Selinker said:

Q - If you were to give beginning inventors one bit of advice, what would it be?
A - Stop working alone. Find people who are as smart as you, or preferably even smarter, and harness their creative energy along with your own.

I feel the same way, and as I'm sure I've mentioned before, I think I'm a better developer than a designer, or that any design I do that will be successful will likely be a collaboration with another designer. There are many advantages to working with another designer, and few disadvantages.

Q - What is your process for getting toys & games seen?
A - Lone Shark Games, Inc. is a design studio where I and my colleagues have existing accounts with many game companies, and they're happy when we have something new to show them.

This response made me feel a little jealous. A design studio where a couple guys - as their job - sit around and design and develop game ideas, with enough clout to call up a publisher and say "Hey, we have something new" and have the publisher say "well send it over!" That's the way I sort of see my friends in the Board Game Designers Forum chat room - only sans clout.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Art imitates life

I got a call at work today about a project that was done in my office about 9 months ago. There was a piece missing, and they need it fixed right away. The engineer that did the project is on vacation this week, so I had to track down all the necessary information, figure out what to do, and get it done - on top of whatever I'm supposed to be working on. While thinking about I thought it might make for a good game design:

Players are given cards with Tasks on them. Once complete, the task cards are placed at the bottom of the communal pool of "completed" Tasks. Every so often players are dealt or must draw a task off the top of the "completed" stack, and if it's no longer complete, they must "fix" it (make it satisfy all conditions again). there would be some variable global rules which would change over the course of the game which would make previously "complete" tasks no longer complete.

It would be possible to prepare for these additional rules ahead of time, but it would take more time and effort of course. When a task comes up a second time, if it already satisfies all of the current conditions, then it does not need fixing, and the player who originally did the task would score extra or something.

As for keeping track of things, I envision using card sleeves with the tasks in them, and you would slide in additional cards in order to complete the task. You might also include a player card so it can be known who did the task originally.

There might be a way to put the task into the deck without it being complete in the first place, but in that case there would be some penalty.

I also imagine these tasks would be time sensitive - having some form of deadline.. There could be a 'calendar' track, and the tasks could have hard deadlines (specific dates), or maybe soft deadlines (date drawn +X days). Maybe when the deadline is reached you have to put the task into the deck, finished or not - or you could take a penalty and finish it (the penalty is for being late).

Here's an example of how the card sleeve thing might work:
Perhaps the tasks require some set of cards to be collected and added to the sleeve. The global rules add specifics to the requirements. You spend your turn actions collecting the appropriate cards to complete the task and placing them in the sleeve with the task and a player card identifying you. When the task is complete, it is placed at the bottom of the stack of tasks, and I guess another task would be drawn from the top of the stack.

At some interval players would get additional tasks dealt to them, in a To Do queue. Maybe when 1 task is completed every player draws a new one for example, or maybe every couple of turns. I entertained the notion that this could be a real-time game without turns, just free form - maybe the cards are in a big pile in the center and you sift through them to get the ones you want, or maybe you draw them off a deck and can trade them with other players. Players could have a sand timer indicating the deadline for a task, maybe 2 timers - a 1 minute timer for their original tasks, and a 30 second timer for any tasks that are 'completed' and need to be 'fixed'.

This is just brainstorming, if you have any ideas for this then please post a comment and let me know.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Back to the Stone Age

I've come to like Stone Age.

As yet I've described Stone Age as a sort of watered down version of Pillars of the Earth. All the resources convert to victory points at the same efficiency for everyone, and at the same efficiency as each other - it costs 3 "pips" to get a wood, and you earn 3 VP when converting wood via a Hut. Similarly, it costs 4 "pips" to get Clay, and you get 4vp for the Clay when building a hut. The only other thing to do with resources other than build huts is buy Civ cards - which cost 1/2/3/4 resources of any type. Obviously it is best to spend Wood on these as it is the 'lowest value' resource.

Since everything's at the same efficiency when converting to VPs, it seems best to get Wood because there's less waste due to rounding. It's true that some huts require specific combinations of resources, but many are very flexible in what resources they accept.

In reality though, the different resources are not at the same efficiency, because you obtain them at different efficiency levels. Wood is the most efficient, while Gold is the least efficient. It's still true that these efficiencies are the same for everyone, but at least the resources are differentiated from each othre more than I was originally thinking.

In fact, with Tools it's not even true that the efficiencies are the same for everybody - tools can help you get the more valuable resources more efficiently - or at least allow you to get more of the more efficient Wood resource.

After having played the game a couple of times, I've come to think that I like Stone Age more than I originally did. I'm not prepared to say that it's deeper than Pillars of the Earth, but in a recent poll on BGG I voted that neither is any better game than the other. I think both have a lot to offer, and I'm still looking forward to playing Pillars of the Earth with the new expansion.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Terra Prime with the publishers

The last 2 nights I played Terra Prime - tonight with Mohan and one of the head honchos at Loose Cannon, and last night with some people who meet at a Microsoft building after hours. We played according to the latest changes... no Red cubes, and more valuable Yellow and Red planets. One of the players from last night posted a review on BoardGameGeek about it.

Last night's 4 player game was the closest I'd ever seen... I won by 2 points with a colonization strategy over a player who did some delivering and then hunted some aliens. I actually began with a Government Contract upgrade, which is only good for a delivery strategy, and then switched a few turns in. Jose only killed a few double aliens, so never cashed in the bog points. It was a really good and really successful game, I thought.

Tonight's game was interesting in that Mohan had a chance to colonize an early Yellow planet, but chose to make it blue. There were no yellow colonies made for quite some time, so noone bought an additional engine, and the Yellow delivery tiles didn't come into play. Also, many of the yellow tiles were devoid of Aliens. For this reason we weren't really slowed down as far as exploration was concerned, and I was able to drop 3 colonies, kill 2 sets of Aliens, and complete 2 delivery tiles. I had upgraded Battlestations (extra gun and shield) and bought 2 guns and 1 shield and went Alien Hunting in the late game after monopolizing the green planets in the early game.

I accidentally used the wrong number of Markers per player - should be 10 for a 3-player game, and as such the game felt like it ended a little prematurely. I don't think it would have changed the outcome though... I beat Mohan by 4 points, but with 2 more markers I would have scored a 9 point colony on my last turn and likely ended the game the following turn. But given enough time, Mohan could have dropped off a decent sized colony. Also, he forgot about the diplomacy rule - and could have scored a juicy colony if he'd remembered and picked up a couple resources to offer to the aliens.

We discussed some changes after the game, and will implement the following in tomorrow's games:

Shields will work differently - no more die rolling for them! Instead, each Shield tile will come with 3 counters - the ability to absorb 3 hits. Each time you are hit by an alien or an asteroid, instead of checking to see if your shields save you, you simply discard 1 of the shield counters off of your ship. If you have no shield counters then you have to start losing other modules as normal.

To go along with this, I am going to add automatic damage from the bigger aliens... 1/2/3 Aliens will get +0/+1/+2 damage modifiers - that's in addition to the number of hits rolled on the dice. This makes aliens a lot more scary, but at the same time you know going in that you are likely to just lose your shields... the purpose is to ensure that when you tussle with a triple alien, you can't come out unscathed, and therefore cannot mindlessly chain-kill triple aliens no matter how well prepared you are.

And finally, as a side note, I'll try adding partial scoring - 1vp per cube on your ship, and 3vp for each colony marker on your ship at the end of the game. For the record, I think this won't affect the outcome of the game in most situations, but it might make the players happier to get rewarded for their partial accomplishments.


Something occurred to me today while reading this:

"Dominion is a deck-building card game scheduled to be released at Essen this October by Rio Grande Games. It has been designed by Donald X. Vaccarino over the last decade or so and developed by Valerie Putman and Dale Yu."

That's a pretty innocuous statement, but it reminded me of something that's crossed my mind... Designer Board Games are unique in that they are not only authored by a designer, but by the fact that this information is available and meaningful - as opposed to older, American style games like Payday and Sorry... This has all kinds of implications regarding the games themselves, the industry, and the hobby. Some players have a favorite designer for example, and will seek out games authored by that person. In many cases the game developer isn't widely known or credited... maybe a mention in the rulebook, but by and large noone knows who helped develop Puerto Rico - just that it was by Andreas Seyfarth.

I happen to know that Reiner Knizia has teams of playtesters, some of which actually do a lot of design work with him. In his case it makes some sense that the big name "Knizia" is placed on the box rather than one of the lesser known designers who also worked on it.

Dominion sounds like it's got a lot of hype behind it, and will probably be the biggest thing since sliced bRftGd. It's been designed by a relative nobody - not a big name designer. What I notice that's different is that Valerie Putman and Dale Yu's names have been associated with the game at every turn... They have been developing the game for Jay at RGG for about a year, and now there are articles everywhere about this great new game coming out that's been "developed by Valerie Putman and Dale Yu."

It's interesting to me that this is occurring, and I wonder whether it's more regular than I realize, or if it's a sort of marketing ploy (either on purpose or incidental) to associate a couple big names in the community with the upcoming game to help create hype... not a bad marketing strategy I have to admit.

It worries me a bit too though, as a game designer who aspires to have his name known, I wonder if Donald X. Vaccarino feels at all cheated out of some of the recognition that he may deserve for creating the next blockbuster smash (if that's indeed what it becomes) - or if instead this becomes an opportunity for the developers to get some much deserved recognition as well - after putting a years worth of work into the project.

You see, I'm also an aspiring game developer, so I'm torn as to which side of the fence to be on (should I have to choose). I will note this though... Jay's minions are currently testing Homesteaders, a game designed by Alex Rockwell and developed by myself, and I really hope RGG decides to publish it. But I'll be pretty upset if next year all the news posts say "...developed by Valerie Putman and Dale Yu." Nothing against Valerie and Dale - but I want that to be my job.