Thursday, December 31, 2009

Eminent Domain - continuing thoughts

I still have not finished my prototype for ED, but I did do a little thinking on it...

First off, while "expropriate" is a cool word, saying it a few times convinced me that I don't think it's a good game term. I'm using Colonize instead.

In thinking about how the game will play out, I have amended the way Colonizing will work. When using the Colonize action, 1 marker will be placed on a Planet for each Colonize symbol, and the action on the Colonize role card will be "Colonize (flip) a Planet which has the required number of Colonize icons on it." In fact, the markers could be the cards played - which could e interesting as it temporarily thins your deck of Colonize icons.

I like Warfare working differently - I like the idea of piling up spaceships, then spending them to 'attack' a planet. maybe the action on the Warfare role card is to 'attack' a planet - you'd need enough ships to defeat it, and you'd spend those ships in order to flip the planet. then you'd have to collect ships again before attacking another planet.

I did some thinking on costs and VPs as well. As for costs, I think planets should probably cost between 3 and 7 symbols. As for VPs, I think each tech deck could have 6 cads worth 0 vp, 4 cards worth 1 vp, and 2 cards worth 2vp. Then the planets could be worth between 2 and 6 or 7 vp each. That sounds reasonable for a starting point anyway...

One more thing that crossed my mind was the possibility of a Survey threshold... not only would you look at some number of Planets, but in order to take one you might have to have 'enough' Survey icons (threshold indicated by the card). In fact, to keep consistent with things like the Colonize action described above, maybe you add to your Survey icon pile (markers, or cards stacked up), and the ACTION on the Survey card is "survey 1 planet" - and the number of planets you look at is designated by the number of Survey icons you have set aside. Hmm... might be too much work, but might be good - I'll have to keep it in mind.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Sometimes you get what you pay for

As you may have seen on, the production of Terra Prime and Homesteaders was, shall we say, less than optimal. When choosing a manufacturer there are many considerations... when we met them in April I had a really good feeling about Panda (the company that manufacturers many of Z-Man's games), but one of the big considerations of course is the price. Panda seems to be a really good outfit, and as a result they cost more. For a fledgling company like Tasty Minstrel, cost is a really big consideration.

The company Mike chose was MUCH cheaper than Panda and other options. They are the same company that manufactured Andrei Burago's Galaxy's Edge. I am not privy to every detail, but I do know that TMG didn't just choose the cheapest option possible! Mike ordered a copy of Galaxy's Edge to check out the company's work, and from what we could tell they seemed to do a fine job. There weren't complaints online about the quality of that game either, so it was something of a surprise when we received our shipment and started to find the production quality... lacking.

The moral of the story, and of this post I guess... Sometimes you get what you pay for. I'm not sure how one can tell when or whether a deal is "too good to be true" - but it may be important to note that price isn't everything. TMG's trip to Atlanta to attempt a quality control effort for Homesteaders cost upwards of $2000, and replacing missing or damaged parts isn't cheap on the wallet or the reputation... amortize that over the 2000 copies of Homesteaders printed and it increases the unit cost of the games by over $1.00! I don't know how much more it would have cost per unit for one of the more expensive manufacturers, but if you're making the decision it's worth comparing apples to apples - I'm not saying that the lowest bid will necessarily give you a bad product, but it may at least be more likely - so it might be worth figuring some extra potential cost into the price when getting bids for production. If you luck out and get a good product, then more power to you - you could really save some money! However there may be a greater chance you'll receive mis-aligned, mis-cut, moist, and otherwise not-to-spec games as well, so be prepared to deal with that.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ground Floor

I've recently become friends with a guy in town who's working on a game called Ground Floor. He first showed it to me at RinCon in October, and it looked cool so I invited him over to play it. The game was interesting to me, but the first tie we played it went long, and some of the interesting mechanisms didn't seem to be shining through like I thought they could. I discussed certain aspects of the game with my friend Steve, who likes to talk about these things with me, and we figured out what we thought needed to be addressed and I emailed that info to the designer (David). Since then he's come over a couple more times to play the game, and each time I've sent comments back, and each time the game has gotten better and better. Last night David brought Ground Floor over to play with the latest round of comments addressed, and the playtest went extremely well.

Ground Floor is a game about being an Entrepreneur. Each player has just started a company. All they have is 7 Information, their ground floor office (representing certain basic actions they can take), $9 income per round from investors, and their time (4 marker discs representing units of time). As the game progresses, players can hire employees (which reduce your $ income but increase the number of time units you can use), upgrade their ground floor actions, and add floors to their building, gaining abilities and Prestige. To finance this, players "do business" in town by scheduling meetings, advertising, shopping at outlets and making products to sell to the public. They must do this in the face of a volatile economic atmosphere - in a Boom economy more products will sell, but noone will be looking for work. In a Depression you will be hard pressed to sell any products, but the job market will be full of potential employees who can be hire on the cheap. You can see the Economic Forecast, but can never be sure exactly how many consumers to expect in a round, so how you price your products matters a lot, as does your popularity level.

I'm really enjoying the game in it's current incarnation. The crux of the game is balancing 2 resources - money and information. In the early game players have an income of $9, and it's difficult to get an appreciable amount of info. As you hire employees though, your income goes down (you have to pay their salaries), and the only really good way to make money is through selling products. Selling products is tricky, as it depends heavily on your popularity, the amount of products being sold by players, and the number of consumers for the round. You need to find a way to make both money and information because it costs a significant amount of each to add on to your business. Your score 9Prestige) will be based on the floors and abilities of your company. A 6 story skyscraper is more impressive than a 3 story building for example, but there's something to be said about having a better operation on your ground floor as well.

Our game last night was particularly interesting as it had a very unique turn of events - the Economic Forecast deck turned up 3 Depressions in a row! That's almost impossible, and the ramifications were that we were all very poor for much of the game. We had to find alternate ways to make money. Very thematically, people were firing employees in order to get more income! It was difficult times in a difficult economy, and in that respect the game was very true to life!

The only "problem" left with the game as far as I'm concerned is that it takes too long. Our game last nigh was something like 3.5 hours for a 4 player game. That's unacceptably long. However I believe shortening it to 3 phases of 3 rounds each (rather than 4 rounds each) will shorten it up nicely - hopefully it will shorten it enough!

I will be taking a copy of Ground Floor with me to Atlanta to play with Mike and whoever we can get to join us. If you're in that area, let me know - we'll be looking for people to game with!

- Seth

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Eminent Domain

I really like the name Eminent Domain, and think it would be a great name for a game. It may not be a great name for THIS GAME, but nonetheless I found myself without a name when I started making card files for the game, and today I decided Eminent Domain, while thematically not really correct, sounded cool and would do for a name for now.

On that note, I thought it would be good to NOT use all the same terminology as Race for the Galaxy. Sure, thematically Eminent Domain is similar to Race for the Galaxy - but I think it will make for a VERY different game. So to dissuade the obvious comments about RftG, I think I should use my own terminology. Considering the name Eminent Domain, I think the Settle action could be changed to Expropriate. The Explore action could be called Survey. I'll note here that the Explore action in my game (get a planet card to score later) is NOT the same as the Explore action in Race for the Galaxy (draw cards)!

As I mentioned, I've created some card files for the game, but I'm not quite done with that. I'm going to need a list of static abilities for the planets, and card effects for the technology cards. Here's what I have so far...

First off I'll outline the turn order, then I'll describe the card distributions. Each player's turn will have the following structure:

1. Play a card for its effect (optional). Basic Role cards might not have an effect.
2. Choose a Role card and execute the action (mandatory - each player in turn can Follow and also take the action, or draw 1 card). Only the active player gets a Role card to boost their action. The Role card will stay in that player's deck.
3. Refill hand to current hand limit.

I am going to have 3 types of planets in each of 3 categories: Fertile, Advanced, and [need a name] indicate what type of actions the planet helps out with:

Fertile: Harvest/Expropriate
Advanced: Trade/Research
[other]: Survey/Warfare

The other attribute a Planet card will have indicates how you go about Expropriating it. There are again 3 types: Uninhabited, Civilized, and Hostile. Each can be Expropriated in a different way:

Uninhabited: Requires a certain number of Expropriate icons
Hostile: Requires a certain number of Armies (which are gained via Warfare)
Civilized: Requires some combination of Expropriate icons, Armies, or Resources
(Actually I think it will be that a certain number of Expropriate icons is required, but you can spend Armies and Resources instead)

I'm looking at 27 Planet cards, 3 of each combination, each with a "cost" (in Armies or Expropriation icons), a VP value, and an ability. Here are some of the static abilities I've got so far:

+1 Research [ADV]
+1 Trade [ADV]
+1 Expropriate [FERT]
+1 Harvest [FERT]
+1 Survey [___]
+1 Warfare [___]
+1/+2/-1 Hand Size (-1 for a Planet worth good VPs)
Play 1 add'l card each turn
Take an add'l Role card when performing an action (even if Following)

I'll need some more of course.

Each of the three categories of planets (ADV, FERT, [___]) will have an associated Technology deck, and via the Research action players can add those Research cards to their own decks. The Research cards are strictly better than the base action cards in that they each have 2 Action icons, and they each have some effect which can be used in the first part of the turn. Here are some of the effects I have so far:

Remove any 1 card in your deck from the game [ADV]
Collect any 1 Resource from the Supply [ADV]
Collect any 1 Resource from the Supply [FERT]
Use any combination of Resources to Expropriate (or otherwise make it easier to Expropriate with Resources this turn) [FERT]
Peek at drawn Planet cards before choosing which to Survey [___]

I obviously need some more. All decks will also have a couple cards which do not have an ability but are instead worth some Victory Points.

If anyone has an idea for some good static effects for planets or card effects for technology cards, please feel free to post them in a comment!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Dominion engine

Dominion is arguably the most innovative game to hit the hobby game industry in a long time. It appeals to a lot of people for a variety of reasons. For me it invokes the feelings I used to get when building decks for Magic: the Gathering. In Dominion, turn by turn you modify the contents of your deck, adding better action cards and getting rid of the less efficient starting cards. Lately I've been pondering the use of this "engine" to promote a game...

Last night I played the recently released Thunderstone, which is an RPG style adventure game which builds on the Dominion engine. In Thunderstone you "play Dominion" in order to fill your deck with heroes, weapons, spells, and equipment and then go dungeon diving to defeat monsters. It's an interesting extension of the Dominion mechanism, but to me it felt like a lot of work for what is largely just playing Dominion.

My own thoughts on using the Dominion engine are a little more along the lines of a different game than Dominion altogether, with a central mechanic using a variation of the deck building mechanism. I'm actually adapting an older idea I had to represent a players personal "tech tree" (set of abilities, like in Goa or Hansa Teutonica) and I think a deck building mechanism could work well. Each player's deck would contain cards relating to the various actions in the game, and whenever you take an action, you would add a card to your deck that associates with that action. The intensity/strength/potency of that action would be based on how many cards for that action are in your hand/drawn/revealed from the deck. Here's an example of my first thought for the mechanism:

Let's say there is an action in the game which is "collect wood" and another action which is "attack" - among other actions. Your starting deck would have maybe 2 cards for each action in it. When you choose to "collect wood," you reveal the top 2 cards from your deck and for each of those that has the "wood" symbol you collect 1 additional wood resource. Then you take a Collect Wood card and put it in your discard pile. In the future, your revealed cards are more likely to show wood icons because the concentration of them in your deck is higher. Similarly, if you choose the "attack" action, you would reveal 2 cards and get attack bonuses for each attack icon, then you would get a little better at attacking.

Now, consider that there are other cards you could add to your deck as well, perhaps an Axe. An Axe might have both a Wood symbol (because it helps you chop down trees and get wood), and an attack symbol (because it can be used as a weapon). Each time the Axe comes up, it will boost either the Attack or the Wood action, so it's better than either of the basic cards. The idea would be to get cards in your deck that boost the actions you want to take, and then of course take those actions. There would also be an action which allows you to reveal more cards at a time, thus making you 'better' at all actions - it would probably have some cost associated, allow you to take any 1 'basic' card, and increase the number of cards you reveal each time.

This 'tech tree' mechanism seems like it would work and be good for a variety of games, but thematically I think it would be nice in a civ building type of game where it represents the strength of your civilization in the various aspects of the game - population, warfare, agriculture, culture, technology... the kinds of things you find in games like Through the Ages. Michael had asked me to think about how a streamlined card game version of Twilight Imperium might work, and so I started considering this mechanism for something of that theme - a space opera civ-style card game. Here are my current thoughts on that:

Imagine there are 6 different actions in the game - probably the same or similar actions to those you'd see in Twilight Imperium. For each action there's a stack of cards in the center of the table, and each player begins the game with a deck of 2 cards for each of 5 the actions (we'll say that one action is called Warfare, and at the outset no one is good at that action so you don't start with any Warfare cards in your deck). There is also a deck of Planet cards which show the category or type of planet, and maybe some value as to how difficult it would be to settle, on the back of the card and details of the planet's benefits on the front. Finally, for each of the (3 or 4?) types of planets there is a deck of Technology cards - color coded so you know which associates with which.

Like Twilight Imperium, on your turn you select 1 action (role), and you take a card for that role from the center and add it to your discard pile (you have now become a little 'better' at that action for future turns). Then all players, starting with you, get a chance to take that action. Each player has a hand of cards, and when resolving the action you can play the appropriate cards from your hand to boost it in some way. Having chosen the role, perhaps the card you took from the center actually goes into your hand, effectively giving you an extra card of that type to use that turn. Possible actions are as follows...

Explore: Draw 1 card per Explore icon from the Planet deck LOOKING ONLY AT THE BACKS OF THE CARDS. Choose 1 of them and place it FACE DOWN in front of you. You have explored this planet, but have not settled it yet, and therefore get no benefit from it yet.

Settle: The back of the Planet card indicates how hard it is to Settle the planet. In order to succeed you must have the appropriate number of symbols. There could be different types of Planets -
- Uninhabited: In order to Settle you need a certain number of Settle icons.
- Civilized: In order to Settle you need a number of Settle icons, but you can use Armies to pay for some of them.
- Hostile: In order to Settle you must spend a certain number of Armies.

Research: You can research at a planet which you have settled. Draw 1 Technology card per Research symbol from the Technology deck matching a Planet you have Settled, and add 1 of those cards to your discard pile (putting the rest on the bottom of the deck). These cards would be like the Axe example above, they would be more efficient than the basic action cards, either giving more than 1 symbol of a type, or symbols of more than 1 type, improving your capabilities. The type of planet would indicate the sorts of abilities in the deck.

Warfare: Gain 1 Army per Warfare icon. These will be used to settle Hostile planets, and maybe could be used in a defensive capacity in some way.

Harvest: Produce 1 Resource per Harvest icon, perhaps based on the capabilities of planets that you have settled. These could be used to trade for VPs or perhaps could substitute for Armies or Settlement icons for Civilized (or Hostile?) planets. Perhaps some planets have slots on the back, and an alternate way to settle them is to fill those slots with the appropriate Resources.

Trade: Exchange 1 Resource per Trade icon for Victory Points

Turn by turn players would choose roles, allowing each player to participate in the role, and at the end (beginning?) of your turn you would refill your hand to 5 cards. Maybe you get a chance to discard cards you don't want, and maybe there's some way (via the technology deck) to remove cards in hand from the game so you don't need to draw them anymore. The game would end when either the Planet deck or one of the action piles, or possibly when the VP pool, is exhausted. Planets would be worth some VPs, as would points earned throughout the game by Trading*.

* Thought on trading that just popped into my head - perhaps when you trade stuff it goes into a common pool, and you can trade for other resources in the pool (pre-seeded with 1 or 2 of each) at a 1-for-1 rate. This would be a good way to get resources you don't have access to - which would matter if it took specific combinations of resources to do certain things. Maybe "victory points" is one of the "types of resources" - so you can always trade for those, or you can trade VPs for resources you might need to use (players would start with some VPs). The pool would be pre-seeded with a bunch of the VP resource, and maybe the game ends when that one runs out.

I think this could be a solid game using the deck building mechanism inspired by Dominion as a base for players to build a their strategy. How will they advance their game? Will they Settle a few select planets and then improve their technology, gaining points and abilities that way? Will they produce lots of Resources to trade? How will they settle planets - through normal means? Military force? Trade? I think this will offer players a lot of ways to go about improving their capabilities and earning points. I guess I'll have to make a prototype and find out if I'm right about that!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Time Rewind - first draft test

I tried a version of the Time Rewind game idea with Steve last night, each of us playing 2 characters to simulate a 4 player game. Honestly, while it had some potential, I didn't like it as much as I thought I would.

I approximated the cards and mechanisms in the game using a deck of cards. Here's how we played:

Take the 5-10s and Ks of a standard deck, shuffle them, and lay them out face down in a 7 row pyramid/trellis pattern. Flip up the first card (tip of pyramid) and place the 4 player pawns on it. Take the 4 As, 3 Qs, and 1 other card from the deck and shuffle those, laying them out as the 8th and final row. Q represents a victory condition (get to a Q card and then 'pass the challenge' there). As and the other card are failed attempts to fix the Instability.

Shuffle another deck of cards - these are the cards players will draw. On these cards only the suit matters, not the rank.

Each turn went like this:

1. Collect resources: reveal the top 4 cards from the deck. Players distribute 1 card to each player any way they like. In addition, move the Instability marker 1 space along the track for each Heart revealed this way. This serves as a semi-random timer for when rewinds happen (when the end of the track is reached, a rewind happens).

2. Move - any player who wants to move their pawn can do so, to either of the 2 spaces in the next row adjacent to their current position.

The trellis represents a tree of binary decisions, so you can only navigate it forward. When a Rewind occurs, it sends players back in time (to the left on the trellis), giving them the opportunity to make different choices this time, however you can only make different choices for the decision points that got rewound, anything that's "still in the past" is set and cannot be changed (until a later Rewind takes you back beyond that).

3. Draw - anyone who didn't move can opt to draw 1 card from the deck. If it's a heart, advance the Instability marker.

4. Peek - anyone who didn't move and didn't draw can peek at upcoming cards... choose a row, and look at all face down cards in that row which you can still possibly get to. Shuffle those cards and return them face down. this gives you some information as to whether you're on the right track or not, and is probably most useful for looking at the last row from a few rows back to see if there's a Q there.

5. Challenge - reveal any face down cards people had moved to, and undergo the challenge there. In this version the challenge was simply this: Play a number of cards equal to the number on the card (so 5-10) plus 1/2/3/... for being in the 2nd/3rd/4th/... row, with cards matching suit counting double. A K card, if passed, is collected as an Item, and in this case the item simply gave a +3 to all challenges matching that suit (i.e. the K of Spades helps you win further Spade challenges). If you fail the challenge, the Instability marker is moved up once. Perhaps this should have been variable depending on how much you fail by, to encourage playing cards even if failing.

We also moved the instability marker one space if the card turned up was a Heart.

So a challenge could be hard or easy, and in general they get harder toward the "end" of the trellis.

6. Trigger Rewind - as a group you can decide to trigger a Rewind on purpose - rewind just 1 step (everyone moves left 1 space on the trellis) and the Instability marker is moved forward once. This may be necessary to get to a decision point otherwise unreachable.

That's it, then you go to the next round. Hand limit was 5 cards, and each time the Instability marker reached the end it caused a Rewind, the first rewinding just 1 space, the next 2 spaces, then 3... etc.

The game was kinda fun, and showed some potential, but as we discussed various mechanisms for the different aspects it just seemed more and more like Solitaire by Committee. Maybe that's OK, a lot of the cooperative ("Collaborative?") games out there right now (maybe all) are Solitaire by Committee, and people like them just fine. I am not out to make a SbC coop game, but I concede that this may turn into that.

More importantly, I noticed that moving your player pawn around on an abstract web of decision points was really lame. A better implementation (and pretty much the original idea for the game) would have the scientists (players) running around a board which depicts a town with the mad scientist's lair off to one side, and various locations where you could pick up items and take actions. The Trellis could be represented more like the original model, a stack of event cards which you would, at the beginning of your turn, flip and address... most would allow you to make a choice - perhaps as to what combination of cards you can play to the common pool... either (Red + Blue) or (Green + Yellow) for example. Some of those cards would be major events, and when those come up they have some requirements that must be met by cards in the pool. If the requirements are met, those cards are removed and the benefit of the event is earned. If not, then the benefit is not met (there may be a penalty). In the case of failure, the players may have another chance later, after a rewind.

In this version I think there would be some tools, and a number of Tool tiles (maybe 3 for he first level, 4 for the next, and 5 for the last?) would be placed face down in the Mad Scientist's Lab. In order to repair the Instability, the players would need to send someone to the Lab to 'throw the switch' or whatever, and when that happens either they have the right tools with them at the time (in which case Hurray! the Instability is partially fixed! things get a little better!), or they don't, in which case they make it worse! Maybe any tiles matching tools you have are removed (as are the tools), and any unmatched tiles make the Instability worse (increase the intensity of a rewind).

I think the benefit of passing challenges in the event deck would be revealing Tool tiles at the Lab, so that you know what you need to get. Players would probably have some number of actions points, and they would use them to move around the town and activate the buildings there in order to collect tools, draw cards, peek at the top of the Event deck, or whatever. Maybe even trigger little rewinds (making the instability worse) in order to re-do a challenge just failed.

That might be my next attempt at this game. Not sure how it will play out.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Next week is BGG.con - the biggest and probably most fun game convention I go to each year. This year Tasty Minstrel Games will be in attendance, and we'll even have a vendor booth. This is a new way for me to experience the convention, as in the past I've only gone as a gamer looking to meet people and play games.

I'll still be looking to meet people, hang out with friends from around the country, and play games... but this year there will be more to it. I'll spend a lot of time in the Tasty Minstrel booth teaching Terra Prime and Homesteaders, and playing prototypes of upcoming games (Belfort and Wizard's Tower) as well as submissions we're considering (Dice Factory) and other prototypes of mine and my friends' (All For One, Lost Adventures). Here's a list of TMG related things I'll be doing next week at the con:

* Teaching Terra Prime and Homesteaders in the booth
* Playing prototypes of Belfort, Wizard's Tower, Train of Thought and Dice Factory
* Running Tasty Minstrel's Winner Cleans Up events
* Selling Terra Prime and Homesteaders
* Selling plush Tasty Minstrel dragons

As for non-TMG related things, I also plan on doing the following:

* Helping Derk and Aldie set up on Wednesday
* Playing prototypes of friends' games in Proto Alley
* Puzzle Hunt
* Game Show (depending on the format)
* Late night Time's Up! and Werewolf

I'm really looking forward to the con again this year. If you're there, be sure to stop by the Tasty Minstrel booth and say hello - I'm looking forward to meeting and playing games with you!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Random Red Colony and Dynasty thoughts

I have been wanting to revisit some old designs, and in fact, I have put together another copy of All For One (sort of) since the copy I had got sent to Z-man, then on to Jackson Pope in England, and then to the co-designer David Brain - where I understand most of the bits have gone missing :(

Sadly, I had made changes by hand to the board and cards, and I'm not certain what all of them were. I guess I'll just have to rediscover them.

In addition, I have been putting more thought into Dynasty - probably my most ridiculously neglected game considering how simple it ought to be to try it! My friend Steve is living at my house for the time being, and I have decided that while I've got the chance I should really bounce ideas off of him and get some of these ideas progressed!

I briefly described Red Colony to Steve, and in doing so I thought of an idea which might be good. I'd always imagined things in Red Colony being built under a network of protective domes. So it follows that the early game building you do in the game is to build some domes connected by tubes. This could be a sort of land-grab in the early game where players build tubes and domes in order to reserve land for themselves in order to build buildings.

The domes and tubes would of course require some resources, which the players would obviously start the game collecting. At some point they will be done with those resources and will need to switch their income to some different type of resources in order to construct the buildings they want in their domes - Farms, Factories, Habitats, whatever.

So the crux of the new idea is that you begin with an area enclosure type of thing, and go from there. Admittedly I have not reviewed my posts on the game, and I don't necessarily remember exactly how I thought the game would work, so I don't know how this new idea would fit in exactly, but it sounded interesting.

In re-examining Dynasty I read some of my more recent posts, and in one of those I detailed an alternate method to deal with military aspects in that game. Since discussing it with Steve, I have done some more thinking about how the military part could work, and I think I have refined it further.

First of all, I think players should be able to purchase Leaders. I don't think there needs to be a distinction between Political and Military leaders either, just Leaders. The cost should be some set thing, and they would be purchased just like Discoveries are purchased - you'd have to have access to all the resources needed, or else trade with someone. Since I like the idea of Leaders really affecting the game after Cities exist, maybe the cost would include some special resource that you can only get from a City, so nobody can build a new leader until SOMEONE obtains a city.

The rule I currently think might be a winner for attacking is this... in order to conquer a Village, you have to have 2 more Leaders in the area than the defender. As long as that's true, you can remove 2 Leaders from the board and take the Village (maybe the Leaders set up shop in the Village and don't move around the board anymore). For a city, same thing, but it costs 3 Leaders to take a City. So if you have a city and a Leader in a territory, I would have to have 4 Leaders in the territory in order to Attack the city, in which case I would remove 3 of them and take over the city.

I chose 2 and 3 for the numbers so that there could be a Discovery (gunpowder?) which allows you to take a Village or City with 1 fewer Leader.

Steve and I talked about some other aspects of the game. I should probably list some of them here so I don't forget. In no particular order:

* I have always considered that there would be 8 different resources. Suppose instead there were 9, 3 of which are represented twice each on the board, 5 are represented once each, and 1 is not represented on the board at all. Now consider that each city tile has one of the 5 rarer resources on it. When upgrading a Village to a City, you gain access to the listed resource. Thus, in the early game, there would be 3 resources which are in abundance (easy to gain access to), and 5 which one player will own and others will have to trade for. Then, as cities come into play, the rare resources will become more common as cities pop up showing their symbol. In addition, the 6th city tile would bear that 9th resource, which is not represented on the board (Gold?). the only way to gain access to that one would be for someone to upgrade that city.

Steve suggested that when you place Village tiles, they must be face down, so you don't know which one has which resource on the back. That's an interesting idea, but I don't know if it's better than being able to decide which resource you want access to.

* I don't think I like the previous posted idea for founding Villages - starting with a leader in play, and moving them around to found Villages wherever you want. I think it would be cooler if you had to deal with the resources near your starting territory, and trade for the rest. So I think Founding a Village in a Territory adjacent to one of your other ones sounds better to me. Steve and I briefly discussed the possibility of only being able to found a Village in a territory adjacent to one containing ONLY your own Village/City... so you couldn't spread through another player's territory, just create a border. I don't think that idea is very good though.

* Steve mentioned that perhaps instead of trading for anything from anyone at any time, perhaps you could only trade for the resources that are available in Territories containing or adjacent to your own Villages. So if you need access to Wood, and you aren't at least adjacent to Wood, then you will have to found a Village first to get closer - even if 3 opponents all have access to wood. I don't know if I like that or not. I thin it would make some differentiations in who can get which Discovery, which might differentiate strategic paths (or "player postures")... but I expect that to sort of happen organically based on the scoring system. if you trade willy-nilly for resources to bu whatever Discovery you want, then you will be giving points away left and right. I hope that players will be judicious in how much trading they do, and attempt to be as self sufficient as possible, trading minimally when necessary. In other words, if your desired strategy requires a lot of blue and red resources, and some brown and gold as well, ten you should probably try and gain your own personal access to red and blue, and maybe 1 of brown or gold and only trade for the one you need, and of course for the odd orange or yellow resource as needed as well.

* Based on my idea above for removing leaders from the board to do things, I think the leaders would have to be fairly easy to replace. Maybe the standard action could be "get 1 leader for XXX cost, or 2 for XXXYY cost." There could be a discovery that gives you +1 Leader perhaps, or make it cheaper. If attacking removes leaders from the board, then upgrading a Village to a City should probably remove 1 Leader as well.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Gear Burn

I saw a cute print & play game on BGG by the guy who designed Equilibrium (Tasty Minstrel is considering Equilibrium for publication, but it won't be any time soon as there are other games in line before it). It was a racing game, and it only needed the board and some dice and markers, so I thought I'd give it a try.

The game is called Gear Burn, and the general gist of it is this:

On your turn, you MAY first upshift or downshift into another gear. Then, you roll some dice depending on what gear you're in... this is kinda like Formula De. You roll 1d6 for 1st, 2d6 for 2nd, 3d6 for 3rd, and 4d6 for 4th gear. The highest die showing indicates your Speed, and you MUST move forward that many spaces during your turn. The smallest die showing indicates your Maneuverability, and you MAY move UP TO that many spaces left/right during your turn. If you crash into a wall or another car, that's real bad (you lose a turn). You begin the game with 3 Wrenches, and once per turn you may spend a wrench to re-roll any 1 die. This is good for when your roll guarantees you'll crash - but you can only do it once per turn, and only 3 times per race.

I ended up playing a 2p game with my roommate Steve. It was much more fun than I expected! I did note that all of the movement mechanics are based on averages, so even though the average roll on 3d6 is greater than the average roll on 1d6, you could go as fast or faster in 1st gear as you do in 3rd sometimes. That seemed odd. also, it seemed pointless to upshift to 4th gear, as the gained benefit (more likely to roll a 6) didn't outweigh the penalty (more likely to roll a 1, and it takes 2 turns to get down to 2nd gear if you need to). I could ALREADY roll a 5 or 6 pretty easy with 3 dice...

I suggested we play it again, only this time using a different distribution of dice:

1st gear: 1d3
2nd gear: 2d4
3rd gear: 3d6
4th gear: 4d8

This way, not only are you almost guaranteed to be able to go faster in the higher gears, there's a real reason to shift up to 4th gear - you can really haul some ass! Moving 7 or 8 is worth it sometimes, even if you lose some maneuverability. In 3rd gear the most you can move is 6 spaces.

This worked really, really well actually, so I emailed the designer and let him know. He posted some thoughts in his blog.

We played a 4 player game after that as well. Here are some other small comments I made about the game to Shea:

- It might be nice to be able to move through cars sideways (but not forwards), meaning it would be harder to find yourself boxed in. With 4 players it frequently got blocky and that led to a couple forced collisions. Some of that would be good, but currently it MIGHT be too much (maybe not though).

- There's a catch-up mechanism which is that if you're in last place on your turn, you get to add 1 to your Maneuverability. Sometimes while in last, that added maneuverability is just not helpful, while 1 additional speed would be. I might like to try it with "+1 to Speed OR Maneuver" giving the losing player the choice.

- There's also a penalty for being in first place: you have to subtract 1 from your maneuverability. This was rough, which it's supposed to be, but possibly too much so. If you crash, lose a turn, then start the following turn in 1st gear and roll a 1 (which is 33% on 1d3)... you automatically crash again? That's harsh! Maybe the penalty shouldn't apply in 1st gear or something. Or maybe a different penalty should apply. Or none... such a penalty encourages people to be in 2nd so that when the gu in first finally crashes they can coast past them for the win.

- Tyler thought it would be neat if the game were modeled after the video game Super Off Road, where you could customize your car with Tires (for extra maneuverability), Engines (maybe lets you upshift twice in a turn, once per race), Nitros (move additional 2d4 distance or something)... etc. For a 1-off game players could customize their car at the start, or for a campaign mode there could be prize money which you spend on upgrades between races. I think this is a neat idea, but I can also see playing the game without it.

- I observed that there isn't any choice in the movement portion of the turn (99% of the time anyway) - the choices you make are what gear to be in, and whether to use a wrench. Shea mentioned making additional maps which could potentially give you a reason to drive to one space instead of another. I suggested putting prizes (I was still on the Off Road thing, so I said Money or Nitros) on certain space on the board - tempt people into the outer lane approacing a curve for example to get the prize. Shea suggested additional wrenches, which is also an excellent idea.

- Shea also mentioned the same thing Tyler did - that wrenches could allow you to drive through a car without crashing. He and I also had the same idea that a wrench could allow you to shift 2 gears in one turn. I don't know if the wrench should get too complicated, but I do like those uses for it. he said he'd probably add those uses and shy away from the Off Road style upgrading and any campaign version of the game. That's probably fine, but if it were to get published I think the added depth of potential upgrading and campaign mode would be worthwhile.

Shea also looked at some math on various dice distributions (see his blog post) - and is likely to go with the following distribution:

1st gear: 1d4
2nd gear: 1d4 + 1d6
3rd gear: 1d4 + 1d6 + 1d8
4th gear: 1d4 + 1d6 + 1d8 + 1d10

It's not a bad idea because it reduces the components down to 4 dice rather than 10, and it doesn't use a non-standard d3... but I think it won't work as well. When you upshift to 4th gear, it's because you want to haul ass. You don't want to roll about the same as you would in 3rd gear - you want to SPEED UP. If I were putting the pedal to the metal, I would much rather roll 4d8 than 1d4 + 1d6 + 1d8 + 1d10.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cow Tipping details... continued

I finally got off my duff and made a modified deck for Cow Tipping - one which simply had 8 "types of cows," with 8 cards of each type. This was easy enough, just used 4 decks worth of cards, just the red ones, numbers 2-9.

Again, the types of sets were to be "all the same number" and "all different numbers." When we played the game I found a major error in the deck configuration! I was thinking that it would be equally difficult to get an "all the same" set as an "all different' set, but that isn't true at all. It's much easier to get an "all different" set than a set of cards of the same type.

The game was really not as fun at all, nor as interesting this way. One player even asked if we could quit mid-game. I think part of the reason was the deck configuration, there was really no point in building a homogeneous set, so instead you simply drew cards toward a diverse set. I think with a better configuration the feeling of building a set might return a bit.

Tyler admitted that was a possibility, but suggested that that wasn't the problem - that rather the game just wasn't that fun. It's not interactive enough... He suggested that the tipped cars be left face up, so you can tell without having to remember who's going for what. Furthermore, he suggested each type of car might confer some kind of ability - the more expensive Trucks and Buses conferring better abilities than the Cars and Trucks.

I would like to try it again this way after fixing the deck. I have removed the 8's and 9's, so there are now 6 suits, with 8 cards in each suit. I intend to add 1 card in each suit that counts as 2 cows in that type, but cannot be used in a Diverse set. I might also add a few special cards (maybe featuring Clyde and Elsa) which would count as 2 cards in a Diverse set, but cannot be used in a Homogeneous set.

I might give some more thought to the idea of abilities - simple ones... but I think it is probably "too much" for this game.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tasty Minstrel Plush Dragon!

Tasty Minstrel Games - Super Duper Pre-order Special!

Tasty Minstrel Games has posted demo videos of the launch titles, Terra Prime and Homesteaders, as well as details of a terrific, limited time pre-order special:

1000 packages for US residents: $44.95 for BOTH games, shipping included!
100 packages for non-US orders: $59.95 for BOTH games, shipping included!

In addition, the 1st 100 people to order and also post some special html to their blog referencing Free Game Friday, get a plush Tasty Minstrel dragon!

All the details and all the links needed to order can be found on the same page as the demo videos.

There's also a give-away contest running right now at where you could win a copy of each game! The contest and the super Duper sale end at about the same time, so anyone who pre-orders and then wins the contest can have their pre-order refunded with no hassle.

Good luck to all who enter the contest, and for anyone interested in these two games - I have to advise you jump on this special pre-order before they're all gone... It's an insane deal!

Monday, September 14, 2009


In a comment on a prior post someone made a good point. The post was about responding to submissions... of all the submissions that will be coming in to Tasty Minstrel Games, only a small number of them will be chosen to be published. An anonymous commenter made the following comment:

It can be helpful to both parties to include at least a phrase or two describing the reasons for rejection. For example, "For now, our thematic focus is on historical games." Criticism is trickier, but it's the mark of a company that's worth building a relationship with.

I agree - when I have submitted games in the past, I very much appreciated responses from the publishers that they had been received, and when rejected I wanted to know why. Looking at it from the other end has me wondering though... in some cases the reason is simply "we don't like the sound of it" or "it doesn't look very good to us." So I have a question for would be submitters:

If the reason for rejection is simply "we don't like it" - would you prefer to hear that directly, or would you prefer a more sugar coated "we're not interested at this time" type of response?

Please comment on this post with your thoughts on this matter.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jackson Pope of Reiver Games posted some interesting stuff in his blog: Board Games - Creation and Play recently.

The linked post is about receiving submissions... Reiver is a small operation, much like Tasty Minstrel Games. Jackson says he's received something like 150 submissions in the last 3 years, and has published 4 games. Tasty Minstrel is just publishing 2 games to start, and they were games that were in the works for a long time, and had been played many many times. Going forward, TMG will be getting a lot of submissions (indeed, I've already received a handful!), some of which will make the cut and some of which will not. Jackson's post was about how to respond to all of these submissions.

I submitted a comment to the linked post basically agreeing with what Jackson had said. There are only different responses possible to a submission: "Yes, we'll publish it," and "No we will not publish it." But it's more complicated than that... the "No" response can be broken down into 3 categories:

1) We're not interested at all.

2) We won't publish as-is, but if you make changes based on our feedback we'd consider it again.

3) We won't publish as-is, but would like to work with you on improving it.

Where my job comes in is (a) deciding which of those 3 responses is appropriate for a submission that we're not going to publish as-is, and (b) if response #3, then I have to work with the designer to make the game better. That's the fun part for me, but it's also difficult to say whether a game will ever be "good enough," and how much work and time it'll take before the game would be considered "good enough."

Tasty Minstrel's next big game Belfort definitely has potential, and I think it's quickly approaching the "good enough" point - but theres still a lot of work to do on it!

Monday, August 24, 2009

On adding a money auction

Since I'm dropping the geographical portion from what was Rodeo Drive - a fairly interactive part of the game - I think it may turn out to be important to have an additional interactive mechanism in the game.

Perhaps this money auction can serve that purpose.

Regarding format, I was considering either a Goa style once-around auction, or a Container style blind bid. Each of those formats have up-sides and down sides, and I was leaning toward the Goa style auction. The thing I like least about that auction is the turn order for bidding. Karlo in BGDF chat recommended changing up the turn order such that the closer you were in the bluff auction to guessing the right number, the later in the turn order you get to bid in the money auction. In a once around auction it's an advantage to bid later in the turn order. I wasn't sure how this would work considering that some players would effectively be tied for closest (players who have not bid for example, or a player who overbid by 2 and a player who underbid by 2). Karlo's suggestion was to have all tied players bid simultaneously (Container-style), followed by the next player(s) in turn order.

I think that would work well for the nonparticipants (players who didn't end up with a bid marker on the Auction Track in question), and perhaps for the overbidders, with only the underbidders getting unique turn order for bidding in the money auction.

So that's where I'm at right now in my thinking for this game - adding a money auction with approximately that format. I think this could do a number of good things for the game.

In other news, I had pondered disallowing track-jumping when you've been outbid in the bluff auction. However I think I've realized that that would effectively ruin a lot of the mechanism, and would in general be dumb.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tasty Minstrel at BGG.con 2009!

This year's BGG.con will be a little more special for me than the previous years. I've always loved the convention, and I expect to have a lot of fun as usual, but this time it's even more exciting.

This year Tasty Minstrel Games will have a booth at the con, and will be promoting the sale of our two launch titles: Terra Prime and Homesteaders!

In addition to demos at the booth, we have 2 events scheduled, one for each game. Watch for the Tasty Minstrel WINNER CLEANS UP events wherein participants will gather in a designated area for a presentation-style rules explanation from me. Then groups of 4 random players will be given a (probably signed) copy of the game to play in the open gaming area. Whoever wins the game gets to keep the copy!

I think this will be a really fun event to launch the two games, and I hope people will enjoy it - and of course enjoy the games as well! I'll see you at BGG.con!

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

I was thinking about the Museum of Time (?) game idea I posted the other day, and thought it might be interesting to add another layer of auctions to the game. Suppose each player starts with some amount of money, and money counts as Victory Points at the end of the game.*

When resolving the Liar's Auction and receiving the Artifacts, players could have a choice - instead of simply keeping the artifact, there could be a quick auction where each player bids money to buy the artifact. This could be done 3 different ways:

- Player decides to Keep or Auction the item, if Auction is chosen then they must take (or maybe pay) the highest bid

- Player automatically auctions off the item, and chooses either to take the highest bid, or simply keep the item (possibly must pay the high bid to the bank, as in Goa)

- Players blind bid simultaneously for the artifact, and the auctioneer either accepts the high bid (or maybe anyone's bid) or else keeps the artifact (maybe having to pay the bank something).

The first idea there might go hand in hand with either of the other two. The main purpose of this is twofold:

1.) A player could go for an Artifact not because they want it for their set, but because it will fetch a decent price from one or more of the other players.

2.) A player who did poorly at the Liar's Dice portion of the game could still get an Artifact they want, at least a couple of times during the game, by paying money for it.

Another interesting thing about this idea is that a player's Museum could be limited to maybe 3 different categories of Artifacts, while there are 5 different categories in the game (the 6th being Futuristic Technologies, or a wild or something). Therefore a player winning a Liar's Auction for an item they cannot place in their Museum would be forced to auction it off. This could potentially foster competition for items, as you might want to get an item that is valuable for another player even if it's not valuable for you, so that at least when they buy it from you you get some money from them.

* In fact, there could be Scoring Rounds during the game wherein players show their current exhibits, earning some money. Each artifact could have an income value, so you just add up the value of your collections, and each collection could get a bonus if you have some condition met (3+ of the same type of item, or the same color of item, or whatever). This reminds me of JC Lawrence's Corner Lot scoring a little bit, as well as Cow Tipping's scoring in a way.

Another thought I've been pondering for this game is whether or not a player should be able to switch which Artifact they're 'bidding' on when they are outbid. One of the fundamental parts of the mechanism is that you can bluff another player into bidding too high, and thus far I've considered that to be a viable tactic - you bid on a color you don't really care about in order to bluff someone into a bid you think is too high, then you move your bid to another color which you do care about - your opponent's bid marker is trapped in an overbid on that first track. I wonder if it might be better to have to commit to a color when yu place a bid. You still want to bluff people into overbidding, but doing so doesn't let you get something else for 'free' - if you want the item you have to 'bid' right, and if you try and bluff someone into overbidding you have to be a little careful or at least realize you might be overbidding as well. I don't know if that really counts as a bluff anymore.

Just some thoughts to chew on. If you have any thoughts feel free to post them!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Museum of Unnatural history?

I need a name for this game...

With the advent of Time Travel, museum curators have procured prototype time machines, and will use them to go back in time and "save" precious cultural artifacts that - until now - have been lost to history (damaged, destroyed, or lost forever). But it's very important not to cause a paradox, or let people know the item still exists - so only the player who arrives closest to the time the item is thought to have disappeared will be able to take it!

Furthermore, as time travel becomes more widespread, rumors of future technology surface, and players can attempt to go forward in time and procure them for their own use (only the player that arrives first, after the technology is invented, will get it).

Players are Curators collecting items for their Exhibits. Each Exhibit will be worth points depending on how many Artifacts it contains. Collecting artifacts from one culture will help to find more artifacts from the same culture, however 3 different Exhibits is more impressive than 1 really big Exhibit, so specializing in just 1 culture's artifacts may not be the best way to go.

Each round 5 different artifacts from 5 different cultures and 1 futuristic technology will be revealed - information about these items has surfaced, and players will have to calibrate their time machines to attempt to collect them.

Each player will roll a number of Color Dice, this represents research being done. the colors rolled represent information about the matching colored culture/artifact. Each player has some information but nobody has all of it. Using the information they have, and judging their opponents based on their actions, players calibrate their time machines by iteratively 'bidding' on how far back in time to send each of their Explorers (players will have 4/3/2/2 explorers an a 2/3/4/5 player game), and for which artifact. When all players are satisfied, each artifact is retrieved by the player who chose the closest without going over (er, in this case maybe "without going under"). The Futuristic Technology is collected by the player who goes forward in time the least without going over. The 'calibrating' phase works like this:

When it's your turn, you place an Explorer token on one of the Time tracks associated with one of the artifacts. You can only place 1 explorer on each track. Once all of your explorers are on tracks, your turn consists of Passing (if your explorers are furthest along all of the tracks, or you are happy with how far back you are sending them), or re-placing an Explorer who has been 'outbid' (another explorer has been placed higher on the same track - indicating that he'll be closer to the correct time, unless he doesn't go back far enough to 'save' the artifact).

Once everybody is happy with their explorer placement, the artifact retrieval is resolved by revealing all dice. For each artifact, the player who's explorer is on the space closest to the space corresponding to the correct number of dice of that color without going over collects the artifact.

When determining the number of dice, it's possible that a player might have a special ability which allows him to count an additional die - that die only counts for that player, other players compare their explorer placement with the actual number of dice. This can create a tie, and in the case of a tie, the player without the 'bonus' (or with fewer bonuses) wins the tie and collects the item.

Each round, or when receiving certain Artifacts, each player is given an additional color die to roll, representing more information becoming available as time travel becomes more widespread.

In the end, each Exhibit will be worth some number of points depending on the artifacts that are in it. Perhaps to score an Exhibit at all you need to collect at least 3 artifacts of that type, and each additional artifact is worth less and less. That way just 1 of each type isn't enough to score really well, but all of 1 type isn't as good as 3 each of several types.

Liar's Auction revisited

About 2 years ago I had an idea to build a bigger game out of the mechanic that is Liar's Dice. I discussed it with a friend, and we worked on a game using a multiple Liar's Dice Auction that I came up with... he didn't want me to discuss the game, so I didn't. I kept a blog post describing the early version of the game unpublished so as not to break his confidence or anything...

Well, that friend disappeared - left town and didn't reply to emails or phone calls. He eventually moved back to town, but still didn't contact me or return calls - the last I spoke to him he sounded disappointed that the Liar's Dice auction game (as well as another game we were working on together) couldn't be finished. I replied that I'm still here, and still interested in working on them, but that hasn't promoted any further contact.

So while I liked the direction that game was going, I have decided to take my Liar's Dice auction mechanism and do something else with it. I don't feel this is a moral no-no because it was my idea, and I'm not re-using game I was collaborating with that guy on - just the main mechanism I'd come up with for it.

In discussing a different possible theme for this mechanism in BGDF chat, someone suggested time travel. Frankly, the idea of getting to a location (in time) after an incident occurs but before anybody else is the closest thematic match I have heard of for the Liar's Dice mechanism, which is basically a "guess closest to the right number without going over" thing. It isn't as perfectly clean when going back in time, but I think it's close enough to say that you don't want to disrupt things and cause paradoxes, so only the player going back to a point just before an item is rumored to have disappeared (destroyed, stolen, damaged, lost) is the player that gets to take it... that way the general public might not notice any difference.

What I'm getting at here - and I bet it's not clear - is that players will be curators of futuristic museums. Time travel has just been discovered, and as a result you have the unique opportunity to exhibit some of the world's lost treasures for the first time in your museum! Each round information will surface on 6 different artifacts from the past, each of which was thought damaged, destroyed, or lost forever... doing some research to find out exactly where and when these items disappeared, players will calibrate their time machines and send explorers to grab the items before they get lost or destroyed. It's imperative not to change history, so only the player who gets closest to the time at which history dictates the item goes missing is allowed to take the item. If you don't go back far enough, the item will already be gone, and if you go back too far and take the item, history will change (and you can't risk that!)

Maybe better is this blurb:

With the advent of Time Travel, museum curators have procured prototype time machines, and will use them to go back in time and "save" precious cultural artifacts that - until now - have been lost to history (damaged, destroyed, or lost forever). But it's very important not to cause a paradox, or let people know the item still exists - so only the player who arrives closest to the time the item is thought to have disappeared will be able to take it!

Furthermore, as time travel becomes more widespread, rumors of future technology surface, and players can attempt to go forward in time and procure them for their own use (only the player that arrives first, after the point it's invented, will get it).

The game will be about set collection then. Your museum will have maybe 5 Exhibits, and you need to collect items to put in the exhibits. Maybe for example Green indicates ancient Mayan civilization... so you collect Green artifacts (from the Green auction) and will score for them. One main scoring thought I had before (and would like to continue to use) is that winning one auction makes you better at winning that auction again, but winning the same auction over and over is less and less lucrative. For example, your 1st/2nd/3rd Mayan artifact might be worth 5/4/3 victory points. Therefore getting three different artifacts is worth more than getting three of the same artifact. However, having a Mayan artifact may give you more information about the Mayan culture, and help you to correctly calibrate your time machine when going after other Mayan artifacts (having a green item allows you to count 1 additional Green die when resolving an auction, usable only by you).

I like the dichotomy of getting better at winning the same auction again but having incentive to try and win a different auction.

I mentioned "technologies" from the future - those would be not artifacts that score points, but rather items that give you bonus abilities, like the ability to re-roll some dice before the bidding phase of the auction, or the ability to swap items with an opponent or something.

So now I just need to rethink some of the abilities that could be needed in this game, and maybe come up with some cultures such as the Mayans to draw from... doesn't have to be extremely historically accurate - after all, each item in the game is one that is not supposed to exist, so I can make them all up!

Maybe 5 cultures, and 1 color always representing a futuristic technology - thus 5 exhibits per player. I'm liking this theme more and more!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cow Tipping details

I had a few thoughts today about Cow Tipping... I don't know whether they are good ideas or not at this point, but I think they are worth considering. There are 2 different ideas, completely unrelated...

1. Numbers on cards are highly anti-thematic. You're allegedly recruiting a gang of cows, so what's the deal with cards with numbers on them? Suppose instead that the cards simply had 1 of 7 or 8 different cows pictured. Then instead of a Set of like ranked cows or a Run of several cow cards in numerical order in the same suit, there would simply be "All the same suit" gangs and "All different suit" gangs.

I'll note that if you look at Rank instead of Suit in the current version of the game, a Set gang (all the same Rank) is just like the proposed "All same suit" gang. In the current game there are 5 suits, 7 ranks. So a Set gang would be the same as a "Same Suit gang" if there were 7 suits.

It would be much easier however to get a Run gang (All different suits), because it would not require a specific numerical ordering. Therefore the tipping costs would have to increase for that type of gang.

The purpose here is two-fold: Get rid of the antithematic numbers on the cards, and make more nice pictures of cow characters. As an added bonus, it might be easier to grasp how to make a set for a young player - either all the cards have to match, or none match.

2. Scoring has been touted as too complicated for the game. I'm not sure I agree with that, especially if using the "Draw 2" mechanism rather than the original "refill hand to 7" rule. However, it occurred to me that it might be easier to simply count majorities for each type of vehicle tipped and for each color. there are 10 categories (5 types of vehicle, 5 colors), and for each category there could be a player with the most cards collected. The player with the "most mosts" could be declared the winner.

This could devalue the importance of variable costs and the fact that Busses are harder to tip (cost more) than Motorcycles, making it a race for the Motorcycles for example. Another possibility is that a Motorcycle majority isn't worth anything, Car/Truck majorities are worth 1 point, Tractor majorities worth 2, and Bus majority worth 3... color majorities worth 1 point each. This kind of thing would sort of be a middle point, still some adding of points, but the numbers would be smaller. There could even be 10 scoring cards, 1 picturing each type of vehicle and 1 picturing each color, which he winner of each majority would take, making it really easy to add up their points (VPs could be listed on the card)

Another thing to note is that once you have 3 Trucks, there's less incentive to get a 4th Truck. It's worth something for the color, but since you already have the majority in Trucks then it doesn't help anymore.

In other news:
The turn sequence has thus far always been "Tip, Discard, Draw." This made a lot of sense when the "draw" meant "refill your hand to 7 cards" - if you didn't discard first and didn't tip anything then you would already have 7 cards! When using the "Draw 2" rule it was less important, and players often wanted to draw first, then discard.

I was pretty adamant that Tip/Discard/Draw was the same as Draw/Tip/Discard, just delayed by a turn, but players were still unhappy with the prospect of having to choose a discard then drawing something matching the card just discarded. I pointed out that if you drew at the beginning of your turn, you'd have the same issue drawing a card that worked with the one you discarded at the end of last turn... I was only met with the bad logic "at least you'd have something else to choose from!"

I understood the reason the designer placed the draw at the end of the turn was so that when a player's turn came around, they'd know whether they were going to Tip or not, and they wouldn't have to reconsider based on the new cards they drew. What I didn't consider was reorganizing the turn as "Tip/Draw/Discard" - which still puts the card draw after the Tip, but also allows players to draw new cards before having to discard one.

One major factor which led me to agree that this was in fact better than Tip/Discard/Draw was that sometimes you Tip using all the cards in your hand, and in that case you have no card to discard. So you don't. Then you draw 2 cards... thus gaining Card Advantage (as we used to call it in the old days of Magic). The person doing this is generally someone who has tipped, and probably tipped several times in quick succession since their hand wasn't built back up. Therefore the person is likely winning, and why should they get an advantage of any kind? They shouldn't - this is just what I thought was wrong with the "Refill Hand to 7" rule. So yes, it's true, Tip/Draw/Discard is a better turn order. It also felt a little more like I was building up a set on purpose that way. I'll be using that rule from now on.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Time Travel and Board games

I've discussed before how time travel is hard, and though there have been several attempts at games based on it, the closest I've seen to one that works really well is Khronos. Khronos is a pretty interesting game, but it's really hard and somewhat tedious to see the implications of your actions.

I had never really planned on trying to design a game about time travel, at least not until I got some kind of good idea for it. A recent (February) Game Design Showdown was about going back in time, and that got me thinking about the subject a little bit. What I came up with was a cooperative game (another genre I haven't really worked on much) idea:

Like so many science experiments, this one went horribly wrong. In a bid for the Nobel Prize, a brilliant but eccentric physicist got a bit overzealous with a new discovery, and inadvertently created a tear in the space-time continuum. This tear is unstable, and in time would grow and eventually unravel space-time altogether - and that would be bad for everyone.

It's up to a team of scientists to find a way to fix space-time before the instability grows too much and the world turns inside out. The only problem is, the tear in space-time has begun to cause 'Rewinds' - instances in which time literally rewinds and the scientists are pushed back to a previous point in their endeavor.

Players work together to navigate a tree of decisions, each leading to 1 of 2 paths. At the end of each branch of the tree is a Result card, some with a favorable result - the scientists fix space-time and save the day... and some less favorable - game over! with each turn there's a chance that the instability of space-time triggers a Rewind, pushing players back some number of decision points. The worse the tear gets, the bigger the Rewind. If time rewinds past the beginning of the game, then that's all she wrote!

The main mechanism of this game was to be that players must make choices with little or no information at first, then as they move on more information becomes available. Then when a Rewind occurs, players can use the newer information in order to re-do a prior choice they made. On a players turn they first roll some dice, and then they can do one of several things - each option might be restricted in some way by the die roll. In addition, whenever the roll totals 7 (or perhaps is over some threshold), a Rewind occurs and players are pushed back along the decision tree some number of spaces. An Instability track indicates how far back the Rewind takes the team, and after the Rewind, the Instability increases (the next Rewind will be bigger).

Today I put a little thought into some details - I envision a deck of 'choice cards' which would be shuffled and dealt out in a triangular 'trellis' pattern. The last (8th) row of the trellis would be made up of Result cards - maybe 5 bad ("game over, you lose") and 3 good ("WIN!"). Maybe 1 of the good cards is extra good, so players can try to find that particular result as opposed to just any of the 3 good result cards for a harder game.

Each decision point has 2 possible outcomes, each leading to one of the decision points in the next row. The point of the game is to navigate through these decision points to one of the Result cards in the 8th row - but of course you want it to be one of the winning Result cards.

Possible actions on your turn would include:

- Peek at some of the Result cards - the closer you are to the 8th row the fewer you look at, narrowing it down. After peeking at them you shuffle them and replace them. Thus if you do it in the beginning, you see that indeed 3 of the 8 cards are 'winners' and 5 are not. If you do it from the third row you look at 6 adjacent result cards... and from the 6th row you look at just 3. They have to be the three you could still reach without rewinding - so if they all are losers then you'll want to rewind and try another path.

- Get resources - based on the die roll maybe you collect certain colored cards which will be needed to progress to the next row.

- Advance - pay the listed cost in cards in order to advance to the next Decision Point (next row). Depending on which of the 2 paths you wish to take you might need a different combination of cards to pay.

- Force Rewind - Players can trigger a rewind, backing up time and moving the group to an earlier decision point - but this of course makes the Instability grow - too much and space-time will unravel.

- Repair Instability - There should be some way (at some times) to repair the instability somewhat, moving the track back, effectively lengthening the game - giving players more time to successfully finish before the space-time continuum unravels.
This could be based in part on arriving at certain cards - the end card could repair the Instability a certain number of units, so maybe you actually have to hit more than one of them. And some cards along the way might do that too. This would also add weight to an action that allows players to look at the 2 upcoming Decision Points, to help decide which direction they want to go: "This one has a Repair icon on it, let's collect the stuff we need to go this way!" Maybe some Decision Points are worse and they cause an instability bump when they're revealed. The Peek action mentioned above could also be used in the midgame, not just to look at the Result cards but any upcoming Decision Points. Maybe look at 1 of the possible Decision Point cards and put it back, or all of the possible Decision Points in a column and then shuffle them.

further thoughts on this will be forthcoming... eventually.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cow Tipping Dev't...Nevermind what I said before!

In my last post I postulated about what makes a Rummy Variant vs simply a set building game, and I had some ideas for Cow Tipping along those lines.

Upon further reflection, I think I need to reverse pretty much all my opinions about those ideas to change Cow Tipping. The Thurn & Taxis mechanism is neat, but I think it's too complicated for this particular game. Perhaps I'll be able to use it in some other game in the future.

Also, building sets on the table is probably more trouble than it's worth - with one notable exception which I'll talk about in a minute.

I had a much simpler thought yesterday, and after trying it was pleased to see that it fixed just about everything I saw as a problem with the game. The only change from the original, as written rules is that instead of filling your hand to 7 cards at the end of your turn, you simply draw 2 cards. Those 2 cards can come from any combination of discard piles and the draw deck - except not both from the same discard pile (though maybe that would be OK too). Here's why this seems to work...

One major problem I saw was that when refilling your hand to 7 cards every turn, you really just want to tip whatever you can as soon as you can to churn through cards. The more cards you draw, the more chance you'll make a set and tip again. There's no additional cost to tip a more expensive Bus an to tip a Car... you should just tip the car if you can and see if you draw a set again to tip the bus. If you did, hurray! If not, drat! It's all just luck. If you draw 1 card at a time waiting to get a big enough set to tip the bus, either you'll get super lucky and the cards you need will come up right away, or you'll lose to someone who tips frequently and draws more cards.

Consider the Draw 2 rule instead. Now if you tip with a 3 card gang, it takes you 3 turns to recover your hand size, while if you tip with a 5 card gang, it takes you almost twice as long. This is fair, because you're likely getting a Bus instead of a Car which is worth more! In addition, each of those turns you're drawing cards which you're more likely to want, not just 5 off the top of the deck that are completely random. You can actually work toward building a set.

When playing this way I really felt a sense of accomplishment when I tipped a vehicle. Like I'd built up to something and then was rewarded for my effort. Also, I often had to choose between tipping a cheaper vehicle now, or continuing to build my gang to get a more expensive Tractor or Bus - and this was a realistic choice, meaning I would realistically be able to build up my Gang. Alternatively, I could have 2 sets going on in my hand, and I could tip something small, preserving the other set I was working on.

Tipping a Bus for 6 cards now meant my hand was decimated and it took a while before I could tip again - which is how it should be!

The fact remains that some players have said the scoring is too complicated. I'm not sure how sold I am on that though. Maybe it's fine the way it is. It's possible the numbers are off or something, but that's a different (and fixable) issue.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rummy Variant vs Set Building

I've been calling Cow Tipping, a card game Tasty Minstrel is planning on releasing next year, a Rummy variant. This is mostly because in the game you are putting together a run or a set like you do in Rummy. The rules as written force you to discard a card, and then allow you to draw one from opponent's discard piles or from the top of the deck (which is like Rummy). Before that happens, if you have a sufficient set or run, you can discard it in order to claim a scoring card (which, obviously, will help you score points). Then you refill your hand to 7 cards.

I've decided that I'm not sure when a game is a Rummy variant and when it is simply a set building game. How many aspects must be similar before a game is considered a Rummy variant? There are specific definitions for "Trick taking" and "Climbing" games - is there such a definition for a Rummy game?

I'm considering trying the following changes in order to inject more control and player choice into this particular set building game, because as written I don't think it feels enough like you're building a set:

Set building on the table in front of you.
Rather than building up these sets and runs in your hand and then discarding them to take a scoring card, I think it might be good to construct the sets on the table in front of you. To keep it simple, you are allowed 1 of each type of set (1 Set and 1 Run), and each turn you can add to them until they are sufficient to exchange for a scoring card. If you cannot add to either of them, then you have to discard one and start a new one. This I think will encourage people to be drawing cards when possible that add to their sets, and to start to build sets that they have cards in hand to add to it with. In addition, this will give players (who are interested in watching for it) a reason to discard 1 card over another - THIS card will hep an opponent, THAT card won't, so I'll discard that one! Currently you can't really know whether THIS card or THAT card are safe to discard, so you just pick one.

Card drawing vs Card playing
Instead of filling your hand every turn, I would like to try a mechanism wherin you draw cards. Borrowing from Thurn & Taxis a little bit, I would like to see players having the opportunity to draw more cards and play fewer in one turn, in order to build up their hand, and in another turn have the opportunity to draw fewer cards and play more. I also want to maintain players having to discard a card for other players to use each turn, so the rule I'll try is that you can either Play 3 then Draw 2... or Play 2 then Draw 3. One card must be played to the discard pile each turn. The other card (or cards) must be played to your sets in play. If they do not legally combine with the cards in play to form a set, then you have to discard what you had and start a new set with the card you play.

This brings up a question I hadn't considered. Suppose you have a red 2, 3, 4 in play, and you have a red 6 in hand but no 5. Can you play the red 6, as it's legally part of a set that is simply unfinished yet? I think so, but you wouldn't be able to cash in that set until it is complete. It seems like it would be really tough if you had to lay down the cards for a Run in order, and there's no similar restriction for the Sets.

The point of these changes, as I mentioned, is to make it feel like you are building a set, and to give players some reason to do one thing over another, while still keeping the game fast paced and light.

Scoring in Rummy games is often based on what cards you have left in hand when someone 'goes out' (and in that case scoring is bad). In Wyatt Earp for example, scoring is based more on majority of each color for which you have sets in play, which is very different than the scoring in Gin Rummy for example. In Cow Tipping, scoring is of course based on the scoring cards you collect during the game. It's sort of another set collection mechanism in that you score more for having more of the same color or type of car. It's been mentioned by players that the scoring is too complicated for the game, and I think that's true - you have to do a lot of math to add up the points you get for sets of cars, then do it again for sets of colors, then add the 2 results together for your total score. I'm not sure what better scoring method there could be, but there's got to be something similar that is easier to calculate.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Another month, another post...

I had resolved to post once a month on this thing, but I've clearly been slacking in that regard. So what's new in Seth's gaming life?

Recent Gaming
In the last month or so I played a lot of games, 66 in June, and 19 so far in July. So what have I been playing?

In Seattle I played a lot of Dominion with Jeremy and Aaron. I haven't played in a while, and it's fun - especially against those guys for some reason. I also played 2 games of Lost Cities: the Board Game (which I like better than Keltis for sure, but it's still mostly luck) with them and Amelia and Emily, a game of Citadels, and 2 games of Masters of Venice.

I picked up Masters of Venice knowing very little about it, but I thought Jeremy and Aaron might like it, I wanted to try it, and hey - at least it was only $35! After buying it I read some stuff online, all of which was mediocre and said the game was very fiddly. I'm happy to report that we liked it pretty well, had a good time talking about it and thinking about it after the first game, and for the most part our play improved in the second game. It is a little annoying to have to adjust a price every time a cube comes into the game, but it's actually not that bad - at least all the tracking makes sense with regard to supply and demand.

The game is one in which you can buy and sell shares of stock in companies, as well as bu, sell, or cash in resource cubes in order to make money or fulfill 'orders' - selling and fulfilling orders increases the value of the stock in the associated companies (there's 1 company per type of resource cube). The idea is to make the most money. There seems to be a lot of ways to go about that, so I think the game could be really interesting. I'd have to play it a few more times to know weather or not it has any kind of staying power, but it's certainly worth a few plays at least.

I also played a game or 2 of Race for the Galaxy while in Seattle... for the first time in ages. I don't like that game too much anymore, but it was still fun to play vs Jeremy. Race and Dominion have fallen by the wayside for me because I think Glory to Rome is simply a better game of the same scope. I got Jeremy to play a couple games of it, but he didn't like it too much. that surprised me, because I thought my Magic friends would really like GtR and take to it more easily than they did. Tyler and Mike like it, but they didn't grasp it as easily as I thought they would. Jeremy really didn't seem to like it that much at all - I think he prefers Race and Dominion.

At KublaCon in May I played a game of Small World, the remake of Vinci. I liked Vinci a lot, and played a bunch online a while back on In Seattle I played Small World 4 times... it's good, and fun - I keep going back and forth on weather I like it better than Vinci or not. Some parts yes, some parts no. I think the graphic design is pretty bad, but some of the other changes are good for the game. I don't think it's something i need to run out and buy, and if i were buying, I'd probably rather own Vinci (though I may not believe that as much as I used to).

I played a few other games here and there, but the main thing I've been playing has been unpublished prototypes. As head of development for Tasty Minstrel, as well as a game designer myself, it follows that I would play a lot of prototypes - and if you've ever read my blog before this should be no surprise. This is, after all, a game design blog!

It's been a long time since I have worked on any of my own games. I spent some time in June thinking about two games which I grabbed out of the KublaCon game design contest - one was called Streets of Cairo, which was like a heavy Carcassonne, and the other was called Tomes of Knowledge, which had a really neat theme but was in effect a "Take That!" style card game which I didn't think fit the theme (or at least, didn't fit the theme the way I thought it would and wanted it to). I wrote up a lot of comments on Tomes of Knowledge, more or less completely redesigning it the way I might go about it, and sent those comments off to the designers to use or not use as they see fit. If they update the game and want me to look at it again, I'll be happy to, but until then there's really no reason for me to think about it anymore.

That's especially true since Tasty Minstrel has 2 games "on the list" for next year which I have prototypes of and need to work on...

Cow Tipping is a rummy variant which, currently, has a sort of disconnect between complexity of scoring and complexity of game. It's a very cute them, and the designer has done a beautiful job with the prototype (and would be doing his own art for the game, I believe). I'm also exploring ways to make it feel more like you have the opportunity to build a set - that may or may not pan out.

Belfort is a Worker Placement / Area Control game which is really good and also has a really cute theme. Well, the theme itself isn't anything unusual, but the characters in the game are super-cute :) My main challenge there is to make sure that a certain part of the game (a part that is different every time and therefore makes for a fun, replayable game) works right and is all balanced and everything, and maybe (though it's not clear if it's necessary) to make sure the worker placement portion of the game is strong enough... or at least that the different parts of the game are appropriately involved and interesting, and anything uninteresting gets cut or streamlined out of the way so as not to drag the game length out.

I feel really good about Belfort, as it's the kind of game I like to play, and it's a solid design that is fun and not just like other games out there. I've played it twice since Friday, and I've been giving it a lot of thought and corresponding with the designers. It feels good!

Th art is almost done for Terra Prime, and frankly I can't wait to see it! I want to get some posted on the Tasty Minstrel website as soon as possible. The art for Homesteaders is largely complete, and I think Ariel did a fantastic job with it. After the TP art is done, there's not much to do except sit and wait for the manufacturers to do their thing... I'm getting a little antsy!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

KublaCon recap

A couple weeks ago I went to KublaCon, and before I went I posted a To-Do list. Here's how that went, followed by a recap of the convention:

- Blind test Homesteaders

I did not get a blind test of Homesteaders in.

- Blind test Terra Prime

I did find someone to blind test Terra Prime, and I got a couple of good comments on a couple of things that could be clearer in the rulebook.

- Play and discuss Hammer and Spike with Rick Holzgrafe

I did play Hammer and Spike with Rick, as well as with JC Lawrence. Game went pretty well- except that I made the same mistake I did last time and left myself broke one turn and so needed to take a loan... in the end I lost by about 5 or 6 points if I recall, so the loan by itself didn't cost me the game - I made several other mistakes which contributed...

- Play Winds of Fate with someone

I did not play Winds of Fate at all. Nor did I even discuss it with anyone :(

- Play Corner Lot with JC Lawrence

I did play Corner Lot, and liked it more than I thought I would

- Play Ohana Proa if possible

I did not play Ohana Proa :(

- Play Kaivai and/or Logistico - some games I've been wanting to try for a long time.

I did not see, let alone play, either Kaivai nor Logistico. One of these days I'll get around to it - maybe at BGG.con this year.

I guess you could say that overall I failed pretty badly at my To-Do list, however I had a great time at the convention anyway. I played a lot of games, hung out with some cool and interesting people, and I even learned something about the area...

The first day of the co, Andrew (from L.A.), Alex (from San Diego) and I went walking in search of a place to eat. Alex plays frisbee, and I mentioned that it would be cool if there were a park around in which we could throw a disc (I happened to have one with me). He said he didn't think there was, and I hadn't seen one either. Fast forward to the end of the convention, at the airport they needed someone to volunteer to bump to the next morning's flight, and in exchange for my volunteering they gave me $600 in flight vouchers, as well as a night in a hotel and dinner at the hotel as well. It turns out the hotel they put me up in was about 1/2 a mile down the road from the convention hotel, and right next to it was a nice, green soccer field! Good to know... maybe next year I'll try to organize a small outing to throw a disc around! Also, that hotel, while not as nice and fancy as the Hyatt Regency, had free WiFi in the rooms!

Unfortunately I had dropped the ball on the game design contest - I forgot to enter anything. And sadly, this would have been my last year to do so, as by this time next year I'll be a published designer and no longer eligible for the contest. I went to the presentation anyway, as JC's game Corner Lot was in the contest, and in general I wanted to see what was there. I saw 2 games that looked kinda interesting, and I asked the designers to send me a copy to be considered by Tasty Minstrel Games. Both of them simply handed me the copy they'd just gotten back from the contest, and I brought them home with me! It was fun to get new prototypes to try out, but these 2 games were not finished to the point where I'd vouch for them. I gave some comments to the designers, and told them if they end up improving the games that we'd look at them again.

I wanted to write a full report of my goings on at KublaCon, and I started to do so, but got sidetracked... it's now been a month, so I'd better at least post this, I don't know if I'll ever get a chance to finish my report!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

KublaCon! To-Do list

It's about time for KublaCon, I leave Friday morning bright and early. It occurs to me that I completely forgot about the KublaContest - I had planned to submit Winds of Fate this year, but I guess I just plumb forgot! :(

I think it's time to revisit that game, hopefully I'll be able to bring a version of it to KublaCon and get it played by some people.

In addition I'd really like to get some blind tests of Terra Prime and Homesteaders in at KublaCon in order to see what needs work in the rules.

So here's my To-Do list for KublaCon:
- Blind test Homesteaders
- Blind test Terra Prime
- Play and discuss Hammer and Spike with Rick Holzgrafe
- Play Winds of Fate with someone
- Play Corner Lot with JC Lawrence
- Play Ohana Proa if possible
- Play Kaivai and/or Logistico - some games I've been wanting to try for a long time.