Thursday, April 30, 2009

Terra Prime publication

As I've mentioned, Terra Prime is being published by Tasty Minstrel Games. Art is being done by Josh Cappel, who's work on Wasabi, Gheos, and Pandemic has proven to be amazing. I've seen some samples and so far the style looks pretty slick. A little more cartoony than I had originally imagined, but as long as it's consistent I think it will look great!

Since my last post I've finalized some rules...

* As discussed, asteroid fields and stray asteroids hit on 3+ now. I ended up making the Astromech Navigational Computer (which will probably just be called "NavComp" or something I can't be sued for) upgrade after all. It only costs Blue + Green, which means you can buy it without having to get a Cargo Hold or do any exploring first - which is good because it helps in exploring. I also attached a few points to it to make sure it's worth getting rather than delivering goods early in the game. The result is that if you can complete a tile and you want the bonus from the tile then you might want to deliver. If you're not going to complete the tile you might rather grab an Astromech which could help later, gets you your points (though less flexible than if you'd delivered and gotten money), and it doesn't help the delivery guy finish the tiles. Also, to make sure it wasn't useless I made the effect be that with the Astromech you only get hit on a roll of 6 for asteroids.

* I tried the 'red planets can teleport you home' rule and I like it. That is now the official rule.Red planets don't produce a resource, so instead of gathering a resource there, you can teleport home (giving an opponent a Leadership Point if you use their colony, of course). This makes the prospect of trips to the far reaches of space a little less bleak because you can get back in a hurry.

* I'm sticking to 2vp per alien - with the caveat that, if it can be described simply enough, I might make Warships worth 3vp. "What the hell is a Warship!?!" you ask? Well, to better describe the extra damage done by double and triple aliens, I've decided to have 2 types of symbols: Scouts and Warships. The Scouts will look less menacing than the Warships. A single alien is really just a Scout. A double alien is 1 Scout and 1 Warship. And a triple symbol will be 1 Scout and 2 Warships. Simply put, all alien ships roll 1 die to attack, and Warships do 1 additional damage. And as I said, Warships might be worth 1 more vp. However if it's not easy enough to describe, I'm OK with all the aliens just being worth 2vp. I'm also considering awarding the same VP for Diplomacy (which is currently 0vp) now that I've made it more expensive. That way it's consistent, and I'll note that it's still a relatively bad deal compared to delivering. Then again, maybe I'll leave it as is... Diplomacy was intended to be a sort of backup plan anyway. It's a way to clear out aliens so you can colonize, even if you're not really prepared to fight aliens. Only awarding points for killing aliens rewards the investment in weapons, and I've always liked that.

* I did decide to turn discarding a Colony marker into a free action, but ne that can only be done at a Colony (and thereby using the colony - the owner gets VP).

* I decided the game is better without players starting with Energy on their built-in shield. They can always charge it up, or buy a shield and charge, before heading out into the unknown.

* As for starting player advantage or disadvantage... a lot of people comment that the early players have an advantage because they get to colonize the closest planets to Terra Prime. It's pretty even for the first 3 players, but players 4 and 5 need to make alternate plans. In a way I like that dynamic, and by definition their first colonies are worth more points because they're farther away from Terra Prime. I used to start players with different amounts of points to begin, but I found something I like better... players 1, 2, and 3 start with 20 credits like always, but player 4 and 5 (in a 4 or 5 player game of course) start with an additional 10 credits. This will help them buy both a gun and a shield if they want, in case they need to clear out an alien before planting their first colony - for example. All players will start with 3vp, so that if they risk an asteroid without shields in the very beginning they actually have something to lose. It's small, but I like the dynamic - in particular for a player who wants to colonize an Asteroid Field directly next to Terra Prime on the first turn (such a colony can be very lucrative).

* I like the change in colony scoring - that you get points for asteroid fields rather than additional planets. There's interesting tile laying now regarding whether or not to group planets to create or destroy further colony locations, and if you want to boost the score of your colony then you risk damage. That often just means having to refill shields, which takes 10 credits (=1vp) and an action - but that's a cost all the same.

* I have been allowing 2 tiles to be examined using the long range scanner, and it seems fine.

* For Reward tiles I went with color specific cargo holds, Green and Blue in the first phase, yellow in the 2nd. All of these flip to a regular 2 cube hold if you get the Cargo Capacity upgrade. I also retooled some of the later ones to give a cube and some energy. Some players didn't like not being able to use the cubes that popped up, but most of the time you can use Energy.

* I figured out an ingenious method of organizing bits... currently in my prototype I have glass beads for colony markers, and you place them on the planet that defines the colony - thereby covering the only important piece of information on the board. Instead of that, I want to use pac-man shaped tiles as colony markers, each circular tile the size of a sector with 1/3 cut out. Thus, you place this on the board covering ALL BUT the important information. It cuts down on clutter, and keeps from obscuring the only important info a colony provides. The only problem with this idea is that the tiles are too big to fit in the cargo holds on the ship board. But lo, Josh came up with a solution for that! A supply of generic pac-man shaped tiles onto which you place a colony marker! When he asked me how many would be needed, I had another stroke of genius... you only need as many colony markers (also used to cover aliens) as there are Reward tiles, as when those run out the game is over. Therefore, the reward tiles themselves could be pac-man shaped, with the reward on one side, and a starscape on the back to cover stuff on the board!
... I'm so proud of myself :)

Sadly, the publisher is balking a bit at having a special piece for the colony markers - they might have to be rectangular tiles - which wouldn't be the end of the world... but little double-dome shapes with a tub-like hallway in between them would be pretty cool. Or a Cylinder split down the center perhaps. I guess we'll see what happens there.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tasty Minstrel Games: GAMA trade show

The trade show last weekend was very interesting! I had no idea what to expect, so when halfway through the first exhibition day someone apologized for it being so slow, I was a little surprised. I guess there's usually a lot more traffic. But hey, it's a recession - maybe a little silver lining is that in a recession while most things are going down, board games can actually thrive. The big example being Monopoly becoming a huge success during the Great Depression. Board games are cheap entertainment compared to something like a movie.

If the first day of the show was slow, then the second day was flat out dead. Many people were only there the first day. But nonetheless, Michael, Erin and I exchanged a lot of business cards, met a lot of people, and made a lot of contacts with various retailers, manufacturers, and distributors. Many people seemed to like our name, "Tasty Minstrel." :)

All through the show I was amused by the catch-22 wherein retailers would stop by our booth, listen to my spiel about the games, and say "yeah, we could sell that in our store... but they don't buy from the publisher, they go through their distributor. Then distributors would come and say 'yeah, we could bu that, but we don't know if it'll sell.' So how do you bridge the gap? I guess that's the question!

I met a number of people at the show, including a couple of game designers. I invited them to join the Board Game Designers Forum. I also met Mike Compton, who's postings and blog I have read online - he runs a store in Utah, and heads up a design group up there.

The strangest thing for me was meeting with Mike Nickoloff, who's company Sorvent aims to connect designers with appropriate publishers. He met with us to pitch some games... to pitch me games, not the other way around.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tasty Minstrel Games

In about 8 hours I'm heading up to Las Vegas with my friend Michael and his wife Erin to attend the GAMA trade show. I've never been to such a show, and I understand it's different from the game conventions I go to - it's not about consumers playing games, it's an industry show where publishers sell themselves and their products to retailers or distributors, or something like that.

Michael and Erin have started Tasty Minstrel Games in order to publish board games, and I'm trying to support them as best I can. They are launching with 2 games, my Terra Prime, and Alex's Homesteaders which I helped develop. If things go well, the plan is for me to be the in-house developer for TMG, which is the kind of thing I've been wanting to do for several years now.

I'm looking forward to finding promising games and helping develop them if need be for publication. I've got a few in mind already by some of my colleagues at the Board Game Designers Forum.

In the next couple of days Tasty Minstrel will ave a website with some information about Michael, Erin, and myself, as well as descriptions of Terra Prime and Homesteaders, and a blog for and about Tasty Minstrel and its games. For example, I'll be posting a design summary for Terra Prime - probably nothing you don't already know if you follow this blog religiously, but it'll be a nice, compact summary of all the major milestones in the game's development over the last 4 years or so. I've asked Alex to write something similar for Homesteaders, as it had gone through a lot before I ever saw it. I like reading these sorts of development blogs, so maybe they'll be interesting to other people as well, and will make for good starting content for the website.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Terra Prime - final touches continue

I played 3 games of Terra Prime yesterday (and watched another - all 4 player), and 6 more today (five 3p and one 4p). I tested all the rules I posted about before, as well as some adjustments to them. I tweaked some of the tiles here and there as well. Here are some thoughts on how it's going (which, to sum up, is very well!)

Comments from previous post:

  • Instead of 1 cube per alien symbol, it costs 1 cube plus 1 per symbol.

  • This seemed fine. It's pretty tough to 'buy off' a triple alien this way, but it was tough before, and that's kinda the point. If you're being diplomatic, it's probably to get rid of a single or MAYBE a double alien.

  • As an action at a colony, a colony marker can be removed from your ship and returned to the supply. An opponent gets a point if you use their colony this way.

  • This still seems harsh, considering that if you're doing it, you're already screwed up. I'm thinking of making it a free action, but one that can only be done at a colony (and the player with the colony still gets a point for you using their colony this way)

  • Colonies on Red planets are called Bases, and work exactly like Terra Prime.

  • This turned out to be too degenerate, bu it's too bad because I liked the idea behind it. I changed it to Red planets providing Shields, which was OK, but still lacked something. Then Mandy suggested the Red colony have the ability to teleport your ship back to Terra Prime. I'd danced around that idea myself but never really thought about actually allowing your ship to teleport across the board. It might be a great compromise! Next I'll try Red colonies providing shields and teleporting players home (as an action, of course).

  • Command Ships have a built in shield (1 Energy). Asteroids and Asteroid fields in uncolonized sectors inflict 1 damage per symbol.

  • I like the built in shield, though I'm back and forth as to whether it should start with energy or not. I am currently of the idea that automatic damage for Asteroids isn't as fun as rolling dice and the potential to save a damage here or there, so I've been playing that a 3+ hits for asteroids. This is different that the 4+ for aliens, which is a little annoying but might be ok. It lends itself to a possible new Ship Upgrade: Navigation Computer (or "Astromech") which would make it 5+ instead (they help you plot a course so as not get hit by asteroids as much). This upgrade would help people who want to Explore/Colonize, so it should probably cost Yellow + Blue (or green) + Brown, and be worth a few points (maybe 3). It might combo well with a Cloaking device for someone who wants to sweep the Red Zone for exploration points and plant a colony out there as their endgame.

  • Asteroid Fields add 1 Leadership Point per symbol to the value of a colony.

  • I like this. I've tried to uninflate the VPs for aliens and colonies, so instead of scoring for all of the stuff in your colony, you score for the planet you colonize plus any Asteroids (since you had to withstand them to get there) plus of course the distance from Terra Prime. Thematically it makes more sense that planets would increase the value of a colony and asteroid fields would reduce it, but I can't worry about that right now!

    And further thoughts:
    - I mentioned the Nav Computer above. Not sure if I feel like adding an upgrade, especially since it changes the components. Strictly speaking it's not necessary so it might not make the cut.

    - I might change the Long Range Scan action to look at two tiles rather than just 1. People are hesitant to use the action because they feel they're wasting their time. Maybe looking at 2 tiles would help more. Also, I've upped the usefulness of Red planets, and also made them a little more scarce (made Yellow a little more scarce as well), so maybe it's more worth peeking at tiles to plan your future turns.

    - Early (phase 1) Reward tiles (game end timer) were a little too strong. Especially Cargo Holds. I have some ideas to fix this, one is to just give out weapons or half-full shields on the Phase 1 tiles. But first I'll try a color specific cargo hold - one for Green and one for Blue in phase 1, and the Phase 2 one will be a Yellow specific hold. This one is a little more awkward with regard to components (there has to be 3 special cargo holds that are different from the rest), but I think it might be worth checking out. As for player differentiation, the cubes you can carry have a big effect on which upgrades you can buy, and therefore which strategy you pursue.

    - I went back down to 2vp per explore, and changed Alien scoring to 2vp per symbol. I was annoyed that the player killing the aliens for points was the same one colonizing the planet they were guarding - it seemed too swingy. I think it's fair with a lower value for Aliens, though I might bump it back up to 3vp/symbol. I do think it's better than you get the VP per symbol though, so if you don't finish them off you still get your partial credit. I was thinking about a bonus for finishing them off, but that's what the reward tile is for. It may prove disappointing that sometimes you cannot hold the reward though - that bothered me at first, but now I think it's a neat variable extra VP for killing aliens or colonizing.

    - I might think about making the rewards an opportunity, or indicating a different reward for if you killed an alien or if you colonized to get it. this might be too much work to worry about.

    That's about it for now. I'm sure I'll test it some more this weekend with these new tweaks. I also tweaked some of the tiles for planet, asteroid, and alien distribution, so I'll see if I like that any better than what I had.

    Thursday, April 02, 2009

    Terra Prime: Finishing touches

    I don't think it's time to break the full news story just yet, but information will be forthcoming... in the meantime I'll note that Terra Prime is indeed being published!

    Aside: I'm really excited to have a game published... it's been a goal for some time now. I'm not sure why it's such a big deal for me - maybe it's pride in seeing my name on a box in the store, or affirmation that I've done something that somebody else feels is good enough to publish, or the potential satisfaction of bringing other people joy by creating a fun and interesting game. I'm sure it's some of each of those.

    As such, I am in the process of putting on the finishing touches, tightening up the loose ends, and deciding once and for all exactly how I want each of the parts of the game to work. People are coming over tonight and tomorrow to play the game with me, and I hope to try a couple different versions of a couple of different aspects in order to choose what I think is the best. Here are some of the things I'm going to try out to see if I like them better than the current rule:

    1. Since players now receive a reward for building a colony and for removing hostile aliens (a reward tile from the Game Timer supply) - usually cubes - I want to increase the number of cubes needed to diplomatically defeat the aliens. Thematically it's a trade now, rather than a payoff, since you get cubes back.

  • Instead of 1 cube per alien symbol, it costs 1 cube plus 1 per symbol

    If I don't like that, then I will keep it 1 cube per symbol, but maybe disallow Brownium - but I think this rule will work fine.

  • 2. There's been a sentiment that you should be able to discard a colony marker from the ship in case you find yourself lugging one around with no place to put it. This can happen, especially to a new player who is late in the turn order. The thing to do is either to find an Asteroid field or something to drop it off, or else fly back to Terra Prime and unload the marker. The problem is that you probably can't carry goods if you do that, which means you just wasted a lot of time picking up a colony marker, flying around with it, then flying it back home. The current rule is that you can jettison resource cubes whenever you want to, but you cannot jettison colony markers - those are people, you can't just dump them in space to die!

    On one hand it's intended that you should not pick up a colony marker unless you know what you're going to do with it, and so if you end up getting screwed that's kinda too bad and it should be a harsh punishment. On the other hand, the punishment for accidentally picking up a marker when you shouldn't have is very harsh if you have to do nothing for a couple of turns to correct it. One possible solution is to mirror the resource rule and allow the colony marker to be discarded at any time. Thematically it can be programmed to fly home on it's own or something. But as I said, it's supposed to be harsher than that, so maybe it takes an action (you have to prepare the marker for travel and program the autopilot). Maybe you lose leadership for it. Or maybe you can do it as an action at any colony, and if it's an opponent's colony, they get a point (like any time you use an opponent's colony).

  • As an action at a colony, a colony marker can be removed from your ship and returned to the supply. An opponent gets a point if you use their colony this way.

  • 3. Red colonies have evolved over the course of the game. Originally they were just like Yellow, Green, or Blue colonies - they made Red resources, and you could buy Modules at them. But based on the game's geography and development pattern, it wasn't useful to have red colonies sell things, and there wasn't time in the game to really benefit from delivering red resources, so instead red planets became like Big Buildings in Puerto Rico - they just added extra points to a colony. As a result, it's good to have a red planet in your colony, but there's no benefit to colonizing ON the red planet itself. Thematically that was OK because Red planets represent planets with civilized alien culture, and they don't allow you to rape their planet for resources - but you get a lot of leadership for making friends with them.

    There's been a sentiment among some players that it sucks to have to go all the way back to Terra Prime to rebuild your shields if you get beat up by asteroids and aliens while exploring. To me that was the point, you make trips to and from the base, and if you pimp your ship out right, you can make more efficient trips - and at the end of the game you build up for a big trip in which you either come back with a big load of goods to deliver, or you don't come back because you're endgame is fighting big, tough aliens or else dropping off high scoring colonies. It's been suggested that Red colonies allow you to buy shields, or that any colony allow it so that you don't have to go all the way back to Terra Prime. Last weekend Jeremy suggested that Red colonies act exactly like Terra Prime. Thematically, you make nice with the alien civilization that lives there and they let you build a base. They have the technology needed to teleport your goods back to Terra Prime and to build a satellite scanner, bu upgrades, buy and charge shields... and maybe you can even pick up colony markers (maybe they're Alien colonists) there. Honestly I'm a little skeptical about picking up colonists, but the rest sounds like it would be fair, it would give you a reason to colonize on Red, and like any other colony - if someone else delivers to your base, you get a point.

  • Colonies on Red planets are called Bases, and work exactly like Terra Prime.

    I worry a little about someone colonizing Red, picking up a colony marker, then colonizing red again right next door, etc. Jeremy suggested that that would be really hard, and in the end comparable to fighting alien after alien. I will try it with the red colonies being just like Terra Prime and I'll try to break it by going for such a colonization strategy and see if it works. If I don't like the game that way, maybe Red colonies could be mini Terra Primes, where you can buy and charge shields, scan, and maybe deliver resources - perhaps for just 1vp apiece, or perhaps there could be a Red pile of demand cards again, which indicates what the Aliens want.

  • 4. Asteroid damage is only maybe, and it's a 50-50 chance per asteroid. I wonder if that's not scary enough. This morning I thought maybe the Asteroids should ALWAYS damage your ship, making stray asteroids that much more dangerous, and making the Asteroid Fields have a bigger impact on the route planning in the game. If this resulted in having to really plan better routes and more interesting tile placement, then that's great. If instead it just makes people feel like they have to buy shields on turn 1, then that's less good. In concert with this I was thinking that the command ships should start with a wimpy built in shield that holds 1 energy cube. That way people can still go exploring and don't have to fear the single asteroid fields in the green zone (though really, you never HAVE to fly through an asteroid field).

  • Command Ships have a built in shield (1 Energy). Asteroids and Asteroid fields in uncolonized sectors inflict 1 damage per symbol.

    Another thought is that instead of automatically damaging your ship, the asteroids just hit more often - a 3+ instead of a 4+ on the die for example. That would make them scarier, but could still result in people lucking out because they didn't get hit- a sentiment that some players complain about.

  • 5. If making the Asteroid Fields more harsh, I wonder if I shouldn't also make them score some points - 1vp per symbol would be fair I think.

  • Asteroid Fields add 1 Leadership Point per symbol to the value of a colony.