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.