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.