Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Blast from the past - Starry Night

Poking through the archives of the old Board Game Designers Forum, I came across some old gems, some of which I had no recollection of! For example, here's my entry to the March 2008 Game Design Showdown, which seems like it could be pretty easy to make:

Entry #14 - Starry Night
by sedjtroll

2-8 players
30 minutes
Ages 6 and up

Starry Night is a game of finding constellations in the night sky. It is played with a deck of Constellation cards, and 36 custom 6-sided Skyscape dice.

The dice, when rolled and then grouped into a 6x6 grid, show a starry skyscape in which constellations can be found. When all players are ready, the first Constellation card is flipped and all players try to find the constellation in the skyscape grid. Upon finding the correct pattern of stars, a player calls "Eureka!" and then points out the constellation to the other players. If correct, that player wins the Constellation card and the next one is revealed. When all Constellation cards have been exhausted, the player who has found the most constellations is the winner!

There may be a constellation which does not appear in the skyscape grid. If all players agree that the constellation cannot be found, set it aside and move to the next card - nobody scores for set aside constellations. Not even if the skipped constellations are found later.

For more fun, re-roll the Skyscape dice, shuffle the Constellation cards, and begin again!

I think custom dice would be the way to go here. Imagine the die faces divided into quarters, where each quarter could either have a dot (a star) in it or not. A die would probably have 2 faces with 1 star, 2 faces with 2 stars, and 1 face each with 3 and 4 stars... something similar to that for distribution. Rolling these dice and grouping them into a 4x4 or 6x6 square will create an 8x8 or 12x12 grid of space where each square either does or does not have a star.

Goal cards with 'constellations' pictured would be turned up, and that pattern of stars is what you're looking for. I don't think the blank spaces in the constellation would have to be blank in the "sky" as well or it may be too hard to find them. As long as there are dots (stars) in the right places, that's good enough to count.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Homesteaders - 8th place Meeple's Choice Awards!

It looks like the votes are in, and the Spielfrieks user group has chosen the recipients of their Meeple's Choice Awards. Congratulations to Smallworld, Hansa Teutonica, and Endeavor for topping the list!

Also of note, Homesteaders finished 8th of 25, which is a pretty good showing for a first time designer and a first time publisher! I knew that game would be a hit when I carried it around from convention to convention, and it's nice to see good reviews and accolades to remind me that we made the right choice making Homesteaders one of Tasty Minstrel's launch titles. :)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Alter Ego - contd. (brainstorming)

A couple specifics...

* I liked the idea of "draw 1 card per Job bond token" - only if we're talking about Henchmen cards it would have to be "1 additional card - or else losing your job means you can't play anymore.

* Another aspect of Heroic Deeds that I liked was that there were 5 sections of the city, and when successfully fighting crime in one of them you area allowed to leave a card there - the cards in that game amount to event cards, and when attempting a crime you draw 1 at random as well as any that are face down at that location. To borrow and refine that mechanism, there could be crime cards associated with each section of the city (pre-dealt, face up probably) indicating what crimes are currently underway. This would allow a player to choose which crime to fight (a) based on their skills and (b) based on which color crime card they want to collect (which will apply toward their nemesis). Sadly, this tanks the idea in the previous bullet point.

* There could be an element of card play, which would allow for one of the Alter Ego abilities to be "you can hold 1 card per bond token" - meaning you'll have an easier time with the cardplay portion of the game if you don't neglect that aspect of your Alter Ego. The Job AE aspect listed above could also apply to the drawing of those cards, but it might be cooler if the AE effects aren't so tightly related.

* I liked how the Event cards were supposed to work in Heroic Deeds, but the cards themselves prompted many timing questions and were in some cases difficult to apply. If the events were more straightforward, or broken up between 'Events That Occur' and 'Cards That You Play' then it might work better. I love multi-use cards, so maybe each card could have an EVENT effect (if drawn as an Event when attempting to fight crime) and an ACTION effect (when used in resolution of a fight).

A neat aspect from Heroic Deeds was the ability to leave event cards at different locations which would apply the next time someone visited that location. Some of the cards had positive effects and some had negative effects, so if you visited a location with a face down card you might be walking into a trap! Alternatively, you could leave a positive card there for yourself when you return. I'm not sure exactly how well I like that mechanism (bluffing as to what you left), but if the events were all generally negative but situational, then you could leave a 'trap' which you know you can handle but other players may not. I'm not sure this is necessary in the game, but it's a neat idea and I didn't want to forget about the possibility.

* Player interaction is always a sticking point in design. You don't want games to be solitaire exercises, so there has to be some kind of competition between players. In this case, so far, the only competition would be for a particular Arch Villain / Nemesis card (while there may be multiple copies of each Henchman card, there would of course be only one copy of each Arch Villain), and if the Henchman/crimes are face up then there could be competition for those as well. In order to foster this interaction, perhaps a 'wounded' Henchman (one who has had some successes against it but is not yet defeated) is somehow weaker - -1 to the target number for success, or 1 fewer success needed to defeat them. So if you fight a Henchman in Hell's Kitchen bot don't defeat him, I can either go after one in Metropolis, or I can go after the same one you went after, which would be a little easier for me to defeat. Expanding on that, perhaps a simple board would be in order such that if you are all the way across town from me then I cannot reach your henchman card in 1 turn (unless of course my superpower is that I can fly!)

In Heroic Deeds you are racing to successfully solve a certain number of crimes in each of 5 areas. Although it's not so much a race in each area as it is a race to be the first to solve enough crimes in 4 different areas. Perhaps a sub-goal could be added which really does make it a race to defeat a certain number of henchmen in each location...

Say there are 4 cities with 3 locations in each. Like in Winds of Plunder, you note a success in an area of a city by placing your player token (with your insignia, of course) there. The first player to place a token in each area of a city is awarded the Key to the City, which could confer some game benefit.

Thinking more along those lines, lets continue to consider 3 areas per city (A, B, and C) and let's also say that there is a different crime deck for each type of area - Thugs and Goons beat up or murder people in the Slums (area type A), Cat burglars rob rich people in the Suburbs (Type B), and Masterminds plan major heists Downtown (Type C) for example. Defeating crimes in areas A, B, and C of 1 city (before anyone else) earns you the key tot hat city, which would be desirable. But maybe defeating 3 crimes of type A earns you the right to take on the Arch Villain of type A (the guy bossing all the goons and thugs around), which ultimately is how you win the game.

Just wanted to get some of these brainstorms down before I forgot about them. I'll have to go through and cut out the chaff because I don't want to over complicate the game!

Alter Ego

As I mentioned (briefly), I came home from KublaCon 2010 with a prototype of a Superhero card game called Heroic Deeds. It had been entered in the game design contest, and the judges seemed to think that the story of the game was good, but the game play lacked in that it forced players to role play. Having now played the game I can say that it plays about like I expected it to - a "Take That!" card game which is really random and not very deep. The designers seemed to acknowledge this by adding rules to the game requiring players to "tell a story" about how they used their powers to fight each individual crimes - crimes which amount to a simple opposed die roll, with a potential +1 modifier here or there. The game can be played without that rule, and my friends and I agree with the contest judges that it's a silly rule... but either way the actual game play is simplistic and shallow, the fun is in the card art, theme, and "storytelling."

If you've read my blog at all, you know that this is not my type of game at all. I much prefer a game with more game to it. Like Munchkin, you apparently are supposed to play Heroic Deeds for the amusement of the cards, which wears off quickly. The game itself isn't as interesting as Munchkin. But I have to say that the theme and the idea behind Heroic Deeds is truly inspired! The concept is that as you spend time fighting crime, your friends and family start to wonder where you keep running off to, so every so often you have to take a break from crime fighting and manage your alter ego's personal life. It's such a great idea, I've been thinking of how I'd go about making a game where players are Batman-like super heroes who must worry about their alter ego's home life while fighting crime. Here's what I've come up with so far:

First of all, while comedy is great, I would probably go with a darker, more serious graphic novel style of theme rather than a parody, "comic" book theme. The game would concentrate on managing your Alter Ego, but of course to win a player will have to fight some crime and in the end defeat their Nemesis.

Let's say that each player has a player mat depicting 4 slots: a Hero slot and 3 Alter Ego slots (Family, Friends, and Job). To start the game, players have 3 tokens in each Alter Ego slot and maybe 1 token in their Hero slot. The tokens represent the strength of that player's bonds with each part of their life. At the outset, the player has strong ties (3 tokens) to his Friends, Family, and Job, but a weak tie to their inner Hero. Over the course of the game, players will need to strengthen their Hero bond by moving tokens from their Alter Ego slots to their Hero slot.

Alter Ego
Alter Ego slots could confer bonuses - ideally a specific type of bonus for each type of slot. As bonds to Alter Ego slots become weaker, the bonus conferred by that slot gets weaker as well. If a player neglects their Job, they no longer have full access to whatever benefits it confers, and if they neglect it too much (no tokens left) then they will be fired (or quit) and have no access to that benefit whatsoever. Thereby player differentiation and strategic paths can be built by which tokens a player chooses to move to his hero slot. Will you be the hero who neglects his friends and family, spending all your time buried in work or fighting crime? Or will you instead be fired for shirking work to hang out with your girlfriend when you're not keeping the city safe?

I am not sure what abilities or benefits the Alter Ego slots could confer. One idea for the "Friend" slot is that if you get down to 1 token left, the effect is that your best friend figures out your secret, and becomes your sidekick - giving you some bonus in fighting crime (re-rolls, modifier, whatever) but becoming a pretty big liability in that you must protect him. It be a viable strategy to purposely 'neglect' your Friends in order to 'recruit' this Sidekick (but in that case the liability should be significant).

Players will constantly be faced with crime cards depicting havoc being wrought on the city by Henchmen. In the beginning these Henchmen are weak, but as the game progresses they get stronger and stronger, requiring that players get tougher and tougher (more devoted) as Heroes. I haven't thought too much about the mechanism for this, but one idea is that you'd roll 1 die for each token in your hero slot, and the Henchman card would indicate some target number of successes required (and possibly define "success" for that encounter). This would make it easy to scale up and maybe balance the power level of the Henchmen as well as keep the outcome of an encounter somewhat uncertain. I think that uncertainty will be an important factor that will encourage players to strengthen their Hero bond to try and ensure victory (if you roll enough dice, then failure is a mathematical improbability). I could even use the combat system from Terra Prime, where the more dice you roll, the more likely any given die will produce a Success.

Successes could be recorded by placing tokens on the Henchmen card, such that it could take more than 1 turn to defeat them... for example, if a Henchmen requires 4 successes, and whatever the mechanism you achieve only 2 successes in a turn, you would have to achieve 2 more successes in a later turn to defeat the Henchmen. It's possible the Henchmen could shed a token between turns as well, to give the feel that they are really tough to beat. Failure to defeat a Henchman (either at all, or each turn) could result in some misfortune such as the removal of a hero bond token, or perhaps a specific bond token as noted on the Henchman card (the Green Goblin goes after Aunt May).

Arch-Villain / Nemesis
I'm currently thinking that there would be a Big Boss at the end of the game. I envision a deck of Arch Villain cards, which would probably be bigger, tougher versions of Henchmen. Defeating an Arch-villain (or a certain number of Arch-villains) could be the goal of the game - or perhaps a certain number of Arch-villains leads to a Nemesis, which is the final Boss and ultimate goal of the game. It could be that the Arch-Villains simply come out after some number of Henchmen, or after players have "strong" enough hero bonds, but I have an idea I think is pretty neat to govern this...

Let's say that each Henchman card is a particular color, and that the Arch-Villain cards have a variety of "costs" on them, represented by some combination of maybe 5 colors. When defeating a Henchman, you collect the Henchman card, and as soon as you have the 'cost' of an Arch-villain represented in your collected Henchmen cards then you take that Arch-villain card and that becomes your Nemesis. If each Arch-villain is unique and has interesting/different weaknesses, then you could target one by choosing which Henchmen to go after (assuming there's some method by which to go after particular Henchmen). Perhaps one of your Alter Ego benefits would relate to that - "your Job as a reporter keeps you apprised to what's going on in the city - when fighting crime draw 1 Henchman per Job bond token and choose 1 to encounter."

That's all I've got so far.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

KublaCon 2009 con report - better late than never!

I never did get around to posting last year's KublaCon report, and I think that's because I never got around to finishing it up! Here's what I have, which is not complete, but is quite a bit. I'm posting this for my own convenience as much as for your benefit, but maybe you'll find it entertaining.

Friday 5/22
Got up super early to catch a 7am flight - arrived 9am at the Hyatt Regency Burlingame. It always amused me that the game convention was in a place called BurlinGAME (I'm easily amused). I met up with Andrew Schoonmaker with whom I was sharing a room, and we went downstairs to get some breakfast. The prices for everything in that hotel are horrendous. I chose to get the "breakfast special:" ham, egg, and Cheese on an English muffin for $4. First food-related mistake of the day! The thing was so small that it made me MORE hungry - that's the opposite of food! Also, they nuked the hell out of it in the microwave, so it was very, very hot. The cheese, if was ever in solid form, had been reduced to a sort of grease.

They hadn't opened registration yet, and Andrew and I wanted to do something, so we started the convention with a game of Fermat. Glancing at Andrew's tallish stack of tiles and then to my haphazard pile I thought the game was really close. In reality I had quite a few more tiles than he did, but the disarray made the pile look shorter I guess. The game was weird, with all the large numbers next to EXP and multiplication symbols - it was kinda hard to make a lot of numbers (I think we skipped a few)

Wizard's Tower
After that we played a game of Wizard's Tower - something I don't think I've played in the last 6 months (BGG.con) or maybe 12 (Kubla last year)! I was in good shape with respect to endgame bonuses, and I had a Yellow tower in the central region. When I destroyed one of Andrew's towers I thought I'd clinched victory - but I could not complete any further towers in the next few turns to end the game. Andrew ended up with a massive clump of towers in the center region including 3 of his own and 3 neutrals. All told that's 33 points (one of the towers was on Red)! Andrew pulled out the win, but it was pretty close. At least I avoided a blowout!

Alex Eaton-Salners arrived, and we were all hungry for lunch but didn't want to spend a fortune at the hotel. So we decided to take a walk down the street to see what other options were available. There's a Sizzler across the street, and a Benihana a ways down, but those didn't sound too good to us. The office buildings in the area all appeared to have a little hole in the wall restaurant in them, mostly for the people who work there I presume. One was called Mr Teriyaki, and I suggested we try that. It seemed a good enough idea, but when my beef bowl came it looked NOTHING like the picture in the menu. For one thing it was completely buried in onions! I hate onions, so I picked them all off and they completely filled my soup bowl. The remaining dish was less beefy than I'd expected. It wasn't terribly good either, nor was it terribly cheap. Second food-related mistake of the day!

After returning from lunch, the three of us played Rapscallion. Last year Andrew and I had been watching a game of Rapscallion being run by Ted Alspach, and 2 players had to leave midway through the game (coincidentally, I believe they were both in or near last place at the time). Andrew and I subbed in for them and played the rest of the game. It so happens that we finished 1st and 2nd if I remember correctly. Neither of us had played the game since then until Andrew played it Thursday night with someone. After he taught we played a game... I did TERRIBLY! Andrew won by a landslide. We all agreed that the game was kinda cool, but that it was a little too irritating that you HAVE to get rid of one of the playing cards you've collected in order to get another bidding card. I suggested that it would be cool if players started with 1 more playing card so that they'll have another option to discard in case the 2 they pick up are in the same set. In fact, it might be cool if the playing card you started with was a joker that works the same way as the Rapscallion does.

Sorry Sliders w/ Alex/Rick/Helen
Rick and Helen Holzgrafe arrived, and we decided to play Princes of Machu Picchu - but they had to go get it from their car. In the meantime we played Sorry Sliders - on 3 of the boards. It's kinda fun, though not for very long.

Princes of Machu Picchu w/ Alex/Rick/Helen/Candy
I have played Antike, Imperial, and Hamburgum. I LOVED Antike when I first played it, but haven't really played since. I HATED Imperial when I first played it, maybe not as much without the investor card, but it's not really my type of game. I like the Rondel mechanic though, and I liked Hamburgum - apparently more than anyone I play games with did. I had been interested in trying PoMP to see how the next Rondel game played. I liked that it wasn't a war game, but I didn't really know what to expect. I hadn't heard any rave reviews...

In the end the game was "OK" - just "OK." With the size of the board I think they could have done a better job of delineating the areas, but that's neither here nor there. In the game you collect various resources in order to put workers on the board or collect Priest/Priestess tiles, which help you run up the mountain more quickly. You want to run up the mountain because it means you get to draw a card, and the card has scoring conditions on it. At the end you will get some points for having stuff matching what it says on the card. The workers help you get more resources, or allow you to get resources when someone else takes the resource action. This was a nice interaction in the game. The game ended after a certain number of rounds, when the Spanish arrive. If at that time all the priest/priestesses tiles are gone, or all the cards have been drawn, then the Spanish don't take over and you score normally. Otherwise, you score normally, but the player with the most gold icons (on the cards) gets to triple his score, second most gets to double it. This seemed to add a little trick to the endgame, when you are selecting your cards, you have to choose between something that scores well for you, or something with a lot of icons in case the Spanish take over. I liked Princes of Machu Picchu enough to play it again, but I think I liked Hamburgum better.

After that game it was getting close to 7:00, so Andrew and I went to Knuckles to get dinner with Rick and Helen before the BGG meetup. I was going to get a burger, but at the last minute decided on a chicken ranch sandwich thing. It had bacon on it and sounded good... in reality though it wasn't terribly big or filling, and it came with a side salad which I didn't like and therefore didn't eat rather than french fries. Third food-related mistake of the day!

Small World with Derk/Aldie/Doug/Shelly
After the BGG meeup I hung out with Derk and Aldie and we ended up playing Small World with Doug and Shelly Garret. I've played (and liked) Vinci, and I wondered how different Small World would be. It's the same game (by the same designer) but re-themed and maybe cleaned up a bit. Instead of a map of Europe, it's a generic map, and the civilization tiles have been divided into races and special abilities. They still combine in the same way and confer various powers. I think they increased the number of powers... I know they took at least 1 rule (+1 to attack when controlling an adjacent mountain) and made it into a special ability of a race. I didn't mind the rules changes which in some cases seemed to streamline things, and in some cases didn't really make much difference. However I was pretty disappointed in the graphics. The art was nice to look at piece by piece, but all together it looked like a jumbled mess. In particular, the small race tiles all had detailed pictures on them, which were difficult to distinguish on the board, especially when in decline. The brightly colored player discs in Vinci were much better if you ask me.

Fits w/ Sid/Miguel/Lawrence
Aldie had a copy (I think it was Doug's) of Fits, which it turns out made the short list of SdJ nominees. It's a Reiner Knizia game based on Tetris. Each player has a collection of Tetris pieces, and you begin by placing one of them at random on your board. The board is a set of columns with dots showing, sometimes other symbols or numbers as well. Each 'level' has it's own rules but in general you get -1 point for each dot showing on your board. Sometimes you get positive points for covering up symbols or leaving certain symbols showing. The idea is to place your Tetris pieces like you would in Tetris - such that you don't have any open spaces on your board.

... That's about as far as I got in my detailed descriptions, some of the rest is just a quick note about what I played and maybe with whom.

Curse of the Mummy w/Aldie vs me/Miguel/some guy/some lady who's name started with a G (she won, I almost)

Saturday 5/23
Kachina w/ JT Mudge, Scott Caputio's fiance, and that G lady (she won, I almost). It's fun playing prototypes with designers which end up being published!

Knizia seminar
Reiner Knizia was the special guest last year, and I went to one of his seminars. I've been to several of his seminars over the years, and while there is often something new and interesting that comes up, you hear a lot of the same things over and over. Such is the nature of hearing the same person speak multiple times! This time I asked a question about his group of insiders, the players that are more than playtesters, but who really help develop the games more. I don't know how many of those he has, and to what extent they are responsible for some of the games with his name on them, and I was curious. He didn't really answer my question, but he did speak very highly of my friend Sebastian Bleasedale, one of his inner circle, and also published in his own right with On the Underground.

Knizia playtests
Reiner had some games with him for testing, and I was too late to get in on the playtests, but I watched. One of the games turned out to be exactly like Qwirkle. 5 colors/shapes instead of 6, and you can't hook the end of a chain and go the other way (like in scrabble), but otherwise identical mechanics. The scoring was different - you were trying to get rid of your stock of tiles. If you play the 4th tile in a particular set, you get to discard 1 tile from your hand or stack. If you add the 5th (and final possible tile), then you get to discard 2 additional tiles.

The other game had a proposed theme Mayan temple or something. I suggested Ziggaraut as a name, but no one seemed to like it. Reiner didn't want anything TOO thematic (regarding changes to game to match theme) - he wanted it to remain very abstract. He didn't want so much theme that players expect more. I think that's a ridiculous thing to think, personally, but I did see what he was saying.

Qwirkle w/ 2 women who had been playtesters of that Knizia game and also with Michael. After I'd pointed out the similarities to Qwirkle, I ran and got a copy from the library to show Reiner. After that, since I had it out, some of us decided to play. I don't think I've ever done so well at Qwirkle before!

Corner Lot w/ JC, Miguel, and Aliza
Despite my assumption that spending all my cash in the first round was probably a bad plan, I noticed 3 blue cards in the current market and nothing much in blue (maybe a low card) in the future market... so I blew all my money on the 3 (big) blue cards. I kinda forgot that the income is 2 less than the printed value (until the Empty Lot is built), so I was more screwed than I had expected in the following rounds. I did however end up with a pretty big Blue suit, with a couple runs in it, as well as a set of 7's and a rainbow run. I had to buy the blue Empty Lot (wild) and set it to $9 (not $12) because I wasn't able to get the $9 card (being broke all the time). I think I finished dead last.

I liked Corner Lot more than I thought I would, and I don't really have any thoughts on improvements - the game seems to be "done." It bothers me a little bit that the top card is a $12 instead of a $10 (it goes from $9 straight to $12) - especially when counting straights. That's not as bad though as the other thing that bothers me - that 90% of the time when you buy a wild you make it a $12. Maybe 10% of the time you make it a $7, $8, or $9 to fill in the hole in a straight flush. You never want the wild to be anything less than $7. I suppose that's OK, and the wilds could actually be printed as "$7-$12" - JC talked about some chits to indicate the value of a wild after you've bought it and that way there could be 5 each of two double sided chits, one saying 7/8 on the front/back and the other saying 9/12. I did have a suggestion for the rules: reword the priority marker rules such that it reads like this: On your turn you either pass, or you take the Bid/Buy marker and either bid or buy (the marker could say "Bid" on one side and "Buy" on the other). If ever it's your turn and you already HAVE the marker, then if you Pass you trigger the reduction of the cost for the smallest property and you pass the priority marker to the left. If you like, you could add a little something which occurs if you take an action and everyone else passes - it would trigger if you take an action and already have the priority marker. This is of course unnecessary, and I don't know what it would be (except gain a buck or 2). That's not even worth thinking about unless it's deemed bad somehow for everyone to pass except 1 guy.

Glory to Rome w/ Marcus (who I played Ys and TP with 2 years ago), Bey, and Dion
Dion was sort of learning (or maybe re-learning) the game, so when I was watching, I was trying to help him play. Then in the next game I joined in. I smoked the competition... I nearly used the Prison to steal Marc's purple building which allowed the play of multiple matching role cards, but it just didn't seem better than keeping the VPs! Marcus had multiple Merchant clients, but had some trouble getting cards in his Stockpile to sell. I sold a couple things as well, and ended up building out all the sites thinking I barely beat Marcus. I had forgotten that Dion sold something which negated one of Marc's bonuses, so I won by plenty.

Cities w/ Marcus, Bey, and Dion
The same group then played Cities, which is like a cross between Take it Easy and Carcassonne. Marc and I tied, and I believe we tied on the tiebreaker as well!

Municipium w/ Marcus, Bey, and Dion
I signed up for a game called Bartender, a new card game that the designer was pimping - his gimmick was that the winner of the game gets to keep it... they stole our idea! Tasty Minstrel is doing [edit: DID] something similar for BGG.con, called the Tasty Minstrel Winner Cleans Up event. I didn't necessarily want to play (Ceej got in the game), but I was curious about the rules. After listening to them, I went back to the Glory to Rome group, who had been explaining Municipium. I learned that recently, and got there just before they started so I was able to join them. It was a close game between Marc, Bey, and I but if I remember right, Bey pulled out the win - set up (inadvertently) by Marc.

At this point it was dinnertime and Ceej and I were going to drive to Chipotle. We were a little bit worried that Municipium would last too long and we wouldn't get there in time, but we were fine. I offered to pick up food for Marc, Bey, and Dion, and Ceej was picking up food for a friend of his - so we ordered 6 burritos all told. When we got there we found that they were almost out of a lot of stuff... they actually ran out of black beans and carnitas so we had to adjust our orders. On the way back I stopped at the Walgreens right there and stocked up on what turned out to be twice as much cookies and Pringles as I needed. I also bought a box of Cheerios. The plan was to avoid spending a fortune eating at the hotel the rest of the weekend!

I had been wanting to play Werewolf or Time's Up all weekend. No one really was playing WW on Friday night, but fortunately I was signed up for the Time's Up event which Ceej and I got back just in time for. Alex was there waiting, and though Derk was going to play, he wandered off and did something else instead. I paired up with Alex and we DOMINATED the opposition- despite a turn in the 2nd round where I forgot I could say a word and only got 2 cards! Ceej paired with a young girl who was slow to start, but then did really well once she got going. We all decided to play a 2nd game except for one guy who had to leave, so a new pair sat in. They didn't do well at all in the first round, so Alex and I weren't worried... but then they REALLY ramped it up and gave us a run for our money! We pulled out a narrow victory in the end though! Whew...

... That's all I have. The game design contest is covered, briefly, in a KublaCon Recap post I made last year, but I guess anything that happened on Sunday is lost forever, relegated to the recesses of my memory.

KublaCon 2010

I just got back from KublaCon 2010, another great weekend of fun and games in San Francisco! I applied some lessons I learned from last year... After arriving late Thursday night and not finding anyone I knew, I spent way too much on a Burger and Fries at Knuckles. Friday for lunch however, I went with Ceej again to Chipotle (Sean and Andrew - not Schoonmaker, another Andrew from L.A.) and ran into Lucky's for some turkey, french rolls, and cheese. I also picked up some Mountain Dew, cookies, and doughnuts. I ate far too much of the snacks, but the sandwich stuff was a great idea! I ate turkey sandwiches for the rest of the weekend for a pittance compared to the hotel's price gouging!

David Cunkelman pointed out a deal the hotel has which might be worth looking into in the future - for something like $30 per night added onto your room you can get access to a fancy lounge on the 9th floor where they have free internet as well as free food at mealtimes and desserts and drinks... sounds like a pretty good deal if you have enough people in the room!

After my ridiculously overpriced burger (which was at least tasty and filling) I watched some people playing The Adventurers - a game I've not played. I got to learn it by watching, and it looks like a light, fun little game. I probably wouldn't enjoy playing it more than once though. Then I headed up to bed.

Mosh Pit
Friday morning I started out with a game of Mosh Pit with Andrew Schoonmaker, with whom I again split a room. Mosh Pit is a game by a guy here in town, it's an abstract game kinda like Hive. I tend to dislike games like Hive (2 player abstracts), and I'm not sure why. I like this one quite a bit better, and I think it might be because in Mosh Pit you get 1 or 2 actions on your turn, and each player gets a maximum of 5 actions each round. Thus if you budget your actions, only taking one at a time while your opponent takes 2, you can end up finishing the round with 2 actions in a row, then starting the next round with up to 2 more actions in a row! getting 2, 3, up to 4 actions at a time really opens up the potential for a clever or tactical play, which makes it a lot more fun for me. I think the action budgeting in Mosh Pit is brilliant!

Terra Prime
Next I ran into Miguel, Aldie, and some friends of theirs, and chatted for a bit. Everyone was anxious to play a game, and Miguel suggested that I teach them my game, Terra Prime. I generally don't bring published games to conventions, but I did bring Terra Prime because I have the expansion for it. I sat out and taught Terra Prime as a 4 player game because I think it's a better experience 4 player than 5 for new players. It went pretty well, with most of the players figuring out what to do, until Tricia - who was doing very well at the time, decided to run recklessly into a red tile. I suggested she not do that, because if it were 3 Aliens they would hit her at least twice and as many as 5 times - and her shields were down to 2 energy... but she did it anyway (balls to the wall!) and sure enough, a triple alien managed to roll 3 hits for a total of 5 damage - knocking every module off her ship, INCLUDING the shiny new Thruster she'd just bought the turn before! It was an unfortunate turn of events, but hey, at least it turned out EXACTLY the way I predicted. *sigh* maybe some day players will treat Hostile Aliens with the fear and respect they deserve.

Eminent Domain
Those guys had some place to be, so next I found another group of players and introduced them to Eminent Domain. That game seems to be holding up, I think it's "about done."

I saw some of Steph's friends: Jeremiah and a woman who's name I always forget (who I met at BGG.con) and Ted Alspach, and another local woman. They were playing Africa, an old game by Reiner Knizia which I'd never seen. I watched and learned how to play, and when they decided to play again they offered me a seat. The game was pretty simple, there are a bunch of face down tiles all over the (hex grid) board (1 per space), and on your turn you may either teleport across the board (and that's it), or you can Move and do an action, then move again and do another action. The actions are essentially all just "flip up a tile adjacent to you and do the appropriate thing with it." Some tiles you keep for endgame bonus scoring and some you move adjacent to other like tiles elsewhere on the board and score points based on how many it's touching. There's 1 or 2 more small things you can do, but that's essentially it. Of course all your decisions are based on what will score you points. I thought it was an OK, though dry and somewhat boring game. I did manage to win by a fair amount though, so that was nice :)

Eminent Domain
After Africa, I ran another 4 player game of Eminent Domain for that same group of players. I played that (or ran it) a number of times over the weekend and it seemed to be pretty well accepted. In a couple cases it was VERY well received, in others it was only generally well received, but in no case was it disliked that I noticed. This time they mentioned that it was a little overwhelming at first, but about 2/3 of the way through the game they really started to 'get it.' I suspect there might be an expectation issue - if people go into Eminent Domain expecting it to be light and simple like Dominion, then they may be disappointed to find that there's a lot more going on than that. If they go in expecting something along the lines of Glory to Rome, then their expectations should be reasonable. Thus, I think I ought to stop billing it as a "deck building game" and instead call it "Like Glory to Rome, with Deck Building in it" or something. because that's what it is, a role selection game with deck building, not a deck building game.

Next they pulled out Wizard, a game a loath, but since they were nice enough to try Eminent Domain, I couldn't complain too much. Andrew had arrived to see the end of Eminent Domain, and he joined up for Wizard. I REALLY SUCK at Wizard!

Flea Market
I seldom buy board games, and I seldom find good deals at the Flea Market. Last year I bought Railroad Tycoon for $50, which could be a good deal depending on how you look at it. In retrospect (considering I haven't played it since I got it) I probably should have instead waited and gotten Railways of the World and some of the expansions for it. Then I wouldn't have had to carry that heavy freaking box home from San Francisco! This time I did find a bargain though... Gardens of Alhambra for $2. I was taken aback when I asked the price, maybe she'd said $22 and I'd misheard? Nope, she just wanted to get rid of it, so she sold it for $2. I didn't like Alhambra, but I suspect this offshoot might be more enjoyable, and at $2, how good does it really have to be? If nothing else, I have some friends that do like Alhambra, and this could be a gift for them if I hate it. I also saw someone selling the first couple seasons of BSG on DVD for $20 apiece. I thought about getting them, but it wasn't the whole series (just the first 3 seasons), and only the first 2 were really that amazing anyway. However I have recently been thinking of trying to watch that show again, the first season anyway, so in the end I picked that one up.

Sean McCarthy, a friend from Seattle, arrived. It was a surprise that he was coming at all, and it was even cooler that he brought Innovation with him because I've heard him talk about it and I've wanted to give it a try! After the flea market Sean, Aliza and I played a 3-player game of Innovation. When I'd first heard of the game I was really excited by the sound of it. The meld/splay mechanism sounded brilliant (and it is), and the tactical combos sounded fun. I love Glory to Rome by the same designer. The more I heard about the game though, the more I started to suspect that perhaps Innovation is TOO chaotic, and I was bummed to find out upon playing that it's not the amazing, awesome new thing that I hoped it would be. The effects are so sweeping that the entire board can easily change before you get another turn, and every card on the table is likely to effect your board position and the things you'll be able to do on your turn. It's almost as if every card in the game is really in play at all times, and to an extent you have to consider that - because for all you know, by the time you get a turn, any given thing might have happened. Therefore planning ahead is difficult to the point of absurdity, and at some point the game becomes less of a strategic contest and more of a crazy luck-fest not dissimilar to simply rolling dice to see who gets a higher result. It's true that with more familiarity with the cards, you have an easier time deciding what you can do and maybe even what you should do, but even if you know every card in the deck, while it may reduce the AP and down time, it doesn't change the fact that the game is totally chaotic.

I think I'm disappointed in Innovation, which is too bad, because I had high hopes for liking it.

After Innovation it was time for bed. Saturday morning I woke up in time for a playtesting event put on the schedule by Candy Weber. I started out by playing Rick Holzgrafe's Railways of the Western U.S. expansion for Railways of the World (which is a remake of Railroad Tycoon). Rick had made a train game inspired by Railroad Tycoon called Hammer and Spike, which I rather liked. The publisher of Railways of the World ended up trying it and liking it, but though it too similar to Railways to publish separately - instead he commissioned Rick to take certain ideas out of Hammer and Spike and use them to create an expansion to Railways of the World. The result is Railways of the Western U.S., and potentially another expansion combining the eastern U.S. map and the new one for a Coast-to-Coast expansion. The Coast-to-Coast expansion takes something like 6 hours to play, which was deemed too long so we just played the Western U.S. expansion.

I'm happy to report that not only is Tucson, Arizona on the map, but it's even a colored city while Phoenix is gray :) Ont he other hand I'm sorry to report that I performed TERRIBLY at the game! My initial chosen strategy hod hijacked by another player (the player to my right no less), and I never bothered to figure something else out. I finished dead last by a lot.

Terra Prime w/ Expansion
After the train game, Rick and the guy that hijacked my plans played my Terra Prime expansion with me. Rick has played TP a couple of times, in prototype form as well as the published version, and I wanted to know how he thought the expansion compared. I managed a healthy 1st place finish, but that's to be expected since I've got a lot more experience with both the base game and the expansion, but my 2 opponents finished within 8 points of each other. I think they both said that the Expansion improves the game, so that's good. They seemed to like it.

Spacial Delivery
It only seemed fitting to follow Terra Prime with Spacial Delivery, Rick's space themed delivery game that won the KublaCon Game Design Contest 2 years ago. It was under review for publication by a European publisher for 18 months, but was recently turned down. I played the game once, before it was in it's current form, and had given some relatively extensive feedback to Rick afterward. I don't recall in depth what the game was like last time, so I was interested to see how it went this time.

I think some of the same things that bothered me the last time still bothered me this time, and added to that there were a lot of fiddly costs I don't remember being there before. I got the impression that I might have liked the game better last time, and even then there was a list of things I thought needed work. Rick mentioned that while he had thought the game might be done before, more recently he was getting a nagging suspicion that it's really not, and later in the weekend he said he'd been thinking about Spacial Delivery pretty much non-stop since our game of it. I hope Rick gets that game to a point he's happy with, because I think it's got a solid foundation.

Eminent Domain w/ Gareth
Gareth McSorley had contacted me on BGG about trying Eminent Domain, and he found me at the con so I played a 2 player game with him. He took to the rules right away, not really even using the player aid. It was only a couple of turns before he had the mechanics down, and I think by the end of the 1st game he was already thinking about some strategies. He said he liked it very much, so I asked if he wanted to play again now that he knew how to play. We played a second time and there was clearly marked improvement in his play.

I happened upon a group of people playing Bananagrams and I played a few fun rounds of that.

Time's Up!
Every year I like to get in on the Time's Up! tournament, so Andrew and I talked 2 of the Bananagrams players to join us for it. Tricia was my partner and she was hilarious! I had a lot of fun, even though we got smoked by Andrew's team - who went on to win the final round as well :)

After Time's Up I played a little Zendo - or tried to anyway. I am no good at that game whatsoever! I think it's because I never know how specific a rule might be - so when I DO figure it out, I think I haven't because I think of all the other possible things it could be.

Galaxy Trucker
Fortunately, some of the Zendo players wanted to play something else, so even though it was Galaxy Trucker, I was happy to join them. I have never played Galaxy Trucker, but never really cared too much to try it. It was nice to give it a shot, but I really didn't know all the stuff on the cards so I had no idea what I was putting on my ship. I went ahead and looked at the cards you're allowed to look at, but much of the info didn't make sense to me. I got pretty wrecked, but it was kinda fun. I'd play it again, but I wouldn't run out and buy it or request it myself.

Corte de Lorenzo
Sunday morning I met up with David Cunkelman and I talked him and Sean into playing one of the submissions I'd brought with me. We played Corte de Lorenzo, and then we chatted a little about how to evaluate a submission. I'm new to this, so it was interesting to talk about that.

Ground Floor
As an example of a game that really grabbed me right away, despite the flaws it had when I first played it, we next played Ground Floor. Ground Floor is intended to be published in 2011 by Tasty Minstrel Games, designed by David Short, a guy here in Tucson who I met at RinCon last October. I really like Ground Floor, and have been working on developing it with David for about 6 months and at this point I think the game is really solid.

Sean McCarthy, David Cunkelman, and a friend of Davids who's name I didn't catch played a 4p game of Ground Floor. Our game went well with the slight exception of David spilling his soda on Sean's player board - could have been a lot worse! Only lost 1 player's worth of Ground Floor tiles and 1 Specialty tile - easily replaced!

David made some skeptical comments early about game balance, but at the end I think he saw how for example my large money advantage early didn't necessarily equate to a large positional advantage in the end. He did have 1 comment that hadn't come up and which might be an issue - that the last player in the randomly determined turn order may be a little screwed when it comes to popularity and rewards... I don't know if this is a problem though, and I think it could be taken care of via some easy method.

After the game, I went upstairs with Sean to get a sandwich for lunch, and he asked me what specifically I did to develop Ground Floor, so I got a chance to go over it and see what I contributed. That was a fun discussion for me, and hopefully interesting for Sean too.

David wanted to play Fresco, but we couldn't find a copy of either. Doug Garret's copy was sitting there in his tub, but we couldn't find him to ask his permission to use it, so instead we played Innovation while I used my social resources to try and track down Doug. This game didn't make me feel any better about Innovation, though I did win by 1 turn this time instead of losing by 1 turn.

Fortunately, my social networking came through, and we got permission to play Doug's copy of Fresco - which it seems was nominated for the SdJ (German game of the year award). I have played twice before, bot only with all the optional rules on. This time we played with NONE of the optional rules, only the very base game. I think I prefer the optional rules, which aren't much more complicated, but I did note a distinctly different feel to the game without them.

Eminent Domain
After Fresco, I bumped into Scott Caputo and chatted with him about general games-being-published stuff, since his Kachina and my Terra Prime just recently came out. Then Scott, JT Mudge and I played Eminent Domain - I wanted to know what they thought of it. They liked it (JT won pretty handily), and they said that they thought it was my most polished design that they'd played (they played and liked Wizard's Tower a year or two ago, and they might have also played All For One that year).

(BrainFreeze - broken clock :( )
At this point I wandered around a bit and ended up chatting with Brian Powers, who had entered a game in the Design Contest. He was short on time, so I showed him a quick game - BrainFreeze! I haven't played BrainFreeze! in ages, and as it turned out the chess clock was broken! :( Hopefully I can fix it. Meanwhile I showed him the second quickest game I had with me, Jab: Realtime Boxing. We played 1 round but then he had to get into a game of Power Grid.

Eat Poop You Cat
I found the Zendo group playing Eat Poop You Cat, and they invited me in for their last round. That's a fun game for late night gaming!

I went to the Game Design contest award presentation so I could scope out the games and see if anything looked interesting. I walked away with 2 prototypes to bring home and play - one was Heroic Deeds, a card game about being a superhero and solving crimes... the interesting concept in it is that you have to worry about your Alter Ego and what your Heroic Deeds does to your everyday life. I fully suspect it to be a rehash of last year's Tomes of Knowledge, a neat foundation with a "Take That!" card game on top of it... But I'm really curious to see how they've approached this aspect, and who knows, it could be awesome!

The other prototype I walked away with was Triplets, an abstract tile laying game which has a similar feel to Set. The designer is a friend of Ricks, and so he, Rick, Aliza, and I played a game of it after the awards presentation. Triplets was one of 2 winners of the contest (they couldn't choose between the 2 so they crowned both games winners). The other winner was called Destroy Atlantis, another tile laying game, and the designer of that game will be sending me a copy.

Mosh Pit (Aliza and Karlo)
By this time the convention was winding down. Karlo (from the BGDF chat room) was hanging out, along with Aliza and Andrew. I wanted to get Mosh Pit played once more, so I taught it to Karlo and Aliza so they could play a 2 player game of it.

Lord$ of Vega$
While they were playing Mosh Pit, I noticed that James Ernest was playing a game of Lords of Vegas, a game coming out from Mayfair later this year. I saw a GIANT prototype of it at GTS in March, this one was much more reasonably sized. I was happy to be explained the game while watching, and it looks really, really good!

Eminent Domain w/ Aliza and Andrew
Finally, I had about an hour before I had to leave for the airport, and Aliza, Andrew and I played a final game of Eminent Domain (mostly so I could show Aliza because she was interested in seeing it). It went pretty fast because both Andrew and I dug into the Warfare stack, and it got down to 2 cards very quickly. However, Aliza was winning, so neither of us wanted to take that second to last Warfare card! The cleaning staff needed to take down the table, so rather than fight tooth and nail to come back, Andrew went ahead and chose Warfare. I did what I could to get points, but I couldn't quite catch Aliza so she was able to end the game in the lead. She said she thinks her RftG group would get a kick out of it so she may print up a copy to play with them.