Monday, July 26, 2010

Winds of Fate: Want to revive!

I would like to get back to Odysseus: Winds of Fate- as I always want to, and as I've mentioned many times before. I updated my prototype after getting some good feedback from a blind test at Spielbany a year and a half ago(!) but I haven't tried it since then.

The mechanism I've always used to resolve adventures in that game has been a variation on the card play from Reiner Knizia's Beowulf: the Legend or Taj Mahal. I am pretty much stuck on this mechanism, because I think it works alright - though I'm pretty sure there is another mechanism that would also work, maybe even be better. But I am completely blind to any other mechanism! Help!

Maybe the current mechanism is fine, but I have a nagging feeling that it's not good enough, or not fun enough, or that something is wrong with it. Here's an attempt to modify the mechanism off the top of my head...

Maybe instead of rounds and rounds of card play, each player could simultaneously play just 1 card during an adventure. Having drawn more cards means your choices would be better in general, so it could still be worth getting more cards. Also, if cards are worth something at the end of the game, that could make it worthwhile to get them as a reward - maybe they are worth something, but not as valuable as some other rewards (because they give you flexibility during the game). This would have at least the benefit of moving more quickly, though it may not easily order the players for purposes of selecting rewards.

Perhaps players could have a set group of cards, like the bidding tiles in Ra, such that there can never be a tie. Then players 'bid' each round, with one of their unique numbers (and maybe another card indicating whether they're bidding for Success or Failure) and whoever played the highest valued card gets the bonus for the round, and the total of Successes/Failures determines Odysseus' fate.

I'm really beginning to like that last thought - Ra style bidding tiles. I'll think about that some more and see what comes to mind.

Does anyone else have a recommendation or other idea for how to resolve adventures in Winds of Fate?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Time Management

No, I'm not talking about a new game design here (for once). I'm talking about actual time management - which in itself is something of a game.

Over the past decade I've done some Project Management as an Engineer, in particular at my old job with Schneider and Associates. Lately I've been trying to apply my Project Managing experience to Tasty Minstrel Games and impart some of my time management wisdom unto Mikey, who (no offense) appears not to have had to do any of that before.

Mike is an eternal optimist, which is probably a good thing. Maybe we're a good team because I am more of a pessimist. In any case, when an optimist doesn't have scheduling experience it's easy to see how they expect phrases like "as quickly as possible" to carry a lot of weight. In my experience this becomes more and more true as the optimist in question is more and more ego-centric, it's easy to think that people you are subcontracting are only working on your project and ignore whatever other realities may exist. Note: I'm not specifically talking about Mike here, I know a number of people like that!

In the professional world however, phrases like "as quickly as possible" mean absolutely nothing. In order to really manage a project, scheduling must be much more specific than that. The reality is that subcontractors are NOT only concerned with your projects, they have other priorities as well (professional and personal). If you ask someone to finish something "as quickly as possible," and another client asks for something "to be done by Friday," and Thursday rolls around... which project do you think they will work on? The one someone is expecting the next day? Or the one with the nebulous time frame? "As quickly as possible" in that case literally becomes "after this other project which actually has a deadline!"

When Mike started Tasty Minstrel Games, I was excited to be a small part of it. I didn't really think I knew much about running a business, I was really in it for the creative aspect of game development. As time goes on, I'm finding that my Project Management knowledge could really help more efficiently bring games to market, and so I've been putting a lot of thought into scheduling and the processes involved in that. As an engineer, my job (and my general preference) is to find better or more efficient ways to do things, and so I'm naturally inclined to try and find a better way to go about publishing board games. Without being in charge of actually talking to the manufacturers, I think I can still help by getting down scheduling, so we can have time lines and deadlines which will help us reach target street dates for upcoming games.'

Hopefully these thoughts will be realized in the near future and Tasty Minstrel will operate more professionally and efficiently, making it easier to bring fun games to the hands of our fans!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

General update

It's been a while since I've posted, so I thought I'd give a general update as to what's going on in the Gaming life of Seth Jaffee - to give my fans (both of them) something to read on a Thursday afternoon...

I just got back from an 11 day trip to Seattle in which I played a lot of frisbee, did some gaming, and hung out with a lot of friends. By way of summary...
Friends visited on my Seattle trip: Jeremy, Amelia, Emily, Aaron, Renee, Matthew, Jonah (my 13 month old nephew!), Mohan, Rif, Runjith, Chris Rao, Sean, Alex.

Games played on my Seattle trip: Magic: the Gathering, Eminent Domain, JAB: Realtime Boxing, Race for the Galaxy, Dominion, Ground Floor, Alea Iacta Est, Wizard's Tower, Fermat, Forbidden Island, Innovation, Tsuro, Train of Thought, Cyclades, Galaxy Tucker, and Alex's semi-coop prototype Witch's Coven.

People seemed to like Eminent Domain and Ground Floor, which is reassuring. I finally tried some of the new expansion stuff for Race for the Galaxy (prestige) which was not all that spectacular. The Warfare stuff never came up in our games, and I think it feels like more trouble than it's worth. I remember kinda liking Alea Iacta Est when I watched and played it at KublaCon 2009, but it seemed pretty bad this time. Fermat has been picked up by a publisher (not Tasty Minstrel, darn it!) and will come out this year under the name "Got It!" Forbidden Island is another cooperative game by the guy who made Pandemic - I'd heard good things, but nobody mentioned that it's EXACTLY LIKE Pandemic only easier! I don't think Pandemic needed to be easier, so I didn't like Forbidden Island at all. Innovation is "wild and crazy" - way moreso than Glory to Rome by the same designer. I LOVE Glory to Rome, but I don't think I love Innovation. Maybe just 2 player, after both players are super-familiar with all the cards it will become more strategic, but in the meantime it's very chaotic and somewhat silly as far as I'm concerned. Cyclades was a neat game and I love some the mechanisms at work, but the board play isn't really my type of game. I generally don't like war games much, though the war game part of this game is sort of minor. The fact that only 1 player per turn can attack (for the most part) is interesting, you could leave yourself undefended if you can expect to win the Ares auction next round... the game was cool, but the Pegasus card certainly seemed to be a game changer. I'm not sure how I feel about games in which you are forced to play around a particular card coming up, because what if it doesn't? Or what if it comes up at a bad time for you, even if you were prepared for it every other turn of the game?

Alex's prototype was interesting - I liked it a lot better than I thought I would. It's actually a worker placement game (I had thought it would be more like Battlestar Galactica for some reason) where you have 2 different types of workers - your Witch and your Familiar. The Witch actions are generally more powerful than the Familiar actions, and there are only 4 rounds in the game, meaning you get only 4 of each type of action! The goal is to collect the ingredients needed to create the Potion of Power, but the trick is that to win you must exclude at least 1 of the players from the Coven. The idea is to (a) make yourself indispensable, and then (b) try and make another player unnecessary. There's something odd about the endgame and forming that coalition of players who win, but it seems pretty solid. Alex said he'd send me files so I can print it out and try it around here.

Mohan also told me about an idea he's working on for a Solitaire game - a dungeon crawl based on the mechanics in typical solitaire games such as Spider Solitaire or Klondike. It was a pretty neat idea, and as he mentioned it would probably work even better as a digital game. We chatted about that for a while, and I also told him Jeremy's idea from last year about a World of Warcraft game - not about actually playing World of Warcraft, but rather about running a WoW guild, and dealing with all the drama involved.

Add some frisbee to that (including winning our pool at Potlatch) and it makes for a pretty sweet vacation!

Game designs:
I've been playing Eminent Domain a lot, and I'm pretty happy with it as-is. There are a few things I'd like to see though, one of which is more reports from the 30+ people who volunteered to print-and-play the game. Of all the people I gave access to the cards, I think I've only heard back from about 3 of them with any real playtest reports. In the future I think I'll try to set up a more organized process for getting access to a game for print-and-play, which will involve follow-up communication.

I have been thinking that I would like to add some Warfare cards to the supply to bring the number up to 18 or 20. I think that especially with 3 players, it's too easy for that stack to get burned through too quickly. There's something attractive about just having 20 of each card, but I don't know if that's the most economical thing. The only other thing I would like to work on is the tech abilities - especially the level 2 techs. There are some I really like and that I think are appropriately powerful, and there are others that never seem to be chosen. I want to make sure they are all potentially useful, even if not in every single circumstance. Ideally they'd all be situational. On the other hand, they're all worth 2vp, so once you get the tech or 2 that you really want, maybe you still want to research for the VPs, but I would like to make sure all the level 2 techs are useful and attractive. It's possible one or two of them are TOO powerful, but currently I haven't had a problem with that. Michael suggests that the "take 2 Role cards into hand" is too powerful, but I haven't seen it used in any way I don't like yet. I'd also like to have names for all the tech cards, but I don't know how easy that will be. In a separate post I might solicit names for the techs (Didn't I do that already?)

I haven't been working on any of my other designs, the most recent of which was Alter Ego. I would like to get back to that, and of course Winds of Fate, Dynasty, and Hot & Fresh... isn't that always the case?

Game development:
Belfort and Ground Floor are pretty much good to go. I am supposed to (and would like to) write up a Development Diary sort of thing for them, talking about the development process, maybe the specific things I did to change each of those games and why. This info will be published around the time of each game's release. Mike and I are working on developing a better process for internal stuff at Tasty Minstrel so that hopefully things will go more smoothly and we can be more efficient and put more programs into place!