Thursday, September 30, 2010

Winds of Fate updates

After a nice (3 hour!) chat with Michael Keller about Winds of Fate (admittedly, much of that was describing the game to him over IM), I've got a pretty good idea of what I'd like to try for the next iteration of Winds of Fate:

The main difference between this new version and the last one is something that's come up in some playtest comments before - rather than set payouts for various bets, there will be a split pot - a specific amount that will be split between all winners of a bet. The problem before was that the betting system sort of encouraged people to do the same thing as everyone else, and that's the opposite of what I wanted. With a split pot, betting on the same thing as someone else may make it more likely to pay off, but the payoff gets lower with each player to make that same bet. Now there's some incentive to bet against other players! I think this should work out nicely.

In case it's not clear what I mean by a 'split pot,' consider the scoring of Notre Dame at the end of each Era: there are a certain number of points (depending on the number of players), and each cube in Notre dame gets an equal share of those points. Note I said 'each cube' not 'each player' - meaning if I have 2 cubes and you each have 1 cube, I get 50% of the pot, and you each get 25%. This is how the payouts for bets will work in the next test of Winds of Fate.

In order to facilitate this, I'm changing the betting system altogether. The betting board was a neat idea, but I think it mostly served as a stepping stone toward a more streamlined mechanism for the betting. I think I've got a better, more succinct way to represent betting without a supplemental board. Although the idea of actually having a roulette style board and making roulette style bets (especially on the side and corners, spanning multiple Encounters) was kinda attractive, I think this new idea will do a better, more streamlined job of accomplishing the goal of the bets in the first place. here's how it'll go:

Each round during the Encounter phase, each player will get the opportunity to "Place a bet." Possibly this will actually be added to the Encounter tile, and then it could be left off a couple of them. In order to do so they will have to have a "bet chip" (is what I've been calling them) - which will now just be a player marker (wooden cube in player color in the prototype). Placing a Bet means taking chip and placing it on one of the paths on the board between 2 Encounter tiles. The only restriction is that you cannot place on a path leading out of the current Encounter tile. Therefore you cannot bet on the CURRENT round's Adventure, but you can bet on the outcome of either of the possible NEXT round's Adventures. So there's still that aspect of betting on a win or loss on an adventure as well as whether you'll get to that adventure at all.

During the Journey phase, Odysseus' boat will move to one of the 2 paths leading out of the space - which one depends on the outcome of the Adventure (as always). Whenever the Boat encounters bet chips, those bets pay off. The payoff will be some number (I'm thinking 6vp) divided evenly between each bet chip present. So a bet chip (which will continue to be worth 2vp if unused) can be worth 0, 1, 2, 3, or 6 vp depending on whether it pays off and how many other players also bet on the same thing.

This will necessitate some modifications to the Reward tiles and some Encounter tiles. I need to remove all instances of "Place Bet" on those. It should prove valuable to collect a bet chip (or 2!) from a reward tile. I will also make the bonus for playing the single highest value of cards be a Bet Chip - which is either 2vp, or possibly as many as 6 if bet well. I think that should provide a good number of bet chips for players who want them. I might distribute some on Encounter tiles as well - maybe an Encounter will be "each player collects 1 Bet Chip" - or more interesting, maybe "Player 1 collects a Bet Chip" or "Player 3 collects a Bet Chip" I could even make a cycle of "Player X collects a bet chip" Encounter tiles :)

Destiny bets will work similarly, there will be some set number of points (I'm thinking 12) to be divided evenly between all Destiny bets. I will probably have to reduce the frequency of destiny actions or else use a larger number as the pot, or else the bets will be near worthless - and I don't want that! I think I'd like the Destiny bet to be on the order of 10 points, higher if you do great, lower if you do poorly.

The Timeline bet may also be a split pot situation, I'm thinking something like 9vp for a correct bet, 6vp for "off-by-1," and maybe 3vp for "off-by-2" (or maybe you need to be closer than off-by-2 to score at all). I'm waffling about whether to just award that to each player individually, or make it a split pot where players share the wealth. If split pot it would probably have to be a higher number, and I also think that if split it should probably be that you get let's say 25/15vp (for correct/off-by-1) divided by the total number of Timeline bets that are paying off... so if I bet on round 8, 2 people bet on round 9, and 2 people bet on round 10, and the game ends on round 9, then I should get 15vp/5=3vp, the 2 players betting on round 9 should get 25/5=5vp, and the 2 people betting on round 10 should get 3vp apiece as well. Hmm... that sounds pretty bad actually, I'll have to work on that. I don't really want someone off-by-1 to get more points than someone who was correct just because someone else was also correct - do I?

Maybe I do - in which case I could award 9/6vp (for right/off-by-1) and split that 9 or 6 with anyone with the same bet as you.

I think I'll also reduce the game end score for Red/Blue card pairs in hand to 1vp per pair (rather than 2vp) just to make sure you can't get a competitive score simply passing each round and hoarding cards! I also need to reduce the number of cards drawn in a 5 player game - we ran out last time! I think I can just have player 5 draw 3 cards just like player 4 does. Or I could reduce player 2, 3 and 4's cards as well in a 5p game. I'd prefer to keep it consistent though.

So that's it - I need to adjust my prototype to fix the reward tiles and Encounter tiles, and I'm ready to test again!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tasty Minstrel Submission testing

On Friday I had a playtest night, specifically for Tasty Minstrel submissions. I got a surprising number of takers on my invite, and all it cost me was a couple of pizzas and some ice cream sandwiches! I actually had more testers than I knew what to do with.

We played 3 different card games, another card game which plays more like a tile laying board game, and in the end one of my own board games... and afterwords one of the testers (who is a member of the Board Game Designers Forum) stuck around and I tried his deck building prototype as well.

I think it's probably unprofessional of me to talk specifically about the submissions, so I'll keep this report in very general terms (except where it comes to my own game, then I'll say whatever I damn well please!)

Card Game #1: This game reminded me of Portal. I actually thought it was a bit better than Portal, as the cards were more interesting. But I'm of the school that if you're going to play a game like Magic: the Gathering, then you should just play Magic: the Gathering.

Card Game #2: A guy who used to come to my SedjCoProto playtest sessions dropped off 2 card games that we'd played back then, and had been updated per some of our comments and suggestions. We played one - 5 player - and I'd planned on playing the other right after. However, the first one dragged a lot and my players were not interested in playing another similar game, so I had to skip the 2nd game by that designer. Unfortunately the game did drag, suffered from a lot of unclear card interactions, and seemed to have a lot of down time. It did not go over well with the testers, though the theme was pretty good.

Card Game #3: This was a game I'd played before, though it had been updated by the designer. Some of the initial complaints were mostly to do with lack of interaction, so I was curious what the designer had done to remedy that. Of the lot, this is the only game I thought I'd really consider moving forward with, though it still left something to be desired. I think some of the changes were improvements though. I am interested in examining this one further. The basic idea of the game is very novel, and kind of a twist to the Deck Building craze that's sweeping the hobby.

Card/Tile Laying Game: This was a submission from James Ernest, who's trying to find homes for some of his better Cheapass Games. This particular game had a nifty, fairly unique main mechanism for tile placement, which was refreshing, but also had some very swingy random events which players didn't feel too excited about. Reading through the comments on BGG for this game I saw a lot of very positive ones, but most of the positive comments were qualified with the fact that the game was only $5. I don't think the reaction would be as positive toward this game (as-is) if it cost $20 or more, even with nicer components, and that's what we would want to do if adapting a Cheapass game - make a nicer, full version of the game. I don't think we'd want to do this game as-is, and I'm unsure if anything jumps out at me as a good way to adapt or amplify/improve the game to make it something we'd be interested in doing. I kinda think that's too bad, as this is the second time I've had a submission from a big name designer that I've had to turn down. If only James would have submitted Lords of Vegas to us - I haven't played it yet, but I feel like I would have jumped on that right away! :)

Winds of Fate: As I mentioned, we played a 5 player game of Winds of Fate. Actually, I just watched while 5 players played. I didn't mention that it was my own design, and 1 player said "I like the theme, I'm curious what hey did with it" - I liked that they didn't know it was my design, but then my friend John, who did know, blurted out that it was mine :/ Ah well.

This was not only the first play of Winds of Fate with the new Betting Board, but may be the first time WoF has ever been played with 5 players! One thing to note is that with 5 players I ran out of Adventure cards constantly. I had to cannibalize another 2 decks of playing cards in order to just play the game. I also saw more hoarding of cards than I'd like, and an attempt to make an infinite loop based on the geography of the game board. It turns out the rules handle the infinite loop just fine, but if it were to happen (on turn 4 or 5) then feel like that might be a disappointing game. I don't know if I need to worry about redesigning the game based on that, or if it won't come up often enough to matter. I'll have to watch and see.

My biggest concern for WoF might be that the process for resolving the adventure each round seems too fiddly. A bigger complaint however is that there is still an element that 2 players going for the same end condition can overpower a player going for a different game end condition. I think the Betting Board and non-secret Destiny bets has helped this a bit, but now there's more of a feeling of being rewarded for doing the same thing as everybody else, and that's no good! One thought is that if the netting board does what it's supposed to, then maybe a secret goal type of thing could be re-introduced such that players have different incentives again, but that can't really be made fair if there are 3 game end conditions and more than 3 players.

Anyone have any thoughts on this issue?

BGDF Game Design Showdown entry: One of the playtesters, Simon, brought with him his prototype which was originally an entry in the BGDF Game Design Showdown a few months ago. It's a deck building game where you have 2 decks, an action deck (whose cards you use to do stuff, and which refill to 5 each turn) and a Spell deck (more powerful cards that don't refill on their own).

The 2 decks was an interesting spin on Deck Building, and I think Simon has a pretty good start to a game. Hopefully he'll work on it some more.

Alter Ego cards

I made some Alter Ego prototype cards last night. Unfortunately, I can't show them to you because (a) I left them on my home computer, and (b) Blogger doesn't have a good way to attach an image from PDF. I suppose when I get home I could save it as a jpg or something and then post - maybe I'll do that.

I made up 3 city names: Metro City, Gotham, and Arkham (OK, you caught me, I completely stole those names) and chose 3 types of crooks: Thugs, Cat Burglars, and Bank Robbers. I'm pretty sure I even spelled "Burglar" wrong on them, but they're printed now so I don't care. The Thugs menace the Docks, Cat Burglars are the bane of the Suburbs, and Bank Robbers plague Downtown.

Each card has a location ("Metro City Downtown" for example), a type and color (which associates with the location - so a Blue Bank Robber would be on a Metro City Downtown card), and finally a set of die icons showing the number of successes needed to defeat the henchman as well as the minimum roll which constitutes a success. Some henchmen require a 6 or two 5's to defeat them, others require five 3's.

The henchmen range from 6 expected die rolls to 18, and so the higher the required roll, the fewer successes are necessary. Note that a 6 is 'harder to roll' (less likely to come up) than a 5, but while the expected number of rolls to get one 6 vs two 5's is the same (6 rolls), you COULD roll the 6 on a single die while you need AT LEAST TWO rolls to get 2 5's. If there's some way to get modifiers to the die roll, that would make the fewer-hit, higher req'd henchmen more attractive.

Before I can give this game a test drive, I still need to produce player boards with the Alter Ego slots, insignia tokens (I think I'll use wooden discs I got for prototyping), and decide on the exact benefits of the Alter Ego slots.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Deep breath...

The other day I posted a rather harsh reaction to reading on BGN about the release of yet another card game... I've calmed down now. And today the stories I read at BGN were about K2 (a mountain climbing game) and one of those Wine themed games - both genuine board games.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

BGDF's Game Design Showdown

The Board Game Designers Forum has been an invaluable resource for me over the last 7 years. When founder Michael Dougherty decided he couldn't continue to host the site, he asked if I would take over, and now I'm sort of like the president of this game design club. Because BGDF has been so useful for me, I try to maintain it and promote it as a useful resource for others getting into the hobby.

One of the features of BGDF is a monthly game design challenge known as the Game Design Showdown. The challenge involves a theme restriction and/or some mechanical restrictions under which you create a game. You do not need to build a prototype and test the game, just write up a set of rules (800 words or less) and submit it to the moderator of the challenge. After the 1 week submission period is over, the entries are posted anonymously, and a week long voting period begins. Finally, a winner is declared, and then a Critique thread opens up for people to discuss each of the entries.

It's a really fun activity to get the creative juices flowing, and sadly I haven't actually entered any of the recent Showdowns, but there have been a fair amount of entries (and decent ones at that) each month.

This month's showdown is entitled "Yea, Verily!" and the theme restriction is Robin Hood. Check out the showdown, submit an entry, and participate in this month's challenge!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fuck card games!

Yes, I realize my latest creation, Eminent Domain, is a card game, and I'm really happy with how it's turned out and I really enjoy playing it. That aside, I am noticing a LOT of card games coming out these days. I don't know if that many card games came out in the past and I just didn't notice, or if the proportion of games coming out hasn't changed but the total number has increased and therefore there are more card games coming out total, or if more of the games coming out are in fact card games.

I don't particularly care for card games. I like BOARD games! I don't know why exactly, maybe I just like the tactile feeling of moving pieces around the board, maybe I like the nice big painted surface to help organize all the bits of the game. Maybe I have some secret feeling that a board game is more likely to be deeper and more interesting than a card game - either because there's more going on than a deck of cards can provide, or because there's a certain chaos and a certain degree of unwelcome randomness involved in card games. Whatever the case, I just scanned some headlines from BoardGameNews that came across my Bloglines (I know, right? 1995 called, they want their shitty internet technology back) and it seemed like all the new games they listed were card games!

I know, there have been some very nice, good BOARD games coming out lately, and I'm sure there's a crop of great ones to look forward to from Essen, but I just saw those card games and had the initial reaction (see the title of this post). Guess I felt like sharing that.

Please note, not all card games are bad, but if you submit one to Tasty Minstrel Games, it had better really impress me - since I generally think there are too many F'ing card games out there!

More Alter Ego ideas

First off, regarding Henchmen's bad effects... maybe the rule could be something like this:

At the end of your turn, any henchmen in the same AREA as you who hasn't taken at least 1 damage triggers his Bad Effect (as described on the card).

Bad Effects would be things like:
- Lose 1 Community Bond
- Lose 1 Job Bond
- Lose 1 Family Bond
- Lose 1 Hero Bond
- Lose 1 Bond of your choice
- Take 1(X) Civilian Casualty token(s)*

*upon collecting several of these, lose Bonds in some way. Maybe the Casualty tokens have one of the Aspects depicted (and are drawn randomly), and upon getting 2 or 3 of the same aspect, you lose a Bond from that Aspect. This could be the default, and stronger villains could take Bonds directly.

Regarding other stuff:
Let's say there are 3 AREAS on the simple board. In each AREA there are 3 sub-areas, A, B and C, as discussed in a previous post. When it comes time to find out which henchman to face, players could draw a card off of a single, mixed deck of henchmen (maybe pre-sorted such that the first 1/3 are weak henchmen, the next 1/3 are stronger, etc) PLUS 1 card for each bond in their JOB aspect, and choose which Henchman comes into play. The Henchman card would indicate into which AREA they come into play, and the color/type of card would indicate whether it's of type A, B or C.

Note: You could drop henchmen on other players this way, which could potentially cause them some trouble as they might have to run, fight, or suffer consequences of the new Henchman's Bad Effect which they weren't planning on.

As described before, defeating a henchman of type A allows you to put your insignia on the A space in that AREA, and the first player to get their insignia on A, B and C in a particular AREA gets the "Key to the city" or whatever, which confers some kind of bonus**. However, though these effects would be game-useful, winning still comes from 'collecting' 3 Henchmen of the same TYPE, then defeating the associated Arch-Villain for that type.

** Here's a thought on that. Maybe the Key is a token which goes into one of your Alter Ego slots, counts as a Bond (so +1 bond of that type), and means that slot is protected - no further changes are allowed. So you can't lose any more tokens from that slot, and maybe you also cannot choose to neglect that spot anymore either (or maybe you can, but it's protected from Bad Effects anyway).

Your turn could consist of maybe 2 of the following actions:
- Look for trouble (draw Henchmen cards as described above)
- Fight Crime (fight a Henchman card in your current AREA based on your Hero Aspect)
- Move to another AREA
- Maybe you can spend BOTH actions to gain 1 Bond in an Alter Ego slot.

An action could be to move a Bond from 1 Aspect to another (presumably from an AE slot to the Hero slot, but occasionally from one AE slot to another) - but I think it might be neat if you were compelled to do that at the beginning of your turn. Maybe not compelled, but allowed (and often did). The idea being that if you are going to succeed as a crime fighter, you MUST neglect your Alter Ego.

And one last thought that just popped into my head. Henchmen could have various weaknesses which make them easier to defeat... for example perhaps you get to add 1 to your die rolls for each Family bond for a particular henchman, meaning if your family bond is strong, you can more easily defeat that Henchman. Similarly, there could be Henchmen who are weak to people with strong Community bonds and Henchmen who are easier to defeat if you have a strong Job bond. These should probably be the level 2 Henchmen, as the level 1 Henchmen will come out while everyone still has strong bonds everywhere.

That makes 27 level 2 Henchmen, which sounds like a lot, but whatever. I'm also not sure how they should be arranged - should they be in a big stack, and you have to get through all the level 1 Henchmen before getting to level 2? Or should you draw from the level 2 deck once you have defeated a certain number of level 1 Henchmen? What happens to the ones you look at but don't choose? I'll keep thinking about that.

Alter Ego - idea

I just had a thought about Alter Ego, and so I'm chronicling it here lest I forget...

I've already considered that the Henchmen cards could have some penalty if you don't defeat them (or at least do "enough damage") in one turn - that penalty would likely be "lose a bond in such-and-such aspect (where "such-and-such means Hero, Community, Job or Family). One of the Alter Ego aspects could have the benefit of protecting AE aspects from that damage.

Let's say this is the Community slot that has this effect. That means if your Community aspect is at full strength (3 bonds), then your Community, Job, and Family aspects are all protected from that damage. You could incur such damage and be safe from ill effects. Your Hero aspect would still be vulnerable though. If you neglect the Community aspect, then each bond you lose makes one of your AE aspects vulnerable - probably Community first, then Job, then Family 9though the order is debatable and maybe random would be interesting.

This could help drive decisions about which Henchmen to fight based on whether you may incur a penalty or not, and which aspect will be penalized. A player could purposely neglect this aspect, making fights more dangerous (or more costly anyway), in order to preserve the power of their Job and Family aspects.

In other news, I don't know if I'd mentioned this before, but there should probably be a way to ADD bonds to the game. Like you spend your entire turn strengthening your Family aspect rather than fighting crime. You shouldn't be able to do this too often though, or people might just make sure their aspects are full before fighting crime. So how to limit it? Maybe just say you can't do it 2x in a row? or you can do it max 3 times per game? Or only if you have a new AE token to place (and certain Henchmen give you one when you kill them)... something like that perhaps.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Front-All For One Lobotomy (cont.)

As I mentioned last post, for some reason, publishers have not been excited about All For One. In an effort to revamp the game and perhaps create something that a publisher would be more interested in, I'd like to try a simpler, more accessible (read: easier to explain and play) version of All For One. I've got some ideas along these lines, inspired by Queen's recent (and popular) Fresco:

When you get down to it, there are 2 main mechanisms at work in All For One. The rest is details and thematic chrome. The first mechanism is using shared pieces (the 6 characters) in order to affect Story Tracks, which you care about because you have a hidden goal which rewards you for advancing the right Stories. The second main mechanism is the combat system in which players vote for the outcome they want by playing a card from their hand - knowing that that card could instead be a mission they could do for points.

I'm really very happy with the vote-fighting in the game, but the reality is that combat is a peripheral issue in this pickup/deliver/route planning game and in a simpler version of the game, any combat should probably be less rules intensive, or cut altogether. As such, I do not mind trying the game without this combat mechanism - however with a theme of the Three Musketeers, consumers might expect combat to play a big role in the game.

Forgetting combat for the moment, that leaves just the shared pieces mechanism. I'd like to try a version of All For One which concentrated on the route planning involved in completing missions with these shared characters, to earn Favors and advance Story tracks. As the game has a route planning element, the rotating guard mechanism was intended to make the routes in the game dynamic, however (a) that might not be necessary, and (b) if it is, there may be an easier way to do it. Here are some possibilities:

1. No guards in the game. The guards were intended to be 'roadblocks' to get in the way of the characters moving around the board. However, perhaps the characters themselves are roadblocks enough.

2. Static (non-moving) guards. I could see 3 static guards being placed on the board, and whenever a Mission is complete, they move to new locations as indicated by the mission cards. For example, the locations of the required and bonus plot tokens from that mission. Running into a guard would end movement, just like running onto another character. Either the guard stays on the board, or is removed upon a character running into them.

3. Static guards that you can kill. When running into a static guard of the type described above, perhaps you're allowed to discard a card to "fight" (automatically defeat) him. Take the guard piece from he board and save it - score some kind of bonus at the end of the game for having defeated the most guards.

These are some of the things I'd like to consider and try in an effort to simplify the game. Then, some of the more fiddly rules could be included as expansions, like Fresco has. I'm interested to see how this works...

Monday, September 13, 2010

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal(l for one) lobotamy

I didn't start this blog until 2007, so while my few readers have surely read about All For One, even the most faithful probably don't know the beginnings of the story. 7 and a half years ago I came across a game design about the Three Musketeers on the Board Game Designers Forum which sounded just awesome. The game was called All For One, and the designer's name was David Brain. Since I thought it sounded so cool, David offered to send me a prototype - I expected files to print and use, but lo, in the mail I received a full set of bits! The board was small and paper, and the plot tokens were tiny paper squares, but the player pawns were wooden bits and the cards were printed and sleeved. I was impressed that David would send that kind of a package all the way from London!

Reading through the rules and solo playing the game I had an avalanche of ideas about things I thought should be different in the game, but I had promised to play the game "as-is" before trying any changes. So I gathered some friends and gave the game a try... and it went over like a lead balloon! My friends were not at all impressed with the game, but I knew the core of the game was good. So, having played by the original rules, I made a number of significant changes and convinced my friends to (grudgingly) play again. It was better, but still a long way from anything we would consider truly "good."

After much development by both David and myself, working together via chat room and email, All For One became much more streamlined, and much better. I started bringing it with me to conventions such as BGG.con and KublaCon, entering it in the game design contest at the latter, and finishing 2nd (would have been 1st except for a penalty for being 'late' - it's a long story). Through several different versions, the reception I got at the cons was overwhelmingly positive. The contest judges at KublaCon insisted that the game should be published, and the head judge even expressed interest in showing a copy to a new publisher starting up in Seattle (which you now know as Bucephelous Games). All For One was the first game I tried to submit to a publisher, and I didn't really know how to go about it.

First, I cornered Mark Kaufman from Days of Wonder at KublaCon, just after the results of that contest, and told him I had a game I thought was perfect for Days of Wonder. I knew DoW never takes submissions from just anyone, but I told him about the contest and he said to send a 1-page description of the game! Excited, I did that, but in the end they told me "Since we do so few games each year, we don't like to revisit themes, and we've already done a game loosely based on the Three Musketeers." I was pretty bummed by that news, especially considering that Queens Necklace was only barely themed after the Three Musketeers, and was a card game whereas All For One is a full board game - a completely different genre. At the time I even thought "hey - they could re-use some of the artwork if they wanted!" But alas, that was their decision.

The next thing I did was send the game to New York for a Spielbany session which Zev Schlasinger was attending, and some of my friends from BGDF (Jeff Warrender, Gil hova, and others) were going to play the game with Zev and see if he was interested in it. Zev did play the game, and was not interested - he gave me some feedback though, and said he'd be happy to look at the game again if his comments were addressed. So some time later, after a version change which I thought addressed most of Zev's concerns, I sent the game home with him at BGG.con 2007, hoping he would like the new version and decide to publish it. Sadly, it sat on his shelf for a full year, and when he did finally play the game again, his summary comment was, for lack of better terms, "It's too Euro for a theme that screams Ameritrash." I completely understand his position, it's like the difference between Pirate's Cove and Winds of Plunder. I suspect that when Zev thinks of the Three Musketeers, he imagines a game more like Pirate's Cove, with lots of 'exciting' dice rolling... not a deeper euro-style game like Winds of Plunder. He's welcome to his opinion, but I don't see why a Three Musketeers theme has to imply "ameritrash" or whatever.

Zev was nice enough to ship All For One directly to Jackson Pope in England, who expressed an interest in seeing it. In retrospect though, I wish I'd not bothered to send the game to him, as he didn't have the capitol for a game of that scope, and I would have preferred to have my prototype back. When Jackson had finished with the prototype, since he was in England, it seemed to make sense to have him send the prototype directly to David, so he could compare it with his and make sure we were both using the same game.

Unfortunately, that's the last I heard of the prototype. David has commented a number of times that though he can't seem to find some parts of the game, the nice painted miniatures I used as player pawns are safe and accounted for. However, the more important part of the prototype is the hand changes to the board and cards that represented a lot of development work and balancing!

Sadly, not much has happened with All For One since 2008. Not having a copy of the game, it was difficult to play it further or do any more development on it. I heard that David was working on a spin-off game with similar mechanisms about super heroes - something we'd discussed long ago in the chat room, however I still prefer the Musketeer theme. Frankly I've always been amazed that there isn't already a musketeer themed euro game - the theme is so strong and the story so well known. Well it turns out that not 1 but 2 Musketeer games have come out in the last year - and I just heard there's another Three Musketeers movie coming out next year starring Orlando Bloom and Mila Jovovich.

Neither of the recent/new Musketeer games sounds anything like All For One, and I still think All For One delivers an experience that's unlike other games out there - a mix of euro mechanics with a thick, American style theme. Be that as it may, even as head of development of Tasty Minstrel Games I cannot seem to get All For One published. I know, it sounds weird to me too... but based on some lessons learned from my first outing as a published designer, I have been thinking about the following strategy to make All For One somehow more accessible, or otherwise acceptable to a publisher:

I'll start with an analogy. Are you familiar with Queen Games' recent release, Fresco? It has been fairly well received (average rating of 7.53 at boardgamegeek, currently ranked #167), and is a very nice looking, decent eurogame. In what I can only assume was an attempt for the Spiel des Jahrs award, Queen did something interesting with Fresco - they took a complete, decently interesting game, and then stripped away several chunks of it. They referred to the lobotomized version as the 'base' game, and included those chunks as 3 'expansions' which you could optionally add back in. The first time I played the game, I played with all of the expansions, and found the game fun and enjoyable. The second time I was teaching some new players and thought "why not try just the base game?" - it was alright, but fairly boring and more straightforward than the previous playing. I understand that I'm not in the target market for the 'base game' - I'm among the category of people for whom the expansions were included (rather than cut from the game altogether), and I see why they chose to lobotomize the game the way they did. And it worked! Fresco was on the short list for consideration for the SdJ!

That said, I wonder if All For One doesn't need a lobotomy. I could see removing some of the things that are more fiddly to explain, and leaving a much simpler game, about as complex as Ticket to Ride. For example, the Horse movement could be stricken altogether, and the swordfighting duels. The algorithmic guard movement could be removed, or possibly replaced with a simpler mechanism for placing guard 'roadblocks' such as "place a guard where the card says to whenever a mission is completed." (this could be where the required/bonus tokens for that mission reside, so as not to require further information on the card). These aspects could however be included in the game by way of 'built-in expansion,' bringing the game back up to it's full glory when all of the expansions are used.

The theory is to simplify and focus the game into a light, fun pickup/deliver route planning game without fiddly rules to try and strengthen the theme, but allow players to add some of those rules back in once they're experienced with the game. I particularly like the "voting" swordplay mechanism and would hate to lose it forever.

I'll put some more thought into this lobotomy, and hopefully I'll get a chance to give it a try. Of course I'll post my findings here - hopefully that the simplified 'base' game is easy to learn and fun to play, and hat the add-ons work well as expansion or optional rules.

The Pros of Cons

Last week I attended Strategicon's Labor Day offering, a convention called Gateway. It was so much fun I already bought plane tickets to L.A. and registered for February's installment of OrcCon!

Speaking of conventions, I am in charge of board gaming at RinCon 2010, right here in Tucson, AZ! I've got a lot of great events lined up for the board game section, and there will also be plenty of RPGs, LARPs, Minis, CCGs, and even video gaming going on. I'll be spending my time in the Board Game area though, making sure everything runs smoothly, and trying to get some gaming in myself.

If you would like to run any games at RinCon, PLEASE EMAIL ME (or leave a comment here)! I have plenty of events that need running and time slots to fill! I've got 4 types of events on the schedule:

Scheduled Games: One-off games being run by someone who can teach the game. Sign up, show up, learn the game and give it a try!

Demos: A special case of Scheduled Games is a Demo of a new or upcoming game such as Mayfair's new Lords of Vegas to be demo'ed by Special Guest James Ernest, and Tasty Minstrel's upcoming Belfort, being demoed by none other than myself, Seth Jaffee.

Tournaments: A more competitive format, where the winners of the first round advance, and the winner of the tournament gets a prize! Prizes will be RinCoins, good for discounts in the prize booth and at the vendor booths, as well as ribbons for notoriety.

Game Design Events: Being as interested in game design as I am, it only makes sense that I try to promote Game Design events at a con where I'm in charge of board games! I've got 3 different Design Events on the schedule, and I have high hopes for each one.

* Gamesmiths Prototype Testing: Designers play each others' games and offer feedback.
* Practice Your Pitch: Pitch your game to a panel and receive feedback on how to improve the pitch itself (not the game). This is important for any designer who wants to pitch their game to a publisher.
* Game Design Seminar/Workshop: On Saturday night a panel of professional game designers will begin by discussing some of their creative methods, how they go about designing a game or developing it once they have an initial design. After a Question and Answer period, interested participants will receive a Game Design Kit with some general Euro-game bits in it (meeples, dice, cubes, roads, discs, sharpies, cardboard, scissors, etc). They can think about that and play with the bits over the weekend, then on Sunday's Workshop they can present what they've come up with so far to the panel and each other and get feedback on that.

I think all three of these events would be interesting and fun for an aspiring designer, and I hope that members of nearby thriving design communities make the trek to Tucson October 8-10 for RinCon, I think they could get a lot out of these events! So if you're nearby (a cheap plane flight away), you should really consider coming to RinCon - the convention is cheap, Tucson is cheap, and I think you'll find a lot of benefit from attending this particular convention.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Lessons learned - comment and response

I got an interesting comment on my last post about Terra Prime, and evidently my response is too long to add as a comment so I've got another post now...

First the comment:
Doug Orleans says: The Colonize sequence is a big one-- it's pretty drastic to have to throw out an awarded cube because you don't have space, and space is always at a premium.

There are many other slightly-too-fiddly things about this game; some could probably be cleared up with rules clarifications, some could be streamlined with rule changes. I've taught this to groups of new players a handful of times, and the response is never more than lukewarm. I don't think there's anything people hate about it (although one person did complain about the colony sequence thing a lot), but it's a lot of little things that add up, perhaps even just subconsciously, to make a "meh".

Here are some things that players seem to stumble over:

* The movement rules, e.g. the difference between Move and Explore. They're not complicated, but either they could be smoother or I need to find a smoother way to explain them.

* Remembering to refill your empty colonies at the beginning of your turn. Often all your colonies will already be full, or maybe all but one, so it's not a big enough operation to stick in your mind.

* Having to pay to use someone else's colony - it's not expensive enough to really change your decision, it's easy to forget, and it's a bit of a pain to pause and hand over the VP chip. (Or does it come from the bank? I don't even remember, too lazy to check...)

* The mechanism for selling cubes to the demand tiles is not very intuitive - would make more sense if they were all-or-nothing. There's also the issue that selling the last cube is much better than selling the first cube, because you get the tile (with its VP), and this seems more just arbitrary rather than something you can really plan for.

* Calculating the colony value - it always takes a little while for everyone to agree on the right calculation after someone puts down a colony marker. Someone usually forgets to count asteroids, or miscounts the distance from home base, or just adds wrong.

* The special-power modules - often only one or two players will even bother getting any of these. It's kind of just too much trouble to read through them, let alone plan ahead to buy a particular one.
This might be an experience issue-- they might be less undervalued once people get more familiar with how they play out in practice.

* The fact that $10 = 1VP at the end makes me feel like it'd be simpler to just have money *be* VP. Many games have that strategic question of when do you switch from earning money to earning VPs, but since money is just VPs that are also spendable, this isn't as interesting a decision.

I hope this feedback helps-- I feel like it's a decent game that could become a good-to-great game with more development.

And now my response:
Doug, thanks for your response. It is very helpful insight into how people view the game. It's also very disheartening, but for an entirely different reason than just that people have been "meh" about it...

If any of the following sounds harsh then I apologize, I really do appreciate those who have bought, played, and especially enjoyed Terra Prime, but as for some of the concerns I've read about, I just don't "get it."

Difference between Move and Explore:
In this game there are 2 possibilities: either the sector you're moving into has already been explored or it hasn't. 2 cases, clearly different, and impossible to confuse. The one that's non-trivial can only be done once per turn. I don't see how this is (a) possibly confusing at all, in any way, and (b) not dissimilar to any other game ever made with an exploration aspect. So yes, there's a difference between Moving and exploring, but that's due to the fact that some tiles are face down, not due to any kid of rules complexity.

Refilling colonies: This is easily forgotten, but it's also easily determined if any given colony should have a cube on it. I wrestled with this a little bit, but the only way to make it so players don't forget is to not put the cubes on the board and just make them always available. I didn't like that because it took away one of the only other interactions in the game (sniping resources), and it also meant too easy access to multiple resources from a planet.

I have not considered this to be a problem.

Paying to use someone's colony: You do not pay to use someone's colony. Rather they get 1 LP from the bank when you use their colony. Rather than slow down play, we just announce that we're using their colony "Point for blue!" and it's up to the blue player to take their point chip from the supply. This is not unlike Caylus, where a player gets a victory point when another player places a worker on their building, and I don't see it causing any more confusion or consternation here than it did there. This is not something I've seen or heard as a problem before.

Mechanism for Selling: I tried to make that as intuitive as possible. You have some assortment of cubes - whatever you happened to pick up. There exist spots on the demand tiles to put cubes. When you deliver, you simply put the cubes on the spots. I don't see how that could be simpler. If you had to deliver a particular combination of cubes (which is what I assume you mean by 'all-or-nothing') then the game might not work, as you can't carry all the cubes for some of the tiles at the outset, and depending on who colonizes which planets, you might not ever be able to make any money at all.

I suppose there could be NO demand tiles, and you could just deliver all of your resources all the time, but I wanted various demand fluctuations to drive player incentives of what to deliver an when. I originally had a crazy demand mechanism where the payout for delivering a cube changed as cubes of that kind were delivered - kinda like Power Grid's resource market, but it simply didn't work right. The demand tiles do a good job of approximating that - occasionally the demand for Blue goes away until a tile is completed, or demand for Green goes way up as it's the last cube needed to finish a tile for the bonus points.

To be fair, this is not a complaint I'd heard before, so maybe this is more specific to your group.

Selling the last cube being better than selling the first cube: That's a player preference thing. It is intended to give players something to plan for and go for if they want. You can absolutely plan for it, and if you don't want to then that's fine too. You always get paid for the cubes you deliver, and if you don't time it right then someone else gets the bonus points. That's one of the few really interactive parts of the game, and I don't think that's something I'd considered people being confused or unhappy about. Again, maybe this is specific to your group.

Colony Scoring: I forgot to mention it in my blog post, but that's another thing that could have been more elegant. Originally, scoring was based on the number of planets in the sector, so you were rewarded for clumping planets together. I switched to points for the type of planet, and instead of 0 for Asteroids I actually added points for asteroids because I felt like if you braved the asteroids to get there, you should be rewarded more. I also wanted to reward distance from Terra Prime. In retrospect, I probably could have left Asteroids out of the equation altogether and just scored for type of planet plus distance (I think those 2 are both important). I played around with alternate scoring for colonies, but anything simpler was simply not lucrative enough to compete with other scoring actions.

"Special-power modules: I assume you mean Technology Upgrades... There are 7 of them. They do not have a lot of text on them. I'm surprised players are so overwhelmed that they ignore them. Well, not terribly surprised, I'm finding more and more that people are overwhelmed by things I wouldn't think they'd be overwhelmed by.

I'd say it's absolutely an experience thing. I suppose there are people who play Puerto Rico without reading all the buildings (there are 16 violet ones, not including the Big buildings) and just produce and trade corn all game the first time the play.

I don't know what to tell you here - the Tech upgrades are there to help you advance your strategy. If a player can't be bothered to read them that's fine. They may miss out on something, and I would hope they'd read through the Techs after playing and realize "hey, this would have helped me out that game!"

Money = VP: I don't understand your comment here. Yes, money is VPs that are spendable. I don't understand what you mean by "it'd be simpler to have money *be* VP." It is. Do you mean that you should just get money when you colonize and other times you'd get VP as well? I don't like people getting rich from setting up a colony.

As for switching from making money to making VPs - that actually IS in there... when do you stop spending money on Modules and start saving it as VPs? I don't know if "this game doesn't have some mechanism that some other games have, and in the other games that mechanism is interesting" is really a valid criticism of a game. "I wish Puerto Rico had worker placement, because worker placement is interesting in Agricola" - just doesn't make a lot of sense as a criticism.

And amusingly, Puerto Rico's Role Selection is the same thing as worker placement, so like Terra Prime has an non-obvious version of switching from money to VP income, PR has a non-obvious version of worker placement! :)

So you see, with 1 exception your groups concerns or complaints aren't the kinds of things I feel I wish I'd done differently, and if that's why people aren't excited about Terra Prime, then that's what I'm finding so disappointing.

Lessons learned

Now that I have a game published, hundreds of people have played it, and I've had to demo and teach it a whole lot of times, I've started to see some things I wish I'd done differently. I've learned a lot about rules writing from this, and hopefully my experience will lead to better designs and rulebooks in the future. Maybe you can learn from my experience as well...

Things I wish I'd done differently in Terra Prime
I am not above admitting that Terra Prime's rules could have been better written, and in some cases better designed. I'm making this list of things I wish I'd done differently so that I can reference it in the future - so that when given the opportunity (should a 2nd edition or expansion become viable) I can "correct" some of these "mistakes." I put that in quotes because strictly speaking they're not mistakes. Everything in the game works, and works the way I intended it to. According to BGG I have played Terra Prime 86 times (since I started counting) and I still enjoy it. I think it's a strong design, and frankly I'm surprised it didn't go over better with the BGG community in general. However, if I knew then what I know now I would have done the following differently (in no particular order):

* Offloading a Colony Marker: I should have allowed offloading a Colony at any time, for free, just like you can jettison resource cubes. Thematically, they're cryogenically frozen people, and jettisoning them into space would not be very polite, but that could be explained away by simply saying "they are shuttled back to the space station." Mechanically, I wanted picking up a colony marker to be a Big Deal. You do it when you want to colonize, not when you want to go pick up resources. However, I found during play that one could get 'stuck' with a colony marker and be unable to do anything until they went back to base to offload it - so I allowed offloading the marker while in space, but so as not to kill all the people, you had to do it at a colony. That seemed fine, make it a Use Colony action... but I didn't like that you had to spend a turn action to correct a mistake you might have made picking up the marker in the first place. You already wasted an action picking it up after all. So I decided to make it a free action, but still count it as Using a Colony. That's nonsense, I've added an action, and an exception (since it doesn't count against your actions for the turn) for this little, tiny thematic thing. I should have allowed colony markers to be returned to your supply at any time. It doesn't help that the player aid doesn't mention that it's a free action, just lists offloading as a Use Colony action. Even the term "Free action" must now be defined, and that's the only one in the game. Shame on me for that!

In the 2nd edition or the expansion, should they ever see print, that rule will be corrected.

* Cost of Weapons and Shields: Originally, the cost of each Module was "10 credits plus 10 more credits per module of that type already on your ship." I decide that was too complicated, so I simplified most of the costs to those in the final game. However, in Terra Prime your 2nd weapon helps a lot more than your first one does, and your 3rd weapon helps a lot more than that. Therefore I thought it appropriate to scale the cost of those weapons - as you can see they cost 10/30/50 for your 1st/2nd/3rd module. It's a minor point, but there's not a good reason I didn't use the simpler 10/20/30 credits there. Not only would that be less goofy, but as it stands the third weapon never really gets purchased. As there are only 3 Weapon/Shield slots, it's rare that anyone really wants a 3rd weapon module anyway, so making them exorbitantly expensive doesn't really matter. However in the expansion you will be able to expand your ship, so it's conceivable a player might want 3 weapon modules. To make that more interesting, the 3rd module might ought to be less expensive. In any case I'll have to address the cost of a 4th module - not because anyone will ever want one, but because if they do there's no cost defined.

The Shield cost is goofy because I was attempting to keep the number of actions down. I didn't want to add a "recharge shields" action when I thought I could do it all with the Buy Shields action. So I made the Buy Shield action have 2 parts, first you can bu a shield if you want, then you can charge all your shields if you want. This was harder for some people to understand than I thought it would be, and in the end I wish I'd made shields simply cost 20 and come full of energy, and then have a Recharge Shields action which allowed you to fill up your energy for 10 credits.

* Tile Placement Restriction: Boy did I underestimate how confusing this would be! There is one rule: "no two adjacent sectors can contain planets." And yet there has been plenty of confusion as to how tiles can be placed. I wanted the placement of tiles to be somewhat interesting, and I wanted planets to clump so that when colonizing players would have to choose 1 color over another. I had considered (and even tried) cutting that restriction and allowing any tile placement, but that generally led to way too many colonizing opportunities. I suppose I could have reduced the number of colonizable things on the tiles, but I liked the tile mix as it was. I could have put an "up" arrow on each tile and said you had to orient the tile with the arrow pointing up, but that remove the fun and benefit of being the one exploring the tile! A playetester made a suggestion that all the tiles be face up from the outset, so you know where all the planets are. That's a good idea, but the game is about exploring space, so I was hesitant to use it. I have used that setup for the expansion, which will 'solve' any 'problem' with the tile placement rules by making them a non-issue. All tiles will be face up from the outset of the game. The center of the tiles will be covered with an Exploration Tile which will replace whatever is printed on the tile - so you still have to explore each tile. Also, there is a new item you might find on these Exploration tiles called a Sunstar - which makes planets on that tile uninhabitable. The effect is that while you know where all of the planets are, there's a possibility you will head out to colonize one and it turns out you can't because it's too close to a Sunstar. Of course, scanning would give you this information ahead of time.

* Colonize Sequence Error: this one is a mistake... the artist, in an effort to explain the process of the Colonize action, made a step-by-step list of what to do when colonizing a planet. I thought it sounded good and accurate when I proofed it, but when the game hit the shelves a player pointed out that when following those steps, you get the reward from the reward tile BEFORE you vacate your cargo hold by placing your colony marker. Therefore, unless you buy a cargo hold, many times when you colonize you must discard the resource you get from the reward tile. This was unintended, I had always played that you vacate your cargo hold and then you get the reward (or, it's all simultaneous, so it doesn't matter). When asked the question and reading the rulebook for an answer I had to say "well, the rules say you don't get the reward." In retrospect I could have ruled that it's all simultaneous, but I didn't think of that at the time.

In any case, any future version of the rules will address this. I will probably just add a note that you replace the Colony marker with any resources in the reward tile or something like that.

* Delivery Optimizer: I might have preferred if the Delivery Optimizer didn't have to be bought up front, BEFORE doing deliveries. I wrote it that way so it would be an interesting strategic decisions - AM I planning on doing deliveries and completing tiles? Do I want to commit to that? As a result, when I play I seldom find Delivery optimizer attractive, though I've seen it garner decent points over the course of a game. I might have liked it better though if you could bu it later in the game, and instead of rewarding you when you complete a delivery tile, it rewarded you at game end for each delivery tile you completed. That way if you DID complete a number of demand tiles you could purchase the Optimizer for some points, rather than spending early game resources which could have been traded in for money to upgrade your ship with.

In truth I'm not sure that would be better, I think the Delivery Optimizer is good as it is, but I always wonder when I play why I didn't make it the other way.

* Pacifying Aliens: This isn't a big deal, but every time I explain it I wonder if it really had to be "1 resource per alien symbol PLUS 1" of if it could simply have been "1 resource per symbol." there was a reason for it, but I don't know if the reason was good enough for the added annoyance of that rule not being as simple as it could be. Maybe I could have said that Pacifying cost just 1 resource per symbol, and you DON'T get the reward off the reward tile, if it turned out to be too easy otherwise.

I feel like I'm ranting at this point, but this is my blog, and if I want to rant about my own game then I feel like this is the appropriate place to do so. I hope anyone reading this has played Terra Prime and liked it as is. If you'd like to use any of these variations I've mentioned as a house rule, then feel free to do so. Leave a comment to let me know what you think.