Sunday, August 21, 2011

The state of things... games in development and TMG submissions

I haven't been posting as often as I'd like in this blog. For one thing I would like to keep my readers interested with what's going on in my gaming life, and for another I like to chronicle my thoughts for my own use later!

So here's what's going on with some of the games I've been working on lately for TMG...

I posted about a week ago about my latest thoughts on the 1st expansion for Eminent Domain, and about 3 weeks before that about The Untouchables (a simple coop game I was experimenting with). I haven't done any more with either of those since their respective posts.

Kings of Air and Steam
I have been worried about some aspects of Kings of Air and Steam that have not come together quite like I'd like, and I'd had some unfortunate playtests at Protospiel and Gen Con. I've been discussing some things with the designer, and we've finally addressed the boards (something I'd been leaving for later) as well as some other items that weren't working out too well. I think we've made some huge steps in the right direction, and I'm feeling much better now about the state of this particular game.

Josh Cappel will be doing the art for this one, and I'm looking forward to it looking every bit as good as Belfort.

Scott designed some new boards, hexes rather than rectangles, which I liked very much. They are more modular, and more attractive, and they don't have as many dead corners. I think the hex boards are definitely an improvement, but it's possible the playing area was too large in general - this is based on some of the negative feedback we'd gotten. You see, the interaction in this game comes mostly from the threat or worry that another player might be going for the same thing as you. If the board is so big that much of the time the other players are not near enough to you to matter, then the interaction seems to go away. Scott just made new boards (updating things like the number of cities and factories) and has made each with fewer hexes. We'll see if this makes the overall game feel more crowded and hopefully more fun.

The new boards also have a nice, more confined number of factories and cities of each color, which I think will create a good number of cubes over the course of the game, and a good amount of demand for those cubes.

One thing I was not happy with at all was the Depot buying mechanism. I've tried several iterations, each of which had their good points and their bad points. Something that I came up with in an effort to justify depot pricing and also fix another problem in the game (some players have more than enough actions and end up passing) was this - make depots worth money at the end of the game! Therefore, while buying a depot eats up your working capital, it represents a profit in points in addition to something you need in order to deliver goods. Also, when confronted with an action when you have nothing better to do, now you could purchase a depot thereby scoring points. The escalating cost of depots ($4/$6/$8 for the 1st/2nd/3rd depot on a line). Another way to look at this, which is technically the same thing, but I think is somehow a little nicer, is to say that instead of your score being the total money that you have, score 1 point per depot, plus 1 point per $10 at the end of the game. I played with this rule yesterday and it seemed to go well. Thematically your score is based on the 'strength' or size of your network, as measured by your depots in place. Of course, money counts too.
Thinking about is a little more right now I'm wondering if it shouldn't be 2vp/depot + 1vp/$10...

At Gen Con I was listing my concerns to Andy Van Zandt, and he suggested that perhaps passing could entail collecting a couple of dollars - maybe $1/depot you've already built. In addition to this being something a player could do when they have no reasonable action to take, this turned out to be good because it allowed players who are a little bit short of cash to get enough money to make an upgrade or buy a depot without them having to make a delivery. I decided it might be simpler to decouple that from the number of depots made (especially if depots are worth points, you already have incentive to build them) and instead make it that you get $1/round... so in round 1 you collect only $1 when you pass, while in Round 5 you collect $5. I like the way that scales, and it's easily communicated on the Market board.

The new production rule didn't seem to go over well in the 1/2 game played at Gen Con, but has seemed great when played lately. The current rule is that each factory produces 1 cube, and in addition, each market tile generates 1 cube per factory of that color. I think the number of factories changed between Gen Con and recent playtests, so that explain the difference in how it has worked out.

Bank Job - a TMG submission from Phillip Dubarry
I love the sound of Kingdom of Soloman (coming soon from Minion Games), so I was interested in checking out this submission by Phillip Dubarry. I like the theme - it's like a Heist movie, where you assemble a crew and go rob a bank and stuff. Michael was excited about it and enjoyed it. I like the idea of the game, but I am finding I'm not fond of Simultaneous Action Selection, especially when resolved in some arbitrary turn order. I had wrestled with that for Kings of Air and Steam (where it's less of a big deal) and solved it by sorting the character powers and allowing those with weaker powers to have better priority when in a timing conflict.

In Ruins
I played Andy's post-apocalyptic card drafting game In ruins at Spielbany, at Protospiel, at my friend's game night, and again at Gen Con. I enjoy it, and I like the theme of the game, as well as the innovative drafting mechanism. It may be a title that TMG eventually picks up. One thing I worry about is how well it'd go over (sell) - novel card drafting isn't as hot a mechanism right now like Dice Drafting is (was? Is it still big?) or like Deck Building or "dice building" (Quarriors) is. Or is it? Is the popularity of 7 Wonders (and potentially 51st State) enough to imply that players are interested in games driven by a card draft? One other potential turn off is that the core mechanism, the reason the whole thing works, MIGHT just piss off players (any new, awesome card that comes up may be blocked by a player, therefore more often than not it may seem like you're drafting the dregs of what's out there). The last thing I think might be a problem (commercially) is that it's not a 'quick, simple game' like 7 Wonders. Which is not a knock on the game - the rules aren't actually very complicated at all, but the cards are, and the game has depth and is subtle. I worry that people may prefer a simpler game like 7W which is easier to grasp - which is a concern really on the general state of gamers (one I'm sure I've discussed before) more than it's a concern about any specific game. I mentioned to Andy that I might like to see another, different, simpler game using this draft mechanism which may be more likely to become a "hit" in the way something like 7 Wonders or Dominion has. I mean, one could probably take a copy of 7 Wonders and replace the booster draft mechanism with Andy's draft mechanism and see how that goes!

My Little Vineyard
I haven't thought much about or done much with this since Protospiel. The designer hasn't either - Scott told me he'd been dealing with personal stuff rather than game design. I still generally like the wine theme and the dice drafting mechanism, but I'm beginning to wonder if the general game buying public is over both of them. If not, then I think it would make a nice addition to the TMG line, so long as all the kinks get worked out!

I apologize for the negativity that is about to flow here...
I finally played Quarriors. Frankly, I cannot think of a bigger waste of time or effort. The game is simpler/less interesting than Dominion, and yet it's more fiddly/complicated to explain/play. It's like playing Dominion with a severely diluted deck - like whenever you buy a Village, you gain 3 Villages, 2 Copper, and a Silver. The fact that the only choice you really make - which die to add to your deck - only MAYBE means you get the effect of that die I find entirely regrettable, I feel like that defeats the entire purpose of the game.

The worst part about all this is that despite Quarriors being so little of an actual game, it will sell thousands of copies because it's the first game of it's kind - the next twist on deck building - and because it's got lots of dice and comes in a nice tin with nice art.

I do however like the idea of a deck building game where the cards in your deck have variability to them (like dice). But how do you make such a game that isn't disappointing like Quarriors? I think some of the same reasoning I put into Eminent Domain to set it apart from typical deck building games may apply here as well. However, I also think that any die added to your 'deck' really has to do it's job no matter what face is rolled on it. Maybe the effectiveness or intensity of that effect could be variable depending on the face rolled, or maybe a secondary/alternate effect could be based on the face rolled but the general/standard effect should be based on the die itself, and the fact that you have chosen to add it to your deck.

A BGDF member has been working on a 'dice building' game for quite some time, and I think it's closer to what I'd expected to see out of Quarriors. I haven't seen the latest version, but I think it would be cool to check it out. If it's everything I want it to be, then I think it could make a good addition to the TMG line.

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