Wednesday, October 19, 2011

PRACTICE makes perfect? - Schedule update

They seem to have updated the schedule for PRACTICE with some more detail...

Lecture (Reiner Knizia): A detailed case study of a best-selling board game design

Not sure which game they're referring to, but it's Knizia, so it's probably one of his (Lord of the Rings? Ra? Tigris & Euphrates? Samurai?). Hopefully it's not something I've heard before (I've heard Knizia speak at a few conventions over the years, and after a while it seemed like he was saying a lot of the same stuff).

Panel: State of the Art Techniques: Best-practice methods for creating great games

Still not sure if this won't be geared toward video game design or programming, but there might be some tips in there, some best-practice methods I could incorporate into my process.

Lecture (Steve Gaynor): Helping Your Players Find Their Own Way - Lessons from Bioshock and other titles in progression gating and player tools.

Another one potentially geared toward video games, but the interaction with the player is common across both video games and board games.

Panel: Designers, Players - Fight! Tournament players and developers on designing for expert play in fighting games.

I am seeing a trend here...
I suspect that this panel provides some interesting insight into what competitive players are looking for during a game. I think I generally use that sort of approach when I design (what will the players be thinking as they play), so maybe this will help.

Open Problems: A structured "open mic" session in which conference attendees present works in progress and share design problems for discussion and feedback.

This sounds pretty great! If I get a chance, the first thing that comes to mind which I'd like to get people's opinion on is this: How do designers feel about the inevitable request by players to add direct interaction into a euro-style game? Would they dare try? How can it be done without "ruining" the game?

Specifically I'm of course talking about Eminent Domain here. The game has barely hit the shelves, and already there are multiple threads on adding player vs player combat or attacking other players' planets. I have some thoughts on how I might like to add this in an expansion, but I'd love to see what I can glean from other designers in this regard.

In addition, it might be neat to hear how other designers feel about Expansions, and what makes a good expansion.

Lecture (Rogers Redding): The Game Design of Football: Evolving the rules of a nation's favorite sport.

I think this will be interesting, though perhaps not terribly useful. I play Ultimate which, like Football or any sport, is loaded with all kinds of rules to govern specific situations. It will be interesting to hear how they deal with that for a big-money sport like Football with lots at stake.

Panel: Game Design and Programming: A debate on the intersection and relevance of coding and design.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I suspect this will be more heavily geared toward programming, and therefore may be of little use to me. Hopefully I can learn something that will help with digital implementation of board games or something like that.

Lecture (Matt Boch): Break it down: How Harmonix and Kinext taught the world to dance.

Not sure what fruit this may bear - perhaps some understanding in how people as a whole behave and react to things like games?

I'm still excited to go to PRACTICE next week, but I remain skeptical that it will, in the end, be worth the cost of admission. Hopefully I can glean enough info off of the Video Game focused discussion to make it worth my while. I guess we'll have to wait and see!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tasty Minstel Games - A Retrospective So Far

In a Gen Con recap post I said:

"...We had a booth, and brought 6 different games to sell, including Eminent Domain, Belfort, Martian Dice, Train of Thought, Jab: Realtime Boxing, and Homesteaders 2nd Edition. Our booth was rather busy all 4 days of the con, and we did many, many demos. Looking up and down our booth at all 6 of our offerings I noted that, while no game is for everybody... within their target demographic, each of our games is really very good. They are the highest quality game, and the art and production (now that we've moved to Panda) are also the highest quality. I felt proud to stand behind each and every one of them! Even Martian Dice, which is the type of game that generally doesn't interest me at all, is really very good for what it is - I heard people saying it was better than Zombie Dice (a similar quick filler)."

I stand by that comment, I really am proud of the games that Tasty Minstrel has published. Even the out of print Terra Prime, my first published title, stands out to me as a quality game. Yes, I'm a bit biased there, but lately I've been seeing more and more people on BGG making positive comments, and looking forward to a potential reprint (with expansion included). Let me take a moment to look at each Tasty Minstrel title and mention how I currently feel about it:

  • Terra Prime: I have a soft spot for this game, seeing as how it was my first published title. As I said above, I'm happy to see that people are finding this game and enjoying it, and I'm starting to feel a real demand for a 2nd edition. Hopefully Tasty Minstrel will decide to reprint (with Panda's excellent production quality) and include the expansion I've designed. That might happen in 2012, you never know!
  • Homesteaders 2nd Edition: Homesteaders is an excellent strategy game. I dragged it around with me to every convention I went to for 3 years, and even submitted it to game publishers for Alex in an effort to see it published. When TMG decided to publish it I was ecstatic - and when the manufacturer did such a bad job, I was heartbroken. Now that the 2nd edition is out, and the manufacturing is truly top notch, I want very badly to get a 2nd edition copy (I don't have one yet) and play Homesteaders again!
  • Train of Thought: Train of Thought is my absolute favorite party game. I love Times Up!, I like Taboo, and I've had fun with Catch Phrase and other similar games... but Train of Thought immediately supplanted them all the first time I played it. I played this a couple of weeks ago, and it holds true - it's still a lot of fun for me to try and figure out how to get from word A to word B!
  • Jab: Realtime Boxing: Jab is a truly unique game. I like the idea of real time games. Indeed, I made one myself! The first time I heard about Jab, I knew the potential was there - I immediately suggested that TMG publish the game. Jab does an excellent job of keeping the players on their toes. Many gamers are not fond of real time, or don't like games that force them to react physically - preferring to ponder their move for a while. Well, this game won't be for those players. But for anyone who grew up playing Spit, Speed, Egyptian Ratscrew (like me)... Jab is just the game for them.
  • Belfort: Belfort has turned out so beautiful that it's a wonder to behold. I have always liked the game, ever since I played it for the first time (twice) at GAMA 2009. After many plays (BGG says 15, but it must be more than that!) I still think it's a very solid worker placement / resource management / area control game in the euro style... i.e. just my type of game!
  • Eminent Domain: What can I say - no bias here! I am thrilled at how EmDo came out, and I'm thrilled to read the positive comments coming in from people who have played the game. I have played over 120 games of EmDo, and I still like it and would play again right now. I can't say enough good things about this game - so don't get me started!
  • Martian Dice: I'm not the kind of player that really enjoys light filler dice games such as Martian Dice. But I continue to find that as a light filler dice game, Martian Dice really seems better to me than any other similar game out there. The additional layer of choosing not just whether to roll again, but also which type of die to set aside really pushes this game into more interesting territory without feeling any more complex or complicated than simpler press your luck games.
  • Ground Floor: Art is underway for this one, by Ariel Seoane (the guy who did Homesteaders) and it looks fantastic! A much different style than Josh Cappel's work, but no less awesome in any way. I haven't played this one in a while - too many other things to work on - but I've loved it for years. I first played it in October 2009, and I had a blast working on it with the designer David Short. This game scales incredibly well from 2 players to 6, and does a great job representing the balance between time and money. I'm really happy with it, though with it's theme and weight I fear the audience will be smaller than the game deserves. I guess that's where marketing comes in!
  • Kings of Air and Steam: We're getting close to crunch time for KoA&S - art is underway, and pretty soon TMG is going to kick off a Kickstarter campaign for it. There are a few rules details that the designer and I are still trying to decide on the best version of, but in any case the game play is still awesome! I may like pickup-deliver/routeplanning games more than the average Joe, but to me this game is a lot of fun.
  • For The Win!: Unless you religiously follow my blog, you probably don't even know what For The Win! is... and frankly, even if you do follow it you may be confused as it used to be called Mosh Pit. It's a game by a local guy here in Tucson (Michael Eskue, who happens to be David Short's brother in law). It's an abstract game, like Hive, but it's got some neat stuff in it budgeting actions being probably the biggest thing which sets it apart from other similar types of games. I haven't played this one in a while, but it's pretty darn good - I think if you like Hive, you'll love For The Win!

PRACTICE makes perfect?

In a couple of weeks I'm heading to Manhattan for PRACTICE: Game Design In Detail. I had never heard of this before, but it sounds like it could be really interesting, and seeing as how I'm trying to hone, improve, and leverage my design skills, it certainly sounds like an opportunity I ought to check out!

I don't really know what to expect. Several of the time blocks on the schedule are merely labeled "Lecture" - I don't know who will be lecturing, or on what topic, but I'm curious to see what they have to say anyway. All of the speakers are well known designers in various gaming realms. Two of the units are labeled:

  • Panel: State of the Art Techniques
  • Panel: Game Design vs. Programming
I'm not sure how useful "Game Design vs Programming" will be for me personally, it sounds (just by the title) as if it's geared toward people who are trying to get into video game design, and might not understand the difference between designing a game system, and programming a computer to govern that system. I don't do any programming (nor do I care to), but perhaps that panel will give me some insight on what it takes to get a digital version of a board game going.

"State of the Art Techniques" however could be interesting. Like the other panel though, I'm not sure if they're referring to techniques in Game Design, or techniques in programming a video game... State of the Art can easily refer to technology.

I do hope this trip doesn't turn out to be a waste of time. There's a lot of crossover between video game design and board game design, so I think even if some of the lectures and panels are geared toward video games, the information and insight could still be useful for me. I'm tentative, but curious, and I look forward to the trip.

If you've ever been to PRACTICE, or know anything about it, please leave a comment!

Monday, October 03, 2011

How to acheive a feeling of progression in a game... initial thoughts

A friend of mine was working on a game of his the other day, and said he's having problems with one aspect in particular - the game has no feeling of progression. So how do you provide a feeling of progression in a game?

I'm not sure I have a concrete answer for that yet, but here are some initial thoughts on the subject:

Increasing Scope
While I can't seem to find it in my blog at the moment, I've talked before about the "scope" of a game, and how I think that relates to an "epic" feel. I highly suspect that a feeling of "progression" in a game is closely related to this, if not exactly the same thing.

Consider Railroad Tycoon (and Age of Steam): In the early game your rail network and your engine size are both small, so your actions are limited to making specific short deliveries and building track. As the game progresses you will have increased your network by necessity (your short deliveries will dry up), and you will be forced to (and encouraged to via scoring incentives) upgrade your engine. At that point the number of delivery options available to you will have increased, as will the reward for delivering. And as you deliver more and more, your income ramps up giving you more money to build bigger, more expensive track with (crossing mountains for example). This ramping up of options increases the scope of the game, giving a tangible feeling of progression. I often find that at the beginning of the game I almost can't imagine making even a 3-link delivery, as I start with nothing, while at the end of the game I wonder how I was able to survive on those paltry 1-2 link deliveries as I scan the board looking for 5+ point delivery options.

I firmly believe that Railroad Tycoon does an excellent job of providing an "epic" feel and a real, tangible feeling of progression from the beginning of the game through the end, and I submit that it does so by expanding your ability over time.

Collecting Permanent Abilities
This may actually be more of the same thing, but many games offer a feeling of progression through a collection of permanent abilities.

Consider Puerto Rico: In the early game all players are at about the same position - 1 plantation and a couple of bucks. Over the course of the game players will purchase buildings which give them specific abilities, thereby weighting the value of some choices compared to others. When you have a Large and Small market, choosing Trader seems much more lucrative to you than it does to the guy with neither market and only Indigo and Sugar to sell. By collecting various permanent bonuses, you don't necessarily gain access to more abilities, but you do shift the value of options relative to each other, you do differentiate your position from that of your opponents, and you do thereby get a feeling of progression from the beginning of the game to the end.

Separation of Economy and Victory
In addition, Puerto Rico has another feature which offers a feeling of progression... a separation of economy and scoring. Money in the game is important because you use it to buy things that will score Victory Points for you. However, it's the Victory Points which make you win, not the money. In the early game it's important to set up an economic engine so that you can afford to do things that will generate Victory Points, but in the late game money becomes much less important, and VPs are really the focus of your game. It's this transition that gives the game a palpable sense of progression. This is a common dynamic in Economic Engine games, and I submit that it's created by the separation of economy and victory conditions.

These three things (and frankly, Collecting Permanent Abilities might just be an example of Increasing Scope) are all aspects which can provide a feeling of progression in a game. Are there others? Leave a comment if you can think of any!

I'll also note that my game Eminent Domain seems to provide a sense of progression, and I believe it stems from a combination of an increase in scope and a collection of permanent abilities. In the early game you are not well equipped to do big, powerful Roles because you only have 2 of any given card in your deck, and your deck is not focused toward any particular role. Later in the game, your deck composition will favor certain roles, and you will have collected some combination of symbols on planets in your Empire, making mid-late game plays feel a lot more impressive than in the early game. The tech requirements of multiple planets of the same type lend to this feeling as well - requiring you to have Surveyed for the appropriate planet types in order to get a particular ability out of the Tech stacks.