Saturday, December 31, 2011

EmDo Warmonger Expansion - some thoughts

I have invited some people to share the DropBox folder with EmDo expansion files, and I hope to see some reports after the new year as to what those people think of the new stuff, especially if they printed it out and played with it. I have played a bit (mostly 2-player) in the last couple of weeks, and as John and I gain familiarity with the cards, we are definitely improving.

I was worried that the Warmonger stuff - Warfare Technology, benefits of having a dreadnaught, and the necessity to get Destroyers to attack some planets - would overemphasize the Warfare role rather than simply be another option of something to pursue. I tried to balance this out by including planets that cannot be attacked*, and then I went 1 step further and made the effect of those planets be "collect 1 VP when dissenting a Warfare role." So far I don't think it's been a problem, but my latest thought is that I should make Tech cards that also give a VP if you dissent a Warfare role - probably put them on the back of the Warfare Technology tech cards (which allow you to discard fighters as if they were Research symbols).

The Warfare Technology is currently a level 1 permanent tech in each of the tech stacks (i.e. there are 3 of them), with an interesting new technology on the back. In some games I think it may be too strong to be able to pay an unlimited number of Research costs with Fighters, so I'm considering turning those Warfare Technology techs into Level 2 techs - making them at least a little harder to obtain. Other games though I'm not so sure that's necessary.

* As an aside, I think I might change that to simply be "requires infinite fighters" - so the card cost can stay consistent (put an infinity sign for the Warfare cost), and those planets can still be attacked if you do the work to get a Dreadnaught (which you can discard in lieu of any number of fighters when attacking a planet).

Sedjtroll's Gaming Year In Review - 2011

It's that time of year, and I see a lot of "year in review" and "best of 2011" posts floating around. I've never done that, but I thought I'd take a look at what I've played this year and do some sort of "year in review" post myself...

Games Played
According to stats, I have recorded 436 games played - about 36 games per month on the average, and more than 1 per day! This is actually somewhat low for me in comparison to recent years. Let's take a look at some of the more notable games I was into this year:

Unpublished Prototype: 88 plays
This entry is a combination of all the prototypes I played, 34 different games including Tasty Minstrel submissions (some of which are now published, such as Martian Dice, and some are in the process, such as Kings of Air and Steam), my own designs (such as Alter Ego, Exhibit, and Eminent Domain expansions), and other people's games I played at Spielbany, Protospiel, and BGG.con among other places.

Eminent Domain: 56 plays
This includes some recent plays of the expansion stuff I've been working on, since then I started recording it in the normal EmDo entry. I'm starting to be more comfortable with the Warmonger expansion stuff. Like the base game though, I suspect it may take players several plays to sort of "get it" - and if they don't persevere they might find the expansion wildly broken.

As a side note, I've played over 150 games of Eminent Domain over the last 2 years or so, and I'm not sick of it. That makes me happy!

Hanabi: 29 plays
Hanabi is by far the most cooperative feeling cooperative game I have ever played. I think it's the crowning acheivement of the genre, at least so far, and I look forward to playing some more. The only down side to Hanabi is "The Great Convention Debate." The people who taught me the game are bridge players, and they had 3 pages of conventions such as "If I tell you you have "Zero 4's" that means your 1st and 3rd cards are playable." If you ask me, that kind of convention is specifically prohibited by the rules! There are more tame conventions though, such as "I keep my oldest cards to the left of my hand, and always place the newest card on the right" - which is a logical convention that sort of evolves naturally... however it leads to other conventions which become borderline cheating - like "When I discard, I always discard the card furthest to the left." Which then begets " "I know if they discard it'll be a safe card, so I won't give that player a clue, I'll look at the next player's hand..." which translates to "They just passed over giving me a clue, therefore my leftmost card is a safe discard..." Just how much of that info transfer is 'legal'? Certainly all of it is more legal than using the bids as code for other pre-agreed upon language.

Sobek: 21 plays
I got Sobek as a throw-in on a trade, and I ended up liking i better than the game I had traded for! I especially like Sobek as a 2-player game, and the only thing I wish were different is the "oasis" tiles - I wish you could hold onto them and use them later, so that they are always a reward rather than occasionally a penalty (you play a set to avoid drafting a card, but if all that's left is Oasis tiles, you'll still have to draft a card).

Kings of Air and Steam: 17 plays
I have been working on Kings of Air and Steam for Tasty Minstrel Games since February, and I really enjoy it. In the last weeks I've gotten a number of plays (mostly 2 player) in to fine tune the character abilities. After the successful Kickstarter campaign, this game's production is in full swing, Josh is hard at work on the visuals, and I look forward to an awesome looking game next summer.

Glen More: 15 plays
Glen More is a fantastic little game that I'm very glad I was able to trade for. The guy I got it from even pimped it out with fancy aftermarket bits! Though I would be just as happy to play with the standard bits. The market mechanism in Glen More is inspired, and the game offers several viable paths to victory. I am always a little disappointed that the special tiles overlap so much, but that doesn't keep the game from being really cool :)

7 Wonders: 11 plays
7 Wonders won all kinds of awards including the big one (Kennerspiel des Jahres), and it's a very popular and well liked game. I am not as enamored with the game as all that. It's a solid little card drafting game, but I think people are more excited that it plays 7 players and has a short play time than they are excited whether or not it's any good. It IS good, but I don't know if it's as good as it's cracked up to be.

Kingdom Builder: 6 plays
Kingdom Builder is the new hotness from the creator of Dominion. I can see a lot of Donald X's style in the variable scoring conditions and power tiles, and the game is an OK diversion, but I don't see it as being really skill based enough to really satisfy me. I'd much rather play Glory to Rome or EmDo, each of which is about the same scope/timeframe (though to be fair, they're both heavier and more complicated, so they only count as the same scope if you have experienced players).

Navegador: 5 plays
I first played this game at BGG.con last year, and played it 5 times in 2011. It's definitely my favorite Mac Gerdts game to date! I hope to play this one a few more times before I forget about it.

Pantheon: 4 plays
I played Pantheon at BGG.con this year, and really enjoyed it.

Grave Business: 3 plays
Grave Business is by a friend of mine, and if it weren't for that I might never have played it - a Zombie theme and blind bidding are both things that generally turn me off in games. but Andy's games are always well thought out, so I thought I'd see how his first published title played. I was surprised at how much I liked it! It's a solid, well thought out game, and one I've played a couple of times this year - more than I can say about any other game with a Zombie theme!

Quarriors!: 3 plays
Quarrior's is a standout game in that it was very popular, riding on the recent popularity of the deck building genre as well as the recent popularity of dice games - and almost nothing else. All 3 of these recorded plays were a result of me waling up when people were already explaining the rules and it was either play or watch (in some cases it seems like those are the same thing). I will note that the designer/publisher recently posted official variant rules which apparently they playtested for a year and made for what *I* would consider a better game - though maybe not "better" for their target market... I haven't tried the game with those variant rules, but I highly suspect they're an improvement.

Shipyard: 3 plays
I first played Shipyard at BGG.con 2009, and soon after that I bought a copy (buying games is actually quite rare for me). I have not played it nearly as much as I'd have liked, but finally I've picked it back up and gotten it back to the table a couple of times, and that reminds me why I like it so much! It has a lot of fiddly bits, but all of it goes together prefectly - nothing is extraneous. There are various approaches to get things done, and I like the various Rondels which govern most of the actions in the game.

Shipyard is really a standout game and I look forward to playing it again. Rumors that the end-game bonus cards are not properly balanced have been greatly exaggerated - those people just like to compare apples to oranges.

The Castles of Burgundy: 1 plays
I played The Castles of burgundy at KublaCon last May, and I really enjoyed it. I have not had the opportunity to play it again, but I thought it deserved mention as a standout game of 2011. Stefan Feld had an outstanding year, and while it was his other games that got all of the attention, I think this one might be one of his actual best.

The Manhattan Project: 1 plays
I saw some posts about The Manhattan Project before it was picked up to be published, and it sounded very interesting. I was kind of hoping to get my hands on it for possible Tasty Minstrel release, but James grabbed it up at Protospiel. And I'm glad he did, I got a chance to play it at BGG.con and it's every bit as cool as I thought it would be! This might be a game I purchase, which (again) is rare for me - though it's sort of contingent on my play group wanting to play it... I hope they do!

Trajan: 1 plays
I got a chance to play Trajan at BGG.con, and it's every bit as interesting as I thought it would be, though perhaps not as good as I hoped it would be. Managing the colors on the Rondel sort of obfuscates the playing of the game, which is a little annoying - if I didn't think the Trajan tiles were such a big deal I could more easily ignore it. I'd like to play again, but if that part doesn't get more pleasant with experience then I'm afraid I won't want to play it too much. Shame, because I really like how the rest of the game fits together - many different approaches, and they overlap so you may be in contest with someone for an action even though you're both pursuing different strategies!

Walnut Grove: 1 plays
I hadn't heard anything about this one until Snowden brought it to game night, and he described it as a light sort of Agricola. After playing the game I rather enjoyed it and would like to play again, albeit with one small variant rule.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Kings of Air and Steam - Kickstarted!

It's official, with 626 backers (representing almost 1000 copies of the game) and $41,722 in pledges, the Kings of Air and Steam Kickstarter project has funded! That was sort of a foregone conclusion, as it reached the initial funding level within a week... the bigger question is which Ovrefunding goals were reached? Answer: at $40k+, every copy of Kings of Air and Steam will have custom molded airships that look something like this:
They'll also have a 7th team (2 additional characters) which were not originally going to be in the game. I'm really looking forward to playing this game with the final art and components!

In true Tasty Minstrel fashion, Michael tried some new and innovative things with this project. Taking some of my advice, instead of offering exclusive game content or upgrading only Kickstarter copies with stretch goals, he used stretch goals to improve the production quality for the entire print run. I've posted before why I think this is the way to go - the long and short of it is that while these 626 kickstarters did support the game, the thousands of people who buy up the remainder of the print run, and any future print runs going forward, are supporters as well.

Aside: Certainly people need some incentive to pre-order on Kickstarter, committing money well in advance of the release date, and taking the chance that they might not even like the game without having had a chance to play it. I don't disagree with this at all. However, as indicated in the post I linked above, I am a fervent supporter of those incentives NOT being Exclusive Game Content. Exclusive bling is better, depending on what it is. I believe that some types of bling should be just put into the full print run of the game. Other types of bling such as an alternate cover, or fancier dice (provided the standard dice are nice enough) is more acceptable as a physical exclusive for KS supporters.

This choice to not offer exclusive benefits for supporters faced some resistance online, with a common sentiment seeming to be that "supporters need/want/deserve exclusive content!" I have been surprised at the number of those types of posts, and the relative lack of more rational "if the incentive isn't good enough, people will not support the project" posts. In any case, I was curious to see how well this project would do, given the distinct lack of exclusives and trinkets...

In the end Kings of Air and Steam garnered over $40,000 in support. Not quite as much as Eminent Domain, but close. EmDo had some advantages over KoA&S with respect to funding viability - it was a more accessible theme, a lower price point, and a hot mechanism. However, KoA&S had some advantages over EmDo as well - Kickstarter is more well known now, more people are using it to fund board games, and therefore more board game players are aware of and are looking for it. Also, with the success of EmDo, TMG had a stronger brand and more fans going into this project.

That KoA&S could garner as much support as it did is strong evidence that exclusive items (and especially exclusive game content) are not, strictly speaking, necessary. This is a huge relief, and I think it bodes very well for the longevity of KS as a board game funding platform.

Could the project have raised more funds if it had included other rewards? I'm sure it could have, and I'm certain that the next TMG kickstarter project will build on the success of the first two projects and find some creative ways to encourage support. I'm personally happy that the results of this project show how overfund goals can apply to the entire print run!

Tasty Minstrel is now 2-for-2 with Kickstarter projects in the Top 10 Funded Board Game Kickstarter projects! I won't say it was all because of the genius of the reward structure - I think the success of KoA&S was based largely on the TMG fan base, brand, and track record for publishing outstanding games. Many thanks tot he TMG fans who helped push Kings of Air and Steam into the Top 10!

Another new and innovative thing TMG is trying out is a new distribution model for this game. KoA&S will be part of the Game Salute Select Exclusive program, meaning that these games will only be available though brick and mortar stores who sign up for the program, or online directly from the publisher through Game Salute's or the publisher's websites. As a result of this program, the retail price of the game can be reduced from $60 to $50 (%16 discount across the board), but it will not be available for the usual 30%+ discount ($40) that online retailers would normally sell it for. Nobody has seen this program in action yet, and I'm sure it'll have advantages and drawbacks compared to traditional distribution... we'll have to wait and see how it turns out. I believe the reasoning behind the whole program is noble, and a number of other publishers are on board with it as well, you can see a list of Game Select Exclusive games on Game Salute's website.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Characters and player pieces in games

If you're playing a game with player pieces on the board, and variable player characters such as Pandemic has:

How important is it that the character pawn color is tied to the character card color?

Case 1:
A player likes to play Green. When playing Pandemic, he either cannot play green (unless dealt the Operations Expert), or else he always chooses Green and therefore always plays the Operations Expert.

Case 2:
A player likes to play Green. When playing Pandemic, he uses the green pawn no matter which role he is dealt. Therefore in one game the Green pawn can represent the Operations Expert, while in another game it could represent the Medic.

I can see benefits and drawbacks to each of these cases. As a game player, which case do you think is better? Leave a comment and let me know!

Benefits of Case 1:
* It's always clear by looking at the board which character ability is associated with which pawn, no referencing must be done to figure out whether that Green Pawn is really the Medic (and can therefore more easily treat diseases near him), or the Operations Expert (and can't).
* Potentially more thematic - always being Green gives both the green pawn and the Operations Expert role some identity.

Drawbacks of Case 1:
* Players may not get to play the color they want, or if they insist on it, they will play the same character every game.
* More pawns are required - 1 per character rather than 1 per player. Additional pawns are required for each expansion that adds additional Roles.

Benefits of Case 2:
* Players can always play the color they want
* Only 1 pawn required per player not 1 per character.

Drawbacks of Case 2:
* Loss of identity as described above.
* Potential confusion or annoyance when players must do multiple cross references to determine which piece on the board belongs to which player and therefore which abilities that pawn may be capable of. This could be amplified if, unlike Pandemic, the game is competitive rather than cooperative.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

EmDo Expansion Print and Play

I've updated my current prototype files for the latest EmDo expansions (under construction!) and placed them in a DropBox folder. If you read this blog, then you probably have an idea what's in there.

If you are interested in printing the expansion stuff and trying it out, please send me your email address and I'll invite you to share the folder.

Please note that at this time I'm not intending to preview this as if it were a final product, rather I'm interested in getting opinions on the content so far so I can determine what should be in the expansion, what should be left out, and what tweaks should be made to the content I have so far.

I've got 2 Expansions in there - the Exotic Expansion (which I've posted about a long time ago), and the newer Warmonger Expansion. There's also prototype files for the base game in there.

I reformatted the prototype planets to look more like the published version.


Friday, December 09, 2011

Rating one's own game

Every once in a while a thread erupts on BGG in which somebody complains that the designers/developers/publishers of a game have rated it a "10" - sometimes they call it "shilling," other times they just say it turns them off. Some go as far as to suggest that a high rating from the publisher of a game negates any interest they had in the game, even if that were considerable based on what they'd read or seen before examining the ratings.

Obviously everyone's entitled to their opinion, and one could argue that if ANYBODY is turned off by the practice of a designer rating their own game then I ought not rate my own games. No need to turn anybody off unnecessarily. However, I find that sentiment repugnant...

I am a gamer. I've been playing, tracking and rating games on BGG for years, and that pre-dates any of my game design or publication efforts. All the while my ratings have been biased toward games I enjoy. Of course when it came time to rate my own games I would be biased toward them as well. The very idea that I should have to censor myself and not rate the game is abhorrent!

Giving a high rating to a game you design, or a game you publish, is not shilling. Shilling is opening fake accounts in order to give additional ratings and other non-genuine props to a game, posing as somebody else. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but only one of them. The problem with shilling is that it's duplicitous - it's an attempt to fool somebody into thinking that more people like the game than really do. Rating a game that you designed is not duplicitous, provided you really do like that game.

Having to hold back your rating is like negative shilling and it's equally duplicitous - representing that FEWER people like the game than really do. I am not interested in artificially anti-shilling my own game for any reason.

I understand the arguments against rating one's own game, but frankly they just don't hold water. If other designers want to refrain from rating their own games, then that's fine for them - I don't care. It's the principle of the thing. I absolutely refuse to change my behavior in this case just because other people are unreasonable. If that means some guy I've never met decides he's going to predispose himself against my game, then so be it!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

EmDo popularity at BGGcon

I was happy to wander the ballroom at BGG.con and see groups of people in the middle of a game of Eminent Domain. It made me feel good when people would say how much they liked the game:)

I just saw a post at BGG listing how many times each game was checked out of the library at the convention, and Eminent Domain was 5th on the list!

I continue to really enjoy how well the game has gone over so far. It's rating at BGG is 7.35, which is a really good average rating! It's ranked 290 overall, and 157 in the Strategy game category!

Awesome! :)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

My campaign against Exclusive Game Content

Kickstarter has been around for a while now, and it's use as a platform for funding board game projects has grown in popularity and exposure, leading to record levels of funding. Last year, Tasty Minstrel Games raised over $48,000 on Kickstarter to publish my game Eminent Domain. About a month ago, Richard Bliss (who follow this stuff closely and reports on it in his Game Whisperer podcast and on reported that Kickstarter had raised $1.1 million for board and card game projects so far this year, and that amount has only increased from there. A project called D-Day Dice (a cooperative dice game) has raised over $114,000 all by itself.

Chris Shreiber has started a series of LESSONS LEARNED threads in the Kickstarter guild at BGG. Each thread intends to cover some aspect of running a Kickstarter project, with the goal to be an overall improvement in how the KS process benefits the gaming community as a whole, so that everyone (project authors and backers) get more out of it.

In one of those threads Chris requested suggestions for Card & Board Game relevant reward levels. In that thread I posted a request to future authors of Kickstarter game projects. My request is that authors avoid using exclusive game content to entice people to back the project. I then cross posted that request into a thread specifically about exclusive offers and stretch goals, and it generated some response and discussion.

Here is the request, copied verbatim from those threads:

There is a very strong incentive that has thus far worked well in soliciting pledges that I would like to address: Exclusive game content. I implore all publishers (established, first-timers, and self-publishers alike) to please consider NOT including exclusive game content as an incentive to pledge support for a game! Because I feel this is a very important point, I'll say it again, succinctly and in bold type:

Please do not use exclusive game content to solicit pledges.

Here are some reasons why, as well as some alternatives that I think ought to work just as well:

* First and foremost, everyone who buys the game is a supporter, not just the Kickstarters. That is super important, so here it is again...

Everyone who buys the game is a supporter, not just the Kickstarters.

Unless you are only going to produce just enough copies of the game to satisfy kickstarter orders and no more (this is not common), then the number of Kickstater supporters is very small compared to the total number of supporters the game will see over it's lifetime. For the thousands of people who find out about the game AFTER the Kickstarter campaign, it totally sucks that they cannot have the entire game experience, or that they have to scour eBay and pay extra for the right to do so. Some players are so turned off by not being allowed access to the entire game they won't bother to play it in the first place.

* When there exist different versions of a game, it creates confusion in the marketplace. Right now there is the possibility of a game store stocking 2 copies of Eminent Domain side by side, one from the initial print run with Bonus Planets included and one from the 2nd run without them. This is very unfortunate, and I wish it were not the case. With any exclusive content, buying or trading for any game on the used market is suddenly complicated. Does it have the exclusive content? Is it therefore worth more?

* When 1 group has content that another group does not, then the 2 groups aren't even playing the same game! It becomes difficult or impossible for players to compare game experiences from 2 separate sessions (for those that care to do so), and it can be very disappointing when a player is in a new area and sits down to play a familiar game only to find it's not the same game he expects because there's exclusive content.

In my opinion, exclusive game content is bad for hobby gaming as a whole. While offering it as an incentive to pledge will excite a handful of people, it will disappoint a far larger (and ever growing) number of fans of the game.

Alternatives to exclusive game content:
* Exclusive game pieces are something that people can get excited about, but that do not change the game itself. I personally think that any such upgraded component should probably just be made part of the print run rather than an exclusive, but this is at least an acceptable alternative to exclusive game content.

* Provide widely available (or to-be widely available) content for free to Kickstarters, while it will cost extra down the road. For example, if you have a mini expansion (or a full expansion) prepared, include it for free with Kickstarter orders, but make it available via BGG store, distribution, website sales, or whatever for a cost to those who do not kickstart the project.

* Provide increased production value for the entire print run, rather than only for the Kickstarters. I think this is a good use of Overfunding or Stretch Goals. Kickstarter orders will be upgraded, but so will all future copies of the game which will be on game store shelves. This is effectively just restating the whole purpose of using Kickstarter in the first place. Nobody says "if we reach our funding goal, we will ONLY provide games to our Kickstarter supporters" - instead it's "If we reach our funding goal we'll print X,000 copies of the game" - so obviously there's no exclusivity there. I believe the stretch goals should work the same way: "If we reach X additional funding, we will print X,000 copies of the upgraded version of the game."

* Guarantee early delivery. This can be tricky because of the vagaries of production and shipping timelines, but if you can manage it then it allows Kickstarter supporters the opportunity to both be the first on the block to play the new hotness, as well as trade or sell it if they find it's not to their liking (or if they got multiple copies) before the game hits the shelves. Some Kickstarter supporters are in it to speculate, and this gives them the opportunity to do so without having to disappoint all future fans of the game.

* Offer significant discounts to Kickstarters (akin to large pre-order discounts you would normally see from publishers who have pre-order promotions). Kickstarter is essentially a pre-order system, so it should work like one. This in combination with the previous bullet point increases the value of speculation for those supporters for whom that's important.

I hope that future Kickstarter publishers will consider this. I know it's a hard sell considering how well exclusive game content seems to work as an incentive to pledge. However, I suspect that the main reason most people pledge is NOT just to get exclusive game content. I think most of the supporters will still support without exclusive game content, provided there are attractive reward levels - and my list above is NOT exhaustive, I'm sure there are more ways to entice support!