Monday, July 16, 2012

TMG updates, recent gaming, and Protospiel

It's been a little while since I posted any sort of update, so here're a few things that have been going on...

TMG Updates

* The Ground Floor kickstarter project went well, raising over $116,000! Skyline and Ground Floor are at the manufacturer, and production is underway.

* Michael mentioned in his last update that Kings of Air and Steam has suffered from some art delays, but the art updates we've received have looked great!

* People have received their Kickstarter copies of For The Win, and it seems very well received thus far.

Recent Gaming

* Lords of Waterdeep has been getting a lot of play lately, and I got a copy for Jeremy and Amelia for putting me up while I was in Seattle. I continue to be very happy with it. We've been playing without the Mandatory Quests and without the Lord who rewards buildings. However, after several games with my Seattle friends in which we added that building Lord back in, I am not so sure we need to leave it out anymore. I don't see us playing with the Mandatory Quests though.

* Castles of Burgundy is my most recent game acquisition, and I've played it a handful of times.  I like it, but it does tend to take a really long time.

* Ascension was never my favorite game by any stretch, but after several hours alone with the iPad app, I've definitely grown to appreciate it more.


Last weekend I attended Protospiel for the second time. It turned out to be really productive for me, and a fun time overall. Here are some games I played by other designers:
* A prototype in early stages by Kevin Nunn which he asked us not to discuss. Later in the weekend I didn't play but got a peek at another of Nunn's games which looked more interesting to me. I gave some comments for both which seemed promising, I hope they pan out for Kevin.

* A dice game by Andrew Juell which was pretty cool. It didn't really have a theme, but it reminded me of Dice Works a little bit.

* Pushka by Peter Dast is an abstract game which I thought looked pretty cool. You have different types of units, and you use cards to move them across the board, pushing or trapping opponents' pieces. Score by trapping pieces or getting your own pieces across the board. Later in the con we tried a modification to make it more like a weird game of football, which is a theme that seemed to fit the mechanics.

* I saw a low-bid auction game called Skyline (which the designer said he needed to re-name now that TMG's Skyline is coming out. I didn't play this, or even see it played, but that didn't stop me from talking about it for about an hour with the designer and making comments!

* Gladiators by Sam Liberty and Kevin Spak (Spoiled Flush Games) is a game which will be coming out from Rio Grande since it won the RGG game design contest. Something of a deck building arena game based somewhat on Texas Hold'em.

* Grave Robbers Dilemma is another game by Sam and Kevin. this one is all about double think and simultaneous action. It's very quick, and I ended up liking it a lot better than I thought I would.

* Avast is a pirate themed deck building game that I got the rules for at GenCon last year, and now I've played a few rounds with the designer. I think it's a bit too involved and fiddly as-is, but it had one aspect that I really thought was interesting - the idea that you actually bury treasure. In the airport on the way home I started to come up with one of my typical "this is how I might pursue that idea" things, and I've got my own thoughts about a pirate themed deck builder in which you bury treasure in order to thin your deck and score points. My version is more along the lines of Ascension in complexity, but of course that would be too simple for me, so there's a bit more to it than that.

* A Game of Cat and Mouse by Al Leduc is another simultaneous action double think game where you send your cat to collect mice.

* Beware the Dragon is a set collection game which is sort of like a trick taking game. Each round the 'leader' plays a card face up, then all other players play one face down as an offer. Once revealed, the leader may choose one of the offers to exchange with, or else keep his own card. This reminded me of the main mechanism in Oasis.

And I managed to get a fair number of games I'm working on to the table as well:
* Captains of Industry is a 2013 release from Tasty Minstrel Games formerly known as Titans of Industry, until a few months ago when a Kickstarter project popped up for a different game with that title. I had played that game last year at Protospiel, when it was called Industrialist... At first we were bummed that we had to change the title, but there are some advantages to Captains of Industry, which is what we've decided to go with. I sat out and watched a 4 player game of CoI with Al Leduc, Dave Whitcher, Peter Dast, and Steven Dast. The game (not including rules) took 2:15, which isn't too bad, especially for a con environment (I find that environment adds 10-20% to the game length). The game went well, and the players seemed to enjoy it. We played with a slight modification to the round end dynamic that I've been meaning to try, and I think it worked well. I got some good comments on a few details such as terminology, but the main feedback I got here was on the Captain cards - like Railroad Tycoon's Tycoon cards, the Captain cards confer end-game bonuses based on what you've done in the game. Those and the Advances are what I am really concentrating on at this point in development - the main rules and dynamics of the game are pretty much final.

* I have trouble testing the Escalation, the expansion to Eminent Domain, because in order to do so I really need people who already know the base game. Last year I tried testing Exotic, but I first had to teach the base game by itself, and one player asked why we were playing a published game at Protospiel... This year I was able to put together 3 players who had at least played EmDo before, though 2 of them were only barely familiar with it, while the third was a bit more familiar, but none were really all that experienced with the game. But it was enough that they knew the rules! I sat out while they played a 3 player game with the expansion. I think it went pretty well - in fact it was kind of a lousy playtest, since there wasn't really much in the way of feedback. Gil mentioned that he felt like there wasn't enough to do with Destroyers, and that might be a missed opportunity. Gil did end the game with a few leftover Destroyers he couldn't use, but he also passed up on the opportunity to take some planets to spend them on and stuff like that. It brought up a good question though - should a player be allowed to spend a Destroyer as if it were a fighter? It's a bad deal, and since a Destroyer is harder to get (and therefore "better"), one might expect it can do anything a Fighter can do and more... I am considering allowing that, as I think it won't matter very often, and when it does matter, it'll only disappoint people if they cannot spend their Destroyers like Fighters. I haven't made a final decision on that yet.

* Alter Ego is a game I've been stuck on for a while now. I love the theme and basic idea of the game, but I haven't been happy with the design. I was ecstatic to get not 1, but 2 different groups to play it this year at Protospiel! First, I got a 3 player game going, during which I realized that I had forgotten to remove a number of (about 1/2 of) the Henchmen cards. We cut that game short and talked about it a bit, then we tried again, incorporating some of the comments (and I removed those cards). Unfortunately, the cards I removed (because they were unaligned with the Arch Villains) happened to also be the cheaper Henchmen, AND one of the suggestions was that the display size might be too big - so this resulted in a game where players could only play 4 cards at a time, and the Henchmen mostly cost 5 Fight symbols. In theory this is not impossible, as players can use Teamwork tokens and trophies, but getting there was tougher than it's supposed to be and the game didn't go exactly right.

As that game was wrapping up. 4 other people walked up and inquired about the game, so when the first 3 had to leave, the next 4 sat down and we started again! More great comments and suggestions this time. All in all I probably had about 4 hours of Alter Ego on the table. Very useful!

* I played Exhibit with Sam Liberty and Kevin Spak (Spoiled Flush Games), to test the finishing touches I'd put on that game. Everything worked really well except for one thing, and I'm not sure if that was an anomaly or not, so I'll have to play it again with that rule (lopping off a round by starting the game with 2 tiles in each auction).

* All For One: My biggest disappointment so far in my short game design career is that the first game I worked on that was any good, All For One, never went anywhere. For years it was very well received at conventions by just about everyone who played it, but now it feels sort of, I don't know... old fashioned or something. I have been wanting to revive it though, so I brought it with me to Protospiel. Fortunately I was able to get it to the table late Sunday. There were 5 people interested in playing it, and I'd forgotten that 5 is not the best number for new players because the level of chaos is higher - so we played a 5 player game (I watched). I had thought about not using the guards, but since I hadn't played it in so long, I just left everything the same and figured I'd take comments on what the players thought of the current state. Sadly I forgot the rulebook somehow, but on the up side, my player aids were very descriptive, and I remembered how to play the game!

A41 went over well, everyone seemed to like it. There were some suggestions which I liked, and some I'm not sure I agree with - some players didn't like how you can duel to affect the game end timer (and thereby end-game bonus), and they especially didn't like that you could start a fight (with a Demand action) intending to lose. Thematically that might be a very valid point, though if players are sort of storytellers, then it stands to reason that they can manipulate the characters like that. It might be good though to make it such that the Active player does not have any incentive to tank a fight.

Thanks to everyone at Protospiel who played my games, and to those who showed me theirs. I had a great time, and look forward to the next event!

Yet Another New Game

Finally, as I mentioned, some of the hours in airports and on planes on the way home from Protospiel I spent outlining my version of a pirate themed deck building game based on the idea I got from Avast. I'm calling it Scourge of the High Seas. Maybe I'll get some cards together for it and give it a try, but I'm not sure if or when that will happen.

I'm trying to make this game along the lines of Ascension, sort of. There's a "center row" like Ascension has, only there are 2 of them: displays from a Tortuga deck and a High Seas deck. Each turn players will first visit Tortuga, where they can upgrade their treasures into better treasures (like combining 3 Copper into a Gold, to use Dominion terms), spend treasure on Crew, Equipment, Ship parts, Rum, and Treasure Maps. Then they will go a-plunderin' on the High Seas, where they'll spend Crew and stuff to plunder ships, or they'll spend Treasure Maps to find Buried Treasure. When these things are done, they'll confer some booty (some combination of treasure, goods, rum, maps, etc), any or all of which the player can take into their discard pile. Finally, the player will visit their Island Hideout, where if they choose, they can bury any number of Treasure cards, setting them aside in a score pile. However in doing so, they'll have to take an Island Hideout card into their deck, which is completely useless. I suppose this could be simplified to 'players BUY Island Hideout cards of a particular value with their Treasure by returning the treasure to the supply. Anyway, the more often you do this, the more useless cards will be in your deck, so the idea is to get treasure, maybe combine it into fewer, higher value treasure cards, then build up a hand of those and then bury them.

I expect Ships my have treasure value on them, so you can use them to buy stuff - allowing you to bury the treasure in your deck. I also foresee "goods" which you would be able to turn into Treasure if you have the right cards (Avast had something like this as well), to offer a strategic path there (If you have the cards which allow you to Trade Goods, then you go after/keep Goods cards, otherwise, maybe you let them sink rather than take them as plunder). Rum is for activating better abilities on some Crew cards, allowing players to either ignore it, or get some rum and crew with good Rum abilities. I think there will also be a Hold on your ship which allows you to hold over 1 card (plus 1 more card for each Hold Ship Part you have obtained) - which should help players build up a good hand for either plunder, or a hand full of treasure to bury.

I'll let you know if this pans out at all, if I ever get around to making cards for it!