Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Skye Frontier - a mashup (also, a word about fake variability)

A year or so ago I was introduced to The King of Frontier, which is a sort of mashup of Carcassonne and Puerto Rico - a role selection game where the roles allow you to draw and place tiles on your player board, produce goods on those tiles, trade those goods for points, and build some higher valued tiles.

Carcassonne's not my favorite game, but I have no objection to tile laying, and I absolutely love role selection in general and Puerto Rico in particular. So King of Frontier sounded like an excellent game that was right up my alley.

Unfortunately, upon playing the game, it left me wanting. I was not impressed with the balance, and I generally thought it fell flat. I wondered if I couldn't do better with a role selection tile laying game, but I didn't think about that for very long - instead I just sort of lost interest.

Recently I've become enamored with a new game called Isle of Skye. When I heard the title (spoken), I assumed it was some kind of airship game, probably with a steampunk sort of theme. But as it turns out, Skye is the largest and most northerly major island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. Isle of Sky is a tile placement game where you build your little board by connecting square tiles like Carcassonne, which you obtain by a nifty sort of "I-split-you-choose" mechanism wherein you price your tiles, then opponents have a chance to buy them from you - but if they don't, then you buy them for the price you set. Medici works something like that as well.

Side discussion about Isle of Skye and "fake variability"

I've played Isle of Skye a handful of times now, and I enjoy it a lot. the tiles you get have landscape features which you need to connect appropriately, and they have various icons which interact with scoring conditions in various ways.

That's one of the attractive mechanisms - there are many tiles that depict scoring conditions, and you only use 4 of them each game:
In round 1 you score condition A,
In round 2 you score condition B,
In round 3 you score condition A & C,
In round 4 you score condition B & D,
In round 5 you score condition A, C, & D
In round 6 you score condition B, C, & D

So timing of scoring is interesting, and available scoring conditions changing game to game is interesting, it really gives a feel of variability and replayability... Or does it?

MOST of the tiles (there are one or two exceptions) score points based on different icons on your board, or your geographic situation (closed landscape regions for example). This serves to alter the values of the various tiles that you draw at random, which informs your decisions for how to price your tiles, and how much you should pay for tiles.

The thing is, it doesn't matter WHICH scoring conditions are up... you just reference them in order to make your valuation decisions. They could really be the same tiles every time and the game wouldn't really change - you draw the tiles at random after all! This idea of fake variability is interesting. It almost doesn't matter that the variability is fake, players will think it's real because it LOOKS like variability. I'm certain if the game came with static scoring conditions, people would complain that it feels too samey.

Now, if you saw the scoring conditions for the game, built a personal draw pool of tiles based on that, and always drew from that pool... then it might matter which scoring tiles were in and in what order they appeared, because you could include (or omit) certain tiles that will or won't score too well. for example, some of the tiles have end game scoring such as "1 point per Farm" which are independent of the variable scoring conditions, and you could include many farms and all of those score tiles when the scoring conditions don't include them, hoping players will allow you to buy them on the cheap as they chase the scoring conditions. THAT would be variability!

But I digress... let's get back to my original post, which is less about Isle of Skye, and more about fixing The King of Frontier.

Back on track

Where was I? Oh yes - I'd played King of Frontier and it fell flat, I wanted to take a stab at a better version but lost interest, and recently played Isle of Skye. Right...

The other day on a plane ride I was looking through my design notebook (as I am wont to do), I came across the notes about King of Frontier and I had an epiphany. Maybe I could fix the problems I had with King of Frontier by basically just playing with the tiles from Isle of Skye! I knew I had a copy of Isle of Skye waiting for me at home, so I wrote up some rules and looked forward to trying it:

Skye Frontier: An Isle of Skye/King of Frontier mashup


* Give each player a player board with a 4x5 grid of spaces (the exterior of the grid has pre-printed landscape types).
* Give each player a Castle tile, which they will pace on any space on their board (landscapes must match, roads need not).
* Shuffle the tiles in the bag, then draw 4 into a face up display on the table.
* Place a certain number of coins (not sure how how many yet) per player into a supply pile and return the rest to the box.
* Place a supply of green, black, and blue cubes nearby.
* Randomly choose a starting player and give the Starting Player tile to that player.
* Draw 2 (?) Scoring Conditions and display them for end game scoring.
* EDIT: Make that *4* Scoring Conditions (after playing once, it was clear that more scoring conditions would be better)

You are ready to begin!

Each round, the start player will choose a role from the list below and each player in turn will resolve that role. For choosing the role, you'll get a privilege. Then the Start Player marker will pass to the left, and the new start player will choose a role... technically you don't need the Start Player marker, but since it's in the box, I used it anyway.


(a) Draw 2 tiles from the bag, place one on your board or into your storage, and place the other face up into the supply. Placing tiles on your board costs cubes (see below). Or...
(b) Take 1 tile from the face up supply and place it on your board or into your storage.

Privilege: Repeat this action after all other players have gone.

Choose a landscape region and add 1 cube from the supply onto each tile in that region. If that region is complete, add 2 cubes instead. Fields get green cubes, Mountains get black cubes, and Water gets blue cubes.
EDIT: Now that I've played, I might try this instead: rather than double producing on a completed region, simply auto-produce once in a region when it becomes complete.

Privilege: Produce in a 2nd region.

Choose a landscape region. Take 1 coin from the supply for each tile in that region that has cubes, and connects back to your castle via roads. Then discard 1 cube from each tile scored that way. These coins will be worth 1 point each at the end of the game.

Privilege: Trade in a 2nd region.

Take a tile from your storage and place it onto your board, paying cube costs (see below).

Privilege: Build a 2nd tile.
EDIT: Instead of building a 2nd tile, I tried "get a discount of 1 cube" which seemed to work well.

Costs of placing a tile on your board:
Pay 1 green cube for each Sheep, Yak, or Farm on the tile,
Pay 1 black cube for each Tower or Barrel on the tile,
Pay 1 blue cube for each Boat or Lighthouse on the tile,
Pay 1 cube of any color for each non-matching landscape edge.

Game End:

The game is over at the end of a turn in which any player fills their board with tiles, when the supply of coins is exhausted, or when the tile bag is empty. At that time, each player should calculate their score to see who wins. Points come from:
* 1 point per coin collected via trade
* points based on scrolls on your player board
* points based on the end game scoring conditions

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Deities and Demigods - v1.0 rules (first play tonight)

Deities and Demigods
A game of epic adventure
by Seth Jaffee and Matthew Dunstan
2-4 players, 45-60 minutes, 10+

7 board segments (each made up of 7 hexes, some water, some land)
4 sets of player pieces (1 player board, XX troops, XX boats, 6 devotion markers, 6 minimum devotion markers, 1 initiative marker, 1 starting city tile, 8 building markers)
32 Building markers (8 each in 4 player colors)
12 Quest tiles
XX Building cards (obtained by erecting buildings)
XX Artifact cards (Artifact cards are like weak buildings, require less devotion to build, and don't take up space in the cities)
1 Pantheon board (with space for deity cards, initiative track, and Underworld)
XX Deity cards (Zeus, Ares, Poseidon, Hermes, Hephaestus, Hades)
8 Starting Olympus cards (Zeus, Ares, Poseidon, Hermes, Hephaestus, Hades, 2x Hera)
XX Favor tokens (worth 1 VP each)

1. Shuffle the 8 starting Olympus cards to create the Olympus deck.
2. Place supply of deity cards on the pantheon board.
3. Randomly stack the turn order markers on the 6th space of the initiative track. This will determine order of play each round, with the marker farthest ahead on the track playing first, and the topmost marker in a stack playing before lower markers in that stack.
4. Give each player a player board and pieces of their chosen color. Devotion markers and minimum devotion markers go on the indicated starting spaces for each deity.
5. Place the 7 board tiles, random side up, in random orientation. Ensure that each city has at least 3 nodes that are not on the edge of the board.
6. Randomly draw a quest tile and place it on the quest space of each board - return the 5 unused quest tiles to the box.
7. In reverse turn order, each player should place their starting city tile adjacent to the board.
8. Place X troops/boats in the Underworld section of the Pantheon board, Y troops/boats on your starting city tile, and the rest into the supply section of your player board.
9. Shuffle the artifact and building cards separately and place them below the pantheon board. Deal out 3 cards from each deck into a face-up supply.

Deities and Demigods is played in a series of cycles through the Olympus deck, and each cycle consists of a number of rounds. To begin each round, reveal the top card of the Olympus deck. In turn order each player will have the opportunity to interact with the revealed card - either donating gold to increase devotion to that deity, or cashing in their devotion in order to access the action granted by that deity. After the last card of the Olympus deck is resolved, shuffle the discards and the next cycle begins. The game ends at the end of a cycle when any of the following triggers occurs:
  • One player has placed all 8 of their building markers into play
  • All 7 quests are complete
  • Either the artifact deck or the building deck is empty

Using the actions granted by the deities, you will maneuver your armies and fleets in an effort to complete quests and control cities. At the end of the game, favor will be awarded for quests completed, cities controlled, and buildings/artifacts built. Deity cards collected will confer favor bonuses based on your performance in certain areas of the game. The winner will be the demigod with the most favor.

Turn Order
Whenever required, play order will be based on the initiative track. The player with the marker farthest along the initiative track will play first. When multiple markers are stacked in the same space on the track, the order of play is from top to bottom of the stack.

A Game Round
To begin each game round, reveal the top deity card from the Olympus deck. In turn order, each player may either…
  1. Increase devotion to that deity, OR
  2. Execute the action of that deity.

Increasing Devotion
When you choose to increase devotion to a deity, pay 1, 3, or 6 gold in order to increase your devotion track 1, 2, or 3 spaces.
Anytime such an increase would take you beyond level 4 devotion (the top of the track), instead gain 1 favor token from the supply.

Executing a Deity Action
Each deity provides an action based on your level of devotion (level 1/2/3/4) to that deity. After executing the action, reset your devotion to that deity to the minimum level:

Zeus: Advance 1/3/5/8 spaces on the initiative track.
Hermes: Collect 1/4/8/12 gold.
Ares: Spend 2/6/10/16 movement points:
  • For 2 movement points, add a troop to the board in your home city or any node in which you have a building marker.
  • For 1 movement point, move an army (any number of troops) from one hex node to the next along the hex edges. Armies must always be on land or coast nodes. Non-mountain nodes cost 1 movement, mountain nodes cost 1+1 per unit in the army.
  • When moving into a node occupied by an opponent’s units, initiate a combat (see Combat, below)
  • Armies may not enter a space containing an opposing building.
Poseidon: Spend 2/6/10/16 movement points:
  • For 2 movement points, add a boat to the board in your home city or any city in which you have a building marker.
  • For 1 movement point, move a fleet (any number of boats) from one hex node to the next along the hex edges. Fleets must always be on water or coast nodes.
  • When moving into a node occupied by an opponent’s units, initiate a combat (see Combat, below)
  • Fleets may not enter a space containing an opposing building.
Hades: Return 1/3/5/8 units (troops or boats) from the underworld to your supply.
Hephaestus: Build an artifact or building based on devotion level...
  • Level 1: Build nothing.
  • Level 2: Build an artifact.
  • Level 3: Build a building at a city where you have a unit.
  • Level 4: Build an artifact AND a building at a city where you have a unit.
  • Each player may build at most 1 building in each city.
  • When building a city, move 1 unit in that node to the underworld.
Hera: Starting with the first player, each player may choose one of the following:
  • Add a deity card to the Olympus discard pile, paying the appropriate cost; or
  • Earn the favor of a deity from the discard pile, paying the appropriate cost; or
  • Gain 1 gold.
For each Hera card, only one player may choose to add a card to the deck, and only one player may choose to earn a deity’s favor. Any number of players may choose to gain 1 gold.
The cost to add a card to Olympus or to earn a deity’s favor is to move backward 4 spaces on the initiative track. You cannot go into negative on this track -- if you cannot move back 4 spaces, then you may not choose to add a card or earn favor.

Note: You may choose to execute a lower level effect than your current devotion level, but you still reset your devotion to the minimum after executing the action.

Artifacts and Buildings
Artifacts and buildings are cards that grant you immediate, single use, or permanent abilities. When executing a Hephaestus action you may choose an artifact if you have at least level 2 devotion, a building if you have at least level 3 devotion, or both if you have level 4 devotion.

In addition to game text, each artifact and building card has an icon on it which can be used in end-game bonus scoring.

Artifacts only require level 2 devotion to Hephaestus. Buildings on the other hand require level 3 devotion AND you must have a unit in a node adjacent to a city. When building a building, you replace a unit in a node adjacent to a city, moving that unit to the underworld. You may have at most 1 building marker in each city (including your home city) - you may not build in other players’ home cities.

You may move units into a space containing opposing units, but never into a space containing an opposing building. When you move into a space containing opponents’ units, a combat is initiated. The active player is considered the attacker, and the other payer is considered the defender.
  1. Check and resolve attacker’s Beginning of Combat effects
  2. Check and resolve attacker’s Beginning of Combat effects
  3. Remove units from both the attacker and the defender, one-for-one, until one of the players has no pieces remaining.
That’s it! Combat is over and you may resume movement.

Game End and Scoring
The game ends at the end of a cycle when any of the following triggers occurs:
  • One player has placed all 8 of their building markers into play
  • All 7 quests are complete
  • Either the artifact deck or the building deck is empty
Once the game end is triggered, add up your score from...
  • Favor tokens collected during the game
  • Quests completed (1/3/6/10/15/21/28 favor for 1/2/3/4/5/6/7 quests)
  • Matching icons on artifact and building cards (5 favor per 3+ icons of a kind)
  • Cities controlled (1 favor per building to the player controlling the most nodes)
  • Deity cards in your tableau (see below)

Quest scoring:
Score 1/3/6/10/15/21/28 favor for 1/2/3/4/5/6/7 completed quests.

Artifact/building icons:
There are 6 icons that appear in the upper left corner of the artifact and building cards. For each icon, you may score a 5 favor bonus if you have 3 or more of that icon.
Control of cities:
Each city has a number of nodes adjacent to it. The player with units in more nodes than any other player controls the city and scores 1 favor for each building in that city.
In the case of a tie for controlling nodes, then the tied player with the most total units in those nodes controls the city. In case of further tie, all tied players split the available points evenly (round up).

Favor of the deities:
Each deity card in your tableau confers favor for a certain condition:
  • Zeus: 4 favor - 1 favor per player ahead of you on the initiative track.
  • Hermes: 1 favor for every 3 gold.
  • Ares: 1 favor for each city controlled.
  • Poseidon: 1 favor for each quest completed.
  • Hephaestus: 1 favor for every 2 artifact/building cards.
  • Hades: 5 favor - 1 favor per unit in the underworld.

The player with the most favor wins! In the case of a tie, the victory is shared.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Idea for a series of games that make up a 4X game (which I need not worry about anymore!)

I had this idea I thought was novel, based largely on the new ideas brought about by games like 504 and Risk/Pandemic Legacy, and I guess Time Stories and 7th Continent (with their saving the game state). I liked the idea, though maybe ambitious for me, and I thought it was novel... turns out that the "Father of Legacy," Rob Daviau (title bestowed!), is already working on this exact idea (only likely better). Which is good news in some respects, it means I don't have to think about this anymore - I can just wait and play his game when it comes out :)

For posterity, here's the idea:

So... 4X games (Explore, Exploit, Expand, Exterminate). It's a genre that I, like many people I suspect, like in theory but never works in practice - at least not as well as I'd like it to. Either it turns out to be too complicated, or more likely too long. Or some players are turned off by the warfaring aspect. There's always something.

But suppose each of those X's were a standalone game, whose scope was on par with Ticket to Ride... and if you wanted to you could play some of them back to back, where your starting position in Exploit (for example) is based on your end position of Explore. So you could play a nice, 45 min game of Explore, or a 1-1.5 hour game of Explore+Exploit.

Explore is probably a tile laying game where you look for the "best" spots, like a land grab.

Exploit is probably an engine building game where you produce resources based on the land you control.

Expand is probably a resource management game where you use the resources you produced to grow your presence.

And Exploit is probably like Nexus Ops.

Ideally, each game could be played as a standalone, with the setup rules doling out starting positions that ought to be somewhat fair. As an alternative, players could use the end position of a previous game as their starting position, which may or may not be as fair, based on the outcome of the previous game. If you like resource management and engine building games, maybe you'd skip Explore and Exterminate, and just play Exploit+Expand. If you just like fighting, maybe you skip straight to Exterminate. If you like a little engine building in your war games but don't want to invest a ton of time into them, maybe play Expand+Exterminate.

While each game itself would be on the light end of the spectrum, combining them would make a longer, more involved, and hopefully deeper experience. On the down side, when combining these games you'd have to play them in the correct order, and you'd have to play them back to back (no Exterminate +Exploit or Explore+Exterminate) if they're to really feed into each other correctly - at least the way I'm currently envisioning it.

But like I said, it sounds like Dirk Knemeyer and Rob Daviau are already well into making a probably cooler version of this idea, so the down side of my version is hardly relevant :)

Sunday, November 08, 2015

(As yet untitled) Draft Row Game - first draft rules and cards

I spent about 8 hours prototyping today, and as a result I have not one, but 2 new prototypes ready to test! The one I'm more excited about is Deities & Demigods, which I hope to get to the table Tuesday with my playtest group, and if that goes well, I will bring it to BGG.con with me. I also managed to make some first draft cards for my latest new idea about drafting cards, playing them into a row, then "running" your row. I haven't tried this out yet, but here's a draft rule set - I suppose you could try it out if you wanted to:
What you'll need:
This file for the cards (10 pages): https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/4093/My%20Games/Draft%20Row%20Game/Draft%20Row%20Game.pdf
A supply of cubes in green, red, yellow, and blue
Paper and pencil to keep score
16 Bonus Score tokens (see setup, below)

1. Deal players a hand of 3 (2?) cards.
2. Deal 3 cards into a face up display.
3. Put a bunch of cubes in red, blue, yellow, and green into supply piles.
4. Stack scoring tokens with the highest number on top and the lowest on bottom for each of the following:
- Size 3 rows (5/3/1)
- Size 4 rows (5/3/2/1)
- Size 5 rows (5/3/2/1)
- Size 6 rows (5/3/1)
- Size 7 rows (5/3)
In other words, the first player to score a size 4 row will also score a bonus 5 points, while the 2nd person to do so will score a bonus 3 points.
Game Play
Players take turns drafting cards, playing cards into their row to collect resources, and if possible, scoring the row.
On your turn you must...
1. Draft one of the cards in the face up display into your hand, then replace it from the deck.
2. Play any one card from your hand. Collect the resources on one half of the card, then turn the card so that the taken resources are upside down and the other option is right side up, and add it to your card row.
3. If you have the resources pictured right-side-up on the cards in your card row, then spend those resources and score the points shown (right-side-up) on those cards. If available, also take a bonus scoring token based on the size of your row and add that to your score as well. Record those points on a piece of paper.
Game End
The game ends when all of the bonus score token stacks are used up, or when the deck runs out. At the end of the turn in which one of those things happens, the game is over. The player with the most points wins.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. If you are so inclined, give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Saturday, November 07, 2015

A quick Pony Express update (and a new title!)

I got a chance to play The Pony Express twice recently, with all the recent updates. The updates were pretty good, but there are some other issues I needed to address. In no particular order:

I wanted to add this to the database, but there are too many games called Pony Express. I think The Pony Express is probably too close to that, so I decided on Riders of the Pony Express.

Express deliveries and 2 parcels to each town:
I don't miss the Express Deliveries, I like just awarding a static reward for arriving early. And I haven't had any issues yet with going back to 2 cards for each town.

I may have an issue with the 5 player game, so I might go back to 3-4 for a while, at least until I'm happy with the game at that player count.

Specific additional delivery items:
I like this change a lot, and since I needed 2 more items, I added 2 more of them. The ones that go to the corner cities are worth $8, and the ones that go to the central cities are only worth $6 (I figure they're easier to deliver). So you pick these up, you're not REQUIRED to deliver them, but they sit in your inventory taking up space until you do, and you get paid upon delivery (no sneaky picking it up, then dropping it later after collecting your $$!)

Start with a Map item in each town:
I liked this change as well. Each town starts with a Map and one random item out of the predetermined starting set, though I suppose I could just make that completely random. I kinda want the torches and Saloons to come out early though. Maybe I should make the saloons permanent... that's a thought.

Face down parcel cards:
One issue that's come up in the past is the face down parcel cards. Some players feel they "force" a certain path, and I can see that... so I tried a change. Face down parcels aren't from your boss, they're like side jobs. You're not REQUIRED to deliver them each round, but they take up space in your inventory. I made player boards to help show this - you have room for 1 face down card and 4 items (expanded from 3), and if you don't deliver your 1st face down card, then the next one takes up 2 of your item slots (this is obvious graphically). Currently I'm saying that you have to deliver them by the end of the game, but another option is to simply apply a penalty if you don't (so if it's more expensive to deliver than to take the penalty, maybe you just take the penalty).

So far I like this change, but I have to try it a few more times.

Blind bid with cards rather than count-up auction:
I've been very hesitant to try this, as I think the count-up auction is fun and tense, and was kind of the origin of the game. I keep saying I should at least TRY the blind bid to see how it goes before dismissing it outright, and I even added cards to the box to try it with. I finally gave it a shot - here's how it went.

I gave each player 3, 4 5, 6, 7, and Jack from a deck of cards (bonus points for using a deck of cards in an old west theme game, I guess). After the auctioneer selects a parcel, players each select a card to play simultaneously. The numbered cards are the amount of money that player will do the delivery for, the Jack means "no thanks." If all opponents play a Jack, then you keep the parcel for yourself (and you keep all $10).

This actually worked alright, and one player said they didn't necessarily think it was "better," but it was more like what he would expect. I need to try it a few more times, but it's possible I could include both versions in the rules - one for gamer-types who want the specificity of the blind bid, and one for casual players who prefer the count-up auction.

One thing about the count-up auction though. I needed to find a way to eliminate players jumping in with a bid prematurely, before other players are ready to begin (like before the auctioneer even starts counting). The easiest thing was to start the counting at $1, since NOBODY should be claiming at $1, and then all players know when $3 comes up - it's not perfect, but it's better than premature bidding!

Turn order specifics:
I had a weird turn order effect that had to do with the order of play reversing when time markers land in a stack, so I think I'm going to reverse that to be that when markers are in a stack, they play from bottom to top.

Also, to better represent what's going on (and to make fair races between players), I specified that you don't move from town to town - you move from town to hazard tile, then on your next turn you arrive in the town, discard any parcels, pick up an item if you like, and then move to the next hazard.

Turn Order Track:
A player at Sasquatch suggested that it would feel better if players didn't have to pay for their trip at the end. Instead of starting at $0 and going up as you travel, I could start at, say $25, and go down... then award that money when players arrive. So instead of paying $15 when you arrive at the post office, you'll just collect $10, while I collect $13 (rather than paying $12) for may shorter trip.

We're coming up on the holiday season, which means this game is almost a year old! I think it needs some more testing, but I think it's making progress!

A quick Odysseus update

I played Odysseus: Winds of Fate twice recently, once at 2am at Sasquatch, with a simplified version of a new version of Timeline and Destiny payoffs that I don't think I've mentioned yet:

If you are right on with your prediction, then you get 3 cubes (i.e. 6vp). If you are off by 1 space in either direction, then you get 2 cubes (i.e. 4vp). Otherwise, you get nothing.

This seems like an OK way to do it, and for now I think I'll keep it that way.

When taking a Destiny action, then number of cubes placed on the destiny card depends on the location of the round marker:
Round 1-4: 3 cubes
Round 5-8: 2 cubes
Round 6-10: 1 cube
At the end of the game, players with any cubes on the correct outcome simply take them. Thereby a correct Destiny prediction is worth 6/4/2vp depending on how early you made it.

This ended up being very simple and easy to understand, and it did reward early Destiny bets more than late ones (one of the design goals), but it did not address certain concerns that exist - especially with the Destiny bet. The biggest concern with the Destiny payout is two-fold. For one thing, if 1 player is betting on Dead and 2 players are betting on Safe Return, then it's easy to feel like you're playing 1 against 2 and that feels unfair. That leads into the other issue, there's some incentive for players to bet on the same outcome as other players, and that becomes more true the more players are already invested in any given outcome.

To combat this I have tried many things, from hidden Destiny bets, to complicated payouts based on horse racing. This latest version does have the advantage of being simple, but it does not address that major concern. After playing last night, a new solution has presented itself based on the combination of a couple different player comments:

This is a little tough to describe in text, but I'll give it a try. I've already split the Destiny cards into 3rds to manage the 1-4/5-8/9-12 round aspect I mentioned above. Now I will take that 1 step farther and split each of those zones into three areas. So looking at the first zone, there will be 1 spot for a cube that's worth 15 points, 1 spot that's worth 12 points, and a 3rd area that can hold any number of cubes for 10 points. The key here is that ALL cubes in that zone are worth the LOWEST amount. So if you're the only one to put a cube in there, then it's worth 15 points! If any other player (including yourself) put another cube in there, then they're each only worth 12 points - but in theory the 2 players with cubes there will be helping each other out.

The 2nd zone (rounds 5-8) will start fresh, but the values will be 10/8/6. Players adding their cubes in the mid-game therefore won't have an effect on the players who committed to that outcome in the early game (got a cube in the first zone), but will effect each other if people pile on at that time. Similarly with the 3rd zone (rounds 9-12), with the values 6/4/2.

I think this will be pretty clear and easy, as the card will have a spot where you put your cube, which will tell you exactly what it's worth. And I think it will address all the major concerns and design goals for the most part.

God tiles:
I tried making Zeus a wild tile - that is, he counts for all Hades, Hermes, and Dionysus actions. It seemed good to have the god events be more impactful, but in some ways it seems unfair or overemphasizes getting a god tile in the first round (which may just reward luck of the draw).

Instead of awarding 2 Zeus tiles in the Troy adventure, and making Zeus wild, what if I put 1 of each of the other gods (Hermes, Hades, and Dionysus) there, so everyone gets a different god to start off with.

Or perhaps for scale-ability, in a 3 player game use Hermes, Hades, and Dionysus, and for 4 players, add 1 Zeus, and for 5 players add another Zeus (where Zeus is NOT wild, just needed to max out a set score). Then players can choose whether they want a god for the ability, or for potential set scoring.

I like the sound of that. I guess it means I have to make ANOTHER 3 god tiles... sheesh :/ (heh, just kidding, it's not a big deal).

I look forward to playing this one some more. I think it's getting closer and closer to "done!"

Friday, November 06, 2015

YANGI (yet another new game idea) - in need of theme: draft/play/run your row!

For a while now I've had some thoughts about a dynamic - I'll see if I can describe it here:

So you're drafting cards into your hand, then you're playing cards from your hand onto the table. Like Thurn & Taxis, you want to (or have to) keep extending your row of cards in play until you can't, then you get rid of those cards and start a new row. So while you're building your row in front of you, you're building your NEXT row in your hand.

I've had this idea for some time, but as yet I haven't really seen a good way to put it together. Last week I was in Seattle at Sasquatch, and I caught a glimpse of Mombasa, which had an interesting mechanism that looked cool - you build a path out of some book tiles, then you advance up the path for rewards. Well, this morning, while lying in my bed evading sleep, these ideas returned to mind and merged, with an important new detail...

Imagine you draft a card into your hand from a supply (like Ticket to Ride), and then you play a card from your hand onto the table in front of you, let's call that your "row." The cards give you resources when you play them. Then after you play a card, if you have the right resources, you may "run" your row, paying the required cost for each card to discard the row and score for accomplishing that goal. Then next turn you'll begin a new row.

This is sort of the opposite of Thurn & Taxis, where you want the row to grow as much as possible before you need to reset it. In the case of my new game idea, you'd want to pay for and reset your row (and score) as often as possible, so you'd want to draft the right cards to earn the resources you need, or draft cards that cost the resources you already have (or can already make).

So for example, maybe a card gives you a red and a blue resource, but costs a yellow resource to clear. Maybe another card doesn't give you any resources, but instead gives you an action (steal a resource from an opponent, draft an additional card into hand, trade some of your resources out for other ones from the supply).

As I type this, I think perhaps each card could have 2 sides, one with say 2 cubes (worth 1 point) and the other with maybe 3 cubes (worth 2 points). When you play the card, you choose which side to take resources from, and which side you will pay to get points... so the more resources you collect, the worse you will score and vice versa.

I think as a mechanism that would work, and I might make a prototype and try it out, but I do not have a theme for this - what does it sound like to you? Leave a comment below and let me know where you would go with this idea thematically, and whether it sounds like a game in and of itself, or the driving mechanism for a larger game (what game would that be?)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Parallel design: Main mechanism vs the rest of the game

Actually, the term "parallel design" usually refers to independent creators coming up with similar works, or works about the same subject, at the same time. Like that summer when two blockbusters came out about saving the earth from an asteroid (Armageddon and Deep Impact), or that year we got several different games about wine making (Grand Cru, Vinhos, King's Vineyard, and others in 2010).

However, today I'm considering a different meaning of that phrase. Today I'm talking about the necessity to design the main driving mechanism of a game in parallel with the rest of the game.

The game I was thinking about when this came to mind was Deities & Demigods. I've been chatting with Matthew Dunstan about that game (he's co-designing with me), and it occurred to me that these two aspects - the driving mechanism and the board play - are somewhat related, but in many ways separate. Separate, but interconnected... maybe that's just the way games of this type are, games which have a specific driving mechanism, like Trajan's Mancala-Rondel, 7 Wonders' drafting, or Puerto Rico's role selection. In all of these games there are many design decisions to be made regarding the driving mechanism, and it's easy to ignore or forget the rest of the game while thinking about that.

In Deities & Demigods, the driving mechanism is a deck of "role" cards. Like a role selection game, each turn a role is chosen and each player has a chance to participate. Unlike role selection games, the players don't choose the roles - the game does. A shuffled deck of Deity cards will produce a card each round, and then each player in turn order will either increase devotion to that deity, or else cash in their devotion to take the action associated with that deity. The different deities will affect the game in different ways: Zeus will improve your standing on the turn order track, Hermes will deliver gold (which you'll spend to increase devotion), Ares and Poseidon will bring men and ships into play and move them around the board, Hades will return fallen units to play from the underworld, and Hephaestus will allow you to build monuments and buildings for special benefits. Players will be able to add cards to the deck for deities they want to come up more often, and later in the game, players will be able to remove cards from the deck, placing them in a scoring pile to collect rewards for doing various things in the game.

Concentrating on the intricacies of this mechanism brings with it a lot of questions: When and how often will players be able to add cards to the deck (and remove them)? How much benefit should each step of devotion yield? What should it cost to increase devotion? How important is turn order (and how do we make it important enough to matter)? ... Notice that none of these questions really have much to do with the rest of the game...

It's easy to get wrapped up in this mechanism, but it's difficult to come to any conclusions without considering what effects these deities will have. To an extent those effects will be governed by the deities, but to another extent the deity effects are dictated by the game action as well. For example, Ares and Poseidon don't make sense unless there's a board on which to move, with both land spaces (for men) and sea spaces (for boats). Hades doesn't make sense unless there's some semblance of combat in which units die. On that note, it's important to develop the rest of the game in tandem with the driving mechanism - you can't really create one without an idea of how the other will look.

When you're designing the mechanisms for your games, do you consider the rest of the game? Or do you focus just on the driving mechanics, and let that dictate or inform the rest of the game later? Let me know your process in the comments below.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Suburban Sprawl makes first cut!

A couple of months ago I entered Suburban Sprawl into Dice Hate Me's Dexterity Challenge. On the latest episode of The State of Games they announced the finalists, and  I'm happy to report that Suburban Sprawl was among them!

I have shipped a copy of the prototype (comfortably tucked into an Isle of Trains box) to Chris Kirkman so they can try it out. Who knows, maybe Matthew and I have a better chance of winning than I thought.

Wish us luck!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Pony Express update

I've been feeling a little overwhelmed with all the outstanding game projects I've got going on... between that and a week long trip to Essen (and playing a few of the games we brought back to evaluate), it's been a while since I've really made any progress on any of my designs.

A few weeks ago at RinCon I got a chance to play Pony Express again, implementing some of the updates I'd written down back in May. After that game (and a late night de-brief with a friend from California who came to town for the con), I made some notes for more changes, and today - spurred by the upcoming Sasquatch game convention in Seattle - I finally got around to updating the prototype. The changes of note include...

* During setup, put out all the terrain type hazard tiles (River, Mountain, and Lost!), along with all the tumbleweeds, then remove the tumbleweeds. So the terrain things will be in play from the beginning, which is most important for the Mountains, but also it just makes sense.

* I took the Express Deliveries out of the deck - they were causing too many problems. Instead of using them, I went back to 2 cards per town - which used to be the case, but I didn't like people auto-claiming a parcel if they already have one for that same location. I think with how the rest of the game has evolved, that might not be so bad anymore. This also means there's enough cards for 5 players again - maybe even 6!

* I made the Additional Delivery items specific - instead of drawing a card, you take the item into your inventory, it counts as a parcel you need to deliver, and it has a specific location to deliver it to. I believe I need to add 2 more items, so I might add 2 more of these ($5 ones to towns #6 and #7 perhaps).

* I'll try awarding a small cash bonus for arriving at the Post Office... 1/2 the End Game Bonus printed (so like $4/$3/$2/$1/$0 for arriving 1st/2nd/3rd/4th/5th) in rounds 1 & 2, and the full bonus for round 3 (since turn order isn't helpful anymore after round 3).

* I will try starting each town with one of the Map items in it, as well as one of the "I" items (rather than an "I" item and a random item).

* I clarified that $7 is the last chance players have to claim a parcel before the Auctioneer gets it for $10 (not $8). I'm hoping that makes the parcel choosing in the Auction phase more interesting.

I hope to give this game another try in Seattle next week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

An audio blast from the past - a design chat about All For One

Back in... I want to say 2007 [edit: turns out it was may 2005!], I thought it would be cool to do a podcast about game design. At the time, podcasting had started to become a thing, and a few people were starting up podcasts about gaming - mostly gamers talking about games they play, or games they like. Not much about design though.

Years later, there are now literally hundreds of podcasts about gaming, but still a relative dearth of shows about the design of games. There are some - I recently discovered Ludology, with Geoff Engelstein and Ryan Sturm (now Mike Fitzgerald), a show about games from an academic point of view. I enjoyed that one, consuming 4 years worth of episodes over the course of the summer.

Another one I found is Building The Game, with Rob Couch and Jason Slingerland, who document their trials and tribulations as they navigate the amateur design community trying to ascertain the golden formula to create a publishable game. After about 3 years at it, I believe each of them has gotten to the point of getting a game signed by a publisher, so props to them. One feature I like about this one is their Practicing The Pitch segment. Every week one of the guys pitches a game idea, either one they've just come up with (sometimes with a constraint from boardgamizer or a listener challenge), or one they've been kicking around for a week or so. It's a neat design exercise, though perhaps it leads to a little too much invention and not enough development.

So, back to 2007 [edit: 2005!]. After listening to an episode of Board Games To Go with Mark Johnson, I downloaded a program called Audacity and I recorded a half hour of myself talking about my big game project at the time, All For One. At this point some of the information about the game is well out of date, but such is life when you dig up old posts. Other then myself, nobody has ever heard that recording... until now:

Feel free to leave comments, either here or on SoundCloud. I don't know if I'll try this again, but talking through design ideas is something I'm interested in, so you never know. Ideally I'd like to team up with someone else (maybe someone who's savvy with sound editing) and talk design with them once in a while.

Anyway, enjoy this slice of history!

Increasing the 'scope (Q&A session on Periscope - 9/21/15)

Edit: Apparently I had the video set to "private" (heh, worked for me *shrug*). I believe it should work now.

Earlier this year a new technology came out, and I've been interested in playing with it ever since.

Periscope appears to be the next step in social media. Live streaming video has reared it's head, and at this point it's still sort of in its infancy - you can tell by the lack of features in the Periscope app. Though recent updates have allowed the broadcaster to switch to landscape orientation, users still cannot watch playback the way you'd expect - with the basic features of a media viewer such as being able to jump back and forth.

As annoying as that is, it's still pretty cool to be able to watch live streams of people doing interesting things. I'm a little surprised Periscope isn't just a rehash of Chat Roulette... while I do see guys in just about any woman's scopes asking for boobies, I have yet to happen upon a naked man playing with himself. Maybe I've been lucky, or maybe I'm just not looking in the right place.

I mostly just watch broadcasts from people I know. Since Twitter owns Periscope, it's well integrated and I get a notification whenever one of my followers starts a broadcast. Mike and the TMG crew used to do some, but I guess they found something new and shiny to play with. Some of my other twitter friends have scoped various gaming related things, from unboxing videos (why?), to playthroughs, to previews of prototypes at Protospiel and interviews with prominent people at conventions.

Every once in a while you happen upon something completely random yet interesting. The other day I happened upon some guy in Phoenix who was scoping something about how to draw... it's cool watching artists with their Cintiq tablets make a drawing come to life, and that guy was talking about some basic drawing techniques to boot.

The other week I went to a concert, and just to try it out, I scoped the entirety of Offspring's set (much to my girlfriend's chagrin). Someone I don't know thanked me on twitter, I guess they were a big Offspring fan.

The other day, Darrell Louder scoped a Q&A session with "world famous, Ion award winning designer" T.C. Petty while waiting at a game store for people to show up. I enjoyed that, and thought it would be fun to do the same... so when nobody showed up for Gamesmiths tonight, and I found myself in a quiet corner of a game store all alone, I decided to give it a try. I broadcast for about 45 minutes, rambling a bit about some of my prototypes, and answering some questions. I think it went pretty well. At any rate I had some fun, and a handful of people watched live. I uploaded the video to Youtube (something I'm not too familiar with doing), and if I figured out how to embed the video, then it should appear here:

Since I did enjoy it, it's likely I'll try again sometime soon. Let me know in the comments below if there's anything in particular you'd like me to address, and follow me on twitter (@sedjtroll) or on Periscope if you don't want to miss it!