Thursday, May 07, 2015

Every designer could use a developer.

I've said recently (in interviews about being a developer): EVERY DESIGNER COULD USE A DEVELOPER. I believe this wholeheartedly, and I'm not exempt from it. Just like any designer, I could use the help of a developer on my games.

I managed to get Eminent Domain through without the benefit of a developer, and it tuned out OK. I'm sure a good developer could have made EmDo even better, but fortunately I'm happy with the job I did, and it seems to be holding up so far. I had some good playtesters that approximated the role of a developer and helped make sure I was on track - a million thanks to those playtesters, you know who you are!

I have a number of game projects in various stages of development, and now more than ever I'm thinking that to get them across the finish line, what I really need is what any designer needs... the help of a good developer. Here are a couple of games in particular that I think are close, but could very much benefit from the outside eye of a good developer:

Alter Ego

My deck building game of vigilante heroism is in a place where it's NEARLY done, I guess, but I have been unable to get it across the finish line. I'm at the point where I feel I should hand it over to a developer and have them figure out how to move it forward from here. Since Michael really liked this one, I suppose I could hand it over to Andy and TMG Utah, and indeed I threatened to do that (though I haven't done it yet).

The problems with it are...
* Length - I think it takes too long
* Balance - need to tweak the power creep of the players and the henchmen so that the game doesn't get to a point where it becomes trivial. That shouldn't be TOO difficult, I think.
* Specifics - there are some specifics of Arch Villain powers and Equipment effects that could use some work (or in fact need to be invented)
* Grok potential - For some reason people seem to have a hard time wrapping their head around the game, like how your turn works. I've run into this on at least one other game, and to tell you the truth I'm a little unimpressed with the average players willingness or ability to simply follow a turn outline, but in the end that's not a good enough answer. Either I somehow streamline the game, or I accept that the audience that will "get it" is smaller.

Odysseus: Winds of Fate

An older design, one of my favorite as far as story is concerned, continues to flounder iteration after iteration. I have a new update that I think is probably the best version yet, but I'm still running into some of the same problems. It's possible that this one is ready for an outside developer to get their hands on it. Sadly, Michael's never liked this one, so TMG is unlikely a good place to look for development help.

Some of the issues with O:WoF
* Fiddliness - similar to the last item from Alter Ego above, there's a bit too much "process" to this game. I think I need to find a way to streamline at least some of it.
* Currently, the way you win the God tile is by having the largest contribution (irrespective of Help or Hinder), while the way you get the best rewards is by staying in longer and playing more cards. I think that might be too similar - the player playing the most cards might easily have the largest total without really trying very hard. I tried to have a large enough range on the cards that a 2-3 card hand with high cards might outscore a 5-6 card hand full of lower cards, and I made the high cards have effects which you could play instead of using the number, but I'm not sure it's working right. Also, if you just draw higher cards more often, then that's all around good for you.

One solution to that which came up at Game Lab is to give each player their own deck of cards. Then it'd be a lot more fair - if you draw low cards, then you'll know you have high cards coming. This led me to think that instead of the God tiles (or in addition?), you could have the God cards which you add to your deck when you win the tile. That is interesting, and sounds like it'll work well. But that doesn't do anything about the problem I mentioned before, that winning the God tile and winning the Adventure are too similar.

* Currently there are 3 rewards for the Adventure... the God tile, the Consolation (cards vs points, depending on how long you stay in), and the Reward tile (variable effect, chosen in turn order, which is based on how long you stayed in during the adventure). I wonder if I can somehow combine some of those to reduce the process of rewards for an Adventure.

* Fairness (or appearance of fairness) in the Destiny rewards - often a player will question the fairness of the destiny payoff. I'm not sure there's really a problem there, but I don't want people to see problems where none exist.

Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done

My latest "finished" game design... I say "finished" because I'm pretty happy with it as a medium weight game with some depth as-is. However, I see how it could be made into a heavier, more complicated game by giving each player/faction entirely unique player boards... different upgrade paths for their rondel, different benefits from buildings, etc. Sure maybe some of it could overlap - be based on tweaking the "base" game - but the idea is that the game would be very replayable if the factions were significantly different from each other. Like Terra Mystica.

I've said before that variable starting positions (player asymmetry) does not equal replayability, but it does lend itself to an "I want to try all the different faction" mentality, which is good. It would be a lot of work to make sure the different factions are fair and balanced, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. However, would it be good to lead with a simpler game, and then add all the craziness as an expansion? Or to include all the craziness from the get-go? I suppose if it's happening, it probably ought to happen up front.

The trouble is, I prefer games with symmetric starting positions, so I lack the impetus to design crazy factions. I have some ideas for them, ideas I was going to use in an expansion (I've talked about them here)... maybe one faction adds cubes to their Rondel, maybe one faction gets free upgrades to their rondel. I'd probably need to come up with a few more things...

This is what Michael and the TMG guys would like to see, a heavier version with crazy unique faction powers. I don't think that's a bad idea, it's just that I feel like the game is fun as-is, so I lack the impetus to work on it. this is where a developer would come in handy! I would love to send this to TMG Utah, along with the ideas I have so far, and let them run with the development of the game.

There's one more (unrelated) thing that COULD get more intricate... a suggestion from one of the League of Gamemakers: Instead of strict victory points, maybe the Influence action could relate to placing an Influence marker in a region (the region would have the influence cost printed in it), which would give you some kind of bonus to building or fighting in that region, or give you end game points for controlling it, or make it harder for opponents to fight/build there, or something. That might make the geography a bit more interesting, and the Influence action a little less dry, not to mention potentially abusable (I'm not sure it IS abusable, but it might be good to keep people from Influencing for 12 at a time).

I'm sure I have some other projects that will need some help at some point, but at the moment those are the three at the top of the list.

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