Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Down with Autoplay audio and video content!

A decade ago, the internet was less sophisticated than it is now. At least, with respect to presentation. Sites like MySpace would auto play music when you loaded them up, and pop-up ads abounded.

Things have gotten a little better since then, and we've all been able to pretty much forget that awful past. But like the old saying goes - those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it.

Not too long ago, news sites and even FaceBook started a new trend of about the worst type of advertising on the internet... auto-playing videos. News sites had auto-playing ads, and nobody liked it. Facebook pushed auto-play videos into our streams, and nobody liked it.

Despite the complaints of millions of users, as well as the common sense obviousness of how awful they are, many sites bowed to the almighty advertising dollar, and shoved auto-play content down our throats anyway.

Twitter has started auto-playing gifs and vines, which is bad, though a little less bad as they at least mute it, and gifs and vines are generally small.

About a week ago, Kickstarter started auto-playing their project videos. On my browser, they play muted, and you have to click on them to hear the sound, but as Jamey Stegmaier notes, for some people they auto-play with audio, at full volume.

How could this possibly be? After all the experience people have had with auto-play content (and none of it good), how could Kickstarter POSSIBLY think this would be an OK move?

Auto-play is the worst. The WORST! It slows down or hangs up browsers, it eats up bandwidth, and it attempts to get your attention in the worst possible way - by literally waving its arms and shouting at you.

Never mind the folks who pay for bandwidth - for whom auto-play content is akin to stealing from them (especially when muted so you don't know it's loading video in the background). Even with unlimited internet access, that doesn't make it OK to clog up the bandwidth of every user in the area by constantly shoving video content down people's throats. By way of comparison, it doesn't cost anything to drive trucks down the road, but it would be uncool to drive 500 of them up and down Broadway during rush hour. It would make people not want to drive anywhere. Similarly, auto-play content makes people not want to load up websites.

A commenter on Jamey's post (Julius Besser) contacted Kickstarter about this, and was kind enough to share the reply he got:

Sorry to hear you’re not a fan of autoplay. This is something we’re testing out on the site, so any feedback from our community is extremely helpful. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts – I’ll be sure to share them with our team. Unfortunately, at this time, there is not a way to turn it off for repeat visits to the page. However, as I mentioned, we are testing this feature and I will be sure to pass your thoughts along to the team here. Thanks for your patience and understanding.


According to that, this is just an experiment, and they're taking feedback from the community. I find it hard to believe they thought the feedback would be anything but overwhelmingly negative, but maybe there's some subset of people that are really into wasting time and bandwidth to auto-play every video on every web page they open - who knows.

So here's what I'd like you to do. I'd like you each to contact Kickstarter (support@kickstarter.com), in a civil and polite manner, and let them know that you are absolutely unhappy with the experiment and would strongly prefer they went back to not auto-playing their videos. Then I'd like you to tell 5 friends to do the same.

This can not stand!

Last call for Exotica/Battlecruisers Kickstarter!

We're into the final hour of the kickstarter project for Exotica and Battlecruisers, and as of this writing we've raised $109,205! That's pretty good - surpassing the $103,479 raised for Escalation in April 2013 (oh, my... has it been that long already?)

This EmDo expansion was combined with a standalone game by another designer - Battlecruisers by Philip duBarry. I might have expected Exotica alone to raise about as much as Escalation did, so I might have expected a combined kickstarter to post somewhat higher numbers...

Not that I'm not happy about the funding as it is. In fact, I've been so excited about it that I went ahead and started prototyping the next expansion, Eminent Domain: Oblivion (finally)!

There are plenty of factors that might have led to Exotica not raising as much as Escalation did, and based on the comment threads I suspect people will put these at the top of the list:

* Lack of Exotica-centered stretch goals (Escalation had a series of Scenario and other stretch goals)
* Less dedicated community involvement (I feel like the comment threads were more active all around in the Escalation project)
* Combined project with Battlecruisers (Some backers didn't seem to like the combined project)
* Number and quality of competing KS projects (There are a large number of high profile projects on lately)
* Kickstarter fatigue (it's been 2 years after all...)

So what do you think? Which of these factors do you think affected the funding the most? What other factors do you think applied? What do you think would have benefited this campaign in particular? Let me know in the comments below.

Dexterity / City Building

I saw an image on twitter of a city building game someone (someone named Steve Caires) is making, and it looked kinda like the cards had been thrown onto the table, in the same manner as Maximum Throwdown or the upcoming Monstrous.

When I asked if that was the case, the designer said no... but I thought it was funny and so joked that I should make a dexterity based city building game where you toss the cards into play. He joked back: "That would be about as much urban planning as a lot of older cities got..."

A day later I found myself thinking about tossing building cards into play, and the fact that Dice Hate Me Games has a Dexterity Challenge on right now - and wouldn't you know it, now I want to enter the contest... with a Rabbit eligible (I co-designed a 54-card game that was published as a result of Dice Hate Me's last design challenge) dexterity game based on the likes of Sim City, where you toss residential, commercial, industrial, and civic buildings into play, and gain points or card draws based on which buildings you have in play and their relative proximity to other types of buildings.

Keeping it to 54 cards is a low priority, and I already think each player should have a starting card that should maybe be oversized (though could still fit in the Rabbit sized box, I suppose). Here are my current thoughts on how the game could go. These are recent thoughts, only germinated since this morning, so I don't know if (a) I'll really pursue this as a contest entry, or (b) what will change by the end if I do.

* The game would need to be easy, not a hassle to play. As a result, I can't have players checking every card in play every turn in the manner Suburbia does.
* However, each card could have a "comes into play" type of effect (i.e. it's acceptable to have players always check the card they just played.)
* Cards could reference or score for other cards touching it, as well as maybe the first card in each direction, or in certain directions. This should include opponents' cards.
* Any sort of measurement should be relative, players shouldn't need any sort of equipment to figure out if a card is "within range" of another card. The only measurements I should require should be "touching" and "nearest."
* The game needs to deal with the interdependence and interactions between building types - such as the obvious "residential doesn't like to be near factories."
* Each player should probably have their own deck of cards, which reduces luck of the draw, and also helps identify which buildings belong to which player once in play.
* There could be (at most) 1 type of card which is checked every turn. Maybe this should just be the Starting card.
* There could be (at most) 1 type of card which is checked at game end for bonus scoring (such as "1vp per Residential building")
* Players must ALWAYS have a card to toss on their turn.
* Cards could have prerequisites, making them harder to play, and therefore be worth more.
* Cards should never be unplayable - every card should be playable no matter what.
* Cards could be double sided, potentially with a "harder to play" card (with prerequisites) on one side, and a basic (can always toss it) card on the other.
* Perhaps I could use the idea of Zoning to create legal places to play cards (if you miss the legal zone, the card is discarded?)
* I'd like there to be strategies based on concentrating on particular building types.
* I'd like there to also be cross-type synergies.

As I mentioned, I think there ought to be 4 suits or types of building: Residential, Commercial, Industrial, and Civic. Each of those should have something it's good at... 2 obvious things would be gaining cards, and gaining points. I think cards could represent population, and maybe points represent Approval. But what else could there be? I was going to have a 5th category for the endgame bonus points (Landmarks?) - probably just a "1vp per card of this type" for each type. I suppose I could make those the "Civic" buildings though.

I figure the better cards could have a 'cost' associated with playing them - a prerequisite number of specific types in play. For example, maybe a Landmark requires 2 buildings of each type in play before you can play it.

I like the sound of this stuff, and I've always wanted to do a Sim City style game... I think I'll give this some more thought.

What do you think about city building? What aspects do you feel are "must haves" for a city building game? What about for a dexterity game along the lines of Monstrous, Maximum Throwdown, or Flower Fall?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Eminent Domain Origins: Terra Prime

Those following this blog may recall my first published game: Terra Prime. You may also recall the production issues that plagued the print run. Only 2,000 copies of Terra Prime were printed, and some of those were thrown away due to extremely poor alignment and die cutting, and potential for mold inside the box.

Needless to say, that was a disappointing start to my game design career. It was also a disappointing start to TMG's publishing career. Thankfully, Michael persevered, and TMG has grown into a well established, well known, and well loved board game publisher, and along the way I've grown as a designer and a developer as well.

But when it comes to Terra Prime, I've always wanted a sort of "do-over." The game is now almost 10 years old, but I played it again recently and I still think it's a solid, fun game. Over the years I have romanticized doing a re-print, updating the rules, using a high quality manufacturer, and including the expansion I already designed. Occasionally Michael has mentioned that it's not out of the question to do a reprint, but the priority is never high, and he's very concerned that the fact it's a reprint of a game that (automatically) didn't sell well will hurt it's chances in the marketplace. I've even toyed with the idea of kickstarting it myself so Michael and TMG wouldn't have to worry about that part of it.

Since Terra Prime was published in 2009, I (and TMG) have enjoyed a little more success with my next game, Eminent Domain. In 2010 we successfully kickstarterted that deck-learning game, raising over $48,000. Since then we've reprinted that game twice, successfully funded an expansion for over $100,000, and are currently funding a 2nd expansion as well as another game by Philip duBarry in the EmDo universe.

EmDo is a franchise that's done well for TMG, and Michael likes the idea of setting other games in that universe. Battlecruisers is the first, but may not be the last. Recently Michael mentioned the possibility of setting a Terra Prime reprint in the EmDo universe, and I think that would be a fine way to go.

I would absolutely love the opportunity to clean up the rules to Terra Prime, set it in the EmDo universe, and see it kickstarted and made into a reality. I imagine the title would be Eminent Domain Origins: Terra Prime, and the setting would be well in the past, before the players had carved out sections of the galaxy to rule over, they were all part of the same faction... vying to ascend to the Leadership of the Federation.

All the planets would get swapped out with Fertile, Metallic, Advanced, and Exotic planets. The resources too would be swapped out - no more Bluium, Greenium, Yellium, and Brownium - but instead Food, Water, Silicon, and Iron. The cartoony, retro sci-fi art (that wasn't too well received) would be replaced with the sleek EmDo art (that's gone over very well).

What do you think? Would you want to see Eminent Domain Origins: Terra Prime become a thing? Would you support such a kickstarter project? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Eminent Domain: Oblivion - prototyping

I've been doing some prototyping this week - in addition to updating all my Alter Ego files, I've finally gotten to work putting together a prototype for Eminent Domain: Oblivion!

Here are some pics to prove it:

 Clout Tokens

Agenda Display

In case you don't recall, the basic idea of the Oblivion expansion is that there are Agendas, which are global effects that apply to everyone. You can bring them into and out of play via the new Politics role.

When choosing the Politics role, you will reveal a new Upcoming Agenda from the deck, placing it in the leftmost (most expensive) slot in the Upcoming Agendas row (above the Central Card Display) - sliding other Upcoming Agendas down to make room. Return any Agenda sliding off the rightmost space to the bottom of the Agenda deck.

You may boost the role as normal with Politics icons, and other player may follow (playing Politics icons of their own), or Dissent (drawing a card as normal). After all players have Followed or Dissented, you may use ALL Politics icons played (by you and your opponents) in order to EITHER:

1. Activate one of the Upcoming Agendas, moving it to the leftmost (most expensive) slot in the Active Agendas row (below the Central Card Display) - sliding other Active Agendas down to make room. Return any Active Agenda sliding off the rightmost space returns to the bottom of the Agenda deck.


2. Remove one of the Active Agendas, returning it to the bottom of the Agenda deck.

In order to do either of these, you must have the required number of Politics icons, printed on the board in the Agenda's current slot. Again, you may count ALL Politics icons played by yourself and your opponents.

In return for offering their Politics icons, opponents who Follow your Politics role draw 1 Clout token from the supply. Clout tokens depict a Politics icon on the back side, and one of the other role icons on the front. These tokens may be kept until spent to boost or follow either a Politics role, or whichever role the other icon applies to. For example, a token with a Produce icon on the back may be spent to boost a Politics role or a Produce role.

I expect that sometimes players will Follow a Politics role because they want to hep the active player get a particular Agenda into or out of play, and I expect that other times players will Follow just to collect a Clout token. Still other times I expect players to Dissent, perhaps because they don't want to help the active player out, or perhaps because they need better cards for their own turn.

My current draft of Agendas might not be spectacular. I just wanted something to test out. I think many of them will need to be more impactful things that really stand to help or hinder someone's strategy.

In the lower right corner of that 2nd pic you might even be able to see the Market tile I mentioned before. For a first draft I went with the following version: 

Action: Draw 1 Clout token, then discard 1 Clout token.
Action: Exchange 1 resource for another (store it in the same slot the traded resource came from).
Research: Spend 3R to upgrade to Improved Market.

Improved Market:
Action: Draw 1 Clout token, then discard 1 Clout token.
Action: Exchange 1 resource for another (store it in the same slot the traded resource came from).
Action: Exchange 2 resources for up to 3 other resources.
+1vp whenever you Trade 3 different resource types in 1 Trade role.

I intend to make a few techs that interact with Clout tokens and Agendas, maybe swapping the locations of Upcoming or Active agendas (making them more/less expensive to activate/remove, or making them stick around longer) for example. I think I will keep the tech to a minimum though, since I've added so much in the other expansions. I think this one will be mainly about the Agendas.

Now, to playtest!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Alter Ego rules and PnP files

I have just finished updating my prototype files for Alter Ego, as well as the rules, and they are in good shape for anyone who would like to print and play the game and try it out.

If this interests you, then please feel free to do so, the only thing I ask is that you comment here or email me (sedjtroll) at gmail dot com with your comments (please use "Alter Ego comments" in the subject line).

Please note - text in red in the rules doc is notes, and should be ignored.

Alter Ego Rules 
Alter Ego Player Board 
Alter Ego Cards (Hero and Alter Ego)
Alter Ego Equipment Cards 
Alter Ego Henchmen Cards
Alter Ego Arch Villain Cards

Enjoy, and let me know if you do print these out or if you have any questions!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Winds of Fate playtest 6/20/15

6/20/15: 5 player test of Odysseus: Winds of Fate

I had a nice, successful playtest day at a local store the other day, getting in 2 games of Alter Ego and one game of Winds of Fate. Many thanks to Mandy, Hoss, Tony, Karen, and Aaron for coming by and participating!

After the Winds of Fate game we spent a lot of time talking about Timeline/Destiny bets. Maybe it would be good to combine them, so you'd "Place a Bet" on a particular round OR a particular outcome:


With the payout divided between bets on both the correct round AND the correct outcome. This might simplify the whole betting thing.

Hoss suggested that the timeline/destiny bets be matched so that when you bet, you increase the amount in the pool by more, but I think that's the same as just saying that those bets are worth more.

I definitely would like to see more god tiles in the game. There are currently 12 tiles on the board, 6 more in the decks, and 3 more in the reward tiles - that's 21 total... theoretically enough for each player to get 4-7 of them. However, it seems likely that several of the tiles from the game board won't be claimed, so realistically there's only maybe 12 god tiles in a game, which is only 3-4 per player... that doesn't do much for a set collection mechanism.

For one thing, I could start players with 1 god tile (at random, or of their choice, or one of each perhaps)... if it's at random or chosen (as opposed to one of each) then that might also give them a reason right away to prefer one location over another.

If I add three more tiles for each of Dionysus, Hades, and Hermes and then place 2 tiles at each location instead of just 1 - either awarding 1st and 2nd highest contribution, or else rewarding the highest contribution on each side help/hinder - then that gets quite a few more gods into the game.

At GameLab in Portland last March a player suggested I give each player a matching deck, rather than everyone drawing off the same deck. That could help even out luck of the draw. If I do that, then adding each of the three god tiles to EACH deck would increase the number of gods, but I think it would equate to just giving each player 2 of each god. However, if those cards were the only high value cards, then maybe players would leave them in their deck to help control outcomes... at least until the end of the game.

But I kinda like drawing off of a single deck... Aaron made an interesting suggestion - to add more god effects to more cards, like almost every card could have an alt-use god effect... then the card play might be (a) more fun, because there would be lots of stuff you could do, and (b) more interesting because the play of each card would come with an opportunity cost.

For when Odysseus arrives at a face down tile (an encounter that's already happened), we talked about how it could be better and simpler if the direction the boat goes were not based on the type of path that was taken to get there. I kind of want the gods to decide - like you flip an Olympus card and that determines which way the boat continues. Also, maybe the event could happen - giving more God effects happening. This could make the death spiral less likely, or at least less certain. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing.

This is the best version of the game so far, but I've clearly got a ways to go before I'd consider the game "finished." At this rate it's probably never going to be. On the up-side, it seems Greek mythology has become a popular theme of late!

Alter Ego: playtests and progress

This weekend I got in several good playtests of Alter Ego! All 3p games, but importantly, one group played the game twice back to back, something that seldom happens in playtests. Many times at least one playtester is new to the game, and you don't get very deep into a game if you're always playing a learning game!

Game 1 ended in a loss in the 5th round. The players agreed to play again to see if they would play differently or perform better the 2nd time. Game 2 ended with a win in the 6th round, though there was a chance they would have lost right up until the end (though at the very end that chance got pretty low). I am not sure 5 or 6 rounds is enough to really let your deck change - I feel like the game ought to last a little longer than that. In the first game I had seeded the Arch Villains with 1 token each, but to increase the game length I didn't do that in the second game (as expected, the game took about 1 round longer).

In another 3 player game today (different players) I didn't seed the Arch Villains, and we played about 8 rounds (and then lost). We didn't play very well, and we strung out the Arch Villain triggers - which lengthens the game - until we eventually had only 1 token left for each AV - which is not a great position to be in.

It's possible I need to up the trigger threshold by 1 or 2 on each card, but I think I need to do some concentrated testing on that with various player counts. Currently I'm removing tokens rather than adding them, which makes it more clear how close each AV is to arriving, and I'm playing with the printed values for 3p, removing 2 for 2 players, and adding 2 for 4 players. So currently the average trigger value looks like this:
4p: 10
3P: 8
2P: 6

This should lead to a game that lasts 7-9 rounds, allowing players to add 7-9 cards to their deck (nearly doubling it).

In an effort to streamline the game, I think it might be best to move all the card drawing to the Support phase... currently you draw cards at the end of the Recoup phase, then you draw more cards during the support phase, and nothing happens in between. I have seen players have trouble keeping straight which pile of cards is their deck, which is their hand, and which is their discard pile. Since there's no real reason to look at your cars until after your fight phase anyway, it seems reasonable to simply put all the card drawing in the Support phase, so you just draw cards once.

Players have asked why the phases are in the order they're in... that's something I've actually gone back and forth on a bit. Currently it's Income, Support, Patrol, Fight because there are zero decisions involved in the Income phase and the Support phase (you just collect money and draw cards, maybe collect a teamwork token). There's 1 or 2 decisions to make in the Patrol phase (1. Which of these henchmen should I put into play, and possibly 2. which henchmen do I call the cops on). Maybe the Family phase should go AFTER the Fight phase, so you don't draw cards until you're about to ply them? Though then you can't really use Events that come up very well...

I updated the rules last night (see them here: http://sedjtroll.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_21.html). Time to go through and update the prototype...
* remove "draw cards" from Recoup phase.
* add 4 AE icons to the board in the support phase.
* change henchmen to eliminate "+1 hand size (that's the same as just drawing 1 more card).
* Add Badge icons to Community cards - link Calling Cops to badge icons, not community icons..
* adjust henchmen to have Badges as trophies (maybe just replacing the Hand Size icons with badges).
* Maybe update the Arch Villain cards to indicate number of tokens to use for each player count.
* Go through Equipment cards (especially Events) and update to work better under current rules.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Case study in countering luck of the draw: Deus

I've played a lot of Deus lately, and I like it a lot. If you haven't tried the game, I recommend giving it a play. If you're not familiar with how the game works, it's basically a big deck of cards in 6 suits, and you generally churn through a lot of cards each game, either putting them into play, or discarding fists full of them at a time for some benefit.

One of the complaints I hear about this game is to do with luck of the draw... as unlikely as it sounds, sometimes you just can't seem to find a red card (or whatever) no matter how much you feel like you're churning through cards. This dynamic isn't really unique to Deus, some people levy the same complaint against Race for the Galaxy and other card games from which players draw unique or varied cards from a large, common deck.

When I first learned Deus, a friend emphatically suggested that we use the variant from the back of the rulebook which is included for players who are unhappy about the luck of the draw in the game. The variant rule is that one time per game, each player has the option of playing any card face down as if it were any color. This is important for several reasons, mainly because...
(a) in Deus, when you play a card of a color, you activate all the cards you've already played of that color. So using this variant rule you can re-activate cards you've got in play - even if you don't draw any cards of the the right color, and...
(b) Deus has a certain type of card called a Temple which scores big endgame points, and in order to build a 2nd Temple, you must first have played a card of each color. So this variant can help when you're missing cards of one color and you want to play a 2nd Temple.

We used this variant in the first game I played, and I was pretty happy with it - I felt it went a long way toward keeping players from getting screwed by the luck of the draw. In the 2nd game I played, we did not use the variant, and I felt that I missed the ability, and even thought maybe it shouldn't be a once per game thing, but maybe more expensive, but allowed all the time.

I've played a handful of games since then, most of which are a learning game for someone, and I've played a handfull of online games as well. None of those games used the variant rule, and the more I play without that variant, the less I miss it. I've been wondering if that rule is really necessary at all. I think I've come to the conclusion that this variant is not only unnecessary, but perhaps it actually makes things worse!

Yes, for the player who feels screwed by the luck of the draw this variant does feel comfortable or even necessary. In a vacuum, it's a great fix for the problem. However, the game is not played in a vacuum. Let me back up a step and point out that the ability to play a card face down as if it's any color is extremely powerful in this game. That said, any player who's NOT being screwed by the luck of the draw has a power play in their pocket, to be used when they see fit. On the other hand, the player who DOES get screwed must cash in their power play just to get back to even.

So as I said, sure - it feels like a helpful fix... but in reality I don't think it really addresses the luck of the draw problem - a problem which may be overstated in the first place.

I haven't put too much thought into a better rule to combat the luck of the draw, or the feeling of being screwed by the card gods. Perhaps my initial comment has merit - increase the cost for this effect to an appropriate level, and then don't limit it to once per game. I'm not sure, but the point of this post wasn't to fix the issue, just to study it a little bit and share my thoughts on it.

What methods do your favorite card games use to counter luck of the draw?

Monday, June 08, 2015

EmDo resources - differentiating them... is that a thing?

Ever since Eminent Domain came out, there have been people who were disappointed that the 4 resource types in the game are not more different from each other. While there are a few techs that reward you for either trading a variety of different resources or for specializing in one resource type, other than that Food, Water, Silicon, and Iron are equivalent.

This has never bothered me in the least - the resource type is merely a reflection of the type of planet that produced it. I could have used a generic "resource" token, but I opted for the more flavorful resource names and colors. I was a little surprised when people complained about that, citing it as one of the reasons the game was "obviously not finished" (the differently sized ship tokens being another such reason), though I guess I shouldn't have been.

When working on the first expansion to Eminent Domain, I wanted to address the complaints people had. As you can see in Escalation the different ship sizes have meaning, putting the complaint that "they're different sizes but all just 1 Fighter" to rest. I explored the possibility of using resource costs to differentiate the resources, but I realized that (a) tech cards already have planet requirements (which is the same as specific resource requirements), and (b) it was PHENOMENALLY painful to try and recall which cards cost which combinations of resources.

So I've been of the opinion that differentiating the resources is not a thing that matters at all, and I haven't tried to do it - with the caveat that in the future Oblivion expansion (the political agenda one), there could be agendas that reward trading a particular resource (again, that just rewards trading if you have a certain planet type in play).

Today I had an idea that may go along with those types of agendas, and focus on there being some meaning behind which resources you have...

In Escalation we have a Fleet tile, and in Exotica we have a Mining tile. Perhaps in Oblivion we can have a Market tile which allows you to trade one resource for another. That way, no matter which actual planets you have in play, you might be able to make use of those types of agendas. It could look something like this:

Action: Exchange 1 resource for another (store it in the same slot the traded resource came from)
Research: Spend 3R to upgrade to Improved Market

Improved Market:
Action: Exchange 1 resource for another (store it in the same slot the traded resource came from)
Action: Exchange 2 resources for up to 3 other resources
+1vp whenever you Trade [with a qualifier - like maybe when you trade 3 different resources, or when you trade 3 of the same resource perhaps. Or maybe just whenever you lead Trade?]

The thrust of Oblivion is supposed to be agendas and clout. Agendas are global effects that players can bring into and out of play via a new Politics role. Clout is like role symbols you can save up to be used later. I plan to have just a few techs in the set, dealing with the Agenda display and with clout. But I think there could be room for a Market tile in the expansion as well, to allow players a way to take advantage of some of the Agendas that have to do with trading particular resources, or potentially to use in conjunction with those few existing techs that reward diversity or specialization. Improved Market might be nice just as a way to produce resources as an action!

I like the sound of this, so I wanted to jot it down so I don't forget. If not a Market tile, I'd probably want some kind of Lobbyist tile or something that dealt with Clout or Agendas in some way. I hadn't really thought about that yet.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Deities & Demigods - Map board and cities (some ideas)

Something occurred to me about the difference between "Permanent Devotion" and "Spent Devotion" ... PD lends itself to story arc - a change in scope from the early game to the late game. This is the kind of thing I think can give a game an epic feel. SD is more cyclical and therefore tactical - once you spend your devotion, you're back to the beginning, and in the late game you're doing the same kind of things you were doing in the early game.

Of course, there are other ways to inject story arc into a game, and things like permanent/reusable artifacts can create that change in scope as well. But that might be why I'm interested in a more PD type of dynamic.
That said, at the end of my last blog post it occurred to me that maybe the game could have both... for a low cost you could up your devotion, then later spend it back down, and for a higher cost maybe you could up your minimum devotion for a more permanent effect (that comes with a higher investment).

On that note, this morning I started thinking about how the board might look. I'm assuming Deus style board pieces, with a healthy number of water hexes, for a variable board. Boats exist and move on hexes that show water, land units ("dudes" for lack of a better term) exist and move on hexes that show land. Some hexes might show both (coast, or river), and so both types of units could go there.

Thus, Poseidon could let you add boats to the board and move them around, and Ares could do the same for dudes. I envision a lot of water (great seas with islands) such that you might concentrate on land units (devotion to Ares) or sea (devotion to Poseidon), or potentially try to do both - at the cost of one, the other, or some other deity. This sounds analogous to Warfare vs Colonization in a way.

There could be "city" type spaces indicated on the board, where you would want to move your units. Maybe these cities are worth points to the player with the most units at them (at the end of the game for example), so part of the game is "fighting" over cities via area control (and perhaps there are ways to remove pieces from the board - actual fighting). I think I'd want the actual directly interactive fighting to be minimal/secondary in this game, because I generally don't like those types of games.
I envision the cities having "slots" or spaces for Buildings or Monuments (or hybrid spaces which can hold either). In fact, each city could offer a different combination of:
* Spaces for units (so max capacity for area control, maybe overstuffing a city is how you "fight")
* Spaces for Buildings
* Spaces for Monuments
* Spaces for Building/Monuments (either/or)
* Victory points (and maybe Buildings/Monuments increase the VP value of a city)

I also envision generic pieces, not player specific, for Buildings and Monuments. When you build a Building, you actually put a card into play in front of you - maybe from a hand of cards, or maybe from a supply pool - and you place a generic Building piece (maybe a cube, though ideally a little molded Greek building would be awesome) into a city where you have a unit. Maybe this increases the value of the city as well.

Monuments would be a different shape (a disc? Molded Greek statues would be awesome in production) but also generic, and when you place one of those, maybe you get to permanently increase your Devotion to a particular god, or how you add a card for that god to the deck (or both). That way you wouldn't need any other way to remember which god it was, or who built the monument. And again, maybe monuments increase the value of the city. Though I guess it would be cool if, ignoring the effect for the player building it, Buildings and Monuments meant different things to the city. That might make hybrid spaces more interesting.
It's possible that each thing in the game (boats, dudes, buildings, and maybe even monuments) could have 2 different sizes, and if your devotion is high enough, then you get the bigger one (which counts as 2). For buildings that could relate to the power level of the building you get as well. Each building could have a level (I or II) and you need at least X devotion to get a level II building... or maybe better, each building has a level I side and a Level II side, and if your devotion is high enough then you get the better version of the building.

That gives us reasons for the following deities so far:
Zeus - turn order
Hermes - gold
Poseidon - boats
Ares - dudes
Hephaestus - buildings

and maybe:
Athena - monuments
Hades - killing units? Culling the deck?

Would it be good to get some semblance of Agriculture in there as well? Another aspect cities could have (wheat icons), which could relate to... number of units you can have? Number of units that fit in the city (maybe devotion to Demeter can increase that)? Amount of food you harvest (and then feed to your units)?
I guess that could act as a limiter of how many dudes you can have in play, kinda like the feeding mechanism in Agricola. But if area majority is the only way to score, then might that just be some necessary evil? How do you get by on low food and still win majorities? Maybe this whole idea is not necessary.

As always, I welcome your thoughts on this!

Deities and Demigods - more ideas and alternate structures

Matthew Dunstan, designer/co-designer of such games as Relic Runners, Empire Engine, and the KdJ nominated Elysium (as well as the upcoming TMG title Frontiers), was kind enough to send me an email with some thoughts on this Deities & Demigods game idea, with some ideas and suggestions which have spurred at least 1 alternate structure from what I originally had in mind. It's not fully formed, and I'm not sure if it's better, but then I'm not sure my original structure was fully formulated either. Here's something more specific than I had before which might be a good direction for this game to go:

There's still a Pantheon of god cards, each with it's effect. The (central) deck is made up of 1 of each god card. The rest of the cards in the Pantheon are splayed such that there's a cost below the top-most card, and when that card is removed, there's a new cost showing for the next card (the costs would escalate, like 1/2/3/4...). I'll explain more about this later.

Around the Pantheon there's a Zeus track for recording turn order - this would work exactly like the turn order tracks in In the Year of the Dragon, Macao, or Ground Floor. The player who's marker is farthest along the track is first in turn order, etc.

You'll have a player board with Devotion tracks. Markers on these tracks record your devotion to each of the gods in the pantheon.

Each game turn, a card will be revealed from the shuffled deck. In turn order, each player will have a turn, which will look something like this:

1a: Buy Devotion to the god: Spending some amount of gold, you will increase your Devotion track for the corresponding god by 1 space. The cost to increase your Devotion to a particular god will increase as you go up the track.


1b: Resolve the god's ability: According to your current Devotion level, resolve the ability printed on the god card.

2. Optionally add 1 gold coin from your supply to the god's stack in the Pantheon.

If at any time the number of gold coins on a stack in the Pantheon is equal to the cost printed below the top card in the stack, then remove all those coins (back to the supply) and add that top card to the central deck's discard pile.Therefore, that god will come up 1 more time the next cycle through the deck.

That's all the specifics I have at the moment. I have some general thoughts on what some of the gods could do.

Matthew suggested an alternative where you either buy Devotion or else SPEND all of it to get the benefit of the god. So building up Devotion isn't an investment that will pay off all game, but one that will pay off only once.

That's a really interesting idea, that could lead to a lot of interesting decisions, and it's well worth considering as well.

Hmm... perhaps both ideas could be incorporated... for a smaller cost maybe you could up your Devotion, and as Matthew suggested, you could spend it all to get the effect... but maybe for a larger cost you could increase both your devotion and your minimum devotion, so when you spend your devotion, you don't drop all the way to zero. Maybe that's an interesting idea... it could be as simple as "You may pay $1 to increase your Devotion, then you may pay $1 to increase your Minimum Devotion. OR you may spend all of your Devotion to get the effect of the god (based on how much Devotion you had)." Could that work?

Friday, June 05, 2015

Deities and Demigods - deck learning with a common deck (further thoughts)

If the central deck is "calling roles" as it were rather than other players, then it makes much less sense to need a hand of cards from your own deck. So perhaps the "cards in your own deck" should just go in front of you in a tableau.

So when the card in the deck comes up, it tells you what action to take, and you get to boost it with all the cards in your tableau that apply.

And if they're in front of you in a tableau, then they don't really need to be cards as such, they could be tracks with a single marker on each, showing how much "devotion" you have to each deity. This would cut the number of cards needed in half.

This makes sense to me. Now, what should the common/starting actions be, and what should the actions of each of the deities in the pantheon be? And how exactly should the turns resolve?

One thought I had on turn order was that maybe one of the gods - let's say Zeus - dictates turn order... when given the opportunity to do so, you 'buy' a Zeus card (into the deck, as well as increasing your devotion), thereby improving your turn order. Maybe turn order is based on devotion to Zeus, from highest to lowest, where tied players reverse relative turn order (so if you're a later turn order player, you can get better turn order by obtaining a Zeus card).

I suppose that could work like the turn order track in In the Year of the Dragon for example, maybe when Zeus comes up you can either buy a Zeus card, or advance X spaces on that track (where X is your devotion to Zeus) Or both?

So in this structure, a card would be revealed, and in turn order each player would get the option to 'buy' devotion to that god (spending some resource), and (or?) gain the benefit of that god.

So another example is maybe getting gold. So maybe Hermes (god of trade) offers gold... when Hermes comes up maybe you can buy devotion to him, then receive some gold, plus 1 more per devotion to Hermes. This gold is maybe what you pay to 'buy' devotion to gods.

If you are cash rich, you could buy devotion to lots of gods, making all your actions better, but you're going to need to spend actions getting money. And maybe the cost of devotion increases for each devotion you already have (so maybe 1 devotion to each of 4 gods is cheaper than 4 devotion to any 1 god). Big Money could be a strategy, but it wouldn't be very focused.

On the other hand, you could show devotion only to those gods that support your strategy for a more focused approach, with less need to worry about collecting a lot of gold.

If 2 people support the same god, more cards for that god will be in the deck (this is sorta like in EmDo where 2 players will call the same roll more often if they're sharing a strategy), so maybe the cost of devotion should be more based on the number of cards left in the pantheon and less on the number you've already bought. That jives with an idea I had last October about deck learning anyway.

I'm liking the direction this is taking. Maybe I'll keep thinking about it...

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Exotica / Battlecruisers Kickstarter (EmDo Double Feature!)

This morning a kickstarter project for two Eminent Domain products went live - my EmDo expansion Exotica is one of them, and the other is a standalone game by Philip duBarry called Battlecruisers.

In that kickstarter you can get either game for $25, or both for $40!

Here is an interview from The Inquisitive Meeple about Exotica (I believe Ryan will have an interview with Philip about Battlecruisersup shortly):

Seth Jaffee Introduces Us to Exotica

 So, if you've been waiting for this, or if you like EmDo, or if you're just curious what I'm on about... check out the kickstarter project!


And here is the Battlecruisers interview:

Philip duBarry talks Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers

Deities and Demigods - a new deck learning game?

Playing all this Deus and Elysium got me thinking a bit about the Mythology theme. In short, I like it. I liked it way back when I played Cyclades in 2009, when I played Olympus in 2010, and when I played Olympos in 2011. I've got my own design that centers on Greek mythology (Odysseus: Winds of Fate), and I've always wanted to work on a game about Hercules and his 12 labors.

I may have also mentioned that I'd like to find more uses for the deck-learning mechanism from Eminent Domain. I think there's more to that mechanism than just the one game. The other day when I was discussing design stuff with Dan Keltner, and he had some ideas which reminded me of some of the roots of the ideas that became EmDo - there was a thread on BGDF.com some years ago about Queen Games looking for games using their Cube Tower. I had a couple of thoughts about that - one of which ended up in EmDo, but another of which involved a central cube tower as well as individual cube towers for each player. The individual cube towers would have an effect on a player's individual game, but the central tower would be accessible by all players, and its contents would change based on the collective actions of all players. In terms of deck learning, this would translate to a central deck that would affect all players, and would be affected by all players.

One idea I had to which I could apply a Greek Mythology theme is to have such a central deck with a couple of standard actions in it, as well as a Pantheon (stacks of cards like in EmDo) of cards corresponding to Greek deities. The central deck would be shuffled, and cards revealed one at a time - giving each player a chance to do that card's action. In lieu of the effect of that card, a player may choose to instead pray to one of the gods in the Pantheon, thereby getting some effect related to that god, and putting a copy of that god's card into the central deck's discard pile. The next time through the deck, that card will come up, and if you wanted it in the deck, then ideally it'll benefit you more than others. In this way the game would be a deck-learning game with a single, shared deck.

The idea of a single shared deck is interesting, but I'm not sure it fits the deck-learning format very well. The variation in your deck creates player differentiation. Therefore maybe another approach would be more appropriate.

I do like the idea of a Pantheon of different deity cards, each supporting some game action. In order to have meaningful actions, I think there would have to be a game board to support land units (Ares), sea units (Poseidon), buildings (Hephaestus), agriculture (Demeter), and etc. I think a modular board would be popular, so I might try something like in Tempus (which I guess is also similar to Deus). I'll have to figure out what it means to have groups of units on land or on sea, but it would make sense if Poseidon let you add units to a sea space, or move units in the sea and stuff like that.

If your deck is made up of cards from a Pantheon (which I think is a great, thematic name for the central card stacks), then what would you as a player represent? My current thought is that players would be heroes or demigods from Greek mythology, like Perseus, Achilles, and Herakles, honoring the Olympian gods to aid in their conquests (or their empire building, or whatever).

I said in my earlier post about deck-learning that I don't think Role Selection is required to make the mechanism work, so long as there's some other form of interaction in the game. Though Role Selection does fit perfectly with having a hand of cards... Maybe this favors the above "common deck" idea, as the common actions could act like roles even if the game isn't exactly a role selection game. Or maybe it's fine not to worry about role selection, even if that sort of wastes some of the hand management aspect of deck-learning.

I don't know, this is a new idea and I'm just feeling it out at the moment, kinda brainstorming. Please leave comments with any thoughts you have on this!

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Thinking about podcasting

I've long thought that while the number of gaming podcasts is high, there's an aspect of the industry that's underrepresented... there aren't a lot of podcasts dealing with game design. Once (circa 2007 I think) I even downloaded Audacity and tried recording something... it turned out to be about a half an hour of me talking about one of my first games, All For One.

Nowadays, with the advent of crowdfunding, the amateur/indy design scene has grown quite a bit. Gaming in general has become a lot bigger and more well known, and now more than ever there are a lot more podcasts and video-casts focusing on games. Some of them are by designers, and some interview designers about their games, but for the most part I still don't see a lot of content about the actual design of games.

Prominent reviewer Richard Ham (Radho Runs Through) started a podcast series recently, and reading some comments about that new show, as well as some of the comments they made on The State of Games,renewed my interest in pursuing the idea of a game design focused podcast. I polled Twitter to see if people would be interested in hearing that type of thing, and got a general sort of "I'd listen if it were short" type of response.

Based on what I imagine people would be interested in, I was thinking that each episode might be organized as follows...

1. Recent gaming (5 min): I could mention the games I've been playing, maybe going into detail about the most prominent one.

2. Thoughts on hotness (5 min): I could give my opinion on whatever the hot topic of the day might be... a particular game that'sbeing hyped, the SdJ nominees, or some other hot topic in gaming.

3. The meat of the podcast - some game design topic (10-20 min): I figure I'd choose some topic and approach it from a "this is how I did it" point of view, then solicit comments from the audience as to how they would have gone about it.

I might ought to squeeze in there some segment for answering questions from Twitter or previous show comments. In total I'd try to keep the episodes down to 30 mins or less. I figure I could record several episodes at a time, cut it up and stitch it together into episodes with Audacity, and post them on SoundCloud or something.

So what do you think? Does this sound like something worth doing? Would you be interested in listening to this type of thing?