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 At this point some of the information about the game is well out of date, but such is life when you dig up old posts.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!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Kings of Air and Steam: World's Fair

A few years ago I did a lot of development work on a game called Kings of Air and Steam, by Scott Almes.

Kings of Air and Steam

From the description on BGG:
On the cusp of the twentieth century, America is the undisputed land of industry. Factories fire their machines twenty-four hours a day, and demand is skyrocketing in the cities. A small but fierce rivalry of shipping barons must manage their amazing airships and the extensive railroad system in order to get goods to the cities before the demand is met by someone else. Anyone who can't stay competitive will be left with nothing but dust in their coffers!
The process is simple: Factories produce the goods (machinery, textiles, chemicals, food, and luxuries) that are coveted by the city folk. Airships – forbidden from landing in the cities but capable of carrying cargo over great distances – must be used to gather those goods and deliver them to depots along the rail network. Trains then haul the goods to the cities that want them, earning cash for the competitor who gets there first! Will you be the "King of Air and Steam?"
Kings of Air and Steam spans five rounds, and at the beginning of each round, players plan their Airship flights using four of their movement cards. When everyone is ready, everyone reveals their first planned card. According to the turn order and movement limits of their cards, players move their Airships, then take an Action; Actions include Building Depots, Upgrading your Airship or Train, Shipping Goods by rail, and Soliciting Funds from the bank. When all players have acted, the second planned cards are revealed, and so on through the four planned cards until all players have finished carrying out their plans for the round. All the while, players must keep aware of the rising values of the different types of Goods and try to get the most-valuable Goods from the specialized factories that produce them to the cities that want them. At the end of the game, the player with the most money and the greatest shipping network will be declared King of Air and Steam!
Kings of Air and Steam includes seven teams of characters, each with unique powers to give them a competitive edge, and a modular game board that makes each game a different experience.
I'm pretty proud of Kings of Air and Steam - Scott had a really neat concept, and he and I hammered it into a very solid final product. I like pick-up/deliver games, and as those go, KAS is very interesting with its 2-step delivery process.

In December 2011, 626 backers pledged $41,722 to help bring Kings of Air and Steam to life. After some delays, those backers received their games around February 2013, but it didn't hit distribution until June or July of that year. When the game hit store shelves, it sold out almost immediately, and fans have said it's been badly in need of a reprint ever since!

Reprint and Expansion

Now, 2 years later, that re-print may finally be possible! Kings of Air and Steam is currently on Kickstarter, along with an expansion called World's Fair. The expansion adds new teams, with new captains to play, contracts to encourage players to use more of the board, and technology cards which allow players access to powerful actions and abilities.

Here's an example of some of the tech cards:

And here are the new teams' special movement cards:

Unfortunately, the funding is not pouring in like I'd expect for a game that's overdue for a re-print, along with an expansion... in fact, with only 4 days left on the project, funding is barely over 50%!

If we're going to make it to the funding goal (let alone any of the stretch goals), we've got our work cut out for us!

You can help!

1. If you haven't got Kings of Air and Steam, then check it out on BGG and at the Kickstarter project.
2. If you HAVE got Kings of Air and Steam, and if you liked it as much as I do, then check out the World's Fair expansion on BGG and at the Kickstarter project.
3. If you want this project to succeed, please spread the word - share the project with your friends, and let people know about your good experiences piloting airships and delivering goods for fun and profit!

Thanks for your help - let's kick that funding into high gear and get thi great game (and expansion) into our hot little hands!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Odysseus is closing in on Ithaca!

I posted about a recent 5p test with my newfound playtest group, and since then I've gotten Winds of Fate to the table twice: with 4 players at Unpub Mini Az, and with 5 again last night.

Outcomes and the Death Spiral

For some reason - and I'm not 100% sure why - in both of those games the death spiral didn't occur, and in fact the Unpub game ended with a Safe Return, and in 2 different rounds last night Odysseus almost made it home as well. I changed the rule to be that after encountering a face down tile, the gods decide which direction Odysseus will go, but in neither case did that really come up. Perhaps players weren't driving him towards a death spiral - that could have contributed to the difference.

God Tiles

The god tiles seemed to have more of an impact in these last games as well, which is good. I think doubling up on their number was a good choice. In the next test I might reverse the scoring such that you get 2/6/12/20vp for having 1/2/3/4 DIFFERENT god tiles (rather than matching tiles). That way you get better score for diversifying, but you get stronger effects by specializing (like if you have 3 Hades tiles, you can kill off a lot of crew).

I'm also considering making Zeus "wild" and therefore trigger for EACH event (kill crew with Hades, revive crew with Dionysus, draw cards with Hermes) - but I'm not sure about that. I guess it would only matter for the players who get the Zeus tiles at Troy (first round), which might reward luck of the draw a bit.

Game Length

Both of these two playtests went very well, and the players all liked the game. The 4 player game took about an hour and a half, and the 5 player game took about 2 hours. Any longer and I think it would have been too long, but neither game seemed to overstay its welcome.

Reward + Consolation Reverse Turn Order

In both of those games I awarded both a Reward Tile and the Consolation when players passed, and that worked very well. I forgot at Unpub, but last night I awarded 1 additional card if you passed without having played any cards, and that worked, but I think I'll skip it from now on I don't think it's really necessary, it's an extra rule, and I don't like the idea of encouraging people to NOT play cards.

As for the number of rounds, last night they played through 7 rounds. At Unpub I think it was 6. In most cases it seems like maybe it's too easy to push the game toward round 12 with all the ways to advance the round marker. This may mean that Stranded is an easy outcome to bet on, or to make happen. I don't like that. I'm going to try changing the "advance round marker" action provided by one Reward tile and one card in each deck changed to "move the round marker up to 1 space in either direction."

Timeline and Destiny Rewards

I've been using the "add 1 cube per player, and then divide all cubes between qualifying shares" format, and it has worked alright, but it's complicated to explain and it involves more math than it should to resolve. For the Timeline bet I think I'll go back to a static pool of VPs. I used to use 30vp, which seemed to work, but maybe scaling it for player count would be better. So I might try 5vp/player, or 15/20/25vp for 3/4/5 players.

For the Destiny reward I might do the same thing, but for the next test I'll try something a little different... I am thinking that players could take a Destiny action each round when they place their Path bet (so you place 2 cubes, not just 1), and then at the end of the game the player with the most cubes on the correct outcome gets a bonus (a Zeus tile), and then players simply gather up their cubes from the correct outcome. I figure games will last about 6-8 rounds, so if you pick an outcome and stick with it every turn, and it turns out to be correct, then you'll score 12-16 points, plus maybe a bonus worth 2, 4, 6, or 8 points.

Next Playtest

I'm looking forward to getting this to the table again soon. I am going to a game store tomorrow night, but I don't know if anyone there will want to play O:WoF, but I'm also going to the Strategicon game convention in L.A. this weekend, and I'm sure I'll be able to drum up a playtest there. I can't wait to see these last few things tighten up!