Sunday, March 27, 2016

Game Design Attack #4 -- brief recap

Over the last few years, I've hosted a game design retreat here in Tucson which I call Game Design Attack:

This year Tim Fowers and Ryan Lauket came down from Utah, and Rob came in from California again. Gil Hova and J.R. Honeycutt had to cancel, but maybe next year they'll be able to join us. Dan Keltner and David Short are locals and they stopped in for a bit as well.

The guys showed up Thursday evening, and we started out the design talk by taking turns basically describing one of the games we'd brought to work on, and discussing it. Right out of the gate there was some great discussion -- even before the games were on the table!

Over the course of the weekend, each of us got at least one game to the table

Ryan brought two upcoming Red Raven titles (or potential titles, I'm not actually sure what the full story is on them).

The first one which I saw a few weeks ago at SaltCon, a euro style game with storytelling elements that's a follow up to Above and Below. I liked it a lot, though the scoring tended to snowball a bit. After Friday night's play, Ryan made a significant change and it then on Saturday we tried it again and it was much better. I think with a few more tweaks that game will be ready for prime time!

The second game Ryan brought was a co-design with Alf Seegert called Haven. We had some suggestions about that one, and tried implementing some of them... I think that one needs a bit more work, but could become a nice light 2p game.

Rob had come up with an idea for a game, and spent some of this weekend putting together a prototype and we gave it a try. The game was about crafting weapons for knights to use in a tournament, and it involved drafting sets of cards (some known and some unknown), refining your set, and finally resolving fights with a knight and your set of cards.

Originally there was an auction for the lots of cards, as well as a low-bid auction for the knights, and much of the action was fiddly and awkward -- not surprising for a first draft! But we made some adjustments on the fly which made things better. After the game we discussed a few potential improvements such as removing gold and auctions, and instead just drafting piles of cards, and later we played again with some modifications and the whole thing worked much better.

This was definitely a game where the designer's vision did not match up with how I would have done it, so when I got home I put together a similar prototype that I might try my version of Rob's game.

Tim's latest project is Fugitive, a 2 player deduction game where one player is a fugitive on the run, and the other is a U.S. Marshall trying to catch him. I played the game at SaltCon a few weeks ago, and he's made some improvements since then. At SaltCon it seemed like the Marshall couldn't won, but now it seemed like they coudn't lose... so Tim made another tweak to try and get the balance right, and the next few games were won by some mix of fugitive and marshall - so I think it's almost there.

Tim also has a new version of Now Boarding, the game he and I came up with, prototyped, tested, and updated at Game Design Attack #1 back in 2013. The new version is quite different than the original, but has some key aspects in common of course. It's still a real time cooperative game, and the new version addresses feedback from players of the previous version that it didn't feel cooperative enough.

Tim had a 3rd game with him, one that I think he's got on his back burner. Flowchart Fighter is a 2 player fighting game, like a Street Fighter card game so to speak.

David wasn't there very long, but he was able to get his micro deckbuilder, Another Man's Treasure, to the table. It has some interesting ideas in it, but David seems to be struggling to get it to work the way he wants it to.

Dan had a new version of his puzzle game, and a new single deck card game inspired by my comments about the book track in Mombasa. I didn't play the former, but I liked the latter quite a bit. We ran out of cards, so apparently more are needed, and I thought maybe another suite of resource types might help as well, but it certainly seems like a good start.

I was able to get 2 different games to the table this weekend. Rock & Roll is a light dice rolling / resource management type of game which was intended to be a sort of follow up to Dungeon Roll -- not related to that game, but to appeal to the same type of player perhaps. I've gone through a few iterations on that game, and got it to a point where it technically worked, but I had trouble knowing whether it was good enough or fun enough for the target audience since I'm not really in the target audience.

Tim had a really neat idea of a slightly different sort of structure, making it a bit more like a standard Yahtzee-style press your luck game. I thought of a related way to make sure there was some interaction so the game didn't feel solitary, and after a prototype update I was able to try the new version a couple of times and I think it might be a step in the right direction. The new version is highly thematic as well -- now there are song cards, so instead of scoring individual crowd tokens for as many points as possible, you play a song in order to please as many crowd members as possible. I'll go into more detail about this new version in a separate post.

Finally, I also got Deities& Demigods to the table. This game has worked in a general sense so far, but I've had problems with a lack of interaction, some hesitation about combat rules, and game length. I haven't thought about this game much since last November, but after re-familiarizing myself with it and playing a game, I got to formalize the issues and get some feedback on how to address them. I had been thinking that the board needed to be smaller, but I didn't know how to reduce the size while still having enough cities and quest locations. I got some good suggestions to address those problems which I'll elaborate on in a separate post. I stayed up until 3am updating my prototype, but sadly was unable to get it back to the table this weekend, so I'm antsy to get another playtest in soon!

All in all I think it was a highly successful and very fun weekend!

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