2020-01-16

What's my 20?

Having looked backwards a few days ago, I guess it is time to look forwards to my game design plans for this year.

A significant part of the early part of the year is likely to continue to be development of Scurvy Crew, which may end up with a different name, and which I am still actively working on in conjunction with Lewis of Braincrack Games.

I forgot to mention in my roundup that, while I did pretty well for organising playtesting sessions for the first part of last year, I pretty much sucked for the second half. Every year I say I will try to get better at managing playtest groups, and this year will be no exception.

Collaborations... Now this is something that is big for me. I have been saying for some time that I have wanted to collaborate with other designers. This is partly in order to learn from others, but also because I seem to be more productive in many ways when I am bouncing ideas back and forth with other people. I have had a few collaborative projects over the last couple of years that have nearly, but not quite, got going, but it is looking like 2020 is going to the year of collaboration for me.

Over the last few weeks I have been discussing ideas for a light "tactility" game with another designers and this week this finally turned into a playable prototype that I tested with a couple of other folk, and the other designer, Mike, is really enthusiastic at his end, so I have a good feeling about this.
The first play of the "pulling animals out of a bag" game -- and it wasn't terrible.

I also have a get-together with a couple of other designers in a few days' time to work on a potential joint project that we are all keen on, so that's another thing.

Another thing I forgot to add to my retrospective post the other day (which is increasingly looking like I did a really poor job of!) was my collaboration with Tom Coldron, with him doing some development and testing of my old game Boogie Knights and me looking at his game Elvic.  I still need to have some further discussions with him but it was an enjoyable process for me and I'd be well up for doing similar things in future.

How about pitching games? I'm not sure this year, as it may turn out to be more of a "load up the queue" year, so I might not end up with pitchable product by UK Games Expo. I'm just going to wait and see on this front.  The "tactility" game I mentioned above could easily get to a pitchable state by the summer -- or totally crash and burn, only time will tell. Other than that, I would love to get one of my older projects (maybe Corlea, which has been rattling around for long enough) up to scratch in the next few months, but with the planned/possible collaborations, it may be that I have enough on my plate as it is.

Finally, something really specific. This year I'm going to create and illustrate a small card game involving puffins. After all the drawing of puffins last year, and a few general comments along these lines, I figure this should be a fun way to carry forward some of that art practice. I only expect this to end up as a print and play game, but we'll see how things develop.

2020-01-06

N...n...n...n...Nineteen

Happy new year!

So, looking back on my plans and intentions from last year, how did I do?

I said I would share more games as print and play prototypes, and utterly failed at that. 

I also said that I would continue to read up on historical events (I have mostly been reading about the middle ages, focussed on the C9th to C12th), and have a number of ideas jotted down in a notebook, so that's something. I did say that I would make some of these ideas into prototypes, and I failed to do this (mostly), but am sure I will develop some of these concepts.

Sometimes research for a game involves playing with a pile of toy animals.
The reason I said "mostly" there is that I have talked with a couple of game designer friends about the bizarre "medieval battle snails" that appear in various medieval manuscripts, and did make a light card game prototype inspired by this as well as a very rough version of a more serious boardgame on the same theme.  Neither went beyond that, but more recently I have been discussing with these same friends something more solid, and we are planning to get together very soon to see if we can rough out the basis of a collaboration.

I also didn't do another proofreading course last year, but I have the intention of signing up for one in the next few weeks.  I have worked on a few rulebook proofreading jobs over the last year; they have all been pro bono, done for people I really wanted to help out, but I feel I should probably start charging soon.

So what did go according to plan?

Well, I successfully ploughed through the year drawing a picture on paper every day and sharing a scan of that picture on Twitter.  This did contribute to wiping me out a little some evenings, meaning that I was short of energy for other things, like game design. Overall, though, I feel really good about this whole project -- I think the average quality of my pictures improved a bit during the year, the speed of my work certainly increased, and I got to experiment with some different media along the way. Plus I am very proud of a few of the pictures.

Other than that, a year ago I was talking about wanting to work on a couple of my game projects, and that was a definite success, with Scurvy Crew now signed (and in development), and The Castle War still with a publisher who has not given a final decision but has said some positive things, and I will be seeing them next week so will be able to discuss it at that point.

I mentioned collaboration earlier, and something else came up towards the end of the year. I was chatting with another designer at Dragonmeet, and ideas started bouncing around. We've been exchanging emails on this since and are working on an initial version of the game (I'm just waiting for the arrival of some components), and hope to meet up soon to see where we can take the idea. This is something exciting for me, partly because the collaborator is such a nice guy, but also because it is a style of game I probably wouldn't have approached on my own. 

In summary, then, 2019 didn't really take the shape I had originally intended, and for various reasons I had spells of being unproductive, but overall things went really well for me. 

2019-12-24

December Roundup

Another month nearly escapes me without a post. It hasn't been the most productive month from a game design point of view, but I did manage to get some stuff done.

Right at the end of November was the Dragonmeet convention in London, which I have attended for the last few years as part of the PlaytestUK team. We run an area for game designers to get their prototypes played by regular convention goers rather than the usual PlaytestUK meetups which are mostly designers playing each other's games.  I spent the first few hours helping to staff the area, which largely involves inviting passing gamers to join a game. This is usually a bit hard going at the start of the day, but as time passes you get more people just turning up looking for something to play.

I had a slot for playtesting myself in the afternoon, and introduced Tom Coldron's game Elvic to two different groups.  Things went very well overall, with players being well engaged, but a few issues were raised, largely relating to balance between certain options (some cards are perceived as strictly  better or worse than others), which need to be at least considered.  I've now sent the current play set back to Tom with some notes about how things have been going, so we'll see what he thinks.

Elvic at Dragonmeet.

Other than that, I got discussing a game idea with another of the designers there who was also volunteering at the same time as me. He had an idea about making a game that is largely about tactility and recognising items by the sense of touch alone, and our discussions moved towards a development of this. We've both been tinkering with this idea since, and have been communicating, and a basic version of a game is starting to form. Hopefully we'll be able to get together some time soon (we don't live too far apart) to see if we can develop things more in person.

Other than that it has been Scurvy Crew. I've not had playtesting opportunities on this, but I have worked a lot of ideas from discussions with BrainCrack into a new version of the prototype.  The basic gameplay is not changing significantly, but we are working on the campaign mode, which allows you to play a series of games (we're planning 7, to match the 7 seas and all that) with development of threats and opportunities as you work through it.  Plus, with the game being a relatively short one, the aim is to make it so that you can binge your way through the campaign in a day (maybe even an afternoon) should you wish. Anyway, I think the first official announcements about the game are likely to happen in the next couple of months, so we'll see how things go...

Anyway, I think this will be about it from me for the year.  I hope you have a good Christmas or whatever else you might celebrate at this time of year. Back soon... :)

2019-11-29

Remember remember the rest of November

I seem to have slumped to a monthly blog posting schedule here, which is not exactly ideal, but is better than nothing, I guess.  With the nights drawing in I've been finding myself a bit tired and sluggish on many fronts, but I've not been completely off the game design path.  Most of my efforts over the last month have been working on one of three projects which are at very different stages.

Explore and Settle

This is an old design that I alluded to in last month's post, and one that has a pretty misleading name. It's what you could describe as a "3X" game (explore, expand, exploit, but not exterminate), and it is based on cards that overlap to form a grid of squares, but the additional "tab" of the card (the bit beyond the square) has a game effect until it is covered over, as well as providing uses when played from hand. The core mechanism is pretty fine, and gets a bit brain-burny (more than anything else I have designed), but overall the game is just not compelling, so I need to find an "angle" to use, and it may require a major redesign. 
At least it's prettier than it used to be.

This was the game that I took to this month's London playtesting meetup, as well as coming out for another game designer meetup I was at, and I got some interesting feedback, but I'm struggling to figure out how best to move forward.

Scurvy Crew

I'm still in a development phase here, working on building the campaign mode of the game. We have some really interesting ideas bouncing around for how we can carry threads on from game to game. There'll be missions and changing threats and opportunities through the campaign, but things aren't locked down enough for me to be able to talk about them much at the moment.

Elvic

This is the game designed by Tom Coldron that I've been doing some experimental development on. It's a fast-playing game (usually takes about 15 minutes), so we usually get to have at least a couple of plays in a row, often trying a small rules tweak in between to compare and contrast.  Small and quick games are so much easier to playtest. :)

I think I'm getting to the end of a development arc with this game though, so I have one last round of playtesting coming up (see below) and then, unless that opens up some new avenues that I want to explore, I think I'll probably send it back to Tom and see what the original designer thinks of the ways I have destroyed his original idea!

Dragonmeet

It's that time of year. As I write this, I'm avoiding getting ready for Dragonmeet, which is on tomorrow in London (Hammersmith, actually), though actually I've got most of what I need to do done.  I'll me spending most of the day at the Playest UK stand -- volunteering there until 2pm, after which I'll have a couple of hours playtesting the latest version (of mine) of Elvic.  If you are there (if you are in the area and want something to do, why not come along?), please swing by and say hello.

2019-10-28

Recent Weeks

I definitely seem to have fallen off the blogging bicycle recently, but I have been chugging along with game design work over the last few weeks, even if I've not been charging forwards. So, just to get things going again, here are some of the things I got up to...

I had a really good playtesting and development session with Dave and Robin, other game designers who I meet up with most months. We've missed a couple of months for assorted reasons, but this got us back into the swing of things again and I was able to run tests of a couple of my projects as well as some of theirs.
Familiar cards, unfamiliar table, but with ships from Seafall (I think!)
Another really useful session was a trip to meet with Lewis from Braincrack Games to work on Scurvy Crew, face-to-face. This was the first time we had actually been able to play the game together, and it resulted in some great ideas bouncing around and some interesting plans made. I can't say too much right now as a lot is up in the air, but the plan is to provide the game with a campaign mode where you get to play a series of games, building your crew and improving your ship as well as meeting new challenges as you go along.

The monthly playtesting session in London happened last week and once again I took Elvic, Tom Coldron's game, where we had a couple of plays with a small tweak (a card being face-up instead of face-down, thus giving more information to players) between plays.  This game is so fast that playtest groups are often happy to do this, which makes iteration quicker than I am used to for other games. A lesson here, perhaps?

Other than that, I have been rummaging through my archives, and pulled an old project from 2016 back onto the table to see what I can do with it.  I've found a little inspiration here, so rather than discussing that right now, I'll post something more detailed about it shortly...

2019-09-25

Something old, something new, something borrowed

This has been a bit of a tricky post to write. Trying to get the balance right in a couple of ways. I'm not sure I've succeeded. You judge.

So a couple of weeks or so ago I received a proposal from a friend and fellow game designer, Tom Coldron, who had a game that he had got working but wanted someone else to spend some time looking at it, and was wondering if I would be interested in this, and in exchange he would do the same for one of my games.  This sounded like a great idea to me, so I sent Tom the files for Boogie Knights (which works, but isn't really satisfactory), and he sent me a game called Elvic.

Elvic is a small game designed to fit in a mint tin, and is what I would describe as an area control game with action selection.  Slightly less jargony: each round players have access to a card which gives them a couple of options, and they select the way they use that card to put tokens onto cards representing regions in the kingdom, then you score points at the end of the game according to whether or not they have the most tokens in each region.

Mid-game for our first play at the Jugged Hare.
I got to try the game out with one of my local groups, and found that we liked the game in general but were frustrated by one particular aspect, and we experimented with tweaks to this in a second play. These changes didn't really do what I wanted it to, but at least gave some ideas for me to work with, largely due to some great suggestions from the playtesters.

This is the bit I've been having trouble with as I don't want to put down Tom's work at all (he's made -- aside from that issue -- a cracking game that I enjoyed playing and that I wouldn't have made myself) or say that I have solved his problem, or even that the issue we saw was one that existed for any other group.  I've been finding it really interesting to explore someone else's design and tweak it to see if it suits me (and my playtesters) a little more.

Anyway, a few days later, and with a slightly modified game, it was a day for a trip to London for playtesting, so for the first time I went along bearing somebody else's game. We had a four-player game that took the lower end of what I was expecting the play time to be, and my colleagues kindly agreed to have another play straight away. 

There was actually relatively little feedback articulated at the end, just a few relatively minor points, and play involved some furrowed brows and growling at a number of the decisions.  Normally it's good to have a decent discussion about the game, but I'd picked up plenty of information through play, and we wanted to move on to allow another designer to test their game after I had been hogging table time.  In both plays of Elvic, over the last couple of rounds there was a certain amount of counting up potential scores in order to optimise moves, which didn't take long, and suited the headspace the players were in, but might be a negative for some players. I think this is largely just a feature of this style of game, trying to optimise your endgame to eke out those last few victory points.

Overall this was a really encouraging session and suggested that the game might be moving in the right direction (it was pretty close beforehand) but I want to see a few more playtests, with assorted player counts (I've not yet tried it with two players) and levels of gaming experience (remember that this day's testers were all game designers) before I hand it back to Tom to see what he makes of my suggested changes. Thanks for the opportunity, Tom!

I'm also really looking forward to see what he thinks of for Boogie Knights, as and when.


2019-08-24

Jugged Teeth

The very first 24 Hour Contest design I made was a game called Tooth Fairies, back in early 2015. It is a game where players are tooth fairies, exchanging coins for children's teeth, which are collected into sets to be presented to the fairy king and queen, who give out rewards to their loyal subjects. Mechanically you are picking up cards from a row of available teeth (though some are rotten, and some are just useless lumps of chewed gum) and when you have a set that matches one of the "missions" from the king or queen, you collect a reward from them. The game is aimed at being a quick, family friendly game.

Anyway, I was recently looking through my old projects and was inspired to get this one out and take a look at it.  The game seemed at least OK, so I gave it a once-over to pad out some elements and smooth some others, built a fresh prototype, and took it along to this month's London weekend playtest meetup.



The game flowed OK overall, but the way the row of available tooth cards functioned meant that it needed constant sliding of cards, a maintenance task that went smoothly enough as one player was automatically handling it most of the time, but one that made for a grinding feeling that should really be got rid of.  The set up I used meant that the game would have been far too long if we hadn't removed half of the mission cards, and the players complained about the balance of the demands of the missions and the rewards for them.

As regular readers may know, I tend to not worry about game balance until I have a game that flows pretty well, so I'm not worried about these comments at the moment, other than that if players are fixating on a balance issue it means that there probably isn't enough in the game to make up for these perceived problems.

Overall, the structure of the game was reminiscent of another, and sufficiently so that my players couldn't help but saying that the game felt like a sub-standard Century: Spice Road. I can see where they are coming from on that.  I think that, while the game is very much not a lightweight engine builder like Century, the comparison is inevitable as things stand, so I need to address that. 

Structurally, I think the problem is that my row of tooth cards invites the unfavourable comparison and causes the constant, small upkeep tasks, so I need to find some way for players to collect teeth, which must also, for thematic reasons, involve paying coins for those teeth.  I'll be sleeping on this some more, but I think that there will probably be some system along the lines of periodically flopping a selection of tooth cards and coming up with a system for players to claim them.  Work to do...