24 hours of angels

I haven't taken part in one of the BGG 24 hour contests for a while, and I really wasn't expecting to find the time to do so until the new year.  Furthermore, the December requirement of 'angel' just didn't speak to me (OK, I admit it, I didn't get overwhelmed by a need to make puns in this case), so it looked like I was going to pass again.  But then some inspiration came to me and I figured out that I could find a day where I should be able to spend a reasonable amount of time on the project, so angels are go!

So, the idea was more seasonal than would normally be expected for a grinch like myself: decorating Christmas trees, with the angel requirement being met by players being able to add an angel to the top of the tree to "complete" it and lock the scores in.  The requirement of the contest is just something that has to be incorporated into the game in some (any) way, and not necessarily as a major part of the theme or setting.
Yellow is doing pretty well, despite no angels placed yet.

The game, now it is mostly designed and functional, is essentially a very simple area control game.  At any given point there are four trees that can be decorated, and access to these is restricted by rolling dice.  At the end of the game, points are scored for being first or second place in terms of having the most decorations on each tree, and there are bonuses for anyone who manages to place an angel.

I've already started thinking of places to improve the game -- first among which is the way that the dice are handled and passed between players, as I definitely didn't nail this.  But overall, I think I am reasonably content with how this one turned out, given the restriction.

Incidentally, something that has just occurred to me is that I seem to be becoming more willing to use dice in a game.  I went for a long time wanting to avoid rolling dice, but maybe it is a result of my recent exploration of lightweight games that has shifted my perspective.  Dice are just so widely accepted by "normal" people as a part of games that they can often be slotted in to smooth over aspects of a game that might otherwise need to get far more complicated.  Many "hobby gamers" might push back against their use, but then the games I have been working on lately haven't been aimed at them, so it's fine really.  Maybe I should think about this some more and figure out what is going on here.

If you are interested in this latest game, An Angel On Top, you can look at the files here...
An Angel On Top v0.1 rules on Dropbox
An Angel On Top v0.1 cards on Dropbox

And you can look at the December 24 Hour contest and see what other folk are doing too.


The Knight of the Boogie, 0.3

At last I've managed to get my nose back to the proverbial grindstone and fix up a new version of Boogie Knights, incorporating what I have learnt from the last wave of playtesting.

As discussed previously, the "neutral" equipment cards have been culled as, while they could be of some use, the perception of players is that they do nothing at all and in practice only get played as a last resort.  They clearly do not add to the fun and thus had to go.
Basically the same pic as last time, but now with the new card style.

The magical equipment had to change as well.  The rules I had for them required repeated explanation in any group (always a bad sign for a lightweight game), and the fact that they took the place of more useful equipment just didn't fit with the rest of the game.  As a result, I have removed all that but, as the concept of mischievously swapping equipment around was popular, I have introduced magical scrolls that allow you to muck about a bit.  There are only two each of two types of scroll at the moment, but they should be enough to shake things up.

I have now replaced all the art for body parts with my simple cartoony characters, though there is repetition of parts; I would prefer more unique stuff, but I'll live with that for now.  I still need to do something new with the accessories, but maybe I'll get somewhere with that for the next version.  Similarly, there should really be a load of different art pieces for the various types of challenges so they can be recognised and differentiated more easily, but that will be for another day.

One of my biggest concerns at the moment is that the Kit Inspection cards sometimes cause confusion: "Do I play this now?"  The idea of these is to ensure that every now and then (in practice, usually about three or four times per game) somebody automatically scores something, making the game tick towards an end just a little faster.  I'll need to watch this aspect closely as, if it continues to bemuse people, this is something that may have to be axed.  That said, it is entirely possible that it is my explanation and/or the card design that is at fault, and by improving these we could deal effectively with the whole issue.

I am also pondering the possibility of providing some sort of bonus for anyone who manages to put together a matching set of equipment.  The cards would need some sort of identification to make it easy to figure out, but that's not a big deal.  The reward could be a bonus in challenges, or there could be a third type of inspection, giving prestige for the "best turned out" or something.

See, I've only just sorted out this version and I'm already working on the next.  Need data first...

If you are interested in taking a look (and if you do, I would love to hear any thoughts you have on the game), download links for the latest version are here...
Boogie Knights v0.3 rules on Dropbox
Boogie Knights v0.3 cards on Dropbox


Trying to improve my rule writing

Part of the journey of learning to be a better game designer is learning to be a better writer of rules.  This is something that is absolutely critical as, for most game groups, somebody has to learn how to play the game from written rules before teaching it to everyone else.  For many games, the rulebook also needs to be able to answer questions when some issue comes up in play.  This is all a very specific form of technical writing, and it's hard.
[Image stolen from Dan Brady on Flickr]

My experience so far is limited, but I am moving along.  The one tabletop game rulebook I have presented to the world as "finished" (I Know An Old Woman) has already received feedback helping me to locate more places where things are unclear -- and this is a very simple game, which just goes to show how far I have yet to go.  I have also helped with proofreading rules for other designers (helping to build up my ability to spot problems) and am in the process of helping rewrite a translation of the rules of a foreign language game.

I figure that one of the best ways of getting experience and building my skills is to just get out and help people out.  There is only so much time each week, but I can fit some work on other people's projects in between my own.  It isn't hard to find this sort of work on a voluntary basis: the forums on Board Game Geek, for example, regularly have people requesting help with various aspects of their games, including the rules.

It has been nice to see a number of blog posts, videos and the like turning up recently on the Internet with advice of rulebook writing.  The advice doesn't always agree, for example, Matthew Gravelyn wrote on his Designing Cardboard blog about writing concise rules, and then a month later,  Lewis Pulsipher released a short talk entitled "Too-Concise Rules Can Become Incomplete or Incomprehensible".

Of course, these two aren't really disagreeing: Gravelyn is aiming to cut out useless text, while Pulsipher is warning against cutting out too much, as you may impede understanding.  Basically, the acceptable length and complexity of game rules depends on your target audience.  In the end, you need to test the effectiveness of your rules.

A really great resource is a discussion from the Metatopia game design convention, featuring Geoff Engelstein (of Space Cadets and the Ludology podcast) and Gil Hova (of Battle Merchants and the Breaking Into Boardgames podcast).  This is almost an hour of solid gold with a lot of good advice, but I think one of the most interesting parts of the discussion is about how rulebooks need to meet two mutually-encumbering objectives: to provide a tutorial for the game and a reference for once you have learnt the basics.  The big take-away though is that writing rulebooks is hard and even very experienced people get it wrong.

A little more in-your-face is a talk given by Mike Selinker (of... almost everywhere) at  PAX Dev, where he gives 10 rules (well, 11) for writing rules, with examples of a whole heap of traps you can easily fall into and how you can keep out of them.  The talk is based on an essay he wrote in The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design, which is a book full of useful advice from a great many knowledgeable people.  The majority of Selinker's rules can, I think, be summed up by "don't try to be too clever."

From all this stuff along with other sources, plus my own meagre experience, I am starting to build my own principles that I will try to use to guide my rulebook writing.  The top of my list is currently as follows:

  • State, in general terms, how to win the game right at the start of the rules. Details can come later, but the general idea needs to be there before anything else is explained in order to give context for everything that follows.
  • Closely connected to this, the rulebook needs to convey some level-zero heuristics.  This is a slightly technical term (see Characteristics of Games for plenty of discussion on heuristics), but basically I mean that on reading the rules, the players need to have a general idea about what they need to do to play the game and have a chance of doing OK.  If the players start with no idea of what to do, that is a failure of the rules.
  • Keep the language simple and consistent.  It may be necessary to define special terms, but do so sparingly and be really careful to stick to those definitions.  
  • Don't be afraid to repeat yourself in the rules in order to make sure that information is in appropriate places, but remember that if a rule is repeated, this adds an overhead for editing as a change in one place means checking everywhere else.
  • Proofreading is necessary but not sufficient.  A proofreader may decide that the rules read just fine, but someone trying to learn and play the game from the written rules may still have all manner of problems.  Blind playtesting the rules is essential.


Defence against the horde...

I've been doing this game design thing enough now that I am starting to get the "problem" of unbidden ideas taking over my head for a while.  For the last couple of days it has been for a card game that wouldn't go away until I created a prototype.  What happens next, I don't know.

To step back a bit, some time ago I was thinking about the very enjoyable Sherlock Holmes the Card Game, which I used to play quite regularly and features a nice mechanism where each card specifies what types of card can follow it, allowing a pleasing (though occasionally silly) narrative to develop.  So, while in the country, Holmes may find a clue, which leads to suspicion of one of the players, who has an alibi, after which Holmes is compelled to catch a train back to London.  The rules can be explained quickly (though the end of round scoring can take some work!) 
Alone against the monster horde. Luckily this wandering mystic has come to my aid.

I was trying to think of a way to play with this basic mechanism to come up with a game that built a narrative of a conflict between opposing forces, ideally where players are at least mostly on one side, but possibly with one (or more) of them taking the role of either an adversary or a traitor.  This never really developed very far; I had a very basic attempt, which mostly worked, but wasn't really interesting enough and relied too much on the game that provided the inspiration.

Months passed and then this weekend, for some reason, I started thinking about the concept again.  What got me moving again was some looking at the wonderful website, game-icons.net, which does pretty much what it says on the tin, and deciding that the card types could be labelled with icons representing different parts of the story (characters, events, actions and so on) and each could allow for a small number of other types of card (by icon) to be played next.  So far this just changed the representation of a concept: text in Sherlock Holmes is turned into graphics in my game, which is no change at all, really, but sorting through some candidate icons the ideas started flowing.

The game would be about the players helping to defend a village from an invading army of monsters.  I was trying to come up with victory conditions for a competitive game, but eventually thought that the setting lends itself to being cooperative, and that is a style of game that I haven't yet tried designing (or, for that matter, solitaire).  Eventually I came to the idea of having a "threat level", which would be increased by some cards and reduced by others.  This still didn't seem enough, so I also had a magical "power level", which could be increased to allow magical defences to come into play.

Usually I would rough out a prototype with pens and bits of card, but I was confident enough of the most basic functioning here that I turned to some very basic nanDeck coding plus the icon assets I had downloaded, worked out a basic selection of cards, and soon had printed out a small deck of 36 cards to play with. 

By this point I had thought of a couple of ways for players to lose the game -- if the threat level reaches 10, or the deck of cards run out -- but I hadn't really figured out how to win.  Never mind, start playing anyway...

By half the way through my first solitaire test, I had figured out the main win/lose conditions: if the threat reaches 10 you lose, as previously planned, but to win you need to work through the deck and then get the threat level to 0 with whatever cards are left over, otherwise you lose.  Also, if you are unable to play a card you add a threat and draw an additional card.

This seemed to work. I lost my first three games in a row and found some frustrating points where there were no playable cards for some time, which was largely due to the icons on the cards not meshing with each other properly.  A small change or two with a pen and I won a couple of games.  Yeah, balancing this is going to be difficult, but at least there is the option of having selectable difficulty levels thanks to varying hand size, starting threat level, and so on.

Now the game is out of my head and in a tangible form that makes me think I might like to keep working on this.  I definitely need to think through the card mix carefully if we're going to progress, and one problem I've noticed is that on many turns there are no real choices to make: you just have to play the card that fits.  OK, so every few turns there can be really interesting decisions, but the rest can be scripted.  That seriously needs to change.

Much still to do...


How do you treat playtesters?

I've been thinking recently how to recruit and retain people who are willing to test my games.  I have a handful of people local to me who are willing to help out, and am working on developing this group (see my previous post), and in the long term this will involve making sure I keep the playtest sessions fun for everyone so they remain engaged and willing to pitch in.  This is a big responsibility as people are freely offering their time and I mustn't forget that.  I could probably do with multiple groups, but I think this may prove even more of a challenge given all sorts of life constraints.  In fact, it took me quite an effort of willpower to bring myself to actually ask for help and make arrangements for a playtesting session.  I'm not the sort of person that is very good at this sort of thing.  It is probably a learned skill though and I have taken an early step.

Early playtesters check that they have the rules right.
(Image source: Wikipedia.org)

Alternatively I could recruit playtesters online.  This can be even more tricky: not only do I need to have the game developed further than I might need for a local playtest (it needs to have coherent written rules and components that can either be printed out or plundered from elsewhere), but I am also competing against all the other games they could be playing and it is harder to bring my sunny personality into play in order to persuade them to play.  I am asking people to go quite a long way out of their way to assemble and play my game, so I have some work to do.

But there is a community out there, and it is possible to attract the attention of people who might be willing to try my games for me.

I manage to playtest games for other people less often than I would like, but I have a go from time to time, and it can certainly be fun: often the games are good in their own right, but it is also interesting to see other designers at work, learn something more about the design and testing process and, possibly, to see an early form of a game that might turn up at the local games shop some time down the line.

There was one game I printed out the playtest materials for and tried out with a friend.  The game was essentially pretty solid, but we felt the rules had some holes in them and didn't explain some of the basic principles properly.  I reported back a guarded thumbs-up along with a few points where things felt awkward or we didn't understand the rules properly.  The reply I received back seemed quite blunt and pointed out that we had done something wrong and should have done it differently.  To be honest, feeling that I have been told off for not being clever enough has not disposed me to playtesting other games for this designer.

Another experience involved reporting on a couple of two-player runs of a game and reporting back that we liked the game, along with some basic statistics about the plays and a few other points that we felt were worth raising.  The response from this didn't include the word "thanks", but did include a request that we play the game again with different player counts.  This reply was polite enough, but just left me feeling that I was being taken for granted.

On the other hand, some designers fall over themselves to be appreciative.  I remember one in particular who wrote back, offering warm thanks an addressing each item in a list of points I had made, including one point that was replied to along the lines of, "You misunderstood that rule, it is meant to be XYZ, but I'll make sure I make that much clearer in the next version of the rules."

So the main point of this post is a note to myself to remember that if I want people to test my games I need to treat them like valued and appreciated members of the team, and ensure that they know that I am grateful for their contributions.  If they have been blunt in their feedback, I have to take it all as good information and still stay thanks.  After all, I need to nurture any sources of help I manage to get.

And no, I'm not going to name names.


Five (plus one) go playtesting

Achievement unlocked! I have finally done something that I have been talking about for over a year but never quite got around to organising: I hosted a playtesting evening, having somehow managed to persuade a group of friends to come round for the evening to try playing incomplete game designs in return for tea and biscuits.

In the end we had five volunteers turning up, which made for six of us crammed into my little games room, and we tried out Boogie Knights (which is in a very playable state but has a lot of rough edges to work on) and El Tiddly (which is more of a test-of-concept than actual game right now).
The most professional looking board for one of my prototypes so far.
Boogie Knights went pretty well.  One major thing I wanted to see was how well it works with five players, as it sucks with two, so the hope is to be able to claim that it works as three-to-five, and I also needed to know if more cards would be needed.  The good news is that five players seems fine; we only needed one reshuffle of the deck (the same as I had seen in three and four players) and the game finished in half an hour - with some of that taken up with discussions of matters arising and making adjustments on the fly, so we could expect the play time to actually be a load shorter.

There was loads of good general feedback too.  The "magic" equipment that got introduced in version 0.2 is really not working, but some discussion got us ideas for replacement cards/rules (potions or magic scrolls that allow some mischievous moving around of equipment) that should meet the intent of the magic kit (mostly to add a little disruptive fun) in a way that fits the game better.  We also found a few other bits of tuning to do.

So, I know what I need to do for version 0.3, so I'd better get on with it.

El Tiddly really didn't work well.  For a start, we didn't get enough counters onto the board to make for real competition, and the fact that I had cards allowing people to remove counters (without possibility of failure) meant that the board stayed sparsely populated.  There was also a feeling that the tiddlywinks were just too difficult to control (it should be noted that "proper" tiddlywinks has a cup for a target, so the winks don't generally slide on out after hitting the target), and access to different sides of the table to make shots can be a bit of a pain.  Apart from that, there was general agreement that there was a lot of downtime between turns (particularly with five players) and what was going on on other people's turns wasn't really fun enough to make up for that.

Overall, then, I think El Tiddly is getting shelved.  There were, however, loads of ideas being thrown around as to how it might be possible to make a game like this actually work (from cutting it down to a two-player duelling game to having a contoured board), so I may get back to it at some time.  I need a lot of sleeps first, though, and in the meantime I have plenty of other projects to be focusing on.

Thanks again to the fine individuals who came to help with the playtesting.


Are these cardy tiles or tiley cards?

This is the benefit of thrashing around with all sorts of ideas: sometimes you figure out how to mash some of them together.  In this case I seem to have worked out how to add two not-really-games together (both of which I have written about here and tagged as KingdomBuildingTiles), and this is starting to turn into something that is showing a little promise.

A mid-game position for three players, although it is actually close to end game
as I hadn't made many more cards.
So I'm going with the idea of having cards with part of each being a square representing terrain and the remaining part of the card indicating a commodity that the square produces.  This "production tab" cannot, in general, be obscured until the other three sides of the terrain square have had something placed adjacent to them, but when the tab is obscured, the terrain stops producing the commodity.

UNLESS, that is, someone has managed to build a production facility (this terminology is terrible, must fix!) on there.

Building anything on a terrain square, whether a production facility or a city (which produces gold) requires resources.  Those resources must be produced by a square that is no more than three squares away (experimentation suggested that two would not allow enough flexibility, and I want to encourage building rather than seriously restricting it), and if the production square or any intermediate squares are controlled by opponents, you have to pay those opponents for access.  The idea that you have to pay people and they have to accept is pretty much lifted straight from 7 Wonders, and I reckon I'm OK with that.

When you place a card, you gain a gold coin if you place the terrain adjacent to like terrain.  This results in mostly creating areas of similar terrain, which is something I like, but I think there is a potential problem here with thematic justification for the rule.  I'll worry about this later, though, as it seems to work pretty well.

After a little experimentation I ended up with having a separate stack of cards for water/sea, so players have a choice to draw and place either land or sea.  All the sea is alike, but if you have a city adjacent to water, it is considered adjacent to all other coastal cities (thanks to ocean trade), which opens up all sorts of possibilities.

So far I've been playing around with this using my stash of blank flash cards and sharpies (plus assorted stock tokens and little bits of card) which has allowed me to make a fair bit of progress, but I think I now need some input from other real people.  The game seems to be showing some promise so far, but I think it is lacking some sort of a spark that would make it really worth pushing.  Still, you have to start somewhere, right?


So, about those resolutions...

As we are now well into the last quarter of the year, I figured it might be appropriate to touch base on my game design resolutions for the year...
I was looking for an image to do with "resolutions" and found this,
which made me chuckle and at least adds a little colour to the page.
[Image source: Wikipedia.org]
  1. Blog more. Yup, I've been doing a lot better, with only April falling below 2 posts, and the last couple of months upping the rate significantly.
  2. Take part in at least one game design contest.  Yup.  In spades.  I've entered the BGG 24 hour contest 5 times so far (and won once!) plus have a couple of games lined up for the BGG children's game contest (one I'm co-designing, which might not get completed in time).
  3. Create 4 playable games from my "game hooks" list. Nope, none done yet, and I'm very unlikely to actually complete this one, but we'll see, there is still time.
So, I guess I've kept to the spirit of the resolutions rather than the actual specifics.  It'll do, I reckon.


Swallowed some cards...

I've had a little bit of excitement in that a few weeks ago I tidied up my card designs for I Know An Old Woman, mucking about with fonts, adding a bit of colour and using the card backs I showed you in my last post on the subject.  Then, as it was looking (after a bit more playtesting) like the form of the cards wouldn't change significantly before the contest deadline, I uploaded the designs to Hong Kong based print-on-demand company ArtsCow and put in an order for some cards, using a discount code I had at the time.

Today the cards arrived.
The game only needs 18 cards. There are 108 of them here.
This is all extremely exciting for me, as I've never had a game I have invented "properly" printed before.  I used the scare quotes there as ArtsCow are primarily set up for photo gifts and not for commercial-quality game materials.  You can tell this if you have a look at the card backs, there is quite a bit of variation between the tone of different cards.  My photography is not up to capturing this properly, so you'll have to take my word for it.  For my purposes, it's definitely adequate, but I definitely wouldn't want to sell them.  Miss B is over the moon with them.

I ordered two 54-card decks, one with blue backs and borders on the front (came out more a little purple than expected, but again, no big deal) and one with red.  Combined, this means that I have six sets of the game, and some of them may end up being birthday presents!

All of this is irrelevant to the contest, for which I now have to concentrate on getting rules tidied up and nicely presented.


Meeple upon meeple

A recent addition to my hooks list says, "Worker placement + balancing.  Workers get put onto spots and can be balanced on top of those already there.  If you knock over (any of) the pile, everyone gets their workers back from that pile."

I've been thinking about this more than I probably should, and have partly been dwelling on how to do this, and what sort of pieces would be best to use for balancing.  Well, I decided that as I have a good supply of meeples in my stash, they would be a good thing to try.
Meeple balancing could become the next big thing.

Now, as an aside, balancing games are a nightmare for me.  I have what is known as an essential tremor, which in my case means that I have shaky hands.  Normally this isn't a problem, but it means that I can only really carry one drink at a time (getting a round in at the pub can involve a lot of ferrying unless I get a tray) and I absolutely suck at Jenga.  Trying to design a game that prominently features balancing things on top of each other classes, for me at least, as the dumbest idea since I tried to create an asymmetric game in under 24 hours.  Ah well...

So it was time for a feasibility study: would meeples work for a game where you need to stack them? And how high would the stacks be likely to get?  It took me a little while, but I managed to get a stack of 5 meeples, but lost control on the 6th.  I'm sure that more coordinated people should be able to get at least a couple more on.  My long-suffering wife had a go and, after quite a few attempts managed to get up to 8 in a pile, which looked like it might be very close to the limit.  All good data.

At the moment, the idea is that I could have a simple resource-conversion game with worker placement...
  • Place a meeple on a spot and you get to gain or convert a resource.  
  • If you are not first to the spot, balance your meeple on top of the one(s) already there and if successful you gain a larger benefit.
  • If you are unsuccessful in placement and you knock one or more meeples over, everyone on that pile gets their meeples back and you get to place your meeple instead at the bottom of a new pile and get only the basic benefit.
That's about it.  All I need now is an actual game to use that mechanism, though I think that it needs to be something very simple: trying to add meeple balancing to a game like Agricola would just result in a more frustrating Agricola.  I'm thinking at the moment of having monkeys collecting (say) bananas, mangoes and coconuts for some reason.  I'll work on this.


Back to the list

Back in January I posted my "hooks list" of very basic game ideas that could be the kernel of something, along with my intention to create at least four games from ideas in the list.  How have I been doing?
Grabbed from openclipart.org

Well, not well.  Thanks to the 24 hour contests, this year has been pretty  good for actually creating games that are at least playable, but I haven't got any of the ideas on the list progressed, other than the experiment I did with musical chairs that I didn't actually get any further with.  In fact, there are now  a few more ideas on the list, so it is getting longer.

To be clear, I have had quite a few more ideas than I have actually made a note of, but don't always get them written down.  The most recent additions (not all particularly original, but ideas I would like to explore) are as follows...

  • Restaurant co-op. One (or more) player takes orders from customers, another creates food to serve, someone delivers food, someone has to clear. Possibly other roles.  (Maybe realtime?)
  • Trick-taking card game where cards are normally played face down and not revealed unless someone makes a challenge.
  • "Minimals" (mini-animals)
  • Team game where players pair off each round to play a mini-game against one opponent, then regroup to share resources and find out the objectives for next round.
  • Semi-coop: if the players "lose" then one player is singled out as the main loser; if players "win" then there is one main winner.
  • Drafting a la 7 Wonders and Sushi Go, but no scoring: aim is to achieve some sort of an objective.
  • Worker placement + balancing.  Workers get put onto spots and can be balanced on top of those already there.  If you knock over (any of) the pile, everyone gets their workers back from that pile.



A few days ago I read a very interesting blog post about self-publishing games by Doug Levandowski, linked by a friend on Facebook.  The main thrust of the post is that publishing games as a hobby quickly becomes rather more than a hobby and ends up being more like an actual job, something that the writer finds a lot less enjoyable than creating games.
I'm pretty sure this is still an accurate depiction of a publisher's office.
(Image public domain, source: commons.wikimedia.org)

I must say that I can sympathise with that.  If I was to publish any of my own games myself, I think I would have to:
  • Either pay someone or get dramatically better at both artwork and graphic design (very different skills) than I actually am.
  • Find someone to help with editing the rules that I write.
  • Figure out how I am going to get all this stuff manufactured.
  • Liaise with manufacturers in order to actually get the games made.
  • Figure out shipping from the manufacturer and warehousing.
  • Arrange fulfillment, distribution, etc.
  • Do heaps of marketing.
  • Somehow find the funds to make all this happen.
    • Maybe running a Kickstarter project, and that's a whole heap of Interesting Times right there.
  • Customer support.
  • Bookkeeping and other financial stuff.
And that all takes up a lot of time that I could be doing things like, I don't know, eating, sleeping, or goofing around making new games.

I don't envisage myself becoming a publisher any time soon as all those things look like they would be better done by someone else.  The way I am going, if and when I manage to start getting games to a presentable state, I think pitching to existing publishers looks to be the most sensible path.

Doug goes on to talk about reasons designers might choose to self-publish their work, arguing that if publishers aren't interested in your game, it just isn't good enough.  This, of course, has fired off some debate about niche games, and publishers making mistakes, which lead to Doug providing a clarification that, if your game is good, you should be able to find some publisher out there if you look long and hard enough, unless it just can't be produced profitably.

I don't think any of this is worth me worrying about right now, but I find it all interesting discussion.


24 hours of mammoths

I missed out on the 24 hour game design contest, partly due to struggling for inspiration given the requirement ("Geisha"), but mostly because August was a bit of a manic month, comprising school holidays and trips all over the place meaning that I didn't manage to arrange for the time to put together an entry.  However, this month life afforded me a little space, and at some point I started thinking about mammoth races, given the contest requirement of "Ice Age".

So, my 24 hour window arrived, running from Thursday evening to Friday evening, I got everything I needed lined up, dealt with the evening's chores and settled down to work.
A pile of components and a beer. In retrospect, the beer may not have been ideal for productivity.
I had figured out a basic plan: a race course made up of tiles, each with a 3x3 grid of squares, this course extending during play, and some form of dice drafting for movement.  After my first couple of entries into the 24 hour contests being pretty much straightforward (ish) card games, I have been trying to do something very different each time, and it occurred to me that given the title of this blog I have been very remiss as regards dice.  Dice are an excellent piece of kit, and I keep hearing people talking on game design podcasts about how "roll and move" games are bound to be rehabilitated and become the new Big Thing, so maybe it's worth exploring that design space, right?

So half an hour with some bits of card, scissors, a ruler, sharpies, and a box of assorted spare components, I have a prototype, and a rough idea of some rules, so I set up for a solo playtest...
A solo playtest of one of the first attempts. The squared cutting board is irrelevant.
...Which sucked.  Royally.

Actually I spent the next couple of hours thrashing around, tweaking rules, occasionally hitting rules with a sledgehammer, and generally looking for a game that I was certain was somewhere in the vicinity.  In the end, I think I found it, so quite tired by this time, I noted down the rules I had arrived at and got some sleep.

The next day, after doing the school run, I looked at my barely coherent notes and started trying to tidy them up.  A little experimentation suggested that the game was in reasonable shape and I was happy with the component requirements, so I got onto the computer to start on some print and play files.

So, tools used: Pinta for knocking up some simple graphics alongside one picture of a mammoth from pixabay.com, nanDECK for creating tiles and mammoth tokens (I fancied making little stand-up mammoths), pdfmerge.com as an online tool to combine the tile and token files into a single PDF to meet the requirements of the contest, and Google Drive/Docs for creating the rulebook.

After school pick-up, Miss B agreed to have a play of the game with the PnP components, and I think the game isn't best for two, but it basically went pretty well.  There are definitely decisions to be made and we had some fun playing.  To make it work properly, there definitely needs to be a LOT more playtesting, but no such luxury is available when doing this contest, so I spent some time finishing off the rules and submitted the files.
...And Miss B helping me try out the print and play version.
So, that's the challenge done for another month.  It's pleasing that I have managed to get several games "out there" this year, even if they are all half-baked.

If you would like to check the game out, the entry is here, along with the discussion and entries from other players.  And for convenience, the download links...


She swallowed the spider to catch the fly...

So I have gone ahead and entered another game into the Children's Print and Play Game Contest on BGG, having decided that I Know An Old Woman has at least a little potential, at least enough to take a bit further.  The entry thread is here in case you fancy following along.

Card backs would normally be the last thing I would worry about, but I had a funny turn.
So aside from wasting a load of time creating card backs, what have I been up to?

Well, we now have print and play files which provide vaguely presentable cards if you want to have a go, and they include serviceable public domain art that I found around the place.

There is no longer a "wrap-around" from horse to old woman, so the horse is actually unbeatable, but there is a small bonus if you are able to win a trick with the old woman.

Other than that, the game has changed very little from our first round of testing.  We have played a few games over the last week or two and it turns out that I lose most of the time, particularly against Miss B, and so far it seems that going first or second doesn't have a strong influence.  The game is definitely highly luck based, but that seems OK given that it is intended to play with a kid (or between kids) and that the game only takes five minutes or so to play.

What is needed now, though, is as much play testing as we can manage.  If you would be willing to have a go (bearing in mind that this is a lightweight game aimed at junior players), and can print out a couple of sheets of cards to do so, please let me know how you get on -- your help would be greatly appreciated.

Download links:


Where I get my pictures

This is just a quick post to share some of the sources I use for game artwork when I can't (or can't be bothered to) do the job myself (this is most of the time).  There are plenty of other good sites out there, but these are the ones I have been using most of the time...
  • Game-Icons.net - A fairly extensive selection of useful icons under Creative Commons license, with a consistent style.
  • The Noun Project - A hugely extensive selection of useful icons, generally Creative Commons license but if you want a "clean" version you may need to pay a small fee, and it may be harder to find a consistent set for a project.
  • Project Gutenburg - Seriously.  This is a repository of public domain books, but many have illustrations (also in the PD) that can be very useful; I used a load of them for Scurvy Crew. Can be tricky to find what you want though.
  • Pixabay - A great repository of public domain stock images; I generally find it easiest to search the site using Google though.  Most of my art for Old Woman came from Pixabay.
  • Wikimedia Commons - Another great repository, including a lot of useful images, mostly licensed under Creative Commons licenses.
A nice, slightly relevant public domain (CC0) picture yoinked from Pixabay.com

It is important to me to use images legitimately, even though the games I am making are non-commercial test versions (it actually makes no difference that I am non-commercial: redistribution is redistribution), so I do my best to make sure that the images I use are either public domain (so anyone can use them for any purpose) or with a permissive license like those from the Creative Commons.  CC licenses are generally based around the idea that you can use a piece of work as long as you give attribution to the creator, though there are variations that restrict whether you can use the works in commercial products, or change them in some way.  This is all awesome stuff.

In order to keep on the right side of all this, when I am gathering art and graphical assets for a game, I make sure I record from where I get each image and what its license terms are.  I figure that I would be best doing this right at the beginning, so I don't trip up later.  

The reason that I am sticking to free assets is that I am just working with prototypes here, so it isn't worth spending much time or money at this stage.  If a game turns out to be great and look like it will be worth publishing (I think I'm a way off that so far), then the free art should be enough to make the game look at least neat and presentable to a publisher.  That's the theory, anyway...


Billy Board Game

I just wanted to give a quick signal boost for a blog by a guy who I came across on BoardGameGeek: Billy Board Game.  The blog has only been running for a few weeks, but already it is revealing a fascinating story and a huge amount of experience being shared.

"Billy" (he's actually called Gary) is in a slightly similar boat to me, having only relatively recently started seriously working on board game design and slowly but surely learning the art and craft.  The difference is that while I tinker around trying lots of different things and learning that way, Gary throws himself hard at fewer games, occasionally making big mistakes, but as a result getting a vast amount of experience, and gaining some wonderful insights along the way.  His blog is so far a candid catalogue of his attempts to produce a publishable game and all the mistakes he has made and lessons learnt.

I've found it a great read so far and am really looking forward to seeing how things develop.  Particularly as it looks like he finally has a game that is shaping up well.


I don't know why she swallowed a fly

So, after resolving to post *a lot* more often, I've been quiet for the last couple of weeks.  This is basically because we have been on holiday, a nice family trip to Ireland.  I've not been entirely idle from the game design point of view, though...

Driving around a lot with a bored eight-year-old in the back had be wondering about games that could be played in the car, or in other situations where you aren't able to sit around a table and all look at things at the same time.  There have been a few games out there, especially recently, which fit this bill, which seem to be forming a bit of a genre that you might call "stand in line games", i.e. games which can be played by people standing up in a line, just holding and manipulating a few components in hand.  One of the best examples of this has to be Oddball Aeronauts, which is based on the venerable schoolyard favourite Top Trumps.  Other games I am aware of that fit the bill include Mine All Mine and Dragon Punch.
She's dead, of course.

Anyway, for some reason I got the nursery song "I Know an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly" into my head and the two ideas started mashing together a bit.

Thinking through the version of the song that I know, if you include the fly and all the things that were sent to catch it (spider, bird, cat, dog, goat, cow and horse) plus the old woman herself, that makes nine different things represented, and this was delightful news.  Nine is a bit of a magical number as, for print and play purposes, nine cards of standard size fit perfectly onto one A4 sheet of card, with appropriate borders around them.  That's a great start.

So one afternoon I grabbed some of the pile of blank cards I had brought with me and a pen and made a set of nine cards, each with the name of one of the animals (plus the old woman), plus a number for convenience's sake: the old woman was 0 and the horse was 8.

I then sat down with Miss B for a while and we tried a set of rules out.  Basically, we were each dealt four cards, so one was left out and the object of the game was to deduce the missing card.  One player would lead by saying something like, "I know an old woman who swallowed a bird", after which the other player had to reveal the lowest card that they had that was higher than the card led (so, "Well, I know an old woman who swallowed a dog", reveals that I didn't have a cat).  The set wraps around so that the old woman is considered higher than the horse, which is a bit odd thematically, but Miss B got the hang of this immediately and we had a fun game.

It was all a bit mechanical though, and wouldn't have stood up to multiple plays, so back to the drawing board.

The next move was to make a second set of nine cards and we tried a couple of other deduction games, one of which was suggested by Miss B, but nothing really worked out right.  B was enthusiastic about the concept, though, so I went away to think some more.

Eventually the inspiration came.  I was working on a deduction game, but perhaps a better bet would be a form of trick taking.  I ended up with one person leading with an animal: "I know an old woman who swallowed a cat", which could be beaten only by the next animal in sequence: "She swallowed a dog to catch the cat."  Of course there wouldn't be a game if you could play anything you like, so I ruled that you can only play one of the first three cards in your hand (this is equivalent to having a hand of three cards and the rest of the cards as a mini-deck, but remember that I want to be able to play without a table).  If you can't beat the card lead, then you discard a card and lose the trick.  Whoever wins the trick takes the two cards played and holds them facing backwards to indicate points scored.

This worked well and B is very enthusiastic about the way it went.  I think that what we need to do now is play it a lot (and probably do some maths as well) and figure out what the "correct" hand size is so that there isn't a noticeable first player (dis)advantage, and then see where to go from there.  That and make up some print and play files so other people can try it if they like (and we get a nicer set).


Things that give tips in the night

Yet another project.

Back in June when I was working on the 24-hour game that ended up being called Frank Must Die, my daughter, Miss B, said that it reminded her of Frankenstein.  Then she got to riffing in things that sounded like Frankenstein and ended up with a restaurant called Frankendine which served monsters.
A sample of some of the customers attending the restaurant as envisaged by Miss B.

We chatted about this a bit as the idea tickled both of us, and ended up thinking of a card game where one set of cards are customers such as werewolves, vampires and zombies, each with types of food they like and dislike (vampires like blood and dislike garlic, natch) while another set of cards are ingredients for their meals.  If you can feed each monster appropriate food before they get too impatient, you get a tip.

Then, on BoardGameGeek, discussion started up about a new design contest for children's games, including a category for games designed by or with children.  This looked perfect for us and when I told her about it, Miss B was massively keen for us to enter our restaurant game.

And so, now the contest has started, be are beginning to work on the game in earnest.  So far we have tried playing a rough version of the game, now titled Fran-N-Dine, using regular playing cards, and Miss B has started work on some art for the cards.  We have a long way to go, but the deadline for submission is the 1st November, so we have more than two months to get things together.

If you would like to follow along, I'm sure I'll be posting updates here, but there is also a Work in Progress thread on BGG.


Weigh anchor and prepare to make more changes!

They say that no plan ever survives contact with the enemy. I think it can also be said that no prototype created by a relatively inexperienced designer survives contact with a decent playtester. This weekend, my latest version of Scurvy Crew, which I was hoping was close to being released and put in front of anyone who is interested as version 0.2, went through a brutal ordeal with my star playtester: my wife.
Sharpies: your best friend for quick changes.

S. is not a regular gamer, so has not internalised all the shortcuts and conventions that I have absorbed over many years of playing board games. She is also used to having her work and those of others put through the intense scrutiny of scientific peer review, and as such is used to spotting weaknesses in an argument (or rule set) and asking very pertinent questions. In particular, if I have a rule that I introduced because it seemed to improve game play options or balance, but doesn't sit nicely with the theme, she will go straight to it like a BS-seeking missile and call me on it.

This is absolutely awesome and really helpful.

In this case, within minutes, we were making modifications to cards with Sharpies, and tweaking the rules regarding what actions are allowed at what time.  I think I now have a much better handle on what is working in the game and, more importantly, what is not.  As a result of this playtest, at the top of my to-do list are the following items...
  • There needs to be some sort of hand limit to stop card hoarding. 
  • There probably needs to be a limit for number of deployed crew (maybe a characteristic of the ships?) 
  • The sailing icons are mostly useless at sea, so we need something to help that -- I thought that maybe a crew can allow sailing to be used in attacks. 
  • The balance of prize ships is well off -- too many man o'wars in the deck, and it is pretty difficult (and requires quite a lot of luck) to capture a prize.
  • As we have decided that players should be able to transition backwards and forwards between sea and land, more or less at will, I need to find a nice way to handle this.


Leacock on Pandemic and game design

Continuing my current trend of studying game design more than actually doing it (bad Rob!), after someone shared a link in a thread on BoardGameGeek, I have just watched a nice Google tech talk by Matt Leacock. This was recorded in 2008, when his game Pandemic was still new and hadn't become the phenomenon it grew into, so it is interesting seeing how some of his comments (and questions from the audience) have been reflected in developments since then.  For instance, there was talk of an abandoned line of development where one player controls the diseases, something which basically became part of an expansion a year or so later.
Image grabbed from YouTube.

The title of the talk was "Cooperation and Engagement: What can board games teach us?" and there were some very interesting points about engagement (reduce friction and embody the players are key), but an overall theme of the talk seemed to me to be the value of iteration, with a lot of testing and observing how the game gets played.  He had a nice anecdote about a playtest group where a playtester called him out for intervening and correcting players when they got the rules wrong, telling him to shut up, sit in the corner and watch.  This resulted in realising some major flaws in the game as it was currently set up and a big step towards getting Pandemic into its final, published form.

There is a lot for me to think about in this talk, but I think one of the most powerful messages came from a short set of bullet points he showed fairly early on:

  • Find a spark.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Keep it raw.
  • Find the core game.


Asymmetric sheep

I've just had a couple of plays of brand new, hot-off-the-press game, Te Kuiti, which one of the designers sent us to have a look at on Training a Gamer.  Expect a report there in the near future, but as a quick summary, we enjoyed it.
Box art nobbled from BoardGameGeek.com

From a game design perspective, though, the game is very interesting.  It effectively takes two very old traditional games (card matching game Memory, and the pencil and paper game Boxes) and mashes them together into a bizarre, asymmetric conglomeration.  So this actually hits two of my current interests: asymmetry and repurposing old and unloved (by "gamers") games.

I was recently moaning about the difficulty of designing asymmetrical games and making them satisfyingly balanced, but Te Kuiti is a classic example of a different approach: you make the game quick enough that players want to play at least twice, once each way, and then aggregate the scores across two plays.  Keep It Simple, Stupid!


Thoughts on a couple of new-to-me games

I had the pleasure of attending the Oxford Meeples Summer Day of Gaming for a while this weekend, and got to play a couple of new-to-me games, which both had me thinking about their designs and elements that stood out for me...
Pictures yoinked from BoardGameGeek.com

Istanbul was the winner of last year's Kennerspiel des Jahres, and is a really solid mid-weight Euro game, with decent levels of player interaction without actually attacking or blocking other players.
  • I really like the way that you can just bumble around, but planning where you will be, especially with respect to other players, is really worthwhile.  
  • The game end condition (first to gather five gems) works well, and I think that in general I like the way that you can see how well everyone is doing in general but cannot be sure when they will make a big push for the end game.  I won, but it was a nervous time as I tried to get my ducks in a row, particularly as I think at least one other player was very close to a big finish too.
  • As a first-timer I was very glad to be dealt a bonus card that kinda suggested an end-game, helping me plan a strategy pretty much from the word go.  Not everyone else got lucky in this respect.

Evolution is a game that has been getting some good press (including some enthusiastic comments in the latest Shut Up & Sit Down podcast), and is quite a bit lighter-weight than Istanbul.
  • The interaction between mutations/features is quite nice and different combinations can work well at different stages of the game.
  • The end of the game involves counting up tokens stowed in a little bag to see who has gathered the most, which felt a little anticlimactic (as similar scoring phases do in many other games), and there is only very limited scope for an end-game push.  
  • In our game, only one attempt was made to develop a carnivore, and that was short-lived, because early on everyone had already created large and/or well-defended creatures that were essentially impossible to prey on.  I got the impression from another attendee that, at least in their play group, carnivores have never been a viable avenue.  Maybe that's just because everyone defends, rather than looks for an efficient score.
  • Related, at the end of the game, three players had close scores, while one was a long way behind.  It was notable that the three leaders all made use of combinations of foraging and cooperation, making for quicker acquisition of food, while the loser wasn't able to do this.
  • I'm a bit less convinced by this one, largely because of the couple of points above making the game look like there may be an optimum strategy.  Now, I am sure that with experience this would break down (for instance, if everyone was using defences, the species not bothering with that may have an advantage; and that in turn may make carnivores more worthwhile), but it's amazing how a first experience like this can make the game look more limited.
I don't think I have any real insights or clever thoughts to pull all this together, I just wanted to note down some of the thoughts I had from a first play.  I guess that if anything comes out of this it is probably how important a first play can be, and how important the start of that first play is.


Funny shaped tiles

I've been thinking of an idea that has leapt unbidden to mind, which combines something from a blog post by Daniel Solis from over a year ago (it took me a little while to find the post to prove to myself that I wasn't imagining it) with one of my experiments from about the same time.

So, my part of the idea was trying to make a tile-laying game where you build a sort of kingdom, with resources from one tile allowing the placement of other tiles nearby.  The bit from Daniel was to use standard-sized playing cards as the tiles, which would work as squares but with an additional tab on one side to make up the rest of the rectangle.
A beautiful and bountiful landscape spreads itself before us.

I've not got very far with this yet, but at the moment I'm toying with the tabs showing a resource that the square produces.  When the tab gets covered over by another card, that square stops providing that resource, though you may have been able to place a marker onto it to allow the square to continue producing (like adding a mine or farm).  Probably there should be a rule to prevent the tabs getting covered too soon -- maybe you can only cover the tab after the other three sides of the square connect to something.

I've made some rough cards with some of my standard blank flashcards (an awesome resource -- every home should have some) and Sharpies, and this all looks at least a bit viable.  Now I need to work out what players can do with this.

More soon, probably.


Show Your Work!

I'm in the middle of reading an interesting book, kind of a motivational thing, by Austin Kleon, called Show Your Work! and, despite only being about a quarter of the way through, I'm already inspired to post something about it here.
Image yoinked from austinkleon.com
So the book is aimed at anyone who is working on creative projects and wanting to share the fruits of their work but not wanting to get heavily into marketing themselves.  It is all very much of the Internet age, and the central premise is that you should not work in secret, but instead work openly, showing what you do to the whole world, helping to build communities, and keep plugging away at what you love doing and keep learning.

One of the key points here is "share something small every day".  I'm not sure I'm in a place to share every day, but it makes sense to me to just share small things and not wait until I have something necessarily "worth sharing".  In that spirit, I'm going to do my best to increase my output on this blog.  I said at the start of the year that I would aim to post at least twice a month, but in the spirit of this book I'll aim for twice a week and see where that takes me.  Hopefully some of it will be of interest to someone.

Here goes...


Knock me down with a feather!

I really didn't expect this, but with the voting finally being wrapped up a few days ago, my entry to the June 24 hour game design contest won!
Run, run, run, run and climb tree, blam!

Actually, this is only a very small contest and for this month, only four people voted, but I got two of those votes and can thus bask in the small amount of glory that is available for a short while.

Of the games that I have submitted over the last few months, this is the one that I am least happy with, mostly because I just didn't have the time to do all the tweaking necessary to be a reasonably balanced game. I'm not sure if I'll continue developing this one, but I may end up reusing the basic mechanic some time.


Prototyping, printing and playing

I just wanted to dump a link here to a nice article on League of Gamemakers, basically gathering together a few videos made by James Ernest (of Cheapass Games) showing some of his methods for making game components for prototypes or print & play. All good stuff. Though now I have major envy for James' guillotine, which looks awesome.


24 hours of obscurity

I'm really getting into these 24 Hour design contests.  They have been a great catalyst for thinking about new games and an effective incentive to get a game to a playable and shareable state in a very short period of time.  Plus, as an exercise in scope management, they are excellent: I have to be able to envisage a game that can actually be considered finished (in the sense of being a complete, ready to print and play game) in just a few hours.
The different colour cards are pleasing aesthetically, but they should probably all be the same.
The July contest had the requirement, "obscure".  As always, this is not a theme or title, but just something that needs to be in the game in some way.  Of course, interpretation of the requirement varies between people, so while some participants were thinking about fame versus obscurity, or hipsters liking obscure bands, I was among a group who were thinking about using things to physically hide (or obscure) other things by positioning them on top of each other.

For some reason I fancied working with circles, so I used a pile of circular cards (in three sizes) that I had acquired for game experimentation purposes.  I wanted to have some sort of symbols to obscure or reveal on the cards, so I used some rubber stamps depicting playing card suits (spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs) to print these onto the card discs.  This selection of symbols has the advantage that regular playing cards can be used as an additional component; and, in fact, I went with this, using playing cards for providing scoring objectives: if you have, say, 1 club card you score 1 point for each club showing in the pile of discs.

For a while I was thinking about making this a dexterity game, having players tossing their discs onto the table, with rules about what makes a legal play.  This could actually turn out to be a lot more fun than the game I actually produced, but there would be a lot to think about regarding what comprises a visible or obscured symbol, and so on.  Maybe later...

As usual I managed to get a small amount of playtesting done for the game, with Miss B having a go in the afternoon (and giving a general thumbs up), helping me find a few minor changes.  Then, after some feverish activity in the evening creating rules and a print and play file, Miss B played again in the morning with the slightly revised rules, followed by a three-player game including S.  At this point I was starting to think that perhaps the game would be better without the  smallest discs (with one symbol each), but the deadline was fast approaching, so I made a couple of small tweaks, completed writing up the rules and submitted.

This was one of those occasions when I just couldn't think of a decent name for the game, so I just titled it "Obscure".

Download links, in case you are interested:
Rules on Dropbox
Components on Dropbox

As a final note, I'm definitely getting a lot from these contests, as a bit of fun, some focus and discipline, and some exercise in exploring different types of games.  However, this means that I am not concentrating on developing the games I have in progress and want to get to a better state.  In recent weeks I have actually managed to do a little work on both Scurvy Crew and Boogie Knights (itself, of course, the output from a 24 Hour contest), but there are others that are really languishing, in particular Space Station 7 and El Tiddly.  I guess this is all part of the discipline I need to develop.

So here is the plan for the near future...  I want to get a new release of Scurvy Crew completed (this is actually pretty close) as a priority.  Boogie Knights needs more playtesting with the version 0.2 rules/cards before working on another version.  Then I think SS7 goes up the priorities a bit; what I really need to do is find some testers to battle for a while through the incomplete mess I have at the moment.  We'll see how it goes...


24 hours of assassins - and follies

This month's 24 hour game design contest had the requirement "assassin", which clearly had lots of people thinking in all sorts of different directions.

For my part, memories came back of a scene from one of the Inspector Clouseau films (it turns out that it was The Pink Panther Strikes Again) where Clouseau is bumbling his way through Oktoberfest in Munich looking for clues, while an international horde of assassins hunt him down because the now-insane Dreyfuss has convinced the entire world that only the death of Clouseau will prevent the use of a doomsday machine.  Or something like that.  Of course, the assassins are almost as incompetent as the Inspector, and only succeed in accidentally killing each other off one by one.  For a dose of Peter Sellers versus the world (and dubbed into German on this occasion, though there is little dialogue), you can look here.
An innocent bystander wanders closer to harm's way...

So I wanted to make a game inspired by that scene, but was acutely aware that I could fall into just reimplementing the very silly and fun Kill Doctor Lucky, so I needed a different angle.  I decided that what I would do would be to create an asymmetric two-player game, meaning that each player would have different objectives and, in fact, different ways to play the game. One player would play a team of assassins, hunting their target (and trying to avoid getting in each others' way), while the other player would control their hapless prey.

If you have tried designing this sort of thing before, you will know that asymmetry is hard.  You have to ensure that everyone has an interesting play experience and that everyone has a chance of winning.  To achieve this you either need to do a lot of modelling, followed by a lot of playtesting and tuning, or you need to just do a heck of a lot of guesswork and a ludicrous amount of playtesting.  All this before you really have a game that's even worth playing.  As with any of this game design racket, you can get better at it, developing your instincts and your toolbox of tricks, but this is still a hard class of game to challenge.

I then compounded my folly by deciding to move out of another design comfort zone.  Over the last couple of years I have really come to rely on cards in my designs, even in games that are not what you might call "card games", having some aspects handled with cards is really convenient.  You see it all around: a very large proportion of modern hobby boardgames include an aspect of card play.  So I decided I would avoid the use of cards this time.

Actually, this was a good decision, I think.  I have a stock of meeples, counters, tokens, etc. for prototyping use and I don't really get great use of them at the moment, so this was my moment.  Plus, instead of having to create several sheets of cards to print and cut out, I ended up with two pages of print and play components: one being a map/board, and the other being a player mat to track the actions of the assassins.  Everything else was just meeples and tokens.

I spent my first few hours on the game repeatedly playing partial games against myself on a hastily thrown together map board, each time revising the rules a little in order to improve on something that started extremely shoddy and half-arsed.  A few changes worked out, some didn't, and I ended up with something that mostly worked.

The next day I did a load of work at writing up the rules and creating materials suitable for submission to the contest, and when Miss B returned from school she helped me by playing through the game a couple of times.

By the time I submitted, I had made a last couple of minor changes, but it looks like the "prey" player has a definite advantage, and actually more interesting decisions to make than the assassin player.  The game is deeply flawed, but has provided a fascinating learning experience.  I don't know if I'll develop this game further, but I think I'll be taking another shot at an asymmetric two-player game again some time.

If you would like a look at the game, here are the download links...
Frank Must Die version 0.1 Rules on Dropbox
Frank Must Die version 0.1 PnP Materials on Dropbox


Boogie Knights 0.2: Electric Boogaloo

It is done!  Well, more-or-less.  I have made a load of changes and now have Boogie Knights version 0.2.
Still no Turner Prize, but the cards are coming along.

The rules have not changed much, though I have added some "wizard" equipment, which provides magic, which sweeps out the contents of the armoury (dealing with the "stale cards" issue that got mentioned during playtests) and allows you to steal a piece of equipment from another player (some playtesters were wishing for more ways to "stuff" other players).  I had considered not allowing the blind draw from the deck, but decided to leave that in for now.

The big changes are in the cards themselves, most significantly in the balance of the cards.  There are now a lot more challenge cards, including ones which allow you to choose a target, and a new class of challenge which makes for a grand contest between all players at the same time.

I have started overhauling the artwork of the equipment cards, so many of them are now in a new form which is closer to the "mix & match flipbook" idea that I have for the presentation; it's still rough, place-holder art, but hopefully it gets the idea across.  I wanted to get this set of cards made sooner rather than later, though, so I haven't yet finished this new art, meaning that some of the cards just don't look right together, but the next version should be more consistent.  Also, I decided to drop the card title for equipment, relying solely (for good or ill) on the illustration.  Unfortunately this means that some of the cards have a touch of "WTF is that meant to be?!", but hopefully that won't matter too much right now.

As an aside, artwork is always a thorny issue for prototypes.  Most of the old hands at game design say that you shouldn't invest in artwork for an unfinished game, largely on the grounds that most publishers will want to arrange for their own art as part of the process of preparing the final product.  I would definitely agree with this, and won't be spending money on art any time soon, but I've actually been really enjoying applying my limited artistic talent to this game.  As I want all the graphics to line up, I made a simple template to use as a base for all the different figures that get split into three parts.  I have so far made four of the planned eight figures as very simple line art, and when they are all done I plan to add some colour to liven things up a little.

Something I haven't done properly for version 0.2 is to ensure that there is an appropriate balance of bonuses for disco and combat, so that is a task I will definitely need to do for 0.3.  I don't think it's too far off right now, but I may be proved wrong on that.  I have also left some "neutral" (no bonus) cards in the set, which is probably not ideal, but we'll see how that works out.

Now, I think I am probably in a place to start a Work-In-Progress thread for Boogie Knights on BoardGameGeek in the hope of getting a little more external input.

In case you would like a look at the current state of the game, you can download the print and play materials...
Boogie Knights v0.2 Rules on Dropbox
Boogie Knights v0.2 Cards on Dropbox


Where things are at right now

I just thought it would probably be worth making a note of the projects that I have on the go, and a sentence or so about the status of each.

Boogie Knights...  Working on a revised version following playtest feedback.  Should be able to get that to the table very soon.  Incidentally this is up for voting in the May 24 hour contest on BGG, where there is some very stiff competition; well worth looking for the sheer variety of interpretations of "Knight" for a game.

Scurvy Crew...  Still in mid-revision, with crew cards mostly overhauled but a lot of work yet to do on treasure cards, which are being converted to merchant ships to capture.  This is quite a major overhaul, but has been stalled due to other projects and other demands on my time.  Hopefully I'll get the new version sorted in the next few weeks.

Tooth Fairies...  Would like to work on this some more, but is currently on hold.

Space Station 7...  Stalled for the time being.  Having done early experiments to test the very basics, I had a big heap of work to get to the next stage.  I'm probably about 3/4 of the way to another playable prototype, so hopefully I'll find some time to push this through to being playable.

El Tiddly...  Also stalled.  Again, early experiments show promise, but in this case I don't think it would take long to get a playable full game.  Maybe soon.

So what now?  Well, the priority is to get a new version of Boogie Knights fixed up, at which point I will probably start a Work-In-Progress thread about it on BoardGameGeek.  Then I think completing this stage of work for Scurvy Crew would be the next job.  After that we'll have to see.

Of course, there may well be an interruption for the June 24 hour contest, which has "assassin" as a requirement, and this has me thinking about the scene in The Pink Panther Strikes Again where Clouseau is being pursued through Oktoberfest by an international army of assassins, so I may well try to put together a game along those lines as long as I can figure out how to prevent it being a bad copy of Kill Doctor Lucky.