Playtesting at UKGE

I have taken what feels like a big step for me and committed to running a public playtest of one of my games at the UK Games Expo this coming weekend.

One of the features of the Expo is a playtest zone, being run on both Saturday and Sunday by Playtest UK, a group which facilitates meetups in several locations around the UK for the purpose of testing out games.  I've not been able to attend any of their regular meets as most of them are weekday evenings and far from me, so are awkward, but there is a monthly Sunday afternoon meet in London, so maybe I'll get to one of them some time.

The deal at Expo was tables available for assorted time slots on a first-come-first-served basis, and I was able to secure myself a 90-minute slot from 1:00 on Saturday.  Of course, the big decision is what game to take for testing, and I decided to go with Boogie Knights as it seems to me to be in the most presentable state, and it would really benefit from having a few play-throughs in order to find the rough edges.

As an aside, I think that I would have most liked to take Scurvy Crew along, but I am in the middle of a complex re-tooling of the game and have no idea if I would be able to get it into a properly playable state in time.

Now here is where my insecurities start to set in, as I am certain that most of the other designers who will be there are much more experienced than me, and most will probably have far nicer looking prototypes than I have (the art and design of Boogie Knights is rudimentary, at best), but I think I need to suck it up and give it a go.  After all, everyone has to start somewhere, and I only have to survive for 90 minutes.

Plus, of course, I'll hopefully be able to gather some decent feedback to help me take the next few steps forward with the design.

So if you are at the Expo on Saturday, please do come over to the playtest tables in the Monarch Suite between 1:00pm and 2:30pm.  It'd be great to see you.


Game patents

One of those questions that comes up all the time on game design forums is about how to protect intellectual property and prevent someone stealing your idea.  The often dry, but always interesting Lewis Pulsipher has just released one of his talks about game design, this time on the subject of patents for games.  He points out the cost of acquiring a patent, the additional cost of maintaining and defending it, as long as the likelihood of a court ruling it invalid, and the average amount of money earned from a game (his figures are from video games, but appear to be broadly applicable to board games too), and concludes that patents are for suckers.

I think his closing comment sums things up very nicely: "If you have spent money to get a patent, I am sorry, you have screwed up."


Making games funny

So I read an interesting blog post on Funny Games by Grant Rodiek.  While a lot of writers out there have been talking about depth, luck, accessibility, and so on in game design, I like that someone has been thinking about games that make people laugh.

And we're not really talking about games that have comedy elements in them -- they often wear thin quite quickly -- rather about comparatively serious games that just hit you with something where the only response is to laugh.

A lot of the time, the laughter comes from player interaction, but Grant suggests some other elements that could lead to real laughs.  Now I am thinking about this I'm remembering assorted incidents.  Like the time when we were playing Coup and everyone decided that I was an untrustworthy cur who must be bluffing, but every time I was called on it, I was able to innocently reveal the correct card.  Or the many times we played Robo Rally and had a robot's program taking it inexorably to its doom thanks usually to a small nudge from another player.  Or getting stuck at the top of the mountain in K2 thanks to the swine camped below me as a storm rolled in.  All good stuff.

I think the games I have designed in the past do not really lend themselves to being funny, but I would like them to, so many thanks to Grant for getting me thinking along these lines.


24 hours of knight

After a couple of months where the times just haven't fallen right, I managed to find a day to spend on the May 24 hour game design contest on Board Game Geek.  The challenge this month is "knight" which, as usual, can be interpreted as you like.

Early on in the month, one of the regulars posted a list of titles of (real) books, films, etc. which involved knight puns: "A Hard Day's Knight", "Dead of Knight", "Knight Shift" and so on.  I find it hard to resist a pun contest, so I weighed in with a few that were, as far as I am aware, not yet in use, but perhaps should be.  My list got as far as "Boogie Knights" before I had to stop because I was giggling too much at the thought of armoured warriors and glitterballs.
The original, hand-scribbled prototype #1.  In years to come this may be a valuable artifact.  Or possibly compost.

So after a week or so of mulling this over, I started the clock and went in to my 24 hour period knowing that, actually, I only had about 20 hours as we had a family outing planned for the next day which I didn't want to miss.

I did my usual trick of hand-scribbling some basic cards for the game and mucking about with them myself for a while, before starting to write up rules and nanDECK code and data for generating a "proper" set.  Later on, S and B were available for a bit of playtesting, so we sat down and played a few rounds with the hand-made cards, and discovered that the basic game seemed to work reasonably well and could possibly even be described as fun, but we didn't have nearly enough cards to make the game really playable.

I'm getting a little ahead of myself, though, and feel I should probably give some idea of how the game works and how I got there.

Basically, the inspiration for the game was the title, "Boogie Knights", and this somehow brought to mind those three-part flip books for kids where you have the top, middle and bottom part of a person and can flip the pages to combine them to make different, bizarre, combinations and end up with something the head of an alien, the body of a policeman and the legs of a ballerina.  I figured that you could combine parts of knights and disco dancers for hilarious (?!) effect: I loved the thought of an armoured knight in roller boots.

All this, I figured, could be handled with cards; you could play top, middle and bottom cards to the table in front of you to show how your knight is currently equipped (plus, maybe one or two accessories like a glow stick, or a lance), and then knights could challenge each other to battles, either physical combat or on the dance floor.  Each piece of equipment could make the two disciplines (combat and disco) either harder or easier, so it would be a case of trying to challenge your opponents to a contest where you currently have an advantage.

Play each turn involves playing a card, either to add equipment to your display or to launch a challenge (those are handled by cards too) and then drawing a card from a face-up selection in the middle of the table.  The idea is that the other players can see when you have drawn a challenge card and will have one turn to prepare for the possible challenge, if they are able (and choose to).  The first player to win a set number of challenges (I guess 5 at this time) wins the game.

I don't really have the artistic skill -- and definitely didn't have the time -- to do even remotely decent flip book style art, so decided to just have each card depicting a piece of equipment that could be worn or carried, and found basic illustrations for most of these in the icon selection available on The Noun Project, roughing out my own illustrations for items I didn't find a decent fit for.

The upshot of all this is that I successfully managed to submit a "complete" game comfortably within the 24-hour window, and it's a game that I'm reasonably proud of.  Miss B says that she prefers the Tooth Fairies game but I think that this one, despite being rather simpler (or possibly because of it) has a little more potential for development.  Actually, maybe it is more a case that it is closer to being a "finished" product.  Hopefully I'll be able to do some testing and development on both of them and see how it goes.
And the next day we had a bit of an upgrade: printed cards and many more of them to boot.

I think that part of what I'm learning from these contests is in scope management: it is important to have an idea of what is achievable in the time frame and to not lose focus on it.  It is also great to start building up a stock of games that are in a state where I can happily put them in front of playtesters without having to give a pep talk about how early in the development process things are.  They are still a long way from publishable games, but they are better than I have managed in the past.

In case you are interested, I didn't win the last time I entered, but I got a vote, which was nice!  The community around the contest, though, does make me feel that everyone is a winner.  After all, it's a decent challenge.

You can see my submission post on Board Game Geek, which includes download links to the print & play files here (or you can go straight to the rules and the cards on Dropbox).  You can also see on that thread the other submissions.  These will be converted into a GeekList for voting on at the beginning of June.  If you do take a look at the game (and especially if you play it), please do let me know your thoughts, good, bad or indifferent.