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).