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.