They're creepy and they're kooky

OK, so I know I am planning to try progressing (and finishing off?) games as a main focus for this year, but I just can't help it, right?  I'm allowed a few new ones here and there.  After all, I need to find a load of bad games in order to unearth the good ones that are probably lurking somewhere around here.

Actually, I have a good incentive to work on one particular new game.
Another top quality prototype.
A little background...

For over a decade now, my family and I have been taking an annual trip to a big social event in West Wales, which started off being a medieval-style banquet themed on the Arthurian myths, but has developed into more eclectic themes over the years, while still remaining the general banquet structure (something like a dozen courses served over five or six hours).  The last few years have been based on a fairy court extrapolated from A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Firefly 'verse, and A Game of Thrones.  One of the traditions from these events is that some of the regular attendees exchange small gifts, often (but not exclusively) home made craft or food products.  Usually, S. does a lot of work to make gifts (for the fairy banquet, for example, she knitted dozens of small, cuddly "goblins" to distribute) and I have been very poor at contributing to this.  But no longer!

As one of my main hobbies these days is creating tabletop games, why can't I make some games to take along to give as gifts?  Here goes...

So the theme for this year is loosely based on the Addams Family, and will be a gathering of weirdos, freaks and monsters.  I need to make a game that reflects that theme.  The aim is to create a small card game (hopefully 18 cards or fewer) that can be learnt and played quickly and easily.

My initial concept was to make a game with guessing, deduction and, hopefully bluffing.  I figured that I could have one set of nine cards, which are gifts that the characters might be receiving.  The usual sort of thing: chocolates, flowers, cakes, axes, whips, bombs, and so on.  Then another set of nine cards representing characters, each specifying two gifts that they want, and one that they definitely don't.  I made these cards up, and usually that would be enough for me to start tinkering about and figuring out the rules and interactions between the components and players.  The problem is this would be a multi-player game where the game is built around not knowing what other people know and trying to improve your situation in that environment, and that is something that is really difficult to test on your own.  Or at least, I haven't yet figured out how to do it.  Maybe if I keep notes for each "player" I could do something...

Anyway, I haven't yet been able to get this in front of an appropriate group of players, so if I'm going to progress the game, I'm going to need to do some more thinking and they grab some players when the opportunity comes up.  I know that the basic moves in the game would have to be a combination of gaining information about who is holding which cards, and swapping cards around, but beyond that...?

My next step was to start a thread on Board Game Designers Forum, outlining my thoughts so far and seeing what might turn up.  This has, at the time of writing, Yielded a couple of bits of input, one of which suggested basing the game on Happy Families/Go Fish.  I liked this idea, though it wasn't entirely clear to me how I could fit this into the (limited) plans I had so far.

As an aside, this also fits in to my long-term plan to take "classic" games that gamers don't take seriously and try to make more interesting games based on them.  Happy Families would be a perfect fit for that list.

After sleeping on this, ideas started to congeal a bit.  The basic Happy Families mechanism is asking other players for named cards, which they have to give you if they have them.  My game could have an element of that (if you want, say, an axe, you ask another player if they have one), but allow instead of it being a one-way street, you have to trade a card for the one you receive, so everyone keeps the same number of cards.  Furthermore, if someone asks you if you have a particular card, you don't have to answer truthfully, and the actual identity of the card you pass will only be revealed to the recipient when they actually receive it.

So that's about where I am at the moment (more or less), so I'll continue to fill in the gaps until I get a few players together to try it out, at which point hopefully we'll be able to try a few variant sets of rules to help narrow things down.  I'll play to write more about this after something has happened...


Anyone for mammoth?

Over the last couple of weeks I've had another fresh idea stuck in the head. This isn't the most original idea I have ever had, but it is what it is, and if I worry about originality all the time I will never get anything done. The aim is to get some practice in, right? Learn the craft, make lots of stuff, and eventually some of it will either be good or I will hopefully learn how to make it good.  I don't know yet if this is potentially good or utter crap, but I do not that it is not good right now.  It is, however, no longer purely in my head, which is a relief.

So the idea is for a game of building and developing a prehistoric tribe, starting with a ragtag bunch of hunters and gatherers and hopefully growing them into a settled and organised proto-civilisation with farms, permanent buildings, and the beginnings of culture.
Not much to look at right now. Also not much to play. But a thing, nonetheless.
Mechanically, I've been working on this as a deckbuilding game where you expand your tribe by adding families, specialists (people like hunters, fishermen, builders, etc) and technologies to your deck, combined with a board game where you move and expand
I can actually pin down the main inspiration for this: listening to a Ludology podcast about deckbuilding games (and when they were discussing games that blend deckbuilding with other elements) the day after listening to John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme (a sketch comedy show on the UK's Radio 4) which had a sketch about prehistoric hunters and gatherers.  Funny how things work out sometimes.

My first attempt at this game was to start scribbling on flash cards, an approach that I usually take for card games.  The idea is that I can get a subset of the cards required very quickly and start figuring out whether or not the basic idea is viable with a quick solo playtest or two.  Then, if it looks OK, I can either make more cards (or modify the ones I have) or get onto the computer to start putting together a more complete set using NanDECK, my go-to tool for card prototyping.  This is all part of the "fail faster" approach: get something, anything, to the table as quickly as possible and start working on the problems that inevitably turn up right away; and if the whole thing is fundamentally flawed, I stand a chance of spotting that sooner rather than later.

The problem is that this time, I started making the cards and then hit a wall.  I was just totally stuck and those ideas that seemed so clear in my head beforehand turned to incoherent mush.  So was it the idea that was stupid, or was I going at this the wrong way?

I decided that it was probably (at this stage at least) that I needed to be a bit more methodical at this point, so I opened a text document and wrote down my thoughts so far and then started listing cards that I thought should be in the game (starting with "hunter" and "gatherer") and what each should do.  So hunters and gatherers gather food, obviously. As a result we need something to do with the food; each turn your tribe needs food according to its size.  Hunters can gather large amounts of food, but with some risk (still need to figure out that risk), while gatherers have lower returns but are safer.  Then how about having farms? Take some setting up but allow for steady production of food.  Perhaps the tribe starts nomadic, so can move around (using a "nomad" tech card?), but can later settle (trade the nomad card for a settle card?), allowing for farms and potentially other developments...

And so on.  Soon I had a good list of cards and some idea of how to proceed, so I build myself a spreadsheet of a subset of the cards (the ones I judged would be usable for the first few turns of the game), including first-pass text for the effects of the cards (I left a couple blank because I reckon I'll figure out some of the details later), acquired some roughly appropriate icons from game-icons.net to cover the cross-card support plans I had, and threw together a basic NanDECK script to assemble the cards.  Very soon I had a deck of 36 cards for my first test.  For a board I did a bit of scribbling onto a sheet of hexagons, then having grabbed a few bags of wooden cubes from the stock I was ready to go.

Unsurprisingly the game was really quite dull.  But mechanically it seemed to be not-too-bad for a first pass.  The biggest problem so far (aside from the fact that the game seems rather less than gripping) is that I am using markers for the various sources of food so that they can be depleted as they are used, but I don't yet have any way to replenish the resources.  It would seem right that, even after you have grabbed all the nuts and berries in a woodland, there should be something else to forage later on.

The idea I am working with at the moment is to have a separate deck providing events, many of which would be an instruction to replenish food supplies in some way.  There could also be some negative events which cause problems for everyone (like a wet spell causing some of everyone's food reserves to spoil, for example) to spice things up.  And this suggests another idea, that there could be separate event decks for summer and winter, with the summer deck being mostly positive and providing more food, while the winter deck is mostly negative.  We can then have different decks being drawn from, depending on the stage of the game.

So that's where I have got to.  I'm working on a basic event deck (just doing happy summer type stuff to start with) and am nearly ready to try the game again to see how this goes.  Another couple of rounds of development and I'll hopefully be ready to ask the Long-Suffering-Wife to play a few turns and tear it all apart.  Looking forward to that...