Moving Forwards

At last I can share something that has been in the works for a while now, and it's something I am really excited about.  As of Friday, I am a signed game designer, and I have been doing my happy dance since then.

Things are moving quickly, and there is still quite a lot in the air, but the headline news is that Cubicle 7 Entertainment will be publishing my "Giftmas" and "Shooting Party" games as part of their new "Dungeon Abbey" line, which looks like it should turn out to be a lot of fun.  Cubicle 7 are best known as a roleplaying games company and are great at world development, and have some great writers and artists working for them, so I'm really looking forward to working with them on these projects.

This was recently released as a teaser image. See what I mean about great artwork?
There is a lot of work still to do, both by me and by the folk at Cubicle 7, but if all goes well both games should be available before the end of the year.

So this has all been dominating my game design and development time recently, and will continue to do so for a while yet, but it's a fun rollercoaster to be on, and I'm finding the opportunity to do something else from time to time. I'm even hoping to do a 24 hour challenge in the next few days, which is possibly a bit ambitious under the circumstances.

I will be sure to share further information as it becomes available.


Double Trouble in London

It's that time of month when I take a trip to London to playtest with a group of other game designers, something that I continue to be enthusiastic about and thoroughly enjoy every time.  The form of these events is basically that there are usually three or four "slots", generally running for about 90 minutes each, and in each of these three or four tables are running with a game and an appropriate number of players.  Sometimes the times vary, and if there are short games to be played, sometimes they share a slot, but it generally works out that everyone who wants to will get the opportunity to test one of their prototypes.  I was fortunate this time in that I was able to run two of my games.

Looks a bit of a mess, but I'm working on it...!
First up we had a slightly shorter than usual slot, in which we played the latest iteration of my Shooting Party game.  I'm still a way off being done with this one, but managed to harvest a lot of valuable feedback from the three awesome testers I had at the table.  Part of the problems that we had would have been fixed by a rule that I had planned to use but had forgotten to add to the player aid cards or explain to the players, a rule that allows players to discard cards to gain extra actions -- I have only myself to blame here and have already updated the player aids for this.  Other than that the main result is that I need to simplify way more than I have already and stop trying to be clever with the way monsters behave.

The next slot had me testing someone else's design, which was a fast moving card game which included a lot of terrible cat puns.  This is a game that I really enjoyed as it is, and look forward to seeing how it develops.

Finally we got to play Giftmas, which I am currently overhauling with a view to a new version.  The main change I have made is to streamline scoring, and I wanted to see how that panned out after my initial testing had suggested that it looked OK.  The game went down well, but we found a few details that didn't quite fit right.  A little discussion after a few hands of play yielded some tweaks to try out, which we did for the rest of the game and this certainly helped a fair bit.  Some more discussion after that and my players asked to play again (always a good sign), and the game totally fell together and had bluffing, trash talk, furrowed brows, and plenty of laughter.  Of course, one great game doesn't mean we're done, and more testing is needed, but it does suggest we're getting there.  Thanks to this set of intrepid testers too.

So, Shooting Party will be getting another overhaul, this time mostly involving removing stuff, and Giftmas just needs more testing for now in the hope of shaking out any other issues with it.  Get to it, Rob...


Timing of Colonial Activity

In a recent playtest of Invaded, there was a suggestion that the colonial power should move more often.  The current game has play zipping around among the players, and when they have taken all the actions they want to (or can) do, the non-player colonial power makes a few moves.  The suggestion was essentially to put the colonial power into the normal cycle of player moves, so the players all take a turn, then the colonial power does too, and so on.

This has superficial appeal.  It means that the Colonial power is advancing its interests more steadily, rather than making sudden lurches every now and then.  It also means that the non-player power is moving at a similar speed to the players, which seems fair.
The colonial forces have landed and are ready to advance.
I have had a realisation though.  Reading an interesting post about designing heavier games by the League of Game Makers, there was a section entitled "Be Wary of Non-Trivial Mid Turn Decisions".  Now, Invaded isn't a particularly heavy game, and this section's title may not appear to be relevant here, but bear with me.

Part of the discussion was about how a useful feature in some heavier games is where players are able to analyse the game state and plan their move on other players' turns, so that their own turn doesn't devolve into having to make big decisions at the time; they can just execute the plan, making minor adjustments for the latest developments.  In, say, a worker placement game, you might figure out a list of priorities of what you want to do: I'll get resources from this space, and if that has been blocked I will go here or here...  This can help keep the game flowing and prevent everything from just bogging down and stretching play time for too long.

The relevance here (and it is a little tangential, but this is how my brain works) is that the colonial power is the biggest perturbing factor in the game -- or it should be; it isn't at the moment, and I need to fix that.  If your every move needs to take into account the fact that the colonials might mash your position in between any of your turns, that makes planning so much harder, and would probably disincentivise any even slightly risky manoeuvres.  That the colonials should be a threat is fine, and is pretty much the point of the game, but as the game is turn-based, with players taking small actions in turn, it makes sense that players should have a chance to get their ducks in a row, at least partly, before those nasty invaders start shooting at them.

The driver behind the playtest suggestion to have the colonial power activating between player turns was because so far the colonials have not had a sufficient impact on the flow of play.  On reflection I am pretty convinced that this suggestion is the wrong solution to a definite problem (see my previous post on the subject for some thoughts on better solutions) but I can always keep the idea in my back pocket in case I need to change my mind.


Moving Targets

The main focus of my attention recently has been Shooting Party, which is steadily improving, I think, but still needs a few tweaks.
A recent playtest with "hell mode" monsters appearing at double the rate.

One of the issues that have come up recently is something that I had not been thinking about really.  A major part of the game is a stream of monsters that come running along a path so that players can shoot them as they approach.  This is all well and good, and works fine, but a number of the monsters have special adjustments to how they move.  So most monsters just trundle along one space at a time, but others move at double speed, some move faster if there is nothing in front of them, some stay still if there is something in front of them, others make an attack or restrict player actions as they approach.

This sort of stuff adds variety to the game, but the problem is that it is really easy to forget to take into account the special rules for these monsters, and periodically we get a spell of, "Oh, crap, we forgot to double-move the hellhound and the dragon should have made a ranged attack last round."  Not ideal.

I think that, assuming I want to keep this part of the game substantially the same as it is, I have two major lines of attack to deal with this issue...

The first is to reduce the reliance on this type of monster effect.  Monsters can be differentiated in a number of ways, the most basic of which are their toughness and prestige value for bagging them.  Apart from the effects which happen each turn (like these movement rules that are getting missed), there can be effects that occur when they first appear, when they engage with a player close up, when they make an attack, when they are attacked, or when they are bagged/killed.  There are probably others too.

Observing how the game gets played, I see that monster cards get attention paid to them when they first appear, when they are in front of a player, and when they are killed, but when they are in the line, the only thing players really look at is their toughness and prestige reward.  So, if I usually use effects that activate when players are most likely to be paying attention to them, that should help.

But I would like to have the option of having some monsters that have different movement characteristics, or ranged attacks, etc., so how do I deal with that?  If only a few monsters have such effects, then it is possible that they are more likely to be missed.  If every monster behaved differently, that might encourage players to pay more attention, but in practice I think this would result in frustration and/or a slower game.

So, my second feeling is to use graphic design to make things clearer.  Now, I'm no graphic designer, so my work here is only any good to suggest how a professional could approach things, but I figure that icons and other graphic elements can be used to make the behaviour clearer.  So, for instance, arrows could be used to show the speed of movement: the number of arrows indicate movement speed, for instance.  Other symbols could potentially be used, but I need to be careful to not go too far with this and create a too-complicated graphical language; the aim is to simplify and clarify, after all.
A hastily hacked hellhound card, but you get the idea...
Back to work...