All Aboard the Shenanigans Express!

I've been trying to get a few more advanced projects progressed, but the problem is that those pesky ideas keep coming, and the only way to get them out of the way seems to be to make a prototype.  Well, a couple of days ago a plan fell through and I ended up with a free evening, so I just had to get on with it.  After an extended Twitter storm in which I blurted out the main concepts that had been keeping me awake, I settled down with nanDECK, a Google spreadsheet, and a browser tab pointed at game-icons.net.

By the end of the evening, the main cards were designed and printed out, then a couple more hours the next day completed the prototype.

This may look like I've tested the game, but I haven't; it's all just arranged in a plausible set-up.
So, what is the game?

The concept is that a load of people, all of whom have personal objectives, are on an Orient Express type train, and they all need to wander around, locating essential items, and trying to be in the right place with the right items and the right other characters in order to complete their objective.  These character roles are all secret, by the way, opening the way for elements of bluff and deduction if I get it right.  At the moment I have 6 roles, including a murderer, who wants to get a weapon and then be alone in a location with a victim, a detective who wants to catch the murderer as they are making their murder attempt, and a pair of lovers who want to be alone with each other while in possession of some romantic gifts.

The way all this works is that at the start of each round everyone simultaneously selects whether they will be moving or acting.  Once the selections are made, all this is resolved sequentially, going around the table.  If you are moving, you move your token/meeple to an adjacent location.  If you are acting, you may look at the stack of item cards in your current location and maybe keep one, or you may attempt to complete your objective.

That is more or less it.  I haven't yet had a chance to test the game, and this type of game is a difficult one to test solo, which would normally be my next step.  I have, however, already identified a few potential problems, like what would stop you picking up an item that is needed by someone else, thus ruining their chances? Or do all the character roles have a realistic chance of winning? I think that, in the case of that first question, I will initially just ask playtesters (when I get them) to simply be honest and not take an item that isn't needed by them; this is probably unrealistic, but should allow us to see if there is any merit in the rest of the game.

It may be a couple of weeks before I get this tested properly, but it's at least nice to get the idea out of my head and into physical form.


Talking Shop in Enfield

After the success of the initial "BG Dev Con" last August, hosts Andy and Bez arranged another for the Saturday of the Easter weekend.  The choice of date meant that fewer people were able to attend, but there were still twenty-something of us there and many great conversations were had.

This was an event focusing on all aspects of game design, with anyone with any interest in the field welcomed, and the agenda pretty much led by the interests of the attendees.  On arrival, there was a generous allocation of time for coffee, snacks, chat, and a "getting to know you" puzzle before the programme started for real.
About 2/3 of the attendees at the end of the day (several had left and a couple
were out of the room at this point).  Thanks to Bez for the pic.
As last time, the real business of the day kicked off with a series of microtalks, this time with everyone in attendance taking the floor for two or three minutes to introduce themselves.  Some basically just did the introduction, while others gave a piece of advice or a quick outline of some topic of interest to them as a conversation starter.  No time was allocated for questions, so this zipped along at quite a speed until we hit lunch, when all those introductions suddenly exploded into conversations around the place.

The next session kicked off with a general discussion about self-publishing, or more generally being a small scale publisher.  There was some great advice about what to do and, just as importantly, what not to do, and the real takeaway for me was the range of approaches and the understanding that while some people are great at publishing games, others are just not cut out for it and don't enjoy it.  It's fine either way, but the key is to recognise your own strengths.

We then moved on into a series of short-ish talks (mostly around 10 minutes), including such diverse topics as using mobile apps within boardgames, history and development of wargames, and an eye-opening talk by Hamish MacPherson about using choreographic techniques and notations (yes, dance choreography) to make activities that are a form of game, though of a different style to those discussed by the rest of us.  I gave a talk here about the 24 hour game design contests I occasionally take part in, and once again seem to have brought my slides on media that wasn't recognised by the "house" computer, so I mostly had to bumble through without.  Need to plan better in future.

During the next break we had one of the BG Dev Con signature happenings, the "redistribution of objects", which is a bit like a raffle where everyone is guaranteed to win a few times.  The idea is that attendees are encouraged to bring three things that are either games or game-related, so books, game components, etc, are all OK.  These are all piled up on a table and everyone takes it in turn to pick one of the objects until they are all gone -- or nearly gone, at least!  I ended up with a couple of small games and a bag of pleasingly chunky wooden bird shapes which I now feel I need to use to create a game.

The final session of the day had a talk from Mike Nudd about the development of the card game Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, which I used to play a fair bit in the mid-to-late 90's.  Despite the game having been out of print for some time, it seems there is a thriving community that has been producing print and play expansions for years, which is very cool.

We then moved on to a discussion on relationships with publishers, led by Adam Porter and a load of anonymised anecdotes about his experiences which were funny, inspiring and terrifying in equal measures, but made it clear that most game publishers are just normal people trying to do a job and sometimes you have a good experience with them, and sometimes less so.  Adam's experiences were expanded on by several other people who had had published games, and for a newbie like me this was a great way to demystify the whole process of pitching games and negotiating contracts.

There was meant to be a slot at the end about collaborating with other designers, and this happened but was very much truncated due to the previous activity prompting so much discussion.  There was time for a few helpful tips though, and a couple of requests for design input on projects.  One interesting suggestion, from session leader Matt Dunstan, was that there could be some sort of a collaboration marketplace set up for Playtest UK members to help facilitate matching people up with potential design partners.  This is just an idea at the moment and may not work out, but it's certainly an interesting one.

So, that was my day.  I stayed around for a while after the close of proceedings and a group of us ended up having a couple of games of The Resistance, which was a lot of fun and a welcome little release.  Then it was the drive home.

Thanks to Bez and Andy for organising another great event, and to everyone else whose contributions made the day so enjoyable.  There is another of these meets planned for August.  I don't have the date yet, but if I can make it, I will.


New Look Hares

Yesterday I logged on to Board Game Geek and had a wonderful surprise: a GeekMail from a guy called Josh Hall, who has been following the 24 hour design contest and had decided to give my March entry a facelift as a way of practicing his digital art skills.  He thought I might like to see the results, so gave me a download link for his PDF.

Oh boy, did I like what I saw.  I'll just let the card designs speak for themselves...

A lowish resolution collection of some of Josh's card designs.
I totally love these.  The hares have a charm to them that really appeals to me and the graphic design, while you could argue that it breaks the rule of consistent layout, works well for this very simple game.

Anyway, that's all I wanted to say: just a huge thank you to Josh for making my week so much better thanks to being generous with his skills.  I'm afraid I don't have a website or anything to link to, he's just a semi-anonymous name on BGG, but I really hope we see more of his work out there in future.


24 Hours of Hares

It has been a long time since I took part in the BGG 24 hour game design contest -- nearly a year, as it happens -- and I've been meaning to get back into it for some time.  While I have plenty of other projects that I work on, the challenge is a fun one and there is a small, but excellent, community built around the monthly contest.  But finally I have got myself organised enough to have another go.

As always, the month kicks off with a word or phrase to be used as a "requirement" in the game.  This could mean a theme, a component, something mentioned in the game's background blurb, or whatever you like, but it is a useful jumping off point.  The requirement for the march contest was... "March". Natch.

After some chat on the forum thread, I was leaning towards something to do with March hares, though I was also considering the Grand Old Duke of York, marching his men up and down a hill.  Then over the next couple of weeks, ideas formed around the hares idea, and it was settled in my mind.

Just to go over the basic rules for a moment, this contest allows you to spend as long as you like thinking about an idea, but once you start actually putting anything down on paper, or on a computer, the clock starts ticking and within 24 hours you must post the rules and other files needed for anyone else to play your game.  Yes, it is possible to cheat if you want, but what is the point of that?

So, on Thursday evening I cleared the table and started working on a design I had been pondering in the back of my mind for a couple of weeks.  The idea was for a simple card game for two players about March hares doing battle.  I made three "suits" of cards, representing different things that a hare could be doing: boxing, running or jumping.  Cards in each suit also had the numbers 1, 2 or 3, and also an action relating to manipulation of cards: draw cards, return a card to your personal deck, or force your opponent to discard.  The idea was that you are trying to follow your opponent's played card in terms of either suit or number, and the various actions and penalties for failing to play legally gradually reduce your options, and you lose if you get stuck.

On Friday, Miss B tested the game with me when she came home from school, and S had a couple of plays a bit later.  During this process I made a change to the way penalties are applied, and changed the distribution of numbers, but given the nature of the challenge there is only so much testing and revision you can do, particularly when you have to pay attention to real life, so eventually I just gave the rules and card documents a quick once over and submitted my entry.

If you are interested. the discussion/submission thread for the contest is here, and you can get the rules document and the print and play cards from Dropbox.

In retrospect, I'm not entirely sure that my game actually is a worthwhile game; it seems a bit chaotic and unpredictable.  It is possible that when you know the game well, you can get in control and have a good duel with your opponent, but I am not experienced enough to tell for sure at the moment.  Hopefully I'll get a chance to play it a few times with someone and find out sometime.

Now, back to the "proper" projects...

Edit: the voting list for the March contest is now up.