What's my name again?

I have recently been taking a fresh look at some of my game designs that I haven't touched for a while, and this week it has been the turn of "My Name Is...", the game that I had previously described as an icebreaker game of memory and mental agility, a description I haven't been able to improve on yet.  The game got pulled out at a Playtest UK meetup at Thirsty Meeples in Oxford and was, appropriately enough, used as a starter game while we waited for a few more people to arrive.

Just as a quick reminder, the game involves players taking it in turns to reveal cards which express an opinion (love or hate) about some subject or other (like cats, dogs, football, or vegetables) and you have to try to remember which other players have opinions on the same subjects as you, and what they are. The wrinkles come in that some cards invert your opinions (all of them!), and you can challenge other players if you think they got something wrong.
Striking fear into everyone's hearts -- and not just the player who drew the card!

The headline result is that the game went down fantastically well.  Once again there was a great combination of laughter and tortured facial expressions, which I think is a perfect reaction for a game of this type.

It wasn't all perfect, of course, and my woolly rules on what happens if you flip a card that contradicts one of your previous opinions were exposed for what they were (woolly and unsatisfactory) but with the help of the players we switched to an improved version that seems to work better.  More troubling is that the end of the game can just feel like that last bit of the roller coaster where you are just coasting slowly back, maybe still laughing (or nauseous) from what happened a little earlier, but generally just waiting to get off so you can get on with something else.  In other words, the end of the game was rather anticlimactic.

So this is my challenge right now, to give the end-game some kind of spark.  My instant thought was to make the exact moment of the game end to be less predictable, say by shuffling an "end of game" card into the bottom few cards of the deck, which I think would improve things but probably not by much.  An alternative approach, as suggested by one of the players, might be to make players name the cards they have left in their stack (if any) in order to score points for them, and I think some variation on this could be good.  I will certainly be testing some variants like this.  I'm also wondering about the optimum size of the deck, but I think that can be worried about later.


24 Hours of Spoons

I've been meaning to take part in the BGG 24 hour contest again for a few months, but I just haven't managed to line up the time and inspiration, but this weekend I figured I had a chance, though I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to manage the full 24 hours, so had to plan accordingly.

This month's requirement is "Procrastination". Cue a load of joking on the contest thread about putting off entries until later, and so on.

So after a couple of weeks of pondering (this is allowed as long as you don't write things down or create any game materials), the idea came, but it was a weird one, and it might merit some discussion, so please bear with me while I wander off-topic a little.

For the last few years I have been seeing occasional posts on Facebook from some of my friends saying something like "Out of spoons."  This is a reference to a thing that is sometimes referred to as "spoon theory", which is basically a metaphor for suffering from a long-term condition that results in you having limited resources of mental, physical or emotional energy to deal with the challenges in your life.  The idea is that each day you have a limited supply of "spoons" (the reason for this particular image is due to the physical items that happened to be available when this way of looking at things was first explained), and everything you do uses up a spoon.  When you run out of spoons, that's it, there is no more "you" available to deal with anything else.  You may be able to borrow spoons from the future, but tomorrow you'll feel that deficit.  Furthermore, for many sufferers of certain conditions, the activities that use up spoons may seem totally trivial to the rest of us, so sitting up in bed might use a spoon, then getting out uses another.  Maybe you'll appear to be fine in the morning, but if you haven't been careful with how you use your limited spoons, you'll be good for absolutely nothing by lunchtime.

This does not seem obvious material for a game theme, but there was something nagging in my head for a while making me want to do it. After all, the idea is simply about making use of limited resources to do as much as you can, which is hardly a new concept in gaming, and the "procrastination" aspect comes from the fact that as part of play you will have to put off many activities until later.
My game materials. I think if I hadn't been so tight for time I would probably have added images to the cards to make them look a little nicer.

The problem is that, when working with subject matter like this, it risks trivialising struggles that many people really experience and, probably even worse, passing judgement on or preaching to them.  For instance, applying the concept of winning and losing to something that people go through every day as they deal with a condition they have, seems fundamentally wrong to me.

My solution to this might seem to be a bit trite, and I'm sure I haven't got things right here, but I decided to call this a "game-like activity" for one player, which you play for as long as you like, and which has no victory or loss conditions.  You play through one "day", completing what tasks and activities you can, and then move on to the next day, and repeat if you wish.  I have taken some significant liberties with the concept of spoon theory, not least of which that the game is a series of decisions about which of two or three activities to complete, rather than purely being about managing your spoon supplies, but the whole spoon theory is just a useful metaphor rather than anything scientific, so I hope my changes work OK in general.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, from the limited testing I have managed so far (I have 24 hours to make components, test, revise, write up rules, and upload all game materials, remember) the project I now call "One Day at a Time" works more or less as intended.  Some days are straightforward and cause no problems, then after a while you end up with a nightmare day or two where you just have so many tasks to do and so little time or energy to do them.  I'm not sure I will do any more with this project, but it has been a very interesting process.

If you would like to see the rules and game materials, they are all available via the contest entry post on Board Game Geek.


Back to the Boogie

I had a playtest session this week, which was focused on Invaded, but after playing and some time on discussion, the players said that they were up for something else.  On a whim I pulled out Boogie Knights, a game that I haven't put in front of playtesters since autumn last year.

The last time I tested Boogie Knights, I was trying an alternative system where, instead of rolling dice to resolve challenges (in disco or combat skills), you played cards for their numerical value.  This went down well with the playtesters and I was happy with the change at the time, but since then I couldn't help but dwell on the fact that the players were all "serious" gamers and that the play time pretty much doubled from previous plays.  It was great that the players felt engaged and thought that there were decent decisions to make, but the more I reflected, the more I felt that the game had become something that I didn't really think it should be.

Complete sets of kit for almost everyone.

So we went back to the previous version of the rules, with a small tweak (rolls of 6 "explode") and gave it a go.  I would normally have my notebook open and writing down comments from the players and observations about their behaviour, but this time I didn't bother, I just wanted to give this game an airing and get a feel for it again.

Overall I'm pretty content with this playtest. I feel that this form of the game is not very far from "done" from my point of view, and I may give it a cosmetic change or two (like getting the action cards to have the same style art as the kit cards) and then pretty much leave it.  I was given advice that more publishers would be interested in the game if I could lose one of the types of component (specifically the dice!) but now I think that I will just go with what I have, and if someone wants to publish it, that would be great, but otherwise I have learnt so much from developing Boogie Knights from that rough 24-hour game design from two and a half years ago.

Also, whatever else, I enjoy playing it!


Returning to Corlea

You may remember last year I wrote about a trip to an archaeological site in Ireland, where an impressive iron age road made of oak had been discovered in a bog in County Longford, and how I made a simple race game inspired by it.  I didn't do any further work on that game, but the idea of basing a design on the Corlea trackway stayed in the back of my head, waiting for another idea to combine with.

I'm not really particularly imaginative about game mechanics, but thoughts about combinations of mechanisms that might be fun to fit together jump into my mind once in a while. And so it was that I started thinking about an area control game (players put tokens in various areas and, at various points in the game, score points according to whoever has the most points in each area) where the placement of these tokens is controlled by a worker placement system (players put "workers" onto spaces on a board to take actions, and these placements limit those available to other players).  The action spaces on the board would, however, be on a modular board that grew during play, so every now and then a new "slice" of board would be added, opening up new options.  Thinking about this a little more I thought that it would probably make sense for the workers to always move forwards along this extending track, and the turn order would be decided by the worker furthest from the front taking the next action, taking a cue on this from the delightful game of taking a walk in Japan, Tokaido.

That was all well and good, but some basic mechanisms do not a game make, for me at least, and I feel that I need some sort of theme (which may change later) to guide my decision making as I build and develop a prototype, so I was pretty much stuck until I remembered the Corlea trackway.  Slices of a board that grow during play could representing building sections of the trackway, and there are several tasks that can form the core of the game: cutting down trees, splitting the logs into planks, transporting the wood to the bog, and building the trackway itself.  It all started coming together...

So the core of the game is about those four key tasks: cut timber, make planks, transport planks, and build trackway.  Each of these actions is triggered by moving a "chieftain" (the tokens used for action selection) onto an appropriate space on the trackway.  When an action is triggered it moves a wood token along the board, indicating its current status and availability for further tasks, and points are scored according to who has the most "workers" (wooden cubes indicating clansmen as labour resources) assigned to that task.  Workers get moved around as part of various actions.  I also added a fifth task, which is to feed the workers, which scores points and allows the points scored for each task to be rearranged (this is indicated by little score tiles on each task space.

Finally I added a little extra interest in the shape of three types of special cards which can be acquired by sending a chieftain to appropriate action spaces... Offerings are items which you craft and can dedicate to the gods when you build a section of trackway (as an aside, these trackways commonly had offerings laid beneath them, but the archaeology of the main Corlea trackway showed surprisingly little evidence of this) to give you end-game scoring bonuses for sets. Skills are bonuses that apply to your workers all the time, like breaking ties for scoring on a task.  King's favours are one-off bonuses that you can make use of at an appropriate time.

I've done a bit of solo testing of this so far and just the one try with another player, and it plays OK and isn't terrible, but doesn't quite hang together right yet.  In particular, the trackway sections all seem a bit samey (there is some variation, but it is minor) and the way workers get deployed and moved about just doesn't feel right as it is.  I think there is a basis of a game here, though, so it will be staying in the development heap for a while to see what I can do with it.