Goofing About in an Airport

We were away in Ireland over Christmas and on the way back we found ourselves with a few hours to kill in Dublin airport, given our tendency to schedule travel very conservatively, so when everything runs on time we end up with space to fill.  My daughter, Miss B, and I spent a little while improvising a card game, which turned out to be good, if chaotic fun.

This is how things went...  We started with a pen each and some blank cards (kit I usually have with me while travelling).  We could either write whatever we liked on a card, or (later on) use a card made earlier in the game, and we would each select our card for the round simultaneously.  Once we had both chosen our card, we would reveal the cards and decide who had won.  The winner would take both played cards into their hand, but could not use them again immediately.
Some of our cards. Beautifully presented they are not.

At first things were a bit random (the first two cards were "An Elephant Wearing a Cowboy Hat" and "Squirrel Girl"), but as we went on, we started to create cards that could give more flexibility or special effects, or provided a counter to an earlier card (Squirrel Girl, being naturally unbeatable, is nevertheless vulnerable to "Delicious Nuts That Make You Go To Sleep").  Where a winner was not clear, we just discussed and decided between us -- with my wife, S, as an impartial judge when we weren't sure.

Obviously this is just a bit of dumb fun, and it was a great way to pass a bit of time, but it seems (in principle, at least) a good way to organically develop some card interactions, particularly if we crack the cards out again and continue to expand the game using a combination of pre-existing cards and, probably, a limited number of blank cards each time.  We fully intend to do this in the future.

This game is actually fairly similar to one called 1000 Blank White Cards, which usually starts in a Fluxx-like "draw 1, play 1" pattern and then can go off in any direction from there, and again uses a combination of blank cards (which you can turn into anything you want when you have them) and pre-existing cards created during a previous play.

1000BWC in turn derives from Nomic, a game where the rules change during play due to player votes, and I assume the commercially-produced Fluxx must have been inspired by one or more of these other games.

In just the limited amount of play we had of our little game, we quickly started seeing a metagame emerge, and if we do play some more, I would expect that to continue.  I really don't know what to expect, but I think this is the point.  I think it's a little like doing improv workshops to develop acting: just learning to roll with whatever happens is valuable in itself.


24 Hours of Reindeer

Over the last few weeks I have been struggling a bit on game design motivation and on energy in general.  This is the sort of thing that can easily slide into just endlessly doing nothing, so I needed to address this somehow.  I saw an opportunity in the monthly 24 hour game design contest on Board Game Geek and the fact that there were a couple of days where I could plausibly have a go at the challenge.  So this weekend I took the step.

The requirement this time was "reindeer".  As always, you are allowed to interpret the requirement in any way you like, and due to a cut & paste error on the contest forum thread, there were a few jokes about Star Wars and I was considering doing a joke entry about the Kessel Run, but when the time came I decided to go for something a bit more straight.

There is talk on BGG about a nine card "nanogame" contest that got me thinking about what I could do with nine cards myself, and when I then thought of the eight reindeer named in Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit from St Nicholas", I figured those eight reindeer plus a sleigh conveniently makes nine things that could be on a card.  This combined with my general keenness to play with dice and some thinking about push-your-luck games and games of chicken (Welcome to the Dungeon came to mind for some reason), and an idea started to form.

I'm getting to quite enjoy making these simple mock-up illustrations.
What I ended up with was a game where you add dice (in four colours, pulled from a bag and rolled) to the sleigh card, representing the load of presents, and add reindeer cards (each player starts with two of these) face down to be harnessed to the sleigh (to a maximum of four), or you bug out (in the style of Welcome to the Dungeon). When there is only one player left who hasn't passed, that player reveals the harnessed reindeer, manipulates the loaded dice/presents according to special abilities on the reindeer, and then if the total of the strength numbers on the reindeer is at least equal to the total values on the dice, they win a point -- otherwise everyone else gets a point.  First to three points wins the game.

Just for posterity, here's the original prototype. Unfancy to the max.
This has not been extensively playtested --  I managed a little bit of solo testing, with imaginary players (not ideal for a game with decisions partly based on hidden information!) and a two-player run with Miss B -- but it's rare that a 24 hour game gets much testing.  What I did suggests that this game, if anything is to come of it, needs a lot of testing and some serious thinking about how to make the decisions meaningful, or at least fun.  It's not completely dreadful for a first draft of a game, but it's not exactly my finest effort.

What it is, however, is a (just about) playable game and an exercise for the game design neurons, so I'm very much glad I got off my butt (metaphorically speaking -- physically I was sitting down for most of the process) and did something.

If you are interested, here is my entry, including links to the rules and print and play file.


Back from the Dragon Invasion

Saturday was a very long day, having to leave home early in order to drive to the next town to catch a train to get me to London, then detour on an indirect route around the underground due to line closures, get to Dragonmeet, run a playtest of Invaded, help out at the Playtest UK area, actually play a few games, and then make the return journey.  All pretty much powered by coffee and pasties.
Ready to play. Thanks to the wonderful Mr Dave Wetherall for the pic.

First order of the day was in getting to the venue in time to run a playtest of Invaded at my booked time of 10:00.  This wasn't a problem, but it turned out to be a bit tricky to get a table of players at the start of the day.  Two guys eventually came and volunteered and I decided that I would rather sit out and watch a two-player game than participate in a three-player run.

The game went well, with my volunteers taking very different strategies and having role-played discussions about the relative merits of resisting versus collaboration.  One of them did keep forgetting certain parts of the game (I need to examine whether that is a problem with the game, or not something to worry about), but the other seemed to get comfortable with it all pretty quickly and built a strategy to follow.  As is often the case, an aggressive approach against the colonial forces ended in disaster, but it would have actually not taken too much to go differently for things to have worked out better.  I think that fighting back is a strategy that is difficult to profit from, but it is possible, and those times it works out are great.

My main intent with this playtest was to try out my new way of dealing with strategy cards and controlling access to them: each has a value, and the total value of strategy cards you hold may not exceed the current colonial attitude score.  I'm not 100% happy with the way you have to add things up and compare them with a number on a chart, but it seems to work well overall, preventing one player from having easy access to the best cards, and allowing for some planning ahead, so it may well be worth the small amount of complexity.  The values I have assigned to the cards don't seem too far off the mark at the moment, but I'll need to do a load more playtesting to be sure of this.

The pacing of the game seemed pretty good though, and we took almost exactly an hour to get through the game, which ended half way through the fourth round.

So we're definitely making progress here, but I need to get more playtesting done to check how the pacing is really working out, and to find the imbalances in the costings of the strategy cards.  There's still this issue where a player who attacks the colonial power without sufficient preparation usually ends up getting into huge trouble very quickly.  My inclination here is to just let it go as a feature of the game.  I'm sure that this is going to be a controversial part of the game, so it'll be interesting to see what gets said when I finally start talking to publishers about it.

Apart from running a playtest of Invaded, I spent a little while looking around the rest of the convention, including the now separate trade hall, but didn't get much of a chance to stop and really smell the metaphorical coffee before I got back to spend the bulk of the afternoon helping out at the playtest zone.  It felt a bit harder to attract players to join in tests than it was last year, probably mainly because there was less footfall in the area where we were. But we managed to get plenty of people in, many of whom had come over specifically, which was great.

I got to play a few games myself, mostly after the closing of the trade hall and playtest zone, which was very welcome before heading home for a beer.