Jugged Teeth

The very first 24 Hour Contest design I made was a game called Tooth Fairies, back in early 2015. It is a game where players are tooth fairies, exchanging coins for children's teeth, which are collected into sets to be presented to the fairy king and queen, who give out rewards to their loyal subjects. Mechanically you are picking up cards from a row of available teeth (though some are rotten, and some are just useless lumps of chewed gum) and when you have a set that matches one of the "missions" from the king or queen, you collect a reward from them. The game is aimed at being a quick, family friendly game.

Anyway, I was recently looking through my old projects and was inspired to get this one out and take a look at it.  The game seemed at least OK, so I gave it a once-over to pad out some elements and smooth some others, built a fresh prototype, and took it along to this month's London weekend playtest meetup.

The game flowed OK overall, but the way the row of available tooth cards functioned meant that it needed constant sliding of cards, a maintenance task that went smoothly enough as one player was automatically handling it most of the time, but one that made for a grinding feeling that should really be got rid of.  The set up I used meant that the game would have been far too long if we hadn't removed half of the mission cards, and the players complained about the balance of the demands of the missions and the rewards for them.

As regular readers may know, I tend to not worry about game balance until I have a game that flows pretty well, so I'm not worried about these comments at the moment, other than that if players are fixating on a balance issue it means that there probably isn't enough in the game to make up for these perceived problems.

Overall, the structure of the game was reminiscent of another, and sufficiently so that my players couldn't help but saying that the game felt like a sub-standard Century: Spice Road. I can see where they are coming from on that.  I think that, while the game is very much not a lightweight engine builder like Century, the comparison is inevitable as things stand, so I need to address that. 

Structurally, I think the problem is that my row of tooth cards invites the unfavourable comparison and causes the constant, small upkeep tasks, so I need to find some way for players to collect teeth, which must also, for thematic reasons, involve paying coins for those teeth.  I'll be sleeping on this some more, but I think that there will probably be some system along the lines of periodically flopping a selection of tooth cards and coming up with a system for players to claim them.  Work to do...


More than a score at DevCon 4

On Saturday I attended the fourth mini-conference known  as BG Dev Con, hosted in Enfield (those of us not from London regard it as part of London, about which I gather we are incorrect!) by Bez Shahriari and Andy Yangou. I missed last year's event, but attended the first two and had a great time at both.  The key to this event is that, while it is a gathering comprising mostly game designers (from unpublished rookies to grizzled veterans with many published titles), with a few other folk with compatible interests, there is no playtesting allowed. The day is focused on talking and sharing experience.

About 2/3 of the attendees. Thanks to Dave Wetherall (of the Guild of Good Games) for the pic.
For me, the heart of the event is that everyone is encouraged to get up and speak, if only to introduce themselves for two minutes, and most of the rest of the day is shortish talks (many only around 10 minutes) on a huge variety of subjects, not all of which are obvious at first. This year we had a couple of different perspectives on art, a talk about using games in language teaching, another on the mechanics of parcel delivery services, some thoughts on the design of freeform LARPs, and a comparison of game design with the scientific method.

There were planned sessions of speed designing/concepting and some parallel discussions, but these didn't occur as the group was relatively small (I made it 24 of us) and everyone wanted to stick together rather than split the party. This resulted in some of the planned longer talks being sped up so that they could be fitted in, meaning that we lost a little detail, but the day kept up its high tempo.

Of course, this frantic pace gets very tiring, but there were several breaks of about 15 minutes (as well as the hour-ish for lunch) giving everyone a chance to grab refreshments, take their ease, and chat about the matters discussed so far.  This seemed to work very well.

So, overall an exhausting day with a lot to think about and a great opportunity to get to know a group of reasonably-like-minded people a load better -- and make some new friends along the way.  There is another run of the meet planned for mid-August next year (dates to be confirmed), but I'll be along again if I am able.  Thanks to everyone involved for a great day.


Developing Scurvy

Having signed Scurvy Crew to be published is far from being the end of the story from my point of view.  Different publishers work in different ways when it comes to developing games for publication, and the deal I have here is that I work with the Brain Crack Games to tweak the game into a form they are happier with before they finally hit the Big Red Button to make the game (with the help of a Kickstarter project).  I say "happier" because they were clearly keen enough on the game to sign it, but there are improvements that can turn the game into the actual product they want to ship. This is normal.

I'm not going to go into great detail about what we are doing yet, as a lot is in flux and it's not appropriate for me to be shouting about things that as yet may or may not be in the game, but we have been discussing a few tweaks and I have been trying out some of them with my playtest groups.
The prototype is still looking pretty scruffy, but there are plans forming to make something really nice.
The main intent is to add some more variability into the game, with more variety of merchant ships that can be captured as prizes as well as other things that can be found while hunting for booty, and a new mechanism allowing pirates to gain upgrades to give them additional capabilities.  It is interesting that I spent most of the six months leading up to successfully pitching the game pulling mechanics out and generally simplifying, but now we are adding a little complexity back in. Only a little, mind you, and all the new stuff is modular, so can actually be ignored safely for a lighter game.

This is the first time I have been through a process like this, with me doing development under the guidance of a third party, and I'm enjoying it so far, even though it is pulling my attention away from some other projects I would like to concentrate on.  Still, there is an end to the process, probably in a few more months or so, after which it will be mostly out of my hands and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the box ends up.

A small aside to finish off with: last week I received my Kickstarter copy of Ragusa, the new game by Fabio Lopiano (designer of the excellent Calimala), from Brain Crack Games. They've done a cracking job of making a great game (if you like mid-weight Euro games, watch out for more games from Fabio in the next few years -- he's very good at them) into a beautiful product, so I'm even happier working with them for one of my games.