August 28, 2011

And so, our Adventurers Set out on the Grand Expedition...

After about a month and a half of brainstorming, rule writing, content creation (and cutting), tuning, scrounging for sweet antique dice and pawns, swapping out components to lower the cost of the eventual game, writing flavor text, designing card layouts, cutting the cards, I finally have a playable prototype of my latest game.

I originally called it The Adventures of CLEB, CLEB being an acronym for the name of the characters (Clark, Lewis, Ethel, and Buford). I then briefly settled on Corps of Discovery, which was the name of the organization to which the explorers belonged. Finally, I decided upon Frontier Scoundrels, which is the name of one of my card types and a name that I feel has a bit of a punch and a ring to it.

Plus, I think Scoundrels are funny and the Frontier is such a good noun.

I'm immensely pleased with the progress so far, but now the real work begins. I've done a great deal of early tuning, balancing, and mechanic re-design. In fact, far more so than any previous game. This is my fourth board game and I'm really starting to get a knack for spotting bad ideas before I go through the effort of testing them. Sometimes, bad is just bad and you can spot imbalance from a mile away.

I'm pleased with how I've simplified the game, while at the same time creating a richer experience. A core mechanic is that the player who is the Expedition Leader (title passes each turn) can order other players to do certain things. Initially, this was very limited (3 choices), always the same, and the design had an incredibly overwhelming play phases that just weren't intuitive or elegant. After stewing over it for a week (and taking in some feedback from a colleague), I created a new small deck of cards called Command cards. There are about 6 different cards, each with a unique role that can be assigned to a player by the Expedition Leader. However, the Expedition Leader can only use a limited portion of the cards.

This does a few things:
  • I've removed one confusing choice and given the player an easier, but also broader one
  • I've dramatically cleaned up the turns and  phases of the game
  • I've added more content that's more interesting
  • Each turn will now be different, but still within a familiar range of possibilities
I'm also pretty excited by quality of the current rules; I've edited them at least 50 times. They are 10 pages total (or 5 pages front/back), but the game can be learned in the first 5 pages. The last 5 go deeper into content and provide examples for some of the mechanics. The other reason the rules went from 6 to 10 pages is that almost every concept has a visual component or diagram to help explain it. After reading Pandemic and Forbidden Island's rules, I knew that was the way it had to be for Frontier Scoundrels

I'll play a few games with myself this week to pound out the early bugs and flow issues. Then I'll bring my friends over. If all goes well, I'm hoping to send prototypes to colleagues in a few months. This will coincide perfectly with the website for Hyperbole Games going live and the Christmas holiday season. 

Let's be about it, shall we?

"Ocian in view! O! the joy!"
-Captain William Clark, upon reaching the Pacific Ocean

August 27, 2011

Writing Rules (i.e. Design)

I've had several people ask me to review their rules lately. I love this kind of work, to be honest. Good feedback in game development is so hard to find and I try to provide good feedback. I've had the itch to write a larger post about my overall thoughts on rules and design, especially in light of what I've been reading and the type of feedback I've given. I've decided it's time to scratch the itch.

Before I start spouting off epic truths, I want to throw in the disclaimer that I'm still relatively new at board game design. I have 3 games, only one of which was worth self-publishing, and I've just turned my full game playing focus from digital games to board games over the past few months. But, I've been producing and designing digital games for 6 years. Surprise surprise, board game designers can learn a great deal from digital game designers and vice versa.

Rules are so Crucial
Everyone has their own creative process. Honestly, there is no one correct way to do anything in this world. But, I believe that good rules should  be created to act as a foundation for your game as soon as possible.

August 22, 2011

Political Correctness can make things difficult for historically-based design

My current board game is based on the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804-1805. One of the things that really appealed to me about the theme and setting is that there were a ton of hardships the expedition had to face, including horrible weather, disease, hostile Native Americans, and just flat-out getting lost.

I wanted to really leverage the Native Americans in particular as I thought their contributions to the story were pretty significant and interesting. At some times, the Natives greatly assisted the explorers. In fact, without them the explorers may have failed or perished.

However, in other cases, the Natives were hostile or supposedly stole from the expedition. This is great variety and frankly, I don't necessarily blame the natives for being hostile. After all, the Americans and Europeans didn't exactly greet them in friendship.

It's a tricky balance and it can be a very touchy subject. It's very tempting to use words like "savages" and acts like "scalping," but I don't think that improves the game, it doesn't match the theme or history, and it'll probably offend someone.

I've tried to stick to the history I've found on Wikipedia and other sites and go from there. My cards won't always be 100% factual, but they'll be within the ballpark. For example, in one event you can negotiate with Sacajawea's husband to bring her on as a translator. In another case the Blackfeet steals things from you. You attempt to trade with the Otas and the Omahas may give you fair warning of an impending attack.

There is history to mostly back this up and as a result I think I've created something that's entertaining, fairly presents the various entities involved in the history, and most importantly, leads to a fun game.

Plus, I've bolstered the mostly factual with the completely absurd with entities like the Missouri River Piranha and other less factual creations.

August 14, 2011

Let's go Exploring: My new game at a high level

This is a long post about my new board game's mechanics. I may sell the rights to this post to Lifetime for a made for TV movie.

I've been finished with Farmageddon for a while now. I'm basically just doing my best to market the game and get it into the hands of bloggers and enthusiasts. There are two game design competitions approaching, one of which is hosted by The Game Crafter, but I've been too excited about my new non-competition game to really give these contest designs their due diligence.

My non-competition game is based on the Adventures of Lewis and Clark, two explorers sent by Thomas Jefferson to explore the western frontier, assert sovereignty over the native Americans, find vital scientific discoveries and trade routes, and generally accomplish much. I love history, so it's a natural fit for my personal interests.

August 10, 2011

Farmageddon in the News!

I'm working my little marketing machine as hard as I can for Farmageddon. The team at The Game Crafter took it to GenCon with them last week. One writer, Matt Carlson of Opinionated Gamers, mentioned the game in his long write up about the convention.

You can see it here if you scroll way down, or just do a search for "Farmageddon."

Farmageddon is still hanging in the Best Seller section of The Game Crafter, which is awesome. I have had a lot of nibbles lately that haven't turned into sales. A nibble is when someone adds the game to their shopping cart. I'm curious if it's high shipping costs or something else? The shipping costs are quite high for a single game, but only increment by $1 or less for additional games. If you're interested in Farmageddon but don't care for the shipping fee, consider grabbing one of these games, which are also good:
  • Vanguard: Rome
  • The Golems of Ymhet
  • Castle Danger
  • Trade Fleet
  • Pitch Machine
  • Uprising
  • Auction Junktion
I'm sure there's more, but I can only comment on what I've played.

Biggus Diggus Would Wuv This: Review of Vanguard: Rome

I try to buy many of the games at The Game Crafter, which is where I sell Farmageddon. I really like the community and I appreciate how much they've supported Farmageddon. I try to return the favor, but lately games like Castle Danger and Vanguard: Rome are making it all too easy to keep purchasing more. These are great games and my wallet is sore!

Vanguard: Rome really stands out due to its unique mechanics -- I haven't really played anything like it. Both players begin the game with two rows of five units each. This is called your battle line. The goal of the game is to eliminate all of your enemy's units from the field. Each turn a player places 1 additional unit and must attack, so attrition is heavy and you cannot rest or turtle up. They key is that you must attack! The concept of defense is completely absent from this game and it keeps the pacing and the strategy focused in a fantastic way.

Your front battle line must always have a Vanguard unit in the middle, who, by default, is the only unit that attacks. However, there are some units with unique abilities as well as Command cards than can mix things up. For example, a ballista may attack the unit immediately in front of it, even if the ballista isn't the vanguard. A slinger gives +1 attack to all adjacent units, which makes him a great unit to place near your vanguard. Centurions, Praetorians, and Consuls may shift places with other units in the line to maximize the damage dealt. Understanding the 12 units and how they must be used in conjunction with others and the Command cards is the meat and potatoes of the strategy.

Vanguard is relatively easy to learn, but full of depth and reasons to keep playing over and over again.

The player who can defeat 2-3 units in a few sequential turns will turn the tide and ultimately win. But, if the losing player plays their cards right, gets a few good draws, and has a little luck, the game can swing completely back. It's very well tuned and balanced.

I have a few complaints with the game. Like all card games or games that deal with any randomness, if a player gets a poor draw they might lose. This is worsened if one player gets a fantastic draw and the other gets an absolutely crummy draw, like I experienced last night. I do want to call out that this game is overwhelmingly based on strategy, not luck. Where you place your units, how you place command cards -- this is not random.

Towards the latter half of the game, it can drag a tinge. It may be clear that one player is going to win, but the losing player can cling for dear life for a few turns without actually making progress towards victory. They won't be winning, they just aren't losing as quickly.

Finally, and this isn't really a negative, because the game has so many unique elements the learning curve can be a bit wavy at times. The rules are very well written and the game is elegantly designed, but it is different. Different can lead to some confusion, but I really respect the designer's desire to be unique.

I've only played the game in 2 player, though it does support 3-4. Personally, I think 2 player is just right.

Vanguard: Rome is very reasonably priced under $20 and is absolutely recommended to fans of unique strategy games. It plays quickly and is full of depth, so you'll want to play again and again. I was fortunate enough to learn to play the game from the designer himself who happens to live in San Francisco. He's a great guy and I can't wait to see more from him.

August 3, 2011

A Dangerous Obsession with Castles, which are in Danger

I bought the oddly named Castle Danger from designer Matt Worden last week. I fell in love with the game when I saw its simple appearance and elegant pieces. It reminded me of Stratego or a classic version of Risk. I loved the aesthetic.

Now that I've had a chance to read the rules and play the game a few times, I also love the game. I'm not going to blather on, as I feel it's a disservice to the elegance of the design. I shall be brief.

The goal of the game is to shoot the other player's King with a cannon. There are a few game pieces that help you accomplish this goal:
  • Wizard gives you 3 more moves each turn
  • Builder can build or remove protective walls
  • Cannons can shoot other pieces and walls
  • King should just not get shot
  • Walls can protect your pieces (and King!) from cannons
Each turn you get 3 moves, plus 3 more for each Wizard you have. 1 Move is used to take any action. So, 1 move to move your builder, 1 move to build a wall, 1 move to fire a cannon, etc. The final major mechanic is that each turn you may add 1 Wizard or 1 Builder or 1 Cannon. Choose, but choose wisely!

The game has a chess-like feel, without the overwhelming learning curve of chess. I've always loved the idea of chess, but have never been able to grasp the basic strategy. Castle Danger scratches that itch. It's so easy to learn, but has so many strategies to try. The first game I was clearly outplayed and lost. On the second game, I had the better strategy but made one fatal error and my opponent capitalized on the mistake and won.

Both games took right at about 20 minutes, which was perfect. I should add that reading and understanding the rules took all of 5 minutes. 

I am already hungry to play more. I want to find the right strategy and win. Should I start with wizards? Do I turtle up with builders? How annoying would it be if I got out a cannon on turn 1? There is a lot of depth, but not too much, which makes the game so easy to recommend. 

Check out Matt's website here. I also recommend checking out Jump Gate, which one GAMES Magazine's 2011 Traditional Game of the Year. You can also see Castle Danger on Board Game Geek.

Fun Fact: The name Castle Danger comes from a town by the same name in Minnesota. Don't believe me?

August 2, 2011

New Arrivals from The Game Crafter

I just received an order I've been very excited about for a week or so. I ordered three new games, all of which I have high expectations for.

Castle Danger looks spectacular and is designed by Matt Worden, who's other title Jumpgate earned GAMES Magazine's 2011 Traditional Game of the Year Award. Here's an image of me unboxing it! Castle Danger is a two player game with a Stratego like board. Each player is trying to destroy the other player's castle. The game has a chess-like feel to it, according to the designer.

I also bought a game called The Golems of Ymhet. The game is designed by Tim Mierzejewski, who has been published before by a traditional publisher with his game Malta!

The Golems of Ymhet is a 2-3 player strategy game where the players are trying to defend Ymhet with powerful golems. Unfortunately, one of the player's is a traitor. Such a great premise.

Finally, I ordered a copy of Farmageddon for myself. As I noted in a previous blog, I wanted to make a few final tweaks to Farmageddon to improve the game experience to the quality I desired. I also wanted to improve the rules per feedback I'd received to reduce confusion.

The new game looks fantastic. The cards are pixel perfect, the art looks better than ever, and the game now comes in a really slick box. I'm really proud that I'm able to keep the price at $13.99 as well.

Check it out!

All in all this board game thing has been pretty sweet and good to me so far. Farmageddon has been sitting in the "Best-Selling" section on The Game Crafter for a few weeks now. Feels good.

Can't wait to try Castle Danger and Golems of Ymhet. I have high expectations!