January 25, 2012

Space Admiral Fleet Command 101

I don't play too many digital games these days because I constantly get the feeling of deja vu. I'm almost 30 and I guess I feel I've played it all. Thankfully, every now and then a game emerges that offers something completely fresh, yet familiar enough to make me all warm inside.

A game I've loved for a few years now is Neptune's Pride, developed by Iron Helmet. Iron Helmet has a focus on web-based strategy games, many of which are free to play and play out slowly over the course of days and even weeks. They also have a board game feel, which should come as no surprise to you is something I love.

I'm going to try to do two things in this post: get your frothing to try Neptune's Pride, but also, give you some tips on how to emerge victorious. It's a nasty universe, mostly because Admirals like me are in it.

January 21, 2012

Changes on the Farm

We've been testing Farmageddon steadily and furiously lately. No rest for the weary! We've been trying some slightly bizarre and nutty ideas, as well as ones designed to refine, deepen, and polish existing cards. Here are some of the changes lately!

Foul Manure Tweak: For the longest time, Foul Manure provided two turns of immunity for a crop. This rule was fiddly and confusing in a few ways. Firstly, some players had questions regarding what justified a turn. Furthermore, this required players keep track of how many turns had transpired. While it wasn't that difficult, it was something they had to do. It's fiddly and that's not good enough.

I finally received a push from a peer for whom I have great respect. The change, surprisingly, came quite quickly to me and was really good. Now, Foul Manure is permanent. It never goes away unless one of two things happens.
  1. Dust Bowl is played. Dust Bowl destroys all unprotected crops and now, removes Foul Manure. The crops underneath are still safe. This strengthens Dust Bowl. Not only is it an offensive card, but it can combo with your Foul Manure to get it off.
  2. A player discards two crop cards. This can be used in two ways. The Foul Manure owner may deliberately put the Manure on his crop for the protection. It'll cost him two more Crop cards, but he's expecting that cost. OR, I can put Foul manure on YOUR Crop. Now, if you want to harvest it, you'll have to pay two more Crop cards that you WEREN'T expecting. Because of this, cards like Darn Gophers and Farm Futures, which allow you to obtain more Crop cards, or Genetic Superworm, which reduces the cost of the crop, are also greatly strengthened.
Crop Rotation Killed: Crop Rotation has always been a popular card, especially with the more casual players. After all, it's an Uno card. Unfortunately, as the game has matured it has lost its value and isn't as strong anymore. Furthermore, when Foul Manure was changed, it no longer had the combo. Another flaw of the card was that it was insanely over-powered in 2 player games.

Several people pushed me to remove it and finally I did.
Uprooted Added: In the wake of Crop Rotation's demise came Uprooted. Uprooted will replace it to keep the current card distribution unchanged. Uprooted allows the player to swap ownership of any two Planted Crops. That means I can give you my Wheat for your Melon. OR, I can remove the leader's Squash and give it to the last place guy, who planted a Corn. The card is flexible and interesting without being too nasty or unfair. It's been really fun to use so far.

Crop Insurance Rectified: Crop Insurance is one of the last incredibly fiddly hold outs. It's a great card, which gave it a lot longer life in its current form than it should have had. Previously you had to use face-down Crop cards to act as your Insurance payout. But, there were edge cases, like what if I use Thresher? Do the crops go back in my hand? It also didn't protect against theft.

To fix the stupid fiddly bits and strengthen the card, it now provides a fixed payout ($6) much like Bumper Crop. Furthermore, if the Crop is now destroyed OR stolen, the player of Crop Insurance puts the card in his harvest pile for $6 at the end of the game. This has broadened the game's scoring and strengthened the card. It's also now a far more viable defensive card. This one needs more testing, but we've liked it so far.

A Good Idea that Didn't Work Out: One of the oldest pieces of feedback I have routinely received is to make it so that a crop can be instantly harvested. In fact, the first test of Farmageddon allowed that, but it removed any risk or, well, game, from the game.

We tried out a test where the cheapest crop, Sassy Wheat, could be instantly harvested. Here's what happened; when given the choice of a mathematically inferior way to score that had NO risk versus a way that was worth much more but had some risk, players chose the no risk path every time. What happened was everyone just played and harvested Sassy Wheat.

This meant there were rarely crops out on the board. Players horded crop cards until they had a wheat. With no crops, players had few targets or uses for Action cards. Scores were lower, fewer crops were harvested, and people had much less fun.

We toyed around with the notion of working it into an Action card, but I think the same problem would persist. Players who drew the card would horde crops, then insta-harvest a 15 point Squash. The card would unfairly favor those who drew it. Worth a shot!

Graphic Design Lesson: After a year of testing Farmageddon the layout has remained completely unchanged. That is, until I received some great feedback from one of my newer testers. He noted the cards were difficult to read in hand because the harvest value was in the top right corner of the card instead of the top left corner. That was easily fixed and now players can read the cards without moving them around in the hand!

Players also noted it'd be easier to keep track of the value of Bumper Crop and Pesticides if the numbers were displayed like the crops. Another great idea that has really improved things.

January 19, 2012

By Jove a Witch

I'm making great progress with Poor Abby Farnsworth. Typically I'd be worried about writing so often on my blog, but it's easy to be prolific when you're excited. And I am!

I finished the last Evidence card on the shuttle home from work tonight. 60 cards! I also have 5 of the 15 Objection cards designed and really, those will come quite quickly. I did a re-write of the rules to bring them inline with some of the changes that emerged from the content. Finally, I did some really rough iconography work NOT to present as final art, but to begin the work of making the game clean, accessible, and easy to learn. I want people to focus on playing the game, not learning the game.

Before I discuss the changes, here are the updated rules to Poor Abby Farnsworth.

January 18, 2012

Thoughts on General Staff

I'm deep in the midst of Poor Abby Farnsworth content creation. There are many cards to design in a deckbuilding game (shocking) and it's slow and time consuming work. But, the fundamentals remain strong, though slightly modified since I last discussed them.

I think there are two phases to design: big design and little design. Big design focuses on the systems and mechanics. The concept. The theme. The big, fun ideas that come to us quickly in a flash of inspiration. Little design is less glamorous, more tedious, but ultimately more satisfying. And in my opinion, more important. The two phases use different parts of my brain, or at least tax my imagination differently, and I had a few thoughts today regarding what I may work on next.

I like to try new things each game. My first game, Space Encounters, was a big space civilization building game (that sucked). Farmageddon was supposed to be a light, quick game that I think has grown into something a little more, but light nonetheless. Poor Abby Farnsworth is a highly thematic 2 player deckbuilding game. I wanted to try my hand at the fantastic DBG mechanic and try to create something deeper. I decided this morning that I should distance myself a little from cards and try my hand at a board game. New things to learn!

Which way to go? Euro? Perhaps. Design-wise I'm more inclined to lean into the cleaner mechanics, though I like a little theme and prefer games that are an hour or less. Then I thought of a war game. I've been eyeing 1812: The Invasion of Canada, which many have said is a great blend of euro and war game design philosophies. It seemed like a good direction to go. After all, I've always wanted to make a better Risk.

Beautiful cover. I hear the components are top notch.
An idea I've had in mind for a bit involves the two sides of war. Two sets of soldiers engage in war: the old, crusty generals safe in the capital send orders to the young officers, conscripts, and volunteers on the front. There are two different experiences here for two different players. The old Marshall must think upon the grand strategy, supply his field commanders, and please his political masters. The field commander must use the resources given to him, try to carry out orders, and request assistance to better fight the war.

Really, it's perfectly captured in this image (I couldn't find an image of old Prussian men pushing blocks around).

It's a team game with two teams, though obviously it would need to work with as few as two players. I even thought there could be a 3 player variant, with one team of two and a third controlling a guerrilla faction. But that's getting ahead of myself.

There's also room, I think, for competitive cooperation. I.e. both teams most work together to win, but each team only has one true war hero, the one the people love and the fans remember.

Key innovation number one, at least I hope, is this dynamic of strategic versus tactical and the teamplay based upon it. A question I'm asking myself is whether there's an interesting mechanic whereby sharing information is difficult between teammates. For example, is there a fun and interesting way to make it such that a letter takes time to reach a front line commander? It'd be awful to force all players to sit behind screens and not talk. But there could be something.

I have some interesting ideas regarding a dice mechanic that acts for both the supply and the commanders. It's not ready to discuss, but it made me smile when it popped into my head. It felt unique and interesting. But also, really straightforward with lots of interesting possibilities.

Finally, though the game will be greatly inspired by history, especially the tactics, weaponry, and politics of the Franco-Prussian War, I want to create my own world. This lets me distance myself from the well-tread European battle map. It lets me remove myself from the history to create something new. There's approximately a 97.57% chance one of the sides is a very Germanic sounding group. The second side will probably be a bit less, well, Prussian, and more slapdash. Something fun like frontier American types or Australians. It'll be fun to push the flavor in a few key areas and create some interesting new scenarios.

I'm excited by this game. There are some ideas I've been trying to create for some time that I think can finally exist in this game. For the time being I'm calling it General Staff, though I pray I'll conceive of something better. As Poor Abby enters what will be a long test phase, it'll be fun to dive into this new idea.

Wooden blocks, dice, und Krieg. Mein Gott!

January 15, 2012

Oh the Games I will Play

I read a great post on I Slay the Dragon about upcoming games for 2012. Both @FarmerLenny and @FutureWolfie are far more savvy than I am regarding the ways of the industry. Not surprisingly, they are a few steps ahead of me. But since then there have been several announcements and I too now know of a few things soon to be on the horizon.

I thought it'd be fun to write about them. Here are seven games that I think will be really fun to buy and play in 2012. Scroll to the bottom for my top two picks!

January 7, 2012

The Rules to Witchcraft plus Hyperbole

A week or so ago I wrote a post about my design progress on what was then known as Witch Trial. You can read it here. Since then, my brain has been very busy. I've answered many questions and I was able to draft a first pass set of Rules for the game. I was quite pleased with the rules immediately -- the game felt good, sound, tight, and interesting. This is a feeling I never gained from Frontier Scoundrels, but one I did have from Farmageddon. That's a good thing, to me.

I also created the character of the Witch, Abby Farnsworth, and mentioned it in a tweet. A co-worker of mine (who just so happens to be a designer) commented that I may have a name, and indeed I did. The game is now known as Poor Abby Farnsworth: A Salem Witch Trial.

Finally, I sent the rules to four peers, two of whom managed to find the time to provide me with excellent feedback. Thanks to Phil Kilcrease and AJ Porfirio for their time! I took full advantage of it.

I have not had a few hours to unplug to design the Objection and Evidence cards, though I plan to do that tonight or tomorrow. Nevertheless, I have a strong feeling that Poor Abby Farnsworth will eventually become a completed, fun game.

For those of you interested, here are the current full rules for Poor Abby Farnsworth. It is a dice and card based deckbuilding game for two players. I hope you take a chance to read them and share your thoughts. I feel like there's a solid core and a good foundation upon which to I can create fantastic content.


As a final note, a month or so ago I hired a friend of mine to design a logo and website for me. I plan to migrate all of my design blog posts there and use the site as a basis for all my design efforts. Note my focus on design. I don't intend to join the ranks of independent board game publishers. I don't think I have the know-how or talent for such a thing, so I'll leave that to those more clever than I.

The logo is nearing completion and I think we have a nearly final candidate. My friend managed to design something that I think is simple, sharp, and makes me laugh.  I wanted to share it. The site will be HyperboleGames.com.