Archive for February, 2014

Mini Reviews: Get Bit, Love Letter

I played two new games last night, Get Bit and Love Letter. Both are small games, so here are some mini reviews. Read the rest of this entry »


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First Testing of my 3-Part Game


I had a chance this week to test out the idea for the 3-part game I’ve been working on about mining and railroads. The first part was a fully playable prototype with the rules mostly firmed up. The second part had all the components at least functional, but not all of the rules were ready. We tried both games with mixed results.

MiningGame_1st_WideThe first one was functional (as expected from the more complete nature of the prototype). By the end, it became apparent that one player (me) couldn’t possible win, because selling resources would be blocked. And the intended mechanic of riding the elevators up and down wasn’t important at all. I think I can fix both of those at the same time by having goods get sold only when you ride the elevator up. That way you can’t be blocked, and you have to keep traveling back and forth to make it work.

My next goal is to figure out how to make each play of the mining game different. I’ll write a post about what I mean, but the short version is that it looks like most of my games will play out the same way, with some variation in luck from game to game, but there isn’t enough variation to make the choices interesting from game to game. Accomplishing that is going to be a challenge, especially without growing the number of pieces too much or making the game overly complicated. A deck of cards seems like a big addition at this point, but it may open up a lot of gameplay possibilities.

TTrainGame_1st_Closehe second game wasn’t quite as successful. I think part of the problem is that towns were too close to each other, so you were doing something on every turn. The second problem is that there isn’t any real struggle. There is no competition for deliveries or running trains on the same track. There is no reason not to attempt the closest delivery on every single turn, so the player has no real choices about overall strategy. I need to reexamine some other pick up and deliver games to see how they do it. Or I can make the game more development based, and potentially add some more interesting conflict there.

Overall, the concept seems to work so far. If nothing else, this has been a good exercise in simplifying components. But at least I know it’s worth continuing to develop these ideas, and that’s really what a first playtest is all about.


Game Theory: Types of Randomness

This post is a sequel of sorts to the previous discussion of luck mitigation. Read that first if you haven’t, because I use some of the concepts here. The methods in the other post are great if you and want to make sure that the random elements in your game are balanced. But what if you want to add some random factors? This is an overview of some of the major classes of randomness that can be used in game design.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Wrapup from Unpub Mini at 7th Dimension Games

A short writeup for the Unpub Mini event at 7th Dimension Games is now up over on the Unpub Blog. There are a bunch of photos there, so check it out if you missed it. I only got to play 3 of the games that were there, but I wanted to give a quick write up of everything I saw.

I started off with Joe Stanziano’s So Monsters Attacked, which had been picked up by Game Salute after Unpub 4. This is a light to mid weight dungeon crawler game that pulls a lot of inspiration from early 90’s RPG video games, like the early Final Fantasy games. It strips down a lot of the complications to be very accessible to newcomers and veterans alike, with plenty of interesting choices along the way.

The second game I played was Jack and the Giant by Dan Cassar, a 2-player card game that was another finalist in the Dice Hate Me 54 card challenge. This game plays like an adaptation of FreeCell (the card game) to a two player game, and adds an original theme on top of it very naturally. The designer was working on balance between the “Jack” player and the “Giant” player, but this game feels like it is almost there.

I ended the day playing Arboretum, also by Dan Cassar, which has been officially picked up by Z-Man. This is sort of a tile laying game, where players must make runs of increasing card numbers (numbered 1-8) that start and end on the same color. Using all cards of one color increases your scoring potential, but the twist is you can only score a color if you have the highest sum of that color remaining in your hand at the end of the game, so you have to think carefully about what you play, what you hold on to, and what you discard. It’s a great twist on a simple set-collection-like mechanic.

I saw a few games being played: Take My Word for It by Baked Fresh Daily Games, which is like a more interactive card game version of Scrabble, where players build the word one letter at a time. But there are risks in completing words because another player can extend it or change it to steal the points. This looks like a great substitute for Scrabble where you don’t have to memorize the official dictionary. Kevin Kulp had Kingship (which I’m told has changed a lot since I first played it last year), but I saw him showing off (and working on) Crashtastic, a car crashing game, where you place road tiles and crash into dice in order to collect them. There was also Meddling Mine from Ian Reed & Daniel Yee, which looks like a neat combination of mining and monsters, with some resource management thrown in. This game generated a lot interest, judging by the number of feedback forms, there always seemed to be someone in the middle of a game when I looked, so keep an eye on it. I did not get to play Duane Kolar’s Wu Xing Landscaping on Saturday, but I’ve played previous prototypes of it. This is sort of a combination card placement/movement and set formation game, where players use 5 different card suits in a rock-paper-scissors style setup to move other cards around a common area while trying to form sets of all 5.

Because I was hosting, I didn’t get any of my own games out on the table, but I had a lot of fun anyway. And now I’m looking forward to my next opportunity.

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Design Exercise: Game from a Game

Daniel Solis wrote a nice post today about making the card game Fluxx into a drafting game.

If you haven’t played Fluxx, the basic idea is that you change the rules of the game. You start with the ability to draw and play a single card. Those cards can be goals that tell you how to win the game, the cards you need to meet those goals, actions that give you one-time abilities or new rules that change the number of cards you can draw and play.

Daniel Solis’ variation turns it into a more euro-style affair, where players simultaneously play cards from their hands, with a winner determined by how many goals you meet and how often your cards are used by others. It doesn’t use all of the cards from the game. In fact, it takes away the defining characteristic of the original game, namely changing the rules as you go.

That simple twist makes for a really interesting design exercise:

Design a new game using only a subset of components from another game

So I thought I’d give it a try. Limits are a good way of inspiring creative solutions. Like working on a typewriter, you have to think carefully about what you want to do before you start. If you find you need more components, or something about the components doesn’t work, you’re stuck, which makes it an interesting challenge. Read the rest of this entry »

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Game Theory: Runaway Leader, Rubber Banding, and Feedback

It’s a snowy day here, so it’s a great time to sit down and do some thinking about games. Lately, the subject of the runaway leader problem  seems to be on everyone’s minds. I’ve heard 4 or 5 different podcasts that have spent a lot of time talking about the it and potential balancing methods like rubber banding. Even my own article on luck references it. I wonder what happened to get everybody talking about it all at once.

I had been writing down my thoughts  when I read a great post about positional balance from Precipice Games that not only references most of the articles that appeared and the games that were used as examples, but also hits a lot of the points I wanted to make, so I decided to refocus and take a different approach. I particularly felt the need to go back and address some of the commonly referenced games from a different angle. Read the rest of this entry »

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Games in Development for 2014

10 Acres is on hiatus, and New Bedford is on its way, so here’s a look at what is next for Oakleaf Games in 2014.

First, Anna is starting to work on a game about weather forecasting. I’m “consulting” on that, but it’s definitely her project. My role is more of a reference and sounding board for ideas. There’s been some progress made on the concept, and a first prototype was made, but the second prototype is looking like it will be completely different from the first. The game will involve predicting weather, moving weather and trying to match your predictions. I’ll have more to say about this as the game develops.

I’m now looking ahead to my next games. I have 3 partially complete games in the works. The first game is a role selection game with 100 different role cards. Each card has a group action associated with it and a bonus, and each role card is a unique combination. It has a theme that seemed like a great fit when I started, but after playing through it, the theme is not as tightly integrated as I was hoping, so I I’m still working to find the right one. It seems to be mechanically sound, but it will need a lot of testing to confirm.

The second game is a “sequel” of sorts to New Bedford. The discovery of oil near Titusville, Pennsylvania and subsequent availability of of kerosene as a lighting source contributed heavily to the demise of the whaling industry. At the same time, the Pennsylvania lumber, coal, steel, railroad industries were rapidly expanding. The new game, Titusville, is about the interactions between these industries in the late 19th century. It uses a similar action mechanic to New Bedford, with two key differences. Whaling is replaced with a “demand” system that lets players decide how quickly they can fill contracts for major points. The buildings are replaced with a non-spacial approach to rail laying, network building, and railroad operations, that provides opportunity for interaction.

The third game is Human Resources. Although Human Resources wasn’t selected as a winner of the DiceHateMe 54 card challenge, it is basically a complete game. Artwork and mechanics are where I want them to be, so I need to get some feedback to see if the game is ready for the next step. All three of these games have some form of working prototype that I have been working on since last year and all games have seen a few tests, so I’m hoping to make good progress this year. I need to do some more testing with a wider audience and get more feedback.

I also have 3 ideas in development, that are getting close to prototyping and testing. The first new idea is a little darker in theme, and the working title is “Chapel of Bones”. It is based around the practice of moving bones to ossuaries in order to make new space in crowded cities. The main mechanic is a twist on role selection. My concern is that the mechanics aren’t unique enough to stand on their own, and the theme may be a bit off-putting. I have some other concepts for the theme that are a bit more “standard fare Euro game” if the game looks like it needs a retheme, but it will require some significant changes in mechanics.

With all the snow we’ve had this winter, I keep thinking about the trucks plowing my street while fighting against the snow. The second new game idea is based around trains in the mountains in winter, tentatively titled “Tracks in the Snow”. The concept is a pick-up-and-deliver game, with players competing to reach destinations. Weather plays a major role, continually covering the tracks with snow that the trains have to pass through, but once a player clears the tracks, the following trains can pass more easily, too. Right now, I don’t have a clear picture of what players are actually trying to accomplish. It’s not enough to simply clear the rails, so I’m still looking for a something to tie this game together.

The third new game is actually 3 games in one. The idea is three short games sharing some elements of theme and most of the components, but with three distinct mechanics. You start as a mine owner balancing profit, labor, and safety using a worker placement mechanic. Then you progress to a running a railroad between the mines and nearby towns, using a pick-up-and-deliver mechanic. Finally, when disaster hits and a derailment destroys a town, you must to clean up and rebuild the town while swaying popular opinion for your own profit, using role selection and voting mechanics. This game is developing quickly and should be ready for testing soon.

These are the main projects I’ve got for the next year, and I’m excited to see where they lead. Of course, I’ve got several more ideas waiting, and who knows what else will pique my interest in the rest of the year.

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