Archive for September, 2014

Ego

After my articles on stealing game ideas, Games Precipice posted this article about some concerns new designers have. One of the main points is that ego can be a big problem for new designers. I mean tot respond directly at the time, but it’s taken me a while to get to it. I agree with many of the details of the article, and I think it has useful advice for designers of every level. But they are wrong about ego. Ego is actually one of the most important things a new designer can have. Read the rest of this entry »

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Congress of Gamers 2014 Wrapup

To finish off my month of conventions, I went to Congress of Gamers in Maryland, to participate in the Unpub Protozone. This was my second visit to CoG. If I had not spent the entire month traveling, I would have loved to stay both days, but I was only able to stay til about 7 on Saturday.

As such, I only got a few games in. I had one 2-player game of New Bedford that also involved a good conversation with someone starting off on the game design journey, so I hope his experience with Unpub was a good one. I got a few quick playtests of some small game ideas I’ve been working on, but nothing of particular note, yet. I need to sit and decide what direction I want to go in with my game design, but that deserves a separate entry.

I played two games from other designers: First, Cattle Car from Dr. Wictz. This is a small 2-player deck-builder game with some great twists, about getting your cows into town so you can send them out on the train. It looks like a great portable game, and almost a micro-game. The two great twists are that you buy cards for your deck, but they are only temporary, and are lost after they show up in your hand, whether you play it or not! The other twist is that you have a limited number of cows to start, and if you get them into town when a train arrives, you can load them onto a cattle car for points. But you also use the cows to buy the more powerful cards in the deck. It felt very close to being ready, and it just needs some wooden cow meeples.

The second game I played was Market Square from Dave Chalker. This is another simple, small, and deep game, so it looks like it’s going to be a good year for great small games. Players collect resources to build buildings in a town. Each building is a unique way to generate points or manipulate resources. Resources come from a dice-rolling mechanism, where the dice can give each of the 4 resources, or raw points, or coins, which can be used as wild in later rounds. While I don’t normally like dice, I like what the game does with choosing them. Instead of simply drafting dice from a common pool, each player can simply take some number of dice. The next player can take other dice from the pool, or take dice from a previous player. When that happens, you have to return at least one resource to the middle. This results in a fair distribution, and adds a more strategic, interactive twist that depends more on how you play the other players than the randomness of the dice. It plays in about 45 minutes. I’m almost ready to buy it.

I also watched a bit of Planet Chasers from Hoop Cat games. This is a loose take on orbital mechanics, but I really enjoyed watching the gameplay.  A dice roll controls both the movement of the planets and players’ ships, but players choose when and how to move. Players earn points from completing missions between planets, and simply from exploring planets. So this looks like a really interesting take on a race game. I’m hoping to actually sit and play it during Unpub 5.

It was great to see all my friends and designers, and sorry I couldn’t stay longer. An extra thanks to Dr. Wictz for managing the event, and for recovering my money from the board game flea market that closed unexpectedly early.

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The State of Games Podcast, Episode 71

The State of Games Episode 71 is up on DiceHateMe.com. I made my inaugural podcast appearance when it was recorded live at GrandCon 2014 with the folks from Happy Mitten Games. It’s cross-posted as Episode 42 of the Happy Mitten podcast

Fortunately, I didn’t make too much of a fool of myself on the parts that weren’t edited out. I did my best to emulate Darrel, and say as little as possible.

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Notes from New Bedford: Part 10 – Balancing Turn Order Advantage

Index

This is a very recent development in the design history of New Bedford, that I recently had to work out. It touches on an important subject of balancing thematic integration and player perception with need for a balanced game. New Bedford might have a problem with turn order advantage in the first round. I don’t know, because I don’t have enough data. I may not ever have enough data. It took thousands of games of Puerto Rico to discover the third player advantage of a few percent.

The symptom in New Bedford is that the player who goes fourth in a four player game has not won many games. While playtesting, I had begun to see the trend when I started computing statistics. At the same time, the concern was voiced by some experienced players, so I knew it was at least something I needed to seriously consider. Even if it’s not truly a problem, it gives the perception that there is a problem, which still isn’t good for player engagement. Read the rest of this entry »

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Review: Eight Minute Empire: Legends

Artist and Designer Ryan Laukat’s Eight Minute Empire: Legends (EME:L) is the standalone followup to Eight Minute Empires, with some changes to rules but the same core gameplay. I ran out and bought this after backing the expansion, because it was on my list to buy and I didn’t want to miss out.

I struggled with whether to make this a full review or not. It comes in a small box, but larger than Fleet, which got a full size review. It is nominally a quick game, but we played for a long time. And although it is dramatically simplified and streamlined from a full civilization game, it still has a lot of pieces and a lot of depth. Both the game and this review are somewhere between full-size and mini. So while I don’t need a lot of room to say that I like the game, it took a little more room than I was expecting to explain why.

What You Get

  • 4 double-sided map cards for modular variable setup
  • 34 action cards
  • 4 score/turn order cards and 1 cost reference cards
  • 18 wooden cubes (armies) and 3 wooden castles (cities) in 4 colors
  • 36 cardboard coins
  • Starting area marker, and several different expansion tokens.

The box is very thick and sturdy with plenty of room for the upcoming expansion. The map cards and cardboard tokens are very high quality. The castles are awesome bits. The art is all by the designer and is part of what makes this game so awesome. Every card and island has its own character. And you actually have time to focus on it and appreciate it. For the most part, the art and theme just act as flavor, but that’s fine for the level of game. The rule-book is fine, but I would have liked a card reference, or at least a count of how many vials, cities, and wings are in the game [13, 8, and 6, by my count].

What You Do

Players vie for control over a series of islands, based on area majority. The board consists of continents with one or more regions, connected by land and water. Players start with some coins, and 5 armies on the board on two separate regions, and bid to select the starting player. (Note, you can select anyone to start.) Each turn, the player buys a card from the 6 card display, with newer cards decreasing in cost from 3 coins to free. Each card shows one or more actions: add armies where you have a city or at the starting location; move armies, using 3 movements to cross water or 1 to cross land; build a city where you have an army; or destroy an army on a space you also occupy.

Cards also show bonus abilities, like extra armies or movement when you take that action, but also wings that reduce water movement cost, vials that earn 2 points for the player with the most, invincibility, coins, and points for collecting sets of cards with a specific word in the name. After a certain number of rounds, scores are tallied: points on cards, 1 point for each region you control (the most armies), and 1 point per continent you control (the most controlled regions).

The card choices are very tactical in a 4-player game, because you won’t see many of the same cards you saw in a previous round. But placement and movement are more strategic. Not only do you have to balance movement, building, and adding armies, but you have to consider the abilities, especially the point-giving ones.

What I Liked

The art is wonderful and evocative. The combination of abilities and actions on cards makes almost every decision interesting. The balance between all of the actions and the abilities is superb. Every option is a viable path. The abilities and art give it a lot of the feel of Small World, but with a larger variety of options, and the ability to play only two players. It also takes up a fairly small space on the table, without giving up depth.

What I Disliked

Our biggest problem is that since so many of the choices are tactical, it is very prone to over-analysis. Our games last more like an hour. But you can still plan on an opponent’s turn, and it was engaging the whole time. Almost any card can be a huge game changer. That’s good because you can make a big comeback, but it also means that luck of the cards plays a big part. The big swings in the last rounds especially can feel like king-making, but social gamers will really enjoy that aspect throughout the game. When combined with our long play time, that’s a little aggravating, so I’d like to see how it works with 3-players.

Conclusions

Often, when I want more from a game, it’s because it feels like it’s missing something. With EME:L, I just want more because it’s so good. So I’m glad there’s an expansion coming. There are lots of fun ways you can combine the actions and abilities, and it looks like the expansion does just that. Even though we play it more like Eighty Minute Empire, I look forward to returning to it again and again.

EMELegends

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GrandCon

Another weekend, and another convention. This time, I met up with the Dice Hate Me crew at Grand Con in Grand Rapids, MI. I arrived around 11:30 Friday Night, and discovered that I couldn’t get in to the open gaming without a badge. Now, I didn’t plan to buy a badge Friday, since I was coming in so late, but it wouldn’t have mattered because badge pickup was closed at 10pm. But fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long before Darrell Louder spotted me. He and Chris K. happened to be playing with Marc Spector, one of the founders of Grand Con, who waved me inside. It’s good to be the king!

I discovered that they were just learning a game of Thunder Alley from legendary designer Richard Launius. I had the privilege of sitting next to him and watching the game. I know nothing about NASCAR, which Thunder Alley is based on, but after watching the game, I felt like I gained an appreciation of it. It was exciting just to watch. That game closed out the night.

Saturday was my day in the Unpub Proto-zone. I got through 3 full plays if New Bedford, trying out some new elements of the game. All of the games incorporated new buildings. I don’t want to ruin any surprises that Dice Hate Me has in store, so you’ll have to check out the Kickstarter for details, which is tentatively planned to start on November 2nd. But these are additional buildings that dramatically change the gameplay, and add a ton variety to the setup and strategy. Also being tested was a new expansion that adds special events, some good and some bad. But instead of just flipping a card and following the instructions, these events have to be selected instead of whale tokens, giving an extra level of strategy to consider. The final new element is a change to the setup to balance the early round and streamline the game somewhat. I’ll write more about that later in the week. There’s still some balancing and adjusting to be done on all of these changes, but I’m excited to seem them all working.

Saturday evening, we had dinner with the fine folks from Happy Mitten games. I had a glass of Dragon’s Milk from New Holland Brewing. I don’t know exactly what the alcohol content was, but I’m pretty sure the bottle I had later had the number 12% printed on it. It was delicious, but I think I’ve got a one-per-year limit. After dinner, we returned to record the State of Happy Mitten Games podcast, a crossover between State of Games and the Happy Mitten podcast in front of a live studio audience. Well, I didn’t contribute much, but I enjoyed it anyway. I may even be asked back some time. But it’s an excellent opportunity to hear Chris open up about how and why he started Dice Hate Me games, and what his vision for it is.

Sunday, I had to leave to catch my flight home, so I didn’t have a chance to do any more gaming. I would have liked to have tried out several new ideas I’m working, but at least I got to test out some of the things I’ve been developing for New Bedford. It was great meeting and hanging out with a lot of people that I haven’t had much time to. I had some great conversations, most of which I remember. But I hope I’ll have the chance to return next year! Thanks to Dice Hate Me, Unpub, and everyone who made the weekend so much fun.

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Pivot Points and New Bedford

Way back in February, the Game Design Round Table talked about Pivot Points. I wrote down some ideas of how pivot points contribute to New Bedford, but am only now getting around to writing something about them.

There were two main things that the podcast made me think about. The first is shifts in the game mode, where player strategies change. This can occur when the players change from one major goal to another. A basic game of Dominion is one of the prime examples, in which players spend the first half building up their decks, and then at some point the players switch to buying points. Settlers of Catan has this as players stop trading to prevent another player from claiming victory. New Bedford doesn’t exactly have this, but there is a distinct change in the feeling of the game after round 6. New players are often surprised how quickly and easily they reach the halfway point.

But after round 6, everyone starts setting up for the end. Even though the second half has the same number of actions, it usually takes more time as players take longer to consider their moves, and spend time whaling. In the current prototype, the round track literally turns around and starts moving the other direction at that point, which sort of signals the change. Yet, the basic game play doesn’t really change that much. You aren’t suddenly changing from engine building to point earning. Not only can you spend the entire game pursuing a whaling or building strategy, you can do them in either order. Besides the bonus buildings, there are no “point grab” actions, and the bonus buildings are available from the start and very limited.

The second thought I had coming out of that podcast is related. They pointed out games like Agricola, where the game ends just when you feel like you’ve got your farm where you want it. This is more of a complaint about a lack of a pivot point. The game goes directly from build mode to ending, when you’d actually like to keep playing. New Bedford avoids this because you actually get a chance to see your engine in action and have fun with it. Having that experience in the game was very important to me. You avoid the feeling of getting cut short, but you have enough to worry about that you rarely feel like the game goes too long by the last turn.

If New Bedford has a pivot point, it is a change from engine building to engine running. But you have enough options for strategy that it doesn’t feel like an abrupt change. At the same time, you can completely skip building an engine by taking advantage of other players’ buildings. You still get the feeling of a pivot point because the first half is easy to get into.

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