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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Game Design Challenge

I recently started following a blog called Inspiration to Publication, all about two game designers and their quest to publish their games.  They've already had moderate success, and their newest game, Train of Thought, looks to become a "new classic."  I know it's an oxymoron, but apparently that's what you call such things.

Anyway, one older post, they provided a game design challenge for budding game designers.  They gave it just after a post about where inspiration comes from.  The challenge was to come up with a game concept drawing inspiration from five different categories: theme, mechanic, title, genre, and components.

I thought I'd take them up on their challenge, so here are my ideas.

Theme: Using small robots to prevent a mine from completely caving in

This would be a cooperative board game with a lot of randomization.  The players are miners who have become trapped by a cave-in, and need to use their remote-controlled robots to move to different areas of the board and prevent various disasters--flooding, cave-ins, damaged power cables, etc.  A disaster deck would pile on the tension while players try to coordinate their efforts and free themselves from the cave.

Mechanic: Multiplayer card game where cards flip when players change sides/roles

This is a sci fi/horror themed game for three to ten players.  One player starts as the Host with a Host deck and goes around infecting the other players.  All other players start as humans, with Human decks.  Their cards are split down the middle width-wise, and when they become infected, they turn the cards over and use the Infected side to help the Host.

Title: Counting Coup

A chess-like game on a six-by-six board where pieces represent Native American warriors attempting to gain the most coup by showing their bravery using different maneuvers and tactics.  Certain moves are very risky but earn a great deal of coup, while others are safer but earn less coup.  The player with the most coup at the end of the game wins.

Genre: Party game

A card-based version of musical chairs.  Players each have a starting hand of four cards, except for one player who begins an extra card. Players must rapidly exchange cards on a one-to-one basis until someone has a complete matching set of four cards.  That player wins bonus points, but cannot have a starting hand of five for the rest of the game.  Each player gains points for having a pair or three of a kind.  But watch out!  The player with the Dud card gets no points that round!  Play continues until all players have had a starting hand of five cards.

Component(s): Rubber bands

I have a few ideas for using rubber bands in a game.  The one I like the best is a building game.  Players take turns rolling a D3 (a six-sided die with two 1s, two 2s, and two 3s) and balancing that many blocks on top of each other.  Then each player takes a turn shooting a rubber band at a particular stack to try and knock it down.  They must shoot from the opposite side of the board, and their hand cannot be over the board when they shoot.  The first player to successfully stack five blocks atop each other wins.

Monday, February 21, 2011

SaltCon! Part Two

SaltCon touts itself as a family-oriented game convention, which is cool, I guess.  What this meant for Cassie and I was that the con didn't open until 10 am or so on Saturday.  We slept in and had a killer breakfast at the hotel's buffet.  We had planned to visit the Hogle Zoo while we were in Salt Lake City, but alas, the weather was pretty terrible.  So after breakfast (and a brief nap to take the edge off of our respective food comas--we ate a lot of food), we headed to the convention.

There was another Munchkin tournament in just a few minutes, so we signed up.  This time, it would be Munchkin Fu, the Kung Fu movie-themed Munchkin game.  Neither of us had played that particular version before, but we figured the basic rules would be the same, and indeed they were.  The only major difference is that Munchkin Fu has Styles and Classes, rather than Races and Classes.  I never did get an interesting style, but my wife got one with a really long name that game her a +3 Bonus for each empty Hand.  This was important later, when some of the players tried to stop her from reaching Level 10 and winning the game by stealing the weapon she held in her hand, not realizing that the +3 Bonus from the weapon wouldn't actually go away, thanks to her Style.

There were six players in the tournament: myself; my wife, Cassie; three people who were blood relatives of some form or another; and a fat guy who was friends with the three relatives.  I got the feeling that they all wanted someone they knew to win, because then they could all take home the prize (the copy of Munchkin Fu that we were playing) and play it with each other.  So it felt a bit like it was four players versus two.  Hence why I didn't feel bad when I helped my wife win.

Here's how it went down.  Cassie shot to Level 9 fairly quickly, and had a good assortment of equipment to give her a lot of power in combat.  The guy across from me--the nephew of the guy in the opposite corner from me, a teenager supposedly playing Munchkin for the first time--had managed to reach Level 9 on his last turn and was banking on winning the game his next turn.  He just had to stop my wife from winning, first.  He thought he had it in the bag.  When she kicked open the door and revealed a dinky Level 1 monster, he threw down some kind of magic mirror that would have made the monster disappear.  Fortunately for Cassie (and me), the guy's uncle also threw down a Wandering Monster card with a small Level 8 monster.  His nephew tried to tell him that he didn't need to do so, but he said he'd already played it, so it stayed.  I'm not sure why he did that, but it worked out.

What this meant was that Cassie still had a monster that she could kill to reach Level 10 and win.  So everyone threw down everything they could to try and stop her.  One person stole her dagger.  Another destroyed her armor.  Another pumped up the power of the monster a bit.  It still wasn't enough until the nephew, the other guy at Level 9, used a card he'd probably been hoping to save for himself to make the monster even bigger, just enough to tie with my wife's combat strength.  So I finally got involved.  I tossed down a potion that made my wife even more powerful. 

No one else had anything to change the combat, so my wife killed the monster, reached level 10, and won the game.  Everyone else was at least a little disappointed, but the guy who had played the Wandering Monster did the most grumbling.  Not sure I really understand that.  It was his fault that she was able to win that turn.  I'm convinced that she would have won the next turn, regardless; I had stockpiled a bunch of cards to stock people from being able to win, and was pretty confident that they wouldn't be able to stop her a second time.

Anyway, we got to take home the Munchkin Fu game as a prize.  So that made game number two that we received without having to pay for it.

After that we hit up the Opportunity Games table to try out Karnaxis for the first time.  A young man we'd met yesterday while playing Munchkin--Taylor, I think--joined us, as well as the designer's wife.  I believe her name was Morgan.  The designer was Andrew, although I remember that better because it's on the Karnaxis box.  Andrew set the game up and explained the rules, then acted as banker so we could concentrate on learning the game rather than doing lots of arithmetic.

It's a straight-forward enough game in some ways, but there are a lot of options at every turn, and each decisions can have great consequences.  For example, I hesitated to take out a loan to start a business until the fifth turn, while Taylor and Morgan did so two or three turns earlier, and subsequently were able to grow their respective businesses significantly more than I was.  Additionally, the two of them managed to make a killing on the stock market.  So they kind of creamed my wife and I.  Kudos to my wife, though.  She didn't bother starting a business or investing in the stock market.  She just put herself through school and got a job, and still finished the game with more money than me.  And apparently this was one of the few times when trying a new game for the first time didn't stress her out, so you know it's good.

See the game here or here.

We were both pretty worn out by then, so we decided to do one more game and call it a day.  We selected Forbidden Island from the game library and snagged a fellow named Daniel to play it with us.  It's a quick cooperative game where players take on the roles of explorers trying to snatch priceless artifacts from a sinking island.  The island is represented by sixteen tiles.  Players are represented by wooden tokens.  There is a deck of cards, each card corresponding to an island tile.  Each turn, a player is able to perform up to three actions.  These actions could be to move one space (horizontally or vertically, but not diagonally), to "shore up" an island tile, to give artifact cards to a player on the same tile, or to gain an artifact.  After those three actions, the player draws cards from the artifact card deck.

Then, a certain number of cards are revealed from the top of the location deck.  (The number of revealed cards is equal to the water level, which in our game started out at two and quickly rose to three.)  The tiles that match the revealed location cards are then either flipped over (the opposite side having the same picture and title, but in muted blue tones) or removed from the island completely, if they have already been turned over.  This represents that part of the island becoming partially submerged and then completely flooded.  Shoring up a location means flipping back to its normal state, which can buy the players some time.  Mixed in with the artifact deck are cards that cause the water level to rise, so as the game progresses, the island floods even faster.

The goal of the game is for players to acquire four cards of a given artifact, reach a location that has an icon that matches that artifact (there are only two locations per artifact), then use an action to discard the four cards and gain the artifact.  Once all four artifacts have been acquired, players have to reach the helicopter pad and escape the island.

Each player has a different special ability that helps them.  For example, I was an Engineer.  I could shore up two tiles per action instead of just one, which came in handy.  I went around shoring up the important locations--the ones that had the artifact icons on them--while Cassie and Daniel were lucky enough to rapidly draw the cards necessary to acquire three of the artifacts, after trading some cards back and forth.  They snatched up those artifacts while I grabbed the fourth, then we booked it to the helicopter pad.  With planning and luck (and, admittedly, forgetting to begin flooding the island until the second turn) we were able to beat the game together.

It was fast-paced, exciting, and a lot of fun.  And I hear that the game is pretty inexpensive.  Daniel looked it up on his fancy-pants iBerry or BlackPhone or whatever and found that Walmart sells it for twelve bucks or something.  Cassie and I may have to pick up a copy. 

Before we left, I managed to find a guy willing to trade some of his board game he'd brought for some Magic cards.  I'd brought a whole bunch of them, since I'm trying to get rid of them, and I knew I'd be surrounded by gamers.  The guy wanted to get back into Magic so he could play with his kids.  I gave him enough cards to start two or three decks.  He gave me Ticket to Ride, the one with the German map.  Cassie enjoyed it when we played it at my brother's house last Christmas. 

That made the third game that we didn't have to pay money for.  Even accounting for the used condition of two of the games, we're looking at something like seventy-five dollars worth of games for nothing.  Well, not NOTHING.  Tickets for two people for two days cost us sixty dollars.  Still, I feel like it was totally worth it, and fortunately, my wife agrees.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

SaltCon! Part One

This weekend, my wife and I attended SaltCon, a board game convention in Salt Lake City.  It was our first convention of any kind, so we weren't completely sure what to expect.  It ended up being a lot of fun, and we walked away with three board games, none of which we had to pay for.

They had a game library set up with over three hundred board games available.  The first game we tried was Dominion: Alchemy, the only expansion we haven't tried.  Another gamer, a fellow Dominion fan, joined us.  We played with five Actions cards from the base set and five from Alchemy.  I can't say I found it terribly interesting, to be honest.  Most of the Action cards require Potions to purchase.  I'd be okay with that if Potions were costed at, say, three coins or less, but four?  For a card that doesn't do anything except help me purchase four of the available Action cards?  Those Action cards had better be good!

But they really weren't.  The guy who joined us, Ben, picked up a whole bunch of copies of Familiar, which is "+1 Card, +1 Action, Each other player gains a Curse."  My wife tried Herbalist, which is "+1 Buy, +1 Coin," and has an ability that basically allows you to float a Treasure card on top of your library.  When you place Herbalist in your discard pile, you can place a Treasure card you have in play on the top of your library.  There really weren't any Alchemy cards on the table that I thought were interesting, so I went with a Mine/Remodel strategy, hoping to use Mine to turn my Coppers and Silvers into Gold and purchase as many Provinces as possible.  Towards the end of the game, I used Remodel to turn my Golds in Provinces.  I was also able to use Remodel to get rid of five or six of the Curse cards that Ben was so happy to put into my deck.  I still had nine Curses by the end of the game, though, which allowed Ben to edge me out by a few points for the win.  I was kind of annoyed; my wife and I tend to avoid aggressive strategies, in general, and Curses in particular.  It's just not fun to have a deck full of cards that do nothing but prevent one from winning.  At least twice that game, I draw a hand of a Victory card, three Curses, and a Treasure card.  What can you do with that?

Anyway, I didn't really see much in Alchemy that would encourage me to purchase it.  It doesn't innovate, at all, beyond making the Action cards more difficult to purchase.  Dominion: Intrigue made Victory cards more relevant and interesting.  Dominion: Seaside played with time with Duration cards.  Dominion: Prosperity pushed the power level with Platinum and Colony, and a lot of high-priced Action cards.  Dominion: Alchemy just doesn't do anything interesting or unexpected.

 My opinion of the expansion probably wasn't helped by the weird feeling my wife and I goy from Ben.  My initial thought was "child molester." When my wife mentioned it to me later, away from Ben, she suggested rapist.  Either way, there was something off about that guy.  

Anyway, we next joined a Munchkin tournament.  It was fun, but obnoxiously, the guy who won did so by playing a card that stole the monster I was fighting (to go from level 7 to level 9, I think) and caused it to fight him, instead.  He was at level 8, so defeating this big monster would win him the game.  He couldn't actually defeat it, himself, though, so he convinced a girl to help him out.  She was at level 9, and was an Elf, which meant that she would also go to level 10 by helping him.  They both won.  I didn't mind losing, and I didn't mind them winning.  I was just annoyed that I didn't even get to kill that big monster and go to level 9 before losing.  It was like my second-place finish was stolen from me, or something.  Anyway, I was annoyed.  Still, the Steve Jackson Games guy handed out a bunch of little prizes, including a cute little stuffed toy that my wife and I took home.

At about this time we discovered that my wife's name had been drawn to receive a door prize.  We were presented with a copy of Karnaxis, a modern economics game.  The designer and his family were there, demoing the game and selling it at a discount price.  We had chatted with them earlier and had planned to try their game at some point.  I had already decided that I wanted to buy it if it ended up being fun, but then we got a free copy.  So, we didn't have to buy it, which was cool.  We didn't have a chance to play it that day, though.  That would have to wait until the next day. 

View the game here.

After picking up the game, we then played Small World for the first time.  We played with gentleman whose name I cannot recall, other than it sounded French.  He had only played once or twice, before, but thankfully we had a volunteer from the con help us out and explain the game to us.  It was a lot of fun.  The idea is to draft from the available races and use them to take over as many sections of the map as possible.  At the end of his or her turn, the player receives coins for each section he or she controls.  The coins count as victory points, although they can also be used to draft the best races.  Cassie was lucky enough to smash face with Trolls.  Those things are really tough to move once they set up their defenses.  She ended up winning by a few points.  It was a lot of fun.  We may have to pick up a copy.

The last game we played that day was called The Resistance.  Apparently it's a lot like Werewolves, which I've heard of, but never played.  It's for five to ten players.  Each player is dealt a character card which they do not reveal; it tells them whether they are loyal to the resistance, or a spy.  All players then cover their eyes, and the spies are allowed to reveal themselves to each other.  Then, the resistance attempts five missions to bring down the oppressive regime.  Players take turns being the fearless leader.  The leader selects several other players to join him or her on the mission.  The exact number of players on the mission varies depending on the total numbers of players and on the mission.  All players then vote on whether or not they accept the assignments for the team.  (If the traitors know that a traitor is on the team, they will vote to accept the team.  If the loyal resistance members are certain that a traitor is on the team, they will vote no, although it's difficult for them to know for certain, so they will usually accept the team.)  On a majority, the team is accepted.

Then, each team member on the mission hands the leader a face-down card, either a red card or a blue card.  These are shuffled so that no one is certain who put in which card.  All the cards are then revealed.  If there is even on red card, the mission failed.  Otherwise, the mission is a success.  The players must try to determine who the traitors are before it is too late.  If they succeed in three missions, they win.  If three missions are failed, the traitors win.  It's a fun and interesting game, and really very quick, but it can get very "yelly" as suspicions are thrown about.  "You're a traitor!  You must be!"  "That's ridiculous!  You're only accusing me to throw suspicion off of yourself!"

I was a traitor, which of course my wife knew almost immediately, because she can read me like a trashy magazine.  Thankfully, not everyone else was as sure.  I was on the first mission, along with the leader (I think his name was Daniel) and one other person.  I can't remember her name.  One of the traitors had a temporary special ability that turn that allowed him to peek at someone's character card, and he used it on the female on the team.  He promptly and loudly accused her of being a traitor.  Then, I slipped a red card into the mission to fail it, so everyone assumed that she really was a traitor.  It threw suspicion off of me quite superbly.  Subsequently, I managed to get onto the second mission and fail it without anyone being sure if I was a traitor.

We almost had the game in the bag, but we got unlucky with the third mission.  One of the traitors--the only one that at this point everyone was 95% certain was a traitor--was the leader that turn.  He failed to accurately predict what the NEXT leader would do, and so he chose his team poorly and revealed that certain players were definitely NOT traitors.  Thus, the resistance was able to complete the third, fourth, and fifth missions and steal the game.

Still, it was a lot of fun, if a little too stressful for my wife.

We then left for a dinner appointment and to check into our hotel.  We hit up the con the next day, as well, but that's a post for another day.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Goblin Factory: Update

We just started writing up Challenge cards to allow for competitive gameplay in the base game. Most of the challenges are for cooperative play, but now at least two of them will allow players to compete against each other. They're fun variants, but let me tell ya, they can be really tough!

Goblin Factory

Hello, all.

So, as most of you know, my wife and I have been working on designing a card game. Well, I'm happy to announce, it is pretty much done. We have all the numbers tweaked to where they need to be, which involved cutting the deck down from nearly 150 cards to eighty-six and reducing the point costs of each card to smaller, simpler numbers. The card layouts and colors are nearly done (we're still up in the air about a couple of colors, and we're debating how much information needs to be included on the Challenge cards.)

Right now we're working on the art for each card, by which I mean my poor wife is working on the art. I can't draw anywhere near as well as she can, and I have had no real experience with graphical programs. I greatly appreciate her hard work! Thanks, sweetheart!

(By the way, the art is the hardest part, because it's so crucial to making the game look professional and not like crap. Also, there is a huge amount of it. As my wife says, "Saying that everything is done except for the art is saying that we're about twenty percent done.")

We hope to have the artwork finished in, say, a month, at which point we can get a prototype made at www.thegamecrafter.com and start testing and presenting the game to the world at large. There is a big convention in Salt Lake City in May, and fingers crossed, we'll be there with a bunch of copies of Goblin Factory to demo and--hopefully--sell.

Now, I don't think this game will actually bring in a ton of money for us, but it'll get our names out there, for sure, and if it gets picked up by a game publishing company, who knows?

For those who haven't seen the game, it is a cooperative card game designed for one to six players. Each player takes on the role of a goblin working in a factory in their mountain home. Players must work together to assemble a machine in a strict time limit. The Challenge cards vary the type of machine that must be build, and occasionally alter the time limit, as well.

Each turn, you draw two cards from the community deck and add one to the machine. The other card is placed in the community discard pile. The idea is that parts are being sent down the assembly line faster than you can grab them, so you have to take the most useful piece and use it. You also have the option of discarding both cards and drawing a third card for that turn; however, you MUST add that part to the machine, no matter how good or bad it turns out to be. This is like reaching up into the assembly line and grabbing the next available part without looking at it. This strategy is useful if both the cards you draw fail to help you assemble the machine you are trying to build.

Once time is up, the point costs of the machine parts are added up. The players have won if they have achieved the requisite point costs specified by the Challenge card.

There are a small number of Disaster cards that force players to remove parts from the machine. (For those who helped playtest the game, you'll be happy to know that I decreased the chance of drawing a disaster card by about half, from a little over 2% to a little over 1%.) This adds an element of danger to the game, as well as strategy--if the removed part detaches a whole section of cards from the Starter Piece, those parts will not count towards the point totals at the end of the game, so you had better find a card to reattach them!

The machine parts all have symbols on the edges of the card, either a red square, a blue circle, or a green triangle. In order to add to the machine, players must match the symbol on the edge of the card they want to add with the symbol on the edge of a card already attached. Only one edge must match--for example, the red square of a Laser must be attached to a red square of a Connecty Bit. It doesn't matter if one of the blank edges of the Laser is laid alongside a green triangle edge of a Power Source card, or if the blue circle of the Laser is laid down adjacent to the red square of a Piston. Only one edge has to match in order to add a card. You're goblins, after all. As long as you can attach the part properly in one spot, you can hammer the rest into place.

The game is fast-paced and a lot more fun than I can probably describe. The rules are simple enough that everyone to whom we've demonstrated the game was able to grasp them after a single play through. It's a quick enough game that you can play it as a warm-up for game night, and fun and interesting enough that you can play multiple games in a row without getting bored.

I think that my wonderful wife and I have made something fun and unique. I really think that, with the right marketing approach and a little luck, we can get the game picked up and sold to a mass market. Which would be great; it's a really fun game that I think many people would enjoy, whether they be a hard-core gamer, a social gamer, or a parent looking for a game to play with his/her kids on family night.

Further updates, and probably artwork, will be forthcoming.