Ether Oak Games

A blog detailing the design, development, and progression of our new board games.

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Growth of Ideas

Jedd Pearce
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North Carolina
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Good game design evolves. The game I'm working on scarcely resembles what it was when I started and it's better for it. What started as a trick taking combat and 4x hybrid has split into three different games entirely. Part of me laments the idea of separating these ideas, but I'd rather have a really incredible and focused game making it's way towards public playtesting rather than a huge unfocused game that not even I can grasp the scope of.

The three games that are emerging are:
• A combative trick taking game ideal for 4 to 8 players. (ready for public playtesting)
• An economic space exploration game ideal for 4 players.
• A customizable tactical space combat game ideal for 2 to 5 players.

Right now I'm focusing on the third one, and am intensely enjoying myself. Part of me wonders if I'll go back to one of my earlier designs and finish them, but another part of me says, "who cares?" In terms of the survival of the fittest, games that I enjoy making the most have the best chance of being enjoyed by others. I say this because while another game might have more appeal to some people, if I'm losing the passion for creating it its quality is going to suffer. One of my friends kept bugging me to finish one of my more developed concepts... My response? Here are the source files.

If there is one thing I've learned from the businesses I've started and been a part of in my life, it's that there is no substitue for passion. If you and the people around you aren't excited about what you're doing, things fall apart as soon as their motivations dry up (whether it's money, significance, excitement, or entertainment).

As my current design project moves forward, I'll keep you updated with important news or ideas.

NOTE: How would I describe my current project? It's still in it's early stages, but I can say it's been inspired by MechWarrior, Starfarers of Catan, & Battleship Galaxies somewhat. I actually haven't played that last one, but I found the pictures inspiring in any case.

Until later,
Jedd
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Mon Jun 11, 2012 2:00 pm
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Revision Playtest & Creative Control

Jedd Pearce
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Tonight, my buddy Kelvin urged me to go to a local game store and try and playtest my game with people outside our normal game group. It was a good idea, though we could have researched their event schedule more, as it ended up being a Friday Night Magic + Pathfinder RPG night, and getting playtesters was hard. I told him not to worry about it, and grabbed my Magic cards from the car and we proceed to play a couple of games. After talking to other Magic players and getting to know them, we brought out my prototype and started playing each other. Most of the people we had talked to about joining us ran in the opposite direction at the word "prototype," but after Kelvin and I played a game, we found three guys who wanted to join us to see what this game was about. I won this game with games of four and three people following. Here are some things I concluded:

• My game excels with 4+ people. Three people is okay, and two people is... well... boring. I've not played with more than 6 people, but am hoping to playtest with 8 soon. I want to to see how large a group it can handle before it starts feeling slow.
• The three things people wanted most out of the game were more player powers, more global events, and more theme. I had already done a lot of planning for the first and the last requests, but was a bit surprised at how much people liked the global event cards.
• Action points are a huge hit. The ability take an extra action once per game stage has proved to have lots of strategic value and diversification of strategies.
• People don't like the name. Thankfully this isn't an important thing to me right now.
• I love creative control. Kelvin is still pushing for a more complicated card drawing mechanic, but I find his reasons unconvincing and his presentation of the benefits lacking considering the extra complexity it would add to the game. I think sticking with simple mechanics is the way to go, and thankfully I can simply tell him no.
• People want more art & graphics. *Sigh* They're on the way folks. I'm just not made of money.
• People fall in love with the game after a single play. It's simple, intriguing, and draws them in. I appreciated the support of my friends and regular game group, but I am thrilled with the excitement of people who've never so much as met me before.

It was a very good experience for me, and showed that the basic system doesn't really need to be drastically altered anymore. This is great because I can shift my focus from the core of the drafting stage to the cores of the roleplaying and the space exploration stage.

I'll update y'all further as I produce more content and playtest with more people.
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Sat Apr 21, 2012 4:00 pm
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New Dawn becomes Generals of Dawn

Jedd Pearce
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This is why one doesn't create a BGG entry this early in prototyping. My game, New Dawn, has had its name changed to Generals of Dawn (G.O.D.). Here's why.

New Dawn took place over several millennia from a civilization's expansion and development, to it's space race, to it's galactic conquest, to it's ultimate end. While the scope was cool, the complexity was higher than I wanted in this game. Keeping in mind my design philosophy of having the complex strategies being driven by player interactions rather than complex mechanics, I shrunk the game from 3 phases to just 2. While pondering how to handle player roles, I had the idea for introducing player sheets - similar to those used in RPGs - to allow players to become immersed in their characters.

RPG sheets posed a lot of interesting options, but I knew it wouldn't work so long as the world of Dawn spanned over millennia - it need to exist in a single lifetime. This is when I had the idea of changing Dawn from a single planet to a sector of galaxies. You are a commander of a small battalion seeking to earn enough prestige to be honored as a General of a fleet in your faction. As you build your deck, your character will become more capable, more well known, and more skilled to handle a position of command.

I'm going to be playtesting with these changes in a week, so I'll let you know how they start playing out, but I'm really excited about combing RPG elements of character development and story progression with both deckbuilding & 4x mechanics. I'll upload some images later.

- Jedd
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Fri Mar 23, 2012 2:00 pm
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Player Roles

Jedd Pearce
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Player powers/roles - who doesn't love them? They're a great way to differentiate between players especially when they are starting from the same position in all other aspects at the beginning of the game. Here are some design possibilities we're looking at for New Dawn.

Option 1 - Mix & Match
With this mechanic, there would be 3 categories with 3 cards each. Each player would chose one of the cards in each category, yielding 27 different possibilities.
Option 2 - Pick & Choose
With this option, the powers found on the previous cards would be split up and divvied up a la buffet, where each player picks a limited number of powers via a draft.
Option 3 - Customizable General
This is the latest idea I had for this, where each player picks a basic role with 1 power that is customized via additional stickers after each game, so that it truly becomes your role.

Thoughts?
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Wed Mar 21, 2012 2:00 pm
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BGG Playtesting Question

Jedd Pearce
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I'm early on in my game's playtesting, and I wanted to know when you all think is the right time for me to submit the files for print'n'play playtesting? When do you like to become involved?

- Jedd
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Sat Mar 17, 2012 2:00 pm
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Event Cards

Jedd Pearce
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One of the recent changes to my game was instead of a back and forth between an attacker and a defender, all players can join in a fight by throwing in a prestige token.

How this works:
1. The attacking player throws a token into the "pot", choses his/her attacking suit, and declares whom he/she is attacking.
2. The defending player must then put a token into the pot and play a card of the same suit. If they do not have a card or choose to not play one, their token stays in the pot and they cannot win the conflict.
3. The player to the left of the defender may throw in a token and play a card to join the conflict or pass.
4. Keep playing until everyone has passed on an action.
5. The battle is resolved and the winner takes the entire pot (or it is split between a tie). In a tie with odd pieces, the odd token is left in the pot for the next conflict.

This system seems to work really well, but one of my players asked if there was a way to increase the kitty - the amount one has to put in the pot for a conflict. I had thought about this some, and didn't want it to be something the player could necessarily control so as to not give a huge advantage to stronger players. This is when the idea of event cards came to me. I was going to have event cards for the second phase of the game anyway, and in my next playtest I'll try them out in this phase.

Event cards function similarly to the traps and treasure cards from Thunderstone - once they are revealed they go into immediate effect. The first event cards I'm going to experiment with will be cards that increase the kitty for conflicts. Instead of increasing the kitty to a number, they will increase the kitty by a number, allowing them to be randomly shuffled with the rest of the drafting deck.

This does two things:
• It speeds up the game by forcing players to deal with greater and greater risks.
• It allows a player in the lead to try and eliminate the first player more quickly.
• It gives the player who feels in last place an "all in" option. If that player has only one token left, but the current kitty is 3 tokens, they can attack any other player with 3 or more tokens forcing that player to put 3 tokens in the pot while only having to risk 1 token themselves.

Event cards will also have the benefit for making it beneficial to use the Prepare and Strategize actions to UPGRADE, BUY or BURY cards (I must find the treasure!).
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Fri Mar 16, 2012 2:00 pm
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Playtest Materials

Jedd Pearce
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Since the first half of my game is entirely card driven and easier to prototype, I've decided to focus on that first in my playtests. My first playtest was done with a couple of decks of playing cards from the dollar store that I had written on, which seemed to do adequately.

The pros:
• Super cheap at $3.
• Actual cards are good for playing.
The cons:
• It wasn't always obvious what type or power a card was, and the cards with special abilities had to have corresponding crib sheets with their ability text.
• No real visual organization or art.
• My handwriting is not the best in the world.

One solution a playtester proposed was to tape the card text on the cards, which I liked at first, but quickly threw out when I thought of doing this for 125+ cards. I had thought of doing labels before, but no standard size fit nicely onto a standard playing card (which is 3.5x2.5 inches). Finally I decided to test the powers of Google and see what kind of labels I could find. To my luck, I found some 8-up labels on OnlineLabels.com that seemed to work perfectly. They are 3 6/16" tall and 3 5/16" wide, with rounded corners that will fit perfectly on the face of my playing cards. I couldn't ask for a better fit. At $17, 100 of these labels is more expensive than getting the cards printed at The Game Crafter, but instead of 125-130 cards I can print 800 of them. This will give me a lot of room to edit and update my cards without a need for reordering supplies.
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Thu Mar 15, 2012 2:00 pm
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My First Playtest

Jedd Pearce
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Last Monday was the first time I got to see my game playtested, and it was a very enlightening experience. I game with a bunch of intelligent and creative individuals, so it was cool to see them try to do things and force me to come up with ideas as they were playing. I also got to see a bunch of things I didn't like about the game which was cool. The thing that bothered me the most was the way people started taking advantage of the unlimited hand size and would draw until they had their entire deck in their hand. I know a lot of games use a hand cap to fix this problem, but I think the real problem is the ratios between the cards needed to defend oneself, the size of one's initial deck, and the number of cards one draws when choosing the DRAW action. In response to this, I've decided to replace my original DRAW, ATTACK, BUY, and BURN/BURY actions with what is (or I think is) a more polished RAPS system (yes I made an acronym for it).

The available actions in the RAPS system are:
• Reinforce - fill your hand to six cards
• Attack - attack another player
• Prepare - draw or upgrade 1 card
• Strategize - burn, bury, and/or buy up to 3 cards

Instead of creating a hand cap, this system allows someone to get to a 6 card hand size using only one action while still allowing a 7, 8, or 9 card hand using 2, 3, or 4 turns. I also changed upgrading from a special ability to a built in mechanic that will usually replace the more traditional burning of cards.

The other major change I'm making to this game wasn't because of something I wasn't happy with, but simply because of a suggestion from one of my playtesters - I'm dropping a suit. Instead of Conquest, Research, Trade, & Espionage suits, I'm only going to have Conquest, Research, & Espionage suits.

This has a couple of advantages I think:
• It makes the game a bit simpler.
• It makes focusing on 2 suits more strategically sound (likely to win 2/3 of your battles, instead of 1/2).
• It works thematically with the strengths of each of the three races.

I like how this all worked out, and am looking forward to the next playtest!
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Wed Mar 14, 2012 2:37 pm
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