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"A note of caution: there is a bit of strong language in this article."
It's all super simple. One player commands Moloch robots and has to win couple of battles and in the end to destroy New York. The other player gets deck of The Outpost and has to stop them, has to slow and sabotages them. He needs to do whatever he can to not let Moloch reach New York.
On one hand I had these powerful machines marching towards New York. O, man, I was having fun designing them. I wanted them to be big and deadly. I gave Strength of 3 to most of the cards, I gave Strength of 4 to some of them and I even gave Strength of 5 here and there. Why not, huh? Huge robots that will destroy New York in a heartbeat. The moment Moloch player gets his cards, he will smile, and this smile will mean one thing: “Knock, knock, NY, is anybody here?”
Then I sat with The Outpost deck. O, man, that was fun! I wanted them to be fast, to be sneaky, and to be smart. I gave Strength of 1 to most of the cards. I gave Strength of 2 here and there. I looked at them and said: “You guys are in trouble. Good luck. Try to get out of the shit I just put you in.”
Asymetrical games. That is what I love. That is what I've built in Zombiaki in 2003. That is what I've built in Stronghold in 2009. That is what I am good at. Watch me. This is me at my best.
I was going to cross over the line with Moloch. I wanted them to be ridiculously strong. I gave them high numbers and then I gave them super abilities. Kill soldier. Protect other robot. Turn off The Outpost abilities. All that crazy stuff. Every single card was overpowered. That is lesson I learned from Michał Oracz – do abilities that rocks, do abilities that are so freaking awesome that players will get crazy. Then think about balance.
I was not thinking on balance yet. I was designing experience. I was building emotions. Moloch has to feel like a train – slow, but unfuckingstopabble.
So I kept crossing the line. I added Modules. Yes, additional parts that you can attach to the Robot to make him even stronger. Just in case you would like to show off. Stuff like +3 Strength . You know.
I looked at the deck and every single card was clearly OP. I loved it.
To The Outpost now. Hey guys, how are you? Not good? Look at you. You have Strength 1 on most of the cards. And you want to stop Moloch, huh? Do you have a plan? No?
Don't worry. You got me. I'll help.
You are guerrillas. You will jink battles. You will cheat. You will get Robots back in hand of Moloch player. You will move them to the other city. You will appear from nowhere, blow them and escape. You will block their movement. You will be fuckin' cheating, because this is your only chance to win. You will loose three battles in a row and then you will hit him in his steel balls and trust me, you will hit him hard.
Yes, your average Strength is 1. I know that, I designed these cards. Yes, you have no chance in direct confrontation. I know that, I designed these cards. But please, stop whining, get a grip and think. Think! I gave you tools to outsmart Moloch. Use them wisely.
I had two amazing decks in Convoy. They played so different. I loved them both. And then it took me 'only' 6 months of day by day testing over and over to balance this shit.
Effect? I can't wait for you to try it. I couldn't be more proud.
I wear two hats. Publisher and designer in one person. This situation has – of course – some advantages and some disadvantages.
Today I will write about advantages of this situation. Our story begins in late 2010.
It was at convention. For the first time I played final production copy of 51st State and I was – let’s face it - devastated. These stupid tokens were too small. I'd need freaking tweezers to pick them from table. Playing that game with these chits was a torture.
When I was play testing the game I was using pieces from other games, I had wooden cubes for resources, I had wooden discs for contact tokens. It was so much better from what actual copy of the game was offering.
I was disappointed and sad. The game was less fun than when I was playing it as a prototype. I blamed small tokens.
With 51st State I learned that you never ever should play test game using components that will differ from the final game's components. Portal Games never made this mistake again.
I learned something more. Much more.
My super bad experience with 51st State was all about experience with components. Too small tokens ruined fun for me. It had nothing to do with rules, engine, game play. It was all about this freaking chits.
I began to analyze this problem and started to learn more about this problem. Soon after it was pretty clear – components of the game are as much important as actual rules of the game. Bad rules can ruin the game. Bad components can ruin the game too.
And one more thing - great components add to the experience. They make experience better. They change medium game into good. Good into very good. Very good into awesome.
Would Euphoria have that much success if not these amazing wooden pieces? Would Imperial Settlers have that much success if not these funky pinky meeples and red apples? Would Qwirkle be super successful worldwide if not these big wooden pieces?
As far as I can tell - nope.
Playing games is not only interacting with rules and engine of the game. It is also interacting with pieces, with physical objects that might add or deduct value to the player’s experience.
Back to my two hats. Advantage of my situation is clear. Designing game I know what user experience I want to create and I can easily convince publisher of the game – that is me again – to provide me components to achieve that.
You’d be really surprised how many different types of dice I was tossing into box of prototype of Rattle Battle to see which will work best. Which are heavy enough to scatter in a right way, which are small enough to fit into box even if we toss many of these. I was using dice from so many different games and I was tossing and tossing and finally I choose the best dice to throw into box. And we produce that particular dice. Crazy? Maybe. You'll tell more when you throw these dice.
You’d be also really surprised how much serious thought might be behind choosing metal coins. I don’t need big coins, but I need coins that stack. So many of you loves to stack coins, huh? I need coins that are heavy because so many of you loves to throw them on the table just to hear this cool clicking sound. Yes, believe me or not but I think that in Rattle, Battle we have best metal coins on the market.
You’d be really surprised hearing me argue with my production team when I wanted bigger and bigger cardboard pieces. ‘We won’t fit two ships on one sheet of cardboard, Ignacy! That makes it so much more expensive!’ I heard over and over. ‘I don’t give a shit. They need to be big. Players will build them and this is crucial for the game. Find savings in other place!’ I replied.
Do buildings in the port have actual shape of building? Yes.
Do loot tokens have different artwork on different tokens? Yes.
Do tokens that players can flip in the game have different artwork on both sides? Yes, yes, yes.
I put tremendous effort designing the game. And I put tremendous effort designing each single component of the game. Because I know. It matters.
My message for you today is simple. Player’s experience is a sum of many elements. Rules are only one of many. When designing game, when publishing game keep that in mind my friends.
Great rules is important… first step.
Spring 2013, Lviv in Ukraine. I am at board games convention (surprise!). I've just played prototype of Mysterium and I am totally blown away. OMG, what a game! I played twice in a row and I have no doubt - I just found a treasure here. Right after game ends I talk with designers and try to convince them to sign a contract with Portal Games. I love the game. I need to publish it. I am not leaving Ukraine without Mysterium. No way. I am not leaving. Do you hear me? I am not leaving without without contract!
'We also have a pirate game.' Oleksandr says. 'Do you want to see it?'
'Are you kidding? Of course I want!'
There are different port cards, there are different prices of goods in each port, we gather goods, then we sell them in port, we can change ports, we can look for treasure map, we have these pirates cards for role selection mechanism... These are your cards, these are your dice that represent your ships...
They explain me the rules and we start playing. There is a caravan of merchants we need to attack. We are pirates. They are merchants. We attack them. Sounds legit. I can do that, I can sink merchants.
Oleksandr takes all my dice, do the same with his, with Oleg's and with merchant's dice, then shakes them all and with no word of warning or any explanation at all he tosses them all into box.
'We battle' he says with his Russian accent.
OMG. OMG. OMG. He just took more than 20 dice, shaked them and threw into box! OMG. This is awesome.
What a cool idea. These guys are golden.
The idea of tossing dice into box is amazing. It's fresh. It's unique. It's thematic. And what's most important - it's fun. Gathering these 20+ dice and throwing them into box... It's pure fun. It's like the essence of gaming, it's like our wildest dreams come true. Take bunch of dice, throw them and see what happened. Brilliant.
I didn't like the rest of the game as much though. We were struggling with that for couple of months, I was asking Oleg and Oleksandr for changes, but they were pulling project in a different direction. I wanted upgrades, they wanted role selection. I wanted special powers, they wanted port with prices and set collection of goods.
At some point it was clear - we have two different games in heads. Two games connected with this one brilliant idea of tossing dice into box.
This year there will be two pirate games that uses 3d Dice Battle System released. Different games that were born on one common fundament invented by Oleksandr Nevskiy and Oleg Sidorenko. There is mine game called Rattle, Battle, Grab the Loot and there is Pirates of 7th Seas. Both use tossing dice into box. And both take this base idea in a very different direction and game play.
Try them if you have a chance. It's a pure and crazy fun packed into cardboard box.
It was Essen 2013. I was approached by a young guy with prototype in hand. He told me in a few words about his game and it sounded interesting enough that I agreed to take prototype with me and play it when I am back at office.
I came back to Poland and I played it. It was two player game set on a map of fantasy city. Each player commanded one faction, one had something like governor forces of the city and the other revolutionists. We fought for control of the city, taking districts from each other etc. Base mechanism was neat - it was drafting for two players. I liked this element a lot. Rest of the game was a problem - the game had so many control tokens and big map that it made it impossible to publish. There was also many bigger and smaller issues.
I sent designer detailed report. I told him we are not interested in the game and I gave him comprehensive feedback explaining problems I see in the prototype.
Story like many others, huh?
It was September 2014. We received email from this designer. He had a new prototype. It's for two players again. It's drafting again. But rest was different. We printed pnp files and we played.
After first game I am already in love. After first game I have no single doubt that I have a gem here on the table. After first game I can not wait to go home and show it to Merry.
I tell Lucas to contact designer and set up a meeting in Essen. 'Schedule it for Thursday morning. First day of Essen. I need to sign this game before other publishers have even a chance.'
We go to Essen. I meet with Kristian. I tell him how much I love the game, how much I believe in the game and how much energy and heart I will put into development and production to make it worldwide success.
He looks at me and says something like: 'I am Portal Games fan. I'd love to have my game published by you guys.' I smile. We shake hands. Two days after Essen we sign a contract.
I am excited about release of Tides of Time as it is my first game ever published. I have so strong believe in this design, I am so much passionate about this, I put so much heart into it. I still clearly remember this first game, this first moment of excitement, these shivers on the skin when I realized what I have in front of me.
I can't imagine how excited Kristian is now. It's his first game published.
And you know, I think we both deserve it this excitement and this adventure we have now. I think I deserve it because I acted fair and after playing his prototype I gave him honest and comprehensive report and opinion. I like to think that this made him respect Portal and made him come back to us with another prototype. He deserves it because he read my feedback carefully, drew conclusions and made new, so much better game. Game that will be released at Gen con, biggest convention in the world.
Wish us luck! And put Tides of Time on your check list. It's amazing design.
P.S. Private announcement
If by any chance you missed it, there is Kickstarter for Boardgames That Tell Stories volume 2 going on. We have amazing designers on board, so please, check it out. This will be a great reading!
This is guest post by Michał Walczak
. Translation into English by trzewik
It's just another average day at Portal Games. I work on new version of our next strategy game. I update rules, I print new cards for prototype, that kind of stuff. I love this job.
At some point Ignacy approaches me and shows me prototype of Tides of Time. Micro game about building macro civilization. Rules can be explained in 2 minutes, you play in 10 minutes and what is most crucial – you want to play again. I love it since the first game. 'Where is a problem here?', I ask.
Ignacy lays out cards on the table and shows me. There is 5 suits in the game. Some suits are scored more often. Player with three Libraries in hand will score less than player with three Towers. We need to balance this mess.
Numbers! Suits become numbers, everything changes like Matrix. I can sum up values, I can calculate probabilities, I can do math. Yeah, I love math. I turn on my laptop, I open Excel and I start to work. I am so excited.
Soon after Ignacy contacts me with Kristian Curla, designer of the game. And soon after I discover he is mathematician. He works at University. He knows math.
Oh, my. It will be hard to say that I just did some calculations and I know better. He is mathematician. He is shark in this pool.
Anyway, I start working. Towers can't be stronger than Libraries. Red can't be stronger than blue. A can't be stronger than C. I know my job. I fixed everything, the game was balanced, suits were symetrical. Tides of Time fixed. Ignacy will be proud of me.
Actually he wasn't. After we played he said something like 'It's boring. You broke the game. It's not fun anymore.'
Fun. Yeah, I might forgot about fun factor element.
Ignacy wants cards that shake the game. Ignacy wants balance. Ignacy wants more types of cards. Ignacy wants it all on this 18 cards.
Basically he wants me to land Boeing 747 in a phone booth.
That's what working at Portal is. Doing impossible. So I have math shark on Skype, I have Ignacy in the office. It's time to work. It won't be easy, but I will land this damn Boeing in a phone booth. Oh, yes, I will.
18 cards. Time for changes.
Card that scores if you don't have all suits. Nope, too easy.
Card that works as wild suit. Nope, too easy.
Card that scores each suit you have majority in. Nope, too similar to other strategies already in the game.
Card that score if you have 3 non scoring cards. Nope, it is playing against the goal of the game.
Card that scores if you got more points than opponent. Nope, it's snowball effect.
Card that copies other card. Nope...
I don't want to sound like complaining but this is hard. You have these ideas for cards, you come up with one idea after another, you put them on the table and you hear over and over 'Nope. Trash it.'
At some point I was asked by Lucas when we are ready with the game. He needed to write rulebook. My answer was simple 'I wish I know.'
We have time tables, we have scheduled work, we have releases planned for Gen Con or Essen, we try our best to do everything as planned. But above that, above planned release date, above marketing and buzz opportunities we have if we get the game for big fair, above all of that is just 'Not good enough. Trash it.' Mantra that keeps games on play testing tables as long as it is needed.
We wanted Tides of Time for Gen Con. We wanted it really badly. Gen con release is huge for every publisher on this planet. And yet, there was no single moment of me, Kristian or Ignacy saying 'Stop trashing. We need to go to production stage”. We had layout. We had artwork. We had box ready and yet there was struggle, there was testing, there was trashing and looking for best set of 18 cards.
We have them. We have 18 cards. Cards that can shake things. Cards that are balanced. Cards that work in many different ways. We landed a Boeing 747 in a phone booth. Here, at Portal Games everything is possible.
Before we start, I'd like to thank so much for your comments and votes in poll last week. It helped me a lot. Thank you.
The idea for fift faction came from Ralph. I write about it here. He came to me with this basic concept that Atlanteanswill sink at the end of the game. That was so cool. Soon after I began working on rules.
It went pretty easy and fast...
Instead of building their lands and expanding their territory, they are ancient faction. They already have their lands. They don't grow anymore. This is their final age. They are one step from diminish. They are going to sink.
They have 30 cards in deck as any regular faction but they start the game in very unique way. They start the game with 15 cards already in play. You draw 15 cards and depending on these are Production, Feature or Action cards you put them in appropriate rows.
At the beginning of each round, in Production phase they loose left most card from each row. They are slowly sinking. They see which location will be lost at what point. This is inevitable. Each round they'll loose one Production, one Feature and one Action building. If there is no building left in a particular row, they loose VP.
The key to play Atlanteans is to prepare to extinction in a best way. They have these cards and skills that let them flip cards in a rows, put different cards on left side and protect other. Some sort of dams and gates. They need to manage their loss.
Their technology can be produced and put on common cards. This is their legacy. This is what will bring points at the end of the game. They gonna die. The question is what legacy they'll leave.
This mechanism let players have strategy approach, they see game in long run, they exactly see which buildings will be available for them in particular rounds.
Their deals work different too. They don't do deals. They are dying in the first place, remember?
They leave treasures, they try to hide some of their wealth and knowledge. They don't have blue deal space. They have red treasure space.
If you know 51st State, you are familiar with this concept. It is called Spoils in 51st State. You can use it once to get many resources.
So they leave these Treasures and in the following production phase player may use them - common folk found the treasure and have many resources. Cool.
This concept had everything, it was unique, it had different approach to strategy in the game and it was so thematic. Perfect.
With this one tiny exception... It didn't work. It didn't work at all. So all of this above ended up in trash bin.
Here is a task for you:
Can you guess what is wrong with this idea? Have fun and try to find a huge problem in these rules. Write in the comments and of course I will confirm if you are right.
This question is not that dumb as you would think. Let me give you a background story before we move on.
I am obsessed with board games. You know that, you read my blog. I talk and talk about them. This is my life. This blog is however only tiny part of this obsession. Let me give you just a small example. Let me show you what happened in the last 4 weeks. We move back to 21st of April. At Portal Games site we published:
- PDF titled "5 facts about Why Can't We Be Friends"
- contest for Imperial Settlers fans
- throwback photos of prototype of Imperial Settlers
- podcast Board games Insider episode 5
- gallery of professional photos for Why Can't We Be Friends
- gallery of professional photos for Uranopolis
- vlog with presentation of Rattle, Battle and news from Portal Games
- video remix of reviews of Neuroshima Hex
- free PDF with chapter describing world of Neuroshima
- podcast Board games Insider episode 6
- two video with report from ACD Days convention
- free PDF with second chapter describing world of Neuroshima
- free PDF puzzles for Neuroshima Hex base armies
- free PDF with third chapter describing world of Neuroshima
- vlog with presentation of Atlanteans faction and news from Portal Games
This is what you missed if you did not visit Portal Games website for just last 4 weeks. Imagine what you missed if you didn't visit us for the past year...
So this dumb looking question "Have you ever visited publisher website?" is - as you can see - valid. The question is if you guys ever visited publisher website. Did you know that I put content for our games like crazy and I try to make you happy with more and more value for your beloved game?
Or you didn't even know that I have a website...
I write today about it because we had discussion in our office. We put good stuff like crazy writing articles, recording videos, doing all that crazy stuff drived by my obsession to put cool and fun content but one day we had this interesting question appear:
"Hey, Ignacy, you're big fan of Kemet. Did you ever visited Matagot website?"
The answer was simple: "No"
"So why you assume that anybody visits our site and knows about the content we put?!"
"I have no idea."
If I may, I'd love to ask you to answer here in a poll and what is more I really do apprecite your comments and more detailed answers. Do you visit publisher's website? Do you think I should copy content from my site here on BGG or keep my website unique? What do you think?
Have you ever visited Portal Games website?
Thu May 21, 2015 12:22 pm
I love good commercials. I hate stupid commercials and I love good ones. There is no middle ground.
Here is one that I love. Please, watch it before we move on.
Yesterday is gone. Today is up for grabs.
Do something and be remembered. No one owns today. Take it.
Let's move back 6 years. It's 2009. I am anonymous guy from Poland. No one ever heard about me. No one can even pronounce my name. I have game about siege. I have to do the impossible and create buzz and interest about it. I have to work as hard as possible, I have to use all my talent, skills and passion to win your hearts and convince you to try the game.
So I wrote epic - 12 posts long - series of articles about designing Stronghold. Published by BoardgamesNews.com it was something that no one saw in the industry before. I put whole heart into it. 12 weeks of tale about creating biggest game of my life.
It worked. I got gamers attention. I went to Essen, I sold every single copy of the game, I signed contract for US edition.
I did it. I had biggest success of my career.
Today I am no longer anonymous guy from Poland. Today there are people who know how to pronounce my name. Today I don't look for contract for US market, Portal Games publishes games directly in US.
Looks like everything changed. I will just announce Rattle, Battle and I am done, huh?
Nope. Not at all.
I'll work as hard as possible. I'll use all my talent, skills and passion to win your hearts and convince you to try my game.
Because yesterday is gone. Because today is up for grabs. Because no one owns today.
Like every year I will have to take it.
Me and Stephan Buonocore record Board games Insider on Sundays. Except these Sundays when we can't record because we are at convention. Which means most Sundays. In these cases we have to improvise.
Last Sunday I was in Modana at Play Festival and recording of episode #4 was impossible. We set recording for Monday. Our episodes are released on Tuesdays, so I belived we will be ok. We record on Monday evening, I edit it on Monday night and on Tuesday it is aired.
Timing was important, because on Wednesday I had to go to Germany, to meet my friends from Pegasus Spiele.
Monday, 6PM my time. Everything is set and we start recording. After 11 minutes something happens...
Ignacy, where are you?
After 11 minutes of recording I lost Internet connection in my home. My provider has some problems and suddenly I am offline. No way we can continue. I send message to Stephan that I am very sorry and we decide we will try tomorrow evening, at 8PM.
Wednesday, 8AM my time. Provider fixes problems and I have Internet.
Wednesday, 6PM my time. I loose it again. In two hours I should record and I am offline again. I am really angry. And I am not going to give up. "Nothing gonna stop us!" I say and I drive 20 km to my office.
Wednesday, 8PM my time I am at Portal Games offices and I am ready to record this damn episode.
We record. We have it ready. Stephan says he will send me his audio file. I will edit it early in the morning and then I go to Germany as planned.
Wednesday, 7:20AM my time, Merry wakes me and tells me that we have Internet back and I can do podcast. I get up, I check email, I click link to Stephan's file to download it and I go to bathroom.
When I am back, I can't believe what I see. Transfer speed 1,6 kb/s Estimated time to download the file: 9 hours.
You must be f... kidding me.
My suitcases to Germany are packed, Merry is prepared to start our trip anytime. But well, nothing gonna stop us, right? I take pendrive, I copy my file of audio and I say: "We go to Portal office. I will download Stephan file there, I'll edit podcast and then we go to Germany."
Merry is not happy. We go.
You remember when I told you that my office is 20 km from my home? It wasn't a case on this particular Wednesday. Exactly today they began road works on a path between my home and Portal office. Believe it or not. I need to take detour. We need 40 minutes to get to the office, that is 20 minutes more than usual. But #NothingGonnaStopUs
I turn on my office computer, I download file from Stephan. It goes fast. Good. I will edit his file with mine. I put pendrive with my audio file.
Computer doesn't see this pendrive. I can't copy my file, because this damn laptop is not reading this damn pendrive...
I am gonna explode in 3, 2, 1...
I made it. 4th episode of Board games Insider is online. It was ridicolous serie of events. It looks like made up story, but it is 100% real story of 3 days of unlucky events. It really happened.
Give it a try. I hope you'll enjoy it. I work really hard to give it to you!
Link to Board games Insider.
As an addition to the last post I have today guest post - follow up written by Michał Oracz. Enjoy. I am eager to know if you saw all these elements in the Neuroshima Hex!
10 games, which made Neuroshima Hex real thing!
1) Colosseum – this is my own logical game (quite old), it’s about battle between two factions, quite similar to NS Hex. I have used its basics, which have been changed later and in the end created a new game.
2) Magic the Gathering – many elements which are typical for Magic were used in Hex. It was natural for me to keep your army tiles hidden to create your “deck” (for very long time I have been using word “cards” instead of “army tiles”). What is more – 20 HP, and the fact that death of units does not affect player’s HP.
3) Light speed – this real time card game was source of initiative, which determines the order of units but also direction and strength of attacks, armour, which protects certain sides of the card (in NS HEX - tiles) against shoots. Obviously, we have used game design – you have to deploy your units first, and then all units take part in battle at once.
4) Zombiaki – this game was source for the rule of discarding one card (tile in NS HEX) at the beginning of your turn and some things like net, grenade, sniper, division into board and instant cards, blocking of line of sight etc. Even today while making a new army I am looking through Zombiaki (and other our games) searching for rules which might be useful. Every time we are able to do it I am very satisfied, it is great fun.
5) Kingdoms – this board game (finally board game not a card game!) was source for method of arrangement of tiles on the board and what is important very strong modules which affects adjacent spaces. When I was designing NS Hex I was convinced that I am designing battle clone of Kingdoms.
6) Chess – chess are deeply rooted in my mind every time I design any game – for NS Hex I have borrowed various figures of special usage which are easily to destroy, and the King which is the most important unit (in NS HEX it is HQ).
7) Knights of the Cross – although, it is a computer game in fact it is a very good board game. Like in chess, there are various pieces, some of them are very thought, other very strong or fast. In the game we use those pieces to compose our army and then to confront our enemy who has completely different set of pieces (also a few of them). In NS Hex I have been trying to reconstruct this system.
8) Illuminati – from this card game by S. Jackson I have borrowed connectors which combine cards into more powerful systems, what became modules connectors in NS HEX.
9) Cave Troll – NS Hex was put aside as useless for a long time waiting for the last piece which was later taken from Cave troll, and finally NS Hex started to work. To be precise NS Hex was waiting for Battle tile. After playing this piece it starts that what is the most important i.e. action connected with victory conditions and sums up the whole puzzle we prepared during the game (in the Cave Troll there was a token which was starting summing up of points, also several times during the game).
10) Neuroshima RPG – it was obvious that we have to place our game in our own universe, so I decided that world described in our role-playing game Neuroshima will be the best.
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