2015 Support Drive – Ending in:
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John Paul Messerly
Last year was a mad rush to finish my new PNP game Escort Missions. I'm still working on the game but I've decided to slow down and take my time to really let ideas evolve at their own pace. I like to take ideas to their obvious conclusions then let them firment for a while and see if I still enjoy the flavor when I return to them.
Escort missions has been going thru that aging process and I returned with a greater appreciation for it. I hate the name and will change it before I make an official BBG entry for the game... (Suggestions welcome) but I'm really getting excited about new ideas for storytelling in the universe. I've finished the last of the random missions and I'm moving on to preset mission developed in 3 mission story arcs. I believe the mix of scriped stories and random quests will give the most replayability while still keeping things simple.
This is the last of the random quests...
... Inspiration ...
My biggest inspirations for this storytelling approach are games like myth and Star Wars imperial assault. I was super excited about the campaign system in imperial assault but found that my group lost interest almost immediately. I wish I understood why... Yes the timed missions can feel a little forced but they still had a lot of great high five moments. In the end the biggest flaw keeping it from getting played is the limited player count.
This leads me back to the other game... Yes the one whose name has become an infamous 4 letter word in the gaming world. Myth. I really like the way stories flow... Yes killing the same spawners over and over again can get repetitive but the moment to moment gameplay is great. I never feel like I'm just rolling dice and hoping the dice don't hate me. As someone who likes to mod games and tell my own stories this game is just magical.
Here's a shot of me playing myth using Kingdom Death heroes and GW hobbit goblins...
The strange thing is that both Myth and Imperial Assault use the same storytelling trick - unlock new quests and add them to your story deck so you create linked stories as you go - but for some reason it works better for me in myth.
... Slowing down ...
There are more new games releasing everyday (or at least there will be once the west coast ports open up again) but in the mad rush to keep up with all the new hotness we lose sight of the classics sometimes. I've been trying to spend more time going back and studying older games by my favorite designers...
Across 5 Aprils is my new hotness right now.
It's an old Eric Lee Smith game that plays out 5 civil war battles in a very small but dynamic scale. I don't play many hex and counter wargames these days because the setup/playtimes are too long. A5A uses very few counters and really focuses on assymetrical battles where one side is constantly trying to delay the other. It plays out very quickly and is always surprising.
Lost Patrol - Jake Thornton has become one of my favorite new designers. The scenario balance in Mars Attack is the best I've ever seen. I was really excited to find that even his earliest designs were filled with great ideas.
Wow just wow. This is an old GW game that plays like space hulk but in a fraction of the time and has far more intereting decisions. The magic to the game is that tiles are spawned only when you can see them and enemies spawn at the end tiles and race towards you. The cool design element is that as you move forward the tiles behind you disappear making it possible for you to backtrack into new territory! This makes the game far more dynamic than space hulk or its many clones.
... What's next ...
I'm trying to ignore the urge to start a new design project. I've done several early playtests for ideas that pop into my head but nothing has lasted past the first playtest. After a few years of putting some serious development time into PNP games I've developed a much higher standard for how great an idea needs to be before I give it any traction. i try to playtest every idea that keeps returning but never spend more time on an idea than it deserves.
The only idea that is really exciting me right now is for a deck building wargame themed on the jacobite revolution but uses the set matching/ push your luck mechanics of Hanafuda (koi koi)! I hove Hanafuda and its core concepts have never been used in a modern game. The idea is that you collect sets from the center each turn (keep collecting as long as you get matches) and then you will draw from this deck for battles. After battles the loser adds junk cards to his deck and continues the drafting process. One of the main challenges is in deciding when to hate draft a card that is better for the enemy AI... In this way it's a lot like Friday where you have to make a sub optimal draft now to keep a dangerous card from coming back and destroying you later.
John Paul Messerly
There are a lot of things I should be writing about in my blog but right now I'd much rather be playing games then writing about or even designing games. I started making games because I wasn't satisfied with what the industry was producing but since then things have changed and fresh ideas are popping up everywhere. Kickstarter has been a big part of this change and all my favorite new games from this year came from kickstarter so I thought I should review my purchases and experiences from this last year...
Mars Attacks - Mantic Games - $$$ - (Nov 2013 - Nov 2014)
I'm very happy with how this one looks and plays. Its has just the right balance of simplicity, chaos, and wackiness! I was very worried about this game... the gameplay videos during the campaign were not great but I'd been really impressed with many of Jake's earlier designs.
lesson - trust Jake Thornton
Warfighter - DVG - $ - (Nov 2013 - Oct 2014)
I'm very very happy with this. Dan has done it again! It is a great evolution of his leader series and his card games but keeps the deep connection with the characters you control and the stress you are putting them thru. The miniatures are pathetic but I'm very happy that he is starting to dabble with upgraded components and don't doubt that he will be producing first rate miniatures in a few years.
This game feels like a breakthrough for Dan... many of his past games required far too much set up time and stat/status tracking between games. This new system still puts and emphasis on pre mission equipment and personnel choices but everything is streamlined and after a mission you can just throw all the cards associated with your team into a tuck box and be ready to go for the next game.
lesson - Kickstarter allows you to watch your favorite designers grow and see how their games develop and change thru the development process.
2 Rooms and a Boom - $ - (Nov 2013 - ?)
I was super excited about this game until I played it several times at GenCon. It was one of the worst gaming experiences of my life. The game does not balance itself well and is more focused or reading body language then having deep table talk and lying. This is just not for me but at least is was only $20.
lesson - Pay less attention to the themes/gimmicks and more attention to how players interact
Camp Grizzly - Ameritrash Games - $$ - (Dec 2013 - ?)
I still have high hopes for this but I wish I didn't back the miniatures. There was a time when I thought miniatures always made games better but I really prefer the cardboard standees over the miniatures in this game.
lesson - Mini's don't make everything better
Coin Age - TMG- $$ - (Dec 2013 - *)
This was delivered a while ago but I was so underwhelmed by it that I cant remember when it showed up. This project was perfectly timed to take advantage of the frenzy over micro games. Its a very interesting case study in marketing tactics... but a great game.
lesson - Don't get caught up in trends
Scribe's Arena - $ - (Feb 2014 - ?)
I was so impressed with Paperback that I backed this new word game immediately. The card design/layout looked unprofessional but I assumed it was because they were rough prototypes. The final version being shown now still look the same... I hope this plays better than it looks. Yes I'm a bit of an art/design snob when it comes to games. Even in competitive games I will often leave the best cards out of decks just because I can't stand to look at their art!
lesson - Don't expect design or art to improve
Lagoon Land of Druids - $ - (Mar 2014 - Nov 2014)
I fell in love with the art in this game but was amazed when I tried the PNP edition and found the gameplay was even better. It combines aspects from my favorite games... Hive, MTG, and Shogi. During the kickstarter they also released a series of study puzzles (like shogi tsume, chess puzzles, or MTG challenges) to show the depth of the game while teaching its basics.
lesson - Rookie designers can hit home runs just like the pros
Oddball Aeronauts - $ - (Aug 2014 - *)
I received this game a while ago but don't remember when. Its never been played and probably never will. I don't know if the game is good or bad all I know is it doesn't fit into my gaming life... it doesn't play solo and it doesn't interest my wife or my gaming group. The good thing is that this game made me realize I have to change the way I approach kickstarter. I no longer kickstart games because they look cool... I will only kickstart things that I 'm sure will get played.
lesson - Only kickstart games that are guaranteed to get played!
Pairs - Cheapass games - $ - (Aug 2014 - Oct 2014)
I still haven't learned to play this but as soon as I do I will introduce it to my gaming group. I have high hopes for this one... it works with a nice range of players and is short enough to play between games or while waiting for other players to show up.
lesson - ?
Arcadia Quest - Cool mini or not - $$ - (March 2014 - Oct 2014)
This was purchased as a replacement for Super Dungeon Explore which my gaming group found too slow. Unfortunately we usually have to many players to play this so it is currently collecting dust. On the rare occasions when we have only a few players everyone just wants to play Xia. I hope this will at least get tried soon... I think the group will really enjoy the PVP!
lesson - Don't buy a 4 player game for a gaming group of 8+ people
Mercs Recon - Mercs Miniatures - $$$ - (April 2014 -?)
I bought this to play solo but my gaming group will probably enjoy the concepts of shooting up office buildings and breaching into rooms. I love miniatures games but hate collecting and painting miniatures only find that the local gamers have moved on the the next hotness and now there is no opportunity to use my beautiful minis. For this reason I'm determined to only get into miniature games that support solo play. I have high hopes for this game but it has required a huge leap of faith because of how the developers handled Myth and how little they are communicating with the backers of this project.
lesson - solo miniature games could be the next big trend!
Pocket Odyssey - $ - (April 2014 -?)
I've received the early playtest edition and I'm really enjoying the system. It really does allow for spontaneous RPG session and some epic encounters... but the storytellers must be creative and not just expect the dice to make things epic.
lesson - Simple is better
The Agents Return - $ - (May 2014 -?)
Not sure why I backed this , I think it was simply to support the designer. My gaming group tried the original Agents game and though the mechanics were cool but have shown zero interest in playing it again. This is another example of great market timing... start the sequel campaign right as the previous product is being delivered but before people get a chance to see if the game has a future with their gaming group.
lesson - Don't buy/kickstart expansions till the core game has been played at least 5 times!
Wield - $ - (July 2014 - *)
I received this game is several shipments so its hard to say when it was actually delivered. I love John Wick's designs and this is no exception. Unfortunately his work is often so far out there that Its hard to get anyone to take a chance on it... this will just have to be a guilty pleasure that I keep in my library
lesson - Its fine to buy great games simply to study
Field Commander Nimitz - DVG - $ - (July 2014 -?)
I'm really not excited about the theme of this game but I love Dan's designs and try and support him, his company, and his family every chance I get.
lesson - Support your favorite independent designers!
Official ElfQuest Adventure - $ - (Aug 2014 -?)
Another solo game that I'm taking a chance on. I love the ElfQuest world and wanted to make sure this game had a chance to mature. The games mature themes are what makes it so interesting... the character traits used in thsi game go far beyond what you find in other games and give the game a unique poetry and humanity.
lesson - Support projects that are taking chances
Hostage Negotiator- $ - (Aug 2014 -?)
Another solo game that I'm taking a chance on. I played the PNP demo and liked it but didn't love it. In the end I'm supporting this because I want to see how the development and production process plays out. I've nearly kickstarted one of my own games that has similar components to I want to see how smoothly this goes and how people react to the component to price ration.
lesson -Kickstarter makes for an interesting classroom
Dungeon Saga - Mantic games - $ - (Aug 2014 -?)\
I regret backing this. I love Jake Thornton's designs but I'm starting to see the same thing over and over again. In the end I'm backing this because I'm curious to see what he does with the solo AI cards. I was disappointed with his solo AI in Mars Attacks ... it's not bad its just not the revolutionary idea I expected from him. I backed this at a minimal level just to get my hands on the solo rules.
lesson - Don't go all in if you have doubts about the design
Rise of the Kage - GCT - $ - (Oct 2014 -?)
I love ninja and stealth games so this was a must buy. I think I convinced myself that somehow I would be able to play this solo which will probably never happen (or not be as good). By backing this I'm breaking my golden rule of not backing games that don't fit into your gaming life... but I love the theme so much that I have to take the chance.
lesson - Rules are made to be broken
Japanese the Game - $ - (Oct 2014 - ?)
I bought an old convention version of the core deck of amazon and really liked it. Its definitely more of a study aid then a game but it does its job really well... it helps you get used to sentence structure and flow. I've also created a solo variant where you fight Kaiju!
lesson - Try it first
Dragon Ransom - $ - (Nov 2014 -?)
I bought this designers last game "Hunters of Arcfall" which didn't go over well with my gaming group... but this new game is designed for solo play and has the same artist. I kickstarted the first project to support the artist (Tim McBurnie) and I'm supporting this one for the same reason.
lesson - support the arts!
One night uptimate werewolf Daybreak expansion - $ - (Oct 2014 -?)
The original "One Night" is my gaming groups go to game. Great table talk, backstabbing, and works with a huge range of players! This is just more of a great thing. This really didn't need to be a kickstarter and I didn't follow the campaign at all so I don't know how much was gained by kickstarting it. I think there is something interesting to learn from this campaign... maybe I should go back and study it. Its strange that I love the game but that I had zero interest in following the campaign!!! I backed it but didn't follow it... in the end it felt like the product was ready for print and that they didn't need my support.
lesson - I tend to not pay attention to campaigns that don't NEED kickstarter
John Paul Messerly
I bought several games at GenCon this year. most were game I thought my gaming group would enjoy but these two games I bought just for myself. I love wargames and miniature games and I'm always looking for new ones that can tell a good story and that can work solitaire. Did these new games live up to my hopes...
1. Mars Attacks!
I fell in love with this game because of the promise of chaotic battles with twisted humor and a gaming system so light that there is nothing to distract you from the fun. So did it deliver this experience?
Yes. I have been very disappointed with most of Mantics products but this one is great. At GenCon I demos both Deadzone and Mars Attacks and for me this was the clear winner. Between the rules clarity (only 2 character states normal and rattled) and the crazy events, I'm loving it! deadzone frustrated me because the faction seemed unbalanced, the multi-part miniatures are a pain, and the number of modifiers and states is overwhelming. Here's my cheat sheet for mars attacks... There's only 4 modifiers total!
To me a great games is one that gives you great stories to tell and this one is filled with great epic moments you won't find anywhere else. From the burning cows to the car thrown by a giant robot that bounces across the battlefield. In my last battle I pulled off a perfect strafing run that cause 4 Martians to leap out of the way leaving them rattled. Even the infantry based support weapons have interesting affects like the freeze ray that marks the enemy as activated so they can't move or act till the next turn Or the LMG's that force the enemy to drop prone(rattled) leaving them with less they can do when they activate.
Besides the chaotic humor of rampaging giant insects and burning cows this game stands out in how it treats the heroes. The one flaw of the GenCon demo is that it was Martians vs the generic military units. These grunts are important in that they make the real heroes seem even better in contrast. The hero's have heroic points that make the game far more frantic and helps,reduce the weight of random rolls. Heroes can shrug off multiple hits or charge across the battlefield in seconds. They can take out multiple enemies quickly by spending these points at the right time. The best thing is that these points guarantee that the hero's will do something memorable each game... No major bullet can ever take them down in the first turn.
Oh yes and the terrain that comes with the game is very inspiring...
2. War Stories: red storm
This is a very different beast... No humor here just an innovative design, beautiful components, and some interesting twists. I didn't have high hopes for this one and I fact I dropped out of the kickstarter because I lost faith.
The final product is awe inspiring in many ways but is it fun? I love innovation and simplicity in wargames and I can't decide whether I'm more impressed by this or D-day at Tarawa. I hate charts in wargame and both of these games have worked hard to remove them. Tarawa shows the chaos of a beach landings and of melee like no other game and its system for revealing and reinforcing enemies is like nothing I've ever seen before. You never know what the enemies strength is until you attack them (yet they can still attack you without having to reveal themselves) and once you attack them they will get reinforced by an unidentified counter making their actual strength a mystery again. The melee combat is tense and chaotic... I don't know if its actually controllable but it is epic. The melee system keeps you on the edge of you seat and sweating the whole time!
So what about War Stories. Well it doesn't be melee as well as Tarawa but it does everything very efficiently. The rulebook is elegant and simple and the disk draws for combat is beautiful and simple. The events are intertwining if a bit dull. Overall I recommend it for anyone who appreciates innovative design.
But is it fun? I have some great stories to tell... like the time my panzer fired on and suppressed some infantry in a forest, setting the forest on fire and burning them up. Or the time I was ambushed by a troop of infantry as my tanks advanced across the plains... The infantry got lucky and pulled the foxhole card making it nearly impossible for my armor to overrun them.
Fun? Well not really but there are some interesting moments and it flows beautifully. So far it's actually a little frustrating as the attacker seems to have a huge advantage. I'm determined to play all the scenarios before I make up my mind...
John Paul Messerly
While I'm waiting for my flight out of Indianapolis I thought I'd share a a little about what I saw...
1. Dog Cosplay!
This little girl was so happy and sweet and the dog was smiling and wagging his tail every time I saw them the whole week. I was overwhelmed with a sense of the beauty and wonder of life every time I saw these two. This is cosplay at its best when It makes everyone who sees it grin from ear to ear and see the world thru the eyes of a child again.
2. Lagoon: land of druids
I kickstarted this and played a few learning games but it wasn't till I played the tournament that I finally 'got it'. The element of balance in this game is unlike anything I've ever experienced. Thematically you are druids trying to keep the 3 elements of the world in balance but this actually comes out in the mechanics and this precarious balance makes the game a real brain burner in a unique way.
3. The Artemis war
This year I got to take part in about a three hour mass combat scenarios in Artemis. In the past Artemis was random encounters and the outcome didn't matter... This was the opposite. Each battle took place on a sector on a map of the border systems, if you lose the enemy expands into the area and you have to retake it. This made even very simple encounters feel much richer. For instance in one mission the only enemy was a single enemy cruiser with damaged shields and weapons... This felt like we had stumbled onto the shattered remains of an enemy fleeing from the neighboring sector.
For the final battle all 4 ships and their crews played coop in the same mission!!! awesome and epic...
1. 2 rooms and a boom!
I kickstarted this and was very excited about getting to learn to play with a big group. It was one of the worst gaming experiences of my life. I played three rounds and all three were excruciating. I love hidden role backstabbing games but this just didn't work... Opposite sides don't really talk to each other so the lying bluffing elements are less personal and dramatic. It fell apart because of serious quarterbacking issues (like you see in most co op games).
2. Pay to win
Ok so it's really not pay to win but letting people pay more to get into the exhibit hall early and buy out all the exclusives isn't bad enough at least encourage them to exit the hall thru a different door (so we don't have to pass them and their massive pile of games we won't be able to buy because of them). Seeing them smugly pushing their way back out with piles of sold out exclusives sours my enjoyment of GenCon every year.
1. Ninja/monastic intrigue
I love hidden role backstabbing games and I was happy to discover 2 new ones with awesome themes this year. Shinobi Clans is about competing ninja clans! While The Black Rose is about a murder investigation at a monetary... It's 'in the name of the rose' the game! I haven't played either yet so I don't know how well they work but I'm excited to have more quick lying/backstabbing games.
I was planning on buying 'dead of winter' but after watching several groups play it at our hotel I was underwhelmed by its energy level. We hade two table of people playing dead of winter next to a table with student bodies and another with resistance and it was interesting to see how much more fun the other tables were having.
2. War stories
I dropped out of the kickstarted because it started getting to focused on mini's which seemed to go against the simple readability of the game design. I played for 20 min and loved it. I'm so glad his game turned out so well.
3. Pandemic: Contagion
Played this with my tour group. I was not excited at first but after a few turns I was doing crazy combos each turn but still had difficult decisions to make because there were so many good moves I couldn't do because they would give the player in the lead too many points. The games theme matches pandemic but the gameplay couldn't be more different! Very refreshing...
The game is very light and you can quickly look at the board and see all the combos. My favorite element is that the game rewards players for 'popping' a city with a special power/event... this encourages you to do it even if you won't score it. These events are key to the game because they are what make the crazy combos possible. This is he key to a great design... Set the players up to discover combos that make them feel awesome!
4. Glory to Rome
I bought the new/designer version a few years ago and could never quite figure out the rules. Got to play a game with my tour group and immediately fell in love. I don't usually like this type of civ building game but how turns and actions overlap is mind blowing... must teach my group this game.
5. Zynvaded 2.0
I discovered this line of minis at my first GenCon and fell in love. It's a true scale miniature game about alien insects invading earth. What's so exciting about that? The aliens are naturally the size of minis so you don't need gaming terrain.. Your cluttered desk or countertop is a natural battlegrounds this also allows for some great terrain conversion opportunities were the aliens repurpose everyday household items.
What's new? This year they re sculpted and cast all the minis as multiparty resin instead of the original one piece minis. The details are beautiful and chunky/cartoony without being chibi.
6. Year of the ninja (2015)
I was very excited to see so many ninja games getting announced this year (to be released next year). Bushido has a new game 'Rise of the Kage' with a group of ninja breaking into a house to steal something or assassinate someone. Ninja Division has a chibi ninja miniature game in the works. I'm starting to feel a little tired of the chibi style but I'm excited to see what they do with it.
John Paul Messerly
My new PNP solitaire game RESCUE MISSIONS is done!
The latest rules are here...
Proceed to you flagship at once and take command.
Arkwright Retribution Corps
Admiral Jedidiah Strutt
John Paul Messerly
Wow, Its been a while sense I really sat down and tried to write a rulebook from scratch. Its far more tedious then I remember. The challenge is of coarse to make it flow easily and be a little light hearted and fun to read.
- Oops, I used the "getting Started" heading twice!
I'm slowly getting there but this reminds me of why I rarely go through the extra effort of publishing my designs. In order to get it to the point were it can teach itself I have to sacrifice so many extra hours that could be spent simply enjoying the game for myself!
I'm sure I'll feel different once its all done...
Work in Progress contest thread finally created...
John Paul Messerly
I'm happy with the rules flow so I'm moving on to layout.
Here are the first 2 pages of rulebook...
The next step today is to create my work in progress PNP contest entry page. Once the rulebook is done I will mark the game contest ready.
John Paul Messerly
Finally after tons of playtesting and tweaking over the weekend the components are final. The PDF below is about 10mb... in the end I will zip the components and rulebook PDF's for easier download.
- The biggest challenge was to find colors that worked well on different printers and papers as well as recreating the pages in Adobe InDesign to make it easier to update the PDF's.
Starting tomorrow I will combine the 4 different drafts I've created of the rulebook and post it. After that I will improve the layout and add illustrations and examples of play. Its getting close!
John Paul Messerly
Just got back from printing all the updated components for my solo PNP project...
Look at this!
I love that everyone should be able to get the same print quality because all Kinkos have the same color printers. I started with a stark black and white design for the ship cards so their silhouettes would pop but also to be printer friendly... but once I started doing prints at Kinko's it became clear that I could push the color and design further. This print run cost me about $6 dollars and the full game (with sector card backs and AI chits) should still be under $10.
here's the bad news...
When I put the damage cubes on the cards it became clear that the ship systems boxes had muddy colors. The yellow looks brown and the red and purple look like the same color! This is horrible and I still don't know if I messed up somewhere and switched my color swatches back to an older version or if its just the result of inconsistency in Kinko's printers.
I will go to a different kinkos later today to do another test print of just the ships. I was really hoping that I could expect everyone to get consistent colors since the color squares need to be as close to the cube colors as possible to make everything flow smoothly.
so close yet so far away...
John Paul Messerly
Here are the burn cards for my Escort Missions PNP game...
These are special one off abilities you can earn and use during combat. Once used they are gone (expended) so you have to be careful and save them for just the right time.
My favorite thing about them is how they integrate with the game components!
All sector cards have sector art on the backs and ships or locations on the front. The players (ARC fleet) ships didn't need to have anything on the backs so I decided to put the burn cards there. This means that you won't have access to any of the powers on the back of the ship cards you take with you on missions and more importantly you won't have access to the super powerful ability on the backside of your starting flagship until you are able to upgrade.
I continued this theme with the mission cards... each mission card has a starter mission on one side and the advanced mission on the other since you never need both types at the same time. All this is being done to reduce the printer and table footprint of the game - unfortunately the game's cards are still going to take up 12 pages! So much for keeping it small...
One other area were I'm trying to save space and reduce clutter is in having the thrust tracker sit between the ship card and the backing (sector card or burn card) in the card sleeve. This makes it easy to move everything and while still making sure the thrust tracker is easy to adjust.
old example with Battlefleet Gothic early prototype...
At this point I'm rushing to get game content ready to print so I can take the latest version with me on vacation. I'll playtest is over the break and then come back and finalize the rulebook. If all goes well I should just make the deadline.
Finished off the mission cards...
and the 4 sector decks:
Core Worlds sector...
Frontier Colony sector...
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