Pack of Heroes - Design & Development

Design and development of Phil Walker-Harding's card game, Pack of Heroes!

Archive for Phil Harding

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Relaunching this blog!

Phil Walker-Harding
Australia
Summer Hill
NSW
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I've decided to relaunch this blog and get things going again!

Check it out at: www.packofheroes.com

Things are moving along pretty well with development, so expect some character profiles and other goodies soon!
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Mon Jul 30, 2012 12:53 pm
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Super powers and chance in combat

Phil Walker-Harding
Australia
Summer Hill
NSW
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Pack of Heroes is all about the characters' powers. I have tried to make each super hero in the game have a unique personality, which comes through in their different abilities. For example, different heroes can punch, kick, grab, stab, scratch, strangle, shoot, blast, explode, run, fly, teleport, mind-read, energise, heal, poison, and that's just for starters!

Pretty early on in the design process I realised that a key element needed for making powers feel different is chance. Here's what I mean. The 'feel' of a power can really be altered by how likely it is to come off. Compare these two characters:

1. A super-fit boxer who can punch every turn, and will always be able to do 1 damage by punching no matter what.
2. A giant punching robot who does 3 damage, but is old and rickety, and so will only be able to successfully punch a third of the time.

Mathematically they are basically the same, but they feel very different in play. And these different feels can really help make the game fun. If I'm controlling a clunky old robot with a huge mechanical fist, I want it to feel old and clunky!

This is why most games with combat use chance. Chance can put tension, excitement and personality into a fight. In some way, it helps model the raw unpredictability of any real-life combat.

So when I started work on Pack of Heroes, I of course threw in some dice! Without even really thinking about it, dice became the way to put chance into the game's combat. I tried quite a few mechanics for using dice to activate powers. The one that stuck around for the longest was putting a simple combat results table on each card to show how a die result would effect the power in question. For example, here's an old prototype card for Bazooka Boy:



The idea is that Bazooka Blast is a very chancy power. On a roll of 1-5 it does nothing at all. But on a roll of 6, it does 4 damage! (Which in the scheme of the game was very powerful).

This simple system allowed me to get some interesting twists into the game's combat, but of course it also has a big flaw. Every use of a power becomes its own random event. Every time you try and fire your bazooka, it has a 5 in 6 chance of doing nothing. You could even try and shoot it 20 times and just be really unlucky! The chance in the game came down to dozens of these random moments, and there was nothing connecting these moments to each other across the game. Surely a bazooka which hasn't triggered 4 or 5 times in a row will know its just got to work soon!

It was my frustration with these standalone random events that eventually stalled the design. And it was finding a replacement for this dice mechanic that brought the design back to my table.

Next post I will chat a bit what this new mechanic is, an how combat now works in Pack of Heroes!

Thanks for reading!
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Mon Apr 23, 2012 8:06 am
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Finding an artist and an early sketch

Phil Walker-Harding
Australia
Summer Hill
NSW
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Pack of Heroes was always going to need some pretty cool art. There are heaps of different characters in the game, and each one needs to evoke the feeling of a classic comic book hero. Plus, there's a whole history of comic art to be reference and be inspired by!

I knew an artist for this project would be expensive. Character design is something that takes a lot of time for an illustrator, and I knew I would need at least 30 unique characters! Looking at some preliminary quotes from some local illustrators confirmed my suspicions. The artwork costs were getting close to making this humble little self-published card game unmakable!

Enter, John D-C! A local artist who owns a cool art shop / gallery space in my suburb, Sweets Workshop. Not only is he a cool guy and great illustrator, he loves comics! And the icing on the cake - he was so taken with the sound of the project that he offered to work for a percentage! Woo! No upfront costs, yeah!

So here are John's qualifications:
1. He's a great illustrator and graphic artist.
2. He loves and collects classic comics.
3. He has a customised hulk van. Yes, A CUSTOMISED HULK VAN!!

You can check out John's most recent exhibition on his blog here:
http://www.johnd-c.com/2011/10/haunted-house-rock-exhibition...

John and I have sparked quite the collaboration, and things are progressing really well. He is excellent at taking my character ideas and making them 50% more fun, unique or just plain crazy. Plus, he has come up with plenty of character ideas on his own, which often puts new ideas into my head for powers and character interactions.

And to finish this post, I thought I'd share one of my favourite early sketches from John's notebooks... Ladies and gentlemen, I give you GENERAL RHINOCEROS!

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Tue Apr 3, 2012 2:49 am
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Welcome!

Phil Walker-Harding
Australia
Summer Hill
NSW
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Hello and welcome to my first blog post!

First, an introduction. I'm Phil and I'm a game designer!

Among other things, I have designed Archaeology: The Card Game, Dungeon Raiders, Cannonball Colony and the upcoming Pirates of the Spanish Main: Shuffling the Deck. Designing games is just a hobby for me, but it is something I really love - it just connects with my heart and brain on so many levels!

I thought it would be fun to chronicle the design and development process for a game I am currently working on. At this point it's working title is PACK OF HEROES and I am planning to self-publish it later in the year.

I thought I'd start with a bit of background on the game.

I suppose the earliest version of this idea goes way back to when I was 12 or so. My brother, cousin and I often designed silly little board and card games, and one (which we had multiple versions of over the years) was simply known as 'the fighting game'! It was more or less our own version of Top Trumps, but each card was a character, and in each round everyone played a character from their hand, and all of them fought! The fun thing about this game was we could always add new cards whenever we liked (almost like a primitive LCG)! So, if we thought of an idea for a fun superhero, we'd draw him on a piece of paper, come up with his stats and add him to the game. Sometimes the characters were superheroes, sometimes they were fantasy characters or creatures, and sometimes they were just plain weird. I remember a bizarre Kool-Aid Man type thing, known only as "Juggy".

So when I got into 'serious' game design around 2007, my mind wandered back to this old game. I still really liked the idea of each card in a game being a character, with his own personality, stats and fighting style. I thought tying the theme down to the superhero genre would be best, as there is so much creative space to work with given the history of comic books, as well as plenty of room to keep things fun (and even funny!).

The earliest notes I have are very basic, and I don't think I even got an actual prototype up and running until 2008 or 2009. Needless to say, this game has been my 'on the back-burner' design - something constantly bubbling away in the background as I designed other things. It never quite took off and became ready to focus on, but it also never went away.

But this year, the idea has re-emerged in my thinking, and there have been multiple prototypes already. Best of all, an excellent artist has joined the project (more about this soon)! So hopefully, 2012 will finally be the year my superhero card game comes into being!

As this blog develops, my aim is to talk about specific design issues, play-testing and prototyping, as well as art, graphic design and product development. Hopefully I'll be able to keep it interesting and relatively frequent!

Thanks for reading!
Phil
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Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:24 am
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