Greg's Design Blog

A collection of posts by game designer Gregory Carslaw, including mirrors of all of his blogs maintained for particular projects. A complete index of posts can be found here: https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/58777/index

[1]  Prev «  37 , 38 , 39 , 40 , 41 

Recommend
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Wizard Academy Events

Greg
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
Board Game Designer
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Firefly fanMicrobadge: Geek of the WeekMicrobadge: New Battlestar Galactica fanMicrobadge: Silver Image Uploader
(Original post here: http://3dtotalgames.com/wizard-academy-events/, now with exactly the same number of images as I get better with BGG. It has prettier bullet points though)

The playtester feedback has it that wizard academy is too hard. It also has it that player’s turns can take too long given the number of things they might have to do, such as placing and moving monsters. As most of the playtesters had only played the game once, I should be cautious about difficulty; it could be that the difficulty is just right for experienced players, but punishing for new players. The best approach would be to make it so that the difficulty could be varied game to game, which would mean the card s need to be redesigned the event cards. Here's a look at the old card:

External image


Each turn a player would draw a card like this and follow the directions. As a prototype this card is none too pretty, but it gets the message across. How many boxes of the card are executed depends on how far through the game is, early on this card would just place an imp. By the end of the game it places an imp, then spawn imps, then place an imp portal, then activate imps, then place another imp portal before finally spawning imps again. Phew! It's pretty clear how this became overwhelming.

To clarify terminology for this game:

Place puts one thing in a random room.

Spawn makes every portal for that thing produce one of those things.

Activate makes the things act (in the case of imps, it makes them move around randomly until a source of runes is encountered, which they will then loot).

Now the level was going up every 32 turns, which sounds like a lot, but the games generally had a nice length of about two hours. Ideally the new event cards would only require a player to do one or two things, be easy to switch around to change difficulty, make it easier to determine when and how more dangerous events occur and also, to have a bit more room for pretty art. So here's what I came up with:

External image


Minimalist, no? It hits most of the goals, the player has to do less, the difficulty is reduced and there's plenty of space to add some art. The difficulty control comes from the code at the top right; the deck starts with about twelve level one cards, each time it runs out some more cards of a higher level are added to the deck. As the game goes on, the cards in the deck become more dangerous without the need for any bookkeeping beyond remembering to add the cards to the deck when shuffling it.

This also allows for more specific scenarios. A "flood" scenario, for example, would fix the deck to contain more "place water portal" and "spawn water" cards, as well as mandating that some of the new cards being shuffled in will be these specific cards rather than random cards. A beginner group could have a starting deck of 10 S1s, 2 N1s and 2 A1s, whereas an experienced one could start with some level two or three cards in the deck.

Another terminology aside

S stands for "spread" and references cards that make existing problems worse: fires spread, monsters move, etc.

N stands for "new" and references cards that introduce a new threat either directly or by adding portals

A stands for "anomaly" and references cards that have odd effects. The level one version may work in the players favour, such as moving rooms or replacing one type of rune with another. The level two and three effects are less ambiguous, stealing runes or shuffling unknown spells.

Keeping the higher levels of difficulty available for experienced players, without undermining the design goal of simpler to execute cards is tricky: The new top level threat cards look like this:

External image


It's ambiguous whether this is a match for the old top level event, such as the one that creates six actions referenced at the start of the post. Even if they are, the level one event will still be in the deck so the game will be easier on average. On the other hand, more focused scenarios might make more dangerous combinations possible - as always, the only way to tell is to test, test and test some more.

It could be that the old style cards still get used, but with the capacity to vary what goes into the deck and that the difficulty curve is better addressed by other areas of the rules. Making planning more viable in the face of these threats by showing cards in advance, for example, might offer a better difficulty solution and make the game more satisfying for strategically minded gamers. On the other hand a number of testers mentioned that this is a game they could use to involve their non-gaming friends and I'd love to build towards that audience. Then again, plenty of gateway games have deep strategy once you get to know them.

Google says 20-100 people look at this depending on the day and Google would never lie to me (even if I ask it to) but the comments are very quiet. So get involved! How does this approach sound to you?
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Tue Feb 12, 2013 3:12 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Playtesting

Greg
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
Board Game Designer
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Firefly fanMicrobadge: Geek of the WeekMicrobadge: New Battlestar Galactica fanMicrobadge: Silver Image Uploader
Original post (with over 100% more pictures) http://3dtotalgames.com/playtesting/

Do you remember what I claimed in the first post of this blog? I claimed that the blog would be about keeping up to date on the process of developing several games, something that I've not done in more than a week of posts. There's a reason for this: I was playtesting and I know that some of my testers read this blog. I didn't want to bias their opinions with information from the other testers so I kept it quiet. Blind testing is important when doing things for science.

I filled an entire notebook over the course of the week. I've summarised this, cutting it down seven pages of bullet points. There is so much feedback! Which is fantastic, but now I need to parse it all and decide on what's important and what's not before getting on with the job of improving the games for the next round of testing. There's not space here to relay everything, so here's a snapshot:

Assassins

"I want to be able to directly screw over the other assassins more often"
"I like the rule and flavour for respawning on death, being out of a game is boring"
"The characters are great and add lots to the game"
"Setting fire to yourself is a terrible way to start the game"
"If the victim does the opposite to the guards does that mean he runs towards the monster?"
"The demo guy sucks, he can't get XP because he's too noisy and keeps getting spotted"

Feedback on this game was more disparate than the others, a lot of people liked it, one person identified the target audience as "Me", but everyone had very different ideas on how to improve it. Watching people play as the characters brought the most enjoyment, so making alterations to emphasise that seems like a good idea - but this might be best achieved by adding obstacles that the characters abilities will overcome differently, rather than by adding more abilities to each character. A lot of the complaints about this game came in the form of balance issues for specific cards, very few found fault with the core gameplay itself, so it may be time to nail down some of the core stuff and work on getting the detail right.

Murder:TV

"Killing the director was too easy"
"Some of these skills didn't get rolled all game, do we really need them?"
"The director wasn't a challenge"
"The NPCs seemed erratic, why did they ignore guns lying on the floor to search for a mop?"
"There was no reason not to team up against the director."

Well there's an obvious problem to be fixed here, the director is such a non-threat that players will almost always team up against him (I say almost, as my sister decided to try to kill me as a matter of principle). However the popularity of that comment may be hiding a more serious problem: the mismatch between mechanics and tone. Generally the theme of the game was well received and highlighted by many testers as something that really got them into the game. However the mechanics are shallow and random, in a way that appeals to a younger audience. While balancing the director may be the most popular patch, there's need for a serious rethink of the core mechanics of this one so that they can be made to better support the theme.

Wizard Academy

"This game is too difficult"
"The bad stuff ramps up very quickly"
"I felt hopeless for the entire game, that killed the fun."
"The lack of ability to plan ahead was infuriating"
"I think this game will appeal to people who like hard games."

Comments about how hard this game is were more than twice as frequent as the next most common comment. I have pages of suggestions on how to make this game easier. Did I mention that it's hard? Not a single game was won by anyone. One group came close, within a couple of turns, but they were frozen into a solid block of ice at their moment of triumph.

The thing that this doesn't capture is that some people loved it. Not just liked it, loved it, the most positive comments from the week were about this game. Either I have an above average number of masochists among my friends, or there are some very positive things going on with this game (or both). The challenge for this game will be to leverage those positive things to make a game where losing is fun and that can appropriately adjust its difficulty to suit a group newly encountering it without making it too easy for a group that's had a chance to build some experience of it. Making losing fun seems to be the most important part here, as lots of the negative comments focus less on 'I lost' and more on 'The process of losing was boring/frustrating'.

So that's where we are, updates this week will focus on individual mechanics and how they're being changed in response to the feedback.
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:15 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Critical Success

Greg
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
Board Game Designer
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Firefly fanMicrobadge: Geek of the WeekMicrobadge: New Battlestar Galactica fanMicrobadge: Silver Image Uploader
Original post (with over 100% more pictures) http://3dtotalgames.com/critical-success/

The game has been going badly. Your opponent has conquered most of the known universe, taking all of the high resource planets, equipped with a vastly army and all of the tech upgrades. You're down to your last few guys in crappy fighter class ships and one resource barren planet. So you throw everything at your opponent's flag ship, a monstrosity that could be mistaken for a small planet in of itself, which carries a weapon that could annihilate everything you have left in a single shot if you were in reach. The fight goes poorly and you lose almost everything, but one fighter lands a shot on the thing. You roll a 6, followed by a 6, followed by a 6. Theological ramifications aside, the thing explodes and you snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Welcome to the critical hit!

The inclusion or exclusion of a critical hit mechanic is something that can have a huge impact on how a game feels to play. Mechanically oriented strategic gamers can be frustrated by them, as there is often no way to plan or strategise around them and they feel like a source of randomness that detracts from the depth of the game. On the other hand players who are behind don't like to feel out of the running, so giving them a chance - even a slim one - can improve their enjoyment of the game. Narrativists often like criticals too, as they can make for good stories, especially if everything goes wrong.

From a design perspective criticals can also be a source of incomparables as they allow the inclusion of abilities and items that interact with them. They also give the designer potential to include effects that they find are fun, but too powerful for regular play. The downside to this is that the designer must consider the possibility that a player will try to collect all of the effects that work with criticals and combine them into a game breaking dominant strategy. It is a sad fact of gaming that there are some players who will play the most effective strategy even if it is boring and frustrating for everyone involved, so it is up to the designer to make sure that the most effective strategy is also fun for everyone. Playing the same strategy every game rarely is.

This time it'll work.

So the ideal critical system allows for a player to strategise around it somehow, has critical powers and effects that are not so individually weak that nobody would use them, but the combination of them must not be so powerful that it would be the "one true way" to play. Of course not every player wants this, some types of gamer are happy with a game that's quite highly random and never bother themselves with dominant strategies, but it's more interesting to think about how to solve problems for games that they are applicable to rather than saying "You can just aim for an audience that doesn't care about that.".

Three solutions occur to me:

The first is to make the critical effects not stack with each other; perhaps a player might only be permitted to use one effect that makes criticals more likely and one that makes them more effective. For this to work the effects that make criticals more likely need to be potent and situational. Forming a plan around having a 1 in 10 chance of a crit instead of 1 in 20 is pretty tough. Forming a plan around having a 1 in 2 chance when you're flanking or 1 in 20 otherwise is much more viable

The second is to build a game around combos. Add a lot of effects to the game that can be potentially devastating when combined properly and make the challenge identifying and using those combinations. If you're feeling really clever you could try to make acquiring the parts of and executing combos one valid strategy of several which would generate a really versatile game.

The third is to build a game in which the players have limited control over what powers they get, perhaps by having random loot or skills. The focus of such a game could instead be on how to best utilise what you do get rather than making the perfect build from a free choice of options.

As with anything all of these options have pros and cons and each will be better suited to some games more than others. I do enjoy the variety of approaches available when building games and like to think about how different options will influence the feel of a game. At some point I should probably talk about the difference between systems that produce random outcomes and those that merely feel very random, but now I'm digressing which is a sure sign I should finish up the post. Have fun gaming and may all your hits be crits.
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:09 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Techno-joy

Greg
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
Board Game Designer
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Firefly fanMicrobadge: Geek of the WeekMicrobadge: New Battlestar Galactica fanMicrobadge: Silver Image Uploader
Original post (with over 100% more pictures) http://3dtotalgames.com/techno-joy/

I experience techno-joy! When I encounter a new piece of technology my mind boggles with the possibilities that it offers. I spend time thinking about all of the ways that it might make the world awesome forever. Meanwhile my inner cynic sits quietly muttering about risks, costs and the unreliability of new technology. I soundly ignore him, come implementation time, I need my cynic to help me make something that's prepared for all of the things that might go wrong, but on encountering something new I like to let the optimist run wild for a time.

In that spirit this post is dedicated to thinking about the ways in which this Kickstarter might allow new types of boardgame design.

This is a digital piece. The idea is that instead of owning a bajillion figures, it'd be possible to own a dozen of these and have them change their images to match the pieces you need for a particular game. As a player this is exciting, since you could have your roleplaying game character exactly match your imagination, infinite customisability sounds excellent! However as a designer the possibilities in a world where every gamer has a few of these kicking around are spectacular.

It could improve print and play games too as being able to download a set of pieces as well as a printable board etc., would add a lot to the platform (3D printers might beat them to it though).

The ability to supply a few models and have them represent theoretically limitless things provides a lot of options. Normally there's a practical limit on how many different types of monsters you can supply with a game, the notion of a game with thousands of possible monsters is exciting. Perhaps a step on the road to a procedurally generated boardgame?

Hidden information provides another opportunity. A piece can be uploaded with several images and a button on the base allows you to switch between them. If all pieces initially had the same image (say a closed chest) they could be randomised to different positions and then their developments presented at the touch of a button (changing the image to the contents of the chest). I think that you could provoke a better emotional response from players this way. Which is more compelling, reading "You trigger a trap, take two damage" or this:

Fair warning: I do not know the artist but get the impression he may not be an entirely respectable gentleman.

I think that we're a long way away from ideas like this being practical, but maybe one day they will be. It's nice to dream once in a while and who knows, maybe some of the ideas this triggers will turn out to be practical in the games I'm developing right now. Inspiration is a strange and elusive creature.
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:08 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Incomparables

Greg
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
Board Game Designer
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Firefly fanMicrobadge: Geek of the WeekMicrobadge: New Battlestar Galactica fanMicrobadge: Silver Image Uploader
Original post (with over 100% more pictures) http://3dtotalgames.com/incomparables/

I'm English and like all Englishmen I have a strong innate desire to loot everything whenever I can. Being an abstract thinker I'm keen to apply this to concepts too - if for no other reason than that I'm less likely to lose them afterwards. So when I first came into contact with extra credits and fell in love with their clear, insightful and above all optimistic presentation of concepts related to computer game design the first thing I said to myself was: "Which of these ideas can I loot for board games design?"

This episode stood out as one that has something interesting to talk about. You'd be doing yourself a favour by watching it, but to summarise quickly, the episode talks about abilities that cannot be (easily) mathematically compared. For instance, if I have a level up mechanic that offers a character a choice between +1 to hit and +1 damage, these can be compared as you can work out what your average damage is with both abilities and what the probabilities of getting those different amounts of damage are. One is almost certainly a straight up better choice than the other, unless some other design decision makes the difference between always hitting for 1 damage significantly different to hitting half of the time for 2 damage particularly significant. On the other hand if I offer +1 to hit or the ability to move through walls the answer is more likely to become "it depends", which leads to players making more interesting decisions.

There is a danger to incomparables in that, while they cannot be simply compared, it may be that in the context of the game, some options are simply better. I like that Descent and its attendant expansions offer a huge array of equipment to choose from when starting a new game, but in every game the same limited sets of equipment get chosen. In theory, the reach ability of the walking stick makes it incomparable to an axe but in practice, even a dungeon full of enemies one space too far away would be better approached by grabbing a higher damage weapon and using fatigue to move the extra space.

I like adding cool new abilities to games - bonuses to existing mechanics can be fun - but the "wow" moments for a lot of games come when a player manages to cobble together the perfect move that nobody saw coming out of a series of unusual abilities that let them bend the normal rules of the game. I had one of these moments testing assassins with my sister recently..

We'd tested the basic game and decided to throw in the unique characters I've made but never internally tested. In theory, these start your deck with four unique cards representing the sort of assassin you are, they all work differently and the abilities are not strictly comparable. She chose the shapeshifter and happened to draw an opening hand entirely of her characters unique abilities. She turned into a bird, flew over a wall, transformed into a monster and scared some guards away before finally shifting into a mouse and sneaking through the newly made gap. Visualising it was fun, the move would normally be impossible and lead to an interesting situation and I'm told it felt awesome to use those moves in that way. I'd really like to include the unique characters if I can make them work, but balancing for this sort of thing is a nightmare. There is only one solution:

Testing, testing, testing, until the feedback matches the image. I'd best stop blogging and get back to making that happen
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:07 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
3 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide

Once more with feeling

Greg
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
Board Game Designer
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Firefly fanMicrobadge: Geek of the WeekMicrobadge: New Battlestar Galactica fanMicrobadge: Silver Image Uploader
Original post (with over 100% more pictures) http://3dtotalgames.com/once-more-with-feeling/

A few days ago I got into a discussion about games and emotion and yesterday I ran a playtest for Wizard Academy. The two intersected very neatly. The thrust of the discussion was about how to design games that instilled players with emotions. It's hard to worry about having twelve blurbs on the board and a lack of blarges with which to remove them, but players can get excited by the notion that everything is on fire and the extinguisher doesn't work.

When I wrote the game I was focusing on interacting elements that would easily piggyback into a players existing understanding of the world. On an abstract level, I wanted a game that forced players to conceptualise problems as solutions to each other and for there to be a fairly large number of these problem-solutions to create emergent play. But to give players a chance to memorise the interactions between pieces, and for the game not to seem arbitrary and cruel, I had to hook the idea into their existing understanding of the world. Fortunately the world is a muddle of problems that can be each other's solutions.

I would like to give credit for this, it's so cute, but I can't find the artist

So what has this got to do with emotion? I'm glad you asked hypothetical straw man, the link to emotion is through this piggybacking. It's very hard (though not impossible) to write a game that will inspire a particular emotion, a much more practical approach is to write games onto which people can project their existing emotions. I think a lot of gamers have had that experience where they've got emotionally invested in a particular piece, who's been a big damn hero and held off a entire army on his own. There's nothing in the rules of a game that makes that happen, it's something that our imagination does to a piece once a situation has occurred that makes it stand out from all of the other identically moulded mass produced pieces. That can only happen where the game supports this view of the piece and makes its struggles comprehensible so when something unusual happens, the mind is able to have an emotional response to them.

Of course some players would view this as a weakness leading to suboptimal play. Those players win more games and probably don't have less fun - they're just out for a different kind of fun - but here we're talking about the sort of player who will invest some level of emotion in a game and in the fate of their little avatar and friends.

The reason I bring this up is that I want to share a story from the Wizard Academy playtest. One of the rooms is a crystal ball which allows players to manipulate monsters, making moves on their behalf. One of the monsters is a troll, which disables the power of any room that it is in. One of the spells is darkness, which makes a room hard for players to move through, but trolls fall asleep in dark rooms (The legends I heard as a child didn't conceptualise Trolls as nocturnal, though I'm aware that some notable sources disagree).

There's a troll in the crystal ball room, smashing things up and stopping it working. One player runs in and casts darkness to send the troll to sleep. Then they use the crystal to make another nearby troll walk into the room and also fall asleep. Over the next few turns they lure other trolls to the room to neutralise them. During the game, between discussions of strategy and assertions of certain doom, I counted a half dozen times where one player or another would make loving reference to the fact that they had created a troll crèche.

I've got a lot of work to do on this game with the pages of notes of gameplay and balance issues that this session produced, but I never want to produce a version of this game that cannot provoke that sort of reaction in its players.
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:07 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Abstract concepts are entitled to a turn too

Greg
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
Board Game Designer
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Firefly fanMicrobadge: Geek of the WeekMicrobadge: New Battlestar Galactica fanMicrobadge: Silver Image Uploader
Original post (with no pictures, but some links) http://3dtotalgames.com/abstract-concepts-are-entitled-to-a-...

Greetings all. The posts this week are likely to be a little short. This is because I have, in my infinite wisdom, scheduled playtests 10am to 5pm every day. Given a standard 9-5 working day that leaves me with one hour for everything else, so I won't have as much time to write this week. I'll compensate for this by being highly disciplined with my time and launching straight into the relevant topic each day, with no preamble. Starting tomorrow apparently.

This morning, I've been thinking about when the game gets to take its turn. In a lot of games there are actors represented by the game who have things to do. The wildlings in Game of Thrones need their chance to invade, the zombies in Zombies!!! crave human flesh, arguably even the city council in Monopoly take action once or twice a game. It's not quite true of every game, but it comes up a lot.

The games I'm developing follow this pattern too, Assassins has no challenge if the guards do not react to player movement, Wizard Academy would be pointless if fires didn't spread and demons didn't rampage and finally Murder TV would be somehow incomplete if a faceless director didn't sometimes hit the button marked "burninate". Deciding when these actions should take place isn't trivial.

A very neat solution is for them to occur at the end of each players turn, this is fair to all players and will happen predictably allowing players to develop deeper strategies. However it also means the game will go several times per player, worse, the number of times the game acts before a given player gets another turn will change based on how many people play. While this can be a pain to balance it can be a nice feature in a cooperative (or mostly cooperative) game, in that it can counteract the advantages obtained by having a greater number of players working together. On the other hand if the game's actions represent entities that are roughly as powerful and competent as the players then they probably shouldn't get multiple turns to each individual player turn.

Options for cutting this down each come with their own problems. Treating the game like it is a player and assigning it a place in the turn order can produce a balance issue. The player sitting to the left of the game always gets the best of any opportunities it produces (and the games actions should produce interesting choices where possible). Moving the game's position in the turn order around can cause other problems Whenever it moves it is guaranteed that either one player will get two turns in a row without the game acting, or the game will get two turns in a row without the player acting. On the other hand if this is predictable players can strategise around that feature and it might add depth to the game.

Another option is presented by the game actions sometimes occuring in response to players actions, such as in games where searching will occasionally produce a card indicating that an antagonist acts. This makes the elements controlled by the game more unpredictable, but requires little or no bookeeping on behalf of the players and overcomes turn order issues.

I don't think there is a "one true way" for a game to take its turn. Like everything else in design there are a series of trade-offs. Any solution will have some benefits and some costs, the trick is to find a solution that's benefits are in line with the core of the game and that has costs that are negligible in the wider context of the game. More and more I feel like the art of designing a game is similar to finding a good strategy while playing a game, the best moves cost a little and achieve several goals at once.
Twitter Facebook
1 Comment
Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:06 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Meet the games: Wizard Academy

Greg
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
Board Game Designer
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Firefly fanMicrobadge: Geek of the WeekMicrobadge: New Battlestar Galactica fanMicrobadge: Silver Image Uploader
Original post (with over 100% more pictures) http://3dtotalgames.com/meet-the-games-wizard-academy/

Time to introduce the second game: Wizard Academy! After the ceaseless violence that was Murder:TV, this game is much more cooperative. The premise is that you play as dangerously undereducated students in a wizard academy trying to put an end to some problem before it spirals out of control. Unfortunately you don't know what any of the spells do so there's a bit of trial and error.

Setup

Todays prototype materials are brought to you by Betrayal at House on the Hill. A game famed for the (poor) quality of its components. There are things to recommend it though, give it a look if you like games to have a decent narrative and some suprising elements and if you aren't too fussed about whether there's a strong relationship between what you do and whether you win.

The game starts by randomising the spellbook and layout of the academy. Some things are fixed (for instance the runes that cast level one spells are always in accessible rooms and the runes for level two spells are always in an ice filled room and a guarded room) but the details change between games. The players get an option to swap a few adjacent rooms to prevent important rooms from being inaccessible, in this setup these moves were used to move the rooms with low level runes close to the starting location.

The players all start on a big mage crystal, that's the thing with all of the glass beads on it. Whenever someone would die, the academy saves them, losing a gem in the process. If the last gem is used up the building will fall down and everyone loses. If the players solve their objective everyone wins. The game has no traitor or solo win condition; it's a totally cooperative game. In this case, the objective is to close a single imp portal and remove any imps that might have wondered in from the premises

Getting Started

The players scattered and started collecting runes. In a bit of luck, the "bind rune" spell was found early allowing players to link with rooms in order to collect their associated runes without having to be present (represented here by prone models matching the character bound to the room). The orange samurai player went to the library and recorded the group's finds, turning the associated spell cards permanently face up and preventing them from being re-randomised.

In the process of these discoveries, someone accidentally plunged one of the rooms into darkness making it hard to move through, which forced the orange player to flee an imp in the wrong direction. He's now isolated to the north and is short on runes making it unlikely he'll cast any spells for a couple of turns. A fire started close to the main crystal and the group decided to use the crystal's power to extinguish it, taking double damage but negating the problem. A few imps have come through the portal, but have either wandered around harmlessly on the far side of the board of have been dispatched with vigorous application of attack spells. Things are going well.

A Tough Decision

Over the next few turns the players increase their supply of runes and deal with problems as they come up, until a small fire becomes a large fire and before long, half of the building is on fire and the group is faced with a tough choice. The fire has spread to the main crystal so they'll lose a gem, but they could lose two to put out the whole fire. On the other hand, the fire is also next to a room that's frozen in ice, if they wait a little longer the fire could melt the ice to access one of the runes for second level spells. Ultimately the fire could hit the main crystal two or three more times and there will be plenty of chances to deal with the ice later, so the players opt to put out the fire.

A quick note about this board position, you might be able to see that one of the rooms is dark and also on fire. Besides making it a terrible place to be, it does bring into question the games logic. Do I wave my hands and say "magical darkness" or do I add a rule to make fire negate the effect of dark? Something to think about.

Solving Problems

The players imp and fire problems are solved! Now the board has trolls, which eat imps and portals to the water dimension - an excellent firefighting tool. Unfortunately now the board has trolls, which break rooms and portals to the water dimension - the number one cause of flooding in magical learning institutions. There's a troll blocking access to the slime rune, which in turn means they can't get at the only known attack spell to be rid of him and the sealed room is filling with water, which is a problem in the long run.

On the plus side the awesome "create robes" spell has been discovered, allowing the players to forge themselves magic robes to make them immune to fire (or water, or ice, but only one set can be worn at a time). So valuable was this discovery that the player represented by the drunken guard has run into the flaming library to record the knowledge before the spellbook was randomised again and it was lost - saving his life from the fire cost the crystal another gem.

Endgame

The group manages to deck itself out in fireproof robes, but struggles to find new spells. The remaining facedown spell they can access turns out to be "summon troll" which they decide isn't worth the trouble to lock in. The water problem gets much worse and a flood puts out most of the fire on the map, before costing two of the remaining three gems to solve. Player two has the bright idea of using the bend dimensions spell to move the ice over room to a more central location in the hope the fire will spread there and melt the ice. Lack of access to that rune has stalled all progress for several turns, but by sheer bad luck all of the fires refuse to spread in its direction. With one gem left and no access to new spells it seems like the end must be near.

Game Over

(The glass beads outside of the crystal ball room represent additional water, as I ran out of water counters during this test run)

Finally the fire melts the ice and the players can access the all important tentacle rune. They immediately discover the most dangerous possible uses for it, opening new portals to both the fire and water dimension. With only two spells left they need to discover teleport. This would allow them to access the sealed room and with i,t the possibility of discovering the freeze spell which could put an end to the flood threatening the academy. Sadly, before this can happen the flood spreads to the central crystal and destroys the last gem. The building collapses, leaving some very dejected (and soggy) would-be wizards in it's wake.

Hopefully that gives a picture of what this one's all about and how it plays. Again there are plenty of things to come back to look at in detail later and lots of notes to be made about important aspects to improve.

Notes:

The game cannot progress if the players cannot get to a new rune. Melting the ice to reach the third rune should be something the players are able to do once they learn how to start fires.
Trolls locking off rooms is all well and good, but in theory a troll could block off the ability to kill trolls, which would be a disappointing (and unstoppable) way to lose.
The game can stall in the early stages if the players are unwilling to cast the higher level spells. It might even become a dominant strategy to build up a huge supply of runes before upping the stakes. Effective, but not very fun - it would be good to encourage different behaviour.
Perhaps there should be some way to deliberately unlock and randomise spells if access to a particular rune is causing trouble. There are rooms with no special powers that could be allocated this function.
I need to be clearer on how the tiles line up. Ruling that doors must face each other to be passable was functional enough, but might make it possible to completely isolate the crystal, so no fires etc. can spread to it. Combine that with some decent robes and the group can be all but immune to losing. On the other hand, ruling that it is always connected to adjacent spaces means it could be placed adjacent to the sealed room to open it without teleport.
Nobody summoned a demon all game. This makes me sad.
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:03 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Meet the games: Murder TV

Greg
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
Board Game Designer
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Firefly fanMicrobadge: Geek of the WeekMicrobadge: New Battlestar Galactica fanMicrobadge: Silver Image Uploader
Original post (with over 100% more pictures) http://3dtotalgames.com/meet-the-games-murder-tv/

I'm getting started on this project by developing three games together. The idea is to playtest them a bit internally and externally and to use the feedback from these playtests to select a game for more intensive playtesting and ultimately publication. Over the next few days I'll introduce the games, talk about the state they're in and the challenges that they're currently facing.

First up: Murder TV. This game draws on inspirations such as Battle Royale, The Hunger Games and Kaiji to explore situations where people are pulled from their normal lives and made to fight for survival on the whims of others. The game places a strong emphasis on audience reactions, allowing a character to survive by virtue of being loved by the studio audience as much as by cunning tactics and skill in combat. Why don't you sit in on an internal playtest with me to get a feel for the game?

Setup

So there's a lot going on here. In the middle we've got a board with our three main players and a pile of nameless NPCs wondering around. Poor nameless NPCs. The pieces are looted from a combination of Zombicide and Ninja which is serviceable at this early stage, but developing my own board configuration is a priority.

Around the edges of the board we have character sheets for the players, tracking how much the audience loves them (for approaching people and being a nice guy), how much the director loves them (for starting fires, blowing things up and generally looking good on TV), how much health they have left (generally opposed to the two above) and how much experience they've earned (by killing other survivors or forming temporary alliances)

Early Developments

Things have gone poorly for our heroes. Malkov (The samurai model on the left) immediately revealed his submachine gun and entangled himself in a running battle with the NPC armed with a sniper rifle, staying inside his minimum range to avoid return fire. Personality cards were drawn for the NPCs nearby. While the longbow armed character drew a calculating personality and wouldn't get involved in other peoples disputes, the slingshot wielder had a deteriorating mentality and joined the battle.

Lyssa (Zombicide waitress top right) revealed that her initial weapon was "spare ammo" eliciting some sympathy from the audience. She chose a friendly demeanor and approached the nearby characters hoping that they could work together, but unfortunately they pulled the 'Paranoid' and 'Bully' personalities and now are chasing her down the street.

Mei (Zombicide bottom right) didn't fare much better. Initially she kept her weapon concealed and adopting a cautious demeanor while searching the building for more equipment. Her search turned up a blank and the audience got bored enough to force the director to act, driving the NPCs to swarm nearby characters. This lead to her revealing her sole "weapon" as a shield and desperately fending off several assailants - a task she succeeded at owing to the defensive bonus her character obtains while being cautious and the bonus from the shield.

Meanwhile the director keeps the audience fairly entertained and gets a big fat bonus which he spends on hiring a bodyguard, in case the contestants decide to stop fighting each other and go for him. He briefly considers activating explosives hidden around the arena but the audience isn't bored enough to justify it so the card is discarded. (Note that while I ascribe motive to the director, his actions are determined by a combination of a director deck and the current game state rather than by there being a "director player")

Midgame

Malkovs persistence pays off and he finally guns someone down, entertaining the crowd and becoming the directors favourite. A few moments later the director notices the audience boredom has built due to Lyssa and Mei running away all of the time. So he decides to add some extra weapons to the mix, Malkov is allowed to choose which NPC gets one and selects a combatant tangling with Mei

Mei is promptly killed, but as the players are all the bookies favourites and it's bad for the show if they die too early (and boring for the player), the director steps in to save her. This hurts her popularity with the audience and the director but appearing on a start point gives her the opportunity to loot the corpse of Malkov's kill, acquiring (drumroll) a padded vest. Two defensive items and still no weapons.

Lyssa notices an opportunity as the newly armed NPC has a fantastically dangerous multiple grenade launcher. She provokes him into an attack that proves fatal for him, but not for her, giving her access to a big stack of his old loot. Furthermore the NPC panic level has increased, influencing some of their behaviour, the nearby character who is resigned to his fate will simply surrender when faced with a credible threat. After a bad start her position is looking tenable.

Endgame

Malkov kills again, obtaining a level and granding him the "sharp weapons" skill, giving him a bonus with blades. Lyssa intimidates the resigned character out of a knife, with which she cannot use her firearms knack starting skill. She and Malkov agree to trade, both move towards the middle and change to the "friendly" approach, which hurts her audience rating since they don't like people changing their mind too quickly (Malkovs is fine as his starting ability is "magnificent bastard" and he effortlessly changes between friendly and hostile). At this point either character can betray the other taking an attack with big bonuses, but the trade helps them both a lot so they manage to keep it civil.

Meanwhile, Mai finally finds a weapon she can use in the shape of a chainsaw. This kicks off her own rampage, allowing her to slay a series of other characters upgrading her weapons each time - until they have run far enough away that she can't quickly reach them. Meanwhile Lyssa is hunting for a target and Malkov successfully talks the sniper who he initially attacked into joining forces. All of this means that no violence occurs for a few turns and the audience boredom tracker hits maximum, the director decides enough is enough, it's time to blow everything up.

From now on an area will explode every turn, becoming impassible and killing everyone there. Players who die will no longer be saved by the director or audience. The director himself flies in to shake hands with the winner of the finale. At this point the players have a choice, they could try to take him down and end the show that's forced them into this, or they could decide that they're more likely to live if they kill the others and become the winner of this weeks Murder TV...

Conclusions

I'm going to end this play there, this post is running long and that's more than enough to give an idea of how a game is supposed to flow and some of the mechanics involved. This game still has a great many problems, some of which are probably apparent and others of which are more subtle. I'll copy a few of my notes here, some of these warrant an entire post in their own right, discussing options and possible solutions:

It feels like there are a lot of conflicting systems, the game needs ways to reduce complexity without sacrificing depth.
There isn't a lot for players to do off-turn (though the turns may be short enough that it doesn't matter)
There may be a particular advantage or disadvantage to always going immediately after the director. Perhaps I'll need to consider changing the starting player each turn.
It's very hard to hit anyone with anything, the combat rules need some rebalancing.
NPC AI needs some work, NPCs with weapons that have a minimum range should not run towards people shooting at them from inside that range.
They also shouldn't chase someone down the street while unarmed.
They also need a better system for choosing which weapon to use. When someone puts away a rocket launcher for a mop something's gone wrong.
The "building demolished" endgame looks like it'll take too long, one space a turn is going to be far too slow (The "everyone poisoned" looks like it'll work better)
The friendly/friendly trading situation is asymmetric, someone has to go first and they can be betrayed before the other person risks themselves. Maybe that's a good thing though.
Is the experience / skills system necessary at all? It's nice that it motivated a trade which is interesting above-table play, but it is extra effort.
Being on low HP when the endgame starts and suddenly players can't respawn feels like a huge and arbitrary disadvantage.

Well...I have a lot to be getting on with!
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:02 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Genesis

Greg
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
Board Game Designer
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Firefly fanMicrobadge: Geek of the WeekMicrobadge: New Battlestar Galactica fanMicrobadge: Silver Image Uploader
Original post (with over 100% more pictures) http://3dtotalgames.com/genesis/

So, there's this company called 3DTotal. They gather together artists who make fantastic digital art and get their work out there in the forms of books, tutorials, graphics program libraries and the like. Lately they've launched a 2D site (layerpaint) as well. For a few years now they've been helping artists get their work out there and collaborate on projects and do other cool stuff and it was good.

Then, last year, some bright spark noticed "Hey, we know lots of artists and can print in all sorts of mediums, we have everything we need to make a game." So they got together and kickstarted Prime Wars, an uno-like card game showing off some of the artists' shiniest work. The kickstarter goal was met, the game was published and it was good.

Well, mostly. Pretty much everyone agrees that it looks great and a great many people who bought it are enjoying their game, but its reception by the gaming crowd in general was a little lukewarm. So 3Dtotal decided to hire someone to design games for them, with the intention to marry great art with a great game and make something really special.

That's where I come in and what this blog is all about. My name is Greg and I've designed games casually all of my life, but this is my first attempt at doing it professionally. The task ahead of me is huge and I still have so much to learn, but I am undaunted, I've taken on tough challenges before. I will make a game and it will be good.

During the working week I'll be updating this blog daily with information about the games I'm working on, photos from playtests, reflections on different design philosophies and articles from more experienced hands. I'd be delighted if you'd come along and join me for the journey.
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:00 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls

[1]  Prev «  37 , 38 , 39 , 40 , 41 

Subscribe

Categories

Contributors