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I was recently playtesting one of my publisher's new games and he mentioned that "Ugh!" is about to be reviewed by one of the guys on The DiceTower.
I think those guys are pretty great and I check their YouTube channel almost every night before I go to bed. It's exciting to be reviewed by people I've been watching for the last few years, but I'm pretty nervous.
While I am really happy that my game got published, I was a bit worried about some of their graphic design and thematic decisions; they also altered some of the mechanics to make it more child-friendly. Apparently, some of the rules caused children to cry!
One of these days, I'll have to publish my original rules!
It's rather ironic that PAX is being held about 15 minutes from my home and that I won't be able to attend.
If YOU are attending, can you stop by the Calliope Games booth and get me some glory shots of Ray and company showing off our game, "Ugh!" ?
Perhaps you can even try it out!
I would be super appreciative! Thanks, BGG community!
It's coming out in October and the MSRP is $10 and features lots of artwork from John Kovalic.
That's a pretty good price, in my experience! I can't remember the last time I paid less than $15 for a game.
I'm learning more about our game day-to-day and I'll share the information as I receive it.
Check out the Ugh! page for illustrations (and add it to your wish list!)
There needs to be an emoticon for "shameless plug."
Well, I am pleased to report that people can finally see how our game is shaping up by checking out the new Calliope Games website! I really should call it Calliope's game, since they licensed the mechanics from us, but you get the idea!
If you like John Kovalic's artwork, here's a more up-close view of some of the cards.
What do you think? It's a real collectible for fans of John's... and it also happens to be tons of fun over beer or with the kids!
About two years ago, I started working on a boardgame that blended a bunch of different mechanics from a variety of games, distilled them for simplicity, and built a prototype-- a fairly successful prototype as far as my play-testers were concerned. I'm not going to say that I came up with anything particularly revolutionary, but I like to think that I seamlessly blended the mechanics such that they all felt like a single, great gameplay experience.
Of course, like many of you out there, I couldn't stop tinkering with it... trying to improve this aspect or that aspect. Against my better judgement, I spent way too much time trying to shore up the theme of it. The mechanics were done; I just couldn't seem to find the right theme to breathe life into my creation.
Like many of the prototypes I've made, the core mechanics came together very fast in what can only be called a creative burst. Those same mechanics have stayed intact over the course of the game's development. At no point did I feel as though I was wandering in the desert.
To be fair, I didn't want to side-track my publisher by showing them the game. I want them to successfully publish my first one and get it out the door first. So I figured i had some breathing room to polish it.
(As a side note, Ugh! is coming along really well. John Kovalic's art is not only amazing, but exists in a huge quantity for the game. It's the most original Kovalic art I've ever seen in a single game. I got to see some of the cards when I went in to proof-read the game rules before they're sent out for translation.)
So, back to thinking I had "breathing room."
Boy, was I wrong. And, boy, to have a lot more respect for the speed at which innovation and-- let's face it-- really solid work is happening in this industry.
A month or so ago, Minion Games sent out some pre-release information on a game that mixes voodoo and piracy. The artwork looks exceptional and absolutely nailed the the theme I was skinning my game mechanics toward. Any reading this post should really check out Minion, if nothing else, for their artwork. I've purchased a couple of their games so I think I have a certain right to say that I found their game mechanics to be... rather involved... to the point where you need an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of things. I'm still glad I purchased the game because I loved the production values.
Now, along comes Battleship Galaxies, which has many of the same mechanics that my protoype is leveraging. Again, there's very little that is new under the Sun, mechanics-wise. To be fair to myself, Battleship Galaxies still has many differences from my prototype as it has a greater level of depth to the gameplay-- which speciates its target audience from the mainstream. I specifically eschewed depth in my design because I wanted broader market appeal.
Whew. This post just sort of rambled and I wasn't sure how I would feel after I talked it all through. Happily, I feel like there is still an underserved group of boardgame fans out there who'd enjoy a game like the one I've designed-- something between Sea Monsters and BattleShip Galaxies (how's that for tying together to extreme?)-- and a niche that needs filling.
I need to get back to the grindstone and figure out what it's going to take for me to get fired up enough to take this to my publisher.
Some days, I wish I could get zeppelins, space cruisers, zombies, pirates, elves, and castles out of my head. They're so trite; they just don't inspire me anymore. They're just sort of played out.
Except for Project Zomboid. That is pure genius.
What are some other milieus that people feel are underserved? Anyone got any new theme ideas? I promise to do something about it!
So, as you may know, John Kovalic was signed on to do the artwork for Ugh! and he's just about to share a few images with me. Obviously, I can't show them in my blog because I don't have approval from John or Ray, the artist and the licensee, respectively, for Ugh!
I just had to shout about it, though. It's an exciting day and I'm high out of my mind on caffeine.
At first I was concerned about what direction John would take the Ugh! theme in, but then I got more familiar with the breadth of his work. Additionally, I Facebook-friended him and, from his posts, found that we share similar ideologies about the world. Now, my wife and I are super excited to see what he's done, artistically, with Ugh!
What an exciting time for us; I feel like it is Christmas and I just picked up my first present and I've started shaking the box to see what's inside...
... and I think I can expect Good Things, as Pooh would say.
Thu Apr 14, 2011 10:05 pm
Tonight, my wife and I are going to be play-testing a game that we've been working on for a couple of years. I was the core contributor to this particular effort, with Lori providing excellent feedback as far as the aesthetics and nuances of gameplay are concerned.
That is a nice way of saying that I did a lot of the grunt work, after which she'd point something out and say "that doesn't work!" or "this feels wrong" or "why are you assuming...?" and I'd try to fumble out an overly-complicated answer to which she'd reply "well, why don't you just ...."
I think that's why we make a good team, but it is frustrating sometimes when she cuts through all my complexity like a hot knife through butter and solves a big design flaw in a single statement.
Anyway, after a couple of years of stops and starts, we're finally going to be play-testing the game again with some friends. We've had a difficult time play-testing it because it requires more than two players and we have trouble getting groups of friends together for anything, much less board games.
Much of the changes to the game are purely aesthetic, since the game played beautifully at the first play-test, but they constitute major improvements. There was a point, however, where I got totally side-tracked by a suggestion from a play-tester that I change the playing grid from squares to hexes "because it is more realistic." Months later, after many attempts to do so, I finally said to myself:
"Wait a second. This game is about sailing around an archipelago, diving sunken wrecks, and making off with the treasure. What's reality got to do with any of this?!? If I can get players to suspend their disbelief to that point, are they really going to be bothered by using squares to delineate movement points instead of hexes?!?"
Once I got back to my roots (spaces), I was back on track redesigning the art, improving the physical mechanics, and re-working the card distributions. I also had to sort out some ship-to-ship direct combat issues and the roles of the non-player character rules.
So, that brings me to today, finally. Boy, I am super nervous.
You see, my play-testers are a hard-core gaming couple (husband and wife) and they have experience with a broad range of games. I'm worried there going to find "exploits" that will force me to re-think certain mechanics... even though I've been "thought experimenting" them in my mind for months and months.
I'll post pictures of everything really soon: before, during, and after the play-test. If there is any salient feedback, I'll see what I can do about revealing it as well-- after all, I'm doing all work so that the game can get published someday!
I don't want to give away the farm!
If you came for the Zombie Ninja Strippers, you've probably already steeled yourself against profound dissappointment: you'll find no Zombie Ninja Strippers here. I just did that as a classic bait-and-switch to get you to peek at my blog. You may hate me for it, but you can't argue with results.
So, I'm taking you on a meandering voyage that recounts how I finally arrived at the iconography and distribution of die results on my four custom dice. It was quite a long journey, so I'm going to do my best to be brief and use lots of pictures to bring choked gurglings of infant joy to the mouth-breathers in the audience. If you came here looking for Zombie Ninja Strippers, you know who you are.
I have had this game design lying around for the last couple of years or so and I really believe in it. The reason I haven't really pushed it on my publisher is due to the fact that I want them to concentrate on the games they've already got in the hopper-- since one of them is mine. Thus, I've had an absolutely inordinate amount of time to polish up the prototype I'll be talking reservedly about here. Here, we'll just be focusing on the dice.
Like many classic films, I'll start with the end then jump to the beginning and work my way forward to the ultimate goal. That way, you can see the trajectory of the development and better understand where we're headed.
Here are the dice, in their nearly final form:
They still need a bit of shellacing, to make them feel right in the players' hands. By the way, I learned that shellac is a resin that is secreted by the female lac bug (Kerria Lacca) which is found in southern Asia. Its history goes back over 3,000 years.
Already you are glad I've bait-switched you; instead of fapping, you're learning!
Given the rich history of shellac, it would have been an absolute shame if I had decided to simply put all the possible results for my four custom dice on a single spinner:
Not only would this have looked horrible and been a major graphic design challenge, but so many people here at BGG seem to openly disparage spinners that I probably would have been a game design pariah if I had actually gone through with the idea. Thank you, all that voted, for the endless tunnel of bitch-slapping that I careened through when soliciting opinions on the question: Dice vs. Spinners?
Anyway, the black die represents the results from a ship that has suffered a "sail fail" of epic proportions-- either the navigator was reading the map upside-down or the helmsman was asleep at the wheel. Whatever the case may have been, the ship has veered off course, causing it to be displace forward, backward, to port, or to starboard.
How does a ship sail backwards? How does a ship side-step? These are the types of questions that an angry captain might ask his drunken crew-- and the answers would be better than mine. Just take for granted that this can happen when your ship is nestled in the bosom of the sea on a particularly windy evening. Seriously, just go with it-- let it wash over you.
Let's have a closer look at the design these sail fails. First, the symbol that represents veering off-course. In this case, we've veered to the left:
Now, imagine if you will, the eleven (yes, 11) previous designs I had for this. They all began very, very iconic and I iterated then over and over with rather poor results. Finally, I threw iconogaphy out the window and decided to just spell it out for the viewer:
"Look: here is your ship, it has a front and back. The little red arrow shows you the direction in which you need to shift your ship."
It was still very unclear, especially at the size of a conventional die, so it still wasn't working. This was after 12 straight hours of working on the design. People couldn't tell which end was the front of the ship. Finally, it dawned on me: I can use a wake to make the facing of the ship more obvious. Bam! In short order, I had a wake and a die that was easily understood. Or at least well-understood if you've made a quick read of the rules.
But that's such a tiny piece of the story. You see, I do prototypes for a living and I've learned every trade associated with prototyping. That boat drawing is an original. Moreover, it's a single view of a three-dimensional model that I built and textured myself over several days.
Here's what said ship looks like as a wireframe, in 3DS Max 2011:
Here it is again, with flat-shading, from above:
It doesn't get too recognizable until you spend a fair amount of time texture-mapping it. That means giving it color and making it look as though the individual parts are made from a variety of materials: sailcloth, wooden planks, etc.
Here's what a part-way version of that looks like (the final version is far more detailed):
Here it is again, from a 3/4 view. The reason it has so much detail, far beyond what I need for a half-inch size topside view, is that the model may appear in digital versions of the game or to enliven the documentation of the game's rules. Look:
Ultimately, here's what the ship model looks like, ready to be composited into the Photoshopped image of the wake.
The wake itself (check the image of the dice, above) is a whole 'nother barrel of monkeys that I could go on at length about, but it's not as visually and mentally stimulating as playing with pirate ships. Let's just say it involved gradients, filters, and transformations....
So, let's move on to the "rogue wave:"
This image represents how fluid copyright laws become when you take something you found on Google Images and fiddle around with it for a few hours. Maybe I lifted the design entirely, maybe I threw some Photoshop filters on it, maybe I based the design on something I saw and just drew it myself, by hand. It doesn't really matter-- I'm not claiming any rights to it. Why? Because this is a prototype and I'm not selling the art. I license my designs, not the art. Don't worry, artists: a real artist will be hired at some point to re-skin the entire game. They'll make bank. The good news is that they won't be bank-rolled by me, they'll be bank-rolled by the publisher.
My art only needs to be good enough to inspire the mood I'm looking for in my game, so that it doesn't distract from selling the mechanics. Many times, happily, my art augments the mechanics and brings the rule set to life. Sure, I could try pitching an abstract game... but that feels like a niche market to me. And I'm a story-teller at heart.
More importantly, a licensee may want to skin the game themselves or be in charge of the art direction. They may want to change the name of the game-- as well as trademark it. Hell, they might be licensing the game specifically for the rules-- and plan to completely reskin it,or even re-theme it, with professional artists and story-tellers.
Let 'em. It's their money. Your "burn" should only be a few hundred dollars for parts and labor.... then it is someone else's baby.
Anyway, back to the task at hand: reviewing my custom die. This next one I was able to do iconographically, so I did. It's immediately understandable as "Something bad just happened to my ship:"
It is the image of a helm wheel getting smashed and it represents your ship being damaged. This is a result that happens a third of the time and decreases your ship's speed. You see, a player's ship starts on the green die and, as its conditions worsens, it drops to yellow and finally red. Of course, there are ways to repair your ship to bump it up into the higher speed brackets.
Finally, the last image to talk about is the mermaid:
The mermaid should immediately conjure up images of drunken reveries, stories of weird happenstance and luck on the high seas. The mermaid represents an opportunity to partake in this luck, albeit at the expense of your fellow sailors. They're all sea-dogs and scally-wags anyway. This image was assembled from disparate parts and, once assembled, was color-matched and filtered to look as though it was a single coherent image. There are lots of Photoshop tools to help you with this-- but I particularly recommend the "artist" filters: Paint Daubs, Watercolor, etc.
So, after my rant about not putting too much time and money into a prototype's components, you're probably wondering why I spent as much time and effort as I did on this seemingly simple components.
The answer is that I've spent only as much time as I've had to in order to make sure that the prototype's play-tests don't come to a screeching halt when a newbie has trouble understanding what the individual faces mean. I've gone to great lengths to eliminate any unclear symbols or graphics, I've made them legible at a glance, as well. I've also made sure that the images keep the player in the theme, so that my mechanics aren't poking through like a compound fracture.
Here is a good lesson I learned making these dice, for example:
One might think that an Arabic numeral (4, 5, 6) can be seen and interpreted by the brain faster that the same number of dots. Well, it's not true! Especially when the number of up-side down or at an angle. I did the tests.... way back in version 3 or 4.
As I said, the images above are from version 11.
It's been a very long voyage, but everything is finally feeling very tight, sleek, and far more playable than version one. I must confess, as well, that making these dice has satisfied my O.C.D. for weeks to come.
The only side effect is that I've gone crazy.
So, I am designing my custom dice and I got to thinking:
Why am I not simply making a custom spinner that has several concentric circles which represent the results on my specialized dice? Certainly, this has a lot of advantages-- particularly when it comes to the cost of production and publication. Modern spinners are just a few pieces of plastic, the spinner placard, and the "needle." Dice, on the other hand-- especially custom dice-- can be either costly to produce or, worse yet, a real pain purchaser finalizes the dice themself. I've seen custom dice that user makes by applying stickers to a blank cube. With my some games running over $20 a pop, I completely spaz out if a face sticker goes askew!
Perhaps the most important feature of a spinner is that it can be shared very easily: a player anywhere at the table just leans in and flicks their finger-- nothing flies off the table, nobody complains that a die isn't completely resolved do to landing on an uneven or "unsanctioned" surface.
Moreover, spinning a spinner doesn't disrupt the playing surface. Surely we have all experience a rogue dice that knocks over elements on the game board-- which is awful if the game involves a lot of pawns.
So why dice? Why do "serious gamers" seem to have something against spinners? Do they seem too child-like? I certainly have that bias, but I recognize it as completely unfounded. By all my measures, a spinner is advantageous across a broad range of metrics.
So why do I have a bias against them? Are the Illuminati putting something in my drinking water?
Vote Now: Dice or Spinner?
Help! I'll like to hear your thoughts on the matter!
Given that Ugh is already licensed to Calliope and such, I guess it wasn't really play-test but rather just plain play session. If, during the trials and tribulations of the publication process, something falls through and it never gets out to the masses, I think we’ll be okay. We’ve made a game that I can take around with me that’ll bring the folks around me a little closer together. Still, having John Kovalic on board really gives us hope!
I’m not sure whether it was the great beer or the good company, but we were slapping our cards down, laughing at one another’s misfortune, and cursing our own. What a roller-coaster ride it was! Much merriment ensued when I got shut-out with a score of absolute zero at the end of the second game. I don’t think I’ve hurled such a continuous stream of epithets in one sitting since college. After play-testing the game for a whole year previous, I was able to read the whole table in a glance and it feels good to see that I’m not totally delusional in my hope that this game will do well.
I’m still using the same deck my wife and I created over two years ago, just before we got married. I built it in the week after I'd first taken her late-night ramblings and codified them.
It’s so rewarding to see that my original art still makes people covetous of some of the cards. You see, in my prototype, there’s this really cute Catholic nun… even though she’s not the very top card to get in her suit, people still go over the moon when they get her. Invariably, an inappropriate, beer-induced comment is made. Her art did not make it into the final cut of our “family” game. Sorry, fellas!
And when the Black Dragon rained on someone’s parade, the look of abject disgust on that person's face as their hard-won hand of cards was burned in an instant was oddly pleasing-- until it was me, whereupon my histrionic eye-rolling left me blind to the reactions of my opponents.
Three of the five players (all hard-core Eurogamers) had never played before and I was pleased that I’d met their rather finicky bar. One of the others, who had played it before, couldn’t come to grips with the fact that he’d lost twice in a row, however. He gave up his seat to a new-comer that had a more relaxed attitude toward such things. Either that, or he’d already had a few shots of Jaegermeister. He nodded as he grokked the rules and betrayed a few thoughtful "Hmmms." Within just a few rounds, he became a staunch adversary. We all stopped helping him, which he waved off with a dismissive, careless gesture. It was quite funny. And so it went, for many hands....
All of the above is in sharp contrast to a play-test I’d done with a group of well-dressed Korean-American women in their 50’s and 60’s.
The women can created their little, dour-faced circle prior to being asked to test the game. I think they were trying to look refined and dignified in the face of all the chaotic partying going on around them. Once they realized that the game involved pressing their luck (i.e. gambling with fate), they were hooked— determined to beat the deck as well as one another. When asked if they’d like to play with a few optional “grief” cards to steal from their opponents, their eyes got wide in an expression that betrayed: “How’d he know?”
This once quiet enclave of stitch-and-bitch graduates had now turned into a crowing, finger-pointing collection of ruffians and thugs— so much so that they’d attracted the attention of the wild children running all around. The little toddlers bellied-up to the play table, demanded to know what was going on and proceeded to clamber up on their respective auntie’s knees. Before long, the grown-up/child pairs became the family room equivalents of ThunderDome’s “Master-Blaster,” with one person flipping the cards and the other calling the shots.
I am sure that Lori would agree that this was, and will always be, our proudest and happiest moment over the course of all that we’ve been through during Ugh!’s development. As many of us know, there’s not a lot of money to be made in this industry— we’re not expecting to even buy a gumball with the proceeds— we’re just hoping to see more scenes like the two above, in homes and schools and bars all over the world.
It’s a great legacy and a wonderful undertaking. I hope others get inspired by our story and set out on the wild and rewarding ride that my wife and I did. Take your ideas, polish them, and set them out for the world to see. Take Eddie's blog, for example-- he's building a game with his son:
I shall be looking forward to seeing the fruits of his labors-- as well as yours!
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