Archive for Oleksandr Nevskiy
In the present day, new movies, comics, books, video and board games are constantly struggling for our free time. New products come out every day, and many of them are so extraordinary that you just can't miss them. In order to catch all that stuff, sometimes we want to play something fast with just a few components, but at the same time we want to get the same range of emotions and amusement from a larger, complex game. Of course, all designers have the dream of making a game with just a small amount of components and cards, but that has become particularly important recently. We, as designers, decided we wanted to take up the challenge of creating a "minimalist" game.
In fact, it happened that I created the basic concept of Behind the Throne during just one single evening. There is something archetypal and basic, yet fascinating, in the mechanisms of "pressing your luck". However simple at core, I like these games a lot. It is always interesting to me to try to assess risks in these games. It's funny when you find out that you scared yourself in vain or (vice versa) you were too self-confident. That's why I like the idea of number comparison, and the ability to predict the risk seemed interesting to me.
The next morning, I made the prototype and showed it to my co-author Oleg. He was just about to take a break after designing Pirates of the 7 Seas. As this game was pretty light, I convinced him that we would be able to finish it quickly — but of course everything was not as easy as I had thought it would be.
Monsters That Almost Got Main Roles
After several days of testing, when we had determined the basic properties of cards and their values, it was the right time to make a "true" prototype, with actual art and layout, partly because I perceive a game much better when it has at least some art, which helps players to memorize specific cards and so on, but also because we had decided to give the game to our friends to see their reaction.
The game is quite abstract and almost any theme would fit. It could be based around animals, robots, aliens or something else. I decided it would be nice to see on cards some funny monsters that help their lord to win. Their appearance should help the players guess their abilities.
I went online to search appropriate images, preferably with a consistent style, and I was delighted when I found a series of very original monsters, just like I needed. Each of them had its character; they were very skillfully drawn and made everyone smile. There was even a back illustration for the cards! However, I couldn't find the contact data of the creator! That is how the game almost became a game in which the main characters were funny monsters.
After that, I started looking for an artist. I wrote to several people we worked with earlier, but after a few sketches, we still had not found the right style. Those monsters I had found were so awesome that we couldn't create something we liked as much if we insisted upon sticking to this theme, so that's when we decided to change it.
Politicians and Their Games
Together with the talented Ukrainian artist Denis Martynets, who worked with us on Pirates of the 7 Seas, we started looking for a new theme. It so happened that my friend dropped in and started talking about politics, conspiracy, and corruption — and suddenly I realized that this theme fits the mechanisms perfectly, even better than monsters. This theme allows you to control different people with the different abilities useful to you, outbid them, and try to surround yourself with the most influential people.
Denis made a few sketches. We were looking for a medieval look. Although this topic is used a lot in games, it allows for very colorful characters. We also added a little bit of fantasy, and to make it less grim, we focused on the grotesque. Oleg and I both didn't like the first two sketches in terms of proportions and style. Denis was about to refuse this job, but I convinced him to try one more time, and with this third attempt I was amused and convinced this was just what we needed! The character looked great. By the way, this card is the "judge" card today.
Balance of Powers
We worked on the game's balance for quite a long time. It seems the game is pretty simple and everything is ready, but this is a game with just nine types of cards (and they must have certain numbers), so there were a limited number of elements we could tweak for tuning the entire balance. Every little detail has a huge influence on the gameplay. We had a large number of different versions of the game and balancing it all took a few months until we got the desired result. We finally decided on the abilities and how the game should finish in order to keep the intrigue until the very end.
For this I have to thank our colleagues from Ares Games. They were the first ones who believed in this game and helped us with the final version. They were very patient, in spite of the fact that balancing of the game delayed its finishing much longer than we planned. By the way, there were originally tokens in the game; you can see them in the pictures which appeared with the announcement of the game. We used them to indicate cards with invalid abilities, but the constant shifting and placing irritated us. And Oleg, after he returned from one exhibition, brought a great solution, the idea coming after explaining the game to one of the exhibition visitors who constantly forgot to add or remove tokens. That's when Oleg figured out how to help him. It was a simple but effective solution: just rotate the cards when their power cannot be used! Ever heard of it?
Behind the Throne
Finally, we had to choose the name of the game. We thought we had found the right one, which fit well all the various intrigues, different fights for the throne, and backroom conspiracy: "Gray Cardinal". The name is derived from true historical events and one famous individual whose activities made famous this well-known term.
But this idiomatic expression translates differently in different languages. For example, in English it sounds like "Behind the Throne". We wanted a name to be the same in most languages, so we decided to use this title because it expresses well the main point of the game: Players are influential people who can have different levels of impact on the same characters.
The Experience vs Luck Factor
Does luck have a great impact in this game? Of course, but it is not decisive. You have to be careful and take risks in this game. I can also give one piece of advice: Do not ignore card exchange in this game. It is actually a very powerful thing. And, of course, you may well instigate others against the leader. That's politics!
Awaiting Players' Reaction...
Behind the Throne has just released in English and will soon be in the hands of players in the U.S., Europe and China. Its premiere was in Poland, surprisingly, but that is where we premiered our Mysterium game as well, so it happened again that an Ukrainian game appears first in the hands of our good neighbors. It almost looks like a tradition!
I hope you will enjoy the game. We have put in so much effort. We would appreciate your feedback! We accepted the challenge of minimalism. If we coped with it or not, you will decide — now it is time for a new project!
The theme for Pirates of the 7 Seas came about after inventing an interesting engine for a battle system that involves an unusual use of dice. It allows you to realize truly massive and spectacular battles in an elegant way. Both preparing and determining battle results takes little time, and it adapts easily to the number of participants in the fight. This mechanism has evolved into the "3D Dice Battle System", which was already licensed by another studio for that other project.
The appropriate theme was chosen almost instantly: grandiose sea battles involving dozens of ships. This was exactly what we needed, so we started to develop this game. This was in 2013, and its development was combined with one of our other projects, Mysterium. Maybe you have heard something about that one.
From start to finish, we created seven full-fledged versions of this game! I can't say that it was always easy, but it was interesting, for sure. You know, it's quite hard to create something with consistent balance if you have 44 dice. We wanted the player to always have a chance to win, regardless of his luck. It's not easy with one die, and when you have such a large number of them — well, it's a real challenge for designers. Of course, the quantity of dice rolling could help align the results in some way, but wait, these are dice, and they are unforgiving!
The final version is number 7.7. This is very symbolic, naturally, as the game is Pirates of the 7 Seas! In fact, this numerical figure pursued us consistently during the entire development. It kept appearing here and there as an optimal number. Soon, we realized that it was a sign, so we stopped resisting and decided to put "7" in the title of the game.
But development is not just dry data! How would we describe the creative process behind Pirates? First, the project had its own spirit. We wanted to capture the most fun and "explosive" pirate moments and pack them into the box. Simulation games imitate the most realistic moments of the pirate voyages — such as the economy of the time, or the nuances of pricing in the Caribbean — but we wanted to manifest all things fun, dynamic, and juicy about the pirate life. There was no room for boredom and routine — only adventures!
We chose our direction for the game like a musket shot. Perhaps the closest thing to Pirates is the unforgettable video game Sid Meier's Pirates! from the great maestro of game designing. Yes, his game is far from historical truth — you can hardly find a bit of realism — but it is about precisely those pirates that everyone would like to be at least once, if not more often. (And I think that most pirates dreamed of such a life: incredible treasures, saber battles, meeting the governor, and the opportunity to cross the Pacific Ocean — what a joy.) But we also wanted to add some intrigues, confrontations, and challenges to our game. Actually, each pirate is a mercenary, vain and mean, and this game will encourage you to be like those pirates.
First of all, the battle engine was better for cooperation, but the game is pirate-themed. We didn't want to make a cooperative pirate game, but we realized semi-co-op could work. We've all heard about the pirate brotherhood, but a pirate has no right to call himself a "pirate" if he doesn't love gold more than anything else, even more than friends. The continuous opportunity to backstab is meant to be a leitmotif, a recurring theme in the game — and there has to be only one winner.
The world also has to live. Something always happens there. In the beginning, the role of our "living world" generator was played by a banal deck of event cards. The top card decided what would happen in this world. It didn't seem like a bad idea because there were elements of unexpectedness and it was easy to implement, but in practice this old-fashioned solution wasn't good at all. After a few tests, we realized that it had its drawbacks.
The main drawback was that the deck wasn't connected with all those things that were happening to players. A trade ship could appear on the horizon, and players don't have any ships. The prices could be changed, but players have nothing to sell, which means this can't impact them in any way. Or the time to pay wages might come when there was nobody to pay. It means that these events won't engage the players — there's no emotional connection to events that are disconnected from the situation in the game. Of course, sometimes it happens to work anyway, but not very often.
Thus, we decided to give full control to the players so that they could decide which adventures they wanted to go on and when those adventures would take place. We liked this idea a lot. It reminded me of the revolution in video games that was made when high-speed internet became common. After that time, the whole world dipped into online games, allowing humans to play video games against humans, whenever they wanted. You can polish an artificial intelligence for years, but bots (at least at this stage) are no comparison with human ingenuity and deviousness!
Of course, this requires a certain level of mastery, but that's a good thing! As players become more skillful, the game world becomes more interesting and harder with each new game session.
In that way, players themselves create the plot for their games by choosing adventures for themselves and for other players, at the most appropriate time for the concrete event, but neither earlier nor later than that time.
Working on the box art
I'll mention it again: Because the game is full of dice, it was difficult to balance the battle system, so we brought in such elements as corsairs. It's highly thematic and implemented perfectly.
It's impossible to completely conquer all dice, and each game creates a new situation. Sometimes all players become richer, and they are thus focused on the economic path. But at other times, you are barely alive and fighting for every chest of gold. This is essentially a good reflection of different times of the "Pirate Era", which really existed in the Caribbean.
I think we found a good solution of how to combine your gained experience (XP) and the luck on the dice. I think you'll like the solution, especially those who aren't lucky when rolling dice. The more you lose while others are becoming richer, the stronger your desire to learn, and the game allows you to do that. You'll become a more powerful pirate with better opportunities than others.
Dice-ships are carrying booty
The last thing is the sequence of performing actions. Major events happen simultaneously to all players. It's nearly eliminated that pesky problem in games called "downtime" — and actions that affect only you don't take much time since they are very simple.
But the order for resolving actions of the same type has a huge impact on the game. We had a few options for a solution to this problem, but they were all difficult and uncomfortable. The easiest way is to move clockwise after the first active player. But there is a problem, and this problem exists in almost every game with such a solution: During the game, when players forget to pass the first active player marker, it results in confusion.
We couldn't solve this problem for quite some time. We tried different things, and we almost despaired of finding a simple and interesting solution. Once during our testing, my co-author Oleg Sidorenko offered a double or triple bonus for playing your characters rationally, playing almost all your characters before taking them back into your hand. We liked the idea, but we decided not to use it because it could make the game longer. It must be mentioned that if you are the only one who chooses a certain action this round, you get an extra bonus. That's why the moment of determining which cards other players will play is very interesting, and you wait until each card is revealed with some kind of trembling and excitement.
The next day, I was waiting near our office for a postman with two important letters. I didn't want to miss him because we needed those letters right then — and that waiting was my inspiration. I had had thoughts about how to draw attention to the first player marker, perhaps punishing those players who forget about it (but it's not always the solution) or encouraging those who didn't. But we couldn't find any such appropriate reward as it would always be too little or too much. And I nearly shouted out loud with joy when it hit me: Oleg had suggested this solution even without knowing about it. It was so obvious!
The solution: If you have the first active player marker, and you are the only one who chose your action, your bonus will be multiplied by two. This helps serve as a reminder to pass the marker. This solution was a real relief, and players got a new interesting choice because sometimes it is more profitable to play some certain action simultaneously with the current active player to prevent him from getting some great bonus. I'm sure you can see how the player with the marker would be glad if he managed to get the bonus and upset if he didn't. The bonus is great, but you have to make some effort and consider everything thoroughly to get it. It was the thing we’d been looking for.
Art for adventure cards in progress
The development of the game was long and sometimes arduous, but looking back at the process and at the exciting results of our hard work, we are very happy with what we've got. We in IGames hope you enjoy our game. I am eager to take a copy of the new box and give it a whirl. We are going to set off soon to face adventures across the seven seas. We are looking for some booty, friends! It is time for pirates!
There were a lot of changes. We added things, we removed others, and then we returned to the old version! And, of course, it was accompanied by a huge amount of tests along the way. I think it was the most exhaustive testing process we'd ever been involved in.
I'd like to say thanks to all our testers, families, and friends for their understanding, patience, and support. We couldn't do anything with those stubborn 44 dice in the tin box without you. I'd like to say special thanks to Oleg because the work was not so easy. We spent a huge amount of time being nervous, along with weekends without our families. I am proud to work with such a professional. We fought and argued. Sometimes our office looked like the eye of hurricane when we tried to defend our points of view, but it was because we really liked the game. I hope he doesn't stay angry with me because of that, and that he'll allow me to get the double bonus for the first player marker...at least sometimes.
At the start of summer 2011, Oleg Sidorenko and I had the idea of creating a game which could display the life of a small farm in a light and accessible form. We wanted to show the seasonality of labor and the dependence of crop ripening with the seasons. Different crops have different terms of ripening, and we wanted to make this process take place with the players.
In order to give sense to the process of growing the crop, it was necessary to come up with a deserved reward – that is, a logical calculation of victory points. Just growing this or that crop was dry and boring, and we wanted something deeper and more unusual. There was also the idea of competition between players in the quality of their harvest: some kind of County Fair, in which each farmer would be praised for his "longest squash" – but a seed's transformation into "better" or "less better" crops appeared too accidental (via a deck of events) and we didn't like that. In addition, the question arose about displaying a larger number of different crops of one kind, not just the worst and the best. All of this seemed to be too overloaded and not very interesting.
After that, we decided to abandon the competition for quality and instead try to arrange a competition for different combinations of fruit. Right at this time, we got the idea for which different fruit combinations might be needed – and in such a roundabout way the animals were born, animals which must be fed, and the feeding process of the game reminded us of our childhood.
We don't know whether the following game is known outside the Soviet Union:
Each player draws on the top of a sheet of paper the head of a person/animal/fish, then folds the sheet so that the next player cannot see the image. Then the next player draws the body and folds the sheet again. The last player draws the legs or tail or anything else. In such a way the "animals" appear, and it's very funny...
In this way, the general concept of My Happy Farm occurred and the game immediately started up with a large number of animals, including dogs, cats and even mice. One of the first prototypes even included a human: "Uncle Nick" (a cousin of the farmer, elbow-bender). We treated it as some kind of model tryout for the game in which we had to leave just the right animals we would need for a good game. (Many of our friends regretted Uncle Nick leaving the game as he was a favorite.) The game process appeared quite logical and interesting. We just needed to bring this model to the perfection of balance and replayability. And so the week of tests began...
Artist Margitich Mihail, aka Monkey, made us a test copy of the game components. Almost immediately we decided to reduce the number of animals. Uncle Nick left first, while the pig remained a favorite among the animals as it eats everything, acting like a wild card. During the evolution of the game, we tried different mathematical models: something changed, something added, something cut off completely. Finally, half of the initial number of animals left our farm, and the game mechanisms turned out simple, logical, and dynamic.
A beta-version of the "farm" was made by Monkey in the style of Android, with players feeding the "animal-robots" with screw nuts, letting them drink lubricating oil – but we abandoned this style; that's another game!
At the same time, while working on the project StalkerQuest, we met with the artist Leonid Androschuk and he agreed to draw images for My Happy Farm in a cartoon style.
Весела Ферма was presented to the public by the Ukrainian publisher IGAMES for the first time at the Ukrainian Boardgaming Festival 2011 in August and received the award for "Best Game Art" and a nomination for "Best Game of the Exhibition". While we liked Leonid's style at once – and the game design of the first edition hasn't changed since being released in Ukraine and Russia – we have made some changes to the art which will appear in future editions. We hope players will like our new art.
After the Ukrainian Boardgaming Festival, we clarified some details of the game mechanisms, decided on the game components, and printed the game. At that same festival, our "farm" was sighted by the largest Russian publisher, Hobby World, and in February 2012 Счастливая ферма appeared on the shelves of Russian stores. A few months later, we signed an agreement for an English-language edition of My Happy Farm from publisher 5th Street Games, which is running a Kickstarter campaign for the game through mid-June 2012.
Also, after the Igrosfera 2012 (Ukrainian Game Fair), Hobby World said that it wants an expansion for My Happy Farm, as this game has found ready sales...