I In The Pyramid

Secrets from inside Steve Jackson Games.

Archive for Philip Reed

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Bullet Dice: Over three years in the making.

I can point to the day when we first started to zero in on the final look for the Bullet Dice six-sider: March 23, 2015. I know this because I keep too many emails, and it's an email from that day where Samuel Mitschke showed us the very first pass at taking the concept to a real product.

From gallery of PhilReed


Three days later, on March 26, Richard Kerr's CAD file (based on Sam's design drawing) landed in the inbox, giving a better idea of what the final dice could look like if we were to proceed with the design.

From gallery of PhilReed


From there, the design was sent to our partners at GPI for review and tooling. Again, the email archives help pinpoint the day when we first saw the prototype dice from the factory: May 28, 2015. That's just over sixty days from the first design concept to seeing (and rolling!) the sample dice.

From gallery of PhilReed


Almost Kickstarter
Once we had the prototype dice in-hand, we discussed the idea of taking these to Kickstarter to produce the project. Back and forth, for months, we considered our options and even went so far as to begin the creation of a Kickstarter project. Reward levels. Stretch goals. We were moving forward with the campaign when larger responsibilities stepped in the way and put the brakes on the project.

From gallery of PhilReed


Backburner
We moved on with other projects, completing and publishing some games and accessories as the Bullet Dice tooling sat at the factory, unused . . . but not forgotten. The double-injection mold was expensive to produce, and we knew we wanted to run the dice at some point, but finding the time to devote to completing a crowdfunding plan was growing more and more difficult as the months passed.

From gallery of PhilReed


Fall 2018
In September of 2018, we decided to take the dice directly into distribution and give them a shot at retail sales. The tooling sitting at the factory unusued wasn't generating any revenue, and we felt confident enough in the design of the six-sided die to produce a six-pack of the dice for retail sale in early 2019.

From gallery of PhilReed


On the Water

Now, almost four years after the first design drawings were created, we're happy to report that the Bullet Dice six-sider is produced and on the water, making its way to our primary fulfillment warehouse. At the moment, the dice are on schedule for a February 2019 release, and the response from wargamers -- and especially Ogre fans -- has been remarkably rewarding.

Completing a new project always feels great, especially one that has sat neglected for so very long. And wrapping this up reminded us of some other dice tools that are at the factory and unused, so we're already looking into finishing some other dice projects and making them a reality.

Dice are fun, and we're going to make more.
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Fri Dec 14, 2018 4:33 pm
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Pocket Box Games, Factory Files, and Ziplock Expansions

As part of preparing for next month's Pocket Box games Kickstarter campaign, this week we're reviewing factory files for a few titles that are "must includes" in the project. At the moment, the factory has turned over files for Car Wars, Truck Stop, Ogre, and G.E.V., and now our team has to check each to make certain that these are correct and ready for manufacturing. (We want to be ready to go with a core set of Pocket Box games so that there are minimal delays on delivering if the Kickstarter campaign is successful.)

Preparing Files
To create the modern reprints of these classic Pocket Box games of the eighties, we searched our archives for clean and complete packages -- a few were still shrinkwrapped! -- and then provided those to our partners at GPI for high-res scanning and file manipulation. Every component was carefully scanned and touched up so that the factory can create new film when it is time.

For the project, we're taking materials as far as the "ready for film" stage before the Kickstarter project. It's an investment, but an investment of thousands in file prep is preferable to an investment in tens of thousands for the ready-to-make film for seven different titles.

What is being scanned and prepared? Everything for the selected titles, from the covers to the rules to even the marketing materials. (Classic catalogs? Awesome!) We'll be adding "2019 Reproduction" in small type to the materials, but these are effectively exact copies of the games as they first appeared back in the eighties.

From gallery of PhilReed


Ziplock Expansions
In addition to the Pocket Box games, we've also been discussing the possibility of reproducing some of the classic ziplock expansions. At the moment, we've gone as far as discussing costs (both to prepare the files/film and to manufacture the expansions), and we'll continue to explore our options before making any decisions.

One strong possibility? Some of the old ziplock expansions are project stretch goals and then either produced as stand-alone titles (in ziplock bags!) or packed inside the appropriate game. The increased depth of the new Pocket Box (read about the new box here) gives us some space to play with; for example, Car Wars Expansion Set #1 would make an excellent stretch goal addition to the Pocket Box Car Wars game.

We'll finalize how we use these ziplock expansions between now and when the project goes live in January. (And which expansions are considered; still working through those details.)

Coming in January
We're on track to launch the Pocket Box games of the eighties as a project on Kickstarter next month. For notification, please follow Steve Jackson Games on Kickstarter. We hope to see many of you join in to help us create reproductions of these classic games and expansions.
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Wed Dec 12, 2018 7:11 pm
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Choosing Pocket Box Games

As we've already mentioned, we at Steve Jackson Games are working on bringing back the classic plastic Pocket Box games of the eighties. We already have one game -- a "what if?" edition of Melee and Wizard -- in the works, thanks to the success of The Fantasy Trip on Kickstarter, and we are proceeding with the design of the new box.

From gallery of PhilReed


What's different about this new Pocket Box? We've increased the depth to 1.25-inches (so that you can fit more in the box), removed the plastic hang tab, and modified the clasp mechanism. We're not yet finished with the design of the new box -- our partners at GPI are refining the steel tool a second time -- but we're far enough along on the project that we're ready to ask the (very) big question:

Which game(s) do you most want to see included in the series?

From gallery of PhilReed


The big three classics -- Car Wars, Illuminati, and Ogre -- are musts, yes, but there were other Pocket Box games, and each is being considered for reproduction as part of the upcoming Pocket Box campaign. And with that in mind, we would love to hear about the Steve Jackson Games titles you would like to see return in the Pocket Box format.

The options include:

* Raid on Iran
* One-Page Bulge
* Kung Fu 2100
* Car Wars (a must)
* Undead
* Crash City
* Illuminati (a must)
* Ogre (a must)
* G.E.V.
* Truck Stop
* Illuminati Expansion Set 1
* Illuminati Expansion Set 2
* Battlesuit
* Necromancer
* The Awful Green Things from Outer Space
* Boat Wars

Please leave a comment and let us know which of the above titles you would like to see produced as a part of this series. This is not a guarantee of any one game being brought back as a Pocket Box, but we are listening and want to use your feedback to help guide our own discussions and planning sessions.

Thanks!

NOTE: These will be near-identical reproductions of the originals* -- get ready to cut counters! -- and are intended as replacements for those of you who lived through "my mom threw my games out after high school" and have never quite forgiven her for tossing your copy of Necromancer.

* Except for Melee and Wizard, which were never produced as Pocket Box games. This box, since we had to create all new artwork, includes die cut counters and will be priced slightly higher than the other Pocket Box games that we plan to release in 2019.

From gallery of PhilReed
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Wed Nov 14, 2018 6:22 pm
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Bringing Back the Classic Pocket Box

" . . . the 'new look' for all our minigames will be a black plastic box, 4 1/4" x 7 1/4" x 5/8" thick. There will be color labels front and back; inside — well protected — will be the game itself."
- Steve Jackson, "Where We're Going," Space Gamer #48, February 1982


Over the last few years at the Steve Jackson Games office, we have worked to bring some of the classic games from the company's past to today's gamers and collectors. The success of the Ogre Designer's Editon and the Classic Car Wars game, bringing the first new edition of Triplanetary in over three decades to the market, as well as the response to launching The Fantasy Trip on Kickstarter, made it clear that many out there would like to get their hands on those older titles.

"The Pocket Box mold seems to have passed its tests; pre-production samples have been acceptable. The mold is now being shipped to Austin so we can supervise production runs. Box Day still looks like sometime in late February."
- Steve Jackson, "Where We're Going," Space Gamer #49, March 1982


In exploring our back catalog, one game format kept popping up again and again, demanding that we pay it the attention that it deserves. And considering that the packaging format hasn't been in stores since the eighties, there's a chance that many of today's gamers are unfamiliar with the original plastic Pocket Box.

"At long last, we are in full production on the Pocket Boxes. The factory is turning them out, the labels are in, the shrinkwrapper is debugged . . . it all works. Unbelievable."
- Steve Jackson, "Where We're Going," Space Gamer #51, May 1982


The Pocket Box was, for about seven years, the iconic product format of the Steve Jackson Games line. These hard plastic cases, sized to fit the same racks that held paperback books back in the eighties, were everywhere that I went! Visiting game stores, going to a friend's to play games, and even the halls of our school, there was that plastic Pocket Box.

From gallery of PhilReed


Car Wars was my Pocket Box game of choice, and there was no way I was going to let the Sunday Drivers and Truck Stop plastic Pocket Box games not ride alongside the Car Wars box whenever I set out to play. How many hours did we play Car Wars with just that original Pocket Box edition? Hundreds of hours at least, and many more when we add in the other two boxes.

Illuminati. Ogre. Necromancer. Battlesuit. The list of Pocket Box games went on and on when I was a kid, and I would spend far, far too much time looking at the old catalogs and deciding which game I would buy next. I never did get them all -- you know how allowances and neighborhood errands were, right? -- but I lusted after every single one.

In the end, toward the final years of the eighties, my last Pocket Box purchase was Boat Wars, the Car Wars expansion for boats and hovercraft. I would have bought others -- and have, in the years since, picked up a few -- but life got in the way and, in 1989, Steve Jackson Games put an end to the Pocket Box.

Reconstructing the Pocket Box
Recently, while on a trip with our GPI rep to the factories in China, we handed over a copy of the Truck Stop Pocket Box and asked "How tough would it be to reproduce this, as close to the original as possible?" After a lot of discussion and exploration, the decision was made to run a test; leave the Truck Stop box with the factory and let them take a stab at high-res scans of the paper contents.

A month after I returned home from the factory, the Truck Stop test prints arrived . . . and look amazing! Every little piece, from the cover labels to the promotional materials in the box, were faithfully re-created and the test proves that we can bring back the Pocket Box.

From gallery of PhilReed


Moving Forward
Next, we finalize the list of titles and ship copies of all of the Pocket Box games we plan to reproduce to the factory. We'll make minor tweaks to the games -- adding current copyright dates, adjusting the actual box slightly -- but our ultimate plan, if we move forward, is to produce editions of the games that "look just like the ones your mom tossed in the trash when you went to college."

We're at the earliest stages of the Pocket Box project. As the details emerge and our decisions solidify, we'll update the world and, when it is time, announce how to get your hands on reprints of the classic Pocket Box games.

(And finally, if this proceeds as we hope, I can add Battlesuit to my game collection.)

From gallery of PhilReed
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Tue Jul 24, 2018 2:55 pm
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3x3 and VMGs in Car Wars

The new edition of Car Wars continues to come together, and this week Scott and I sat down on two different days to test out the head-to-head action. Both sessions went well -- the first was roughly thirty minutes and the second closer to an hour -- and we're still working toward releasing the game late this year.
From gallery of PhilReed


Playmat Test

Both games were played on a 3'x3' playmat to represent the arena. No obstacles or obstructions, the test was to see whether or not we should explore the possibility of publishing arenas as large playmats. Yeah, the playmat worked great and is an idea we're going to discuss with retailers and distributors.

Question: How many of you would be interested in an arena expansion that included one playmat and an assortment of chipboard walls that could be rearranged to create different arena designs?

Vulcan Machineguns

As with earlier sessions, we started the game by designing our cars. The biggest change to the design system over the last few months was separating crew points from vehicle points; no longer are vehicles and crewmembers constructed from the same pool of resources.

For this session, we went with 15 build points and three crew points.

Scott grabbed a VMG for each side of his car, several accessories (including a fire extinguisher and targeting computer), and sunk his crew points into a talented driver.

I used my points for a VMG on the left, two heavy rockets on the front, a targeting computer, and a swarm of attack and defense drones. My crew points went toward a basic driver and gunner.
From gallery of PhilReed


Drones?

Absolutely. These semi-autonomous machines buzz and hover around the arena, swarming over a designated target and hanging back when necessary. Drones offer bonuses to hit, bonuses to defense, and some are armed with cannons and can attack enemy cars. Using an attack drone is a firing action, so where possible I was letting my gunner switch to the attack drone to harras Scott's car.

It is possible the attack drone's cost was too low; that's something we'll work at as testing continues.

Close and Attack

Scott and I raced forward, guns blazing, and were ripping chunks of armor off of each other almost instantly. The first few rounds were at extended range, but Scott's faster speed soon had us close enough together that my driver and gunner let loose with the two heavy rockets; nasty, but not overpowering. Almost instantly I regretted sinking points into the single-shot rockets, but if not for those rockets it's possible I may have lost the game.

We swerved around one corner of the arena for several rounds, each of us trying to keep our heaviest armor facing the other while taking shots. My gunner alternated VMG and drone attacks as Scott kept ripping my armor with his two VMGs. As soon as my left side armor and VMG were destroyed I found myself in a tough situation; drones are cool and all, but having only drones for offense was sure to mean Scott would win.

Close Game!

By the end of the game both of us were driving with zero armor on multiple sides, wounded drivers, destroyed weapons, and damaged power plants. My choice of a driver and gunner -- granting me two attacks each turn -- was helping me stay in the game, but sinking most of my points into drones instead of heavy vehicular weapons was starting to look like a mistake when a single lucky shot destroyed Scott's power plant and gave me the win.

But it was close. One more shot from Scott would have either killed my driver or knocked out my power plant, meaning that the game was tense and the outcome uncertain right until the last die roll. That's always an exciting way to end a game!
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Fri Jan 15, 2016 2:25 pm
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Inside Munchkin Boosters

(NOTE: This article first ran in Game Trade Magazine.)

Our first Munchkin booster packs, Fairy Dust and Waiting for Santa, were published in 2009. Those first micro-expansion packs were soon followed by other inexpensive Munchkin boosters, and as each new set was released we heard demands for more and more themes and new ideas. The boosters were, both financially and from a gameplay perspective, far more successful than we had originally hoped.

The format, though, wasn't perfect. Two different - and very public - problems kept the boosters from truly reaching their full potential, while a third issue with the boosters (behind the scenes) nagged at us more and more as the number of booster releases kept climbing.

Those three grievances were:

* The fin-seal packaging, while tidy and effective, confused new Munchkin players as well as veteran fans. Over and over again we had to shout to the world "These aren't random," but despite our best efforts to educate the world the "How many packs do I need to buy to collect the set?" question haunted us.

* Additionally, the fin-seal and PoP (Point of Purchase) display caused problems for stores. These micro-expansions just wouldn't shelve neatly with the rest of the Munchkin games, expansions, and accessories.

* Finally, behind the scenes, those fin-seal packages required more time to manufacture and the minimum order requirement was higher than our usual expansion formats. That meant it took longer to get these ideas to shelves than we liked and we couldn't justify keeping the packs available. The safest action for us was to print a single run and then allow the booster to go out of print.

We hate when Munchkin expansions go out of print. It drives the aftermarket prices to unreasonable amounts which makes it expensive for new Munchkin players to grab older cards. That's no fun!

A Possible Solution? When we outlined our Star Munchkin plans for 2015 (Star Munchkin 3, Star Munchkin Deluxe, and Star Munchkin Cosmic Demo) we struggled over whether or not to reprint the Space Ships booster. Prices on eBay were around the $40 mark, but the demand wasn't high enough to justify printing tens of thousands of copies of the booster. What could we do?
Board Game: Star Munchkin Cosmic Demo


After several phone calls, emails, debates in our conference rooms, and painful tears, we settled on an idea that we felt could work: The blister pack. What's a blister pack? You've seen these thousands of times before. A piece of cardboard and clear plastic shell are glued together to form a hangable package that allows us to see what's inside. Blister packs are used in almost every industry -- how many of these did I tear open when buying Star Wars action figures as a kid? -- and a blister pack would allow a store to display Space Ships right beside Star Munchkin 3.

And even better is that the blister pack is standard for us, and both quicker to produce and can be run in lower numbers than a fin-seal. We believed we had the solution so we went with it, shipping Space Ships to print in the new packaging format before talking with more than a handful of outside partners.

We revealed the Space Ships packaging to retailers at the GAMA Trade Show, and the response was positive! This turned out to be one of our best decisions of the year, automatically making reprints of boosters viable and providing stores with a package that pegs in the exact same spot as the various Munchkin tuckbox expansions. Win!

As soon as we knew that the new format would work we sat down and went through the list of out-of-print boosters and selected two to reprint right away. Our processes usually require more time, but the staff pulled together and managed to get these two boosters revised and off to the printer quickly.
Board Game: Munchkin Dragons


* Munchkin Dragons - Probably the fastest-selling Munchkin booster ever, this was first in line since it fit perfectly with the new Dragon's Trike booster.

* Munchkin Marked for Death - As both an expansion and workable demo set, this was a perfect second choice. Marked for Death rushed off to print soon after we finished Dragons.

But reprinting out-of-print boosters wasn't the only use for the blister packaging. A few ideas floating around the office weren't big enough for a tuckbox expansion, but we had more than 15 ideas for cards. We quickly worked out pricing and plans for 30-card blister packs and created two new sets that will be in your favorite local game store before Christmas:

* Munchkin Kittens - After working with Katie Cook on Munchkin Love Shark Baby we just had to get her adorable artwork into another expansion. Munchkin Kittens is insanely cute. Now to tackle Munchkin Puppies!

* Munchkin Hipsters – Illustrated by John Kovalic, our staff pulled together to come up with more hipster jokes than you can shake an organic lemon-ginger mocha macchiato at!

And, we’re not finished yet! The flexibility of the new blister packaging over the old booster fin-seals has us reviewing our 2016 plans. Now that we can print fewer copies of a micro-expansion, we’re looking at bringing back some other out-of-print boosters, and the 30-card format looks perfect for a few other ideas.

We would love to hear from you about the new packaging for the booster packs. You can find us on Twitter (@sjgames), or leave a comment on our forums at www.sjgames.com. And if you have an out-of-print Munchkin booster that you want to see back in stores, please let us know! After all, part of the reason we made the packaging change was to make it easier to reprint those earlier Munchkin boosters.
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Wed Jan 13, 2016 4:41 pm
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Bringing a little holiday cheer to your game sessions.

Over the years, we have produced many holiday expansions for Munchkin, but despite many fan requests, we have never created a full holiday-themed Munchkin core set.

With Munchkin Christmas Lite -- set for release late this year -- we have answered that call.

From gallery of PhilReed


A gift for your friends!

Munchkin Christmas Lite was created to serve two different purposes.

First, the game is the holiday-themed core Munchkin game many of you have asked for. You and two or three of your friends can grab the box, add a die and level counters, and play a complete Munchkin game. Adding any of the numerous holiday expansions and accessories is optional (but highly recommended!). If we know you guys, your 112-card Munchkin Christmas Lite game is going to incorporate all kinds of fun extras.

Second, the game is an introduction to Munchkin. We've packed the game in a tuckbox to keep costs down, and we even dug deep into our profit margins to offer the game at only $9.95. That's cutting our usual MSRP on a game this size in half. It is the season of giving and all, so we're happy to pass some savings on so that you can gift copies to your friends who do not yet own a Munchkin game of their very own.

From gallery of PhilReed


What's in the box?

Munchkin Christmas Lite includes streamlined rules and 112 game cards. A little over half of the cards are existing Munchkin cards that have been re-illustrated by John Kovalic. Which cards? That would be telling, but here we're happy to show three of the cards in their original Munchkin form and the all-new Munchkin Christmas Lite version.

From gallery of PhilReed


The Gazebo all decked out for the holidays is one of my favorite classic Munchkin monsters that has joined the festivities. I still want to see several of the monsters turned into toys, and seeing John's new illustration for the Gazebo makes me want those toys more than ever. Gazebo with accessories? Yes, please.

From gallery of PhilReed


As you can see, John had a lot of fun crafting Christmas-themed artwork for the set. Andrew and his team selected the basic game cards to carry over into the set. Any guesses as to which other cards may have found their way into Munchkin Christmas Lite?

From gallery of PhilReed


And there are new cards!

49 of the 112 cards in Munchkin Christmas Lite are completely new. Andrew and several members of our staff gathered together in the conference room to devise terrible holiday puns. Andrew then took the list of bad ideas and put together wonderfully awful new Munchkin cards that are going to draw as many giggles as groans.

From gallery of PhilReed


Get ready for the holidays.

Munchkin Christmas Lite is at the printer and scheduled to reach store shelves in early November. At $9.95 we're hoping that many of you will use this as a stocking stuffer for the holidays. And with this set we've answered your requests for a stand-alone holiday Munchkin game.

Now to deal with all of your other demands . . .
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Thu Jul 23, 2015 3:35 pm
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Twin Rocket Launchers in Car Wars Sixth Edition

Scott, Sam, and I sat down yesterday afternoon for another round of Car Wars, this time trying a couple of Scott's revised rules as well as the fire/internal damage deck. The game was roughly one and a half hours -- thirty minutes of which was discussion -- putting it at slightly longer than our goal of fifteen minutes per player.

How did things go? Keep reading and find out!

tl;dr - Still fast, still fun, needs more attention applied to collisions. Oh. And no more twin rocket launchers in a turret.

From gallery of PhilReed


Turrets and Rocket Launchers

"How many weapons can I shove in a turret," I asked Scott as we were working on vehicle design. The response of "up to two identical weapons" had me immediately dump the majority of my 12 design points into a turret and two rocket launchers. I then applied about 75% of my vehicle's armor to the right and back of the car.

The plan? Drive straight out. Turn hard. Stop. Play bunker. And pray Sam and Scott never had a chance to get around to the sides of the car that had almost no armor.

From gallery of PhilReed


Firing First + Twin Rocket Launchers = No Front Armor for Sam

The game started off as violently as we could hope when the very first barrage from my twin rocket launchers shredded the front of Sam's car. Sam, carrying a flamethrower on each side and with most of his armor on the right and left sides of his car, drove through the rest of the game with zero front armor. That made him a very attractive target.

From gallery of PhilReed


How Many Collisions?

I lost track of the number of times Sam and Scott rammed my car. We tried the revised collision dice out, and a good part of our discussion turned to various ideas on how to keep collisions as simple as possible without completely ignoring what happens when two cars hit each other. The updated collision dice helped, but we're still working on this.

The trick is to make collisions fun and satisfying without completely bringing the game to a halt AND without making rams so powerful that everyone ignores the weapons.

Sam and Scott have ideas, I have an idea, and the next step is for the three of us to bounce those ideas around and try to streamline the system and make it fun and dangerous. I'm sure that between the three of us we'll have this nailed down over the next week.

From gallery of PhilReed


Out of Control

Sam tested the maneuvering system by collecting out of control tokens. I mentioned these last week -- see https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/43804/vroom-taking-car-wa... -- and at one point during the game Sam had four of these which was not making life any easier. Scott's updated maneuvering system works quick and clean, but as we played the three of us discussed ways to make maneuvering just a little more dangerous.

Now we don't want everyone zigging and zagging randomly without worry, but there needs to be just a little more risk than there is now. Maybe revising the dice mechanic will help, or we could increase the challenge of various maneuvers. Needs more testing . . . aw, you mean we have to play Car Wars again this week? So horrible for us, right?

About Those Twin Rocket Launchers

Brutal is too weak a word to describe the damage caused by twin rocket launchers in a turret. The weapons took no time to reduce both Sam and Scott to cars with no front armor, and both of them were soon suffering internal damage as the rocket launchers just kept firing.

As Sam and Scott raced around -- their speeds were usually at the upper range of the system -- I rolled and stopped, rolled and stopped, doing everything I could to keep my strong right and back sides facing them.

When we sit down again I am certain that we'll tweak the way weapons and turrets work together -- I'll likely never again shove two rocket launchers into a single turret -- but we test these ideas for exactly this reason. It's better to have a few off-balanced playtests and try everything than it is to ship a game that has a weird loophole for someone to exploit.

From gallery of PhilReed


Next Time I'll Talk Fire and Internal Damage

I forgot to explain the deck for fire and internal damage, didn't I? Well, we're scheduled to play again this week so I'll have to snap some rough pics of the deck and talk about how it works. It's not that we didn't use it during this session -- we drew several times; Sam and Scott both had flamethrowers and they weren't afraid to use them -- but I neglected to take any pictures of those cards during play.

Yep. Next time I take those pictures and tell you guys how the deck works. I promise.
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Tue Jul 14, 2015 10:12 am
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Vroom!!! Taking the Car Wars playtest set for a spin.

I sat down with Scott Haring yesterday to give the latest draft of the Car Wars game a shot. Scott has been working on the sixth edition rules for over a year now. I've already played the game a few times now, this time I wanted to publicly share a handful of my thoughts on the session.

NOTE: All of the components shown in the photos are Scott's very rough test pieces. Also, this is not a detailed, and complete overview of the current playtest set. This is a quick overview to give you an idea of where things are headed.

tl;dr - Faster and focused more on speed and destruction than on physics and math. Yay!!!

From gallery of PhilReed


Components

For the session, Scott and I each started with identical game components. We each had a nine-card deck for setting our speed each round. We each had a second deck of vehicle component cards. We each had a record sheet. And we each had a car counter.

Shared components during the game were the dice and the new maneuvering tool . . . more on those later.

From gallery of PhilReed


Speed Cards

Numbered zero to six, plus a minus one and minus two, these cards were used at the start of each turn to declare our speed that round. Basic vehicles may accelerate or decelerate by one each round; special vehicle component cards can modify that amount.

I started at a 6 (the fastest possible speed in the basic game) . . . but I was soon traveling in reverse.


From gallery of PhilReed


Vehicle Component Cards

In the older editions of Car Wars, vehicle design was an exercise in mathiness as we calculated weight, space, cost, and did our best to cram everything into a car that we loved.

Yesterday, during the sixth edition playtest, all I had to care about was a single number: Ten. Each of the vehicle component cards has a number in the lower left corner and as long as all of my cards totaled ten then I was ready to go. Now some sessions will use a different number -- say "20" as one example -- but for our game, Scott and I were each limited to ten.


From gallery of PhilReed


Armor, engines, tires, and other stock components.

Part of what made vehicle design so quick was that each car automatically started with some basic -- and vital! -- components. Scott and I each had the same baseline vehicle with 30 points of armor, basic tires, a driver and gunner, and an engine. We could modify those basics with the vehicle component cards -- Scott, for example, increased his armor total to 45 -- but every modification counted toward the target number of 10.

Starting with the basic shell of the vehicle reminded me a lot of an old Autoduel Quarterly article and of the original card-driven vehicle design system we tested during the fifth edition playtests. Scott improved on that older work, and the result left me happy with the ease and speed of the system.

Within five minutes, we were each ready for combat.

From gallery of PhilReed


Some Basics

* Dice. There are two different types of dice in the Car Wars sixth edition game, basic play dice and special collision dice. The basic dice are for initiative, combat, control rolls, and just about anything else you'll ever want to do. When attacking you roll and hope for "hits" while your opponent rolls and hopes for "shields." When maneuvering you do not want to roll "skids" or else you will, as Scott put it, be the "proud owner of an out of control token."

I don't think Scott knows the meaning of the word proud.

The collision dice only come into play when you ram something -- which I did -- and are rolled together. One determines distance your car moves from the point of impact while the other shows your car's orientation after a collision. Extremely simple, and highly effective when my speed six car slammed head-on into Scott's speed five car.

From gallery of PhilReed


* Maneuvery tooly thingy. Hey, we're working on the name! This was used both for straight movement and turns. The protractery edgy end of the maneuvery tooly thingy (yeah, words is tough when writing at 3 am) shows a number between 1 and 6. When making a turn check which number the arrow is pointing at and then roll that many dice.

NOTE: Rolling six dice + two more dice for going fast is bad. Don't do what I did.

Some of the vehicle component cards can help here -- a spoiler, for example, allows you to ignore one "skid" result -- and I suggest you take some of those gadgets if you plan to twist and turn and spin all across the event.

From gallery of PhilReed


Some Specifics

Our entire playtest session was one hour for two cars, with close to 30 minutes of our hour spent discussing the game and expected component costs. Actual play, including vehicle design, was in the 35 to 40 minute range . . . just slightly longer than our target. Fortunately, the actual play didn't feel like it was taking more than half an hour. So perceptions aligned neatly with our goal, even if the reality of time didn't match our goal. We'll work on that.

During this session, Scott and I were testing his rough component mix for the two-player introductory game. This rendition of the game, if it happens as currently conceived, would be an inexpensive introduction to Car Wars; everything is looking like the deeper box that supports four players (and have a lot more vehicle design options) will require a price point higher than our $25 to $30 goal.

So we adapt. And Scott's doing an excellent job of adapting . . . especially considering his very first draft of the new edition led us to a $100 game. Not quite the target price.

What's Next?

More playtesting. Scott is taking the feedback from yesterday's game and making minor tweaks to his playtest set. Next week we're scheduled for two sessions -- with more players -- and I can see we're close to shifting our playtesting efforts from internal testing to public testing at stores and conventions.

Will we run Car Wars playtests at Gen Con? Doubtful. I hope to have a set with me for private tests with select distributors and retailers, but things aren't quite at the point we're ready to open everything to a public playtest in the booth.

That doesn't mean I won't be convinced that I should run a playtest or two in an undisclosed location for special friends, but don't expect to see the game in our booth.

I'll try to snap new pics and share next week during our next playtest sessions.
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Wed Jul 8, 2015 9:39 am
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One Opportunity Inspires A New Game

"The question of where ideas come from is on the mind of anyone visiting a research lab, an artist's workshop, or an inventor's studio. It's the secret we hope to see -- the magic that happens when new things are born.”
— Scott Berkun, The Myths of Innovation



When you have a strong relationship with a major retail partner, new opportunities come in at unexpected moments:

* Holes in a planogram need to be filled at the last moment.
* A new buyer assembles a last-minute display.
* Sales of one item spike suddenly, leading the buyer to search for similar items.

You can never tell what each day will bring. The one thing you can be certain of is that every unexpected opportunity will lead to a rush of ideas . . . And sometimes those ideas grow into an entirely new thing.

***

In July -- right as the madness of San Diego Comic-Con was tearing my mind apart and turning the office into Thunderdome -- we got a call. A key retail partner wanted to see pitches for tiny, inexpensive games. I took a few moments to let the fear fade and then gave Sam, Andrew, and Randy the rough requirements, setting a meeting time for the next day.

From gallery of PhilReed
About fifteen hours later, Andrew and Randy joined me in my office to sit at the table and try two little games.

One was a dice game that Andrew suggested, inspired by a larger dice game Steve had been working on for a year or two.

The other was a game suggested by Sam (who would have been there if he hadn't been on vacation; yes, many of us answer mail and work while supposedly off the clock) that used a die as the tool for a dexterity game.

Both games worked great. About 30 minutes later, we had enough sketched out to work with production and marketing on the official pitches. It had been less than 24 hours since the unexpected retail opportunity landed on my desk.

A day later, Randy, Andrew, and I sat down with Steve so he could see what we had put together. Dice tossing, rolling, and laughter told us the two games worked -- and worked well.

At the end of the meeting, Steve challenged us. Could we build something out of the two game designs that was larger, more involved, and better suited to our market? And could we have one of those bigger games ready to launch in 2015?

Absolutely.

From gallery of PhilReed
Over several emails among Sam, Steve, and myself, the ideas grew more and more complicated, building into a $10 game that we felt had strong potential in the market.

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place a few days later, when I stopped by the Topps booth at San Diego Comic-Con and suggested a Mars Attacks-themed dexterity game. It took me five minutes to secure their initial approval, so I immediately mailed Sam and set him to work.

By the time I was back from the convention, Sam and Randy had built and playtested the new game, multiple times, in and out of the office. The first time I sat down to play the game, it was roughly 90% of the way to its final form. I made one tiny tweak of my own, but Sam and Randy really made the game happen.

Less than two weeks from the the initial idea, it was time for me to visit Topps in NYC and secure final approval for the game.

I love when game ideas come together quickly.
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Mon Oct 20, 2014 7:48 pm
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