We Are Taking The Plunge! (Part 2)
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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We are taking the plunge!

After more than three years of planning, research, design work, playtests, discussions, etc., we are ready to introduce our first board game, Three Kingdoms Redux, to you. I am also setting up a company, Starting Player, to publish the game. Artwork for the game is progressing as I type this and should be completed by the end of this year. Manufacturing will follow shortly after.

As you can tell, we are thrilled and excited to be sharing this piece of news with fellow board gamers! Here is the story of our journey...

Links to other parts of our story:
We Are Taking The Plunge! (Part 1)
We Are Taking The Plunge! (Part 3)
We Are Taking The Plunge! (Part 4)
We Are Taking The Plunge! (Part 5)


Subscribe to this geeklist to be informed when we update our story.

Links:
Three Kingdoms Redux
Starting Player
Three Kingdoms Redux Game Rules
Three Kingdoms Redux Compendium
Geeklist discussing historical perspective of Three Kingdoms Redux
Geeklist discussing artwork of generals of Three Kingdoms Redux
Geeklist discussing artwork of state enhancements of Three Kingdoms Redux
• The all important Significant Other :
Keng Leong Yeo
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小富靠勤,中富靠智,大富靠德。
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1. Board Game: Hole [Average Rating:1.00 Unranked]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Preliminary Playtesting and Loopholes (April to May 2011)

The university semester ended in early May and my Significant Other was free once again to work on Three Kingdoms' Pinnacle with me. However, he still had to spend some time preparing for the modules assigned to him in the new academic year.

We playtested Three Kingdoms' Pinnacle for the first time. Our initial playtests were only with two players, i.e. me and him, because we wanted to test the main mechanics first. We spotted large loopholes in the game rules right from the start. As mentioned previously, that was our first major mistake in board game designing: Filling out the meat of the game rules when the spine of it hasn't been playtested yet!

Major changes were required to shorten game time and address balance issues, and these were duly implemented. It was also during this period that he hit upon an idea that replicated the balance of power during the three kingdoms period well, i.e. how the two weaker states tend to form an alliance against the third stronger state. This was included into the spine of the board game and has stayed there ever since.

The rules were whipped into more reasonable shape by late June 2011, and we were ready for proper three-player playtesting.
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2. Board Game: We Didn't Playtest This At All [Average Rating:5.60 Overall Rank:10861] [Average Rating:5.60 Unranked]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Initial Three-Player Playtesting (June 2011)

A close friend of ours, Lip Ghee aka Ah Ghee, whom we introduced Agricola to and is quite a fan himself, had known about Three Kingdoms' Pinnacle a few months after idea inception.
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He was also a fan of sorts of Romance of the Three Kingdoms and had volunteered his services to us for playtesting. We cautioned him about the amount of time required for intensive playtesting but he was adamant. Indeed, he kept badgering us to finish up the rules so that he could come over and try.

23rd June 2011 was the date that we tried Three Kingdoms' Pinnacle for the first time with three players, as it was intended to be. Ah Ghee subsequently brought along a buddy, whom my Significant Other also know, for the second playtest a few days later.

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3. Board Game: Spore [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
 
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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SPORE Con (28th to 29th May 2011)

I carried out a lot of research work in preparation for the setting up of a company, as well as for board game designing and publishing. It was during this work that I found out that Singapore has its very own gaming convention. That's the SPORE Con and it takes place in late May/early June every year. SPORE Con became the first board gaming convention of any kind or size that we attended. mb

SPORE Con is probably very small compared to the other more well-known conventions. We met many people nonetheless and they gave us much valuable advice on our budding board gaming company plans. In particular, we met Edwin Ng from Black Dove Games and he was most helpful in his replies to our queries on their experience in Essen the previous October, which was also the first time they were there.

All in all, a fruitful trip and we hope to make it one of our annual pilgrimages from hereon. Unfortunately, we missed the 2012 edition (see penultimate geeklist item below). The 2013 edition was, for some reason, cancelled.
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Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Introducing My Parents to Board Gaming (June 2011)

We had kept the quitting of my job from my parents. Knowing how antsy they might get, we decided against letting them know so that they would not worry about us.

However, the thought of getting my parents involved in some way for our project did cross my mind. Perhaps after they retire, they could even help out in playtesting. But before that could happen, I needed to introduce some board games to them.

The main difficulty was probably my mum, who was almost totally English illiterate. That meant I had to ease them in with language-independent games with simple rules. Looking at our board game collection, Blokus and Ingenious seemed more suitable.

The opportunity arose during Father's Day of 2011 when we were invited over for a family gathering. After lunch, we broke out both games and managed to convince both parents to the table. My Significant Other was skeptical if they would be willing to try, but my persistence paid off. That gaming session turned out of be a huge success. thumbsup
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5. Board Game: The Name's The Game [Average Rating:4.78 Unranked]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Naming Our Company (June 2011)

With playtesting of Three Kingdoms' Pinnacle finally underway, we turned our attention to researching on the setting up of our designing and publishing company, artwork, manufacturing, website design, marketing, etc. I took on all of that work with much gusto.

A natural progression of that process was deciding on our company name and logo. For the company name, we wanted something that captured the spirit of board gaming and our home country. Our initial decision was to incorporate at least some Singlish in the name. In doing so, we also had to make sure it did not carry any negative connotation or had any funny meaning in a foreign language, was easy to pronounce for any nationality, and the URL has not been taken by other parties.

We eventually brainstormed a very long list of possibilities and e-mailed all of them out to many of our friends for their opinions.

Our top choice for the name was "Kaki". It is in Malay and means "partner in gaming activities". For example, mahjong kaki means a friend whom you usually invite for mahjong. Upon checking for any strange meanings on the web and asking about it on BGG, we found out that it meant "poo" in Hungarian and Hebrew. We reluctantly threw out that name, which was a pity!

The preliminary name we eventually settled on was "Agaration". It is a fusion of the Malay word "Agak", which means to estimate or to guess and "ation", which is a suffix Singaporeans sometimes add to a verb in English to "convert" it into a noun. "Agaration" therefore means a guess or estimate. It seemed easy enough to pronounce (my Significant Other ran this by a French Canadian ex-colleague of his and he pronounced it ok). It felt local enough and the URL was still available!

Even so, we were not 100% sure about "Agaration". It seemed a little long, but it was the best we could come up with at that point in time.
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6. Board Game Publisher: Starting Player
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Logo Design (June 2011)

As for the logo, we wanted something that evokes board gaming. Dice, meeples, cards and other gaming components were part of our consideration, though we did not want something too common.

My Significant Other was doodling one day, not playing with game components for once, and recalled a number of drawings with the numerals 1-9 his dad taught him when he was a boy. The one he remembers most vividly was the side view of a gentleman with a moustache wearing a top hat.

He drew that out in GIMP with the help of the Brush Script MT font and showed it to me. I loved its simple lines but did not understand how it is related to board gaming. Well, he explained, numbers are almost certainly involved one way or another in board games, e.g. strategising and scoring. (I actually thought it probably has more to do with the fact that he is an actuary ) Most importantly, he looked upon board gaming as a gentleman's (and lady's) pastime, i.e. board gamers do not cheat and play more for fun and socialising than to win.

The final step was to check with Microsoft if we needed to purchase additional license(s) to change and use the Brush Script MT font in our company logo. After some e-mail correspondence with them, we found out that we do. Fortunately, it is not too costly.

And that was how we decided on our company logo. It looked a little bare without any background or border, and we were to add the card outline and design some time later to complete the design.
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7. Board Game: Motto [Average Rating:3.00 Unranked]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Company Motto (June 2011)

Next up was a company motto.

We belong to the generation where there were many other pastimes to keep us occupied besides the now ubiquitous computer games. Whilst we do enjoy the occasional computer game (my favourite is the Richman 大富翁 series), we also feel that the advent and popularity of them is having a detrimental effect on the younger generation.

Specifically, they have monopolised a lot of youngsters' free time, to the extent of having a negative impact on their social and language skills (disclaimer: our personal opinions). Computer games also suffer from the issue of "save and reload", which is obviously disconnected from reality. I know this is the main reason my Significant Other makes sure we make time to board game with his niece whenever her school holidays come along.

With the above considerations in mind, coupled with our goal of designing and publishing quality eurogames, we settled on the motto of "Reconnecting People, Reactivating Minds".
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8. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:8.03 Overall Rank:17]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Taking Part in Agricola G3 Deck Idea Generation (May to June 2011)

Amidst all that excitement, we also took part in generating and submitting ideas for the Agricola G3 deck. We had already missed doing so for the G and WM decks and wanted to cut our board game designing teeth with the G3 deck. Besides, we are big fans of Agricola. Agricola is a big reason for us becoming aspiring board game designers and publisher, so the opportunity to have our own designed cards with potentially our caricatures on them was simply too good an opportunity to pass!

We put up some ideas on the PlayAgricola.com website and a number of them made it through the first round of voting. Unfortunately for me, none of my card ideas made it into the final cut. My Significant Other did have one occupation and one minor improvement card in the final deck of 120 cards, namely Retiree and Bucket. We understand that the deck has since been renamed the France deck, and his cards were renamed Convict Number 24601 and Goblet. I can't say he is very enthusiastic about the name changes to his cards.
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9. Board Game: Go/Stop [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:9093]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Playtesting Continues, Then Stops (June to November 2011)

Playtesting continued in earnest from June to November 2011, with the help of Ah Ghee. We quickly discovered that Ah Ghee is a very competent playtester. So much so that we "promoted" him to the position of "Emeritus Chief Playtester". He not only played our game well (he wins frequently!), he also tried all sorts of extreme strategies to test the boundaries of our rules. That resulted in frequent changes to our game rules, often to the betterment of its balance. We are truly grateful to him for his help, especially since he was doing so without any monetary return.
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In the meantime, my Significant Other's full-time lecturing job commenced in July 2011. That reduced his input on the board games to night time and the weekends.

Towards the end of November, Ah Ghee told us the bad news that he has to reduce the frequency of the playtests with us, due to a family illness. That became a complete pause shortly after. We understood his difficulties but were disappointed nonetheless. Without Ah Ghee, our playtesting grounded to a halt. We needed badly an effective third player for meaningful playtests.

Brainstorming for alternative sources of playtesters began. Our options were:

i) Local board gaming meetups, but this will take time. This source may also be more suitable for first impression type of playtesters, rather than the intensive type of playtesters we were in more urgent need of then.

ii) The handicapped, but this will take time as well. We were pretty sure if we found a suitable person via this avenue, he/she would be quite committed, as job opportunities for the handicapped are not as easy to come by locally. But time would be needed to find that person and to train him/her up.

iii) Other friends. This is unlikely given the time commitments involved.

iv) My Significant Other had been called up for another in camp training (ICT) in December and the name Brandon came to mind. He recalled that Brandon's 2 years' service was due to end in February 2012, and since his university course begins only in August, that leaves him with plenty of free time! Maybe we could invite him as a playtester during those six months?

Our consensus solution was to research and sound out at least one local handicapped organisation on the possibility of hiring one of the handicapped belonging to them, as well as try to locate and ask Brandon on his interest in playtesting during my Significant Other's impending ICT.
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Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Serving the Nation Again (December 2011)

My Significant Other does not usually look forward to his ICTs, but this was one I could tell he was somewhat keen to get started on, for obvious reasons! The following was related to me, quite excitedly, at our front door, on his return on the first day of the ICT :

"Unfortunately, I am going to be deployed to a different location from the one I was at during the previous ICT. Right then, I knew the chances of bumping into Brandon were dismal and am still kicking myself for failing to ask for his contacts during the previous ICT.

Just when I thought this avenue was a dead end, I bumped into him at the cookhouse during one of my meals! Imagine my glee as I greeted him and exchanged contacts."

Things were suddenly looking up again.

The ICT passed uneventfully, which was always welcome for him. He also managed to infect a few more of his army buddies with the Hive bug. One professed an interest in getting a copy for his parents.

We contacted Brandon after the ICT to sound him out on playtesting. He was keen and we couldn't believe our luck. laugh

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11. Board Game: The Club [Average Rating:4.48 Overall Rank:15207]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Board Gaming Club (January 2012 onwards)

After tracking down Brandon, we decided to join a local boardgaming club. We hoped to meet other local board gamers and expose ourselves to more board games. This could help us to improve our game design after we play and understand the mechanics of other board games in the market. That was how we started board gaming at the local club every Thursday evening. We have since learnt quite a number of new board games whilst gaming there. Some of them, we took sufficient fancy of to purchase a copy for ourselves.

More importantly, we met a lot of board gamers. There was one chap by the name of Weiliang,
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who was also trying his hand at designing board games. We agreed verbally that we could assist each other with playtesting. As he was going overseas for four months, we agreed to arrange for the playtesting only upon his return. We were to learn a huge number of new games via Weiliang over the next year or two, and are grateful to him for that.
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Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Lallapalooza 2012 (25th February 2012)

It was through the board gaming club that we found out about another annual gaming event known as Lallapalooza. There were competitions for a selected few board games, and the ones for 2012 were 7 Wonders, Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Dominion. We signed up for 7 Wonders.

You can read about our experience in my session report: A small loss is considered a win. Suffice it to say we were decimated.

We also got to meet many more local board gamers whilst there. In particular, we spoke with Mark Tham from Black Dove Games. As with Edwin, he offered us much advice and openly shared some of his experiences in Essen. We are grateful to him for that.
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13. Board Game: Second Front [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:5651]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Second Board Game Idea (November 2011 to February 2012)

During the enforced lull in playtesting, we started brainstorming for a second board game idea. We had started on a different game idea a long time back, but left it on the back burner without a suitable theme in favour of working on Three Kingdoms' Pinnacle.

Now that the latter's development has grounded to a halt, we picked it up again. Romance of the Three Kingdoms was one of the Four Great Classical Novels of China, with the other three being Outlaws of the Water Margin, Journey to the West and Dreams of the Red Mansion. It was therefore natural to ponder about the adaptability of the other three works to board games. In terms of familiarity, my Significant Other knew the story of Outlaws of the Water Margin rather well, followed by Journey to the West and knew next to nothing about Dreams of the Red Mansion. As for myself, I had not read any of them!

A game mechanic we had placed on back burner some time back seemed suitable for Journey to the West. I started research work for it by reading the novel, and also wrote the main spine of the rules for the game idea. In doing so, we learnt from our previous lesson with Three Kingdoms' Pinnacle, i.e. we should only fill in the nitty gritty of the rules after we have satisfied ourselves on the viability of the main mechanic.

I spent most of the early months of 2012 on the Journey to the West idea whilst waiting for late February and Brandon.
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14. Board Game: Vídeo Mania [Average Rating:3.50 Unranked]
Christina Ng
Singapore
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Learning How To Make Videos (January 2012)

It was also during the same lull in playtesting that my Significant Other thought of learning how to make videos to post on YouTube, with the aim of making videos for marketing and explaining Three Kingdoms' Pinnacle when the time comes.

He picked Hive for the project. We started playing a series of Hive games, noting down every move as we did so. The shorter and less interesting games were sieved out. It probably took us a week to come upon a game of sufficient length and depth of play.

We then replayed the same game and he tried filming the game with our digital camera. As it was our first try at filming, there were numerous hiccups, resulting in quite a few retakes. This probably took us another week to complete.

Afterwhich he started editing it in Windows Live Movie Maker. According to him, it wasn't overly complicated, and he taught himself how to add annotations, and how to add background music.

Here is the link to the end result: A lengthy game of Hive with the Significant Other

We were reasonably happy with the video, and have also acquired the skill to make a simple video for Three Kingdoms' Pinnacle.
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15. Board Game: We Didn't Playtest This Either [Average Rating:6.00 Overall Rank:4381]
Christina Ng
Singapore
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Playtesting Restarts (March 2012 onwards)

Towards the end of February, we eased Brandon into playtesting by introducing some of our heavier euro board games to him. He picked up Agricola very quickly and we knew right there and then that he was a suitable playtester.

Playtesting finally restarted in March 2012 on a weekly basis, to our immense relief. Brandon was a fast learner and his feedback was not only useful, but also different from those of Ah Ghee's. More tweaks were made to game rules. By the end of August, we were satisfied enough with the prototype to declare that the backbone was cast in stone and the rest of the playtesting would be to iron out any imbalances with the cards and such.

Brandon has since become quite an expert at our game. He, like Ah Ghee, also frequently beats us. Or maybe, we are just poor players of our own board game. blush


However, our losses turned out to be a benefit for the game's balance. I analyse the results of each playtest. Specifically, I write out short playtest reports for every playtest, and maintain a spreadsheet containing statistics of all the playtests. Whenever I detect certain trends in his style of play that we suspect was resulting in his higher winning percentages, we would make little tweaks to the game.

Or maybe you could say we were changing the rules to improve our own winning percentages. ninja Just joking.


Playtesting was a long iterative process. The main satisfaction came from observing that the changes we made becoming progressively smaller as the months went by. We did hit some bumps in between, when after a sustained period of smaller changes and feeling a little smug about it, we suddenly hit upon an issue that required a moderately large change. That usually meant we had to retrace our steps and go through the process of larger changes and waiting for them to get smaller again. robot

One of the most frequent changes made were the attributes and skills of the generals and benefits of the state enhancements. Of the 69 generals in the game, only 2 generals were to survive the entire playtesting process with their skills unchanged. The duo are Cao Cao and Sun Ce, for the curious amongst you. Many generals have gone through multiple changes, with a couple more "problematic" ones going through maybe 10-15 changes.

We have not thrown away any of the old cards, printed on 80gsm paper, because we plan to re-use their backs for future game development. Putting them together, the pile now measures 10cm in height.
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Christina Ng
Singapore
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Honeymoon (14th-28th May 2012)

In between all the playtesting and research work, we went on our much delayed much postponed honeymoon. It was a 2-week long trip to Tokyo. We brought Hive along and took many pictures... of it, not of us.

It was also a welcome break for both of us. We had been working non-stop on Three Kingdoms' Pinnacle for a couple of years now. It was also our first holiday together.


As you can tell, the Tokyo Tower is one of our favourites. This is despite the Tokyo Skytree opening during our two weeks there. In fact, we did not visit the Tokyo Skytree, though we had the time and opportunity to. Tokyo Tower has a oldish charm that we find ourselves drawn to.

My Significant Other doesn't like stopping to take pictures during our trip. The Hive photos and the Tokyo Tower night photo on the left are the only photos he took. shake He seems to like the Tokyo Tower night photo a lot, and I would sometimes catch him admiring his own work. ninja

After returning from the trip, he also put his new-found video making skills to use by summarising all the moves of the Hive game we played in Tokyo into another video: A game of Hive with the Significant Other, played over two weeks during our honeymoon.

The making of the second Hive video was a much smoother affair, as he was now more familiar with the process.
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17. Board Game: Three Kingdoms Redux [Average Rating:8.11 Overall Rank:915]
Christina Ng
Singapore
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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To be continued (how Three Kingdoms' Pinnacle became Three Kingdoms Redux)...

P.S. That's the artwork for Cao Cao 曹操, leader of Wei 魏, on the left.



Parts 3, 4 and 5 of our story are up!
Follow this link:
We Are Taking The Plunge! (Part 3)
We Are Taking The Plunge! (Part 4)
We Are Taking The Plunge! (Part 5)
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