Racing for our Second Board Game
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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After another four years of planning, research, design work, playtests, discussions, etc., we are ready to introduce our second board game, Race for the Chinese Zodiac, to you. cool

Although this is our second design, we are experiencing the same thrill and excitement as we share this piece of news with fellow board gamers! Here is the story of our journey, continued from where we left off with our first game...

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

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Race for the Chinese Zodiac
Starting Player
• The all important Significant Other:
Keng Leong Yeo
Singapore
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小富靠勤,中富靠智,大富靠德。
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1. Board Game Publisher: Starting Player
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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Re-introducing Ourselves

Some of you may find our avatars familiar as we have been around BGG for quite a number of years now. ninja

We are Singaporean board gamers, and also the designers and publishers of Three Kingdoms Redux. I started Starting Player to publish the game. We had previously covered our story of designing and publishing Three Kingdoms Redux via the We Are Taking The Plunge! geeklist series.

This geeklist continues from where we left off, as we embarked on designing and publishing our second game. The early parts of this geeklist overlap with the first game's time frame. This is because we started work on the second game when Three Kingdoms Redux was nearing completion.
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2. Board Game: Blast from the Past [Average Rating:5.54 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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Second Board Game Idea (November 2013 to July 2014)

Even after its publication, my brother still enjoys the occasional game of Three Kingdoms Redux with both of us. One of my very few regrets with Three Kingdoms Redux was its inaccessibility to my parents, primarily because of its heavier weight and extensive text. Having introduced my parents to board gaming in June 2011, I always wondered how cool it would be to design a board game that my parents, my brother, my Significant Other and I can play together. cool

Sensing this desire in me, my Significant Other suggested that the objective of our second game design should be a board game that my parents can play and enjoy with us. I was touched by his gesture kiss cry and of course agreed.

We had previously been toying with the idea of designing a game based on the Journey to the West story, but never got beyond brainstorming high-level ideas. Towards the end of 2013, we hit upon a few simpler game mechanics. However, these did not seem to fit with the Journey to the West story nor any of the Four Great Classical Novels of China well.

Looking beyond the novels, and noting that Chinese New Year around the corner, my Significant Other suggested the setting of the race of the animals to make it into the Chinese Zodiac. The Chinese classified years into 12-year cycles, named after the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. I'm a Monkey while my Significant Other is a Rabbit. Do you happen to know your Chinese Zodiac animal sign?

While many have at least heard of the Chinese Zodiac, not too many people are aware that there is an ancient folk story behind how the 12 animals were picked to represent the 12 years. Legend has it that the Jade Emperor wanted to help humankind tell time and ordered all animals to a race, which included a river crossing, to his heavenly palace. The first 12 animals to finish were those named above, in that order, and thus had the years named after them.

Some of you may be wondering, how did the little Rat finish first? And how did the mighty Dragon, the only participant that can fly, not finish first but fifth? You can read about this and the Great Race via this link to its wiki.

My Significant Other's suggestion appealed to me. We picked one of those game mechanics as a starting point and I set about making a simple prototype for it. We then had a few preliminary playtests with it. Unfortunately, the first main game mechanic we tried fell quite flat and was thrown out. shake In fact, I don't remember much of it now, as I write this.

We half-expected the failure though, having learnt from our first design experience that designing is a long iterative process, and were not discouraged in any way.
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3. Board Game: We Didn't Playtest This: Legacies [Average Rating:6.13 Overall Rank:5530]
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 Playtesting (August to October 2014)

We moved on to a second mechanic, which survived beyond the first few playtests. The idea was for the active player to choose an action from a number of actions shown on a card, while other players choose cards representing the rewards the active player will receive. We started fine-tuning it, with the aim of getting it ready for playtesting with either our Emeritus Chief Playtester, i.e. Ah Ghee, or my brother.

Between work on our first game, which were mainly checks for the ongoing manufacturing process, we managed to put in some work on the Chinese Zodiac game idea. In August 2014, we deemed it ok enough to try it out with my brother. At that point in time, we had a 3-5 or 3-6 player game in mind.

As before, we were not expecting things to go smoothly. And that was how it turned out. After two playtests with my brother, we were still not sure if the main game mechanic can stand on its own and warranted further work.

In October 2014, we received an advance copy of Three Kingdoms Redux from the manufacturer and were in the process of shooting videos of it with the help of Ah Ghee. We took the opportunity during one of those shoots to ask him for a playtest, which he gamely accepted. Perhaps a second opinion might help us decide? As with the playtests with my brother, the playtest with Ah Ghee also felt a little strange and distinctly un-fun. Perhaps this main game mechanic is not going to work after all... gulp
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4. Board Game: Rethink Tomorrow [Average Rating:5.50 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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Rethink, While Publishing (November 2014 to March 2015)

November 2014 saw the release of Three Kingdoms Redux. It was a proud moment for both of us. cool We were really busy for the few months immediately after its release. Not that I was complaining.

Despite that, we held brainstorming sessions and discussions about the Chinese Zodiac game when we could. Our consensus was that the previous idea was not going to work, so we chucked it out. shake

From the ashes of the second idea arose a third idea. It was for a closed economy of resources (energy) and blind bidding for certain randomised rewards (movement). Again, it looked promising on paper, so more prototyping work followed. Unfortunately, playtests with my Significant Other were not satisfactory, though some parts felt salvageable.
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5. Board Game: We Didn't Playtest This At All [Average Rating:5.54 Overall Rank:16186] [Average Rating:5.54 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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Salvaging, Slowing (March to December 2015)

We salvaged the blind bidding and closed economy parts, but made the movements visible, with different sets of movements applicable on different parts of the racing track. Progress was slow for much of 2015. It was due to a combination of my work with the publishing of our first game and my Significant Other's day job. We did manage a couple of playtests between ourselves again and it seemed to work. Hope!

Towards the end of 2015 came an event that would give our second game a more consistent pace of progress and a stronger sense of purpose. More about this event later, due to a holiday interspersed in the middle of this period.
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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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Our Kansai Holiday (13th May to 5th June 2015)

Since our honeymoon trip to Tokyo in 2012, we had planned to visit Japan again. Our initial plan was to visit Japan again two years later, in 2014. Work on our first game led to us delaying the trip by a year.

Another key factor was the renovation work of Himeji-jo. The castle had been undergoing restoration work since 2010 and that was scheduled to be completed in March 2015. In order to visit Himeji-jo, which was always going to be my Significant Other's highlight for the trip, we delayed our trip by a year.

Despite the one year delay that helped us avoid the peak around the launch of our first game, I remained worried about potential work and orders backlog building up while we are away. My Significant Other told me to take it easy and not worry incessantly. We deserve the holiday, he said.

Himeji-jo did turn out to be my Significant Other's favourite of the trip. He does not enjoy waiting for me to take photographs during our trips, but on the day we visited Himeji-jo, he was taking control of the camera and snapping pictures like crazy. Many a time after returning from our holiday, I would catch my Significant Other admiring his picture of Himeji-jo, which he used as his desktop for quite a while.



My favourite part of the trip was Arashiyama. Besides its fabulous scenery, it has so many other things to offer, such as river boat rides, a monkey park and many ryokans.

We also attempted a long trek to the top of Kameyama park. The view from there was breathtaking and made the tough climb worthwhile. I particularly enjoyed relaxing at a well-shaded eatery located right on the Oigawa river bank. whistle While enjoying some cold tofu with drinks, we watched numerous ducklings paddling idly past us, sometimes diving for food, sometimes seeking shelter from the sun.



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7. Board Game: Happy Retirement [Average Rating:2.75 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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Dad's Retirement (31st December 2015)

Back to work on our second game design.

The aforementioned event was my dad's retirement on 31st December 2015. He seemed to take it quite nonchalantly as the date approached and passed, showing no signs of anxiety. I imagine most retirees would wonder about what to do with that free time? The person making the biggest fuss about my dad's retirement was my brother. He had started working in recent years and kept voicing his envy goo for my dad's newfound "freedom". shake

I, on the other hand, was quite concerned that my dad would be bored at home, with nothing to keep his mind active. Fortunately, we had introduced my parents to board gaming in June 2011 and they do sometimes play a game with each other or with my brother. And of course, we board game with them during our bi-weekly visits.

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His retirement meant he now had time to playtest the Chinese Zodiac game idea with us on a regular basis. Since my mum and dad are the target audience for the game, it would be a perfect fit. This gave us greater impetus to polish up the third game mechanic and try it out with my parents.

Our regular playtests with my parents started in earnest the following week, on 6th Jan 2016. meeple
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8. Board Game: Let's throw away it all [Average Rating:6.00 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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Think, Try, Throw, Repeat (January to September 2016)

As mentioned, we visit my parents twice a week, usually Wednesdays and Sundays. However, we kept the playtesting to Wednesdays only, when my brother was at work, for three reasons.

Firstly, we wanted to retain my brother as a first-impression playtester when we eventually settle on a stable main game mechanic. Secondly, we planned to work on the 4-player variant first and involve my brother only when we move on to test the 5-player variant. Lastly, we also wanted to keep our weekend visits to pure board gaming, so that my brother gets to relax with our company, rather than "do work".

With that, we settled quickly into a routine of playtesting on Wednesdays and fine-tuning the game during the rest of the week. We soon observed that my parents were eager to please us, but in a strange way. At the end of most of our playtests, they would declare the game is balanced and ready.

We could tell it was far from ready. For one, both of us were not enjoying the game experience as much as we would like. More importantly, we observed my parents' reactions during the playtests and during play of other games immediately after the playtests, e.g. Blokus, Acquire, Samurai, Arboretum etc., and they are drastically different. With board games that they enjoy, much enthusiasm would be shown, punctuated by moments of tense silence as they ponder their moves. With our game design thus far, it was mostly polite expressionless silence, then a declaration that it was ready at the end of the playtest. shake

Playtest with an early prototype

At least that helped us form a benchmark for the main game mechanic. If and when we hit upon something that not only both of us enjoy, but my parents are also showing a lot more signs of enthusiasm for, then we may be closing in on the solution we are looking for.

The third mechanic was tested for a few months, but multiple attempts at fine tuning did not yield the desired effects. We threw that out in early April 2016. We came to realise that blind bidding is difficult to apply effectively in a game and a good but simple game is just as difficult to design. Kudos to Knizia for managing both really well in Modern Art, a game both of us are fans of and is also a hit with my parents and brother.

From April 2016 onwards, it was a case of more trial and error. At least we were learning what does not work and more importantly, why it does not work. Nonetheless, as the list of failures grew longer, I started getting exasperated.

I often spent afternoons staring at my computer screen, pondering what changes to make. My Significant Other's day job was limiting his input to ideas generation. Whenever I thought I had hit upon something, I would seek his opinion and he would point out potential loopholes that I had missed out. That just added to my exasperation as it felt like my day's thinking was wasted... sobluegulpyuk

Fortunately, my Significant Other did not share my pessimism. He kept encouraging me and reminding me of our first design experience. That kept me going, somehow... whistle
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9. Board Game Publisher: Capstone Games
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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Capstone Games (February to April 2016)

Sandwiched in this long period of gloom and seemingly nil progress was a big bright spark of good news. Clay Ross from Capstone Games wrote to us to discuss the possibility of licensing for a reprint of Three Kingdoms Redux. Further e-mail conversations followed. We found Clay really easy to work with and Capstone Games a good fit for Starting Player.

A testament of this was the entire negotiation, drafting of the agreement and signing was completed in less than two months. Much to our delight! meeple

Clay Ross
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We are aware that many US and European board gamers may be interested in Three Kingdoms Redux but are reluctant to fork out the hefty shipping costs from Singapore. We are therefore hopeful that a US reprint will lead to more board gamers trying our game. meeple

This gave me a shot in the arm and much needed perseverance to continue with our second game design.
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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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Our Chubu Holiday (16th May to 6th June 2016)

In May 2016, we rewarded ourselves for another year of hard work with another trip to Japan. We visited the Chubu region this time round.

The trip was planned largely by my Significant Other, who told me I needed to take my mind off the second game design for a while. He did have a point; The more I try to squeeze out an idea, the less likely it is going to happen.

One of the highlights for this trip was Shirakawa-go. We had seen and heard a lot about this UNESCO World Heritage Site and its gassho-zukuri style farmhouses. I had therefore been looking forward to visiting it.




Curiously, though I enjoyed Shirakawa-go a lot, my favourite part of this trip was the 7.7km trek between the post towns of Magome and Tsumago along the Nakasendo. This was somewhat surprising as I dislike walking long distances.

It turned out to be a pleasant and tranquil walk, far away from the busy and crowded cities. The initial part was slightly upward inclining and I found it tough going. A local resident, who was going about her chores outside her home and probably spotted me panting as I climbed blush, greeted us with some encouragement. We had to take a few short breaks to rest up and admire the surrounding nature and waterfalls as we went.

Near the halfway point of the trek, there was a resting house that provided tea and sweets for passing visitors. We spent some time chatting with the ojisan(uncle) manning the place and shared our journey experiences with him. He was surprised by the length of our planned trip and even recommended some local specialities to us. cool

Thankfully, most of the trek was a gradual decline and therefore quite easygoing. I felt quite a sense of achievement on completing the 7.7km trek. It took us around 4 hours. wow



My Significant Other's favourite part of the trip was not Shirakawa-go either. It was a restaurant we found on a day we had dedicated to cormorant fishing(ukai) in Gifu city.

We visited a few cormorant fishing related sites that day but my Significant Other was particularly enamoured by a restaurant named U no Lori. It was ran by one of only six ukai(cormorant fishing) masters. Shortly after sitting down, we got to converse very briefly with the ukai master himself. We then tried some of their excellent ayu(sweetfish) dishes. kiss

The highlight was that the restaurant is separated by a clear glass pane from its backyard, which was where the ukai master reared his cormorants. We therefore got to enjoy the sight of cormorants exercising, sunning and dozing off in the backyard as we enjoyed our lunch. What a treat the entire experience was! thumbsup


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11. Board Game: Stress [Average Rating:5.08 Overall Rank:15292]
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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The Reward for Good Work is More Work (June to September 2016)

As alluded to earlier, my Significant Other's day job was increasingly limiting his input to our game designing.

He was then in his 6th year with the university and performing well. A testament to that was his nominations for Teacher of the Year for his school in 2015 and 2016. Alas, this seemed to count for little with his school and the university, for all he got in return was a gradual increase in workload over the past 3-4 years.

Just before our holiday trip in May 2016, he was assigned a module by his school that was only tangentially related his area of expertise for the semester starting in January 2017. Though there was still half a year to prepare for it, it was still tough going as he was literally studying an entirely new topic (to him) on his own to prepare for teaching it.

How tangential, the interested reader may ask. My Significant Other is a life actuary by training and the assigned module relates to life insurance underwriting and life claims management. The only link are both relate to life insurance. I had the opportunity to look at parts of the textbook and its all medical terms to me! robot My Significant Other did not even study biology during his secondary school years...

For this reason, my Significant Other started working longer hours soon after returning from our Japan trip, including putting in part of his weekends in a bid to complete the material in time. This meant he would not be able help me much with the ideas generation. soblue
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12. Board Game: Sound It! Found It! [Average Rating:6.00 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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Main Game Mechanic Found (September 2016)

My Significant Other's lack of input and the Chinese Zodiac game's lack of progress was giving me much stress. Despite my Significant Other exasperation over his own work situation, he kept encouraging me to stay positive. We were not making nil progress, he insisted. Rather, we were making indirect progress by discovering ways that did not work for main mechanic and were therefore closing in slowly on the solution. He also advised me not to spend long periods of time thinking constantly about possible ideas. Instead, he suggested that I go do other things and perhaps I may come back with a fresh perspective. Easier said than done! goo

As it turned out, it was my Significant Other's enforced absence from our joint designing work that gave him fresh perspectives. After a few days of thinking on my own, I might come up with a small idea and would run it by him quickly when he was free. He would point out potential loopholes and more importantly, offer suggestions on how to improve the initial idea.

By September 2016, we were sitting on a small pile of discarded main game mechanic ideas and prototypes. As I write this, I went back to look at my playtest reports and counted 8 main game mechanic ideas that we have already thrown out by this stage. The count of 8 does not include various variations we tried for the same main game mechanic idea, but ultimately failed. yuk

In the meantime, my parents remained patient with us, playtesting with us every Wednesday without complaint. However, their continued stoic and polite silence during the playtests betrayed the fact that our ideas were still not cutting it.

The breakthrough came on a day we least expected. It was at the end of one of my Significant Other's long work days. Both of us were lying on the bed, resting and chatting idly.

By this time, we had been working on various ideas revolving around the play of action cards coupled with energy cards, but was struggling with how to assign rewards and penalties. My Significant Other suddenly asked me what I thought if we had a rewards track for each different action and which reward space on the rewards track is awarded depended on the total energy played for that action. It tickled my interest and I noted it down quickly.

(It is interesting to note that one of the main game mechanics from our first game, the alliance mechanic, came into being under similar circumstances. We were on our living room sofa, rather than our bed then. )

I thought about this idea over the next few days, then proposing the form and length of the rewards tracks to my Significant Other. Both of us agreed this was worth a try and I went ahead to handmake yet another prototype.

The following Wednesday, we introduced it to my parents for a fresh playtest. For the first time since starting the playtesting with my parents in Jan 2016, we observed a little more engagement and excitement from them. We also came away feeling much greater potential in this new main game mechanic compared with those we had tried previously, for the simple reason that we actually found the playtest mildly fun.

Playtest of early main game mechanic

Though we did not know it then, this would turn out to be the long-waited breakthrough we had been seeking for so many months. We were only cautiously optimistic on that day, because a few of our previous seemingly good ideas that had felt ok on the first playtest went on to reveal their lack of robustness after a few more playtests and were ultimately scrapped. It was a fingers-crossed-and-let-us-continue-to-refine-it moment rather than an eureka moment. ninja
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13. Board Game: Quit [Average Rating:5.50 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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Quitting (October 2016)

Things came to a boil for my Significant Other at work in October 2016. After months of working on weekends and giving up on some of our weekend gaming with my parents, the university informed my Significant Other that not only is he assigned that new module, he would also been assigned an additional class of an existing module.

He solemnly told me that this removed any chances that he could complete preparation of week 12's material for the new module by the time the 12th week of teaching comes around, i.e. April 2017. At that point in time, he only had 1/3 of the course material prepared (4 weeks out of 12 weeks) and was behind time. I could tell he was really distressed by this turn of events.

My Significant Other was also informed by the Division Head that this was not negotiable. shakeyukarrrh

We had a long heart-felt talk of our own, exploring as many options as we can think of.

We still wanted to bring the Chinese Zodiac board game to fruition.

We still wanted to pursue board game designing.

But we still had our daily expenses and house loan to worry about. soblue

Finally, we came to the conclusion that he would find out if switching to part-time lecturing was possible and take on only the hours he can manage. This would probably lead to a more than 50% decrease in our household income, but would free him up to contribute to our board game designing again.

For my part, I would start looking for either part-time or full-time work. I have to admit that this worried me somewhat, as I had not held a full-time job (not counting the running of Starting Player) for a number of years now and wondered if prospective employers would view this negatively. gulp

My Significant Other was informed that the switch to part-time was ok, so he tendered his resignation officially. While both of us worried about our short-term financial situation, I was relieved to see all that weight lifted from my Significant Other's shoulders and he was once again contributing eagerly to the Chinese Zodiac game design.

Both of us cannot shake the feeling that the university are finding ways to cut costs shake, but rather than remain upset and angry at it all, it is time for us to move on with our own concerns and hopes.
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14. Board Game: Star Wheel [Average Rating:6.00 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.00 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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Major Refinement (December 2016)

The potential of the latest main game mechanic made us decide it was time to gather more feedback outside of my parents. Our Emeritius Chief Playtester and his wife happened to be free (probably the year end holidays) and invited us over to their home for a playtest and other boardgaming. We obviously jumped on the invitation!

At around same time, we also approached my brother to get another opinion, which he acceded to readily. He had seen the game once or twice and was naturally curious, but we kept him away from the table as we needed a "clean" opinion from him later. ninja "Later" had arrived.

The main feedback we received from both sources were surprisingly similar: the amount of numbers for the various actions' benefits was quite overwhelming. The playtesters qualified that they did enjoy the main game mechanic and that the actions' benefit tracks were relatively easy to understand after a while, but there was just too many benefit tracks with a lot of numbers to keep track of.

We remain convinced about the potential of this latest main game mechanic. As such, we spent a large part of December pondering over this feedback and how to improve things. Up till then, we had separate tracks for each action's benefits. Each track had between 12 to 16 spaces arranged in a circle. There was understandably a lot of numbers to keep track of. We therefore concurred with the feedback that we needed to reduce the amount of numbers in the game.

That consideration led me to thinking about the possibility of merging components or ideas. The eureka moment came to me on a bus ride home from a playtest with my parents. I remember both of us were staring into space on the bus seats robotrobot when I asked my Significant Other for his opinion. I proposed combining all action's rewards onto one wheel and having a smaller wheel containing the various actions. The smaller wheel would rotate on the larger wheel and we will have rewards for each action changing from round to round.

I recall vividly my Significant Other's eyes opening wider and instinctively, both of us knew I had hit upon something with great potential. We spent the rest of the bus trip discussing the structure of the outer and inner wheel. We prototyped the idea that very night and tried it out during our next scheduled playtest with my parents.

Playtest of refined main game mechanic; The wheel makes its first appearance!

It worked really well and my Significant Other kept congratulating me on the great idea. In fact, he would keep on congratulating me in the months of playtesting that followed. blushmodest
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15. Board Game: Super Powers [Average Rating:6.65 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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Special Abilities (February 2017)

We carried out 15 playtests with my parents between December 2016 and February 2017 with the main game mechanic updated with the wheel system. Judging from my parents' reactions and how we felt during the playtests, we knew we were finally on the right track. With that little success, we felt it was time to bring it to the next level: Increasing replayability.

Up till this point in time, we had playtested with generic and undifferentiated animal signs. We anticipated a long time back that to increase the game's replayability, we would have to differentiate the animal signs, by assigning different special abilities. meeple

We set about doing so in earnest. The first step was revisiting the story of the Great Race. We searched on the web for various versions of the story, read through them carefully, then designed special abilities that was linked to the corresponding animal's portion of the story. We then tried these preliminary special abilities out with my parents.

I had been writing short playtest reports for every playtest. From this point onwards, I also maintained a spreadsheet containing statistics of all the subsequent playtests. We used it to check if a certain special ability is over-powered or under-powered. We also count these as official plays of the game and have entered them into the BGG plays for posterity:

Race for the Chinese Zodiac playtests

Playtest with the inclusion of special abilities for the animal signs and an updated wheel

As it turned out, the special abilities did give every game a different and refreshing feel. An unexpected by-product was it shortened the game slightly, as special abilities meant higher efficiency for each player. The special abilities also lent a better overall story arc to the game. We found our own enjoyment of the game grew significantly as a result. The special abilities has transformed a solid main game mechanic into an entertaining and highly replayable game (in our opinion anyway modest)!

After many many playtests with special abilities, we decided on a whim to try out a single play without special abilities in May 2017. We were surprised how much more bland the game was without special abilities . More importantly, we found further evidence that the players' decisions still far outweigh the special abilities in importance when it comes to winning.
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16. Board Game: Offline [Average Rating:5.98 Overall Rank:13307]
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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Website Updated (June 2016 to March 2017)

Since the launch of Three Kingdoms Redux in November 2014, we have been selling the first edition via our online store on the Shopify platform. We liked Shopify's user-friendliness, stability and reasonable price.

Alas, we only got to enjoy the price until 2016, as we were informed the Starter Plan will be terminated then. The next higher priced plan costs a few times more than the Starter Plan and we were unable to afford that. shake A most unwelcome development...

We retraced our previous research on other online shopping service providers and found their prices continue to be prohibitive. gulp We moved on to research the possibility of installing a widget on our website and perhaps approaching MDAS (Muscular Dystrophy Association Singapore) Bizpower, which designed our website, to install it for us.

We did track down a possible widget, but were advised by MDAS Bizpower that a website re-design may be the better option. A quotation was requested and duly provided. It was a little costly, but we bit the bullet and went with their proposal.

Unfortunately, the re-design took a lot longer than we expected. We found out that the MDAS Bizpower team working on our website was down to one person, i.e. the team leader that worked on the initial design. The team leader had also just recovered from an illness prior to taking on the re-design work. We understand that people with muscular dystrophy take a longer time to recover from illnesses, even minor ones like a common cold. Lastly, both parties underestimated the changes required to adapt the template to suit our requirements, and a lot more time was required.

The re-design was completed in February 2017 and we launched the new website on 3rd March 2017. The website looks great and both of us like it more than the old design. cool Not only does it look better, the new online shop platform is user-friendly and stable (after our extensive tests). Most importantly, we no longer have to incur the monthly costs with Shopify!

We are grateful to MDAS Bizpower for their work and patience with us during the re-design project.
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17. Board Game: Digital Dilemma [Average Rating:2.00 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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First Game Goes Digital (July 2016 to July 2017)

Since its publication, we have always been on the lookout for more ways to promote Three Kingdoms Redux. Casual surfing led me to consider the possibility of an online version of the game. My Significant Other was never keen on a digital version as he believes strongly that a board game should be played physically. Otherwise, the social and tactile aspects of the game are largely lost.

While I understood his point, I also pointed out that many board gamers may want to try our game first before making the purchase decision. There may also be other board gamers who experience difficulty rounding up exactly two other players in the immediate vicinity of their residence to play our game. He took on board my views and agreed to pursue this possibility.

My initial research took me to Tabletopia. Unfortunately, I found out that we needed to create, format and upload the game component pictures ourselves based on Tabletopia's requirements. It was a bit too much work for us, given that we wanted to concentrate on working on the Chinese Zodiac game.

Moving on, I came upon Berserk Games. E-mail correspondence with them went well. We only needed to upload the existing game component files and Berserk Games will take care of the rest. That suited our needs and freed up our time for game development. We signed the agreement with them in August 2016. cool

Unfortunately, Three Kingdoms Redux had to join a sizable queue of games that Berserk Games was still working on. Work on our game only started in early 2017 and was eventually completed in July 2017. It took a year, but better late than never! We hope this will give more board gamers the opportunity to play Three Kingdoms Redux.

The official launch of Three Kingdoms Redux on Tabletop Simulator fell on 21st July 2017. We have to say we are pretty impressed by the graphics. surprise Here is the link to more information about the digital version as well as some pictures:

Three Kingdoms Redux on Tabletop Simulator

In early 2018, we were pleasantly surprised to find out about a fan of our game, going by the BGG username of One Sun Mirror, picking Three Kingdoms Redux for his attempt at the 100 plays challenge. Most of these plays would be via the Tabletop Simulator version. Here is his geeklist chronicling his thoughts of every play thus far:

Three Hundred Kingdoms Redux

Further proof to my Significant Other of the value of the digital version.
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18. Board Game: Five-up [Average Rating:5.75 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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My Brother and the 5-Player Variant (March 2017 to January 2018)

As we playtested the Chinese Zodiac game with the inclusion of special abilities, we also discussed when to expand the play count beyond 4 players. We decided that the time was right. Our gut feeling was the next player count most likely to work was 5.

All our playtests with the special abilities up till March 2017 had been 4-player games with my parents. We sought my brother's help for the 5-player variant, which he kindly and eagerly acceded to. We are touched by his gesture. cry In March 2017, we started playtesting during our weekend visits, on top of our regular Wednesday playtests with my parents. With that, our 5-player playtests got underway.

TOoty IcE
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Though the playtests were to test the suitability of extending the game to 5 players, it soon became obvious to all of us that my brother was improving very quickly. He adapts his strategies to the animal signs he is playing as, observes other players' played cards closely and often plans a few rounds in advance.

This often meant he took longer than all of us to play his cards (card play is simultaneous). One vivid playtest memory was of all of us waiting for my brother to play his cards. After a lull, my dad looked up and asked my brother:

"Have you played chess before (by chess, he meant international chess)?"

All of us looked up somewhat confounded.

"You know they have those clocks in chess? Maybe we should buy you one."

Upon which all of us broke into laughter while my brother was somewhat embarrassed. I have forgotten who won that particular game.

In any case, my brother's winning percentage was soon the highest among the five of us. This is despite him being the last among us to learn the game. blush All of us learnt a trick or two from him, especially about taking more care with the play of cards and planning a round or two ahead, when possible.

More importantly, from a playtesting perspective, my brother also liked to try unusual and at times extreme strategies. This helped us weed out potential problems that we had not spotted up till then.

A number of weeks after he joined us for the 5-player playtests, he professed to liking the game a lot. He also started playing a more active role in the game development and made a few suggestions on how to tweak each animal sign's special ability. All in all, we are grateful for my brother's time with the playtests. meeple

End of a 5-player playtest involving my brother

The general consensus among the five of us after many playtests was the 5-player variant is feasible. cool We did have to make a small change to the wheel to accommodate 5 players. There is now a wheel for 4 players and a wheel for 5 players; We did so by using the opposite sides of the same piece of cardboard for different wheel designs.

Most interestingly, only my Significant Other and I prefer the 4-player variant. The rest of my family like the 5-player variant more. Probably a good sign, in this designer's humble opinion.
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19. Board Game: Friends [Average Rating:3.97 Overall Rank:17355]
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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Two Friends' Help (March 2017 to June 2018)

At around the same time we started playtesting the 5-player variant, two of our board gaming friends, Suting and Joon Hui, also volunteered some of their time for playtests. In March 2017, they made the trip to our home on consecutive weekends for the playtesting sessions. Both of them are big Agricola and Farmers of the Moor fans, courtesy of us . We are touched by their effort and time to come over and play our game multiple times on end, instead of their favourite game or some other published game. cry

They were the first two people, outside of my family, to play with the stabilised main game mechanic and special abilities. We were naturally quite apprehensive prior to the playtests. Happily for us, both of them enjoyed the game. Joon Hui in particular. During our first playtest session with them, he requested additional and repeated plays so that he could try playing with other animal signs. We were of course more than happy to oblige!

Joon Hui's favourite part of the game was outguessing what other players were attempting to play and outbidding them. Suting, on the other hand, preferred to sneak by with small bids on actions that are less likely to be bid on by other players. Joon Hui received quite a few whacks on his arm from Suting when she was the victim of a few such outbids by him.


All in all, both of them contributed 10 or more plays over a few playtest sessions to our cause. Their feedback led to some improvements of the prototype action cards and wheels. As with our first game, we are genuinely grateful for their support and help. It is vital that we garner feedback from as many board gamers as possible, so their participation has been invaluable.
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20. Board Game: Guess My Name Game [Average Rating:3.80 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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Naming Our Second Game (March 2017)

As the game continued to stabilise, we found ourselves enjoying the plays immensely, though they are supposed to be "work" ninja. The inclusion of my brother made our playtests a lot more boisterous and fun. The natural progression to that development was to think of a proper name for the second game. Up till then, we had referred to it as the Chinese Zodiac game.

The ideal name should give the reader a good idea what the game is about while remaining short and snappy. We reached out to friends, particularly those who had already playtested our game, for suggestions for both the English and Chinese names.

As with our first game, the English name proved to be tricky. The words "Chinese Zodiac" and "Race" have to be part of the name, which meant the English name is likely to be long and a mouthful. The Chinese name, on the other hand, came to us reasonably quickly, courtesy of our Emeritius Chief Playtester. There were a few suggestions from him and his wife, but the following stood out head and shoulders above the rest: 生肖決(shēng xiào jué).

生肖(shēng xiào) literally means Chinese Zodiac. 決(jué) may mean decision or contest and both such interpretations matched our needs closely. It was the Jade Emperor who called for the race to decide on the Chinese Zodiac, so 決(jué) alluded to both the race and the decision. With that, we rubber stamped the Chinese name. thumbsup

As for the English name, none of our friends' suggestions took our fancy and we continued brainstorming on our own. The best we came up with eventually was Race for the Chinese Zodiac. As noted previously, the key words of "Chinese Zodiac" and "Race" are in the name. More importantly, the name captures the essence of the board game, i.e. the animal signs racing to make it into the Chinese Zodiac and at as high a placing as possible. I admit to feeling neutral about the English name initially, but it grew on us over time.
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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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Our Kii Peninsula Holiday (16th May to 7th June 2017)

In May 2017, we went on our on-off fourth trip to Japan, this time to the Kii Peninsula. We usually plan our trips way in advance and by January 2017, we already had the entire trip planned out and 2/3 of the bookings done. My Significant Other's quitting of his job left me worried about our finances soblue, so we considered cancelling everything. However, my Significant Other convinced me to continue with the trip as we had done so much planning, and perhaps not go on any more trips if our finances do not stabilise thereafter.

One of the highlights for this trip was Nachi Taisha, which was part of the Kumano Kodo. The Kumano Kodo, another UNESCO World Heritage site in Japan, is a series of ancient pilgrimage routes that crisscross the Kii Peninsula to the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano, namely the Hongu Taisha, the Nachi Taisha and the Hayatama Taisha. Best known among the three is the Nachi Taisha, due mainly to its majestic waterfall, also the highest in Japan.



My favourite part of the trip was the Atsuta Matsuri(festival), taking place in the Atsuta Shrine. The Atsuta Matsuri is a huge annual festival in Nagoya, lasting a whole day and drawing crowds exceeding 200,000 people. We made sure to stay for the entire day.

The festival started with a lengthy ceremony involving the arrival of a messenger from the Japanese emperor and presenting his message to the kami(god). This was followed by various demonstrations and performances throughout the day, including kyudo(Japanese archery), kendo(modern Japanese martial art), flower arrangements, tea ceremony, traditional songs and dances, taiko(Japanese drums) etc. surprise

The climax of the festival was in the evening, when large stages were set up at the three entrances of the shrine. On them, huge arrangements of lanterns were painstakingly put into place. When dusk came, the beauty of the lantern arrangements was something to behold. meeple We stood below them, admiring them for over an hour. The festival closed with fireworks, but we made sure to leave slightly earlier, lest we were unable to get on the train due to the huge crowds!



My Significant Other's favourite part of the trip was Osatsu and meeting the Ama-sans. Osatsu is a small fishing town but it also happens to have the highest concentration of active Ama-sans in Japan. Ama-sans are female sea divers, who rely only on a pair of goggles and no other breathing apparatus during their dives. surprise They harvest seafood, e.g. abalone or sea urchins, or dive for cultivated pearl oysters for a living.

The highlight of our visit to Osatsu was the Ama-hut experience. We had signed up for a lunch at a Ama-hut, which was originally a gathering place for the Ama-sans before they head out for their dives. The Ama-sans barbecued our seafood lunch while chatting with us. Through our basic Japanese, we were able to understand part of what they shared. The seafood lunch was excellent, dining with a seaview was fabulous, but what took the cake was the genuine cheeriness of the Ama-sans. So much so that we felt our spirits lifted by them after the visit.


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22. Board Game: Job [Average Rating:0.00 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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New Job (June 2017 to current)

In mid-June 2017, shortly after returning from our Japan trip, I returned to full-time work. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it did not take me long to adjust back to a full-time job. I feel that the past few years' of working on Starting Player have given me a different perspective towards work and I have learnt to consider work tasks more thoroughly.

My new job also meant that I handed over the day-to-day running of Starting Player to my Significant Other. Our Wednesday playtesting and gaming sessions with my parents therefore ended. soblue Nonetheless, we continued to push ahead with playtesting on the weekends.

My parents and brother seemed to sense the importance of the Race for the Chinese Zodiac to us, often asking to playtest multiple times rather than move on to other board games they like to play, e.g. In the Year of the Dragon, Power Grid, Vegas Showdown etc. We are truly grateful for their consideration and time. cry
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23. Board Game: The BoardGameGeek Game [Average Rating:6.05 Overall Rank:4814]
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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Submission to BGG (25th to 31st July 2017)

On 25th July 2017, we created a simple webpage for our second game, Race for the Chinese Zodiac 生肖決. Here is the link for it:

Official webpage for Race for the Chinese Zodiac 生肖決

On the same day, we submitted Race for the Chinese Zodiac for inclusion into the BGG database. At the time of submission, the list of board games awaiting approval was 10 pages long surprise. We thought approval for Race for the Chinese Zodiac would therefore take a month or so, but were pleasantly surprised when it came just six days later, on 31st July 2017.

It was another proud day for both of us! meeple
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24. Board Game: Three Musketeers [Average Rating:5.89 Overall Rank:13555]
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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3-Player Variant (March to August 2017)

Since starting on the 5-player variant playtests in March 2017, we would on occasion broach the topic of the 3-player variant. Both of us agreed then that as the game stood, without any changes, the 3-player variant would be too loose and very likely to be underwhelming.

In late July, while I was at work, my Significant Other suddenly dropped me an e-mail on a potential 3-player variant. It involved reducing the number of action cards available to the players by one and ignoring the corresponding section of the wheel, so as to tighten the game. The simplicity of the idea appealed to me and I thought it may have a chance of working. We agreed that when the opportunity arises, we will put it to a playtest.

That opportunity came in early August, when my brother was not at home and my mum was busy cooking. We asked my dad for a 3-player playtest, which he obliged.

While my Significant Other's idea helped to maintain the tightness of the game, in line with the 4-player and 5-player variants, the number of occasions when players tried to take the same action was much reduced, thereby reducing player interaction. With that went a significant chunk of the fun factor too. shake Even my normally reticent dad also gave us the same feedback at the end of that playtest.

After a further discussion between ourselves, we decided that the 3-player variant is not going work with just that single tweak. We decided to lay off testing the 3-player variant for now, until we could think of other ideas to improve it. goo
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25. Board Game: Quest for a Girlfriend [Average Rating:0.00 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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My Brother's Girlfriend and the 6-Player Variant (August to December 2017)

In addition to the 3-player variant, we had also wanted to test the 6-player variant all along. This is despite our gut feeling telling us it was unlikely to work. We believed that the same number of actions would probably be unable to support an additional player. In particular, the action card allowing the player to reset his actions was likely to create the biggest problem since there will be a queue of players forming to do so. Nonetheless, it would be nice to confirm or disprove our suspicions.

Alas, it was always going to be difficult to find a sixth player. Especially someone who is willing to commit a substantial amount of time for repeated playtests.

Or so we thought. ninja

Shortly after we returned from our fourth Japan holiday in June 2017, we noticed changes in my brother's behaviour during our weekend visits to my parents'. My parents told us that he started going out more often on the weekends, and we were "forced" to test 4-player variant on occasion. My parents would sometimes joke that my brother was "busy", placing emphasis on the word "busy".

Sure enough, my brother brought home a girl to meet my parents shortly after. blush We were subsequently introduced to her, Olivia, on one of our weekend board gaming days. From the following weekend onwards, we would bring some 6-player games over to introduce to her.

Olivia turned out to be a completely new board gamer, but seemed to take to board games quite enthusiastically. The board games we have since introduced to her include For Sale, Medici, Take 6! and Parade. My brother also introduced Acquire and Machi Koro (with Harbour expansion) to her when we were not around.

In the weeks that followed, my brother sounded Olivia out on testing our second game. She acceded kindly. We decided to play it prudent, by starting her off with the more balanced 5-player variant, while we took a bit more time to think more seriously about what tweaks to apply for a 6-player variant.

I sat out from the first 5-player game to accommodate Olivia. She understood the rules quickly and was up and running from the first game. From the second game onward, she was understanding the nuances and playing with more thought and care. On top of that, her interactions with my brother during the game was fun to watch. My brother, being the veteran player, were able to outguess her more often than not, triggering some violent reactions angry from her.

In the meantime, we thought up a few tweaks to implement in what was going to be our first official 6-player playtests. The introduction of a sixth player has obviously upset the balance of the game and we were not too hopeful the main game mechanic is robust enough to take another player, even with the tweaks. Indeed, our first two attempted tweaks were not satisfactory.

A moment of inspiration came from an after-dinner discussion between my Significant Other and my brother. It involved one minor tweak to the action cards but they only apply to the 6-player variant. We tested the tweak out the following week and were pleasantly surprised by the improvement brought about by such a small change.

The improvement, while significant, was not large enough to satisfy both of us. The 6-player variant still felt too tight, especially with respect to resetting a player's actions.

Another moment of inspiration from me led to the inclusion of an extra action card that did not require altering the form of the outer wheel. Initial playtests with both these changes seemed to work well. However, as we continued, we realised the structural issues with the 6-player variant was much more deep-seated than we thought. soblue

After lengthy discussions, we came to the conclusion that what was needed for the 6-player variant was everything needed to be "upsized". The number of action cards have to be increased, the form of the wheels have to be changed to increase the number of actions (which also probably meant the wheels have to be larger for the smaller slices to be legible), the number of energy cards have to be increased, the race track has to be lengthened...

We would essentially be designing a new game based on the same game mechanics for the 6-player variant. There will be little synergy in terms of game components with the 4-player and 5-player variants. We both knew then this was not what we wanted. And with that, we reluctantly threw in the towel for the 6-player variant.

Nonetheless, we are very grateful for Olivia's time in playtesting the 6-player variant for 5 months. meeple

Olivia Gan
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