Aaron Trammell
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This is a work in progress thread for the game Writer's Block.

All suggestions, comments, gripes, etc. . . are loved and appreciated.

Here is a link to the submission thread where you can find our entry. Feel free to download our cards, and manual: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/694097/iron-game-designe...



PREHISTORY

"Yo! What if the people we petition are the authors themselves! Jules Verne, Asimove, etc. . . Make it really meta."

Colin had sent me a text about a week ago, with exactly those words. We were a week in to the Iron Game Design challenge and had already built a workable prototype, "Dragon Tribute." The theme was stale though, and Colin knew the game deserved better. My suggested theme "Rainbow Dragons," was not going to fly. We were talking about porting the game to the world of an established science fiction novel. Dune looked real good, but we knew it was already taken. Sometimes insight comes in a flash, and for us this meant getting-meta.

Before I get into the development of Writer's Block I want to take a moment to reflect on its previous incarnations.

We had intended to enter the Iron Game Design contest from the start, so when the details were posted it was - ready, set, go! At least for me. I had a bag of rainbow dice lying around my living room, and I was really gung-ho on creating a game that had some dice rolling mechanic. The first thought I had was to incorporate some limits. These took the shape of a 6X6 rainbow colored grid. Each die would correspond to a like-colored row of the grid. Roll and place the dice, then figure out a way for players to strategically maneuver. "A new game every time!" would read the banner. This game was going to be awesome!



I stayed up until 3AM playing with the first prototype. It felt like I was trying to squeeze orange juice out of a lemon. How could these dice, with all their rainbow colors and pips, be so un-fun? I continued to wrack my brain until I fell asleep, frustrated with my lack of progress. It was labor day weekend, I still had a bit of time before the semester began (I teach college courses in Digital Media), maybe one more day. Back to the grid of doom, I pulled out my trusty bag of Carcassonne meeples. And came up with an idea for a route claiming game.

It would be called "Space Rogue," and the meeples would represent galactic trade routes. The board would still be randomly configured with dice, but some spaces on the board would be worth more than others. The first few self-playests were fun! The game seemed balanced (enough) and played with few components. It still had one glaring problem: it was really short and anti-climactic. Absolutely no tension! Sure, you could set down for a new game after a quick round, but that magic spice just wasn't there.

In an attempt to fix this flaw, I added cards. Instead of giving players a choice from 3-4 set actions, I figured players could draft actions from a deck of cards. Each turn, a supply of new actions would be added. The catch was that action cards were exclusive to their color on the board. This way a player drafting cards for use on the left side of the board would have less strategic options open if they decided to build toward the right side of the board. It seemed like a good idea in theory, and it worked reasonably well in the play tests I completed alone. I even added a way for players to weed cards out of the deck during each turn of play, there was a lot of strategy to the drafting. Also, I felt that the board looked quite handsome.





At this point, I had a thought. Because card drafting was so fun, why not make it the core mechanic. Why include dice at all when players could simply bid on cards of various colors, for influence. These bids could be called "tribute," players could act as minions for a set of evil tyrants. The game would have a dark sense of humor, the darkest. In fact, why use tyrants at all, all gamers love dragons! And on and on, I descended into the depths of imagination, enchanted by the beasts which were so often idealized in my childhood fantasies. The new game was called "Dragon Tribute," it was a game about drafting cards, and using them to gain favor with a set of six rainbow colored dragons. Taking almost all of the mechanics from "Space Rogue" and leaving behind the meeples and the map, a new game was born. Sometimes you just need to throw out your hard work so that you can move on.

I was ready though, to show "Dragon Tribute" to my partner-in-design Colin. The first game was slow: Colin had a lot of questions: Can I do this? What happens if there is a tie here? Do I use these cubes, or those cubes? I was starting to feel a bit downtrodden, "Dragon Tribute" seemed really good in my mind, but in reality - it kind of sucked. Finally, the game was over, I had won, but then Colin uttered those magic words: "Want to play again?" I was wrong, Colin really liked the idea of the game, it didn't suck at all, but it needed a lot more work. We started the next game, and began a conversation about game design.






Also, Colin really didn't like the theme.

Over the next week there began a rapid series of changes to the game. We stuck with dragons for a while longer but started to look at the gameplay a little more closely. There were a few notable problems when balancing the dragons, some were crazy powerful, and some led us to huge swings in the game. Another problem that was bothering us had to do with the original drafting mechanics. At this point players had to do a lot of things during their turn. There was a set amount of discards they could make to gain money (which enabled them to take actions). These discards would be removed from the deck, and then a whole new batch of cards would be shuffled in. We noticed also that the last few turns were always more dynamic than the first few. In our first version of the deck, players drafted from a pool of cards which could influence dragons, but were identical in everything except color. The game was a little slow, and very complicated.

To make matters worse, we added one more element. A new currency, through which cards could be added to the deck. Reducing the amount of discards players could make each round to one, we decided that we could make the game a little more like Dominion and let the players choose which cards got added to the pool each round. We wanted players to take a sense of pride in adding these cards too, in order to accomplish this we added a currency system and made the new cards good. . . really good. We also decided to divide the game into two distinct systems. The cards players bought would help in influencing Dragons, but not drafting mechanics. The Dragons would provide abilities which helped players to draft. This became an important distinction to make. It helped us to develop mechanisms which controlled the number (and type) of cards in the main deck. Honestly, I'm not sure the game would work without it.

It finally became time to play test. We observed a three player game with our usual gaming group, and were careful to avoid pointing too many things out. The result was amazingly good. Although it took players some time to get used to our roughly drafted (and in some cases re-drafted (and in the most extreme cases re-re-drafted)) play test cards, they caught on after the first round. They were laughing, yelling, surprised, and often frustrated by one anthers actions. It was good news, baby, good news! Sometimes play test groups react to games as if they are dead animals, this was not the case.

We had re-themed the game at this point too. It was now going to be about writing a classic science fiction novel. There would be two currencies, "ink" which could be used to write, and "ideas" which were used to buy cards for the deck. Our working title was: "Ink and Ideas."



COMPETITION

Sooo... after the play test, we were much more confident in most of the game's basic mechanics. Though we continued to streamline (removing a discard phase from the draft, primarily) the game, most of our revisions were tweaks after a nightly game. Some cards cost too many ideas, some of the plots (which replaced the Dragons) didn't do enough good. We added more complex abilities by combining some of the basic ones. Instead of one card providing two ideas, it could offer two "ideas" OR two "ink." In other cases we used an AND function: "Toxic Waste" provides two "ink" AND two "ideas." This was a fairly pleasant, and rewarding process overall.

The weekend of the contest, we knew we had made a cool game. But, we had very little to show for it apart from some cardboard in card-sleeves. It came time to design, and theme all of the individual cards. Neither of us realized how much work this would be. Friday night at midnight, we had to call it quits after staring at the wall for 20 minutes while we brainstormed classic science-fiction quotes. We still had something like 40 left to add. I wanted to hit my head on the wall, Colin did too. We were unsure if we would make the deadline, and wound up working until the very last minute on the game. It was tense, action packed, and terrific! In the last 10 minutes we had some technical problems with compressing PDF files, and had to pass around a flash drive to post in the nick-of-time. Exciting, for sure!

So, hopefully we will receive some feedback in this thread. I will definitely update with errata to the manual, as we continue to revise and improve the game.

Please, let us know what you think. I have included a link to the submission thread of the contest where you can grab the files, and give us some thumb love - if you have it. Thank's for reading! We are looking forward to your feedback!
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Chad Mestdagh
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Well, your artwork looks really cool. I need to spend some time looking at it more but I can say that it is eyecatching.
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Sean Forrester
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Fascinating read! I enjoyed how organic your process was. Definitely sparked my interest for the game as well.
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Nate K
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This may end up being the only game from the contest that I'll be able to convince my wife to play.
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Aaron Trammell
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Thanks, all! I'm glad to hear that there is some interest for this game. It warms my heart :)

I wanted to toss two requests out there if anyone is interested:

1. If anyone has any ideas for additional cards, after you test the game, please let me know! We would love to know what you come up with.

2. On a similar note, if you have an idea for a quote that you think might fit a card better, we would also love to have it. A lot of the quotes are near and dear to our hearts. Some however, were the best we could do. . .

Anyway, just wanted to toss those two things out there. Thanks for all the feedback so far!
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Nate K
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Quote ideas:

"Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so." --Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says Man, "The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanished in a puff of logic. --Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

"Now, Rose - you're not going to bring around the end of the world, are you? ...Are you?" --Doctor Who

"Bananas are good." --Doctor Who

"...If a falling stone could reason, it would think, "I want to fall at the rate of thirty-two feet per second." --"The Android and the Human," by Phillip K. Dick

"If I had known it was harmless, I would have killed it myself." --A Scanner Darkly, Phillip K. Dick




I don't know if any of these necessarily fit a particular card better, I just really like them.
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todd sanders
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TANSTAAFL
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Andrey
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I've been waiting for WIP thread to state how cool I think the game is. Well, it looks supercool, the theme is fresh, intriguing and ironical, and design looks very clear and usable.
Sadly I haven't got a chance to try the game out yet due to my gaming group slacking off, but I'll play it at first opportunity.

Keep up great work!
If you need some more quotes, let us know.

Here's a good one from Strugatsky:
"Do you know what 'shouldn't' means? It means undesirable, not approved, and since it's not approved it means you shouldn't. What you should do may not be clear but what you shouldn't do, you shouldn't."
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Aaron Trammell
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Wow! What friendly, helpful feedback! Thanks, all, again. Stay tuned for rules updates, playtest reports and more on our creative process as we continue to develop this game. We're even considering a quick instructional video for those who don't like reading rules. We finally printed out a copy of our PDFs, work came down like an avalanche on Monday. It will be neat playing with actual cards :)

But, as before, keep that feedback rollin' in!!!!

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Aaron Trammell
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We decided to post an instructional video. Hope this helps!

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/video/10338/unpublished-prototy...
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Sean Forrester
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Nice looking game! Any chance of some nice card backs to match?
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Aaron Trammell
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We're definitely working on this! We should have them out in December for round 2 of this contest - if not earlier.
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Nigel Swan
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Played it today. Great fun.
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Aaron Trammell
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Thanks, it means a lot!
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Aaron Trammell
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We've been wondering if we should create a BGG entry for this game. We feel that it's kind of in a 0.5 sort of stage right now, and would like to improve on some rules. But, at the same time, we want to make the game more accessible to interested people. Opinions?

As for some rule fixes we're working on, I would love to get the communities impression's on the following:

1. An alternate win condition: A player can win the game when there are no more "writers blocks" in their supply. There would be, of course, some new cards to help this along. Cards which help players simply discard blocks without putting them into a plot.

2. More tactical game balance: The starting deck should have a more interesting balance of cards. We are thinking that there should be a new card added to the starting deck (maybe replacing the basic setting card) one which lets the player put two cubes on a plot, but only gives one ink. On that note, we would also consider adding more ink to the brainstorm cards which can be purchased later in the game. More ink = more player options.

Let me know on all of this, and thanks for reading!
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Nate K
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Games are never finished, merely abandoned. I believe in posting the game when it is in "a" finished state, rather than in "the" finished state.
 
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