Content Creation is Hard

Sometimes I have a topic that I can write a lot about easily. Other times there just isn’t much to say. I’m not sure how much the length of a post matters but my gut instinct is that a lot of people won’t bother reading a very long post. Conversely, I feel like it at least has to be longer than a tweet. And for me in particular, it has to be decently longer than the preview text that goes out on Twitter and Facebook. If you came across a preview and at the end it said (3 more words) would you bother clicking? I supposed I could construct it so those last few words were a big reveal. Maybe that would get more people to click. But my goal with this blog isn’t to get clicks. Though getting them is nice. This is more a personal goal of sticking to a weekly content schedule.

Scheduling and content creation are tough. With this blog and my podcast (www.theboardgameworkshop.com) I usually get to a point right before writing, editing or scheduling that I think about skipping this one. But I know if I skip one it allows me to justify skipping another.

If I have a topic that I have a lot to say about it can be quick and easy. But usually coming up with an idea is tough. And it isn’t until after I write it that I realize I don’t have much to say about it. And I get a short blog post.

So in short, content creation is hard and I didn’t have a topic this week.

Live Streaming a Play Test

Last night @BeatdaRobinsons played my prototype of Island Chain on their Twitch stream. It was an interesting way to experience a play test. 

It wasn’t quite a blind play test. I was watching the live stream and answering questions, but there was some delay and not physically being in the room made it feel different than a regular play test. I think it would be similar to having a play testing room with a two-way mirror. 

A big benefit of a live stream play test is the social aspect. Other people can find out about the game which can get you more play testers. Also other testers can watch it and possibly learn something from seeing a different group play the game.

During last night’s stream one of the other play testers, @KevNishimoto, was watching. During the stream the question came up of wether or not a Judge’s ability could make a new island. It turns out this is a commonly misunderstand rule that I need to clear up. Because he was watching, @KevNishimoto let me know that he was also misplaying that rule. 

The Judge’s ability can make a new island, if you were wondering.

I wonder if streaming my own plays of a prototype would be beneficial. It could still boost awareness and live viewers could bring up questions. Though it might not be any more useful than a demo video.

Overall it was a very useful play test and I think the format offers some unique benefits. 

The In Vino Morte Story

In Vino Morte was my first published game. I actually promised to write about it here a long time ago before I was posting regularly. So I’m finally fulfilling that. It has a somewhat unique story of how it came to be a Button Shy Wallet game.

I recently came across my first notes on the game. They are dated March 11, 2015. The very first version was a 2 player only game with two cards, one wine and one poison. One player would choose who got which card face down and the other would choose to swap cards or not. Then they drink and whoever had poison loses. It was inspired by the battle of wits in The Princess Bride and the game Win, Lose, Banana. It was an absurdly simple idea. 

I then made it multiplayer. You could have more players just by having more cards. The dealer chooses for everyone and then each other player gets a chance to swap with someone. In the first multiplayer rules there were 12 wine and 6 poison. At this point it was a single round and everyone who had wine won. 

I never made a prototype. I never tested it. I pretty much forgot about it. About a year later Button Shy had their first wallet game contest. I got really sucked into designing for the wallet game format. I came up with a lot of ideas. I prototyped many of them and play tested some of them. I didn’t have any play test groups at the time, so I was only able to test what I could get my family to play. 

I never play tested In Vino Morte for the contest. The only changes I made from my original idea were, having it be an even 9 wine and 9 poison, having multiple rounds so there is only one winner, and coming up with the name. I submitted it to the contest along with 9 other games. I didn’t think it had much of a chance. But it was a complete game, unlike some of the others I had worked on and not submitted. 

None of my games made the finals. Most were underdeveloped because I was working on so many different games. However, one judge, Josh Edwards,  was interested enough in In Vino Morte that he made a copy and took it to the finalist judging day to play. As far as I know Josh was the first person to ever play the game. 

That made enough of an impression that Jason Tagmire, owner of Button Shy, asked to publish it as a nano game in the board game of the month club. The nano game version had 4 wine, 4 poison and a rule card. It came out in the July 2016 Board Game of the Month Club. That was my first published game and very exciting. Once I got my designer copies, I finally played it for the first time. Turns out it was pretty good. This could have been the end of the story. But the lucky breaks kept coming.

In February of 2017 Jason had some room in a print run and asked if I wanted In Vino Morte to become a wallet game. Obviously I said yes. It went to Kickstarter in November and is now delivered to backers and available on teh Button Shy website. It was the first Button Shy game to sell out at Pax East this year. 

I never expected much from it as a design. I thought it was too simple to even bother play testing. But there is something about it that makes it more interesting than the sum of its parts. I guess the lesson is that you really need to play a game to understand what it is. And getting published takes a lot of luck.

Is Tigris & Euphrates Thematic?

Is Reiner Knizia’s Tigris & Euphrates thematic? From what I’ve seen people are split on this. I believe it is. 

You are building up a civilization, having external and internal conflicts, and earning victory points in four categories. The scoring in T&E is possibly my favorite scoring system and I think it adds to the theme very well. You score points in four categories, but your final score is whichever category you have the least of. This means you must build up evenly, just like when building a civilization, it must be balanced.

I think the reason some people feel it is not thematic is its presentation. It has a rather abstract design of tiles and discs. But I don’t think that elaborate game production is necessary for a game to be thematic. The theme of T&E, building a civilization, is expressed in every mechanism of the game. 

I think a game that brings across the theme in the mechanisms is more thematic than a game that has art and components that represent the theme, but lacks a mechanical representation of the theme. It’s more important to feel the theme than to see the theme.

Change Your Patterns

The human mind can not create. It can’t actually come up with a new idea. Anything you think of is a remix of information you already have.

Confining yourself to the same activities and places can make your ability remix grow stale. There are only so many ways to combine the same ingredients.

So in order to increase your mental palette for remixing you need to gain new experiences, absorb new ideas. Do something different. Drive to work a different way. Try a new restaurant. Talk to new people. Changing your patterns can do wonders for idea generation.

Focus

I used to enter a lot of game design competitions. I’ve written about the benefits of them before. But eventually I had to cut back on how many I entered because I was always focusing on a new game for the next contest and never finishing anything. 

Once I cut back, I spent a long time focusing almost entirely on Plutocracy. That was an enjoyable experience and got the game a long way towards completion. But for UnPub I wanted to have some shorter games that could get more tests in. So I made a list of some of my partially finished designs, and tried to work on all of them to get them ready for UnPub.

This was not a great idea. I had several games I liked and wanted to work on, but I spread myself too thin. I didn’t get all of the games to a finished enough state to bring. The time I spent on the games that I didn’t finish would have been better used working on the ones I ended up bringing.

It seems this is more of a personality trait and not just connected to entering too many contests. I like to bounce around from idea to idea and have trouble focusing when I’m not in the mood for a certain design.

To a point this is fine and lets me be productive on something, but I have a tendency to just keep adding projects and spreading myself too thin. I really need to be better about project management, and create an organizational system to track progress and keep my focus on a few games moving along.

Do you like to work on multiple games or do you focus on a single game? What are some methods you use for staying organized with multiple projects?

How To Grow as a Designer

This week I’m taking a topic suggestion from C. M. Perry. He asks, What has helped you grow most as a designer. For me, the answer is other designers.

When I started designing games I didn’t know any other designers. My play testers were my family and friends. Who, for the most part, were not very experienced playing games and only knew of what I showed them.

This created an echo chamber with very little new information coming in, usually from podcasts. Once I met more designers, first online and then at design meet ups, there was a ton of new information coming in.

Other designers are a great resource. They have a lot of shared experience from their own game designs, but they also have a lot of different experiences and I think it’s this partial overlap in experience that makes it so easy to gain new knowledge from them.

Go meet other designers. Play their games, have them play yours. Talk about design. Talk about what resources you use. I’m sure you’ll have a lot of the same information, but you’ll also have some different information and sharing that is how we grow as designers.

UnPub 8 Recap

Last weekend I attended UnPub 8 in Maryland. It was my first UnPub and I had a great time. UnPub takes place over 4 days and its primary focus is having the public play board game prototypes. So it seems to work better for very developed games.

I had a lot of trouble focusing on what designs to prepare leading up to UnPub. I was trying to get a lot ready and finally trimmed it down to Plutocracy, Comic Auction, Grab Bag, and Council of Guilds. They were mostly ready to go with Council of Guilds needing the most work. I decided to have Plutocracy and Comic Auction as my main focus and bring out Grab Bag and Council of Guilds if I had some time with designers.

Plutocracy is a 4X game where players don’t have their own faction. Instead they influence all of the factions against each other to gain power and manipulate economies.

Comic Auction is a game of collecting sets of comic characters through auctions, but every comic has 2 characters so your opponents might want the same comics as you.

Grab Bag is a tactile speed game. Players race to blindly pull the most matching shapes out of a bag, without pulling any wrong shapes. With many similar shapes, it can be tough to figure out what you’re actually holding in time.

Council of Guilds is an economic game where players must change who sits on the council in order to make the most money from selling their goods.

Thursday night was a dinner mixer for the designers and VIP testers. It was a chance to meet some people I already knew, people I’ve only talked to online, and entirely new people. After the dinner the game room was open for play testing. I got in a game of Comic Auction. As a result of this game I changed the auction/selling system into a closed auction system instead. It was mostly an improvement but still needs work. I also played Elements of the Gods. It was an interesting game of pushing cubes around the board to achieve different color combinations for scoring opportunities.

Friday started with a few panels on game design and publishing. I only made it to one about self-publishing which was interesting. Then I went and setup my table for my 3-7 slot.

I decided to setup Plutocracy first because it takes the most time. Friday was a pretty slow day for my table. Over the 4 hours I got in one partial game of Plutocracy and one game of Comic Auction. The feedback from Plutocracy was useful and gave me a few ideas to tweak the rules. The game of Comic Auction let me test the changes I had made the night before.

After 7 was open gaming. I managed to get in one game of Council of Guilds which I realized late had become a 3 player minimum game. Luckily we found a third player. The game went well. It needs work but there is definitely something there. Then I had a chance to play Gerrymandering and Brain Freeze. Gerrymandering was a neat 2 player, spacial puzzle. Trying to gerrymander and win the most districts. The puzzle was a lot of fun, but the cards need to be streamlined more to ease play. Brain Freeze was an interesting game of trying to read your opponents and possibly team up to score just the right amount of points. A quick game with some good table talk and distrust.

Because I had the Friday night slot I also had the Saturday morning slot. So I was in to setup at 9:30am. I went with Grab Bag first this time. It has a decent amount of table presence when you pour out the piles of bits. And it plays fast, so I was hoping to get in a bunch of games. Saturday was a busier day and Grab Bag was a good choice. I had a few groups play and it went over very well. These were my very first plays of Grab Bag, so the fact that it worked was exciting.

After a few games of Grab Bag I put Comic Auction back on the table. I got a few games in and tested out some different things. Then I managed to get in a partial game of Council of Guilds. I again forgot it was 3 players and only had one other player. So we played a few turns and mostly just talked over the mechanisms.

I had hoped to get a chance to play some more games by other designers in the second block of the day, but my time quickly got taken up by eating and recording podcasts.

Sunday morning I got to play Sniper Vs. Thieves. A fun one vs many dice drafting game of trying to collect money from a heist and escape in time, all while a sniper is shooting at you and setting traps. The game was enjoyable and had a nice tension of trying to escape and also controlling the dice pool to slow down your opponents. The game went a bit long, which is something the designers were trying to improve, I think with a bit more movement it should be an enjoyable 45 minutes.

Before leaving I was able to get in one more game of Comic Auction and Grab Bag, both of which confirmed my feedback from earlier.

There are really two distinct aspects of UnPub in my mind, play testing games and socializing.

For play testing games, it went well. I had some trouble getting groups to the table sometimes. I think the way it is setup, shorter games and games with good table presence have a better chance of getting played. I did get useful feedback on everything I played.

Plutocracy will get some tweaks to let missions continue even after they aren’t worth points to prevent the game from stalling out in certain situations.

Comic Auction needs something else in it. I’m not quite sure yet, but some hidden information so the economy isn’t calculable or some alternate options for players.

Grab Bag went very well and I even thought up a theme for it that should really push it over the top. If I can get it working the way I envision, it could be a great candidate for mass market retail.

Council of Guilds was even rougher than I realized, but I still got some great feedback and ideas for moving forward. I’ll probably end up cutting the auction aspect. It was usually pretty boring and caused more problems than it fixed. I’ll also expand the interactions with the council since that is the enjoyable part of the game and needs to be more of a focus. I’m thinking of making it a simultaneous action selection game which I almost did before.

Overall it was a lot of great testing. I wish I had gotten in some more plays of Plutocracy, but at 90 minutes plus rules and setup, it didn’t fit into the schedule so well.

For socializing it was a fantastic time. The game design community is a bunch of great people. Playing other people’s games, talking about design, podcasting, eating, and meeting new people. It’s a whirlwind of activity. The worst part is that there isn’t time for everything.

I’d say my first UnPub was a success. And I won a free table for UnPub 9 in a raffle, so I’ll definitely be back next year. Hopefully a bit better prepared. Thanks to everyone who played games and hung out with me. I hope to see you next year.

Numbers Are Relative

The numbers in your game are most likely relative. Their value only matters in relationship to each other. So having a card worth 2 victory points and a card worth 4 victory points could be functionally the same as having cards worth 4 and 8. Because of this you can have a lot of freedom in changing all of your numbers with minimal mechanical affect.

But what numbers should you use? Personally I like smaller numbers because the math is easier for people to deal with. So in the example above I would change it to 1 and 2 if possible.

But sometimes it’s not the percentage change between points, like doubling above, but rather the difference that matters. So 1 & 2, 2 & 4, and 4 & 8 are not the same if you care about the difference. In a system where the difference matters I would still lower the numbers by finding the lowest number, reducing it to 1, then subtracting the same from all other numbers.

Pay attention to the numbers you use, their relation to each other, and see if you can simplify them in anyway.

Getting Ready for UnPub

The past few weeks my focus was supposed to be getting ready for UnPub. A lot of my focus has been on dealing with storms and other household issues instead. So it’s been tough to focus on creation.

But I work best under pressure from a lifetime of procrastination. So the next week should be an impressive amount of work.

Part of my issue is deciding what games to bring. I have a lot of current projects that could be a good fit for UnPub, but nothing that is ready to play. And my Game Crafter order looks like it will be arriving just a little too late for me to take those games with me.

That’s enough writing, back to game design.

If you’re at UnPub say hi.