Sequels Can Be Tricky

I’ve been working on a follow up to Tempus Imperium using the same time based setup. I think this is the first time I’ve tried to make a sequel to a game.

My first instinct was to try and take the mechanic in a very different direction. My first idea was a sci-fi escape game with no scoring, only a win or lose condition. But I quickly lost what worked about Tempus Imperium.

So I tried to not be too different but change up how things worked. Moving from the original empire building theme to a train game with stocks and route building.

The first few versions were very boring. At first I thought I had gone too different again. But then I remembered that Tempus Imperium’s early versions were very boring. They moved too slowly. Just like this does. So I think I might be on the right track.

I’m cutting the stock aspect for now and focusing more on the route building. Roads were a major part of Tempus Imperium, and in this train theme I’m thinking tracks will be even more central to the game.

The hard part is making the play restrictive enough that it is tense, but fast enough that the game isn’t tedious.

And I’ve had some ideas for the sci-fi game that might be a good next step for the format taking into account the disposable nature of a one sheet PnP write on game.

Scattered Thoughts

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me so I’ve been having trouble focusing on game design. It’s not that I haven’t been working on it, but when I can’t focus I move from topic to topic. So I’m getting a bit done on a few projects. And because this lack of focus extends to writing this blog I figured I’d just write about what I’m working on. 

First up, Comic Auction. This has been my focus a lot for the past few months. It was getting positive feedback from a lot of testing groups and I finally figured out a balance between a closed economy and letting a bit of new money in to give players a chance. It can still be very unforgiving if you misvalue things. But the play time is down to just under 30 minutes, so I’m ok with it being on the tough side. You usually need a game or two to understand how to properly value things in auction games. 

I think I was starting to lose interest in Comic Auction a bit, but then my friend Derek started helping with it. He had some comic art assets that he put together and did a nice layout for the comics. Actually having art, even if it isn’t final, really helps this game. It’s about collecting comics after all. So that has really revived my interest. He also came up with the bonus goals which add a nice level of complexity to the game. So it has become a co-design and it’s definitely better for it. 

Derek is also interested in working on Vanilla which I haven’t touched in months. So hopefully he can help breath new life into that. 

Next, Plutocracy. I used to talk about Plutocracy all the time. Then I stopped working on it. Pretty much right after I had The Game Crafter version made. It looks great, needs a few minor tweaks for legibility. But I stopped testing once I ordered the new version. And during that break I started working on other things so it hasn’t gotten much attention. 

I was kind of forced to bring it back out because it got into the curation process at the Boston Game Makers’ Guild. It involves a few levels of more intensive play testing. So I brought it to one meeting to refresh myself on it. Then brought it to its first intensive test. This was also the first 5 player test with this version. It went well. Several of the players had played earlier versions and liked how much smoother it played. It still has the issue of a slow start. But after the test I thought of a possible solution which I hope to have ready soon. 

Island Chain was getting a good amount of feedback from the PnP I shared. It even got on a Twitch show which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. But I haven’t played it in a while. I think because it has been working well there isn’t anything to fix yet. So I was more interested in other projects. 

Grab Bag is also in limbo with positive play tests but it’s still missing something. 

Tempus Imperium, which I wrote about last week has been taking up most of my design time. It’s a solo, single sheet, PnP game. So it has been really easy to prototype and test. I’ve been really wanting to release it for public testing. But even though the game plays well I am having a lot of trouble writing the rules. It’s very hard to explain in text only and making rules examples is slow. I tried recording a how to video, which is easier to explain, but I made a few mistakes and need to re-record it. So hopefully that is out soon. Maybe even this weekend. 

On top of all this I listened to the Board Game Design Lab about dexterity games today and it made me want to work on my old dexterity idea that I bought all the tools and wood to make, but never got around to. Think crokinole with magnets. Certainly a time consuming prototype. 

So lots of things to work on and very little focus to get any one of them done. I keep saying my schedule will clear up in July and I’ll get stuff done. But I’ve been saying that every few months for a couple of years now. Wish me luck. 

I Accidentally Designed a Solo Game

Last week I had a new game idea. That’s not uncommon, I usually come up with a few game ideas every week, but this was one of those ideas that sticks with you and you can’t help but start to design it, even before you write anything down.

The initial idea was a simple concept, a roll and write with no dice. And I don’t mean just using cards instead. The idea was that on each player’s turn they would just choose some of the available actions and every player would get to perform those actions. My thought was that having other people select what was best for their plan isn’t too different from the randomness of dice.

I decided on a civilization building theme for the game and players would work on filling a 10 by 10 grid with different buildings and roads.

While working on the first version I decided that it would be good to have a solo variant. Having a player just decide what to do and drawing a map didn’t seem like it would be any fun. So I needed some randomization element. Dice were tempting, but adding dice would be against the main concept of the game.

I decided to have a random set up of the board to make it a challenge. I just needed a way for a player to get a random 10 digit number without using dice. Then they would use that number to fill the board and have to play around the starting enemies and resources.

I decided to use the date and time as the random number. If you use two digits for each; month, day, year, hour, and minute gives you a 10 digit number. They would use this to determine the placement with one square filled in each column and then one filled in each row. So 20 of the 100 squares would be filled with target resources and enemies that would cause problems.

This is the version I first tested. Two things came out of it. The first is that the random setup was great and I decided to use it for the solo and multiplayer games. The second was that letting the player freely choose their actions was boring. There wasn’t any struggle. So I needed a way to randomize the player’s actions to give them a challenge. I already had a 10 digit “random” number, so I just assigned number ranges to each action and those determined the actions a player had and the order they used them in.

That was it. The game really came together. I gave up on any multiplayer game. It was now solo only. Originally I didn’t care what date and time format people used. But I realized standardizing the formatting let me get more accurate statistics of what a board setup could be and how likely certain actions would be. Over the last version I’ve refined how enemies work and now it seems to be working well.

I hope to get the rules written up soon and I’ll add a link here as well as share it on Twitter @BlueCubeBGs.

Edit: I still haven’t written the rules, but I made a How to Play Video. The print & play file and video are here.

Finding Contributors

Last week I talked about the struggles of content creation. This week I’m talking about what I’ve been trying to do to make it easier for me.

The most complicated content creation I’m a part of is my podcast. I have discussions with usually 3 other people about various game design topics. The three people change from episode to episode. So I had to come up with a topic, or crowd source one, and schedule a recording time with 4 people, usually in different time zones.

To help ease the burden of scheduling I decided to try and get some contributors. They would record their own segments and then I would assemble them. So no more trying to get 4 people online at the same time.

My early attempts to get contributors didn’t garner a lot of interest. The few people that did start segments were people I already knew. I liked the new content and the variety of topics and voices the show gained.

But, I hadn’t managed to build a large enough group for the contributor episodes to fill a full hour. And if someone wasn’t able to get a segment in, the show was even shorter.

I gained a few more contributors since that initial search, but the episodes are still on the shorter side.

It turns out this contributor system is actually even more work than the round table episodes. The recording is easier, but I’m actually managing more people and have more editing to do. But the variety of topics and people is great. So I put out another call for contributors.

This time I got a lot of responses and it looks like many new voices will be joining the show over the next few months.

A few things were different from the last time I asked for contributors. First, the show has grown in popularity, so it has a bit more recognition and reach. Second, I’ve been networking a lot since that first search, so I have more recognition and reach. Finally, and most importantly, when I asked for contributors on twitter I didn’t just let the tweet fade into the aether. I tagged a few people who I thought would be a good fit for making a segment. It’s still an open call and anyone can submit an idea, but tagging people in a tweet turns it into a conversation and that builds traction. The tweet got a lot of likes and shares from the people I tagged and my followers. Then it started getting shares from people I didn’t know. And I got more people interested in submitting.

Twitter is a strange place, but it is my preferred social media hangout. And figuring out how to get traction on a tweet has been a big help.

If you’re interested in submitting a segment, DM me @BlueCubeBGs. If you want to listen, head over to www.theboardgameworkshop.com.

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?