An Update on the Tempus Series

The Tempus Series is a collection of print and play games I have been working on. In an earlier post I talked about how I accidentally designed a solo game. Tempus Imperium was that accident, and the first game in the series. The connection between the games is the mechanism of using the date and time to generate a 10 digit number. This number is used to setup a 10×10 grid for the game and determines what action you can perform each turn.

The games function like roll and write games where you write on the page based on each turns variable, except the variable is from the date and time. This makes the games feel a bit different than a roll and write. You know exactly what action you can perform each turn of the game. So after the initial setup, there is no randomness. For this same reason it was necessary to have a mechanism to let you change a turn’s action. Otherwise it would be very possible to be entirely locked out of an action for a game.

Tempus Imperium is about building an empire. You must build roads to connect to forests and quarries then use those resources to build farms, markets, forts, and castles. Gold is required for most things, including changing a turn’s action, so a strong economy is key. It has been out for a few weeks now and has received a lot of feedback. It had one major update to balance the scoring. I’m happy with how it is playing now and I’m ready to call it finished.

Tempus Fumus is about building a train line. You must connect your station to coal and iron mines to gain the resources you need, and villages to earn money. The game is very mechanically similar to Tempus Imperium. However, the tighter restrictions on how to build paths and where the things you need to connect to are, makes the game more difficult to play and design. It was released to the public 2 days ago. I believe it still needs a lot of work to give it the variety of strategies that Tempus Imperium has.

The planned third game in the series will be set in space and be about escaping from an alien attack. I have some ideas for new additions that will take advantage of the game’s print and play design. This is still very early though, so anything can happen.

I’m always happy to get feedback on my designs and these are no exception. Also, if anyone else is interested in designing a game using the tempus mechanism, let me know. I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned and would be interested to see what direction other designers could take it.

Lost in Plutocracy

I tried two very different action selection systems for Plutocracy this week. Deck building, which didn’t work very well at all. And simultaneous action selection with bidding for tie breakers, which was better, but fiddly and distracted from the core of the game.

In the discussion after the second test the idea of an autonomous game that plays itself and could be manipulated by the players came up. This is exactly the feeling I want for the game, but I don’t think I fully realized it before.

I have so many ideas of how this could go, all of them very rough. It is possibly a complete restructuring of the game. After more than a year and 16 major versions. In some ways it feels like starting over. But after a year of practice.

This may be an entirely different game. I’m not sure what will come of it. Maybe I should leave well enough alone and just clean up the version people like. But I’m hoping I can catch the feeling of shadowy manipulation that I wanted from the beginning.

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.

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.

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.