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.

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.

Two Mindsets

In game design, and really any creative endeavor, you need two mindsets. And the ability to switch between these two mindsets is very useful.

You need to be confident. When designing your game, pitching your game, or demoing your game you need to be completely confident that it is the best game. You need to be confident in your game so that the potential players and publishers you talk to are confident in your game. They don’t want to waste their time with a game that the creator doesn’t even think is great. And if you don’t think it’s great, why are you wasting your time on it?

So the first mindset is confidence. The second is humbleness. You need to be humble when play testers give you feedback and when developers suggest changes. You need to know that it isn’t the best game ever. You can’t achieve perfection on your own. You need help and input from other people. You should be appreciative that people are taking the time to help you. Then you have to switch back to confident to implement the changes, and promote the absolute best game.

TotalCon 2018 Recap

Last weekend I went to TotalCon, one of my local gaming conventions. It was a fun time seeing friends, playing prototypes, and even playing published games. Here’s a recap of the weekend as best I can remember.

Thursday

The Mines of Mi Otal

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This game was originally designed for a Game Crafter contest. One of the people who played it back then was James, who enjoyed it and asked me about it after I had shelved it. So when I saw James I knew I had to play the new version with him. This was the first test of the new version which changed a lot from the original. It was incredibly unbalanced and I lost by a lot. It was a great test though that gave me a baseline of what was worth fixing and what was not.

I’ve now had 3 tests of it and the game is coming together. There were a few elements I left out from the original that I’m going to put back, they helped mitigate some of the randomness.

Circle the Wagons

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After testing Mines James taught me Circle the Wagons. A nice two player wallet game from Button Shy. I managed to win with a long wagon train. This game is quick to learn and has a lot of variety with the different scoring methods.

Comic Auction

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This started as a 15 card micro game of auctions and set collection. I added more variety and extra cards for tracking player’s debt so it’s around 108 cards now. The game is a continuous auction for groups of comics. Each comic has a unique combination of two characters. For scoring players must make sets of comics all containing the same character. So players could be fighting over the same comic for different sets. Players can only go so far into debt though. Then they have to sell off comics.

This was the first test of this since I updated it. My friend Steph really enjoyed it and the group had a lot of great suggestions. Some of which we tested out. A big thing I need to figure out for this is how to value the comic sets so that it’s worth bidding high to make larger sets, but doesn’t grow so much that one extra card wins the game.

Bunny Kingdoms

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Back to published games. This was a fun card drafting and area control game. You draft cards to take control of spaces on a grid map, build building and add special features. You score each round for the number of towers you control times the number of different resources you control. The scoring started off so small, I think I made 3 points the first round. It seemed like it wouldn’t be possible to make a larger area. But it quickly escalated with special abilities and growing my area. By the last round my kingdom was earning me 55 points. The drafting was fun, and I enjoyed trying to balance between expanding my territory to connect more areas and building up what I had to increase the multipliers. This was my favorite published game of the weekend.

Dinosaur Island

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Building a dinosaur theme park is fun. I was not so good at it though. I was tempted by the goal cards and raced to get one but neglected to build up my park. I didn’t have time to build up for points before the game ended. 2 goals were similar and could be completed by the same action so the game ended pretty fast. It was fun, but I definitely need to work on my strategy.

Friday

Circle the Wagons

Since I had learned Circle the Wagons from James I was able to teach it to Steph. I’m still not good at working on building areas. But it has a fun decision space with what you can score. And I always want to tuck cards under, but you can’t.

Comic Auction

One of the suggestions from Thursday was to add an additional character to the game. Since I was going home each night instead of staying at the hotel, I had a chance to print up additional cards. The larger deck worked well and I introduced some bonus scoring. We played around with the numbers and came up with a cleaner method of selling comics mid game. Really coming along.

Hit the Jackpot

A prototype by my friend Chip. It’s a deck builder where you play 3 cards a turn to a slot machine trying to get symbols to match for bonuses and scoring. I was surprised how the theme of slot machines worked so well with a deck builder. But they both have the randomness and hope of getting combos. I think the game needs more chances to cut cards from your deck but it was interesting over all and I look forward to playing it again.

Plutocracy

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Chip and Emerson played part of a game of Plutocracy. Chip had to leave so they couldn’t finish, but they played enough to give me some great feedback. Including the question of why I had action costs that I wrote about last week. I was hoping to get some tests in to check the game before I printed it at the Game Crafter. The changes from this test required more reworking of the components than I expected, but I think the game is better for it.

Cockroach Poker

I love the bluffing and trying to read your opponents. It plays quick and is easy to teach. A nice way to finish the night.

Saturday

In Vino Morte

My game published by Button Shy currently available for preorder. We had a few minutes to kill while we waited for a player, so I pulled out In Vino Morte. It’s so easy to teach and you can get several games in quickly. One of the players was even interested in buying it so yay me for marketing.

Adrenaline

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When I first showed up Saturday my friend Mike asked if I was looking for a game. He was starting up Adrenaline. Once the 5th player we were waiting for arrived, we started. I’d heard a lot about this game. An area control game themed as a shooter video game. Everything about it played to the theme, variety of cool weapons, picking up ammo, running around to shoot your opponents and not get shot in return. The only problem was the long downtime of 5 players. You really lose the flow of action when you have to wait for other players to take turns. But everything else works so well. I enjoyed it but would like to try it with only 3 players to see if it feels smoother.

Rajas of the Ganges

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I had scheduled a play test with my friend Derek for a game he was helping test. But we had to wait for another player. To fill the time he taught Rajas of the Ganges. This was a neat worker placement game with lots of different things going on. I love the win condition of having a money and fame track going in opposite directions and when you cross your piece on the other track you win. The dice system was interesting and kept making me have to try and reroll as efficiently as possible to get stuff done. I didn’t do very well but it was enjoyable.

Post Human Saga

This was the game Derek was testing. It had a lot going on. A full on adventure game with a lot of detail, like tracking the health of my bat. In its current form it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do. We played for 2 hours and didn’t really get much into the game. Some interesting mechanics and story elements but I think it needs to be streamlined a lot.

Vanilla

Derek, Angela and I went to get some dinner and played my new version of Vanilla. The updates worked well but I still have a lot of balancing to do. Angela said she wanted more engine building in the game to have a sense of progression. I completely agree. So I’ll be working on how to implement that in the future.

Clank! In! Space!

We got back from dinner and Derek and I joined a game of Clank! In! Space!. I enjoy deck builders and Clank sounded interesting. I haven’t played the original but heard Space was an improved version. I liked almost everything about this game except two things. There wasn’t much culling, so my deck got very bloated and inefficient. And the fact that I died one space from the scoring area with a huge point lead. The randomness worked against me on a few parts that made my inefficient deck even more frustrating. I’d be willing to try it again now that I understand how important movement cards are.

Plutocracy

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It was already past midnight but I was able to get two players for a test of Plutocracy. I was glad to have a chance to test the changes before I had a copy printed. The game dragged a bit, but the changes I made had no negative affects. Still need to adjust numbers to get the play time right. This was the first two player game in a while.

And that was my time at TotalCon 2018. Even though it’s local, it’s over an hour drive for me. I’m thinking about staying at the hotel next year so I can get more gaming in.

My next Con will be the Granite Games Summit in Nashua, NH next weekend. If you’re there come and play in the In Vino Morte tournament Saturday night.

Another Step Forward

Short one today because I’m at TotalCon. If you’re attending find me and say hi.

A while back I wrote about play testers asking “what if you don’t?” That happened again today with a test of Plutocracy. Specifically they asked what if you don’t have costs for actions.

Out of the 5 actions, 2 already don’t have a cost. For 2 more the cost can be moved into the action itself, so they will remain the same mechanically. The only action that would change is moving. Moving would no longer cost 1 influence.

In the game paying one influence is a very small thing. It is unlikely to shift anyone’s score. Players start with 5 crystals that work as a wild influence for paying costs, and they earn more from exploring new planets. So it is very rare that a player would be unable to take a move action because they didn’t have the correct influence.

On top of this cost being essentially negligible, we also kept forgetting to pay it. So a rule that is easy to forget and has a minimal affect on the game. I can see the benefits of cutting it. Streamline the rules more. Free up space on the player board. And if moving doesn’t cost anything, it really removes the need for crystals at all. So dropping crystals saves on components and again simplifies the rules.

This seems like another step towards the game being the best it can be.