Friday, December 21, 2012

Progress Update 1

So I've decided that Fridays are progress update days.

Game of Gamliness

It's not the actual title of the game, I just can't for the life of me think of a real name yet. It's just the code name for now, I guess. This project got put on hold while I do easier projects... which ended up being not as easy in the end. Meh. I just want to release SOMETHING, and then push for bigger games when I have a couple titles under my belt.

My Little Dungeon

The contest game. It's mostly just missing art, at this point. The monster cards need some fleshing out, and the rules need to be actually written, but it's very close to being done. I put it on hiatus for a bit because I don't really like doing the art that much. Now I'm back to working on....

Ducats and Danger

So I renamed Dungeons of Gold to Ducats and Danger, making it alliterative to fit the theme. So I've got all 50 of the monsters named (much harder than you'd think...), a good chunk of monster stats done, most of the loot named, a decent number of the character cards done, even prototype cards cut and written out. Once I finish the loot, I'm going to force out at least two classes and two races to playtest. Hopefully before the year ends?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Wiz War

Ugh. This game. This game.

So, a long time ago, I played Wiz War. The 1983 version, but I don't remember which edition. It was a silly game where each player was a wizard wandering through a maze, collecting treasures, casting spells, and trying to mess with the other players. The mechanics were a bit clunky, but it added to the charm. The spells worked together in a variety of ways, and silly things happened every game.

All of the spells were cards that you drew from a deck. Some of the cards were just numbers. You could use these numbers to move further, and some spells needed to use a number to deal damage (like deal X damage or something). Wiz War was out of print for quite some time, and I liked the general feel of it, so I decided to make a similar game with different mechanics.

So the theme was the same; you're a wizard, there's a maze, you collect treasures, you cast spells, you mess with the other guy. The maze was done quite a bit differently. In Wiz War, the game was made of a few 5x5 boards randomly put together, usually making a 10x10 grid. In my game, it was random tiles that made a 10x10 grid. Some cards could push entire rows or columns of the maze around, similar to the Ravensburger Labyrinth series.

The wizards weren't just generic wizards; each wizard was its own character with their own unique spells or abilities. The abilities weren't that game-changing. They were mostly just thrown in for a bit of extra flavor for each character. Your character choices mostly mattered for which spells you can use.

In Wiz War, everyone draws spells from the same deck. In my game, everyone builds their own deck, like Magic the Gathering, or other CCGs/LCGs (mine being an LCG). Each card had a certain element associated with it (like fire, for example), and each character could only have certain elements in their deck. There were some generic cards that anyone could put in their deck, along with the few unique abilities for each character.

A major difference to how the cards played is that most spells needed a number, and every card had a number. The 'better' cards had lower (less powerful) numbers, and the less useful or more situational cards were the ones with the high numbers. All movement required a number card to be played. Because of this, the pacing of the game is much faster, and you burn through your deck quickly.

.... but then in comes Wiz War 8th Edition in 2012, published by Fantasy Flight. And... wait... what's that? What is that? Right there... at the bottom of the card there.... Is that seriously an energy number on the card? Ugh. This game.

So, yep. I scrapped my game. While there are some major changes to it, that alone just makes it way too similar to 8th edition, and there's no way I'm going to try and make a game that similar to something FF released this year.

And I know that only some cards in 8th edition have energy values on them, it's still a key element to my game which was supposed to be unique. Now instead of 'Hey, you know that old Wiz War game that hasn't seen the light of day in a decade? Here's something really similar!', it's become 'Hey, you know that game Fantasy Flight released this year...?'

Meh. One day. Maybe.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Why I Hate Minis

Okay, don't get me wrong. I like miniatures. Who doesn't? They're pretty little flavor to add to your game. When I played D&D, I'd ooh and ahh when that guy brought out his minis collection. They definitely added something nice to the game.

But minis are superfluous. They're bulk. They're cost... and I hate my games being expensive, heavy and big. So a while ago, my friend got Zombicide on Kickstarter. He paid a whopping $100 for the game because it came with 114 minis! And that was with the Kickstarter discount... the game went up for retail for $90, with only 71 minis. And you know what? The game wasn't even that good...

Whatever happened to cardboard cutouts on little plastic stands? Heck, what happened to pawns outside of Eurogames? Sure, cardboard people don't look as nice as a plastic 3d guy, but they're way cheaper and take up way less space in that box. And you know that bigger box? Yeah, it costs more to ship. That's more money they cost.

Let's take a look at the classic Clue. No.... let's take a look at Clue Mater Detective (Cluedo and Super Cluedo for non-Americans). The board and pawns look a lot nicer in that version... yes, pawns. You could see a picture of your character, but you otherwise were just a pawn colored by your character's name (Sgt. Grey, Colonel Mustard, Miss Peach, etc.). What was wrong with that? Would the game really have benefited by adding detailed 3d minis to it? Would it have been worth the extra $10-15 for it? Oh, they actually did release a version with minis? Oh, come on....

I think we've come to this awful time where board games stopped being a niche, and have become mainstream via bitlust. Much like how video gaming has devolved into companies holding your hand through another modern military shooter, board game companies are trying to get you to buy their game on little plastic bits alone. Hey, you like zombies right? Have a hundred little plastic grey ones. Aren't they cute?

Now I know the Eurogaming market is still mostly little wooden cube and meeples, but their games often lack in theme or depth. You're not going to get a Eurogame about slaughtering a horde of zombies, represented by various colored cubes, any time soon. That's not to say that I don't like Eurogames, but I like theme and depth in games that most Eurogames don't touch. Ameritrash is all style and no substance, and Eurotrash is all substance with no style (or player interaction).

Why can't we have games that are dripping with theme, mechanics so smooth they'd shame a watchmaker, and don't come with an extra $20 of unecessary plastic!?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ability Progression

This is another mechanic that an old game of mine had that I eventually scrapped. It didn't work with what the game eventually became, but I really want to incorporate it into something eventually. It came from the same game as my Ability Refresh article, but this one could work for tabletop or video game. I'm actually going to reference that article a few times, so you should probably read it first.

So the idea is that abilities themselves level up and get better, and you can pick different upgrades as it progresses. Probably the best way to explain it would be to just jump into an example. Let's take the classic Magic Missile from the Dungeons and Dragons games. As your wizard levels up, the spell gets better. Magic Missile will increase in damage and the number of targets you can attack.

So instead, let's say that you pick how Magic Missile will improve as it levels up. You can pick from more damage or more targets. At max level, you can end up with a big shotgun blast of tiny projectiles, or a bazooka of a spell that just does one powerful shot, or anything in between.

The way I had it set up was that some upgrades could be chosen at any level, some could be chosen every even level, some every fifth, and some only at the max of ten. You only had one chance to get the lvl ten upgrade, but two chances to get the lvl five... but what if there are two level five choices, or you're able to get it twice? With the way it's set up, at levels 1/3/7/9 you can only pick from the choices that are available at any level. At level 10, you can chose any upgrade at all. (Alternatively, you could make max level 12, and have upgrades every 1/2/3/4/6/12 levels or something)

So let's go back to Magic Missile, and throw in my Ability Refresh system with it. I want this skill to be something that, with practice, you can use over and over. So let's put an extra refresh die for every level. I don't want people to have that many damage/target upgrades, so we'll put that on 2. I want something to conflict with the refresh choice, so let's add in an option to increase the accuracy (or reduce saving throw or whatever). So at this point we have:

Every Level: (1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10)
  • +1 Refresh Number
  • +1 Accuracy
Evey Even Level: (2/4/6/8/10)
  • +1 Targets
  • Extra Damage

Well we don't have any 5 or 10 upgrade, but those aren't always needed. At this point, we have a skill that feels a lot like Magic Missile, but is customizable. Still, you could throw in some debuffs for the 5 and 10 upgrades. The 5 upgrades could easily just be the same as the 2s, so you have six chances to get them instead of five.

The problem I had with this system was that it was a bit too engaging. It's too much for one-shot games, unless you're playing a skirmish game or something. In the tabletop world, it pretty much only lends itself to RPGs, which would most likely limit the availability of the game (way too many options for new players). This might be more doable in a video game of sorts....

Monday, December 10, 2012

My Little Dungeon

So on Friday, The Game Crafter announced a game design contest. The theme is map building. Basically, it has to have a map, and the map has to be modular. Even if the map is only pre-built scenarios, like in Descent, it counts. The game could be about map building, or it could just be a short process at the beginning of the game. I went with My Little Dungeon, an ironically cute title. The game is 2-4 players. You play as little octboxes (10mm), and you have three friendly cube (8mm) spirits that follow you around. Your main form of attack is to play cards that let your cubes momentarily transform to have some ability, like to shoot, teleport, charge an enemy, explode, etc. You fight little black cubes (8mm), go through a random dungeon made of 8x8 rooms (mostly 6x6 playable area), and fight the final boss to get the MacGuffin and get out.
The main characters are kinda cutesey, but the enemies are much more.... morbid. Each room of the dungeon has a random set of monsters in it. Each round has three phases: Travel, player combat, monster combat. In the travel phase, if you're in a room with no monsters in it, you can move to any adjacent room. If you reveal a new room, that room has monsters in it. On the player combat phase, you can move yourself and each your cubits, and each of you gets one attack. You can move three spaces, but your cubits can normally only move one. Both you and your cubits normally only have an attack strength of one, but can play cards to increase the power of your cubits (not yourself). In the monster combat phase, the first player controls the monsters. the beginning of your turn, you draw cards up to your hand limit. Your hand limit is two, plus one for every cubit still alive (max of five). Attacks are done by the the attacker and the defender both drawing cards from the combat deck equal to their strength. The cards have different numbers on them. You add the numbers up, and that's your attack/defense power. The one with the higher power wins, with the attacker winning ties. All the creatures and cubits die in one hit, but players are invincible (you slow them down by attacking their cubits).

The final boss is either going to be a minotaurish creature that tries to knock your cubits into the lava surrounding the outside of the room, or a bridge you have to run across while a tentacled beast is trying to grab you/your cubits. In the basic game, whoever beats the boss wins. In the 'advanced' rules, once the MacGuffin is obtained, whoever has the MacGuffin always has the first player token, all remaining monsters instantly die, and you can't explore empty rooms. If you can manage to hit another player (not their cubit), you can steal the MacGuffin from them. The player to get to the starting point with the MacGuffin wins.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Games Are Restrictive

So I was listening to the latest podcast of Ludology, with guest Eric Zimmerman, author of Rules of Play. The episode was about emergent gameplay, and I definitely recommend a listen. One thing they touched on was that games are basically just restrictions. I'd like to delve into that with a bit more depth.

The reason why games make restrictions is because the restrictions create an unusual challenge to overcome. A sack race, for example, is a race (a normal challenge) with an extra restriction (a novel challenge). A lot of the fun of the game is the silliness of the extra restriction, and people's goofy attempts to overcome this new challenge.

Now why are challenges fun? I've read a few things here and there (I'm way too lazy to Google the papers) about how overcoming challenges creates a very strong emotional responses in people. People love overcoming challenges. It's hardwired into our brains. We want to feel accomplished.
Let's take another game most people are familiar with: Scrabble. So the basic idea of the game is that players take turns writing words found in an (usually) English dictionary. There's no real challenge in that, as most adults could do that for an hour and still be coming up with words. This game would not be much fun, as it lacks any sense of challenge. Now let's add the rule that each letter has to fit in a 1/2" square, and words can only go top to bottom or left to right. This by itself would be a silly superfluous rule, as it provides no challenge on its own... but if the availability of the 1/2" squares is limited, you now have a bit of a puzzle.

Now add in a bit of freedom that words can share as many letters with other words as needed, and you give players a mechanic to explore. This gives the player more interesting ways to complete this little puzzle of theirs. But now add in the restriction that words have to share at least one letter with another word (first word being exempt, of course). So now we have a simple little creative puzzle. At this point, we actually have a game.

But let's add a few more restrictions. Simple ones. Not only is the availability of space a restriction, but not the availability of letters. Let's restrict the number of letters that players have available to them each turn to seven. The game is still simple, but it offers up a more interesting challenge because of the few rules (restrictions) the game has.

You could even go further into the emergent aspect of the podcast. Bigger and more difficult words are more 'fun'. People will naturally try to challenge themselves to get the more interesting words out on the board. So, why not make a rule that rewards people for doing this? Less common letters award more points than common letters. This rule isn't so much a restriction as it is a reflection of the emergence of gameplay. Anyone who's played enough word games, like Scrabble or Boggle, will be familiar with the concept of 'good words'. Somebody at the table makes a word, and the other players say 'Oooh, that's a good one!'. Boggle doesn't directly award extra points for more difficult letters, but such a rule would make a lot more book keeping to do at once, and more difficult words generally get awarded by less players getting the same word (you score points in Boggle by making words that other players have not).

So basic rules of games are there to create restriction. Extra rules can be added to reward players for doing fun things, or possibly to emphasize the theme of the game. But, at the core of things, games are a challenge to overcome. Later on I'll have to do an article about what I call 'artificial difficulty'....

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ability Refresh

So a few years ago, I was playing 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons with some friends. In the game, characters get abilities they can use as much as they like, abilities they can only use once per conflict (need ten minutes of uninterrupted rest to regain use of it), and abilities that can only be used once a day (need eight hours of rest).

So my fellow heroes and I were going through a cave squishing some beetles (giant hostile beetles), when our GM rolls a D6, getting a 6, and declares that the beetle's fire breath ability has been regained. Whuh? He shows me the entry in the monster manual, and how a lot of the monsters in the book have abilities that refresh when certain numbers are rolled. That's actually kind of cool... so... why don't the heroes have that?

So I tinkered around with a game that did something very similar with the heroes. The game eventually turned into something else entirely, with the refresh thing thrown out.

The basic idea is that all your combat abilities are expended on use. Maybe the different abilities could be written on cards which you flip over. Every turn you roll a die, and you can refresh one ability that has that number on it. Some abilities might have more than one number on it.

If you're able to use more than one ability per turn, you can quickly end up with very few skills left to use by the end of the game. If you categorize the numbers in certain ways like all primary attacks refresh on 1, secondary attacks have 2s, debuffs have 3s, buffs are 4s, etc. then it encourages players to have and use a wide variety of abilities so their refresh every turn isn't 'wasted'.

Later on I tinkered with a similar idea, but instead all the abilities use one of three resources. These are represented by a stack of poker chips (or something similar), and when you expend them to use a skill, you put the chip into a cup or opaque bag or something. Every turn, you draw a random chip from the bag.

The refresh system has a similar feel to the one in D&D 4e; you start the day/adventure being able to do a lot, and end up needing to rest by the end. Some abilities can be used a whole lot, and other skills can only be used a few times. While my way takes a bit more book keeping, it's a more engaging (in my opinion) and feels less contrived.