Thursday, October 26, 2017


(Never mind the infrequency with which I update this thing)
Just submitted Birch Crown and D.I.E. Interceptor for a local Playtest day.  A little while back I had a private playtest night at my place, where I demo'd (poorly) Birch Crown, D.I.E. Interceptor, and Cowl & Mask.  My friends were encouraging, and even seemed to like the changes/options for the latest build of Cowl & Mask.  For D.I.E. Interceptor (which I also entered into the BGG 2p PnP Design Contest, and got incredibly useful feedback on), the winner liked it and the loser didn't, but even the one playtest I got in that night unlocked some useful trimming of the fat I can do to streamline it and open it up.  Everyone seemed kind of new-rules'd out by the time we ran Birch Crown, and I assumed they'd all have nice but lukewarm things to say since it was late once we wrapped and there were a lot of glazed eyes, but surprisingly Birch Crown was the one they said felt most like a real game, so what do I know.
Major takeaways from that night - I need two things for every playtest going forward.
1) Full Turn/Phase Order with examples and illustrations
2) Reference Cards
The Turn/Phase Order is where most of the questions arose.  And while printing the rules is helpful, while they're proto rules, or new players, there's no way for them to play the game without my help; clear reference cards can stand in for me, in terms of providing the quick answers to the basic questions.
But that's actually not what I wanted to write about today!
I've been meaning for some time to put down my thoughts on Experience Design.
I'm sure other people have written about this concept, calling it something else, or have written about Experience Design, but meant other concepts, but for me, Experience Design, within the context of gaming, keeps popping into my head as a synthesis of a lot of my reading (especially the Kobold Book of Game Design, which I'm still working through and loving) and my own experience with design.
In short: Experience Design is a synthesized approach between the old (possibly false) dichotomy of Mechanics First vs Theme First.  From what I've read and found on my own, both of those approaches are often superficial descriptions of the real spark of game design; when you have an idea for a game, you envision yourself playing it.  I think a lot of designers then think, "Well in that visualizaion, the theme jumped out at me", or "I couldn't see a theme yet, but the mechanic was obvious".
But speaking personally, mechanics pop into my head all the time.  I don't even jot all of them down. But the ones that take hold of my brain and don't let go? Those're the ones where I don't just picture a mechanic in isolation, devoid of context; I picture a moment in time where I'm using that mechanic, in the service of a goal, the fulfillment of a desire.  A mechanic (let's say: Action Tokens that you spend by giving to the other player, in order to do things on your turn) pops into my head, and it probably gets dutifully written down.  But it doesn't *stay* in my head unless it populates my imagination with a scenario of why it would be a blast to do this (Two players are stingy with their Action Tokens, maintaining a distrustful equilibrium, until as the game progresses riskier turns become more attractive, until someone kicks off a push-your-luck arms race) and I can get a sense of what gaming moments I want to create the circumstances for.
That's why I think Experience Design is what's really behind both the Theme First and the Mechanics First approach.  Because what ignites the desire to move forward with design and development is the half-formed glimmer of the game that could be.  I also think this is useful as a touchstone when you get lost; Been through eighteen iterations? Cycled through a bunch of possible mechanics? All of your playtesters making different cases for what the theme should be changed to? Take a moment and imagine you're playing the idealized finished game.  What does an amazing turn look like? Whatt's the feel of the setting, what does it evoke? What makes this hypothetical table lose their minds with wonder (or any other strong emotion that you set out to make them feel?)
I believe that Experience Design can be a tool to guide a designer along the path of their process, and a way of making the product a fully realized dream, greater than the otherwise haphazard sum of its parts.  I look forward to putting this theory to the test.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

More Birch, More Crown

The Birch Crown continues apace.  I know this is premature, but I've also knocked together an expansion.
An expansion?! you gasp, mouth agape and eyes agog, the veins standing livid in your forehead and your arms as your knuckles whiten on the table's edge, which groans within your grip.  Before you've even come close to middling, much less finishing, the "base game"?!
Let me cut you off before you can draw in a huge breath and shout "Blasphemy!" in my face.  The Birch Crown, as it stands, is already modular, and there's no reason suits can't be dropped into the mix, a la Daniel Solis' Trickster series.  But for POD purposes, I want to limit it to seven suits, so that you can have a pleasing 7-symmetry, and also so that the whole thing fits in all standard 54-card measurements (in terms of card sheets, box size, etc), with room for rules and title/cover.  I've had some other ideas for suits, and a few twists on rules, so yes, I'm working on an expansion.  When this is ready for production, I may just go with the most-tested, most-compatible seven suits, and continue working on the other suits to see what makes the cut for the expansion.
Oh, and once again:
Cards Against Humanity, Tides of Time, Chronicle, Trickster, The Decktet, The Draugr.  What an odd, odd mix of influences.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Birch Crown

Ahahahaha.  My last post was more than eleven months ago.  In that post, I made fun of the gap betwixt posts.  Some things never change.
Cowl & Mask has reached a point that I'm happy with but somewhat confounded by.  I think it's different and innovative (I shall shy away from the grailterm "original") but I haven't had much success in convincing people that it's actually fun, and I'm not sure where (if anywhere) to go with it next.  In the meantime, I've kept up a moleskine notebook of almost exclusively game design ideas, and I've chipped away at various projects.
The one I'm feeling best about at the moment, however, is The Birch Crown.  I was playing Cards Against Humanity last year (after a Stanley Cup playoffs game, I believe - and I think the Lightning won that one) for the first time in a long while, and one guy was just running away with the game, and I got to thinking about how to use the core A2A/CAH mechanic for a game.  Add in a dash of inspiration from Tides of Time (a new favourite) and Chronicle (an absolute classic), and I had a tableau-builder with suited powers.  Theme and suit construction drew from The Draugr (supremely excited that it'll be BGG's next microgame) and the Decktet (such a rich toy).
So yeah... a complicated little family history there.  But I think it's at least interesting, and while I have a creeping suspicion that it might be too mathy of a point salad, and prone to AP as a result, I think if I pare away more and more of the conditional/situational cards and promote ease of play, I could have a half-way decent little Gamer's Party Game here.
At the very least, I've printed it, cut it, gotten it to the table, and revised it once already.  I've made my own iconography, I think the first pass at the rules is decent, and at least one person likes it.  It should hopefully be low-art enough that if I can get a bit better graphic design in there, this could be a game I could produce on DTC.
We'll see!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Must Be That Time of Year

Mid-February 2015.  I haven't posted in eight, ten months? So of course I'm posting again.  Because it's time for the Contests on BGG again.
Golly.  It's frightening how much time speeds up the older I get.  Will I miss my future children's lives if I look away? Instead of minutes or hours, will I someday soon lose months and years, slipping away if I loosen my grip or tighten it too hard?
ANYWAY.  I have still been working on games, the usual dabbling and tinkering and reading and making notes.  I think the real viable project I should bear down on is AaTX.  I've thought about re-theming it, perhaps making it more about exorcising or freeing spirits rather than straight combat, in order to pitch it to Smart Play Games.  I do think that there's something there for Project Smatter (Neon Static Erasure? Neon Static Danger? Neon Static Overdrive? - Perhaps just Neon Hyper Static, with different boards and game modes) - especially as I want to try including a little bit of hidden information.  I've been reading some of Keith Burgun's stuff, and he has some interesting thoughts on how to avoid solved abstracts, and how to create meaningful depth.  I'm thinking of introducing xCheckers (or drEADNaughts) as sPawns that remain yours even if flipped (1-3 of your starting sPawns, initial placement known only to you).
So AaX:T, Project Smatter, my old buddy John still thinks that Cultivate is a viable build... I've been thinking and mulling over these projects.  Need to get a few real worthwhile prototypes into some playtester's hands.  Might be worth bringing a suitcase of prototypes up to UnPub one of these years.
The current project that has possessed me, however, is a simple little design that I have some decent hopes for, and which I've entered into the BGG 2-Player Design Contest.  It's currently called Cowl & Mask, and is a 21-card lane game of bluffing, deduction, and positioning.  Here's the work done on it so far:
- I've got a WIP thread over at BGG, with an 0.3 draft of rules for public view.
- I've built a prototype, and playtested it twice.
- My friend Tyler's working on some slightly more appealing graphic design mockups.
- My friend John's built a simulator for me to look at different possible layouts of a player's seven cards.
Next steps:
- Get a PnP build up on the BGG WIP and see if I can do some playtest trades.
- Create some more compelling art for the nice graphic design work Ty's done, because drawing is fun.
- See if my friend JT can create a program to run through iterations of John's simulator and map broken or ideal layouts.
- More private playtesting.
- Plan for public playtesting.

I'm also helping playtest some friends' designs this month.  The fellows over at Ironrise Games are having me take a look at their Alpha of Forge The Future, and I'm also going to be in Beta playtests for the Nerdologues' Fisticuffs! Should be a fun month, especially considering I've promised myself no new games or kickstarters this month.
Well, here's hoping I'll have more posts soon.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Alone at the Crossroads: Trees

I've made some progress on Project Smatter (Neon Fight? Neon Flights? Neon Static?) but I think it needs more work than I can really give it to make it contest-ready by the deadline.  But we'll see! I really like the game (the big scary change I'm considering making is giving one action per player per turn, instead of two.  Dunno if I'm smart enough to play that game, much less design it) but I frankly don't play Go, Chess, Tafl, even Checkers; none of the heavy abstrategy games.  So I'm sort of paralyzed by that.  And there's only a month left in the 2P contest.  I may just mess with For King and Country, polish that up and submit that.

So what have I been working on instead? Probably nothing, right? I mean probably.  Except that I've got this bug in my head for a solitaire 52-card game.  It's inspired by my reading and commenting on a lot of design stuff on the BGG Design forums, and you can definitely see fingerprints from others' (unfinished or unpublished or abandoned work) but I do think it's not outright theft by any means; my major mechanic is based on splaying, which I've been reading about in Innovation.
I'm calling my mechanic Alone at the Crossroads.  It's a way of building the character of a solitaire game, wherein the character has two axes of development: Horizontally, Cunning vs. Boldness; Vertically, Song vs. Silence.  Players start out being able to splay cards in only one of the four directions.  After achieving a certain amount of experience, they can start splaying cards in another direction (either one of the two directions in their currently unsplayed axis.  So say a character chooses to splay their cards to the right (Boldness).  They have now ruled out Cunning, but after scoring the requisite number of cards, they can start splaying their cards up (Song) OR down (Silence).  And say they pick Silence (Down); after scoring the next requisite number of cards, they can combine that splay, so that every card is now splayed down-right, and now gives both its Bold and Silent bonuses.
The two-axis mechanic, in a solo game, is why I call this Alone at the Crossroads.  Trees will be the first deck to employ the mechanic, but I could see a game of Peaks, Waves, Stars, Dreams...
Anyway, I don't want to jinx my work ethic, but that's what I've been building.  I'm partway (the easy part) done building a prototype, and I hope to be able to get a working text-only proto ready soon.  I don't think I'll bother posting airy-fairy concept stuff to BGG; I'll only enter the contest if I have a real first draft done.
So.  We'll see.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Tiny Victory

Today's post is a short one, which is fitting as it commemorates an achievement of no great note, beside personal pride.  Today I wrote up a little more on my BGG thread about Project Smatter, outlining the boards.  Recently, I've been obsessing over whether the boards should adhere to multiples / exponentials of three or two, trying to thematically link the layouts of the boards to overarching numerical motif blah blah blah.  Writing stuff down in the BGG thread, I had contrasting information.  Whatever.  Nail down the basics, talk about some possibilities, but not for too long, because nailing down the basics means you have enough of a foundation to start playing.
And after writing it up, with pictures and bolding, that's what I did: I just started playing.  I got out the pieces, I set up the boards, and I started playing myself.  I got confused, so I got out a turn marker.  I got stuck in a back-and-forth, so I restarted with one of my possible mechanics; sPawn upgraded to cRooks are placed back in the starting line.  Played again.  Decided that there was too much empty middle ground between starting positions and the fray; I chose to keep the Source (middle neutral board) as-is, but eliminate the outermost shell of the playerboards, moving them in closer, and also up the movement for sPawn from 3 to 4.  Played again.
And just like that, I did in one afternoon the most playtesting I've done for one of my designs.
Sad, isn't it? But while I write a lot, and visualize a lot, and foresee/preclude a lot of strategies or problems, I've never actually playtested much.  I've just gotten into the habit of trying to do it all in my head.
Whereas what I can't do in my head is have fun, or foresee whether I won't have fun.  I'm glad I playtested today.  It wasn't for long, and my back and head hurt, but here's hoping I can exercise these muscles and turn this into a habit.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Thoughts On Project Smatter

What? Two posting days in a row? Is he back, folks? Is he back?
Well, we'll see.
I wanted to coalesce some thoughts I've had for a two-player semi-abstract game.  Its working title is Project Smatter, as it involves cyberpunk and chess elements.  Well, chess-ish.
That's the thing.  The game as I will envision it will push how we envision abstract games, while also utilizing different mechanics from the oldest games of the genre.  I especially want to play with:
  • Pieces that change into other pieces.
  • Different capturing types:
    • Jumping, a la Checkers
    • Taking, a la Chess
    • Hammer-and-anvil / surrounding, a la games of the Tafl family.
  • An unusual board
Right now, it's a 2-player game where each side starts with 8 pieces, all of the basic type - sPawn (Can move 3 spaces, hammer-and-anvil style conversion, turns enemy pieces into friendly sPawn).  Ideally, sPawn can be (optionally) upgraded under certain conditions to become cRooks (Can move 2 spaces, jump to convert enemy pieces into... friendly sPawn? Friendly pieces of the same type?), which can in turn become duChesses (Can move 1 space, can take enemy pieces, removing them from the game) which are the pieces used to win the game (by holding/occupying Victory Spaces? Crossing enemy lines? Returning home? Capturing a certtain number of pieces?)
I'm also looking at having a round board, with rotated rings inside to create a messed-up grid for movement, that will hopefully encourage lateral thinking in the spatial strategy.  But maybe a simple square grid works best? I don't know.
I'm a little paralyzed by the possibilities presented by some of the fundamentals, like I was with board shape for Cultivate.  Here's hoping I can work through them faster than I did for Cultivate.  At the very least, I've got a chewy basic premise, and some great chess-pun/references for the names of pieces.  We'll see.