Friday, April 26, 2013

The Legacy of the Condottiere Token

Another quick thing so I don't forget it.  So one of the few nice boardgames I actually physically own and can play with my friends at work is Condottiere.  It's a blast, especially since my buddy Tyler re-distributed the territories of the Italian city-states onto a Game of Thrones map of Westeros.  Nerdception.
But a key feature of the game is the Condottiere token, and its corresponding Bishop token (or the Iron Token and Septon, in our games).  Players win control of each token throughout the game, and the tokens declare where the next battle will be fought, and what area is off-limits from battle, respectively.

So how about if that's the elegant little remedy to what has become a theoretical rat's nest of "priority" in Skrattejagergeist.  I could then work the tiebreaker token into the special abilities for some of the Spirits.  Like the red dice of Clear Black Sky, this was kind of my last design stumbling block of over-thinking.  I think I can get real alphas together for both games next week.

Dice, Dice, Denominations

Quick post today.  It's Friday and lovely out, and I for one would like to go out and enjoy that weather.  Even though my running mates and I have collectively blown off the 4.5-miler we'd scheduled for this evening, citing a general hangover from my birthday party last night, and postponing it to tomorrow evening.

I've been thinking about Clear Black Sky (why yes, I have appended the working title) and dice denominations.  As I've outlined previously, the game involves using dice to represent different classes of ship, which is hardly original, and balancing the production and deployment of large Forces of small dice or smaller Forces of large dice, which I believe is original.

The rules are almost entirely written, as it's a relatively simple game (for a 4x), and I've even worked out my tiebreaker/simultaneity issues (see "On Red Dice", below) but what I'm pondering now is which dice I really need.  I currently have d2's, d4's, d6's, d8's, d10's, d12's, and d20's - the standard DnD set, plus coins.  But is this sensical? Could I, say, cut out d20's? d4's, d8's, and d10's? The d6 and the d12?
Here's some factors to consider: I currently have a rule where red dice that roll their max can destroy dice one denomination bigger.  So if I weed out the middle, it helps out the little guys.  And I currently have d20's as being impervious to critical failures, so if I cut them, do I bestow that ability on the largest remaining die?


  • d2 - d4 - d6 - d8 - d10 - d12 - d20 (Current)
  • d2 - d4 - d6 - d8 - d10 - d12
  • d2 - d6 - d12 - d20
  • d2 - d4 - d8 - d10 - d20
  • d2 - d4- d6 - d12
Boy I wish there was a viable denomination between d12 and d20.  But I should try and view that more positively; I'm inclined to keep the d20, because the gap between lower-d dice and the d20 mean it'll be harder for green dice to produce d20's, which should be the case.  I haven't settled on a set yet, but I think I have to cut at least one denomination out.  I don't want to cut too many denominations, though, as I want to keep diversity of "ship class".  And whatever denomination I cut, the sum total of all dice will probably remain the same - Fewer ship types will likely mean more ships of each type.  That's the next thing I should look at - how many ships a game of this actually uses.

On an unrelated note, The dice in the box should probably have a 4-2-1 breakdown of red to blue to green. And a corresponding number of pokerships or sails of each colour.  That'll need playtesting too.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Thinking of Re-Design

One of the nice things about nerdiness becoming more of the accepted norm is that the game-playing populace is increasing, and while that means that shite games are on the rise, there's more demand than ever for good games, and for a vocal populace to recommend good games over bad ones.  I've been reading through Todd Sanders' Unintentional, Sprawling, 92-page 93-page(currently) Ad Hoc Game Design Diary, which is a fascinating read.  Todd lists himself as a Game Designer, but also as a Game Re-Designer.  That's primarily involved streamlining games, making solo or print-and-play express variants, or graphic design reinterpretations.
There's a fair number of re-imaginings of existing games because, well, as with any creative work, it's easier to use existing tools in new ways than it is to come up with new tools.  And everyone plays Checkers before they play Eclipse.  We are capable of designing games because we understand that which we have played hitherto.
A random thought flickered into my head - Chutes and Ladders (or Snakes and Ladders, as I grew up with it) is a very well-known, rather well-loathed classic Ameritrash game.  The primary criticism of the game echoes the primary criticism of Ameritrash games; there is no player agency, as the game is entirely luck dependant.  You win or lose by getting lucky, not through any measure of skill or good decision-making.
Why is this so reviled of a quality? Because it's a diversion, and not an interactive one.  There's not even any real interaction between players; one player's gameplay in no way helps, inhibits, or in any way influences another player's, so there's no real reason to play it with other people, except that it becomes a race between solo players.  And when the game is based entirely on luck, it's a good game for gambling, but if you're not gambling, then you're mostly just watching statistics play themselves naturally out.  Gambling games necessarily reward the winner; you have, in addition to the sweet intangible of victory, your stake, as well as, presumably, other people's stake.  However you cut it, every game is Winner-Takes-All; Consolation Prizes don't really matter, because even if you get second place and get your bid back, someone else still got the prize you wanted.  It's Winner-Takes-All.
How is a non-gambling game different? Well, you've still got the sweet intangible of victory, but when there are no stakes, the gameplay has to be more fun than winning.  Yes, that's right - playing has to be, not as much, but more fun than winning.  Sounds impossible, right? Because if you won, you got to play, and then win too.  But the best games are so much fun to play that winning is a necessary break from further gameplay, when everyone, the winner included, groans at the end because they'd rather keep playing.
Heavy design challenge, neh? But it's true - the more you work skill into a game, the more enjoyable it is; even within gambling games, people seek out and swarm to games of chance AND skill.  Blackjack.  Poker.  Baccarat.  Games where the players get to make decisions as play develops, instead of just buying a lottery ticket.  These are also games that, on a very real level, tell a story.  You can come from behind in a run of Blackjack.  In Keno, you either won, or you didn't.  Winner Takes All.

So what in Heaven or Hell does any of this have to do with Snakes and Ladders? Well, how can I apply these musings to making it a better game? Well, I can increase the number of events, and I can make all of those events player decisions.
Let's get rid of two things; empty spaces, and that damn spinner.
First off, every space should be a chute, a ladder, or something that is not currently missing implicitly, per se, but is absent explicitly - the ability to slide forward solely within your row.  We could legit have snakes, chutes, and ladders here.
(But real quick, let's liven this up - how about instead of a simple zigzag, we try it as a spiral? How does that open things up?)
I would reduce the board to an 8x8 grid, firstly so it can be playtested on a chessboard, and secondly because it would simplify a board that would become very busy if every step had an Event.
Now, to the real root of the problem - Player Agency.  How do I make this a game of skill, and not chance?
Well, here's the thing - if I remove chance ENTIRELY, like, say, replacing the spinner with a set of cards that can be drafted, there's the chance (ha) that the game will inherently favour the first player or the last player, etc.  Of course, I can make the BOARD random, which people seem a lot more comfortable with.  So that's an option.  Let's move on.  How can I increase player interaction, so that it's not a solitaire race? A number of ways.  If I go with the card drafting thing, then players can already block each other that way.  Or, if I go another way, say, roll two dice, one after the other, with the option of "banking" a bad roll, then I could make the game cooperative - borrowing each other's banked dice, while trying to manage everyone's lives, and get the most players out of the game alive - Different difficulty levels, based on how many Snakes you can survive before your player is eliminated - or even turned.
So those are some thoughts - the primary concept )mechanic even) of Snakes and Ladders is not inherently broken - the game just suffers from features that make it undesirable as a skill game.  Fixable features.  Features we can turn to our advantage.
Cool, neh?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

On Red Dice

So let's talk about Black Sky.  4x Space bag game, which feels supremely unoriginal now that I've seen the Kickstarter for Burning Suns.  But I feel that my game, which arose from a free-ramble based on mechanics, is a different enough game that I'd like to keep pursuing it.  I could re-post the original stream of couscous that lead to the game, but enough has changed since then that it seems off-topic.  What I want to examine today is a problem I'm facing with a particular subset of ships in my game: the Reds.

From the current Living Rules Document for Black Sky:


Red “Armada” dice are used to subdue Hostile Planets, and to defeat enemy Forces.   When a Hostile Planet is encountered, the Planet has a Defense rating.  The total amount rolled by your red dice must match or exceed the Defense rating in order to subdue the Planet.  If the Planet is not subdued, your blue dice are destroyed, and your green dice, if they have not already Produced, cannot use the Planet to do so.  When you encounter an enemy Force, both Forces first make note of their Firepower, and then roll their red dice.  A Force’s Firepower is equal to the maximum total amount that can be rolled by its red dice.  After rolling, the Force with the higher total amount rolled is the winner.  The loser loses all of their red dice, and the winner loses Firepower equal to or greater than the amount rolled by the loser.  The winner chooses which red dice survive.  [Alt. The loser loses Firepower equal to the amount by which the Winner’s total roll amount exceeded the loser’s, and the aggressor has the choice to either leave the space or attack again]  A natural roll of ‘1’ on any die (that is not a d20) results in the destruction of that die, and returns it to your supply."

So as you can see, I'm in two minds (at least) about how to handle inter-player combat, and it has to do with how long I want conflicts to go on.

One thing I strove for in this design is near-simultaneous game play, which I've talked about recently, via super-short turns.  Every turn, you roll ONE Force, and while you can handle the timing of the phases as you see fit, you take only one true Action, and have a minimal number of decisions to make beyond the initial choice of which Force to play.  Works fine for Ranger and Colony ships.  And I'm okay with how Armada ships handle Hostile Planets.  The Problem du jour is that when it comes to PvP interactions on the Black Sky playspace, how do I handle space battles?

Perhaps I can incorporate something involving the #dicerolled/totalamount mechanic I use for my Rangers.  And perhaps total decimation of a Force isn't a bad thing; after all, your Force can only ever attack one Force per turn.  You shouldn't get Risk-style rolling blitzkriegs while the Defender sits, powerless.

How about if the average of a Force is its passive firepower? Mm.  Nope.  That involves fractions.  And more mental math than most would care to do.  But I think I want to reward going on the offensive, if only to spur on gameplay.  Ok.  Let's put these pieces together.  For logistical purposes, I also need to reward larger dice, otherwise we're going to see nothing but swarms of red and blue coins.  Something about ties destroying ships? Hm.  You know what, I might be overthinking this.  Perhaps every red die that rolls its maximum (or better than half?) can destroy an enemy die of its denomination or lower.  In a way, that turns every die into a coin; heads, I win my engagement.  If 1 is a critical failure, though, I need to reward critical victories; if you roll the highest amount you can roll on a die, you can destroy a die one (two?) denominations higher.  Well, if I want to punish coins in combat, I definitely can't raise that to two denominations.  Ok, I feel that this actually, surprisingly, models space combat now; the system favours larger ships, but makes them targets, whereas the natural chaos of war will prune away the swarms.

Now, does this deal with my original problem of gameplay slowed down by PvP? I think so.  When a Force attacks you, yeah, you've got a reactive roll.  I think you have to.  The reactive roll makes it, for the PvP Combat phases, truly simultaneous, because while general troop movement can be near-simultaneous, I cannot tolerate semi-simultaneous combat.  So you get a reactive roll.  Hmm.  How about the reactive roll is of ALL of your Force, including the Colony and Ranger ships, and those that roll their maximum have executed successful evasive maneuvers, and are not viable targets.

So your reactive roll does two things; potentially protects certain targets, or defends against an enemy Force.  The only real advantage to the attacker is that she chooses when the battle is; which is nonetheless a not inconsiderate advantage.

And besides, this slightly deeper (but, I think, less "complicated") mechanic encourages deeper strategy.  You're not going to get anywhere in this game by only having one or two huge forces, which always stick together.  You need to split and combine your Forces, and array them to your best advantage.  Every "Turn" is just one roll (maybe two with the reactive rolls), so you have to think several turns ahead, and you can, too.

Ok.  Let's take a whack at a Red Dice Rules Rewrite.


Red "Armada" dice are used to subdue Hostile Planets, and to defeat enemy Forces.  Hostile Planets are encountered with a Defense Rating.  The total amount rolled by your red dice in order to subdue the Planet.  If the Planet is not subdued, you can not claim the Planet as your own, and if your green dice can not produce there.
When you encounter an Enemy Force, your opponent rolls her Force as well, defensively.  Your rolls are then compared.
Your Roll - Your red dice are evaluated as follows: Any red die that rolls higher than half of its maximum amount makes a successful attack.  You may destroy an enemy die of the same denomination or lower.  Any red die that rolls its highest value makes a critical attack: The die it destroys may be of one denomination higher.  Any die that rolls a 1 suffers critical failure.  That die is destroyed.
Your Opponent's Roll - Your opponent's red dice results are evaluated in the same way yours are.  The results of their blue and green dice defensive rolls are resolved as follows: Any green or blue die that rolls its maximum value has executed successful defensive maneuvers, and is not an eligible target for your red dice.  Any green or blue die that rolls a 1 is NOT destroyed as part of its defensive maneuvers."

As I wrote that, I went back and forth on that blue green 1's-don't-insta-kill thing.  Everywhere else in this game, rolling a 1 is death.  But I figure that from a thematic standpoint, these dice are not running their reactors or hurtling through space at high velocity; they're just turning, or raising shields.  Since they're not trying to execute their function, the chance for critical failure should not result in their destruction.

From a mechanical balance standpoint, Player One could just send one solitary blue coin in and cause a massive roll of the entire defending Force, and reap the benefits of all those 1's.  Seems unfair.  Especially since you can still pull that trick with an enemy's red dice.

Yup, this still benefits the attackers more.  But not, I think (and hope) unbalancedly so.  We'll go with this for Prototype A, which should actually be just about complete.  I've got the cardfile just about done (it's almost more a tile-file, as the map is generated via random placement) and I've come up with what I hope is a component solution: Either RGB "pokerships" (came from a typo: Pokerchip stacks representing Forces) or paper-standup minis ala this.

I'll keep you posted, loyal fan.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Well now.  Here we are again.  In case I have any readership, I'd like to say firstly, thanks for your time, and secondly, regarding my last post, I moved on to the next round of the sketch-writing competition, and finished my submission for Week 2 on Saturday.  So the writing's done, and the nerves of Friday are yet a ways off.  So let's talk some Game Design Theory.

Simultaneity: What are its advantages? What are its disadvantages?

Let's start with what BBG forum user Eric Jome "cosine" said in response to my inquiry:

"This is a really pivotal concept.

Games that use drafting, phasing, and simultaneous action selection to distribute the waiting have raised the bar considerably on what makes a good game. No one likes waiting forever for your turn. The more you can make your game avoid long downtime, the better off you'll be in the marketplace... I'd call it a design imperative, frankly.

One overlooked trick is to make people decide what to do on their turn when it is not their turn.

Another trick is to make players serve in some capacity while it is not their turn - banker, monster action selector, and so on."

The emphasis is my own.  I myself dislike waiting for my turn; Dominion was a revelation to me for the simple mechanic of drawing your hand at the END of your turn, so that you could spend your opponents' turns plotting and planning, and thereby removing the gap between drawing and playing.  With Dominion, Donald X Vaccarino has moved the "Thinking..." Phase to your opponent's turn instead of yours.  It's worth looking at; what other fundamental little shifts can you make from the current paradigm, in order to speed up play? Fast play is what lead me to examine simultaneity; simultaneous play is the fastest play at all; when it's your opponents' turn, it's also yours.  Instead of just the "Thinking..." Phase, you move your entire turn onto your opponent's.

Where does Simultaneity work? 7 Wonders was the example most consistently used on the BGG thread.  Diplomacy, Neuroshima Hex, and Galaxy Trucker were also named.  In Daniel Solis' games, simultaneous reveal is common, most recently in Koi Pond.  I feel like even when one player is done with their turn long before the other player(s), there is a slightly smaller tax on their patience due to the psychological effect of it still being "their turn".  They're not waiting to take their turn, they're waiting for their turn to take effect.  Plus, there can be the other, also unquantifiable sensation that the person who's waiting for the other player to complete this simultaneous action is waiting because she is the "faster" player.  "Winning the race", even when there is no race, nor any advantage for thinking you've won, tends to mollify impatient personalities, I suspect.

Now what are some disadvantages? Well, let's look at that last example.  Simultaneity does actually turn into a race at times.  Bernard Wingrave "bwingrave" responded to the thread with:

"If you have true simultaneous play, like in Galaxy Trucker, you'll run into players who refuse to play the game because they don't like the time pressure or feel they aren't fast enough to succeed."

One man's treasure, etc.  Look at Chess.  People play Chess lots of different ways, for lots of different reasons.  Some play speed chess, some play by mail; they're looking to exercise different skills, and are, in a way, playing very different games.  Some play only chess, some play lots of games; and therefore some will want to only play classic chess, while others want to experiment with variants.  The takeaway here, is that the things you love most about a game can be the cardinal sin that turns others off of the game.

But that's such a vague truth.  Here's something more brass-tacks difficult about Simultaneity; Resolution of Timing Priority.  I'm talking about the tie-breakers.  How do you handle deadlocks, tied totals, two players' blind bids matching up, etc.  Cancel-out mechanics? No winner = re-do? Secondary priority values that only come into play in these specific Exception situations? Or do you perhaps dip into the half-measures that we lump under simultaneity, i.e. games like Citadels, where you are ostensibly choosing roles simultaneously, but which is nonetheless a draft with a clear beginning and ending, with commensurate advantages and disadvantages? Citadels Role-drafting is often referred to as being simultaneous (and lauded for it) but perhaps because I've only ever played it with gamers who are... vocal about their particular opinions... the disconnect between truly democratic simultaneity and reality has been heavily criticized.

I don't have all the answers, or even most of them; I'm quite new to the field, and don't have the resources to try as many games as I'd like to.  So I'm working it out myself.  My biggest challenge with simultaneity right now is determining how to handle it in Skrattejagergeist.  The game is played simultaneously, but there are instances where ties take place, and resources are consumed inequally; I need to figure out tie-breakers that are fair, but more importantly, elegant.  I'll keep you posted.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Writer's Nerves and Components

As anyone reading this will likely know, I make art in a number of different disciplines.  My writing "portfolio" (I don't have a goddamn portfolio) includes plays, comedy sketches, the beginnings of novels and screenplays, music journalism, travelogues, some really terrible poetry, some halfway decent songs, reams of personal journaling, and, among other, other things, gaming rules and prototypes.
Tonight, though, a sketch of mine is entered into a competition over at the Second City, here in Chicago, where I make my home.  After a decade of performing and writing, I still get restless and anxious as these things approach.  I don't want to write any sketches today, I don't want to edit the short play that some very talented actors workshopped for me last night (and which desperately needs the edits), and I don't want to listen to my friends be happy and excited for me.
So today all I'm going to write about is Flect.
Flect, as I've mentioned before, is the first game I made; it's still under development, especially since the game has had little playtesting and some very unrealistic component mechanics (the latter has done nothing to help the former).

As per the long post below, I've been tinkering with a 'Hect' board, that plays with the relationships between Pentagons and Hexagons, and which was also an attempt to solve a problem with the current Flect prototype: There is almost certainly an advantage to holding more Facets than the other player, since they can not be Affected.  Having a Hex of Facets around the Center creates an even number of Facets, but also an even number of Hues; the possibility of a tie at the game's end becomes that much greater.
Since I'm thinking at this point that this is almost certainly meant to be a 2-player game, rather than a "2-5 player game", as I had originally envisioned, dealing with odds and evens has become tricky.  Another problem? All of the Hues currently have six Spaces in each; meaning each Hue can wind up a tie in and of itself.  And if one Hue can be a tie, the whole game can end in a draw.  Do I leave this as it is? Borrowing from my Black Sky board, I could make the central Space in each Hue a non-space, which would make every Hue have five controllable Spaces.  It would also limit movement.  And it would reduce the length of the game, by reducing the number of legal moves.  And it would make my Flect board look a lot like my Black Sky board, even more so than it already does.
So there's that conundrum, regarding a possible solution to my problem with ties.
I've also been thinking about alternate scoring.  Reward contiguous groups? A per Space bonus? A per-Facet penalty? Some sort of symmetry bonus, for having the most of each Space?
That might make it more complex, or it could just be more complicated.  Hmm.  Let's move on to something where I actually had a useful change to try out.
So the dice as playing pieces thing.  It worked for a few reasons; one, because Flect, as a bag game, would be a neat way to sell a bag of d6's.  Two, because a six-sided die was a game piece that could represent any one of 5 players, as well as "6" for unclaimed spaces.  I may still go with dice, because of all those reasons.  But it is most likely going to be just a 2-player game, and for playtesting purposes, I've got a way to make this easier.  No dice, no rings, keeps the "You can not Affect the last player's move) rule.

2P PnP Components:
- 41 coins
- The board
- That's it.

The idea being, for playtesting 2p purposes, Player 1 can be tails, Player 2, heads.  When you Affect your Spaces, just put down or flip the existing coin to your side, and then put an additional one on top.  Your opponent can not Affect spaces with two coins.  On your next turn, pick up all of your two or three top coins, and repeat.  Of course... you could just make them all be d4's.  1 = Player 1's regular spaces, 2 = Player 2's regular spaces, 3 = Player 1's last move, 4 = Player 2's last move, and empty spaces are just that; empty.
Huh.  I do have a superstitious loathing of the number 4, though.
Yeah, Flect needs a lot of work.  But my gut tells me to leave it alone.  Alternate scoring? Try that out with Hect.  Flect currently has an elegance that I'm proud of, especially once it's pared down to a two-player (or still, maybe just maybe a three-player) affair.  But it for sure needs playtesting.  I might try out the base for a bit, and then roll out some variants.  You can always roll back.

Alright, that shook the nerves a little bit.  Mostly a lot of chasing my own tail, though.  Next week'll be better.  I'll muse on simultaneity, and simultaneity's biggest problem (that I've faced); priority of resolution.
Here's this, though.  A 2p PnP single-pager with the basic rules.


Thursday, April 11, 2013


I've been looking at games like Werewolf and Space Sheep, as well as Bang!, where there are secret traitors.  It's an interesting mechanic; my favourite role in Bang!, for instance, is the Renegade.  The person whose identity is usually secret for the longest, and whose moral imperative is the most mysterious.
I think that were I to explore this semi-cooperative mechanic, I would want to retain the moral fuzziness of the Renegade.  In Werewolf, my understanding is that we have a very classical understanding of Ontic Good and Evil.  I've always liked the green-skinned races, the lonely monsters, the noble villains and the flawed heroes.
Mechanically, it would make no difference, but I think it would have an appreciable effect on player psychology if, instead of playing a "Traitor", they were playing "The Double Agent".  Martin of the Fellowship of Saint Giles, in the Dresden Files, type of thing.  You're not the monster in the midst; or if you are, you have a genuine reason for doing what you're doing.  If you must cause pain and suffering as part of your gameplay, then you at least have a motive beyond that.  I can understand werewolves who prey on a village to fill their numbers and keep their species alive.  Werewolves who choose to eat people, instead of deer, because they're evil? That's fine, but it's not for me.  We already have such flawed ideas of good and evil, of motive, of sin.  I want a deeper discussion than that.  In real life, not all cops are good (very few in my experience are), and not all assassins are bad (I refuse to disclose in a public forum my experience with assassins).  I want that to be reflected in my game design, moreso than it is in the general realm of gd.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Unusual Board Design

There are a number of gaming trends currently in vogue right now.  There's a wave of 4x games, deckbuilding is a mechanic that's getting a lot of love (thanks Vaccarino), and Euro Games in general are currently being touted by gamer-types as the superior style of game to design.  Low-variance, skill-focused games, often with real world themes, and usually tied to European ideas.
Despite the huge diversity of morphology in games right now, then, there are still a number of dominant motifs.  I aim to understand and work with popular ideas and mechanics, but am also interested in trying new things for their own sake, and attempting to create games that are more experimental than they are commercial.
When a game idea comes to me, it could be any one of a number of different starting pieces to the puzzle.  It could be a theme, a board shape or image, or simply a mechanic.


This is probably the most common way in which a game concept presents itself or occurs to me, and, I suspect, most designers.  You watch a great movie, read a great book, or play a shitty game that you could do better.  Or it just grips you: the story pops into your head, or you wake up with the dream still lingering, and you think, man, I wanna play that.  I don't think it exists yet, though, so I have to make it.
For me, I attempt to do themes that I don't believe have been done yet.  Some good advice I try to follow: "Don't try to compete with the entrenched establishment.  Find out what sets you apart, and market that."  Does the world need another WWII-themed wargame? Maybe.  But I don't feel the need to write/design about it.  This isn't to say that I won't make a game with a theme that's been done before; but usually that's because the theme goes with a game that first presented itself to me as a mechanic or as a board shape.  Space 4x? Been done.  But see Black Sky in the Board section below to see why I'm developing one.
Here, though, are a list of game ideas that have come to me thematically.

- Diletsky.  As my budding interest in music theory grows, I've been fascinated by the image of the Circle of Fifths, and the disconnected flashes across history that created it.  I thought, damn, if I could come up with a way to make a game out of this, it would help teach music theory.  Then I looked at some old pictures from the creation of the Co5ths:
And it became clear - yeah, there's a boardgame in there.

- Pieces of Light.  A game of piracy; either space piracy, or intellectual property theft (romanticized; data wants to be free! Signal The Noise!), which came to me as a theme when I was spitballing titles for Black Sky.  I hit upon Pieces of Light (a pun on Pieces of Eight, in case you were wondering) and thought, oh no, that's it's own game about piracy on a new frontier.

- Proxies.  A game of puppets and masks.  This came from talking with my buddy John, whom I love having artistic/scientific discussions with.  He's great for talking to in terms of using both sides of your brain (yes I'm aware that as a literal description of the brain, that's been debunked) and also builds his own puppets.  A discussion with him lead me to thinking that it'd be cool to have a game where you mix puppets and masks.  A Role-Rotation game, perhaps.  Ooh, and everyone has two hand slots and one face slot for adopting roles each round.  Maybe a Werewolf type, overall.

- Skrattejagergeist.  I wanted to make a game where monster spirits ate each other.  Then the mechanic of Ferocity vs. Wiliness slapped me in the face.  Bing bang boom.

- The Heirs of Liu Guo.  I had a cool-ass dream.  About warrior monks and a shadow-walker Princess, and protecting the royal scions.  I woke up and wanted to make it happen.  Now I'm thinking about Futures decks for each Heir, and what can happen to each of the Heirs as they grow up, and how your interactions with the board can shape a story that changes with each telling.

Board Shape

I also am very interested in unconventional board shapes and designs.  I have an idea I call Bag Games, and which I find is done by Hiku Games as their mini-lederspiele line.  Essentially, it involves flattening out a drawstring bag to form a circle, allowing for circular boards.  The idea to make a drawstring bag came before I ever heard of Hiku or any of their games, and arose from my desire to make round play spaces.  Shape theory, interesting pictures; all of these things can inspire a game in me.  Diletsky was inspired as much by shape as it was by theme.  Here are a number of game ideas I have based on Board Shape, or image, that popped into my head.

- Flect.  
Flect came from me doodling, and looking at nesting shapes.  How can you nest regular shapes - and how about irregular shapes? I looked at a pentagram and saw that pentagon created by the star was regular.  Then I looked at how I could nest pentagons.  The mechanics popped into my head immediately after, and the mechanics informed the theme.  I am now working on Hect, a variant board design prototype inspired by doodling hexes and pentas.
It's worth noting that I've talked with John Horton about these.  He uses vector art, and has made a few attempts at skewing the regularity of the central pentagons in order to compensate for the distortion of the mediant pentagons.
Regular                                                                      Skewed

- Black Sky.  This game came together so quickly.  I was looking at a designer diary that used round playing spaces but then discarded the idea, and that sent me to investigate circle packing, where I wanted to confirm that six circles played well together; went to wikipedia, found that they play together THE BEST, and then got to thinking about ships, dice as ships, and the lessons I'd learned from Dungeons and Dragons about dice math, and why 2d6 of sneak attack generally does more damage than 1d12 worth of greatsword damage.  Board; Mechanics; Theme; Prototype.  It's interesting; I find that coming up with a new idea for a board or playspace instantly unlocks ideas for mechanics, and theme comes almost immediately after.  This is why I like shape theory so much.  It's the fundamental way of differentiating your game from any others, and originality on other fronts flows thereafter.
This here is the very beginning of the board I'm making.  The negative space in the "corners" will become the Artifact planets, if I can fit them in.  I'm not sure I can make a circle that touches both planets.  But then I just add a movement mechanic where it takes one extra move to cross the far reaches of space and hey, maybe that'll explain the gap.  Once again, looking at the board and the shape inspires me with potential mechanics or solutions.


This is what pops into my head most often.  A tactic.  An idea.  A solution that I don't have the problem for yet.  A thing you can do to simulate something else.  They often suggest theme to me, but often the board or playing space remains dark.  I am luckiest when I can envision a playing space first.

-  Wyck.  A game of worshipping at altars, while the candle of the world grows dimmer.  Inspired in part, no doubt, by the Quartet of the Fall of Man.  From my stream-of-couscous freewrite: "A game mechanic where a candle is represented by a column of cards set to either part of the candle or emptiness, with a wick card moving down the column as the candle burns. Maybe tie it to a game about competing for belief at your altars? Hmm, okay, so how about a multiplayer game where each player represents a small deity... What if the game has three resource types, Hope, Vendetta, and Caprice. Hope adds to the Candle, prolonging the game, while Vendetta shortens it. At the outset, you have the chance to attract one of the three kinds of basic followers to your altar. Whoever gets the first Hope follower has the distinct Hope advantage for the remainder of the game, while the deity who gets the first Vendetta follower pretty much becomes the Vendetta player, and the same with the Caprice Deity. You can have multiple Caprice characters. Or perhaps add a Balance-focused fourth type. And an Entropy based fifth. Hmm.
The Caprice character is focused on undoing or redirecting the actions of others. But she has the least objective tangible power, even if she might have the most meta-power.
The game must always, despite the Hope character(s?)’ best efforts, end. “Now, in my twilight years, I fear that I have worshipped at the wrong Altar.”
I need to figure out how Pandemic works better so that I can understand the “Players know what they are in danger of drawing” mechanic better.

- Mantis.  I thought, hey, it'd be cool to be able to see your opponents upcoming moves in a duel game of sorts.  Hey.  Psychic... dueling.

- Flurry of Blows.  Not the monk class ability from DnD, a way of using a line of dice to simulate swordplay.  May end up being the mechanic that underpins Heirs of Liu Guo.

- War of the Four Houses.  I like the Tarot.  I read the Tarot, after a fashion.  Investigating the origins of Hanafuda and the Tarot and the Modern Playing Card inspired me to make a game that used the Tarot Deck, wherein the Major Arcana were all rules that affected simple War-style play.  Probably subconscious influence from Fluxx and Ascension.

That's it for today.  Some game ideas, and a bit about how they came to me.  I'll probably be posting about specific games next, and probably in my usual stream-of-couscous style of talking to myself to generate solutions or options for my own challenges.
Tsai jien.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New Endeavour

Another Fin Coe blog, this one focusing on collating my ideas in game design.  I have a number of thoughts regarding themes and design mechanics, and they're all going on here, along with ludolessons I pick up along the way.  I hang out at the Board Game Geek Game Design Forums, and follow the blogs of Daniel Solis, Michael Nguyen, and others.  I steal knowledge (but not ideas) shamelessly.  And since I'm in the habit of starting companies; Velocimancer Games is the precious little title for this enterprise of mine.
Development ramblings to come.