Monday, April 25

Zombology on Demand!

After a few busy weeks of travel for work and lots of visitors at home we've had a fairly quite week, spent chilling as a family and getting stuff ready for our forthcoming holiday to Portugal. Up until last night I'd done nothing blog-worthy at all (no mobile development, no games design, no playtesting). But last night, I finally pulled my finger out, uploaded the rules and submitted the request to make Zombology available Print on Demand from Drive Thru Cards.

It'll apparently take a couple of days to be made live, but all being well it'll be available this week.

This will make it far more affordable for US/Canadian customers than the hand-made version (which is now sold out anyway). As soon as it is available I'll mention it on twitter and BGG of course.

Next week I'm not expecting much progress on anything either, as we'll be getting ready for the holiday in earnest, then two weeks off. Hopefully I'll be back up to full speed on my return from holiday.

Monday, April 18


Last week I spent almost entirely in Manchester for work. Thankfully, that didn't preclude gaming :-)

Monday began with a three hour train journey with Ian (Ra, Carcassonne, Tsuro, Galaxy Trucker) and ended with a night in a pub for Tabletop Manchester with Ian and two other colleagues: Russell and Steve. Several people were playing either Netrunner (including Steve and Russell) or X-Wing Minis, but there were a few tables of board games too. Firstly Ian and I taught Russell and Steve Zombology, which we played a couple of times, then Ian and I wandered round to see what else was being played. We joined David Nelson for a playtest of his game: Temp Worker Assassins, which was a lot of fun, before a quick game of Kigi and then joined Toby and Andrew for a game of San Juan, which I'd not played since I'd sold my copy eight years previously. It was an entertaining night, definitely more fun than slumping in a hotel room on my own!

The rest of the trip was fairly stacked out with work, so I didn't get much else gaming or programming related done, and then the end of the week was focussed on my family who I'd not seen for several days. All I did manage was to proof the Zombology Print on Demand version. All I have to do now is upload the rules and some pictures for the game page.

This week I'm around all week, so lunchtime gaming and Games Night are both back on and I hope to get some progress made on the new games I alluded too last week, I've been mulling them over during my time away :-)

Monday, April 11

New Games

It's been a very games-heavy week :-)

Tuesday I made it to Newcastle Playtest for the first time in what felt like several months (I definitely didn't make it in March, not sure about Feb). We had a great turnout, including a couple of people who had made the trek from Cumbria to get some feedback on their game: Collusion.

I turned up too late to join in with that, so we went and started a new table and tried out the newer version of Dragon Dance. It worked ok, and Paul thought it was better than the last version but he wasn't wowed. Then he made a throwaway suggestion which I think would make the game loads better - now I've got another version to design, make and try out!

Afterwards, Paul said he had a game idea that he'd knocked together the previous night while watching TV, 'it's not a game but there's an idea there'. He started explaining the game (The Book of the Dead, themed around the Necronomicon from the Cthulhu mythos) including a particularly complex timekeeping mechanism (it's a timed game). We suggested a simple timing mechanism and then tried it out. Six times on the trot! It was awesome - so awesome I offered to publish it for him the next day, or to help him approach the publishers I know. Wisely, he chose the second of those options!

Wednesday was lunchtime games club (Taluva again) and then Games Night (including Roll for the Galaxy). Then on Friday, my mate Paul and his family turned up for the weekend and we played a load more games. I had my first Flick 'Em Up experience (genius!) and knocked a few more plays off my ten plays list and a few more games off my not yet played this year list.

To top it all off, while wandering round Cragside on Saturday, we came up with not one but two new game ideas, one of which Paul was very taken with, and one of which I was very excited about. Yet another game I've got to make a prototype of ASAP for testing :-)

What an awesome week.

Next week is a weird one. I'm away in Manchester Monday - Thursday with Ian for work. We'll play a bunch of games on the iPad on the trains I'm sure and Russell (of Android Netrunner in the US fame) is going to take us both to Tabletop Manchester on Monday night at The Wharf. Gaming in a pub - yay!

Of course, since I'm away there's no lunchtime gaming on Wednesday and no Games Night, so it's not all good.

Anyway, To The Prototype Coalface!

Monday, April 4

Find The Fun

A couple of weeks ago someone on twitter linked to this video by Eduardo (Edo) Baraf: So you want to make a game. He talks about game design in terms of six headings (see below).

I found the video very interesting, very thought provoking and it made me think about my games design efforts both past and present. During the six years I ran Reiver Games, I started out making games by hand, and then made the leap from time-intensive hand-crafting games in my spare time around a full-time job to quitting my job and running a professional publishing company as my full time job (spectacularly badly, by the way).

Over the last three or four years I've got back into games design and last year I made another hand-made run of a game with Zombology. Back to my roots. Once again I'm doing it in my spare time around a full-time job (and a young family as well this time!).

Edo's six points each made me think of why I spend so much of my free time designing games , so I thought I'd go through my thoughts on each of his points here:

Know what you're good at

I'm not a particularly good game designer, and I'm a pretty pants artist. I think all the evidence of Reiver Games goes to show that I'm rubbish at advertising and marketing. So what am I good at? I think the thing I'm best at is actually the hand-crafting of games. Ten years after Border Reivers was released I'm still proud of the physical quality of the games and the components and the effort that went into making them (3 hours each for those 100 copies!). And I'm proud of Zombology too. It's simple, but it's well done. Lovingly hand-crafted.

Know what you want

I'm not in it for the money, or the fame. I don't want to do a KickStarter, or run another publishing company. I'd like people to play my games and enjoy them, but even that's not the be all and end all for me. I enjoy the process. I like designing games, doing the graphic design in InDesign and Illustrator, playtesting with friends and at Newcastle Playtest, and I love making the games. Both the one-off prototypes that get played a couple of times and are then superseded and the hand-made runs like Border Reivers and Zombology. I enjoy hand-crafting games - I find it relaxing and therapeutic.

Find the fun

This is the bit I need to improve at. My games are fairly esoteric. They are never going to be mass-market hits, they aren't good enough and don't have wide enough appeal. But there are people who enjoy them. Mal loved Border Reivers (even more so once he finally beat me at it!), Paul from Newcastle Playtest gets very excited during Zombology. It's great to know that I've created something that brings other people joy, even if it's just a couple of them.

Find your audience

This is something I always have in mind when working on my games. Zombology was always intended as a filler for the beginning or end of a games night. Something simple and silly to while away a few minutes before playing something meatier. You need to use the intended audience as a filter when receiving feedback to ensure the feedback from your playtesters doesn't take you in a direction that you don't want to go.

Your journey

As I mentioned above, for me the journey is the important bit. I don't really mind whether the game sees the light of day, what matters to me is the joy I get from the journey. Making the prototypes, doing the graphic design, playtesting with friends, and should it get to that stage, introducing strangers to my game. Making the game is almost more fun than having a final product that can be sold.

Their joy

Edo talks about this in terms of the multiplication of the hours you put in to the hours of joy that your audience will get from the game. None of my own games have had enough distribution to achieve that, I'd be very surprised to find that the hours I put into Border Reivers or Zombology were more than the hours of play from my customers. But to me that doesn't matter. I've enjoyed making them from start to finish, and if someone, somewhere has enjoyed playing them, that's just icing on the cake.

Thanks for the video, Edo, made me take stock of what I'm doing, why and who for.

Monday, March 28

Notable Progress

The week was largely mobile development progress. I've been focussing on my German language app for yet another week, adding more content, but also adding local notifications, so you get a toast notification when you get something to practice and the shell tile updates with the number of words you need to practice every half hour. It's amazing how much more professional that makes it feel (the first German language app I got on my phone didn't do that - you had to keep opening the app to check). It also makes it much more usable, for that very reason - now I only start the app when practice tests are ready or to learn something new.

I set myself a goal to release the app this year, and that is now beginning to look achievable.

The weekend (and it was an epic six day weekend :-) ), was all about the games. My sister in law and her husband came to visit and we played nineteen games! Double Firefly! Two plays of Taluva, Kigi and one of Koi Pond, Ca$h N Gun$ and Colt Express from my ten plays list and also my first play of the year of Koi Pond, Vikings and Kigi, The only slight downer was the couple of spectacular sickness events The Daughter managed on Friday and Saturday :-(

In other news I started a lunchtime games club. Mal, Gav and I played Taluva (fast becoming one of my favorite games - also one of Gav's). We're going to play it again next week. In yet further news, at Games Night we only managed one game: Battlestar Galactica, which I'd not played for a couple of years. It was a weird game - we were all humans until distance six, and then the two cylons (including myself) revealed quickly to try to scupper things before they reached Kobol. We had almost no cylon fleet action until the last couple of jumps and the humans managed a fairly easy win (though we did get them down to 2 fuel and 1 population). I'd like to play again for a more normal, paranoid experience!

Monday, March 21

Decent Progress All Round

This week hasn't been as epic as last week, but I've nevertheless managed to make solid progress on a couple of things. It was a busy week at work (though all in the office - no travel!) with visitors from America and Manchester up along with my boss for several days and a work night out (rare enough for me) on Tuesday.

Once that was out of the way we had another good Games Night on Wednesday (more Taluva and Colt Express :-) ) and then I fit in some more development in the evenings towards the end of the week. One of the things I miss about being a developer in my day job is the feeling of accomplishment you get when you write some code, compile it and it works. You've clearly achieved something. These days my day job involves meetings and sending and responding to emails - it's harder to spot when you've done good work.

The last couple of weeks I've made really good progress on my learning German app, and I can tell that, because I can use it to strength my German - the proof is in the pudding. I'm now in a position (after a whole week of faffing on refactoring things) that I can quite quickly add a lot more vocabulary, which is what it needs to be useful. To me and others.

There's a bunch more stuff it needs to be shippable, but it's not a million miles off, so that's a goal for the year in my sights. I want to use it to strengthen my skills in a way that Duolingo doesn't allow me to, and the other apps I've tried don't do either. I've started learning Portuguese with Duolingo too, and already I'm wanting to get a Portuguese version of my app together too. So I must be doing something right (if only for myself!).

The other thing that has gone well this week was more Dragon Dance playtesting. I got a chance to try the new version out with Amaury, who really wasn't very keen on the previous version. He reckoned the new version was 'way, way better for the dragon player' and we even saw a win for the knight - the first in ages.

I need to tweak a couple of minor things and then I'll be looking for more playtesters and a wider range of feedback. Shout if you're interested.

Monday, March 14

An Epic Week

I've spent a whole week in Newcastle! That doesn't sound that impressive, seeing as it's where I live and work, but in the preceding two weeks I spent five and a half days in America and two days in Manchester.

With a whole week of evenings at home I've been amazingly productive, with Dragon Dance, with Zombology and also with my German language Windows Phone app. Broad-based productivity!

Last weekend I picked up my German language app again for the first time in at least eight months. It was the first time I'd written any code in eight months! My new role at work doesn't involve any coding and I'd been so focussed on Zombology (and latterly Dragon Dance) that I'd not done any at home either.

After last weekend's long night of coding on Saturday while The Wife was out, I've been working all week re-structuring the code extensively to make it easier to add extra vocabulary to the app. I want it to do two things which I struggle with in Duolingo (the app I've been using to extend my German skills): limited vocabulary, and a lack of tabulated data. I find it easiest to learn verb conjugations or adjective declensions from a table where I can see at a glance how things are structured, but in Duolingo you come across things fairly haphazardly and never get to see the table (don't get me wrong, I think Duolingo is great - I use it daily for strengthening my German and more recently learning Portuguese ahead of a holiday).

It's coming along nicely, and it feels great to be coding again - it's been a hobby of mine since I was ten and my day job for the vast majority of the last eighteen years.

If that wasn't enough, I also had my first Games Night in three weeks (the aforementioned travel nixing the previous two) which was also epic. There were only three of us, but we managed six games: three of Hive with Mike before Gav arrived (ticking Hive off my not yet played this year list); two of Taluva (christening my new copy, ticking two plays off my not yet played ten times list and Taluva off my not yet played this year list) and then one of Colt Express (christening my new copy and ticking one play off my not yet played ten times list). I'd not played Taluva in about four years, but it was just as awesome as I remember it being, and Mike and Gav seemed to really enjoy it too (we almost played three games back to back).

After Games Night, I printed out a copy of the new version of Dragon Dance I came up with last week and then Gav and I tried it out on Friday lunchtime. Gav seemed to enjoy it and I think it's an improvement on the previous version - I need to run it by Amaury now to see if it addresses his problems with the previous version.

Finally, to round out the week in style, I got the Print on Demand proof of Zombology from Drive Thru Cards and got to proof it on Friday night (I'm a wild man of Rock - that's how we wild men of Rock spend our Friday nights). There was one glaring error (I'd somehow managed to delete one of the card backs) and a couple of minor ones (the front and back cards that are intended to form the equivalent of a box lid and box tray design were facing the wrong way). So I've fixed those and uploaded the corrected art. After talking to Brian I'd already uploaded new art with the 100% Key black replaced with Rich Black, but the proof had been done with 100% Key and it looked fine and there were a couple of registration issues on some cards, which would make rich black look really dodgy, so I unwound that change too.

If only every week was that productive!