Monday, April 13

Zombology: The Final Straight?

It's been yet another very busy week, despite the Bank Holiday. The builders finished our new bathroom on Friday, so the house is slowly returning to normal and I can wash at home (which is awesome!).

Tuesday night was Newcastle Playtest, which again was fantastic. I've said before what a great bunch they are, but they've really had a transformative effect on Zombology and Vacuum and I'm sure the same will be true of the other games I work on in the future.

I took Zombology, Dragon Dance and Border Reivers on Tuesday, but I didn't really feel like playing any of them. Zombology was in a bit of a rut, I'd not really had time to properly update Border Reivers, and Dragon Dance hadn't changed since the end of last year. We all got a drink in (did I mention it's held in a pub? Genius!) and then started chatting about games. Alex had an idea he wanted to try out of a semi co-op game. Paul said that a semi co-op should be winnable by more than one player, unlike Zombology, where either someone won or everyone lost.

That's when the lightbulb above my head lit up.

Zombology has been in a weird place for a month or two. I came up with a new version a month or so back that fixed some problems with the previous version but the newer version was worst than the one it 'fixed'. I had no idea how to move on, and I didn't really want to roll back to the previous version, because bits of it were clearly broken.

The idea of more than one winner struck me as really interesting, so we discussed some things we could do and then sat down to try them out. Despite the changes being incredibly minor (just the scoring changed) the game felt completely different. People played co-operatively (and also aggressively!), there was table talk and strategising, some of the weaker cards were suddenly much more important and everyone seemed to enjoy it - even those people who previously had definitely not been fans. We played four games back to back and I was really happy with how it played.

For most of this year I've been thinking that Zombology would probably be the game that I would self-publish this year, but I wasn't happy with the game as it stood. Now I'm much happier. I need to play it a bunch more times (with different numbers of players and different people) but I've got a much better feeling about this version. I'm excited again.

I'll have to print a new version to tweak a couple of things, but we're definitely getting there!

In other news, with five plays this year I've managed to cross Galaxy Trucker off my list of games I own but that I've yet to play ten times. Four of the five plays have been on the excellent iPad app with my boss on the way to or from Manchester on the train. But they count in my book!

Monday, April 6

A Friend Who Games

I'm notoriously bad at keeping in touch with people: I'm hopeless at keeping in touch with the friends I went to school with; I'm not in touch with anyone I went to university with; I've had many jobs over the years, and the only former colleagues I'm still in touch with are the guys I used to work with in Newcastle (and now work with again mostly).

There is an exception to this rule of rubbishness however. When I lived in York I met many friends through board gaming. Paul was one of my key Reiver Games playtesters and I used to attend his games night twice a week for many years. Despite leaving York in 2009, we've kept in touch and we see each other every couple of months either in York or Newcastle for hanging out with our families and late night gaming. We had planned to meet up for the Easter weekend in Newcastle, but then I was invited to a wedding in York.

It was Dave's wedding, another gaming friend from our time in York. Dave and I had got on famously after originally trying to arrange a game of Space Hulk together. After a year or two, Dave moved to Plymouth - which, as far as I can fathom, is about as far from York or Newcastle as is the moon. Dave and I have met up about four or five times in the eight years since he left York, but as a gaming buddy we stay in touch if only by occasional emails. Another gaming buddy who I've managed to stay in touch with.

When I pulled out of having Paul and his family up for Easter due to attending Dave's wedding, Paul invited us to stay with them in York instead. So instead, we had a long weekend of gaming (in an awesome confluence of events, the bathroom is being replaced at the moment, so instead of four days at home with no facilities to wash ourselves, we got to be at a friend's house - with a shower!).

We left Friday morning and we hung out with Paul's family on Friday afternoon, Sunday afternoon and Monday morning, and with Dave and his wife and friends all day Saturday and Sunday morning. Plus I got late night gaming in on Friday and Sunday with Paul and Saturday with Dave. It was an awesome weekend, and I start the month of April with eighteen games played in the first five days including three towards my ten plays goal!

Tomorrow is Newcastle Playtest, I'm hoping to take along Zombology, Dragon Dance and possibly some hand-scribbled cards for a new version of Border Reivers.

Coincidentally, Terry, Andrew and Graham, my gaming buddies from Bedford (which I left 3.5 years ago) and I are still in touch too. Via twitter, the occasional convention or games weekend. A gaming friend is a friend forever!

Monday, March 30

Like A Phoenix From The Ashes

I've spent half of this week in Germany for work, on a flying visit which left me with little time to see anything of Berlin. I did however get to see Konrad, one of my core playtesters and a friend who's supported me since the earliest Reiver Games days, who just happens to live in Berlin. Convenient.

I knew that Konrad was interested in Codename: Vacuum, and I'd promised him a copy of it after he was so helpful during my NaGa DeMon 2013 competition. It wasn't quite ready to send then, so I tweaked it a little and then got completely distracted by Zombology and later Dragon Dance.

It's been over a year since I'd played Vacuum, and until recently I hadn't even really thought about it at all either. About a month or two ago I had some ideas to streamline some of the clunkier bits and simplify a few things (I was also intending to complicate some others!). I started work on those changes on a recent train journey, but then I've run out of time to finish them off.

Seeing as Vacuum comes in a box the size of Race for the Galaxy, shipping it to Germany wouldn't be cheap, so it made sense to take Konrad a copy while I was over. Konrad kindly invited me to his flat one evening and offered to cook me dinner, so we had a plan.

Like all the best-laid ones, it all went to pot. I had little time before the trip to finish off making the changes I had in mind for Vacuum (and what little time I did have I spent programming my new German language app), so I didn't have a finished copy to take with me. Instead I crammed my personal copy (with the cards from Feb 2014 and the rules from August 2013!) in my suitcase, and told Konrad I'd leave it with him and send him updated cards when I'd finally got around to finishing them.

Konrad and I playing Codename: Vacuum

We had a great evening, a lovely meal followed by a game (and great discussion) of Vacuum and then a couple of games of Alchemy, one of Konrad's designs, which I really enjoyed. Konrad was even kind enough to give me a copy of that (which thanks to a smaller box than Vacuum meant that I had room in my suitcase for a little souvenir for The Wife and The Daughter). The game of Vacuum was a little embarrassing (it had been so long since I'd last played that I'd forgotten a number of rules until halfway through the game), but really useful, refreshing my memory of what works and what doesn't. Afterwards we had a lengthy chat about what Konrad liked and didn't like and my ideas for the next version, which Konrad's input has already simplified further.

A great trip all in all, and it's good to get back into Vacuum, the game that started my second wind of games design, post Reiver Games debacle.

Monday, March 23

Ich Bin Ein Berliner

And I don't mean a jam doughnut.

Actually, I'm not a Berliner at all. But I am in Berlin. My fourth trip to Germany (after a couple of trips to Spiel in Essen in 2008 and 2009 with Reiver Games, and a trip to Tübingen last year for work) is my first visit to Berlin.

Sadly, as with so many work trips, I'll get to see almost none of it: just the airport, the hotel and the conference centre (in this case the Technical University of Berlin). It is not however a total washout (like last week was, my only progress in anything was a play of Eclipse towards my ten plays goal thanks to a very busy week at work).

Tonight I am meeting Konrad, a Reiver Games customer of old who has become one of my best playtesters in recent years (he's won both of the last two NaGa DeMon competitions I've run). I've brought along my current copy of Vacuum which he's keen to play and I intend to leave it with him and then post him just the new cards when they are ready. I'm hoping to Playtest some of his games too. Once tonight is over I'm entering a bit of a gaming drought as I'll be going three weeks without a Games Night due to this trip and then having our bathroom replaced. I'm hoping to get some gaming in over Easter though, we'll be down in York seeing two lots of gaming friends...

Monday, March 16

Impromptu Holiday

The good news is that on Thursday evening, after Games Night, The Wife and I decided to take a long weekend away, so we were in a little cottage in rural Northumberland enjoying an impromptu short break for the last few days - hence the late blog post. We had a lovely time and even got some gaming in (it's been ages since The Wife and I have played games together, the sleep disruption caused by The Daughter has left us too tired in the evenings to do much other than slump).

The bad news is that I'm not making any progress on anything this week due to the holiday and work commitments so I'm not going to have Vacuum ready to take to Germany next weekend. I'll have to post a copy to Konrad on completion after my trip to Germany :-(

Still, I'm on holiday! Yay!

Monday, March 9

They Tried and Failed?

... They tried and died. That quote seems somehow appropriate this week.

It's been another busy week. Monday I was travelling for work with Ian again, so there was iPad gaming on the train (complete with another game of Galaxy Trucker, towards my ten plays goal) and then Tuesday was Newcastle Playtest.

I was pretty knackered though, so I left about nine o'clock after three games of Zombology and one of Dan's Ming Voyages. It was a really good turn out with eight of us including two new people and it was good to get some games of Zombology in with more players than the usual three or four we manage in my work lunchtime sessions. We played two games with six players and then when the new members arrived we played an eight player game. Because I'd missed the session last month it was the first time these guys had seen the most recent (and fairly large) changes. They liked some aspects of it, but weren't so keen on others, especially the reduction in control. The previous version let you keep a card between rounds. This gave you a lot more control as you could prevent a card going to an opponent, and could keep a card that would potentially let you complete one of the suits, thereby controlling which suits were scored at the end of the game. The downside was that all the good cards were being kept by players, completely knackering the drafting element.

I'm ok with it not being a very strategic game, it's supposed to be a 10-15 minute filler like 6 Nimmt! which also has very little control. I also like the way the drafting gives you increasing information about which cures are possible as the game plays out.

Between us we had a few new ideas to try out, and on Thursday lunchtime I got to try out one of those - dealing all the cards up front. This was a spectacular failure. It tried, and died! With only three players and all the cards dealt at the beginning of the game you know by the end of the third turn which suits can be cured (in our case: none!), which sucks a lot of the fun out of it.

I've some other ideas from Tuesday to try out, but they need new components, so will take a little longer to organise.

Thursday was Games Night which included a couple more games of King of Tokyo (which is fast becoming a favourite) towards my ten plays goal. Both our games were six player and we found there was very little incentive to stay in Tokyo till the start of your next turn for the two points. The winners of both games never went in to Tokyo at all! We're considering trying a house rule next time to encourage Tokyo hogging ...

Finally, on the weekend I did a bit more work on my German app. A bit of refactoring and adding some new functionality. It's slowly coming together.

This week I really need to crack on with Vacuum so I can try it once before I go to Germany. Ideally, I need to get it printed and playtested during the week...

Good progress on my goals for the year this week, but not on my more pressing aims regarding Vacuum and Germany. I need to sort myself out!

Monday, March 2

Back to App Development

Not much to report this week. I've not made any more progress on Codename: Vacuum ahead of tomorrow's Newcastle Playtest and my trip to Germany at the end of the month. Nor any progress on launching my company and getting back into Games publishing.

It's not been a total washout though. I've played three games towards my ten plays goal (Galaxy Trucker on the iPad with Ian on the way to Manchester on Tuesday and then Chinatown and King of Tokyo on Games Night on Thursday).

I've also started in earnest on my next Windows Phone app. Again it's a personal app that I'm going to make available to others, this time for helping me to learn German.

I learnt German for a couple of years at school and then again via evening classes while I was running Reiver Games. Since getting a smart phone I've tried (and got very frustrated with) a few apps for learning German. Then I got Duolingo which is absolutely awesome. I've been recommending it to everyone it's so good. But it's not perfect.

I learn best when I can visualise data in tables. Things like verb conjugation and adjective declension just make sense to me in tabular form rather than introduced piecemeal through an array of real sentences. So I'm making an app for that so I can help myself learn German in the way I find easiest. Hopefully as it develops and becomes more functional I can make it available and help others too.

German Learning app