Monday, October 20

Holding Forth

It's been a busy week with, thankfully, a boat load of gaming. During the week I got to playtest my secret game app with some friends, which gave me some great new ideas for improving the UI (plus revealed a bunch of bugs I'd not found by myself). Thursday lunchtime we played a couple of 3-player games of Zombology, and despite my fear that the new version (with the ability to hold over a card each round) was too easy we managed to lose both, so the 3-player win/loss ratio for this version stands at 1/2 which to my mind is about right! I still need to make some changes, but maybe not as sweeping ones as I first thought.

My November has also resolved itself. I had been hoping to do NaGa DeMon again, but with the major work being done on our house slipping back into November and my parents planning to visit for a week during November (both during the week of Newcastle Playtest, effectively ruling that out) it was looking like I'd really struggle to make enough progress to make it achievable. My parents have now delayed their visit to the start of December, so I think NaGa DeMon is go again :-) I've an idea for a game I'd like to try to make (Codename: Dragon that I mentioned at the end of last year), and I'll run TGWAG again.

To top the week off in style we drove down south to spend the weekend with my mate Tim and his family. Tim and I go way back, so it's always good to catch up and spend some time playing with our families, plus Tim and I get to game late into the night (or at least what I call late, so gone 10!). This weekend was no different we played lots of games during the day with Tim's son (I was whooped at a surprising number of games by a six-year old - clearly I'm not quite as bright as I like to think!), and then in the evening we played a game Tim is designing, then Thunderstone and finally Tim and I played Firefly until just gone one am. It was a great weekend and Firefly came in around 2.5 hours with the two of us, despite Tim not having played before.

Tim and I spent most of the weekend talking game publishing. Tim's game is coming on really nicely and he's considering KickStarting it. By day he writes computer games for a living so he's got a great understanding about what makes a good game and he know loads of great artists. (As an aside RH Aidley who did the art for It's Alive! and Carpe Astra for me and also Ice Flow for Ludorum Games is someone I met through Tim). Tim wanted to ask loads of questions about the process of publishing a game, so I got to hold forth, wittering on about my experiences with Reiver Games and what little I know about KickStarter. I wish Tim all the best with his game (and now have a copy for playtesting :-) ), but I'm still not sure if I'd want to go back into publishing if ever I consider one of my designs ready for the world. Still, it reminds me that I know a load of contacts and still have a bunch of knowledge about the process and finances of running a game company. I hope I can use that knowledge to help Tim out.

Monday, October 13

My Brain Is Finally In Gear

After several weeks of very little progress on my games design while I focussed on app development for my phone instead, I've finally had a good week of game design progress.

It got off to a good start on Monday night, when I printed out the latest version of Zombology, which has sat on my hard drive for several weeks if not a month waiting to see the light of day. There were a couple of problems I spotted after printing that I didn't have time to correct, but I'll fix them up before the next version.

Tuesday was the October meetup of the Newcastle branch of Playtest UK. With new Zombology in hand we started off with a couple of games of that - it's becoming a habit to start with Zombology as it's short and supports lots of players so we can play a couple of games of it before splitting into smaller groups for other games. We tried the new rules which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, and as I feared at the time, they require more changes to be made. Opinion on the new rules was split with Dan and Paul preferring them and the others either on the fence or preferring the old rules. With twice as many decisions to make and the ability to hang onto a card you definitely felt a lot more in control, but the downside was that the Cure cards were all hogged in the second half of the game, so the initial deal was more important. Either way, the new version was way too easy for the players to win, so I'll have to address the card balance if I continue with the new rules, as well as come up with something for the Cure-hogging possibly.

Border Reivers Second Edition

After Zombology we split up and I got to play 54 Jones, Paul's game about Sci-Fi Sewer Surfing Cleaner Clones. As ever it was very entertaining, and this version was the slickest I've played so far. Then we played another Zombology (with Alex who'd missed the first two games) and then a couple of side-by-side Border Reivers, using the bits from the four players limited edition to cobble together two two-player games. Paul had played the limited edition rules last month, so this time we all played some of the ideas I've had for a new version. As is to be expected for a first play, it was pretty unbalanced, so I've got a bunch of changes to make before I play it again.

Thursday lunchtime we got a couple of games of Zombology in (three and four player, so I've now played this version with 3, 4, 5 and 6) and yet again they were player wins, further convincing me that it needs tightening up again.

Finally on Saturday I made it to Newcastle Gamers for a few games. We played Trains (new to me), Carcassonne the City (on my list of games to play this year) and Love Letter. Trains was suggested by Olly as something a little like Codename: Vaccuum that I might want to play for research purposes. As it turns out it gave me some new ideas.

On top of all of this, I've been cracking on with my board game app on my phone and I really ought to put out another update to my BGG Last Plays app to fix a crash reported in the wild and a couple of minor things suggested by friends.

Busy, busy, busy!

Monday, October 6

Zombology Upgrade

Yet another week of no real game design progress. Thankfully, all that is about to change. It's Newcastle Playtest again on Tuesday and it looks like it's going to be a busy night - three new members have signed up via Meetup.

I'm going to spend tonight finally making the new version of Zombology I talked about several weeks ago, so it'll be ready for Playtest on Tuesday. The only differences to the components are replacing the three remaining serious scientific suits with ridiculous ones and smartening up the art a bit in the places where I hadn't got round to it in the previous version. I've also got the new idea I had last week to try out too. One of the critics of the current version is Paul Scott from Newcastle Playtest. He's another person who finds it too random - a problem the new idea will hopefully address. I'm looking forward to hearing whether he, in particular, prefers the new version to the old. It's been a few weeks since I last played Zombology, it'll be good to make some more progress on it once again.

I also need to start thinking about NaGa DeMon. NaGa DeMon was a huge success for me last year. It was the birth of Zombology and the busiest month I've had on my blog by a country mile, so I'd like to repeat it this year if I can. It's going to be a bit more awkward though this year. My parents will be up for a week in November and I'll probably miss Newcastle Playtest due to their visit. We're also having some major work done on our house, so I'm going to struggle to find the time to design, iterate, playtest and blog during November. I've considered giving it a miss this year, but at the moment I'm still hoping to go for it. We'll have to see how things go...

Monday, September 29

A Breaking Change?

Not much to report on the game design front again (apologies to those of my readers who are coming here for game design!). I've not played many games this week, just Eclipse (for the second week on the trot) at Games Night. I tried to arrange another Zombology for lunchtime during the week, but yet again couldn't raise a quorum for it.

I have had an idea for Zombology though. Ok, that's a little disingenuous. Several of my playtesters have had the same idea, and after months of brushing it off as something that would over-complicate the game, I've finally decided to give it a try.

It's all been sparked by The Wife's criticism that she didn't feel like she had any control. When she said it it made me think back to a bunch of other people who had had the same criticism. So I thought about it, and 'I've had' this idea that might help. Zombology is a drafting game, like 7 Wonders, where every turn you play a card from your hand and pass the rest on to the player on your left. I like the fact that the draft gives you some knowledge about what's available in this particular game (since not all the cards are dealt in each game), and it allows you to play cards based on the knowledge of what you've passed to your neighbour. The downside is that if you're dealt a handful of great cards that can't be played yet, you have no choice but to give them to someone else.

The idea I've shamelessly stolen from my playtesters is to play a card, and keep a card, from each hand, passing all but one of the remaining cards on. Suddenly there's twice as many decisions to make in the game, which card to play and which one to keep each round. Do you keep the same one over many rounds and play it at the end, or play the kept card and chose a different one to keep next round? Do you keep an event card to prevent another player from playing it, or keep an excellent science card for the end game?

The pros of this idea are hopefully:
  • You feel a lot more in control
  • Twice as many interesting decisions
  • Opportunities to block opponents' attacks
  • No changes to the cards necessary

The cons are likely to be:
  • The cards going round are more crap as everyone is hogging the good ones
  • More decisions means longer play time
  • Might require sweeping changes to the cards

Notice something about the last item on each list? The change is an incredibly minor one, just a couple of new lines in the rule book, no card changes or new artwork required. But I fear it will drastically change the dynamic of the game, making it far easier to win and unbalancing all the strategies I've spent nearly a year balancing to a fine point. Once I've tried it a few times I should know whether I need to go back to the drawing board again, re-building the decks from the ground up to fix the balance again. Of course, it might not even help with the control aspect, so at least I don't need to make any changes to try it out.

In other news, this week's free time has mostly been spent making a board game app for my phone. I make a trip or two a month to Manchester with my boss (usually) on the train. That's six hours that's often spent playing games on my iPad. I'm making an app for my phone for a simple game that I can't get on the iPad. It's not something that I'm going to publish, seeing as I don't have the license to do it, but it'll be fun for my own enjoyment and I'm learning new stuff as I make it. It's already playable if you know the rules, but it doesn't restrict you at all, so it's very easy to make illegal moves. That's the next step - make it force you to play by the rules!

Monday, September 22

Gone Digital

Not much progress this week on Games Design, because I've been focussing my efforts in the digital realm. Last weekend we got a new PC, replacing our knackered old laptop (I think it ran on Windows 1885) with something a bit more modern. It came with Windows 8.1, which has the added bonus of being able to develop Windows Phone apps on it. I also got my phone back on Monday (with a new motherboard!), which meant I was in full digital flow again.

Early in the week I released a new version of my BGG Last Plays app which fixed a crash found by my mate Mal, tweaked a couple of things in the UI and included games in your collection you'd never played (an oversight - since I don't have any unplayed games I didn't think to check!). That also meant that expansions were included now too (though as before you can hide any games you're not interested in).

The rest of the week was focused on developing a recording app I'm making for Zombology. Now that Zombology is fairly stable what I need to do is play it a lot of times and see whether the win/loss ratio is where I want it, and check it's consistent across different numbers of players. So I've written a little app to record this information and present it graphically for quick reference. It's nearly done, just the graphing of the results to finish off.

ZombologyRecorder

After that I've a couple more app ideas that I'd like to knock up, one which is a little project that I doubt I'll be able to make available for license reasons, but it'll be a fun little project and I'll use it, the other is an idea that might actually be saleable! But that's a bigger job, and further off.

On the games front, I've not even played Zombology this week, I was unable to form a quorum (of three including myself!) for a lunchtime game during the week and at Games Night we just played Eclipse (another one ticked off my games to play this year list).

However, The Wife played Zombology last week and found it a little too random for her tastes, she said she didn't feel like she had enough control. I'm fine with some of that in a ten minute game, but thinking about it that tallies with a similar criticism from Paul Scott at Newcastle Playtest, so perhaps I need to address it after all.

Monday, September 15

Zombology: Evolution

As most of you know, Zombology started life as my attempt to do a NaGa DeMon game. In November last year I set myself the goal of designing a game in a month!

Of course, I knew it wouldn't be finished by the end of November, but I wanted to make something playable in that time. I decided on a quick card game as that would be the easiest thing to make. With only a month I wanted something that I could iterate quickly: both the rules and the components, posting new versions of the rules, playtesting the game frequently and incorporating the feedback quickly into new versions that could then be tested too.

By the end of the month I'd been through five versions of the rule book and I'd played it sixteen times. And, as a bonus, it kind of worked as a game. But that's not the end of it. In the following ten months I've played it another sixty odd times, there have been another five major updates to the rules and the components have gone from incredibly basic to slightly more polished (with basic art and everything!).

The games has morphed from an every-man-for-himself drafting game for 3-10 players to a semi-co-op drafting game for 3-8 players. It's morphed from sensible science to ridiculous science (Vegan Diet as a potential cure for Zombies!?). But at its heart it's still the same game - a quick, silly, science-themed drafting game with some take that and some collective suit building.

It's now at the point where I've got to make a decision what to do with it. I think it's a fun little game for playing at the beginning or end of a night - perfect filler material. The options I'm considering at this point are:
  • approach one of the publishers I know from my Reiver Games days
  • or, make it available print on demand through Drive Thru Cards or the Gamecrafter

There's a few publishers that I'm comfortable approaching, though I've no idea whether it's the sort of thing they are interested in. Perhaps that needs to be my first step.

On a related note, before I sent my new phone off for repair (the camera stopped working when I upgraded to Windows 8.1), I starting working on another app for my phone. This one is for personal use: it's to record games I've played of Zombology and the win-loss ratios by number of players. Now the game is settling down I need to get a better idea of how well balanced it is. I've also invested in a Windows 8 laptop to replace our archaic, glacially-slow one. This means that I can now do Windows Phone app development at home, rather than just during my lunch breaks.

Monday, September 8

Reavers! Incoming and Heading Straight for Us!

Bonus points if you get the title source. Most of this blog post isn't actually about that kind of reaver though, it's about Reivers. With an 'i'. Border Reivers to be precise. In 2002, after an incredibly long and unsatisfying game of Mighty Empires, I had an idea for a light civilisation/wargame that eventually became Border Reivers. Published in 2006, I made 100 copies by hand and sold them all over the world. It was the first game I designed and the first game I published, and while it obviously holds a special place in my heart, it was one of the weaker games I published, which partly explains why I never reprinted it. Over the years (as this post attests) I've toyed with the idea of doing a second edition, with some changes to fix the reported weaknesses, but nothing ever came of it. After the poor sales of Carpe Astra I lost confidence in my ability to design games and decided that I needed a checkpoint between designer and publication which I could provide for other designers but couldn't for my own designs, since I didn't have the required distance to objectively critique my own games. So Border Reivers II withered and died.

Until a month or so ago. As part of my goal to play all my games at least once this year, I played a game of Border Reivers against my boss at the end of one of my Games Nights. He crushed me like the proverbial grape, in part assisted by some lucky reinforcement dice rolls - which relates to one of the criticisms I had received about the game.

So that got me thinking about Border Reivers again and, now I'm not looking to self-publish and have the excellent Newcastle Playtest resource available to me, I've decided to brush BR2 off again and see if I can do anything with it. On Tuesday it was the aforementioned Newcastle Playtest so, as well as a new version of Zombology, I took Border Reivers along. There was lots of interest in playing it, but one of the changes I'm keen on is to switch it from 2-4 players to 2 player only, so Paul Scott and I had a game. We played the good old-fashioned rules, and then at the end I asked Paul for ideas on how to improve it, before a lengthy discussion about the criticisms I'd received from players/owners of the first edition.

Border Reivers is a light wargame with some civilisation aspects, set on the English-Scottish border during the late middle-ages. It was a time of continual skirmishing along with frequent livestock-rustling (or reiving as it was known). In the game, you start with a city and five armies and have to cultivate your territory, raise armies, build fortifications and settlements as well as going to war, ambushing and reiving your opponent. In the original rules there were two ways to win - either by annihilating your opponents (which only really happened in a 2-player game) or by being the first to accumulate 40 cash. Each turn you got to gamble on reinforcements, either armies or cards that gave you several interesting hidden tactics to assault your opponents. You spent an amount of cash between 0 & 9 and then rolled a D10, if your die roll was less than or equal to your spend, you got a reinforcement. Lots of people really didn't like this and, in fairness, lucky dice rolls early on could really swing the game. One of the ideas I've had is to keep this mechanism, but take away the chance of a free reinforcement and reduce the variability - i.e. roll a die with fewer sides. I'm also considering replacing the cash victory condition with a victory points one, where you get victory points for a variety of things throughout the game. I'll need to try some of these ideas out over the next few months and see which of them stick. Mal, I'm assuming you're up for a game?

Border Reivers prototype from back in the day

Back to the title, after the crazy success of my BoardGameGeek collection Windows Phone app (now up to 9 downloads, that's got to be almost everyone who owns one, right?) I've now published my Firefly: The Game app too. This one is designed to streamline the Full Burn movement action in the Firefly board game by reducing the number of 'move a piece, draw a card' cycles you have to go through. It's called Keep Flyin' and is available in the Windows Phone Store now.

Keep Flyin' my Firefly: The Game Windows Phone app

Finally, we played a couple of seven-player games of Zombology at Newcastle Playtest on Tuesday. The new version has another card type removed, more of the new style art and a few informational changes requested by testers. It went pretty well and on the train on Wednesday down to Sheffield for my quarterly MS check up I made some more cosmetic changes to the cards. This is feeling pretty finished now, so I ought to step up my efforts to contact some publishers.