Monday, July 21

Once Bitten

I'm on holiday this week, so here's a blog post I wrote last week and tried to post automatically, while didn't work, hence a day late. It'll take me a few days to respond to comments, since there is apparently no mobile signal or broadband where we're staying...

As many of you know, several years ago I started Reiver Games to publish my first board game: Border Reivers. Over five years I published four games (one of them twice!), to limited success before shutting the company down in 2011 and writing off a loss of several thousand pounds.

Now I'm designing games again and, for the first time, thinking about submitting games to other publishers. I'm also hanging out with other designers more too. Most of the designers I knew in my Reiver Games days were self publishers and most of them had been doing it for years. Noticeably, they are still going now and I'm not, so they were clearly better at it than me. In contrast, most of the designers I hang out with nowadays are not intending to self-publish but want to get their games published by existing publishing companies.

Getting my current crop of designs published by an existing publisher is one of the routes I'm currently considering, yet it's a route I've got no experience of whatsoever. I've never pitched a game at a publisher, so I don't really know how to do it. I know what I wanted back in the day, but that may not be representative of what a more successful company wants.

If I'm going to self-publish, or print on demand publish, then the game needs to be absolutely awesome as I'm the final gate before publishing. There's no-one else to block publishing if they don't think the game is good enough or to do any development to get it up to scratch. I look back on the games I published and although I was happy with each one at the time, knowing what I do now about game sales I don't think they're good enough. They needed more development or a gate saying 'not ready yet' to prevent me wasting money publishing games that wouldn't recoup the costs I invested in their publishing.

If I'm considering another publishing company do I need to polish it so much, or will they want to do some development and polishing themselves? I just don't know. Will they accept a game with potential that still needs some work, or do they want a completely finished product? I've still got some games industry contacts from my Reiver Games days. Perhaps I should do some investigating...

Monday, July 14

3,000

I started recording my boardgame plays on BGG back in August 2006. Since then I've religiously recorded every play of a published game I've had. During my Reiver Games I didn't record plays of prototypes, which means the actual count is much higher, but it's still an indication of just how ridiculously obsessed with board games I am.

The reason I mention this is that the number of games I've played over the last eight years according to BGG is 2,999. Which is a big number. It's more than one game a day on average for eight years!

What will be my 3,000th play? I nearly made it to Newcastle Gamers on Saturday for the first time in several months, but was thwarted at the last minute. So it could have been anything. There's Games Night on Thursday, potentially a Zombology Playtest before then at lunchtime. Or it could even be something with The Wife one evening if we're not too knackered.

In other news, I've started my third Windows Phone app (before finishing the other two, of course!). It's based on the last plays app I came across on BGG. I've been using that web app for the last seven months to keep track of which of the games I own I've played this year, as one of my goals for the year is to play all my games at least once. The app was down for a while, which made me think of doing my own version, which is now half finished. It's as fully-featured as the web one, but has two extra things that I find useful:

  • It colours things according to whether they've been played this year or not,
  • It saves the results, so you don't need to query BGG every time you look at it.

It needs a few more things before I can make it available - the ability to configure the user and colouring and I want to be able to select games to ignore (i.e. hide from the results). Still, it's pretty simple, so it shouldn't take long...

Monday, July 7

Ding! Ding! Half-time. Change Ends.

We're halfway through 2014, so I figure now would be a good time to review my progress against my goals for the year. So here goes:

Games Design

Let's start with the bad news. My games design goals were to make four new versions of Codename: Vacuum, make some progress on Dragon and get Zombology ready for hawking to a publisher/self-publishing. I've done nothing with Vacuum since January, so only one new version so far this year and I've not touched Dragon (though that will probably be the focus of my NaGa DeMon efforts this year). Zombology has been my main focus for the last six months. I've made good progress, but this last week's feedback (see below) has made me think I'm not as close as I was hoping. But there's still four months to go so I might yet hit this one. Vacuum is looking more doubtful.

Blogging

My blogging goals were to get 40K page views and 10 new followers along with posting every Monday (plus more during NaGa DeMon in November). I'm at 19,200 page views, which considering the massive bump I got last November means that I should be able to hit that assuming I do NaGa DeMon. I've got three new followers, so that one is looking pretty difficult - I'll probably miss it; but I've not missed a Monday yet, so that is looking good too.

Gaming

I had two goals from a gaming of point of view: play at least 365 games this year and play every game in my collection at least once. On the first point I'm doing very well: 274 games in the first six months of the year, I'm pretty sure I'm going to ace this one! And on the second point, I've got nineteen games in my collection yet to play (excluding nine games that I've excluded for sentimental or other reasons). This should be pretty achievable too, but I think a few of those will probably leave my hands in search of more accommodating owners. Citadels, Cleopatra and the Society of Architects and Pirates of the Spanish Main are currently candidates for jogging on. Qwirkle, Tigris and Euphrates and Snow Tails have already left the stable.

In other news, it was Newcastle Playtest again this week. We started with a couple of games of Zombology and it got pretty mixed feedback this time, those people who enjoyed it last time seemed to enjoy it again, but Paul in particular really didn't like it. He felt like he had no control and no idea how to win. It's a ten minute game, so I'm ok with it feeling pretty random, but I don't want it annoying people. I've also heard back from a couple of my blind playtesters. One of them emailed with a few rules questions that will help me improve the clarity of the rules, the other has played it once. He was generally positive, but said it needed work and had a bunch of suggestions, so I think I need to go back to the drawing board and address these concerns. I'm thinking of taking a couple of types of cards out, but that leaves me with some slots to fill - ideally with cards that make it more interactive and fun without becoming more complicated. Hmmm.


Monday, June 30

Where's My Week Gone?

Seriously. I have no idea. I had hoped to make some progress on Zombology, ahead of tomorrow's Newcastle Playtest session, instead I made none - I didn't even get to play it during the week. It's been a long time since I had a week without a game of Zombology.

In fairness, my vanished week was largely spent playing rather than designing games. Tuesday I went to Manchester on the train for work, which meant six hours playing games on the iPad with my boss and Mal. Thursday was Games Night and Friday my brother and his girlfriend came to stay for the night on the way to visiting some friends. We played a few games of Rumis at the end of the evening after spending some time talking about what they could get to play as the next step on from Carcassonne - their current game of choice. Since they are about to move to Oxford, they needed some that plays well with two as they won't know anyone there initially. They really enjoyed Rumis and made a note of it.

Saturday after my brother and his girlfriend left, our friends from York: Paul, Lisa and their ten year old daughter came to stay for the night. We played a couple of games of Coup with the three of them before Their daughter went to sleep, then a game of Chinatown with the four adults. Paul had introduced us to Chinatown a few weeks ago when we went down to visit them and we'd both really enjoyed it - so much so that I'd tried to buy it the next day but it's currently out of print. When it's reprinted in the autumn by Z-Man I'll be rushing out to get a copy - it's an excellent game. After the ladies went to bed, Paul and I played a few more games. Paul was interested in Rumis (he'd never played it) so we played a few games (Paul loved it too) and then a game of Carcassonne: The Castle to round things off.

Sunday, during The. Daughter's nap, Paul taught us Hab & Gut (another great game!) and then we played four games of Coup.

All of this means that I only have tonight to prepare for tomorrow's Playtest session. I've a new version of Zombology half done on the computer which needs finishing off, printing out and assembling. It's changed a bit since the Newcastle Playtest crowd last played it a month ago - I've been playing it for a couple of weeks now with new rules but out of date cards, so it would be good to have the cards to match the rules! I foresee a busy evening ahead...

Monday, June 23

Back On The Case

I spent last week in Baltimore for work. It was a hectic week, working Saturday, Sunday and then Monday through Wednesday.

I had hoped to make it to a local games venue and get some gaming in like I did when attending the same show in Minneapolis last year. Sadly it was not to be - I was unable to arrange anything on BGG beforehand and I was incredibly busy, working 9am to 11pm several days with a 7am start one day. So I would have struggled to fit anything in.

I did have a few hours free on the Thursday morning before our flights home, so I'd been thinking I might head over to Canton Games and maybe grab a small game. Come Thursday morning I was understandably knackered, but I decided I'd drag my sorry carcass out of bed and head on over, only to find out that it didn't open until noon - when we were leaving for the airport. So that was a wash out too.

So not much gaming to speak of. Ian, my boss and travel companion for the week, and I managed to get nine iPad games in on the way over and a couple more on the way back, so I didn't go completely cold turkey.

Now I'm back and over the worst of the jet lag and I want to get cracking on Zombology again. I'm in the middle of doing some more art for another version that updates it to the latest rules I've been playing. I've also got to respond to the feedback I've received from the version I made available a few weeks ago and start collecting some win/loss statistics on the latest version. I need to get a decent number of games played so that I can begin to work out the likelihood of winning, maybe twenty games or so, but I need to do this for each number of players the game supports so 120 games or so. Time to get cracking!

Paul and Lisa are coming up next weekend, so I'll see if they are up for some more...

Monday, June 16

Not Gaming in Baltimore

I'm in America at the moment for work, like I was last summer. Last year I arranged to go to the Fantasy Flight Games Event Centre a couple of times and get some gaming in, and I did it without getting axe-murdered, which was an achievement. I had two great nights hanging out with Alfredo, Jay and Fred and got to experience the FFGEC and The Source which is a huge US games shop.

I had hoped to repeat the experience this year in Baltimore, but I'm a bit busier in the evenings at the convention we're attending, and my attempt to arrange some gaming action on BGG was unsuccessful. So no gaming for me :-(

Of course, when I say no gaming I'm not including the 13-15 hours of travel each way, during which I'm strapped into a plane seat, with my boss Ian beside me and an iPad full of games in my hand. Ian's a Games Night attendee, so we played a bunch of games on the way over and will probably play a bunch more on the way back.

Other than that, there's not much to report, I got the first set of feedback from the blind playtesting release of Zombology just before I left, so I'll have to go through that properly on my return. I'll amend the rules to hopefully answer so of the questions they've raised and work out which ideas the play testers suggested to incorporate in the game. Interestingly, some of the feedback tallies well with the feedback I'd had from Paul last weekend, so that's nice confirmation that Paul's ideas are good ones.

Monday, June 9

Getting Some Data

Another busy week for me. It started with Newcastle Playtest on Tuesday, then doing Zombology artwork while babysitting on Wednesday evening, Zombology playtesting on Thursday lunchtime, Games Night and then finally a weekend in York with Paul and his family.

The Newcastle Playtest was a really good session. We had eight people - the second highest attendance yet. We had a new designer (Graham), Olly again, my mate Dave for the first time plus the usual five of us. We started with a couple of 8-player games of Zombology (seeing as it technically goes up to eight players, but I'd not played it with eight for months and months). We lost both games, pulling the average win/loss ratio even further from my ideal 70/30, but everyone seemed to enjoy it, with Dan (fresh from having given a couple of his prototypes to a major publisher at the UK Games Expo) saying that it gets better and better each time he plays. Nice feedback, but there's still a way to go before it's awesome.

I made some changes in the version that I made available last week, including adding another card to each suit and moving the Cure from a 5 to a 10 (which is the amount of points it's worth at the end). The 5 to 10 thing was because there wasn't enough impetus to Cure a suit you weren't backing. If someone else had played the 3 and the 4 then playing the five would just hand them the victory. If the top card was a ten instead, then there's a strong impetus to Cure a suit since you'll do very well from it. Of course, once we tried it, it had gone the other way, and playing the ten was almost always a game winning move. In one of our games on Tuesday, Dan intentionally destroyed the Cure in the only suit he'd played all game because letting someone else play it would hand them the game. Clearly ten was too high.

As the week wore on I tried a couple more things out. Someone had suggested making the Cures value 8 at the Playtest session so, while babysitting for a couple of friends' sleeping kids on Wednesday, I started doing the layout for another version with 8 as the top card.

Next up was Thursday lunchtime playtesting. We played with the Cures as 8s that seemed to go ok. We played three games: a couple with six players and then another with four. We won two out of three, pulling things back in the right direction. This is the first time I've had a version of the semi co-op that there's actually a chance of it going either way. The first attempt way back in February was played twice, lost twice and there was no apparent chance of winning. I made a bunch of changes, and then through the next five or ten versions we've not had a single loss. And to be honest, it never felt like there was much chance of losing with those versions.

This version is clearly in the balance. As a scientist finding a cure is possible, there's something to strive for and work towards, while you try to work out which of the available suits could potentially lead to a cure. By the same token, there's a real risk of the zombie apocalypse leading to everyone's deaths. It is, after all, an apocalypse. There's got to be some chance of everyone dying. Is the balance right? Probably not. But I'm now at the point where I've got a version I can start tweaking to get the balance where I want it.

What I really need to do now is start collecting some hard data. I've started recording the win/loss results and graphing them, but what I really need is a lot more data - loads more games. Then, finally, I might have enough information to be able to make the correct decisions rather than just flailing around changing things at random in the hope the next game goes better than the last!