Monday, August 18

What a Blinder!

It's been a really busy week this week, both gaming and non-gaming. We're having a load of family up next weekend for a birthday party for The Daughter, so we're trying to sort the house and garden out a bit in preparation for all the visitors. On top of that, I've done a trip to Manchester for work and we've been to York for the weekend to see Paul and his family.

The week got off to a great start with some really detailed feedback for one of the two people who signed up for blind playtesting Zombology a couple of months back. He'd asked some questions about the timing of various things on receipt of the rules, which I'd given a really crappy answer to (the low quality of my answer was one of the things that encouraged me recently to address the timing resolution in the game). After that I'd not heard anything from him, so I'd assuming the shoddy response had put him off trying the game. This week I got a response from him detailing the four times he'd played with different groups and what everyone thought of the game along with some identified weaknesses and some ideas. He apologised for the delay getting back to me, he'd wanted to leave it until he had a bit more data. This was exactly the kind of feedback I was hoping for when I requested play testers, so it was very gratifying to receive it, especially as he's keen to continue testing it with the recent changes.

I took Thursday off work to wait in for a tradesman, and after exhausting myself in the garden I got an hour or so to update the Zombology rule book to the newest rules that I have in my head. Now all I need to do is update the cards as well and then print out the new version. In the evening we had a great Games Night with eight (!) games played, but the late night hurt me the next day when I had to be up at 5am for a trip to Manchester. Fortunately there was copious coffee to keep me conscious and Steve (a former Games Night attendee) and an iPad full of board game apps to keep me company on the six hours of train journeys. We chalked up another nine games!

This weekend we went down to see Paul and Lisa in York. Paul was my main playtester during my Reiver Games days, so I took Zombology again. We played it twice with his friend Chris along with six other games, so another great day's gaming. 24 games in 3 days! It was a great weekend catching up and playing games, plus hanging out with the kids.

I also started knocking together the cards for the new version. I doubt I'll have time before the party to finish them off, but hopefully next week in time for the next Newcastle Playtest.

Monday, August 11

Rush Job

This week was Newcastle Playtest again on Tuesday, but with guests visiting last weekend, I'd had no time to prepare for it so I went along with Zombology and Vacuum with none of my intended changes made to either. Newcastle Playtest is going from strength to strength, we had seven people, six of whom were regulars and designers and Olly, who's been a few times before as a tester.

To begin with Paul T wanted to try out a few mechanic ideas he'd had that he wanted to test. He'd brought a load of brightly coloured dice and matching Hot Wheels cars, which made it much more fun! We tried a few ideas, and suggested a few of our own, which hopefully will help.

After that, there were five of us, so someone suggested Zombology. I'd not made the changes I wanted to try out, but Graham had a pen and I had 100 cards, so I quickly put the two together and scribbled a small number on the top of each card, allowing me to test the idea that Dan had suggested the previous week. No sooner had we finished that game than Dan arrived, so we played again with six players. We won both games, and in fact in one of the games two players tied on points, needing the Cure as a tie breaker, so reducing the cures to value eight meant the scores were much tighter.

The timing thing seemed to work, there were a few suggestions for how to make it more obvious that all cards with the same effect happened together and that number was there only to break ties. I've had another of my own for clarifying that too.

Afterwards we split up and I finally got play Graham's flower nursery game, which was very interesting, and extremely well crafted considering how few times it has been played.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to struggle to find time to update my games as The Daughter's second birthday is fast approaching and we're having a bunch of family up for a party. The house and garden need a bit of attention so that's taken priority over games design.

In other news, I've 'finished' my Last Plays Windows Phone app, in the sense that it does everything I want it to do now. It need polishing before I could put it in the Store, but essentially it works. Unlike my new phone. I updated it to Windows Phone 8.1 and the camera stopped working. Everything else is fine, but the camera won't work from any app. I've tried rebooting the phone and even a factory reset, but to no avail, so I guess I'm going to have to send it off to the shop :-(

Monday, August 4

Timing Is Critical

As I mentioned last week, when I discussed an idea I'd had for Zombology with Dan (the other Newcastle Playtest organiser) he promptly countered with another idea which blew my idea out of the water. So, I'm going to steal his idea shamelessly. Here it is:

I've had a few problems with timing in Zombology. Each round the players simultaneously choose a card to play in secret and then simultaneously reveal them. The cards then get resolved in a rough sort of order: Upgrades, then Events and then Science cards. But within those groups it kind of all happened semi-simultaneously. Most of the time this was fine, but I'd come across a few problems with particular situations, and by far the longest part of the discussion about Zombology at the last Newcastle Playtest session was about one of these edge cases where the semi-simultaneity meant that the rules got really complicated and a little bit broken. I've also had a rather awkward conversation with one of the blind playtesters about how a particular card works if multiple people play it in the same round.

As a result of these types of problems the rules explanation is either not descriptive enough to cover edge cases, or so ridiculously wordy that it feels more like a legal agreement than a simple card game rule book.

Dan's solution? Number each card and then resolve them in number order. That's so simple that I can explain it in ten words. Ten. One of the games I've been considering as a guide while I design Zombology is 6 Nimmt! It's very quick, has simultaneous card selection and can get quite brutal as the cards are actioned and someone inevitably gets shafted. How does 6 Nimmt! solve the card resolution? You resolve them in number order. Genius! Why didn't I think of that? Seriously, why did I need Dan to point that out?

It solves all the individual problems I've been having and in a way that is simple to explain and understand and that cannot be debated during gameplay or lead to rules lawyering. Card 3 happens before card 5. Full stop. It allows me to be prescriptive about the order in which particular cards happen (if the Fatal Mistakes need to happen before Pay Rises to make sense, all I have to do is give them lower numbers) without bulking out the rules explaining that you must do A before B. In fact, it will take a lot of words out of the rules, making the explanation shorter and easier to understand.

Timing is critical to so many games - actions must happen in a particular order to make sense and to frame the game in a way that is fair to all players. I'd been focussing so hard on making the individual cards work alone and in conjunction with each other that I'd neglected to take into account the flow of the game. There had been warning signs in the form of awkward email explanations and long discussions about which cards relied on which others, but I'd brushed them aside. I really hope that when I finally get round to making a version with this improvement in it will be another leap in game quality - making things much smoother and simpler to explain.

It's Newcastle Playtest again this week, but due to the busy week last week and then guests over the weekend I've not had a chance to incorporate my new ideas into either Zombology or Vacuum :-( I'll just be going as a playtester this month instead.

In other news, my boss Ian and I played Border Reivers at the end of Games Night on Thursday. I'd not played for four or five years and it was Ian's first game ever. I was a bit rusty on the rules, but that was no excuse for the absolute beasting Ian delivered, crushing me at my own game in fairly short order. It highlighted a few of the flaws in the game that I was already aware of, and now I've got Border Reivers Second Edition in my head too. And also in Evernote. I need to finish something off and work on fewer games at once!

Sunday, July 27

Space to Think

I've spent the last week in the Lake District with my in-laws (4 of them!). It's a beautiful part of the country with rugged scenery, fantastic walks and peaceful lakes. With six adults to one child, the staffing ratio was such that we could relax and chill out, and the lack of any mobile signal or broadband internet meant that there were no distractions. We had a lovely time, walking, eating, relaxing and gaming (my sister-in-law and her husband are usually up for a game, and The Wife and her brother are occasionally).

The view from our cottage

We did a few walks of around 4 or 5 miles with some decent climbing involved and it felt great to not be hampered by my MS, even though I was carrying all forty stone of The Daughter in a rucksack carrier on my back (note for Americans/Europeans: forty stone is 560lbs or approximately 250kg, she doesn't really weight that - she's only two, it just felt like it). In the past I've struggled with shorter walks on my good days so it felt great to be able to crack on without the exhaustion that can accompany significant exertion. I even felt like I could have kept going, maybe doing as much as seven or eight miles. It's an amazing feeling. It was probably better to have stopped when I did though, it was better to stop wanting more rather than run myself into the ground and risk injury through over-tiredness.

Gaming wise, we mostly played short games, with Martian Dice (only bought a week or so ago!) the clear winner - we played it a lot. On my return I also made it to Newcastle Gamers for what must be the first time in at least three months. I just missed out on a game of Splendor, so I sat and watched that while chatting to Dan and Gareth who were playing. Gareth reckons it would be a hit with my gaming group and he may well be right, though I'll play it a few times before deciding whether or not to get it. Afterwards we played K2 (another one ticked off my list of games to play this year) and then Cavemen: The Quest for Fire. We got the auction rules wrong on this one, so it's hard to form an opinion on it.

While away I had plenty of time and space to think about the games I'm designing. I'm still trying to think of cards to replace the Open Cage / Containment Facility pair in Zombology, but I did manage to come up with a solution for the confusion of who plays their cards first when multiple players play events in the same round. I'd tell you all about it, but I told Dan at Newcastle Gamers on Saturday evening and he came up with a much better idea, so I'm going to steal adopt that instead.

I also had some ideas about Codename: Vacuum while I was away. I've done absolutely nothing with Vacuum since January, struggling to think of ways to reduce the bookkeeping elements of it, while keeping the feel of the different strategies. I had an idea about how to streamline trading that I think will improve things. It also has the added advantage of simplifying the game too. Now I need to knock up another prototype of Vacuum as well...

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


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.


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.


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.