Friday, 28 December 2012

All Quiet

No progress at the moment to report  - e-mails sent off but no responses and no play test of the new version.

So lets talk about a game I gave out three times for christmas - Coup. this was another game I saw at Essen, failed to play it so never got it, but have since decided I really rather like.  It also got a rather good write up from cardboard children over at Rock Paper Shotgun

So what makes it good.  Well - it's quick and simple.  No complicated rules - no lengthy time commitment and it's components are a few cards and some counters but it provides a very satisfying game form this.

Your hand of two cards are both of your lives - and represents a person of note within the city - with your cards being secret.  Having a particular person allows you to undertake one of six actions or block other peoples actions.  For example the Captain allows you to steal two money from another player or block another players captain.  All very simple - with the clever wrinkle that you can play any action you like even if you don't have the card.  However any player can dispute your claim - and if you are lying you lose a life. Of course if you are telling the truth they lose a life - so the game becomes a case of bluff and double bluff.......

Making this game an excellent example of good game play arising out of simple rules and human interaction.......

Friday, 21 December 2012


So right now - I'm talking to people about production.

The trouble being until I get everything lined up - no actual orders can be made.  Until I've got a way of getting.....

a printed box, a deck of cards, some hexes, a pile of components, and a mound of specific stone head bits there is no point getting any one of these things..... I mean really what am I going to do if I end up with 9000 meeples in 5 colours if Giant Stone Head is never actually made.....

The rule book and other player aids - the are just a printing job which I'm sure I've got the contacts for.  But it's a big challenge.  And once I've found a way of sourcing it - I've got to make the appropriate files to the correct standards which involves learning a world of new skills to do with desk top publishing......

All within a tight budget so I don't lose money on every copy I sell - even before additional expenses like getting tables at cons.....

Sunday, 16 December 2012

I suspect I need witty titles

So another play test with the Monday night gamers – people who last played 3 or so version a go.  And yes I’m definitely pushing for play tests much more at the moment – simply because I set a deadline to start production work at the start of January in order to have it for Bristol comic con so I need to have a version I could produce sharpish.  In fact that might well be the last play test of the 2012.....
They were all very impressed by the little stone heads – there so cute!  What I’m going to do for the full production version is now an issue…….  Explaining the game seemed really hard for some reason.
Good positive feedback – they seemed to enjoy the game – and seemed to think it had improved over last time.    
So the new dual use cards are excellent – people now have a range of options available while still just being able to throw cards down for violence if they feel the need.  The balance is still with the attacker but the defender manage to throw down some large reversals due to the wider range of defensive cards.   The chances of a “bad bad day” being in the hands of somebody able to play it are much higher now – which makes attacking a heart that little bit more dangerous.  And the “totally taboo” cancelation card is certainly a good addition….. 
The new rongaronga seemed popular – the ones giving you points for attacking the player to your left or to your right were good.  The new “shaman says what?” cards which give points for taking certain combinations of territory did not seem to be quite right.  Of the three combinations the coastal one was done 3 times – the middle one was done 1 and the straight line one was never done (although I did try)…….
The problems seem to fit into a set of similar problems from previous games……
-          Those behind – stay behind
-          Turn Order – when is good to go?
-          Last turn does not matter that much.
I think I see a solution for all three of those issues – but I’m trying to avoid changing too much too quickly – specifically I don’t want to change the cards until I’ve seen them in use a little more.  So while I think we need more movement cards and more steal a vp from the leader cards I need to see that a little more first.
What does not seem to be a problem….
-          Sitting on your arse.  I ran a defensive game – large numbers of men on the first turn – grabbed a lot of space and built up slowly and won.  But only just – and only after making a grand grab for the middle which could have gone very wrong. 
So plans for the next version…..
1)      Remove the resource value for holding the quarry.  Still have it break ties but no value.
2)      Change the end of game points to being for Hexes, and for resources.  Stoneheads post game become worthless – which is thematically better anyway.
3)      Increase the difference between the top and bottom ranks for the end of game points
4)      Change turn order so that lowest VPS choose when they want to go
The last is the only one that worries me – the other 3 seem sensible – it’s an old idea I have used before – but it slows things down.  It’s another choice point but it feels like a bit of a road bump rather than a significant choice.  However with the new game when you go seems important and yet not obvious (where as it was obvious before) – and first place is getting the first choice of stone heads and extra VPS……..
In terms of production I’ve asked my friend with the most contact into the games industry to see if he can find me….
a)      Contact details for a games bit wholesaler willing to handle a small order – I’ll need about 95 pieces per a box (ignoring worshiped and unworshiped stone heads for which I have an idea) so about 10,000 in total for a 100 copies which is a tiny order.
b)      See if he can find me a printer who can do print runs of a 100 decks of cards.
Even if that works - that still leaves……
Hexes, stone heads,  unworshiped stone heads, boxes, rules, and art to source…….
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm just had an idea.  What if each player had their own deck of cards?  Would be less random  each player would have the same mix of cards to use – just in a different order.  But at first glance looks much more expensive to make – but I know that in printing a 1,000 copies is the place where the price per a unit drops massively (5 player – 5 decks a box means 200 copies of the game which is more than I was thinking of doing.  Except that the different backs might well mean it counts as different decks so the price would go up.
Last night as one of the play testers played around with stone heads – I was struck how you could have a game of stone heads that just involved covering resources with stone heads until the island fall apart without all the violence.  And a good game it would be to.  But through all the version of the game – when I’ve felt like every idea was under considering – I’ve stuck with the violence because the original dream had involved this sort of violence based conflict around the stone heads. So I've let certain preconceptions stay with me throughout the design process without realising they were there.  Nothing wrong with fixed notions - but it would be better to acknowledge them I think....

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Another Play Test....

This one was with people who had played one of the earlier version.  To my mind it all seemed to be fine.  The new hexes were good - less crowded.  The lower amounts of resources mean the maths was easier and at 4 turns things felt they wrapped up a little better.

However two odd thing.....

One person decided he had lost and so did random things.  Generally taking down another player - and allowing the other three to just fight it out amongst themselves.  Really not sure what I could do to prevent that since he was not in fact in a bad position - he just assumed he was and acted that way.

The second was that the game was played by somebody who had played one of the earlier version.  A very long time ago.  He seemed unimpressed - and claimed he enjoyed the previous version but was not sure why.  I think I understand the problem - this person likes veracity and dislike abstractions.  So previous version which involved collecting stone and wood were better because they felt truer.  Where as this version the mechanic of "the most resources gets first pick" did not feel true to him.

But I am very happy I've moved way from other versions - and accepted that abstraciton.  He asked me what I wanted the game to be and I said "fun, quick, war game where lines shift and changes rapidly as people look for opportunities."  And if I keep that goal in mind when I develop it should help a lot.

This time round we've a new action deck - and it's a big overhaul.  Now most cards have two functions - there main play ability and some sort of discard for violence benefit.  25% of the deck has now discard, 25% has defence, and 50% has attack.  That's not to say that the main effect is not sometimes violence related but it's also movement or points related.  Hopefully this will get round the problem of hands of violence or hands of useful stuff.  Now you'll get both and have to pick......

The movement cards hidden pathways and fishing boat have been clarified - they do the same thing just hopefully more obvious.
The rongaronga has been changed.  Now there is a steal a VP card if your opponent has more VPs - and also if they sit to your left/right.  I'm hoping the later will add some randomness to the game.....
 There is now a "counter card"
As well as a flanking card to move a warrior into a battle once it has started - stealing a card if he gets there and a plus 3 defence that requires you to lose a man (the logic being even if you win you've lost a warrior).
We've also got goal cards which are based on holding certain patterns of terrain such as 5 coastal spaces or 5 in a straight line. Might need more variaty in those - but want to see they go.  They were going to be a new deck but adding them in seems to work.

I really want to check this with 4 players - with 5 players a round seems to take a while....  Also might need somebody who is utterly defensive and see what happens.....

Also not sure about turn order - I might have to give players a choice in reverse VP order.


Monday, 26 November 2012


So this was my 40th Birthday Party - and amongst the lake of pork and collection of other random but cool presents I got given a box for Giant Stone Head.  And in that box were these......

A big bag of my very own giant stone heads - 3D printed.

Thank you very much - and also damn you - now the final version has to have bits at least this awesome.........

So obviously I had to play with them as soon as possible - so a little fragile we had a play test. 

The good.....
........drawing a card when attacked really worked.  Not to fiddly and meant it was impossible to work out exactly what was happening.
........the reduced build deck worked well.  It's certainly more controlled and seems to present more genuine choices making controlling resources more valuable.

The Bad....
.......once again somebody got out ahead and stayed there.
.......some of the cards really confused people.  The movement cards and the ronga ronga cards.
........getting the balance of the cards is trick - to many ronga ronga cards and you've a worhtless hand.  To few and you've got limited options.  Same with movement cards as well.'s still running a little long.
...........the feeling was that the Giant Stone Heads are generating to much in the way of VP's.
.............the end condition was good and stopped it dragging on with an awkward last turn.
................I'm not sure where in the turn order to go is good anymore.

So there is a raft of changes I want to do - and I'm not sure which to do for this version. 

I want to......

..... reduce the points for building a GSH - so the fighting and the violence has more impact.  Keep GSH at the end of a turn unless you've flipped them for a VP.  So taking a GSH and keeping a GSH are similar in terms of points - but taking one is easier as you don't need a card to get the point.  So offenses is rewarded but defence is possible.  And your able to try and build up a bundle of points to score.

......remove the pool mechanic as it seems not to be doing that much and just give people a lowish population cap.
..... change the cards so that everything can be dropped for either an attack point or a defence point while also having another function.  So people have more flexibility.  This might well mean the build decks values need to be reviewed because cards might be just better then men then and at the moment taking "good cards" gets you 2 cards more then "ok cards" where as "good men" is just 1 more man then "ok men".

I'm not sorting out the turn order problem at the moment.  I don't have a clever idea.....

Which all of which is a lot to sort out in one go.  But as always the problem is - if I know I'm going to change it why put people through a play test with a version I think is flawed?

Started talking to people about production.  I see a number of significiant problem areas.
1) Making hexes.  Here I have an idea - I might need a conversation with a friend with a laser cutter to make wooden hexes.
2) Getting bits.  here I need a wholesale contact - assuming a wholesaler bits dealer will deal with an order as small as mine will be (at most 2,400 pieces).
3) Box.  No idea about this one.
4) Printing - rules and player aids and score board.
5) Cards.  This is the one I'm really stuck on.  Card runs are expensive unless you do lots and lots

Friday, 16 November 2012

On the interrelatedness of all things.....

Or at least when designing games.

So after a pretty good play test I wanted to make a pretty small list of changes.

One of which was updating the resource cards to make a more limited but more distinct range of options for players. And I think I have the values for that.

But I also wanted to change game end - specifically with respect to making the game a little shorter. Easy enough - got a good suggestion about that last play test.  But changing the resource cards changes the rate at which giant stone heads go on the board - thus changing the rate the game ends.

Worse - I know I want to change the hexes (blance and quality of resources) at some point which once again changes the game end.

I have three options.

1) change the cards.
2) change the cards and the game end rule.
3) change the cards and game end rule and the hexes.

One bit of advice was 'don't change two things at once' otherwise you don't know which change is responsible for the alteration in behaviour. And yet play tests are rare things for me - and each time I play test with a rule I suspect I'm going to change of feels like a waste.

I'm going to go with number 2 - it seems a reasonable compromise - and I'll need some information before changing the hexes.

I need to sort out the quarry - which in turn means a change to some action cards that relate to it. So my 'minor' update looks like it will impact on resources, hexes, action cards, and game end........

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


So two things I really approve of in game design are…..
The micro turn – take a single action – onto the next person – and back round to you it comes sharpish.  Much better then the ponderous mega turns where one person does everything and it’s impossible to plan as the world will be a very very different place when it comes to your turn.

The second is the existence of “roll then do” – games like “roll through the ages” where you roll our dice and then see what you can do with that as opposed to “decide then pass/fail”.

So it’s a little odd that Giant Stone Head fails to have the micro turn – although the turns are not supper long – and the rough notes of These Dark Satanic Mills seem to have heading towards the “decide then pass/fail” dice mechanic…….

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Play Test and Games

This weekend I headed over to Midcon where I got to play some of my essen purchases (libertallia - solid and fun; luna - which hurt my brain the 1st time but I got into my stride for the 2nd game).  I also found my first "wish I had brought game" in the shape of tzolk'in which has the coolest dial based mechanic in it.

But what I want to talk about is ugg-tect a much dafter game - in which you play as a team of neandorthols trying to build a monument in which only one of you can see a card - in which you communicate via a prescribed list of gestures, noises and bashing people with an inflatable club.  A genuine classic of stupidity - and a really clever idea.  Placing limitations on players and making a game out of what would otherwise be a frustating situation - as the ugg-tect keeps saying the same thing and you all look confused and go "ug?".....

We also snuck in a play test of GSH - five players all of who had played a number of versions over the years.  Including one person who played the last playtest - and seemed impressed about how much a fairly simple change made.....

So the defensive obsession went away - since stone heads are now just a source of VP's for other people - which caused a more more fluid game of violence.  It's - as always - not quite right.

The build cards need work - specifically there needs to be less of them and each one more clearly defined.  This has been something I've been thinking about for ages - but it's time has arrived.
It's still far to possible to get worn down and beaten up - but the addition of a card each time your attacked should short that out.

It's also been suggested that the end point is hexes out of trees - and I've decided I like that.

Also RongaRonga cards appear a little on the weak side - for all that there steal a point mechanism is clearly vital......

Now what needs to be added is some sort of defensive thing people care about - somebody suggested that the quarry allows you to score for holding a unfinished stone head at the end of the turn which could be interesting.  Also the idea that ronga ronga reward you for holding certain things - rather then just killing lots of people.  These I need to think about but the first two changes are definitely going in.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Essen and GSH

So this weekend I headed out to Essen to attend Spiel - the worlds largest board game fair.

And believe me when I say it's massive.  Multiple halls - each one as big as I've ever seen a UK games con manage (and possibly bigger) and swarms of people.  Endless milling swarms.  The latest release - all the hot games. Last years hot games at knock down prices - and 2nd hand games stores for the years before that.  The companies also setting out tables and just let you play - with people explaining the rules.  So you can get a look at something before you buy.

Yes most of it is in German - and if I was German it would be even more awesome - but it's still damn good.

There is nothing in the way of evening events - so your left to your own entertainment.  We found a hotel with a large downstairs area and just play games there.  Along with about half the hotel making it an impromptu games convention and really quite awesome.

This year we also branched out and headed out to a metal pub and then a metal club until about 4 in the morning.  The bouncer seemed unsure about letting us in - but we convinced him that we were in fact Metal enough to get in - I think he spotted my hair.

It's not cheap  - but it is awesome.  I normally only go ever other year - but for some reason I'm tempted to go again next year.  But you need a group of people to go with, hang out with, and play games with.

One day I want to be there with a pile of my games and my own stall.  It can happen - there was a man selling his own game based on the gangs of Rome and the proscriptions of Sulla with a count of how many of the 100 games he had left to sell.......  By Saturday he'd stopped trying to sell it as he only had twenty left and just treated it as his own personal table to play games.  But then he was clearly treating the whole thing as sunk expenses since he was selling his games for 50 euro's and they cost 35 to make - not including the £1000 he had spent on art....  or the time he'd taken to make little boxes.......  A real reminder that self publishing board games is not a way to make money.

I also discovered that a luggage allowance of 22 kilos is a lot of games.....  My loot came to just under 18 kilo's not including two copies of infinite city (3 euros!)  that were in my hand luggage.  If your wandering what 18 kilo's of games looks like.....

Including funky metal money for Libertalia for only 3 Euros - bargain.

I did however get a play test of GSH in - and with people who had played one of the earlier version.  Generally positive feedback - it was clear it was not right - and that the new mission cards were not doing what I wanted them to do  But the general feedback was "heading in the right direction" - and better that a lot of there concerns in earlier version had been taken away.

One person specifically liked the resource card - as a nice simple way of giving people choice - but preventing a resource gap opening up between players.

It was interesting listening to people talk - I've been trying to encourage people to attack but because stone heads are worth more VP's at the end of the turn - they are encouraged to defend more.  So I want to try something - it's a pretty big flip - but make stone heads worth 3 vps to the person that builds them straight away.  However give 1 VP to any player that takes a freshly built stone head off another player - while introducing a card so that at the end of the round you can get a bonus point for a stone head. Inverting the current point system in effect.

This may result in non stop overly aggressive attacking if defending is not seen as worth doing.  But I want to give it a try.......  Mr P will roll his eyes at me of course.

Saturday, 6 October 2012


.....I made another version of These Dark Satanic Mills.  Printed it out - moved some stuff around - decided it was not working.  So then I made another version - which I've not yet printed out and moved stuff around on because two of the key mechanics are not in yet.  They have not been in previous versions either but I think I need to get them in.  But this time round I want to add in proper rules for acquiring "civic tiles" & "workers" to try and get a better view of the whole thing.

I'm not sure I'm following the rules about "make a simple version at first" - It's not pretty but I'm spending quite a lot of time just laying stuff out in a way that makes some sense.....

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

So I waved....

.....these dark satanic mills under a mates nose.

He felt it was rather dry - and did not really reflect the theme of turning orphans into VP's through the use of horrible machinery and inhuman conditions.  I felt it was fiddly and involved to much cube shuffling......

Still food for thought.

Saturday, 29 September 2012


Well I've got another version of GSH ready to go - a new idea added into the game which I hope might solve the problem with both attacking and a lack of surprise at the end of the game.  But while that's fixed until I play test I'll have no idea how it's gone.

Which is why I've been trying to make progress on another game - I was thinking about reserecting "Kill Him You Fools!" but the one that's been poking at my brain has been "these dark satanic mills" a classic Victorian resource management game with a twist.  This whole thing arose out a love of the Martin Wallace game - Brass , the steampunk music of 'The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing' and far to much hanging round with Dr Geof.

It's been very different process so far because Giant Stone Head was based on a dream - and while my subconscious apparently can not game design very well (how well my conscious mind does is yet to be decided) it gave me a solid framework to build on.  This time round I've not got that firm base - just a theme and a bunch of ideas and I've been finding it hard to pin things down. 

Take the cost of things - the cost of one thing depends on the cost of everything else.  In the end I abandoned trying to get it to make sense and just throw some numbers onto some tiles so I had something to work with.

This time I remembered a key piece of advice - print it out and try playing it on your own before you show it to anybody else because that can show the obvious crazy.  What it actually showed was that yes it seemed to work - however the numbers were a bit off so making progress was glacial.  Easy enough to correct I think.  I might even apply the rule of two - if you are not sure if a number is right - don't up it by one - halve it or double it.  That will give you a much clearer picture of what is actually happening. 

Of course since I can not even get Giant Stone Head play tested- starting a new game does seem rather foolish but then common sense would make me ask why was I even doing it at all......

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

A playtest - a palpable playtest!

It’s been really quiet over here which reflects a general lack of gaming but specifically no chance to play test the GSH.

But that ended Monday night when our regular RPG got cancelled and nobody said “nooooooo” quickly enough when I suggested playing GSH…..  Somebody said they wanted to play a “new game” and I pointed out that nobody had played this version of GSH before……

Good stuff – it was a tight race to the end – with lots of violence and chaos – and using cards to do cunning stuff.  The new cards definitely worked – and added a nice bit of uncertainty and chaos to the game.  The “peace card” is now simple to play – but seemed to work well enough……

People got confused about the population cap increase rules – but somebody made a suggestion which is functionally the same but about 100 times easier to understand.  So that’s going in no matter what..

It’s not perfect – went on a little long – the board is quite samey so there does not seem that much to fight over at first (later one space becomes a premium) – the build cards are not very diverse.  But they all felt tweakable issues.  That the framework of the game was right – you just needed to hit the right combination of numbers and the problems would go away.

But there are a few structural problem – attacking is not very well rewarded.  The combat is by elimination – so attacking costs you as much as it costs the defender leaving you with less to defend yourself. 

Equally at the end of the game – going last is very powerful and the result tends to be known before the end of the game.  There is no hidden information to add an element of uncertainty over that last turn.  Worse you can find yourself in a position where you can no do much to affect your – or even other peoples position.

The now departed renown mechanic (no flowers) was an attempt to solve this but it never quite worked – it was fiddly and people (including me) forgot about it.

Likewise RongaRonga cards were meant to drive attacking behavior - and they do but maybe not enough – but as a man who ended up with a hand of the damn things last night there just not that useful.  So perhaps they just need to be more powerful – that would change that.  But at the same time they can currently cause a three point swing (gain 2 and reduce opponent by 1) which is as good as a stone head….. (The card mix may also need playing with – a few less RongaRonga cards might not go amiss…..)

I need something that will fit into the flow of the game – provide an element of the unknown – and reward attacking.  I’ve had an idea – currently called “trophy taking”.

There will be a deck of special items – ownership of which will give you a VP.
You will also get a card at the start of the game which gives you bonus VP’s if you hold a particular item and negative VP’s if somebody else does.
A small number of items will be face up next to the board.
When you win a fight – your opponents pieces do no go back to there pool – you collect them.
At the end of the turn the person who has killed the most gets to pick a card (and then the dead return to your opponents pool ready for the next turn).

What I think should happen is…….

a)      People have an incentive to attack as that is the only way to get a card – but this will mainly happen when the card there interested in comes up
b)      At the end of the game people will be unsure about what’s happening – and always have something to fight over (that last card) – in fact I’m rather hoping it will cause a massive blood letting frenzy in the last turn. 

If that works – that just leaves game end condition to get right.  Tiny Tiny steps.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Other Peoples Thoughts

The only thing I read about boardgames (other then randomly reading board game geek) is 'cardboard children' on rock paper shotgun.  It's been a bit quiet recently but today post really struck a cord.  So go over there and read it.....

Since I've got two shelves of unplayed games and found myself walking along the lines of games at Manorcon trying to find something I to buy he's certainly struck a cord.  I just don't think it's limited to board games for me - since I've got a pile of books next to bed, a stack of DVD's under the tv and piles of computer games on steam I've never finished (or even started in some cases).

But part of what I like is learning new games - and seeing how they fit together - and what I can do in them and that is driven by a need for more games......

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Manorcon & Version 3.03

I headed to Manorcon this weekend and had a really nice time.  Managed to play  ninja legend of the scorpion clan a hidden movement game - which was good as I was tempted to buy that and now I'm not.

I've got fairly strong opinion about hidden movement games - and while this is no Innsmouth escape it had it's issues.  A lack of feedback for the guards - and very high stakes combat being my two.  One mistake saw one of the infiltrators dead - he went from fine to dead in one go.  It makes me want to work on 'Kill Him You Fools!' which is where my game designing started.

But I had a 3 person play test of giant stone head.  My opinion was.....

1) The action deck is just not very exciting - and needs a wider variaty of cards.
2) The number of men for three players is a little low.
3) The simplified hiden pathways a) was simplier and b) made them more useful.

The play tester provided three bits of feedback...

1) They like the whole resources being used up mechanic
2) They thought the 'pool' mechanic was overly complicated and fiddly (which surprised me since it's about 100 times better then the village one).
3) The action deck was a bit bland

I want to think on there feedback - but the same idea has been cropping up time and time again for me - the action deck needs spicing up.

So that's going to be changes for next version.

Ideas for cards.......

Invite the Neighbours - pick another player if they attack you steal 2 VP's from them.
Big Damn Hero - either an attack or a defence but only for a big man
Got Lost  - Two attackers retreat
Cowards - Two defenders retreat
Ambush  - two hearts but only when defending a terrain heart
Other ideas.
Cancel a card
Redirect an attack to an adjacent hex.
Kill a big man before the fight resolves
A random defence card so even holding a single card you could have a big defensive boost.

But I'm not sure about how to implement those so I'll leave them out for now. 

Some form of peace card is good - and this is much simpler then the original one.
Boosting big men in a flexible way is handy.
Retreating two men is useful but less useful then killing two men - it feels like it should be somewhere in the middle.........
And a big boost for defending terrain hearts will make them feel a riskier target to attack.

The five above should introduce enough new stuff for now. 


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

So this is a blog about me writing my game Giant Stone Head but I often digress into stuff about board games in general.  Today I’m going to digress even further to talk about computer games – although with a wiggle I’ll lunge back towards my main topic by talking about the difference between the computer game and a board game that does the same thing.

So the computer game is “endless space” and the board game is “eclipse” which I talked to about six months ago and have played 3 or 4 times more since then.  I’ll admit I’ve only played Endless space once – and unless there is some multiplayer action I doubt I’ll go back to it.

Both games are space themed 4X games - explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate- or conquer the universe as I tend to call them.  I used to love this type of game – hell I could beat Master of Orion on impossible despite the computer cheating in an outrageous manner and dropping stacks of 9999 dreadnaughts on your systems out of nowhere.  Which even though it’s twenty years ago I can still remember how I did it as well – it was a terrible abuse of the “black hole generator” technology, the ship design rules and the computer AI.  Ask me how if you see me in person.

Anyway – despite this ancient love it’s been a while since a 4X game has got me to play it through to the end – so what ever Endless Space is doing wrong it’s doing a bunch of stuff right as well.  It was hard enough that even on medium I had to start a couple of games to build enough momentum to win. 

But while playing it – I looked at the game with board game design eyes and came back with some stuff that made me go hmmmmmmmm

Length – Eclipse is a finely tuned game that takes you from start to end in about 3 hours.  Endless space took about 18 hours – a length of time that’s longer then twilight Imperium.

Fiddlyness – I often look at stupidly complicated board games and think “this is why they made computer games” but for all Endless space is well made – I found my self thinking “this is fiddly – I’m making a lot of little decision that have obvious answers to make things happen.”  Move that fleet there, build that there, combine these fleets, refit that.  Develop a tech and go into every system to see if you want to build that there…..

Game End – I won endless space – hours before I won it.  This might me being supper cautious but when the end came it came so stupidly quickly that it was clear I had in fact won hours ago.  My technological and fleet edge was so big there was literally nothing my opponent could do – even if he won a fight against one of my big dreadnaught fleets there were ten more of them coming along behind. 

Combat – eclipse combat is dice rolling – and damage assigning.  It’s simple – and actually the key part is having made the best ship before you get in to a fight.  And not just a best ship – a best ship to face what your opponent has.  Which often leads to the comedy situation of two people jumping there fleets into together and then refitting them to counter what the other is refitting there ships to do…..  It’s not very involved – but can be quite cool.  Where as Endless space combat is just as dependent on having your ships fitted out but you’ve got no damned idea what the opponent is carrying till the shooting starts.  Also you get to pick a card that affects things – and can in a rock paper scissor way knock out the opposition card.  But with the computer picking randomly (it choose cards that boosts weapons it does not even have – so I believe it’s randomly) that goes out the window and your choice is pretty much blind.  Add in a two minute animation of your ships blowing stuff up and you can lose a lot of time to watching fights.  Hey – I’ve seen 7 enemy fleets hurl them selves against the same Dreadnaught fleet and die without inflicting any damage.  So despite the dice rolling fest – I’m more involved in combat in Eclipse then I am in endless space.

Decision Making – the number of little obvious decision I had to make in endless space was massive.  Do I build this thing – does it actually add something to this system?  Will it cost lots for little benefit?  Well then that’s your answer.  The number of really key – well informed decision  that were not trival seemed very few.  As opposed to Eclipse which has narrowed your game down to a key decisions – expand – build- research.  And what is the order – can you afford to leave that tech for a little while or do you need to go now?

Viewing both of them through the lens of board game design – it’s clear that Eclipse is a much better designed game then Endless space – and as I say Endless space is the first computer 4X game I’ve played to the end in a while.

I’ve seen a lot of stuff that talks about how important board game stuff is in prototyping computer games – but the lesson I’m taking home is that lessons can go both ways.  If I encounter a board game that fiddly - with that many obvious or random decisions I'd think they were mad....

Monday, 16 July 2012

Version 3.02 play test

Got a chance to play test version 3.02 over the weekend – and the response was very positive and generally good.  Two people had played before – and liked the new slimmed down version while the one totally new player grabbed the rules very quickly.

In fact I need a few more play tests with this general format – and then design might be finished and it’s onto tweaking.

That’s not to say there are no issues…..

a)      Not enough warriors available to people – needs to be slightly more.
b)      Game end still drags out a little bit
c)      Action cards still not exciting – and more men almost always seems a more sensible choice.
d)      Not enough incentive to attack. 
e)      Going last on the last turn is really useful – which makes leading at the start of the last turn a bad thing
f)        Going first tends to mean sitting there and not doing a lot – which is a subset of “not enough incentive to attack”

That aside it played quickly – it was fun – and by the end of it the island was covered in stone heads and we had total collapse as we fought over the last tree……

The design process recently has been very much a stripping out of things – and a realisation that what I wanted was chaotic unpredictable violence produced by a simple system.

So for 3.03 we end up with an oddly long list of changes – even after a really good play test.  Hope to have 3.03 ready for this weekend and Manorcon although sadly the breaker of games won't be there - so it is a lot less important.

1)      Change game end condition to 3 or less trees from the current no trees left.
2)      Increase the number of men on build cards – from 2 3 5 to 3 4 5.  Narrowing the comparative advantage of ‘lots of men’ over ‘small men’
3)      Change the number of action cards from 3 4 6 to 2 4 6 – increasing the comparative value of ‘lots of cards’ over ‘small cards’
4)      Change the way “fishing boats” and “hidden pathways” work so they can be combined into unfair ways to allow you to move people around a lot.  Remove ‘get a wiggle on’ cards as they just don’t do enough.
5)      Make all of the rongaronga cards reward taking an unfinished stone head as well as something else. 

That won’t tackle all of the above problems – specifically it leaves…..

c) Action cards still not exciting
d) Not enough incentive to attack.
e) Going last on last turn is really useful

I’ve got ideas for those but… I’m trying to avoid making to many changes in one go.  And I’m also trying to avoid adding in new ideas and concepts because the current version run rather sleekly and previous attempts to fix those – aka renown – slowed things down a lot…..

Monday, 9 July 2012

Version 3.01

Version 3.01 played very well - but several minor niggles and one major one.

The major one was that it went on far to long - it clocked in at about 3 hours or close to a 5 player game of Eclipse that was going on behind us.  And while that can be a good length for a game (see eclipse) not in this case - it needs to be quick and chaotic.

The problem was the game end was caused by running out of trees and at the end of the game there was so little space that people were building heads - getting them kicked over - and no progress towards game end was being made.  In the end we added a "40 vps and over" rule to end the game.

The minor niggles were that the mix on the action cards were not quite right, that villages were fiddly and made people defensive, that the placement rules for stone heads did not quite work, that the points for holding stone heads at the end of the game was simply to much, and that going first in the last turn really sucks.
I'm not going to try and tackle all of these - but as always - perhaps to much in a single go.  As always - the "tweak only one thing" rule seems not to apply because I don't think I've got the base game right (which given I've been working on this since Feb 2011 is a little worrying).

The game end thing is simple enough - once a stone head is built it is not removed (there goes another rule that's existed in every version) - however only the player that built it gets to score it.  This might have swung things the other way - a 5 player game might now lost about 4 to 5 turns.

I've set fixed amounts for holding stone heads at the end of the game - with more points in a game with more players.

I'm not sure it bothered the players - but village annoyed me.  They are buy far the most fiddly part of the game - and they slowed down the chaos and action to much.  I've been mulling this over for a while and in 3.02 I've removed villages.  The pool mechanic still exits - but now it's just an abstract number on your player track - and won't go down.  If you have all your men on the board it costs you one man to raise your pool by one - so if your already at your maximum men it's two men gets you one with a fixed maximum.  So the good bit of villages - if you've got knocked down it's quicker getting back up then expanding is still there but hopefully the faff and the messing about is gone.

This meant a lot of other things needed fixing like RongaRonga cards that fired off destroying a village or defending a village.  So I took the opportunity to drop the quantity of movement cards and add in some Ronga Ronga cards that you can play after winning any fight but all they do is take a VP of people doing better then you (unlike the rest which give you a VP and a steal a vp of someone doing better then you.).

It feels like I added in villages as a solution that sort of worked to stop people simply building a massive legion- however when I added in build cards that rendered them a little obsolete and it's taken a while for that feed through.  I suspect this is a case of getting the fundamentals correct before you try and smooth things out.

Two Ideas.....

Defensive cards that provide more of a kick to make attacking a little more dangerous (one card - discard two other cards for 3 hearts).....
Shaman's - reward for taking very low power build cards that allow you to modify your build/pick order one if you want in a subsequent turn (are VP's still the best thing for controlling who moves first?)

One big question

Does the game now end to quickly?  Are indestructible stone heads a good thing - so should a stone head still be kickable over - but once built kicked over leave an empty space?

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Stabcon games

Stabcon the twice yearly Stockport based gaming con has been and gone - and it was good.  There was the normal madness and drinking and this time we got to play perhaps one of the funniest games of "Aye Dark Overlord" ever which almost made me pass out.  I was laughing so hard that in infected and crippled another player..... It's not really a game - it's just an excuse to tell stories - just like Baron Munchhausen....

But a stabcon also means new games.

Manhattan Project
A worker placement game - based (loosely) around making nuclear bombs.  It was fun - I'd certainty play again - and it does have the cutest little artwork ever.  However nothing really new.

The Castles of Burgundy
A very good game that uses dice well - in that the dice define what you can do  but no matter what you roll you get to do something (helped with with a good chunk of manipulation things).  Want to play this again - was tempted to buy it.

By the same person who designed The Castles of Burgundy - and proof that he has a very strange brain (oh and is the person who created the odd but excellent The Name Of The Rose that I want).
This game takes the "action roundel"  and does something very odd with it.
In your normal action roundel you have a set of actions around the wheel - a counter somewhere on the wheel - and can move forwards a number of spaces to do that action.  Often with the ability to mvoe further if you need to.  This is one from the very playable game Antike -
So Trajan does two very odd things - a picture will help here.
You have six spaces and 12 counters in six colours.  On your turn you select one of the sets of pieces and move round the board putting one in each action space - where ever you place your final counter - that's the action you do.  So in that picture - if you selected the pieces near the boat icon - you put one piece in the two columns , and another in the helmet and that's the action you'd do.  If you picked the two columns (with five pieces) you'd go round putting in pieces till you got to the ship and then you'd do that action.
Which is pretty confusing (and very based on Macala and hard to plan ahead.

But I've no mentioned the colours - those are related to bonus tiles.  So in that picture - you see a tile with bread on it and a little orange dot and a green dot at the top.  If after moving your bits around you can get an orange block and a green block in that space AND that's the action you do then you get that bonus tile - which generally does funky stuff (including free actions) and provides victory points.

Which made my brain drible out of ears trying to a) work out what I wanted to do and b) the impact on future turns.  Because it's all about setting things up - I need to move a yellow there - and then an orange that activates that - so I'll drop a orange here on the way past to do that - and then next turn take this action which will allow me to take that action and do the bonus.  This of course assumes that's an action you actually want....   I strongly suspect that this was the root cause of me getting so significantly drunk on the Saturday night as I needed to cool down my brain.

Ace game - I'd of brought that if there was a copy there - even if I've no idea who in Leeds would play it with me without either breaking down and crying or suffering horrible analysis paralysis.

We did get a play test of giant stone head version 3.01 - and it was broadly good.  However oddly enough it's made me want to change some other pretty fundamental stuff as I try and smooth out the game and stuff that got added in to solve problems is pulled out.  But the details on that can - I think  wait to another day as this is long enough already.  But not to long as I'll need a copy for this coming weekend and my friend from Amsterdam who is really going to look at the new version and go "what have you done!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Version 3.00 playtest....

....was greeted by somebody going "you've changed a lot since last time."  Which was a rather fair comment.

Broadly the changes worked.  The new resource cards worked - and were much quicker and easier then fiddling things out - but they were felt to be quite samey and needed work.  Which is something I expected - good idea not sure about the values was the feedback.  The death spiral also seemed much less dramatic - one person got hammered down but soon bounced back.  Also need tie breakers for when people have the same values.

Also the board got covered in stone heads - which was a dramatic improvement in terms of name and theme-  and by the end of the game it did feel like you'd messed the island up since there was nothing but stone heads.  Space became a vital resource.

One complaint was that once again there seemed no point to violence if you were at the top of the tree - yes you could do stuff but it would be undone by those going after you.  Stopping your opponent getting VP's  and playing RongoRongo cards did not seem to a viable position.  People seem to be very defensive (not me then I'm playing like I think it should be played). 

The movement cards need sorting - to make them more viable and/or easy to see when there worth using.

A RongoRongo card that activates just for winning a fight might be useful - no bonus VP - just the steal affect to give people an incentive for attacking the wining player.

Renown - originally a reward for violence is now fiddly and adds little. 
Villages and the pool of warriors - not sure they now do much.....  Also at 1 strength they seemed to get burned down a lot - and two they seemed to be pretty much left alone.
The work out resources then work out turn order is fiddly.  And because taking top slot means going first just having more resources is not seen as that useful a thing.

Two good suggestions....

1) Defenders need something to make combat risky because once your out of defensive cards (or perceived to be out) you can be torn apart quickly.....
2) At the moment it's all about building stone heads - there needs to be more point to holding them.  Possibly not through the game - but at the end of the game. 

One other crazy idea I had well typing this - to help balance out the turn order thing - everybody declares there "grudge" for that turn and that's the only person you can attack......  That feels thematic and also funny.  Might make players get cut off if players there are not able to attack seal them in.....

Need to work out what happens next - basically - Stabcon is coming up in a week and I need to take something to play.  Do I bounce another version out the door or do I play test this one another time?  I kind of want to play test this one again...... 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

All Change!

So despite at least one friend of mine telling me that Giant Stone Head is needs to be refined - not redone I've just redone most of it.

This is because the last couple of play tests have been ok - but the games a bit fiddly and there seems to be a distinct lack of building Giant Stone Heads which is a significant problem in a game about Giant Stone Heads.  The resource system was also fitting less and less well into the game I was trying to write in my head - quick and dirty, up and down, low stakes but lots of it combat. 

So version 3.00 walks onto the stage - and who knows - maybe it will melt under the burning heat of an actual play test - but currently I like it.

In the last version you had resource - which allowed you to take cards and then trade some of those cards in for men or giant stone heads.  This new version the person with the most reources gets to pick where they want to go in the turn - and then in turn order every player picks a "resource card" which gives a fixed number of men, cards and stone heads.  This hopefully creates a tension between going first for best card and going last which allows you to react to take your move knowing that nobody will nip in after you.....  It also means that the death spiral/stream roller effect should be reigned in a lot - since even if your down to one hex your still going to get a card.....  And finally the "not building any giant stone heads to ensure I keep going last - convert that into physical dominance and spurt at the end" will work less well.  Because yes you might be able to keep going last - but other players will be getting better picks on the resource cards.......

This has involved rewriting how villages works - although "the pool" is still present as a limiter on the number of men you have.  Renown now exists but is now used to boost your value for determining your turn order so there's an uncertainty element there.  Equally the idea of sacrificing cards has gone - cards are now just cards.  Which means I hope that cards other then plus to attack and plus to defence will be used as people will have them in there hands.  Along those lines I've made is so that the Rongorongo can be played if one of two different conditions are met.  So hopefully they will see more use - as players see more opportunity to fulfill them causing more movement on the victory point track.

We now also have empty spaces - so giant stone heads can be built at first without ruining peoples economies - so it easier to be an early builder.

I also dropped the event deck and moved to a known game end condition of the last tree being covered.  And there's been a general slim down of play and correction of terminology so I call things the same consistently.

Even if this works - I'm back to square one regarding balance and values.  How many men should a resource card get - how many cards and how many GSH?  What is the difference between a good card and a bad card - to little and there's no point to choosing first and to much and you've got the same death spiral effect?  Will going last still be good if holding onto resources is bad?  How many spaces should the board actually have to create a game of decent length for 3, 4 and 5 players? 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

So - latest play test.....

.... some serious blank faces when trying to explain the rules.  Seemed to lift once play was started - and two of the three new players seemed to get it. I don't think it ever clicked for the less gamer of the three - and well they did ok they were pretty passive.

One player called it "oddly complicated and oddly simple".  Which did not strike me as a good thing - although is suspect some of that is unclear terminology making things confusing.  

We had two player eliminations - and the winning player was once again the person that ignored giant stone heads and went for resources.  Not as bad as the time Cuss broke it - as they gambled on a long game and got it rather then Cuss massive one round swing - and if the game had ended quicker they would have lost.

The trouble is being an early stone head builder drags you down - and taking an early lead in Victory points means ending up with a bad turn position.  But when the person at the back does not use that to catch up but rather focuses on resources they turn into a bit of steam roller of exactly the sort you don't want.

And after a while a player starts spiraling inwards - and unless player combine the problems can spiral out of control.  In this game - I'm pretty sure I could have stopped the one player taking a dominate physical position but I needed to protect my own villages to much because I was going first and I was not sure the other player would have left me alone....

So what I'm thinking - and I'm mainly getting these ideas down in written form to get something more solid for my subconscious to tick over.....

Resources turn into cards - which turns into a direct advantage - leading to the possibility of a card gap.  Worse a player can end up without the resources/people to take the actions they need to do anything. 

There is also still a lack of giant stone head building which in a game about building giant stone heads is a bit of a problem.

So what to do?

The idea kicking around my head at the moment is that resources give you first pick from some sort of card row - in which each card provides a bunch of different values.  So many new men, so many cards, so many stone heads.  So yes more resources gets you "the best card" but the gap between best and worst in terms of resources is not so great - and players will be more inclined to build stone heads because they won't suffer so much from the act especially if there getting the stone heads "for free" - there not diverting resources into building them..... 

This of course fundamentally impacts on the purpose of "renown" - which was meant to be used to encourage players to attack - because they had to attack to build stone heads.  With a mechanism for rewarding you for hitting a player doing well - rather then kicking the weaker player.  But it's not really worked - it's complicated things - and the last two players have just used it to power war machines to crush everybody else.

Also cards become - well cards - not a resource to be spent and so a slightly more situational card might be worth holding onto......

The role of villages fundamentally changes as well since they'd no longer be the force that controls the flow and supply of warriors.

If I'm honest with a change of this sort -  I'd be keeping.....

1) The combat
2) The cards
3) The hexes and resources.
4) Events

And not a lot else - which is a major change and a half....

Which is an odd design decision - when the last couple of play tests have been described as "fundamentally playable" and change of this sort run the risk of throwing so very much other stuff out of wack.

Time to let my subconscious think on it.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

On Dice

I recently played two games that were very heavily dice dependent and one I found the dice annoying - and the other the dice added a pleasing amount of randomness....

The first was  Elder Sign and the second was Roll Through The Ages - the bronze age although technically we were playing the free expansion "the late bronze age" it's a much more balanced game).

Now there very different games - one is Arkham horror lite well the other is Civilisation in 30 minutes and there are a lot of other differences but as I sat there trying to work why the dice in one where annoying me and in another they were not.  I think it hinges on one very big difference struck me....

In Elder sign i you roll dice to try and overcome a problem.   You either succeed and gain a reward - or fail and take a penalty.  And while the tasks come in stages you can not get partial credit -only clear 2 out of 3 stages it's still a fail and the next person will face all 3 stages again.

So very binary.  And succeeding was also a bit flat - after all - what had I actually done? 

In Roll Through The Ages - you roll your dice three times - keep some of them (have to keep others of them) and then use those dice to do stuff.  There are times that you get terrible turns - when you need food and rule no food at all.  Or when you roll a bunch of disasters.  But no matter what luck sends you - you get to do something even if it's not quite what you wanted.

I find one of these annoying and the other fun......

So in my opinion - succeed/fail is a bad mechanic where as "where do I go from here" is a good mechanic to use with dice.  And I shall do my best to remember that.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

So some friends of mine....

....helped me work out the probability of certain things and the deck design I had for "empire poker" did create some really really odd effects.....  Not given up - running the numbers on another possible design but there's no sign my subconscious has got better at game design.....

But today we had a decent GSH play test.  Actually went really well - felt like a game.  Not perfect - one player started to death spiral in a bit - but still pretty good.  One thing I'm noticing is that I don't see the temptation in hitting weaker player - but other players do....... Also the "lurking at the back" before leaping forwards tactic seems very strong....

Players have pointed out that I've created a game of Chaos - where nothing lasts and everything swings back and forwards.  Which is good - as that's what I wanted to do......

Quick conversation provide some clear modifications - one change to board set up, reducing the cost of something, and a change in order.  All easy enough to implement that version 2.08 is actually already read to go.  Just need a bit of cutting out......

With some potential changes for 2.09 already lined up - but need to see how 2.08 works first.....

There is some serious work to do on the User Interface - and flow of the game which might help make the game rattle along quickly (it currently takes about 3 hours to play - but feels more like a two hour game in terms of the amount of game play you get) but that needs to wait till the game itself is better.  But good overall. 

Monday, 23 April 2012

I wonder if.... subconscious has got any better at game design?  Since it became clear once we played it that  it's first attempt version 0.1 of Giant Stone Head sucked.

Woke up on Saturday with most of a game idea in my head.  It's not really a new game -it's more an attempt to create a novel variant of poker that fills the same niche but feels different enough that it's not immersion breaking when Larping.  With a rather odd deck.

Have spent a while doing probability on the different hands but my shonky maths rather fall apart - since I worked out one hand is 177% likely to happen.  Which I'm fairly sure is wrong....

Wrong title is "Empire Poker" - since that's the larp game it most likely to be played at.....

Sunday, 15 April 2012

I have totally lost track of the numbering.....

And since I'm writing this on a train back from Bristol I've no easy way to check. So let's just talk about 'the latest version'. Which after sitting on the shelf for ages finally got a play test.

Interesting play test - the return of (weaker) big men was successful - adding a bit more tactics to play. However the game got broken - and broken badly.

I don't feel bad - that's what he does to games - commits to extreme plans to see what happens. The plan in this case being ignoring vps - and building an empire and bursting for vps at the end. And to my embarrassment it worked. We went from 'he's to far behind to ever win' to 'there is nothing we can do to stop him winning' in a single turn...

This is despite the fact that one change I introduced in this version was increasing costs to building stone heads in a single turn to encourage stone head building over the entire game. It was also the case that due to that players decision to lurk at the back he massively gained from the bonus renown - which was intended as a catch up mechanic but he was never really behind in ways that mattered.

It's also clear that the RongoRongo cards which were intended as a method to reward attacking just don't work. There not strong enough - so they are always what you choose to discard.....

I have to be rather careful here because the actual strategy is fine - its just a matter of a) the ammount it worked and b) people lack of ability to do anything about it that really mattered.

After sleeping on this I might change the bonus renown so that a you steal renown for attacking some ody with more renown. Which will mean that no extra enters the economy - and you won't be able to gain to much from it because the situation will soon reverse as the attacker ends up with more. It's still a catch up becuase the person going last will benefit most - and that's generally the person with the least vps.....

Which moves us to RongoRongo cards -these need to be more powerful and I think they need to be able to steal vps off other players when used against some key with more vps then you have..... Here I need to be careful that gsh remain the central vp generating factor otherwise were back to games where people simply don't make stone heads. Which inna game about Easter island is a problem.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

2.05 finally gets a test....

And like a number of recent tests it's not got to the end....  This time it was more about a baby stopping play and a plane then "oh god it's all gone wrong....."

Overall it seemed to go ok - spent most of a flight writing down notes about what needs to be changed and stuff - as always needs to be changed.  We've swung back away from a rather pointless journey - things that have been removed might well be about to make a return - and generally there is some more smoothing of rough edges to be done.

However I've got to a bit of a cross roads.  I've had a large lump of time off - and one of things I wanted to do in that time off was get GSH to "finished" mode.  Tweaking - looking at production - that sort of thing.  But it's no where near that - because over the last two months I've done very little and play tested it even less....

Part of that is lack of enthusiasm - some from me and I think some from people I game with.  Most of them have limited amounts of time to game - there's lots of finished games they want to play - and they have played GSH before.  Where as me - I just don't want to be a bother.  And you know what - sometimes I have trouble remembering what the rules are - because I've got so many different version in head I'm not always sure what I decided in the end.  Although in fairness that's not always just me - the new improved simpler attack and defense cards confused the hell out of somebody who had played an earlier version and had got there head around how things had used to work.....

So it's decision time.....  Do I make 2.06 and drag it round with me - or do I start working on one of the other two projects I've got rough notes for?  At what point does one's equine collapse?  Given that the criticism somebody made "there's nothing new" was (and still is) reasonably true. 

Monday, 13 February 2012

No real news

Basically I've got a new testable version of GSH - but I lack of forum to play test it - so no real progress is being made.

All I've played recently is a new game of Eclipse - which has once again convinced me that it's a) my favorite space conquest game b) badly flawed c)  Plasma Missile break the game quite badly.

Well at the SFX weekender I did get two games explained to me - and thus have my prejudice against tie in's confirmed....

The first was "the walking dead".  So your a zombie survival game - linked to a deep and detailed background.  And you've got roll a dice and move.  Really?  Roll a dice and move.  2012 and that's what you give us?  I admit I sort of turned off at that point but really it looks terrible.

The second was "penny arcade - gamers vs Evil".  Now I have a lot of time for penny arcade.  There basically nerds made good - and I find them commentary often very interesting.  And this game was clearly made by somebody who was paying attention to games made within the last 5 years - since it was a deck building game.  And it seemed a reasonable implementation of that - but nothing innovative or indeed anything that seemed to invoke the spirit of Penny Arcade.

 Of the two of them - the penny arcade was the only worth even looking at - but even that I'd generally avoid.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

No progress

A 6 day holiday has resulted in no progress on GSH - since I'm at the "I need to print out a copy and playtest" stage and my printer has died.

I did however review a friends initial draft notes which was interesting and fun - and come up with a theme for project 2 which has cheered up me.  I'm finding project 2 a bit odd - I know lots about it - certain key aspects and yet I don't seem to have a basic mechanic.  And I've never had to decide on that before - since the first (badly broken) version of GSH came to me in a dream and I've been refining since.  I'm hoping my sub concious gets busy on the issue.....

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

GSH 2.05

So I've been that using the to make paper prototype cards (and then slipping them into card sleves with something else to give rigidity) is a good idea.  But that will take some time to do, and I wanted to take a version north with me so I made version 2.05 using my random template.  Only to have the printer throw a paddy and refuse to print - so to the recycling it will go....  It was free and has spent 3 years in storage so it was always possible.  It's also the size of a bear and sounds like it's going to explode when turned on....  Best spend some money.

Anyway - I've made the changes.....

Firstly I've changed the resources - the whole "one card per a icon" seemed to work in theory but was fiddly and annoying. So we've changed it to food, trees and chickens - all of which produce cards.  Chicken are rare and the most efficient at giving cards.  Trees are common and produce cards at a reasonable rate.  And food is good for building villages (gives a discount) but poor at producing cards.  There's no pyramid cost - they just work on a straight line.  Slightly worried that in 5 players people won't have enough cards and in 3 players they will have to many but lets see how that works.

Village can now be built on anything - so the "no way to recover on turn 2" problem is gone because there should be something you can build on- but food gives a discount for building a village.  There also more expensive and I might need to change that back to ensure somebody getting shafted can always rebuild.

Back to one move, but added a lot of cards for extra movement.  There a little naff - move one counter one hex but then you get to draw a card (more card churn but just moving one seemed to weak).  Villages are back to being weaker since loosing one is no longer such a nightmare (I hope).

Changed the event deck so now there are event cards that reward having a stone head in the first few turns - so the nail that sticks up wont' get hammered down quite so hard (I hope).

Pretty big set of changes.  Now just need to make a set and get some play testing!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Stabcon and a play test

So this weekend was Stabcon - it's 21st Anniversary event in fact (there was cake) which means drinking, gaming and no where near enough sleep. Stabcon for those not in the know is my favourite gaming con - it's a bi-annual con in a hotel in Stockport and I like to think one of the friendliest places to game I know.  I keep trying to talk my friends into going but I keep failing - I've no idea why.....

Anyway - one of the joys of Stabcon is standing in the middle of the room and seeing what is being played.  You can often tell the game of the moment simply by counting how many copies of it are being played simultaneously.  It's probably the most accurate definition of "what's hot" it's possible to get.

And this time - what's hot is Eclipse because I doubt there was a single point in time during con from 10 in the morning till midnight where there was not a game of it going on.  Often 3 or 4 simultaneously on the go - I played it twice over the weekend.

It's a large scale space command and conquer game is the "twilight imperium" tradition - plastic ships, space exploration, technology trees.  It's incredibly well designed and damned intuitive. For that sort of game I'd of expected 45 mins of rules explanation which left me looking puzzled - I still don't get Twilight Imperium for example.  After 30 mins of rules for Eclipse - I felt I got it - and even better I was right.....

It's user interface - how you track information - how you interact with the game is incredible.  It manages to provide method where you have different ship design in which you customise with technology to make your ships work the way you want.  Easily, simply, obviously - and which feeds into a combat system which provides a genuine feeling that the design of your ships really matters and different players can fight different ways.  Hulking brutes that soak damage, glass hammers, lighting fast fighters trying to strike first or missile boats that try and end the combat before the opponent even gets to fire.....

And at a speedy pace as well.  Don't get me wrong it takes hours - but compared to twilight imperium it's a cheetah.  It looks like people who know what there doing can get a game done in about 30 mins per a player (our play time was longer).  And with revolving actions the down time is not massive either.

It's not perfect - in my opinion it's got a nasty death spiral made worse by high stakes combat, there are times when the smart thing to do is hunker down and ignore the universe which is a little dull.  Also luck is a big factor as combat is dice based and frankly can sometimes just suck and which tiles you find as explore has a massive effect.  I don't mind that - but for some people it's the kiss of death......

While the overall rules are clear - there are a few oddities tucked away as to exactly what happen in some circumstances which adds to the complexity and frankly one of the most commons conversations of the weekend was something along the lines of "are you sure that's not what we did last time......."

But I think overall it's better then starcraft - my previous "twilight imperium done right" game - and if I wanted a giant universe conquering game right now I'd get eclipse.  For a game that's just released I want to say - I look forward to the inevitable second edition which can smooth out the oddities......

It's also apparently bloody impossible to get - which also tells you something about Stabcon that there were multiple copies for sale (at the recommended retail price no less)......

So that was Stabcon - and at Stabcon we got a play test.  5 people - one of the least successful play tests ever.  Somebody got a village killed on turn 1 and frankly was doomed to lose at that point because they were unable to rebuild.  This is a repeat of something that happened the previous play test - and shows I've got a serious issue so rather then have that person have a bad game we called it off at the start of turn 2.  Quick discussion later - and it was agreed the problem is not the burning the village down - but that the resource map meant that they had no chance to rebuild....

So it's the "rebuild" opportunity that needs to get fixed.  I've been unhappy as to how the resources were working any way so it's back to the drawing board there.  I also need more cards as the deck ran out in pretty short time.  Plus some incentive to get stone heads down early...... 

Oddly these tests - well going wrong - and going really rather wrong leave me more hopeful then the version 1.n tests which superficially played better but always left me with the nagging sense that something underlying was wrong.......

I also got to play test my friends PB game -and that was good.  Still early days - but it has potential. Oh and somebody wants my help thinking about a game project....  So it's nice that people seem to think of me as somebody to talk to about games and design......