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 - http://boardgamegeek.com/image/212148/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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mancala) 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!