Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Another play test.....

So Monday nights play test of Upon a Throne of Bone went well.  We only had 5 of us – so I played a two headed overlord who had no idea what is right hand and left hand were doing......

Although simple the minions seemed to enjoy the whole spying, bidding for units, fighting, resolving cycle – despite the very simple nature of the combat system and rewards.

As the Overlord I also felt I had a set of tools with which to try and drive my minions behaviour – and even deliberately set out to run two different management styles (one carrot, and one stick) to see if I could.  The rest of the overlord game did not get tested so there is nothing to say about that.

That is what is going to appear at stabcon if anybody wants to poke me to see what we've got so far.

The real challenge is going to be working out where additional complexity can be added without losing what works – and there I need to keep in mind the mantra – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Ideas under consideration for now…..

I think the main place to poke is the rewards coming back.  We need a bit more complexity for the overlord game – and in particular we need different sorts of tokens flowing in order to support the mastermind style game.  So I think making doing very well brings back not just fear but all victories.

That in turns effects the bidding sequence, as you are now bidding two things.  I suspect it will be a perudo style bid – so many victories and so much fear.  With victories being more important than fear – so 1 victory and 1 fear is greater bid then 10 fear.  Here the overlord will be able to influence things by indicating what sort of victories they would like – you can fulfil your expectation by delivering any number of   victories but deliver a different sort and the overlord will have the option to slap you down (if they choose).

I might also make giving the 1st and 2nd legions come with some automatic favour – after all the overlord is clearly pleased with you.  But those legions also come with much bigger ways of being punished.  Whereas the 3rd legion will be able to achieve a lot less – but have a lot less risk of punishment and have a chance to be rewarded if they do well.

At the moment all of the information is hidden, and you get to look at some of it.   Whereas I think it might well work better if some of the information is public – and you get to peak at a little less.

Which seems like enough change for now.  What is not being changed – yet – is the combat system.  There are two competing version – the first is based around strength but the strength is a but lumpy – some of your cards have 0 strength, some have 1 strength and some 2 or 3 strength.  So people might see somebody has gone there – but there no sure how much.  The second version is based on the bidding system of Revolution – where you have tiers of resource – with a higher tier beating any amount of a lower tier.  In revolution the tiers are gold, blackmail and force.  No amount of gold will convince somebody to do something against a threat of blackmail, and no amount of blackmail will triumph over the threat of death.    What I like about the second one is that it would allow us to have a sense of progression -starting with corruption, that gets replaced with Legions of orcs and eventually foul beasts like Dragons and Nazguls arrive.

Once it was just me and the Brazen Duke - we rambled about the difference between a larp and a mega game.  This is in part because my friend the Brazen Duke really likes mega games and indeed throws in a lot of roleplaying while doing it– but had a bad experience larping and refuses to consider doing that again…..

The conclusion reached seemed to be that in a mega game there is a very solid game structure and so the larping is optional, while in a larp the roleplaying is mandatory and the gamist elements are very secondary.  If I've remembered that wrong – it was very late.  In the cold light of day the bit about the Mega game still seems to be true – I'm not however so sure about the bit about larping.  In particular his description of the second mega game seemed very much life a free form larp or at least some sort of crisis management game.

We also chatted about interactive theatre – me having been along to ‘A Wood Under the World’ under Leeds town hall quite recently.  One particular thing - I’d got slightly confused as to how to react to the Wood Under The World – because they kept talking to me in character, as if it was all real, where as I had no character.  If I was really me then I wanted to say ‘it’s a play dear’ where as if I was me who discovered an unearthly wood under Leeds town hall and I believed it was real – then I suspect I’d just do a runner (well slow jog)…….  Which meant I was confused as to how to react……  

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Playtest 2 - Version 0.03

So last weekend I headed over to Manchester to play test version 2.  Slightly odd thing as we were a couple of people lower then intended s we ended up doing one overlord and 3 minions test which did not work very well but then it was missing any sort of opposition which is pretty key.

But it was still enough to show up a bunch of things.  The combat system mainly worked but I don't think is correct for this game.  It might well work if you had a semi-cooperative board game with one overlord and there minions....

I also got to be an overlord and I realised there was a bit of game play I really wanted – the minions bidding up what they were offering to the overlord to try and take control of the important army.  That was sort of there but the location set up and the complexity of the resources people were either offering very little or everything under the sun.  Also since all of the information was available to the minions it was both overwhelming and anything one could offer all of the rest could offer as well.

Over coffee before hand people had been talking about software design methodology (it's how we roll). And we'd talked over the concepts of horizontal slice and vertical slice. Horizontal being where you give the barest bones version of everything you want the final version to have as opposed to vertical where you give a complete version of a single part of it.

Chatting in the car on the way back it was clear that I’d been very much trying to do a vertical slice of the minion game but I probably needed to do a horizontal slice to check out the really core game play mechanics. The drive back gave us a long time to talk and so was born an almost total reworking of the game.

It’s important to note that you are seeing the basic structure but each individual part might get replaced by a more detailed component once we've got our heads around the idea. For example players will get a random set of tokens to play the master mind game with rather then it being tied into the result of what the minions do. Why? Because it lets me see how that works with some made up numbers and then once we've seen that then we tie the two systems together.

Upon A Throne of Bone version 0.03 – the simplification.

Set up

4 overlord teams, each consisting of one overlord and 3 minions. The overlord wishes to be the best overlord and wants Terror. The Minions wants to be the most loved minion of their overlord and so they want Favour. The general currency of the game is Fear that the minions get from locations and give to the overlord.  I should say all names open to change.

The overlord will have 3 legions consisting of 7, 5, and 3 1 strength orcs.

There will be three races – human, dwarf and elf – each race made up of 3 locations that hold 4, 3, 2 loot cards.  For play testing the number of cards at locations can easily be reduced which is good as it lets you check how it plays with less people.

Loot cards will yield between 1 and 7 fear – with 4 fear being the most common result.

 There will be five dark gods/demons – each of which will be dealt 3 face up terror cards of value 1 to 5 with 3 being the most common value.

Each minion will be given a human scout token, a dwarf scout token, a elf scout token and three wild scout tokens. They will also be given a 1 strength minion token.

The minion turn 

The minion turn has the following phases.

Scouting – look at loot cards on locations. Each card looked at costs one scout token which is left on the card to indicate it has been looked at.

Bidding – the minions will make increasing bids as to how much fear they will bring back this turn to the overlord if given control of the 1st legion (the biggest). The biggest bid is given the legion and that number is there ‘expectation’. There is then a set of bidding for the 2nd legion. The remaining minion states how many Fear they will be bringing back.

Deployment – the minions place their forces at the location they choose and once placed they cannot be picked back up. Forces are placed into a box/bowl so what is there is unclear.

Any minion who does not wish to use counters may tick off one box from their whimsy seat for each strength that is not used at a location. See later for more details on costs and benefits.

Resolution – each location resolves. With the person with the most strength at a location takes the top prize, in the event of a draw the strongest minion present breaks ties, if still no resolution then both players get the next level of reward down. No single player may take more than one loot card from a location – however multiple minions from a single overlord can each take one loot card. A minion may claim multiple loot cards from multiple locations.

Return – each minion brings their Fear back to the table and compares it with the expectation. The overlord can issue rewards and punishments if the conditions are met and they wish to. See later for more details.

The overlord turn

The overlord has the following phases.

Dark blessing phase use fear generated in previous turn to pay for the offerings you made last turn.  They have to pay the highest bids first – if a bid is not completely paid then the fear is still paid but the bid is discarded.  Take a reward in terms of terror.  In case of draw both get the next level down.  If a dark god is not given at least one fear then the overlord lose one terror.

Bid Phase – the overlord keeps track of the deals made, records the expectations, and takes as many offering counters as the total expectation of all the minions.

Deployment - the overlord places their offerings at the Altar.  They do not need to use all of their expectation – but any unused expectation is lost.  They can not bid more then the expectation they have been given.

Alignment – The overlords take 6 random colour cards and plays mastermind against a set of 4 mastermind games simultaneously.

 Report back – the overlord gets the fear generated, and delivers rewards/punishments to there minions.

Rewards and punishment.

If a minion delivers exactly what they promised then they automatically gain one favour.

In addition the overlord can give out certain rewards and punishments if certain conditions are met – however it is always the overlord choice if they choose to administer the punishment or reward even if the conditions are met.

Each punishment or reward can be administered only once per turn no matter how many minions meet that condition – but a minion can have receive multiple punishments and/or rewards in a turn.


Name: You failed me
Condition: Deliver less fear then promised
Effect: -1 favour

Name:  My trusted right hand
Condition: The controller of the 1st legion delivers less fear then promised
Effect: -1 Favour

Name: Nothing!
Condition: You deliver no fear at all
Effect: -1 Favour

Name: You promised much......
Condition:  You deliver 3 less fear then promised
Effect: -2 Favour

Name: The lash....
Condition: Because the overlord wants to
Effect: -1 Favour

Name: Under promising is under performing
Condition:  Deliver 3 more fear then promised
Effect: -1 Favour


Name: Less is more
Condition: Deliver more fear then a stronger legion
Effect: +1 Favour

Name: Nothing succeeds like success
Condition: Deliver the most fear
Effect: +1 Favour

Name: Over achiever
Condition:  Deliver more then fear then expected
Effect: +1 Favour

Name: You have pleased me
Condition:  Because the overlord wants to
Effect: +1 Favour

Whimsy Sheet

Each minion will have a whimsy sheet.  Instead of using there strength in locations they may tick off one box for each strength not used in a turn.  When the cost is fully paid then the minion receives the listed advantage.

Bonus Favour

1 Strength  = 1 favour

2 Strength = 1 favour

3 Strength = 1 favour

4 Strength = 1 favour

5 Strength = 1 favour

Spy Network

1 Strength = choose one human/elf/dwarf spy

2 Strength = choose one human/elf/dwarf spy

3 Strength = choose one human/elf/dwarf spy

4 Strength = choose one human/elf/dwarf spy

2 Strength = one wild spy

3 Strength = one wild spy

4 Strength = one wild spy

Minion Token

3 Strength = minion token is 2 strength

4 Strength = minion token is 3 strength

5 Strength = minion token is 4 strength

6 Strength = minion token is 5 strength

Thus endeth version 0.03 - which I think is a full version.  Not the intentions, not the direction of travel - but the everything you'd need to play test it written down.....  Which is nice.  I'll do my best to get this done and taken to Stabcon where we can do a micro test if nothing else.

While working on this I had a few ideas of things that might work - and rather then add them in - I've just written them down here so I don't forget them.

  •  Overlords can go into debt with the dark gods, paying more fear then they have.  Best pay that back before the end of the game....
  • In addition to claiming fear - minions also claim victories (high results).  Minions bid so much fear and so many victories.  Very perudo but hey - I like perudo.   

Friday, 12 December 2014

Top ten board games

So I got asked for my top ten board games something I’d never really considered – seems a bit of an omission if you ask me…..

Things is a top ten implies a strict progression – 10 being better than 1. But my enjoyment of a board is very much linked to the people, the time and the mood. If it’s 11 o'clock at night, and I'm slightly drunk, then maybe now is not the time to start an epic (for those people muttering Midnight Britannia under their breath I said maybe.....); conversely if there are 4 of use, it’s ten in the morning and we've no plans then cracking out the vile combo generator is not right either.

So there is no numerical order in these games – instead it’s goes party games, gateway games, and gamer games.

Party Games 

Cards Against Humanity – which I like to describe as a vile game for vile people and which I've brought for my as a sixteenth birthday present because she so enjoyed getting her mother to say the most deeply unpleasant things she could.

I've seen it argued that it’s not a well-designed game – and it’s a fair point – but it’s still a fun game which manages to make everybody feel like there group has the most twisted imaginations ever.

The Great Dalmuti - is a game I've played so often and so drunk that it’s been proved I can explain the rules clearly and coherently while a bottle of port (and more) to the wind.  It’s a simply trick taking game that is elevated into a storming amount of fun due to the fact that it is unfair and allows the people doing well to order the other people around ‘do fetch me a drink….’

Aye Dark Overlord – one of you is the evil overlord, the rest of you are there minions, you were given one job, and you have failed.  That’s the start of the game – as you try and fast talk your way out of trouble and somebody else into it.   A story telling game of brilliance where we throw more and more of the rules away each time that has left me closer to passing out more than once.  Word of warning – it is very dependent on the group you play with and as it’s about the journey rather the destination you are not really able to skip over other people.

Gateway Games

Lover Letter – this one could just as easily have been put in the party games section but it’s a little more involved and deduction based then the party games.  That’s not to say it’s complicated – far from it – there are 16 cards in the game and they all say what they do on them.  But as you try and make sure your love letter gets to the princess and your opponents letter is goes nowhere then it's got a little more focus on   winning or losing then the pure party games.

Settlers of Catan – an absolute classic of game design for a reason.  The game most likely to end up replacing monopoly as the game every family has a copy off.  Roll dice, get stuff, build your settlements and maybe steal a little bit of stuff of people.  I'm a bit of a purist and tend to play with just the basic set – I know there are expansion but the basic set is so well designed and balance why change it?  Introduced a whole generation of gamers to the idea that compelling game play could come from indirect competition for resources and trading.

King of Tokyo – you are a giant monster, you want to destroy Tokyo, other giant monsters want to stop you, crush them!  Often described as gamer yahtzee it’s basic mechanic of ‘throw and reroll and reroll to see what you get’ is easy to grasp while the power cards add an element of replayability and depth as you try and work out which broken combo of cards you want to unleash on your foes.  All while trying t push your luck as to how long can you stay as the king of Tokyo.  I will say I don’t own this game – but I've come damn close a number of times.

Heavy weight games

Most of these take an evening to play, require a reasonable amount of rules explanation and generally involve a certain amount of thinking.

Britannia – Yes I know it’s 8 hours long, yes I know it plays with exactly 4 people which is annoying , and yes I know it very luck based and involves throwing tons of dice often to no damn effect; but it gives you the whole scope of British history from the Romans through to the Normans.  It’s great to win, and it’s great to see some really messed up history ‘We call this Pictland’ or ‘Well that’s the last Saxon dead – murdered by the Welsh’ or ‘What do you mean William the conqueror died under Jutish axes on the southern coast – who the hell are the Jutes?’.

Caverna – you are dwarves, you need to make the best dwarfish home you can.  So send your dwarves out to mine, farm, adventure, and furnish in this fabulous and smooth worker placement game.  I know I said I preferred Glass Road before and that is still brilliant – but Caverna is winning me over……  Tiny little wooden sheep after tiny little wooden sheep……

Trajan – there’s a bit playing Trajan where your brain breaks and you think you can see through time and space, see through to the underlying code of the universe and manipulate it to your will.  Don’t worry that’s perfectly normal; it’s also utterly false as you’ll discover in 4 turns time when you realise you've fucked up.   It’s paper thing Roman theme puts some people off but for me it’s unique mancala (move token between pots) based action sequence makes it shine – and when you pull off a clever turn spanning combo to really grand effect it makes you feel like the king of the world.  I don't own Trajan but I want to.  I so want to.

Brass - the industrial revolution, spin, ship, mine, and railway your way to the top as the best and most efficient capitalist oppressor you can be; all set in in sunny Lancashire.  Use of a deck of cards manages to give you almost unlimited freedom but restrict you just enough or to put it another way you wander why the cards were ever included right up until the point they block your awesome move.....  I did almost pick Tinner Trail by Martin Wallace but I've played Brass more and it's definitely the more famous of his games.

So there you go - my top 10.  Tell me why I'm wrong and what I missed off that has to be on this list or I am a no nothing

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Conflict Resolution.... 2nd pass

So conflict resolution.....


Firstly there will be an expansion in the number of locations, a reduction in the strength of the locations, and an increase in the value of locations.

The issue arising out of the play test were (for me at least)..

- Clumping of minions – 'lets all go over here'.
    - Lack of value in guile/magic/swords against locations – 'my 10 magic makes you one weaker'.
    - Lack of value in guile/magic/swords defending locations – 'I've lost 1 orc – shrug – I've got lots more'.
    -The ease of attacking a kingdom heart on the first turn.

So lets start by asking what behaviour we'd like to see....

Generally we want to see stacks – from time to time – it's ok if an overlord concentrates there resources occasionally. But we need to make sure that concentration makes game for the minions.

We definitely need to make sure that the minions all need to convince the overlord that they should get the monsters this turn. Which turns out provides a really good answer about the question of 'should we empower the minions directly' so we are not doing that.

So lets remove an overlords ability to directly create one massive stack by giving each minion a 'command rating' which is the maximum number of monsters they can control. So an overlord has to do at least some splitting of there forces.

But we won't stop a Minion from dropping there forces onto a location where one of your fellow minions is – handing over control to them – but then it's an minions choice. It's there choice even if the overlord demands it..... Which is a good dynamic.....

I've actually realised something – a minion main opponent is the minion working for them same boss. So we just enforce the same rules about 'only one minion' otherwise they fight. So yes – you can totally end up fighting amongst yourselves......

That's clumping.

Well – value of guile/magic/swords against locations is a hero thing....

As for the value of guile/magic/sword in defending a location – I think just putting slightly more requirements to assault on location based on those will solve it. So a place with 4 guile might also have a 2 guile requirement – and yes that 4 quile is not defending it very well but you still need guile to attack it so it sort of is...... It also makes spoiler attacks easier – go in with what you need and lose one of your attackers to guile and your whole attack grind to a halt.

One final thing – monsters don't give strength. Strength comes from orcs – hordes and hordes of plastic orcs without a stat card. Monsters however are all about the bonus stats.... Hopefully that might make things easier on people. Things like an ogre will now give swords reflecting there ability to inflict harm rather make you generally stronger.....

Next – hero manipulation and room acquiring.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Upon a throne of bone - Playtest Number 1

Play testing upon a throne of bone was always going to be hard - the logistics of getting 20 people together for a play test or at the very least replicating 20 people is going to be an epic challenge. On Friday I was surprised how hard it was to get 4 people together to test the conflict resolution system due to a series of random problems and interruptions but we managed it in the end.

The first thing we did was talk through the overall intent and structure of the game to give everybody some context because without it some of the design decision would just be odd. That went down well - and I've recruited at least a couple more players for when it actually happens. Which is nice.

For the conflict resolution system test each player was both overlord and minions.  Running around - dropping piles of stuff of at the locations scattered around my living room.  We had three kingdoms - each with four locations; the heart of the kingdom and 3 others places. We played about 4/5 turns with a reasonable pace despite no central timing.

We were also missing Heros. So targets were a pretty fixed thing - and one source of interference in the plans of others had been removed.

Raiding as a separate activity had been rolled into the single main mechanic via 'single stat' challenges is only a single stat counts toward victory in this location.  These were pretty limited in number but seemed to be ok.

It worked pretty well - specifically for a first play test it went really well. Which is not to say we don't have a lot of feedback.

One big bit of feedback is that there needs to be more locations - that are weaker - with much larger rewards.  So next conflict play test will need to be at least 6 locations a kingdom - many of them very weak to give players suitable targets in the first few turns.

A behaviour we saw a lot off and would be terrible for the main game was clumping. Dropping everything - including all three minions in one place. It's possible that the first set of changes would do something about this - as would the minions being separate people.  But the overlords need a damn good mechanistic reason not to simply create one mega stack to hand to a single player.

Based in this play test -  guile and magic and swords are seasoning on the combat broth. Strength wins fights and so is what really matters. Locations are defended by hordes of 1 stat mobs - so a big pile of guile (or magic) does very little vs a location as it only sends home one person. Equally swords only make things easier for the next person - who might well not be you. Even in pvp winning guile and magic were nice to do but as people did not have a large monsters the impact was limited.  That was changing even in the 4 rounds we had - I had some nasty wraiths and launched a spoiler attack which not only sent some stuff home but through the use of a spell killed a couple of monsters as well scuppering that players efforts. Thatt was done against a players giant stack - left enough strength to do something else useful.  But overall - it's not working quite as intended.

Or maybe it is - maybe a point of guile is just worth a lot less when costing the monsters? The test game was missing Heroes and they are one of the intended targets of guile and magic which might well reduce it's effective value as well.

Winning guile by a single point of guile was pretty pointless - unless the opponent was magic heavy.

I saw (and did) both commit stuff to claim a location and also wait to snipe (both to claim things without interferance and to spoil).

Spell cards are fun - and need to flow in. Even the weakest effect should be powered by mana so playing it reduces your later options. With one overlord being all the minions- a spell card a turn was ok - but would that would have been to little for the proper game.

Defending a location (as a location) with guile or magic generally did not work. The attacker would take a hit mainly a 1 strength ork but plough through.

Having a handful of Orc cards each of which are 1 strength was a pain and less clear then it could have been.

It was slightly fiddly but having locations impact on the kingdom heart worked well thematically. What did not was one player going for (and wining) a victory against a kingdom heart on the first turn.   So hearts need to start off even stronger and get pulled apart from fights around them. Starting Heros on the heart would mitigate that.  As would the the points from a heart being destruction not victory based - and victories elsewhere reducing the hit points of the heart.

That also introduced timing issue - what to resolve first?

That's what happened. Now what to do about it.....

So more, weaker, richer locations is a clear improvement. I'm thinking the start should be about 18 locations across 3 kingdoms. A kingdom does not have to the same number of locations - so one kingdom can be big and thus stronger while another can be much smaller and so easier to destroy.

 I'm a little worried about the impact of the 'richer' on the economy.  I think a good plan is 'loot cards' with victories taking there choice of the cards assigned to a location.  This allows loot to be a really wide range of things putting some variety into victory and giving the minion a choice 'what does the boss actually want. He said 'bring me a hobbit skull - but it's that's for 4 gold and an elf skull.....'  Also being the 'first attacker' has more value since you get first pick. This was an idea I'd been considering but I just ran out of time to put it into effect for the playtest.

One rather dramatic idea was 'the flattening the monsters'. This would make the monsters all 1 stat one point - while making the minion something you empower.  So you rock up with a horde of orc miniatures (feels thematic) and a minion that does a lot of additional stuff. A minion is either leading - or following and only a leading minions pile of funky stuff counts towards the battle. The follower does add - but not much.  That gives you a real reason not to clump.... How magic and guile work here is not clear and sending a minion home seems too big a reward...... It's a really major change following from a pretty successful play test so I've been thinking about that.

A less extreme version would be to drop the 'strength' monsters and just make strength come from the weight of orcs.  Leave guile, magic, and swords as things to come from monsters - but again that requires a rewrite of how guile and magic work.  One possible consideration would be to let Strength decide the winner - and let magic and guile and swords decide the consequences.  So winning on strength alone would only net you one victory- while winning on guile and magic as well would net you a total of 3.

Lots to think off.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

More! I demand More!

So we've got a problem. Not a giant problem – just a bit of a gap.

Most of the focus has been on the minion game - so I thought I’d look at the Overlord game. From playing ‘of Gods and Men’ this is an area I'm worried about because you could end up with an overlord chained to his desk doing nothing fun while there minions do everything.

From an earlier blog post we've got the following turn structure.

•Scouting - 10 minutes. Minions run round talking to people and finding out what is available. But no decisions are made -nothing can be deployed to anywhere.

•Decisions - 5 minutes. decisions get taken and stuff get sent to places. Once placed it cannot move so there is an element of brinkmanship

•Resolution - 10 minutes. Resolving the stuff that's been placed down.

•Explanation - 5 minutes. Minions taking stuff back and explaining what happened to there overlord.

But that’s a minion centric perspective of the turn sequence– looking at it from an overlord perspective it’s very different.

•Scouting - 10 minutes. Overlord sits at table – minions tell them stuff .

•Decisions - 5 minutes. Overlords sit at table – overlord makes decisions (spends gold etc) hands stuff to minions.

•Resolutions – 10 minutes. Overlord sits at table – resolves attacks on their base (if any).

•Explanation – 5 minutes. Overlord sits at table. Minions come back and explains what’s happened – overlord gives out favour depending on their whim.

Right now - I'm designing the game and I think being a minion is more fun….. Don’t get me wrong– the explanation phase (or mini game of aye dark overlord as I like to think of it) has the potential to be hilarious as your minions suck up to you, arse cover and generally blame each other….. It’s just the other three don’t seem brilliant……

This is a problem that got spotted a while back and two things have been suggested – the first is ‘scrying’ which allows an overlord to get up and go look at things. That’s nice but looking is the cousin for actually doing. Something to do when you want to see what’s happening, for when you want to know why your minion is over there rather than where you told them to go.  I do hope an overlord manages to sneak up behind their minion and just watch them for a while – if it ends with the minion going ‘he’s behind he isn't he?’ Then we have achieved the gold standard.

The second is a sub game played by the overlord during the resolution phase – the celestial puzzle – in which solving mastermind like puzzles provides big rewards. I'm currently thinking that awakens particularly giant and impressive creatures – the dragon, the Lich King, Coyote the trickster – that sort of thing.

The intent was that your options to guess would be powered by the actions your minions took in previous turns. In effect you need green tokens for guesses –so you send them to burn down the great forest no matter if it’s tactically sound or not. The goal was a driver which effects overlord thinking which is not clear to the minions “why has the master demanded I do that?” All part of the drive towards a dynamic of confused discord between minion and master which I think is a key goal.

That is currently a bit vague – but sounds cool.

The gap however is ‘the resolution phase’. Overlords literally have nothing to do in that – and we cannot start the celestial puzzle early because they need to head back to there table to resolve an attack at the start of the resolution phase (if one happens).

It’s also good if Overlord are being pulled in more than one direction – if there are demands then they must choose where to be.  Which in turn drives game play.  So lets create an overlord centric time table…..

5 minutes – sitting at the table while your minions run round looking at what is available.

5 minutes – listening to your minions tales of the outside world, ordering your imps to mine gold and mana, spawning foul beats to do your will, dispatching minion in charge of terrible armies to do your will.

5 minutes – sitting at the table while your minions run around miss-using your dark forces and generally failing to achieve your dark goals.

10 minutes – crushing those that dare confront you, scrying upon the actions of your pathetic minions, solving the unspeakable dark riddles of the universe to awaken the great dark forces.

5 minutes – basking in the tales of destruction your minions have delivered in your name, smiling at a chosen minion, frowning at the ones who failed you.  Maybe blasting one of them out of existence…..

Looking at that – there are actually two 5 minutes gaps.  The first bit where minions are looking for things, sure they might appear and say stuff but you've got another 5 minutes after that to actually spend  your money.  So while it might be good if you are at your table counting your gold and working out what to build but it’s not essential.  Then the second bit while things are being decided upon.

Now having overlords mess up the actions of their own minions (and themselves) has the potential for comic brilliance…..

So how about we remove control of hero’s from the minions and move that to the control of the overlord? Who by dint of being one step removed from where the rubber meets the road might well order things that get in the way of there own plans.

So that first five minute bit – that’s some sort of influence phase in which the overlords try to manipulate the hero's.  Using the same resource as the conjunction game seems reasonable since 'victory tokens' represent acts out in the wider game world - raiding, destroying, not leaving the toilet seat down etc.

To mix things up I want this to be a negative bidding - where you are bidding against somebody taking control of the hero's.  Thematically it's about spreading rumours about who 'the real threat' is.  Now I want hero's to be a sort of catch up mechanism - the player doing the worst will by default take control of the most hero's so those at the top will need to spend more resource - which in turn they will hopefully use against there closest competition not the person doing worse.  That said catch up mechanisms need to be subtle - and not sledge hammer.  So simply giving the hero's to the person at the bottom seems bad.  Lets have a simple system - the person who the least victory point tokens bid against them (any sort) takes control of the most hero's with ties being broken in favour of the lowest terror.  Obviously this sort of system needs a chance to co-ordinate and haggle so lets have this bit the time where overlords can get together and talk - before they have any idea what sort of opportunities are out there.

Haggling, deciding, and posting victory point tokens is a good 5 minutes activity.  Then back to there table they go - giving control 5 minutes to work out the winner.  Off there minions go to place resources somewhere - and back the overlords comes to assign there hero's.  Which is where I run into a blank - there's a logistics problem.  How to let the overlords have some control over hero's without just letting them walk up to the various kingdoms and do something.

For this I have no answer - but lets sleep on it and see what happens.  But overall - I'm happy with the shape and structure of this.  The overlord game just got a lot fuller.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

All a bit Gilgamesh and Enkidu.

So there is often a bit of back and forth between myself and the brazen duke kicking ideas around about ‘Upon a Throne of Bone’ – actually that’s not quite right – I regularly mail bomb the poor swine back to the stone age; that might be a better way of describing it.

He has charitably described this behaviour as productive rather than flighty (while writing this I had an idea about flipping the order of skill resolution but I ended up kicking it to the curb) but however you describe it - I've certainly cause some confusion.  I don't think my tendency to spam ideas and concepts rather than clear proposals.

This led him to write up an example prose version of a “Upon a throne of bone” conflict between two players around a system he thought was no longer the flavour of the month.  Thing is – it’s pretty spot on with how I was hoping it would work.

You can read it here and it's worth a read.  It’s not spot on – for example the magic card strikes me as overly fiddly for actual use but its all minor niggles.  In tone and feel – it’s pretty spot on and even better its thrown light on some dark areas I’d not really considered.

This is me trying to get the conflict resolution system down clearly and unambiguously.

I'm doing my best to be guided by the simple principle – think about the consequence you want and design towards those.

I'm going to sheer some flavour text off for now – because I'm hoping that will make things clearer as I write up a slightly more formal version of the conflict system for me, him and anybody still clinging on to this barrage of posts.

A unit has 4 stats (A, B, C and D) and working backwards what they do is….

D determines casualties.

C determines victory of the conflict.

B is strong against C (so if you have two forces that are close in ‘value’ but one that has more B and the other more C - that the first one will weaken the opposition and despite them having more C win).

A is strong against B (so if you have two forces that are close in ‘value’ but one that has more A and the other more B - that the first one will weaken the opposition and despite them being even in C).

However while a force that is strong in A will weaken a force that is strong in C – it won’t weaken it enough to win the conflict.

This gives us something close to A beats B – B beats C – C beats A.  However it’s not as simple as rock/paper/shotgun because you need some C to win the conflict, and because if I have 1 a and you have 5 B you will still win.

For version 1 of the rules – I want to consider that all statistics are equally strong (this might change following play test  but being able to make that assumption makes throwing numbers down on paper easier if I assume there all equal).  Statistic D only determines casualties – so if there is another way of killing something (ie by winning the combat) then it reduces the value of D.  So to keep D’s value it will be the only way of killing something.

A key component of the system I want is that ‘spoiler attacks’ sending in units that will not win but may reduce opponent’s strength such that they cannot achieve their objective should be a valid tactic.  So a force of A’s, & B’s would weaken an opponent’s force and even if they don’t win can prevent their opponent winning their actual objective.  Reduced casualties rates makes that a more viable tactic.

Given that A and B need to effect later combats (to have a spoiler effect) and given that killing units is ruled out by the need for D to maintain its value – then giving both of these skills the ability to ‘remove a unit(s) from combat’ seems to be a suitable power.  There should be a difference in how A and B achieve this result – they should be distinct even if they are fulfilling broadly the same game function.

For now I'm going to use the terms Guile, Magic, Strength and Violence for A, B, C, D.

So how does this actually look…..

Conflict resolution order and alliances

Before any conflict against a location defending strength is decided Overlord forces will fight amongst themselves.

A minion may choose to join their force with another overlord – however they are utterly under the control of the overlord and all benefits are given to that overlord.

A minion may choose to withdraw their forces from a location rather than resolve a conflict - in doing so they all go home and cannot be used in another location.

Conflicts among overlords will be resolved in terror order – with the two highest terrors resolving there conflict first.

Minions and decisions.

The presence of a minion allows a player to make a choice - if there is no minion present then it falls to control to decide following certain default rules.

Resolution and skills

Skills resolve in a set order.

Guile resolves first – the winning guile side may send one unit home with strength less than the amount by which they have won the conflict.  By default (no minion present to choose) the strongest that can be effected is chosen, tie breaking is based off Magic, and then by random choice.

This will be strong against magic because units with magic will tend to have lower strength because they will have used their value in obtaining magic.  If will be weak against strength because 4 units of guile will at best send home 3 units of strength.

Magic resolves second – the winning magic side may end one unit home with a magic less than amount by which they have won the conflict.  By default (no minion present to choose) the strongest that can be effected is chosen, tie breaking is based off swords, and then by random choice.

This will be strong against strength because those units with a high strength will tend to have a low/no magic.  It is weak against guile because it’s used after guile and so cannot affect that.

Strength resolves third – the winning side wins the conflict.  Between two overlords that means the loser’s entire force cannot carry out any more conflicts this turn.   Between an overlord and a location that means the location has suffered a defeat (what that means to be decided later).

This makes strength a very all or nothing stat – you win or you lose.  Losing by a bit is the same game effect as losing by a lot.  I’m ok with that – it’s one less bit of maths to do which is nice.  Where people might feel a failure of theme is that winning a conflict should inflict casualties on the loser.

Violence resolve fourth and final – the winner of the violence conflict kills one creature with a strength less than the amount they won by. By default (no minion present to choose) the strongest that can be affected is chosen tie breaking is by random choice.

Consequences, Options and opinions

One consequence of this system is that it requires creatures with 0 strength/magic so that creatures can be affected by somebody winning a guile or magic or sword contest by a single point.

Where this system falls down is that Guile and Magic do not feel very different.  I’d be tempted to give guile more flexibility by allowing it to affect multiple opponents – but I'm not sure how to word that such that they cannot just send home infinite numbers of 0 strength opponents.  If I win by 1 I want to be able to send home at most 0 strength of creature, and at most 1 creature; if I win by 2 I want to be able to send home at most 1 strengths worth of creature(s) and at most 2 creatures etc.   But not sure how to phrase that…..

Overlord vs Overlord violence

That details overlord vs overlord conflict – which needs to be the most interesting and detailed sort of conflict since it involves two players (which is basically PvP).  However it will not be the most common conflict – that will be the overlord vs a location conflict and if the Brazen Duke post demonstrated anything it was that I've not given that much thought to player vs location conflict (which is basically PvE).

The brazen duke (good old BD as we like to call him) talks about how a location does not resist in the same way as a player – it’s a passive speed bump.  To quote him…

“Once the battle is done, I'll assault the Castle. Guile and Magic do not have Rounds at locations, but rather meet pre-requisites.”

Which I have to admit is not what I was thinking – I was thinking that a location would resist in exactly the same way as a PC with a full range of skills.  Obviously sending home would matter a lot less as it would be the last fight at that location – but it could still happen and still have value.  Now BD’s plan has one major advantage – it’s quick and it’s simple.   So in a game of 20 players with a 10 minute window to resolve conflicts in should not be underestimated as an advantage.  So let’s consider what impacts it has.

Well it makes the stat required up to a certain point – and after a certain point makes it pointless.  If the threshold of guile is 3 – then 2 is worthless and 4 no advantage at all other then as insurance.  This does make spoiler attacks much easier to work out – it needs 3 guile, you go in with 4 guile I just need to drive two guile away and boom.  Your options for getting around my spoiler – are heavily reduced if your spell does not grant guile then it’s no use.  Under a full conflict you could get round a weak guile by increasing your strength to compensate.

The other issue is a little nebulous but having two systems (one for PvE and one for PvP) means that the players and refs will have less experience in resolving the conflicts which will slow things down and complicate things when it comes to PvP actually happening.

But we are left with a bunch of questions - what does guile, magic, or sword do against a location?  Does a location have its own set of defenders – with their own stats that can be knocked out?  Seems a bit awkward and tricky if you ask me – I’d rather assumed that the defenders were a characterless amorphous blob of 1 stat pieces.  So then what good does having two more guile then the defender actually do if all I can do is send home a 1 strength defender?

I think the answer to that is Hero’s.  So your standard defender of a location is worth 1 of whatever stat they are providing and nothing else.  Hero’s are more significant – and rated much like a monster.  Rouges bring guile, mages bring magic, and warriors bring strength – but like a monster they can have more then one stat.  They are always at least 2 in something – setting them apart from the common defenders.  They provide bigger targets that make having a surfeit of guile or magic worth having.

Swords and hero’s present an interesting challenge – can you kill a hero?  Thematically I’d say not – just drive them back to the heart of the nearest kingdom…..  If they are there then sorry - swords are a bit useless.

So let’s stick with – the PvE and PvP systems being the same for now.  Unless play test screams ‘what a terrible idea!’

That’s not to say that a location won’t also have requirements – guile 2 or the keyword flying – or even bonus for meeting certain conditions – have siege and get +3 strength against the really big wall.  Also a location might exclude certain sorts of conflict – no guile contest here.  All in the name of making the locations different from each other – not just the same thing with different numbers.

BD did however manage to solve one of my design issues for you – lives for locations.  Or to quote him once more…..

“The Castle has a Location Value of 3, but has been defeated twice, so once more will finish it.”

Which makes perfect sense – and is now clearly part of the game.  So defeating a location does not automatically destroy it and we know that the person destroying it gets the terror.  So what do you get out of making the early attacks?  How about first pick of the loot?  Each location gets dealt as many loot cards it has lives/location strength/resilience (insert your own word here).  When you win you get one of the loot cards – your pick.  So who ever goes first gets to choose and also gets to see what else is there.  Give the loot cards a bit of a range – and you are driving behaviour.  A nice little reward…..

Still to discuss – Raiding, and other actions.

Thus endeth the Epic - well done for getting to the bottom.  If you in fact did.......

Monday, 10 November 2014

Curse my brain......

I know I needed to throw stuff at paper and see if stuff sticks - but overnight my brain has thrown something at me.....

The proposed system looks like this (drag the text out from the middle of the previous post)

"The intent is that a combat will take place in 4 stages – a guile stage, a magic (magic could be called ranged) stage, a strength stage, and a casualties stage. The strength stage decides the winner of the combat – while the guile and magic stage have an impact on the up and coming conflict.

The intent of the combat system is to limit casualties so nobody will ever lose to much in a single go; that a weaker attacker can have an impact on a stronger force allowing 'spoiler attacks'.

The current rough idea is that the winner of the guile contest sends a monster home (back to the overlords base) with a strength no greater then the amount they won by; the winner of the magic contest kills a monster with a strength no greater then the amount they won by; the highest strength wins the contest; the loser takes a casualty with a strength no greater then the amount they lost by as does the person with the least swords (you guessed it) with a strength no greater then they amount they lost by. Person inflicting the casualty choices – if no player is present to decide the lose then the strongest possible is removed – with a dice roll breaking ties. This may well need some sort of tweaking for balance but that is the current idea."

The thought that kicked in was 'had I created a system that was complicated but amounted to 'highest total of stats wins'?  Because guile allows the removal of strength equal to the amount more of it you have - it's the same impact on the final event as having a point of strength.  Magic does the same trick.....

But while writing this out I realised that actually it is more complicated then that......

Well guile and strength allow you to remove an opponent that has swords - so they can both cause damage flip (the person who wins magic and guile is likely to win the swords contest as well).

So guile does have an impact because it activates before magic and strength - so you can remove an enemy piece with strong magic from the board before it gets to use it's magic (provided it's strength is lower then it's magic).

Magic on the other hand does affect the outcome of the contest in a one to one manner the same as strength but also allows you to kill an extra piece of the opponent.

So is magic better then strength?

Well maybe not.  If player a has 2 magic and 2 strength, and player b has 3 strength - who wins?    Depends on how the 3 strength is made up.  If it's all 1 points - then it's a draw (player b loses 1 strength to magic so it it two two. If it's a 2 and a 1 - then player A wins - player b lose 2 strength to magic so it's two - one.  If it's a 3 then player B wins (magic is not strong enough to achieve anything and the total is 2-3).  Guile also has the same problem but can affect something magical as well....

Equally if I've got 10 magic and you have none - I'm still only sending one piece home so my magic is not as strong en mass.  It's something you just want a bit more of then the opponent not masses more then the opponent.

So guile is effective against magic and swords, magic is effective against swords and an extra chance to kill - but both are never going to be the only thing you relay on.

What would happen if you just ignored everything but 1 strength monsters? Well I think you'd win a lot in the short term- but your casualty rate would be higher although not massively higher - as you'd lose two a conflict (swords and magic) while probably inflicting one (winning the contest) however they would be low cost casualties and what the opponent is using might not be......

Take home from this.......  big monsters might need to be cheaper in terms of resources on a point by point basis then little monsters (which can also be more flexibly deployed).  Spells will need to provide some options of dealing with hordes of monsters - so fireball that allows you to split your strength onto multiple targets.    

Which takes me back to "I need to throw some stuff at the wall and see what sticks" but has thrown up some possible areas of interest.  So it was probably worth the diversion.  At least if you are me......

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Throw stuff at a page and see what sticks....

So we have the statistics that a monster might have - Guile, Magic, Strength, and Swords (ability to inflict casualties).

Now we need some classic monsters/forces that might follow an overlord and roughly what stats they would have.  Feel free to chime in on the comments......  

Your bog standard unit is the Orc - so that is strength 1.
Then there is the Urak Hai who are an orc with more capacity for violence - so strength 1 - sword 1.
Then there is the Ogre who is stronger then the orc - strength 2.
Then there is the giant who is the strongest  - strength 4 (but vulnerable to guile in some way perhaps), sword 1.

Then we have the kobold- cunning but very little else - with guile of 1.
Spiders are creatures of guile and poison - so guile 2, strength 1, sword 1.
Assassins are devious and clever - guile 2, sword 2
Drow Knights are as tough as they smart - guile 3, strength 3

Evil Spirits seem to be your best simple magical creature - magic 1.
Ghosts are a step above them - magic 1, sword 1.  Something that will end up killing the stuff it faces.
Succubus are clever and magical but not that strong in a fight- guile 2, magic 2, strength 1
Ogre mages defy the stereotype of the weak mage - magic 3, strength 2.

Two other sets of things might turn up - things that can fly, things that can bash down castle walls - so that's key words 'fly' and key word 'siege' sorted that might turn up....

Battering Ram - strength 2 - keyword siege.
Black Swans - Strength 1 - sword 1 - key word flying

Dragons are the biggest and meanest creatures - since there strong, cunning, magically powerful, can fly and horribly dangerous.  So strength 3, guile 3, magic 3 and 2 swords - keyword fly.  That would mean a dragon would lose to a giant apart from it's vulnerability to guile however.

I suspect that's enough to throw different combinations together to see what comes out on top - is strength just best?  Does guile or magic make a big difference?  Is it just the biggest stake that wins?

But suggestions more then welcome......

Firefly - you can't take my cards from me

So I have finally played the firefly game and the game that it reminds me of most is Arkham horror.  Which if you know my opinions on that abomination that should means your proberbly going 'oh dear' but it's not that bad.

It does not resemble each other because of mechanics or theme but because they both take ages, require a table the size of the verse, are massively random, and have a horrible tendency for those doing well to keep doing well.  

What firefly does do is nail the theme.  Arkham horror draped itself in the language of Cthulhu but never felt right to me.  I winced when somebody said 'I'll shotgun the shogoth' when I played.  Firefly however hits no such duff notes theme wise - and since I'm more of a firefly fan then I am Cthulhu purist that's not nothing.....

All of this is based on a single play though and It's possible we had a duff mission - but god damn that was hard and time consuming (unless we were doing something wrong and/or stupid - always possible). $7,000 cash to achieve the first goal? After two and a half hours of play I had just enough cash to do that - but was on the wrong side of the rutting verse..... However people were about to start collapsing at that point so the game was called before any could have achieved that first goal.  I suspect I had a good chance at goal 2 and three in quick succession at that point.

The misbehaving cards are supper thematic - and honestly pulling a revear card that was just pure bad and suddenly spotting that I could progress on it because I had river tam and that was basically the start of the movie?  Fabulous but a good example of just how luck driven the game is.  Massive gun skills just reduced the card to a bad fail but having River Tam suddenly everything is golden.   From drawing the right equipment and character cards, to drawing good travel cards, to drawing misbehaving cards that matched your abilities or were nice, to just getting the number you need on the dice - pure damn chance.  Failure brings penalties - making it less likely you'll succeed next time and so starts a terrible feedback loop.   Doing well makes you do well; doing badly makes you do badly.

I would play again - but I'm aware I might just have a terrible time and die alone, broke in a ship out of gas....  Which is without doubt utterly thematic since they always felt like they were one job away from disaster - but it sucks as a game mechanic.

So what would I change - because that's the point of reviewing things for me - looking for places to make changes and flex my design muscles

Firstly movement - just draw a single damn card - and have it present a problem/opportunity that costs movement rather then stops you dead. You'll get around the verse a damn site quicker and more predictably.

Secondly have everybody have a pool of plus points that they can use to add to dice. So you can punch through a bad dice roll - get that pool enhanced  if you fail at something - so a failure at least feels like your moving closer to success.

Thirdly have success in misbehaving saved - so you can actually make progress on something.  Rather then 2/3 doing it and suddenly bang back to square 1 you go.

Fourthly - have an action you can do at any time to get some sort of bonus in a later turn. Because from time to time you'll find yourself with nothing to do - and that's bloody annoying. It would also let you wind up to achieving something big.  Then if your running without 'luck' that's your choice to run things close to the bone - rather then something random that happens.  This and number two should probably be connected....

Fourthly - if you fail at a misbehaving you should get a chance to save the misbehaving so you can see what you'll need to do next time you try again rather then it being back to square 1.  

Fifthly - make it so you don't need all three skills at a high level to succeed - two out of 3 should be enough to get you through.

Of these I suspect you could bring in 2, 3 and 4 as house rules of some sort, 1 or 5 would need a complete redesign of the game.......

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Upon a Throne of Bone - taking shape.

So Friday morning – me and SH (if he's got a blog I don't know about it) sat down and talk over 'Upon A Throne Of Bone'. It was nice to have somebody to talk to and bounce ideas off – you can roughly outline stuff, check what the other person meant, and explore why you might want certain things. It also let me talk about 'Aye Dark Overlord' and it's clear that story telling game is a major inspiration to me. In fact what I'm trying to do is create little mini rounds of Aye Dark Overlord but ones in which you've not automatically failed and are in fact defending how well you actually did.....

This is me trying to get as much of that down in one place as possible – if for no other reason then it lets SH point out stuff I'd completely forgotten.

I think most of the structure from the previous posts can stay.

But I shared the background that had been rattling around in my head for a while – which made some of the rest of the game decisions lock into place so that's worth sharing....

It is the time of the great conjunction – for a brief while the dark forces can escape there prisons and threaten the lands of men - but soon enough the conjunction will end and the dark forces will once more me pulled back. Each overlord wishes to be remembered as they greatest force of terror once the conjunction is over while your minions wish to ensure they go back into the prison as your most favoured minion. Because if it's bad enough being trapped in the prison with a bored and angry overlord – now imagine how much worse it is if your trapped in a supernatural prison with a bored and angry overlord who does not hold a grudge against you......

Game wise this means the basic structure is - Overlords want to gain terror but have few ways of gaining terror directly. They do control resources that minions can use to gain terror – and they control the distribution of favour to minions.

Two special case for that however....

Minions will have a little mission card (whim cards) which if they complete will gain them a minor amount of favour directly – filling whims the overlord player has no idea he has. This is to give a minion a reason to go slightly off mission in an effort to fullfill a whim.

Also the overlord during the resolution phase will be able to be involved in some sort of puzzle game – seeking to unlock powerful bonus resources and also obtaining terror directly. This is currently a bit mastermind based more details to follow however the tokens for use in the game are obtained via actions in the world (ie raiding, destroying locations).

One key aspect is that we are giving the overlord player some tools to help them manage there minions but the managerial style they adopt is entirely there choice.

There was also a lot of discussion about the conflict resolution system – it's still a work in progress but there was a lot going on there.

There are kingdoms – kingdoms are a collection of 'things' that are held together by a single central strong location. Destroying that strong location destroys the kingdom and all associated things giving a really large amount of terror (and brings a new, stronger kingdom into play).....

Destroying locations within that kingdom give you terror and weakens the central location making it easier to destroy.

You can also choose to raid a kingdom – which gathers you resources and/or terror and weakens the kingdom as well.

The full conflict resolution is used when trying to destroying a location or when fighting another overlords forces.

Locations and monsters have four statistics. These are guile, magic, strength, and swords. A location can also have requirements – for example at least 3 magic, or other keyword requirements. For example the location 'the lonely crag' requires 'flying'.

Combat does not involve any dice – this is because we wanted to remove the 'I rolled badly' excuse for minions. However some randomness was felt to be good – so each location will be dealt a card that changes it's values in some way. That card will remain in effect for the whole turn – so every person interacting against the same strength.

The intent is that a combat will take place in 4 stages – a guile stage, a magic (magic could be called ranged) stage, a strength stage, and a casualties stage. The strength stage decides the winner of the combat – while the guile and magic stage have an impact on the up and coming conflict.

The intent of the combat system is to limit casualties so nobody will ever lose to much in a single go; that a weaker attacker can have an impact on a stronger force allowing 'spoiler attacks'.

The current rough idea is that the winner of the guile contest sends a monster home (back to the overlords base) with a strength no greater then the amount they won by; the winner of the magic contest kills a monster with a strength no greater then the amount they won by; the highest strength wins the contest; the loser takes a casualty with a strength no greater then the amount they lost by as does the person with the least swords (you guessed it) with a strength no greater then they amount they lost by. Person inflicting the casualty choices – if no player is present to decide the lose then the strongest possible is removed – with a dice roll breaking ties. This may well need some sort of tweaking for balance but that is the current idea.

Spells are carried by minions – and if a minion is present at a battle they can play a spell (powered by mana) to effect the battle. Minions get spells and mana of the Overlord - but once they've got them they are there's to use or not use.  Some sort of spell hard limit is required I think.....

 A minion may also decide to count themselves as having single point of any characteristic (including swords) for the duration of a contest.

Not all contests use the full method – a number of them are simple auction contests. In those cases a minion counts as the resource – and then also wins ties (if your still tied then it's coin flip time).

Raiding is a bidding system based around guile – the amount of guile you have sent is your bid and highest bid takes the first pile of resources (gold and terror).

Obtaining plans is a bidding system based around gold – the highest amount of gold gets first pick of available plans. This means that players are setting the prices of rooms.....

Controlling hero's is a bidding system – currently based around the magic statistic (corruption).
A hero remains stationary unless somebody bids for control of that hero. The evil overlord at the bottom of the terror track will gain bonus biding that can only be used when bidding for control of a hero – because hero's will tend towards fighting the biggest and meanest hero.

A hero placed on a location will add there statistics to that locations difficulty.  So a hero does not affect raiding, obtaining building plans, or obtaining hero's.

A hero placed upon an overlords base will attack that base – causing damage and costing terror. How a base defends itself is not clear – it wants to be a slow grind through the base destroying things until the heroes are worn down. But not sure how to make that happen.

We are currently missing a quest mechanic – allowing minions and overlords to pursue particular goals. One end of this is simple enough – completing a quest opens up a new location that has a token based requirement to attack it while giving you the token. The other end of the process and making that interesting and unique is not yet clear although it may involve using tokens obtained from activities such as raiding that are also useful in the overlord puzzle game.

Overall a very useful meeting – getting even a skeleton of a system agreed is a fantastic step forwards.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

What maketh the mega game?

So my friend – lets call him ‘the Brazen Duke’ went along to the same mega-game I did and he had a much better time of it; in fact enjoyed it enough that he went for another one.  In all fairness he did invite me to the second one and I would have gone if I’d not been in Whitby with lots of Goths - I'd show you a photo but I've never quite managed to find one that sums it up.....

Anyway prompted by a post on the mega-games web page he’s written an article about just how many people you need for a game to be ‘a mega-game’.  You can find it here (look at me linking to other bloggers I know – like I’m not just making this stuff up).

Just in case you’ve not read it – spoilers sweetie - his conclusion is 24.  Which as somebody who’s trying to organise something mega-game-alike with about 20 people max is at least a little awkward…..

He's added two things I don't think you have to have - I mean they might well be nice but I don't think they are actually required.  These are 1) a group of 'rouge agents' who don't quite work the way the majority of the players do and 2) a group to spread information around.

I think if you had neither of those things and still had 200 people playing the sub departments of an insane Brazil like bureaucracy - you'd still have a mega game.  Note to self - file that idea away as something else to explore another day....

The question switches about half way down - from what number do you need for a mega-game over to 'a mega-game experience that doesn't feel like something is missing' which is a subtly different question.  Because that is - if you peel away the layers - what do you need to make a good mega game....

Interestingly enough I don't think 'Of Gods and Men' quite fulfils his criteria either - there were no 'Intelligence operatives' in gods and men.   The closest were the gods - but I think they were much closer to a second set of rouge agents then people moving information round (with or without an agenda).

Now obviously I want to make 'a good' mega-game - who'd want to make a bad one?  But I don't have 24 players - I've got 20 at most - which I make out to be 16 players and 4 controls.  Maybe it would be better with 24 players but I have to design to what I've got. So it's about making the bes choices I can.....

Lets look at playable hero's - based on comments some people think they should be included so why are they not.  There missing because I rate the Brazen dukes first statement as more important then he does....
“Each standard team needs a leader and two other people with potentially conflicting priorities. In this way, the team is always discussing/debating/arguing and the leader is always making difficult choices. If this isn't happening, I really don't think we're megagaming.”

Which gives you inter team rivally - which is important.  I just disagree and think that in this case you need at least 4 people in a team - one on top and 3 below.  This gives more room to jockey for position then just 'top or bottom'.

Interestingly enough in my 3 person team at Of Gods and Men there was no jockeying for position - partially because there was only 3 of us in total - but I mainly think because had nothing to fight for - the only thing we could see was 'position of the city state'  there was nothing for me personally to try and obtain.....  Which is why there needs to be a clear resource that the minions care about - in this case 'favour of the overlord'.  Everything they do in the rest of the game is actually about trying to get hold of that......

You also need more then 1 team because you want inter team rivallry - and here I agree with the duke at least 4 teams is the minimum.

At which point - that's my 16 players used up.....

I mean there are other structures - in which you do get hero's... ....

Structure A – in which we have 10 players each playing an overlord in completion with each other – while 6 players run around being hero’s opposing them all.

Structure B – in which we have 1 player playing an overlord while 9 players are there minions all vying for favour while 6 players run around being hero’s opposing them.

Structure A is all about team rivalry (ok a team of 1 but the point stands) while structure B is all about inter team rivalry.

They are both valid structures and they could both work – but I think they are worse game design choices then 4 teams of 4 because they only have one of the two types of rivalry.  In doing this I do appear to be following what the mega game people seem to think is a key defining characteristic of a mega game –  to quote there about page….

“A Megagame is a multi-player game, in which, usually the participants are organised into teams, and those teams into an hierarchy of teams".

So with 20 players - something had to give - and for me that's hero's and bards.....

As a side note – while writing this out I did come up with a  possible very different structure for ‘upon a throne of bone’ – One evil overlord – with 3 chief minions – and 9 minions……  Opposed by 3 hero’s trying to desperately save the kingdom (or maybe 3 kings trying to save there kingdom while still staying in charge - sure you can get a hero to save you but do you really want to give away your kingdom)…….

The evil overlord wants to rule – the chief minions wants to become the evil overlord – while the minions want to become chief minions….  It would be a very different game but I think it might work…….  The three 'teams' is ok because you've got an overlord trying to keep things working - to much unsubtle picking on one team is bad for him so he would step in.  In that case you can have just 3 teams.....

Monday, 3 November 2014

Upon a throne of bone

If we want this to be an actual thing we had best try to put some meat on those bones (pun intended) - so let's talk system.

System wise the only thing currently certain is that a minion being present at an action makes it more likely that you will win that event. Pretty much anything else is up for grabs.......

A good question is 'what should it have?'

Well it should have monsters because what is an overlord without vile beasts?  Those monsters need to have a bit of colour and texture about them -sending 5 orcs should not be the same as sending 1 dragon even if an Orc has a strength of 1 while a dragon has a strength of 5......

It should have magic - horrible surprises and vile tricks that can swing things.  Having different flavours of magic would be good - one overlord might prevent harm coming to there minions while another might just bring back there killed minions as undead creatures.

It should have plans - an evil overlord should be working towards something rather then it just be a random of series of events.  Some of them the overlord needs to achieve- some of them just need to be done.... So destroying the forest glade might make you feared but might also advance another overlords plans....

Well - plans are easy enough - overlords have goals to achieve - essentially secret victory point cards that are scored at the end.....

Monsters are something that lasts - a resource that lasts from turn to turn (although something that can be lost) - an investment of resources that returns a fixed reusable result. I don't think loosing them should be a complete lose - so how about the cost of getting a monster is two fold. The first part is building somewhere for them to live - the second is luring a monster into that room. If a monster dies you need to acquire a new one - but the room remains.  Nice bit about this - your overlord has a base that they develop over the course of the game which feel very appropriate.

Spells are secret things that are used when needed - and what they do is not always clear - so cards sound the right sort of effect for that. In fact some sort of pyramidal effect might be good - so you can always receive some sort big bonus if you pump enough resources into it........ As overlords don't go in

Speaking of resources it's always a good idea to have more then 1 resource - so for now we will have the classic gold and mana.  Mana being more connected to spells and one off effects - while gold is connected more to monsters.

We've also got the secondary resources of 'space to build a room' so getting an Orc room means less space for a dragon.

We could have a lot more resources - want a dragon - then you need a dragon egg. But I suspect it would be better to make acquiring new build options a secondary resource on its own. So want a dragon and the first step is to acquire the dragons den build card somehow.

So assuming we have an income of gold and mana - how fixed and how fungible is that? Can a player boost gold production at the cost of mana or vice versa? I think that should be a choice they can make.

So let's lift an idea from dungeon master and give each overlord a bunch of imps that they send to places each turn.

So want to make space for a room - send some imps to dig it out. Want gold - send some imps to the gold mine - want spells send them to the library....

Which immediately presents a question - can you increase the number of imps you've got?  I suspect the answer to that is yes but you need to balance the cost very carefully otherwise why would you not get more imps? If it's a gold to get and imp and imp gets you a gold then of course you will.  A good limitation on that might be the need to acquire 'more imp quarters' in play so there is an opportunity cost (what other thing are you passing up) to acquiring more imps.

That still leaves the actual resolution system to explore......

Monday, 27 October 2014

Ideas - we've got 'em!

So I was talking to a friend of mine about maybe trying to morph ‘of gods and men’ (the mega game I played and did not overly enjoy) into something suitable for a smaller group of people – and he said ‘why not design something from scratch?’

To which I replied ‘Well I really like ancient Greece so that’s a good theme – and something new would require a new theme which I don’t have.’ 

About 30 seconds later he got an e-mail that said ‘Aye dark overlord/dungeon master the mega game' and I had a theme…..  What follows is the early draft of some ideas – nothing specific but generally getting stuff written down…..

So we’d be looking at something for at most 20 players – running at either Stabcon and/or Bounceon in early January (assuming there was enough interest at either of those).

It’s not got a final name but for now it’s called ‘Upon a Throne of Bone’ (‘…and tomorrow the world!’ was one suggestion but that made me think of 1960’s evil organisations and supper spies rather than fantasy).

First decision – is everybody an evil overlord?  I’d say not – I think you want a team made up of one evil overlord and a number of minions with the evil overlord being in charge but limited in some way and so reliant on their minions.

One thing I noticed out of gods and men was that based on the game structure our team only had one goal – gain prestige for the city – which rather removed internal conflict (or at least it did on ours).  So that’s the first change - even if you are in a team – you need to have goals that don’t totally line up. 

So we shall have an evil overlord that wants to the greatest evil overlord – while the minions just want to be the most loved of the minions for their Evil overlord - which immediately gets us the rather joyful tittle tattle and sucking up that makes ‘Aye Dark Overlord’ fun to play.

The second decision – what about the good guys?  Well if you are looking to have teams of bad guys, and those teams are in conflict, then we need at least 4 of them and each one of at least 4 players.  That’s 16 of your players already used up – if you've got some GM’s as well – that’s your twenty players.  So for now – the good guys are a facet of the game to be manipulated and used by players – not players in and of themselves.

So the third decision - evil Overlords are the decision makers but since limiting information makes game then they are reliant on getting information from their Minions in order to make those decisions.   This means that (generally speaking) an evil overlord needs to be chained to their base – not able to get out and look what options are available.  Note of caution – of gods and men chained there ‘Wanex’ to the table and it caused problems because it never felt (at least for us) that the Wanex had that much to do.  I was certainly bored when I was the Wanex so need to do something about that….

Decision the 4th – I thought the turn structure of ‘Of gods and men’ was not clearly split - specifically the time to make decisions and the time to negotiate rather ran into each other.

So the turn structure I’d go with would be……

  • Scouting - 10 minutes.  Minions run round talking to people and finding out what is available.  But no decisions are made - nothing can be deployed to anywhere.
  • Decisions - 5 minutes. decisions get taken and stuff get sent to places.  Once placed it can not move so there is an element of brinkmanship
  • Resolution - 10 minutes.  Resolving the stuff that's been placed down.
  • Explanation - 5 minutes.  Minions taking stuff back and explaining what happened to there overlord.

And then back to the top – one turn every 30 minutes.  A fair amount of time pressure – but it kept the game flowing.

The presence of a player – a minion – has to be significant. More than just a tie breaker – having a minion there will allow you to swing things in your favour.  The flip side of this is that you will sometimes be deploying resources without a minion – so any rules system has to be able to handle that, and the range of options big enough that doing that seems like a plan.

So decision the 5th – a player brings with them an inherent bonus, and there are more things you have to do in a turn then you have minions.

Heroes’ are clearly something important – and since there are no good players they need to be under bad guy control. But they need to be different from monsters and other things that are under the direct control of players. So they are a weapon to direct against others players– something you don’t might losing because you won’t control it next turn……

Design decision 6 – it is possible to get given temporary control of heroes. These can be placed in areas to act as bonus to defence against any attackers – or placed on a villains table to attack them. They can never be combined with monsters or the forces of darkness – they just do their thing even against you if you end up facing them.

That’s as far as I’ve got so far…..

The next key decision is action resolution – so any suggestions for  favourite action resolutions mechanisms that might work in this situation?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

There's a theme developing.....

This is not really a coherent set of ideas – more just a bunch of stuff about them thrown at a wall to see what sticks.

All themes great and small

So battles lines is allegedly a game about the battles of Alexander and Darius – and personally invokes the feeling of being a general in the ancient world but does not make me feel like either Alexander or Darius.  Does that have a themed lightly papered on?  It has certainly failed to draw out it’s specific theme but with regards it’s general theme it’s done very well.

Then there is Caverna which makes me feel like a farmer; with the sending of people out to work and the breeding of animals the growing of food it really does invoke farmer to me. Dwarf on the other hand – I don’t really get that. The art work does, the names of the cards are fine, but the game play does not make me feel dwarven. Which is a shame – as I do love a good dwarf.

These are both case where a game invokes its grand theme but fails to invoke a more specific theme.

I suspect that grand theme can be invoked by game mechanics but invoking a specific theme requires fidelity. The game mechanics can make you feel like a civil war general but only fidelity will make you feel like you are commanding at Gettysburg.

As a side note I'm not sure how a game would make me feel like Alexander the Great other than by convincing me I could not possibly lose before the game started, giving my opponent all the possible benefits and then have me still winning. Hmmmm maybe Darius gets all the fixed advantages – more troops, better supplies but Alexander gets a big hand of cards that lets him break the rules and win anyway…… Digression over.

Weakly Themed Games

For some people a game having a weak theme is a problem but it’s not a new thing - theming has been here since the first person looked at a chess board and said “we call that one castle”. Not every game has a theme – new abstract games are being produced but they are definitely in a minority. Why did Reiner Kentize look at the bidding and set collection game design that became Ra and think “Ancient Egypt – that’s what this says to me……”

I can think of 4 reasons to theme a game.

The first reason is money – a game about ancient Egypt will sell better than ‘utterly abstract set collection game’ if only because it gives marketing weasels something to hang hooks on. I can certainly see somebody turning up with their game and being told ‘pirates are big right now – make it about pirates’. I've no practical experience that says either way– but I've been told it happens in novels. Apparently most serialised novels start life as standalone novels, get told it’s not good enough but if they change it around a bit it would work. Which is why sometimes events/technology/actions occur that make no damn sense in world – I'm looking at you Babylon 5 book where they set their PPG’s to stun….

The second reason is design drift – it started off connected to the theme but over the course of the design as things got updated, altered, or even completely changed it lost that connection. Having seen how much changed over the course of Giant Stone Head this I can believe – when faced with playability/balance issues I was willing to ditch theme/fidelity pretty easily because that first set matter a lot more.

The third reason is that game designers are weird people –and see connections that other people just would not. If Giant Stone Head had ever been published then people might well have looked at it and gone ‘the theme is just pasted on!” despite the fact that it was always themed around Giant Stone Heads and the destruction of your environment in pursuit of something impractical.

The fourth is that everything needs to be called something. You've designed a novel and interesting mechanic now you need a way of refereeing everything. You could invent words or symbols but that’s awkward.  Players often do stop using the words you chose and say ‘you’ll need three blue and a green’ so it’s not impossible but it’s easier for them to do if they choose then you to enforce it.  Actually is that a decent way of detecting  ‘Weak Theme’?  If the players stop calling it what the game says it represents and starts calling it by some name that is a descriptor for example blue cube?

Anyway – that need for reference is especially true of a really complicated game – you might consider Ora et Labora to be weekly themed around monks and it’s a fair cop. But try and imagine that game without any theme at all –keeping track of the different resources and how they interact and update would be hellish.

Using names also allows you to hit another key word- intuitive. A game where things flow together and make sense is easier learn and generally better than one where things don’t mesh. The rule X turns into Y is awkward– where as iron turns into weapons is much easier to remember. Considering Ra - A’s force discard of B’s unless C is harder to remember then drought forces loss of Nile unless there is a flood because that already got somewhere to hang that info in your brain.

Feeling is expectation

So this article by game designer Bruno Faidutti (the designer of Ad astra) is an interesting look at the meaning behind the themes that board game designers choose– and how certain elements get ignored. I mean does anybody think those little brown disk in Peurto Rico are really ‘colonists’? It’s ok there’s an English translation below the foreign.

I liked the article and it chimed a cord with me; after all having  played (and enjoyed Brass) I found I was struck by the total absence of people and the hideous working conditions they underwent to make the industrial revolution happen. Which is why one of the ideas in the game design pad is ‘these dark satanic mills’ in which while you mine coal and process cotton your victory points come from maiming and killing poor people in your hideous factory’s. It has never got beyond the concept stage sadly.

For me the standout sentence of the article was

“For the game designer, India or Chine, Middle Ages or Antiquity, are not geographical places or historical times, they are just topoi, sets of standard references, which must not be more sophisticated than those mastered by the player.”

This fits my idea that theme is really about feeling. Because if I as a game designer was 100% accurate in what I did but you as a player had a different understanding of the circumstances then the game would lose any thematic feel to the player. Playing Istanbul over Essen weekend somebody said “Of course there’s are rugs – if you set a game in Istanbul and there were no rugs I’d be really disappointed’ I agreed with him – of course there are rugs in a game about Istanbul because that’s the stereotype I share with him.   Somebody over at board game geek has already suggested an additional character to encounter – the dancing girl! Why because it’s the mythic orient – and that’s got dancing girls. Full stop. End off.  But why does the game have a location called ‘the great mosque’ rather than the Hagia Sophia?  It’s believable that the game designer simply felt that not enough of the player base would know what that was – that it would not ring true enough with the players.

I had an interesting clash of theme over the weekend while playing Arkwright over Essen weekend. It’s a heavyweight game of building factory’s in the Victorian age, while managing costs and quality in order maximise profit. It’s good, smooth and hits a fine spot between fidelity and playability for me. Despite that I found myself slightly rubbed up the wrong way by a couple of things because of my own personal expectations and beliefs.

Hiring people increase the demand for goods and also increase the cost of labour – which is fine and a really net mechanic. But when you fire people the cost of labour does not go down, nor does the demand – or more accurately it does but only very very slowly. That rubbed me up the wrong way – it ran counter to my expectations and world view. I'm happy enough in brass where that whole aspect is just ignored and abstracted away but once you made it a feature it needed it to reflect my own internal vision.*

Likewise as the pile of unemployed people grows nothing bad happens – there is no fear of rebellion, no threat of the working classes overthrowing there oppressors, not even a general strike. Equally there is no way of being Titus Salt – or any other great Victorian philanthropist- it simply does not exist in this game you either mechanise or lose money.

I should point out that Bruno Faidutti is definitely wrong about at least one thing -there is steampunk music and it sounds likes this…... (Any excuse to post a link to the Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing and there shouty music).

He’s not wrong however in that Steampunk is primarily aesthetic movement and I think he’s correct that a lot of its fans want to go back to a reassuring world where drinking tea is the answer to all of life’s problems**.  

It’s certainly a good theme to drape around a game – allows for cool art and fantastical situations well still allowing access to something that feels familiar to western board game players (by far and away the majority).

 *Interestingly enough the game designer has explained what they think is going on here - and why they think this is as sufficient fidelity over at board game geek

**Not all of them however as seen by the fact that Andrew O’Neill the lead guitarist for the Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing (and cross dressing, vegan, occult, death metal comedian – niche hardly does him credit) published a rant entitled ‘Fuck Steampunk’ railing about how Steampunk was twee. By published I mean on paper - I think there are about 100 copies in the whole world and it’s not on the internet anywhere.***

*** Turns out my years of hanging round with Dr Geof has given me more than a passing knowledge of that sub culture despite not being a part of it.