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