Friday, September 28, 2012

Mark 2 Hex Prototypes and Kickstarter Number Crunching

Battle Tank Hex Board Game Prototype

Dr. Victor von Mechanstein Has Plans for Hexes

-CJ Andersen

Since updating the art and converting squares to hexes we now have our new Battle Tank prototype!  The rules are almost completely identical with hexes, so mostly the only update there involved a find/replace.  Our gaming group got to playtest with the new hex tiles and we found gameplay to be significantly enhanced. Hexes gave us much better movement options and more diverse configurations for the island to take.

One significant rule change, however, involved the tank players' win condition.  In the square prototype, our tanks would "win" if they could exit the board via a road on the square tile farthest from the volcano.  With the new hex configuration, we found we had to revise that.  So now the "beach" which the tank players are trying to get to is defined now by the board edge opposite the volcano edge, indicated above by the blue line I drew.  If 50% or more of the tank players exit the board via road hexes along that blue line before 10 turns is up, the tank players win.  Otherwise, if the Mad Scientist player can delay them 10 turns, or he blows them all up with his mechanical minions, he wins.

This photograph still uses our square tank and robot tokens, but that will be updated to be plastic hex tokens for the finished product. You can see a pair of tanks (in yellow) surrounded by deadly robot soldiers.

Battle Tank Hex Board Game Prototype

Accounting for the Inspired Press Battle Tank Kickstarter

It turns out there is a lot to consider when trying to accurately figure out all your costs for a Kickstarter, so that you can set your goals without going way over or under your actual ability to come through.  Add to that the new verbiage about Kickstarter stressing their ideals of "this is for making projects happen, not placing orders for products", we need to be very specific to outline the expectations for backers of our Kickstarter.  While we certainly do plan on giving out copies of the game as a reward tier for supporting us, we need to be clear that the purpose of the Kickstarter is to help Inspired Press expand by funding a printing run of Battle Tank, and expanding our team's abilities to design, prototype, market and sell our games to the people that love them.

As the accounting brains of the operation, I found the breakdown and comparison of costs between our printing options fascinating.  The original plan was to print 500 units of Battle Tank: Escape from Giant Robot Island using a very local printer.  The upside to this was that he was close by, and could support very small runs.  The downside is that we would need to fabricate our own tokens using a 3D printer we would get with Kickstarter funds.  But as it turns out, if my estimates are accurate, we can take the same amount of money and print a good deal more units from a manufacturer who can also produce the plastic tokens (we would still be getting the 3D printer though, as that will help with prototyping future expansions and other games).  That puts us a little close to the line to do that, so we'd pretty much only break even if we only reached our goal and didn't go farther.  But in the end, breaking even is a win for us since it meets the original goal of getting us a 3D printer for prototyping, and produces a printing run of our first game.

We would welcome comments from anyone with Kickstarter experience.  Stay tuned!

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Horrors of Making Videos

-Erik McGrath

This week's main activity has been preparing to launch a Kickstarter project to seek funding for Battle Tank, and let me tell you, it's not easy.

I've never been in front of a camera on purpose before, and I certainly never had to plan what to say to one. The entire process is terrifying and alien. The more we do it the more I marvel at the exquisite madness of those who choose to do it regularly. At this point it's a necessary evil that I am fully out of my depth in but I think it's important to put a face to the company and its much easier to talk about Battle Tank by, well, talking.

So yesterday CJ and I got about 70 minutes of footage of which maybe 3 minutes* will be usable. On the other hand, we did discover some decent locations to reuse in the future and gained an important lesson in what we actually need in order to be prepared before we press record. I also find that it is much, much easier to do my part when everyone involved is either on camera together, or those not currently active leave the room. For me that was an interesting thing to learn because I have no shyness at all for public speaking. I can get up and give a speech on no notice for people I've never met without breaking a sweat, but staring into the cyclops's eye at close range felt totally different.

We've also spend a great deal of time watching other people's Kickstarter videos and let me tell you that is a dangerous thing to do. Its amazing how many awesome things there are that I just have to have...

Ahem. Anyway, CJ and I will continue our odyssey in video making and get Battle Tank into the hands of people who are as excited about shooting down flying robot warriors with battle cannons as we are.

*Wildly optimistic figure

Monday, September 10, 2012

Game Design Philosophy

-Erik McGrath

Whether it's board games or card games, recreational or educational, all games need to be designed and developed. Every game ever made began as an idea, some born through flashes of insight and others through dedicated effort. And whether or not the creators of those games actually stopped to think about what they were doing and why, they all had a philosophy about game design.

This post is about mine.

All my game ideas have come to me more or less randomly. I don't think about what I want to try and make and then set about making it, I just work on what I have already going on and then something will spark an idea. In that first moment of inspiration I will quickly stop what I am doing and write down everything that comes to me and spend no more than a few minutes actually seeing to it before I return to what I was doing.

Later on, sometimes that day but usually the next one, I will read through the notes I took during my fevered vision and rewrite them in a way that makes some sense. From those, I flesh out the high concept of the game and what it will need to be physically played. Once that's done, I take the concept to the rest of the Inspired team and pitch them the idea. If everyone likes it and wants to do it then I start working on how we can implement it. If we can't reach a consensus then it gets shelved until someone, not always me, thinks of a better way to approach the idea.

Then comes the part where most games stall; development.

All the first stage stuff is theoretical. There is very little meat on the bones at that point. Typically all I have is a name, a concept and an idea of the components. So I know if it should use cards or tokens or if it needs a board, but no real idea on what all those things will actually do in play. The games I have talked about on the blog have all made it past this stage. Battle Tank, Celestial Warriors, Drachenheim, and Chem 101 are all well on their way to finalization. All of them have playable prototyes, art and graphics, etc.

So for counterpoint here's an idea that has not made it through this stage even though I really like it.

Hunters and Hunted

Hunters and Hunted is a modular board game about a professional monster hunter who comes to a town plagued with all manner of dangerous creatures. People have been acting strange or vanishing in the night. Some suspect the old Count in his castle on the hill, others whisper of creatures from the nearby lakes and still more say it is the work of wolfmen who live among them. Sadly all of them are right, but none of them are willing to simply share all their secrets with some stranger who just happened to arrive at the right time with the right skills. The butcher thinks the stranger is a charlatan, preying on scared and superstitious people. The mayor just wants this all to go away.

And that's pretty much it. The iterations I've gone through are simply unplayable in their current state. It's got a modular board so that it's more variable and lends itself to replay. It has a cast of town notables and a hunter who are all represented as cards. Each of the monsters also has a presence in the town by either controlling or being one of those townsfolk. I've lost count of all the ways we've concocted victory conditions and of how to make the investigative portion of the game actually interesting.

For the games that do make it that far and pass muster, the next stage of development is playtesting. This is where we sit down and make sure the game both works as intended and is fun. In every case so far something has come up in this stage that sends everything back to development for an overhaul. Playtesting is the easiest stage to actually do but the hardest to get everyone together for. Part of that is time constraints but the other tough part is actually writing down the rules so that we are all using the same ones and not simply going off what is in someone's head. Its a sobering experience when you realize that you're going to have to spend a lot more time writing and praying the editor finally likes what you have.

Then, at last, comes finalization. This is the least "game design" part of the game since at this point the game is done but all the things that it needs to go and live in the outside world are still waiting to be started. The art needs to be done, the packaging needs to be figured out, we need a printing budget and a thousand other things that form the business side of the game. And unlike the game, none of these things can be redone once they are in place because then the budget will break wide open and we won't have the money to try again.

That was longer than I had originally intended but I hope it sheds some light on what we are trying to do here. To sum it up I think of my process like this:

  1. Insight
  2. Basic thoughts and overview
  3. Team reality check
  4. Concentrated development
  5. Playtesting
  6. Finalization
What's your approach to game design?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Drachenheim Design Progress

Seen here is a mock up of a location card.  This is not the final image by any means. The actual graphic will be changed this coming week, but this one gives the idea we are going for. The arrows indicate how this card can attach to other location cards. As of now the direction of the arrow doesn't matter, you simply place the cards so that the arrows are touching. 

Locations make up the entirety of your own, as well as your enemies' domains.  Currently you gain control of a location through subjugation (using your dragon's majesty rating), thus adding it to your territory. Distance is abstract and measured solely in cards, each one you wish to move through costs a single movement point, so how you arrange locations in your territory is important. You want your resources close by so that you can fly out and claim them, but you don't want to make it too easy for rivals to pillage your settlements, and you certainly don't want to allow heroes a fast route to your lair.

Nothing is set in stone, though. 

You can spend your action flying out over your territory looking for alternate routes between places. Depending on how high your flight rating is you can reposition one or more of your cards to change the landscape and bring juicy settlements closer to your lair while pushing dangerous or meager ones further out; another abstraction of the effort your dragon takes to destroy old routes and blaze a trail to create new ones.