Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Backburner

-Erik McGrath
Back burner games, working out the kinks

In my opinion, no one does anything exclusively. There are always other demands on your time and no matter how precise you divide that time up other things always intrude. For me those other things are game ideas.

As you may know from following the Inspired Press blog, we have one major iron in the fire (Battle Tank) and several other games (Drachenheim, Chem 101) in development. What you may not know is the many other things that are percolating in my mind while all this is going on. So to shed some light on my process, we've decided to dedicate this week's post to the Back Burner; in particular my current favorites of those back burner ideas. Hopefully this will prompt CJ to talk about his own favorites later in the week.

Erik's Top Five in no particular order:

  • Top Cat
  • Gobbo Wars
  • Flash of the Blade
  • Aces High
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Top Cat: A Machiavellian Meow

Top Cat is a fun little idea meant, ideally, for 4-6 players; which is where I try to aim most of my hobby game ideas. In TC you play as a neighborhood cat trying to become lord of the block in a nondescript, suburban town. Each cat lives in one of the houses on a quiet street, except Old Tom who lives in the little strip of woods along the creek. The cats have personalities and their own strengths and weaknesses which guide how they go about taking control of the neighborhood so they can claim the lofty title of Top Cat. The idea is heavily inspired by various animal-hero cartoons from my youth, namely Heathcliff and, of course, Top Cat.

Gobbo Wars: A Game of Junk and Juryrigging

Gobbo Wars was a stroke of genius/madness that occurred when the crew and I were talking about building robots out of junk in the manner of Junkyard Wars. This game is for up to 5 players and each player controls a randomly determined team of goblins and has to assign them to all the various tasks one needs to win in the rough and tumble world of goblin engineering. Some need to scavenge, some need to build and some need to sabotage the opposition because in the end it's the team that carries off the most stuff that wins and what better way to do that than to build a terrifying machine and smash your rivals' work with a wrecking ball?

You'll Die As You Live...

Flash of the Blade has been lingering in the background for a long time. Along with Battle Tank it was in the original crop of game ideas and it has undergone dozens of revisions along the way. This is a one-on-one card game of Renaissance duelists fighting for honor, glory, love and sometimes simple spite. Each player builds their duelist using several cards to define their personality, fighting style, weapons and the reason they are fighting. Unlike many other card games it is not strictly turn based which is the hardest part of development but one I have been happy to grind away at.

Take to the Clouds to Dogfight in Aces High

Aces High, like Flash of the Blade, is a one-on-one card game and one of the original ideas as well. Instead of swords and pistols though, the weapons in this duel are machine guns and gasoline as each player takes the yoke of one of the iconic fighter planes of World War II. Gameplay is very simple in that there are only four main cards used, but the manner in which they combine and the circumstances of their playing (offensive vs defensive, climb vs dive, etc) make for hundreds of possible results that all ultimately lead to one player crashing and burning. In the current form, the players fly either the rugged Grumman Wildcat or the nimble and deadly Mitsubishi Zero.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a Story That Can Never Die

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a board game for 2-6 players set in China during the tumult at the end of the Eastern Han dynasty. It has long been an obsession of mine to put my stamp on this iconic story with its deep cast of characters and intricate plots. It is very "bare bones" due to the massive amount of work it requires to not only make a compelling and interesting wargame but to make sure it captures the pageantry and grandeur of the Three Kingdoms. It needs to include civil building and management, the raising and support of armies, the clash of spears and the famous duels of the novel. The ultimate goal is to allow players to recreate any of the notable scenarios from the stories like the Guan Du war and the famous battles at Red Cliff and the duel at Hu Lao Pass between the Flying General, Lu Bu, and the Three Sworn Brothers: Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Drachenheim: Upgrading Gameplay to Version 2.0

Drachenheim Majesty Dragon Magnus

-Erik McGrath

This week we took a break from Battle Tank to let our ideas solidify. In its place we spent our time play-testing Drachenheim.

For a while it was basically the same game, just with more moving parts added as we went along, but now the gameplay has definitely moved into version 2.0. The new turn sequence is my favorite part. Before it was fairly standard and each player got their own complete turn before the others did anything. Now there are three phases to each turn with every player acting in each phase before moving on to the next. The phases are: Resource, Flight, and Action.

The first thing that became apparent with this new turn structure was that going first was a disadvantage much of the time and that dueling became extremely common whereas before it was rare. So to spread the disadvantage around the turn sequence now moves around the table clockwise with each new Resource Phase. In our game it was Jillian, then myself, then CJ at the start, so once we changed to the new structure Jill took the first turn as normal but after the action phase the start passed to me so that I had to move first and Jillian last, then CJ got first move and I last, then back to Jillian first and CJ last, etc.

The round-robin style was a lot of fun but, like I said, dueling was an emergent problem. We tried several methods to resolve that and settled on a simple one. Dragons always get their movement, so if someone moves onto the location you are in you may simply fly away during the Flight Phase if you want to avoid a duel. So far this seems to still allow Spike to benefit from his higher Might since it encourages other players to flee and let him have whatever was at the location. But as CJ found on a few occasions, Spike isn't so much more powerful in a duel that he always wins, so for valuable things Jillian and I were willing to stand and fight.

Minions and Natural Disasters

There were two other big things added as well, stat boosts and full rules for minions.

First stat boosts; I mentioned in a previous post that Dragons have four stats: might, majesty, flight, flame. We have made four dragons and each exemplifies one of the four stats. Spike is brutally strong, Magnus is awe-inspiring, Zephyrus is sleek and swift, and Fiero is an engine of destruction. Dragons are rated at 3 in  three of the stats and 4 in their primary one. In the event deck there are several natural disasters that can be encountered. In addition to being devastating events that can destroy settlements or kill minions, a dragon who conquers the disaster also gains power from it in the form of a stat boost.

Minions add an additional layer to the turn sequence as they give the controlling dragon additional options. Minions move and act much like dragons and thus they get their own token on the table to show where they currently are. Unlike dragons, though, their options are fairly limited. Most minions can only do one thing and have limited carry capacity. For instance Goblins can pillage but they can only carry a single gold token and only villages are vulnerable to them. The Black Knight, on the other hand, will carry no resources, but he is a deadly combatant able to stand up to a dragon and quite skilled at burning down settlements. The Giant is the most powerful of the minions and it can take almost every action a dragon can, it is limited mainly by its slower speed and the fact that it needs to be paid; so while it can carry a great deal, it will only part with a fraction of what it steals.

And that is the current state of Drachenheim, the card game where you play a young dragon seeking glory, power and treasure.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Things Are More Fun With Tokens

Tank Hex Tokens Strategy Board Game

-Erik McGrath

The Battle Tank prototypes we've been using and showing still use cardboard cut-outs for the game pieces. This has no effect at all on the game play, but it isn't all that visually exciting to have a little drawings on a piece of card stock.

So we're going to be making some actual plastic tokens to include with the game. Pictured above is CJ's first draft of one of our tanks (note: the final versions will be solid colors). If you look closely, you can see that the numbers on the hex sides are different between the two versions due to one of the tanks facing a flat side and the other facing a point on the base. Wargames that use a hex grid typically have facing rules that require the pieces to face down the hex spine rather than the flat. This makes the distribution of front, side, and rear armor the same. You can see in the pic that facing the flat edge means that most of the armor is side armor and while that might be more accurate from a realism perspective, it's not ideal for gameplay because it is trivial for a robot to avoid ever having to shoot at the thickest armor on the front if it only protects one side.

The downside to using tokens is the sheer number of  them that we will need to include, unless one of our clever ideas works. The game needs at least 12 robots to work with a full game and they can be both flying and walking, so some need their wings deployed and others folded. Megamech is only one token and for the tanks we can pretty easily just make separate ones for infantry, so it's really just the minions that are the sticking point.

And that sticking point is really one of weight and not cost for the actual game. If the total weight of the game + shipping box/packaging exceeds 16oz, the cost to ship each unit goes up pretty substantially and that will impact our ability to actually deliver without having to raise our price points or our Kickstarter goal.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How Playtesting Makes or Breaks the Rules

-Erik McGrath

Last week CJ talked about the the switch from squares to hexes and the financial aspects of trying to bring a game to market. This week I'd like to talk about the personal and psychological aspects.

The first thing I think of now when I reflect on how Battle Tank has progressed is playtesting. There has been a lot of it over the course of two vastly different prototypes, and it has revealed things that math alone never did. For one, we have changed almost every one of the original rules due to how it felt at the table. Gameplay trumps theory for me, so if it seems like it would be fun but turns out to slow things down without noticeably increasing enjoyment, then it has to go.

As an example, in the original versions we had cliffs and ravines and needed to devote nearly as much space to how line-of-sight, movement and range worked in those instances as we did to the rest of the movement and shooting rules combined. Elevation is a complicated thing in play when you really think about it. So in the interest of speedier play and fewer arguments we now only have two elevation levels: ground level and higher level. And the rules are simple: if your line of fire crosses a cliff hexside then the attack must either originate or terminate in that hex.

That is you have to be looking over the cliff or your target has to be doing so. Unless the shooter or the target are flying, in which case you always ignore all intervening terrain.

Cliffs used to be impassable as well as difficult to shoot near, but now they are only impassable going up and you are free to drive (if you are a tank) or walk (if you are a robot) over them at the cost of suffering an automatic malfunction roll. Naturally, flying robots aren't concerned with cliffs and Megamech is capable of climbing up and down cliffs with terrifying swiftness so it also ignores them when moving on its turn, but the big 'bot is still susceptible to being rammed by a tank and pushed over the edge just like any other walking robot.

Perhaps the only thing that hasn't changed is how you shoot at your opponents. Since the beginning, you simply roll a single die and compare it to the range, terrain and armor of the target. Equal or exceed that derived number results in a "hit" and the target rolls on its malfunction table. Tanks have high armor and a forgiving table since they are a player's only unit. Robots on the other hand have low armor and typically explode when hit but the come in large, ever-increasing numbers.

At this point we aren't testing the rules themselves anymore*, but instead changing the board and the tokens to make the rules easier in play. For instance the central hex of each tile is marked because it is referenced in several rules and we've found it can slow down play if you have to stop and be sure which hex it is every time it is needed.

*Naturally there is an exception to this, and it's Mad Scientist Event cards. The MSEs are large, potentially game changing things that occur randomly. How randomly has been a significant issue.