Thursday, March 02, 2017

"Worker Learning" revisited (a "duh" moment)

About a month ago I posted about a game mechanism that could have some potential... Worker Learning, a worker placement game where your workers get better as you use them, incorporating aspects of games like Solforge and Concordia.

In that post I brainstormed a mechanism by which your workers got better as you played them. It was a potentially fiddly idea wherein each worker had a name or reference (A-G for example), and then your player board would have a track for each worker to indicate its level.

Tonight, while listening to a podcast, I heard mention of Biblios, described as a game where you have dice but you don't roll them... and upon hearing that, I had an epiphany. One of those "duh" moments that you can't figure out why you didn't notice it before.

Why not have your workers be dice! Not dice that you roll, but dice that indicate the worker's level!

So you could place a die, resolve the action, then increment the die face. In addition to the resolution of spaces ramping up with worker level, larger value dice could potentially be allowed to go to an occupied space, so long as their current value is higher than the value of the die occupying the space. This would probably make the whole idea of tracking worker levels much less fiddly.

As I said, I can't believe I didn't think of it before. This isn't even the first time I've considered using dice as workers where the pip value indicates level... my comments on Euphoria generally include something about a missed opportunity -- I would have preferred if the dice in that game were not rolled, rather the pip values indicate the knowledge level of the workers, and stronger actions increase the worker's knowledge, so when a worker becomes too enlightened and goes away, it's because of your actions, not a die roll.

Anyway, I wanted to get that down before I forgot it. If I ever get around to building a game out of this Worker Learning mechanism, then I'm pretty sure using dice for the workers is the way to go!

But before I worry too much about that... Joan of Arc!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Joan of Arc: Maid of Orleans -- bag building rondel game

A little bit of history


Orleans is a game by Reiner Stockhausen that debuted at Essen in 2014. Soon after, TMG partnered with DLP (Reiner's company) to bring the game to the US, and we had a very successful Kickstarter project for a Deluxified version of the game. TMG has gone on to make "Deluxification" something of a brand, and we have since done Kickstarter projects for Deluxified versions of Yokohama and Chimera Station, and I'm sure there will be more to come. Orleans was greeted very warmly both in Europe and in the US, and it went on to win some awards and honors including a nomination for the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2015. In the last year or so, 2 expansions have come out (Orleans: Invasion, and Orleans: Handel & Intrigue) as the game continues to be popular.

Almost a year ago now I was put onto the idea that perhaps a follow up game to Orleans would be welcome. This follow up game could be themed around Joan of Arc, as that's the first thing many people think about when they hear the name Orleans. I was unsure if Reiner was working on such a game, or interested in one from an outside designer, so I contacted him to find out. It turned out that he was interested in a Joan of Arc themed game to follow up Orleans, but he was too busy to make one of his own by Essen 2016, so he was shelving the idea.

I hadn't put any more thought into it beyond that, but come October I met with Reiner while at Essen. That week I had an idea that I thought could fit the bill, and so I asked if a Jan of Arc follow up to Orleans was still of interest to him. He said that it was, and so I fleshed out my ideas further and wrote down a preliminary rule set.


What I've been up to


I have been busy in the last few months getting 4 different games ready to go to print, all potentially in time for GenCon (though we'll see which ones actually turn out to be GenCon releases). So while I did begin making a prototype of the Joan of Arc game, I never completed one or played it. Now that I'm about to be unencumbered by Crusaders, Eminent Domain: Oblivion, Pioneer Days, and Harvest, starting next month I will be diving head first into working on this Joan of Arc game whole hog.

Here is some teaser information (and by teaser information, I pretty much mean a full description of the game I have in mind)...


Description of the game


In Joan of Arc - Maid of Orleans you will play as a saint giving visions to Joan of Arc, encouraging her to fight certain battles and accomplish certain tasks in order to achieve your own private goals. The board will show the north of France, covered in blue tiles [er, red... see comments below] representing English-controlled areas (battles for Joan to fight). As Joan wins battles, driving the English out, the tiles are removed to reveal a red [er, blue... see comments below], French controlled board underneath.  Many of these tiles will be minor battles, easier to defeat, but not worth as much, while certain significant battles will be much harder and worth a lot more points.

The action in this game will be driven by a bag-building rondel... there will be square tiles that you will place into your bag, and you'll draw some out and place them in a circle on your personal rondel board. You'll move your pawn around this rondel, activating tiles and collecting temporary resources to be used that turn to buy better tiles for your bag, or to move Joan of Arc around the board and help her win battles. As you move over tiles, they will be discarded and replaced with new ones drawn from your bag. Of course, when your bag is empty, you will put your discards into it and continue to play. Over time, your bag will become full of better tiles, so your actions will become stronger. 

Over the course of the game, you will help train Joan of Arc to be better at different aspects of fighting, and you will have her win battles for points and powers as she drives the English out of northern France. You'll score points by training Joan, by making her win battles, and by achieving your secret goals (which are related to the things Joan of Arc does on the board).

I have some more details in mind about exactly how these mechanics work, but as I mentioned, I have only half-created a prototype so far, but I have a pretty solid structure that I envision for the game. I'm sure once I get a prototype together and get the game to the table, there will be plenty of tweaks and changes to make; such is the design process. Perhaps once I get a few playtest iterations in, I'll feel comfortable sharing the rules here.


Why I'm excited


I'm excited about this design for a couple of reasons... 

For one thing, I think the bag-building rondel mechanism will work well, and has the potential to be a good euro-style driving mechanism for the game. 

Second, I think the theme fits well with the mechanism -- Joan of Arc was famous for hearing voices and getting visions from saints, so it makes sense that players are each sharing control of a single Joan of Arc figure on the board, and each trying to get her to do certain tasks. 

And finally, with the success and popularity of Orleans, I think such a follow up game (with similar branding) has the potential to reach a lot of players, and so will get played a lot right out of the gate.


What do you think?


Let me know in the comments below what you think of a Joan of Arc bag building game. What aspects would you expect to see in such a game? Does this sound like a game you'd like to play?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Casual Q&A

You've probably seen AMA threads (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit and elsewhere, where someone will make themselves available for a day to answer whatever questions people would like to ask them. I've done one myself to promote Yokohama when it was on Kickstarter.

I'd like to do a sort of casual version of that here on my blog. So if you'd like to ask me something, leave your question in the comments below and I'll make a follow up post with answers. As this is a game design blog, it might be best to ask questions about game design, game development, games I've played, and games I'm working on... but if you have a question on something else, you could ask that too.

I hope this will give me a chance to learn a little bit about who's reading my blog: how many people read it, and what they're interested in hearing about.

Looking forward to your questions!

Defining "Deck Learning" - in case I haven't yet...

In a comment on a recent post, my friend Thomas asked exactly what I meant by "Deck Learning".
"Deck Learning" is the term I coined for Eminent Domain to set it apart from "Deck Building". I know I've talked about this before, but I don't know that I've formally defined the term. Since I use that term a lot it's probably worth a post defining it.

In a deck BUILDING game, you add cards to your deck because you want them in your deck, and that's cool and interesting because they'll come up later. In a deck LEARNING, your deck gains cards as a side effect of the actions you take. This is similar in some ways -- your deck changes over time and the new cads will come up later like in a deck building game -- but also different in a few important ways. By way of example, in EmDo you might call a Survey role simply because you want a Survey card in your deck, but MOST of the time you do it because you want the effect of the Survey role. In fact, one could argue that after a point, adding another Survey card to your deck is actually a detriment.

So the more often you call Survey, the more Survey cards you get in your deck, and therefore the better you are at surveying (you can boost Survey more and more often), so it's like your deck "learns" how to Survey.

In Eminent Domain, one of the main features is this deck learning, but the catch is that you can't do well by just being really good at one of the roles. Rather you need to manage your deck so that you can pursue some strategy, and any successful strategy needs to incorporate at least 2 and usually at least 3 of the roles in the game.

Hopefully that helps clear up any questions you have on what I mean by "deck learning", if you would like any more information, lease leave a comment below!

Monday, February 06, 2017

Worker Learning - applying deck learning concepts to a worker placement game (YANGI)

I've mentioned before that I'd like to do something more with the deck learning mechanism, and that has led to a few ideas... some of which I've pursued more than others.

recent post in which I had a mechanical idea for "worker replacement" led to some discussion which grew into something that could incorporate some of the ideas of deck learning in a worker placement game... Yet ANOTHER New Game Idea, which I suppose I could refer to as "Worker Learning".

This new Worker Learning idea combines some aspects of deck learning with ideas I've had to use something from the online CCG Solforge, by the guys that made Ascension. Oh, and Richard Garfield.

In Solforge you have a 5 card hand, and you play exactly 2 cards per turn. When you play a card it "levels up" and gets better. After your turn you must discard your hand and draw a new one. So as you go through your deck, you are faced with decisions... not just "which card effect do I want," but also "which cards do I want upgraded for later?" This is a quintessential deck building / deck learning type of question. Furthermore, after cycling through your deck once, you will face choices like "do I play this level 2 card I've drawn to make it a level 3, or do I play another level 1 card to make it a level 2? Do I want to evenly upgrade my deck, or would I prefer fewer, more powerful cards?"

I thought that core component of Solforge was super interesting, and I've been wanting to explore it for some time now. Perhaps "worker learning" is a good way to do that. One way it could work is that you'd have some workers (maybe 8), each labeled (maybe A-G). Each worker would have a track on your player board which indicates whether they are level 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. Then you play a worker placement game, where your workers upgrade as you play them, and each worker space has a stronger effect the higher level your worker is. Like Tzolkin, Manhattan Project, or Concordia, if you want your workers back you must spend a turn recalling them. Perhaps there's some cost involved in recalling as well, maybe based on the number of workers that remain unplaced.

This way you have the option to play out all your workers before recalling (upgrading them all evenly), or recall early and then re-play upgraded workers -- upgrading them further. If the dynamics of the game are balanced properly, and the number of recalls work out to range from maybe 2 to 3 on the low end to 5 or 6 on the high end, then I think there could be some real diversity of strategy to be had.

So here we are again, another mechanics-first idea in need of a theme!

The List - January 2017

It's been 4 months or so since I revisited The List to take stock of the status of my game projects. Here's another update...

Published Games:
Terra Prime (BGG)
Eminent Domain (BGG)
Eminent Domain: Escalation (BGG) (expansion)
Eminent Domain: Exotica (BGG) (expansion)
Eminent Domain: Microcosm (BGG)
- Isle of Trains (BGG)
Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done (BGG) (Watch for this summer 2017)
- Isle of Trains: All Aboard (expansion)
Eminent Domain: Oblivion (expansion) (Watch for this late 2017)


Finished But Unpublished Games:
Exhibit (BGG link)
Eminent Domain: the Dice Game
Dice Works (BGG link)
Wizard's Tower (BGG link)
Now Boarding
Suburban Sprawl

Current Active Designs:
Deities and Demigods
The Pony Express
Odysseus: Winds of Fate (BGG)
Alter Ego (BGG link)
Moctezuma's Revenge

New Ideas that Haven't gone Anywhere (Yet)
Worker Replacement game
- Joan of Arc bag building game

Old Standbys - games which have been around, 1/2 done and untouched, for years:
8/7 Central
Hot & Fresh
Dynasty
Kilauea
Reading Railroad
All For One (BGG)

Old Ideas that Haven't gone Anywhere (Yet) - some of these have been getting stale as well:
Rondel Role Selection
Investigative/Tabloid Journalism
Red Colony
Clash of the Kingpins
Time = Money
Dating Game
Ticket Please
Scourge of the High Seas

Let's take a closer look at some of these:
Published games:
Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done (BGG)
Last update I announced that Crusaders is moving forward at TMG, with Adam McIver's awesome art and graphic design (and I shared the box cover recently). At this point pretty much all the art is done except for the rulebook, and once Adam finishes a few other high priority items, he'll get back to finishing this.
Isle of Trains: All Aboard (expansion)
The Kickstarter project for All Aboard was pushed back to the point where it conflicted with the holiday season, so we're still waiting to see that one pop up. I'm not sure what the schedule is, but as far as I know it's still going to happen.
Eminent Domain: Oblivion (expansion)
I'm moving Oblivion up to the "Published Games" category because over the last month or so, Brian Patterson has created all the tech card art, and Ariel Seoane has put together all the graphic design for the expansion, so while the game is not out yet, it's in the process of being published! Mischa has been working on getting foreign partners to co-publish the expansion, and I wouldn't be surprised if there's an Eminent Domain Big Box in the near future.

Current Active Designs:
Deities and Demigods
I have been playing and working on Deities & Demigods, tweaking and tightening things up. I even wrote a blog post about doing due diligence in testing player suggestions. I feel like the base game is very close to "done," but I still haven't tried the Hades expansion module.
Moctezuma's Revenge
After a nice chat at BGGcon, I brought on Jonathan Gilmore as a co-designer to revive Moctezuma's Revenge. In getting him the files for prototyping and discussing the game again, I got it to the table a couple of times myself, and I think made a bit of progress! Revisiting an old design now that I've got more experience was interesting. Unfortunately, Jonathan has run into some life stuff which has conflicted with his co-design efforts, so he won't be working on this game after all. Now that it's revived, there's a chance I'll get back to it myself, but I kind of doubt it since I have so many higher priorities to think about.

New Ideas that Haven't gone Anywhere (Yet)
Worker Replacement game
This is one of those "I have an idea for a mechanism, but not a game" types of things, like the Rondel Role Selection idea, and the Draft Row idea. For now I'm just recording it so that I can find it later, when I may actually get a chance to use it for something.
- Joan of Arc: Maid of Orleans bag building game
This is a high priority idea, and I think I have the game fairly well sketched out. I have even mad a first attempt at some prototype pieces. As soon as I'm done getting Harvest, Pioneer Days, Crusaders, and Oblivion ready for publication (so approx March 1) I intend to dive into this idea and create a bag building game with a Joan of Arc theme. More info on this to come!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Again with the mechanics first -- I more and more think "theme-first" is the way to go! (Also, YANGI)

Some time ago (over 3 years!) I posted some thoughts on Mechanics-First vs Theme-First design, as well as an idea I'd had that was A mechanical game, completed-lay devoid of theme.

Since then, a theme has emerged -- a theme that even seems pretty good -- and yet I have never gotten back to the game.

I'm starting to believe that Theme-First is the way to go, as it seems much easier and much more likely to maintain interest in the game, and to make progress with it.

That said, here is Yet Another new Game Idea (TM) which is, again, completely mechanical and devoid of theme. As a side note, I see a pattern: when I don't have an idea for a theme, I appear to gravitate toward color mixing as a place holder... basic resources of red, blue, and yellow combine into higher level resources of purple, orange, and green. As I said in my previous post, this just makes for easy grokking of the conversions in the game. It's tedious to memorize some chart of X+Y=A and X+Z=B, but everyone knows that Yellow and Blue make Green.

Worker Replacement game idea

I was listening to the Game Designers of North Carolina podcast last month, and they had an episode about turning a mechanism into a game. On the show they brainstormed a few mechanisms, and how they might build a game around them. The whole exercise kind of ties right in to what I was talking about above, and as I recall, after bringing up a mechanism, they immediately jumped to a theme to use with it. One of those mechanisms sounded like it had some potential, so I filed it away in the back of my mind to think about later.

Last week I started thinking about how that mechanism could work, and then this week on a plane trip, as I often do in that situation, I jotted down some notes and sketched out a game using that mechanism. As I said however, this is just mechanical rules, no theme to integrate, and as such it's pretty generic. Here's what I've got so far, let me know in the comments if you think it's any good, or what theme might fit...

As a player, you will be gathering resources, combining them into products, and trading in resources and products for money, points, or upgrades.

Each player will start with a neutral pawn in hand, and a board of 6 spaces will be seeded with 6 colored pawns. Each space on the board will be associated with an action. On your turn you will take the pawn in your hand, swap it with the pawn in one of the action spaces, then resolve that action -- and most of the time there will be a bonus available based on the color of the pawn in that space. So you will be making choices based on which action effect you want, as well as which color pawn you want for next turn.

As a placeholder for these actions I have put the following:
* Gather Raw Materials: Gain 1 red, yellow, or blue cube. Gain an additional cube of that color if the pawn matches that color.

* Refine Raw Materials: Combine 2 different raw material cubes into a product disc. Combine a second set of raw materials if the action pawn matches that color (same combination? any combination? Not sure)
** Red + Yellow = Orange
** Red + Blue = Purple
** Yellow + Blue = Green

* Buy Raw Materials and Products at Market: Buy any number of raw material cubes or product discs at the market prices (market is kinda like Glen More). If the action pawn matches color, then get a better deal or something.

* Sell Resources: Sell raw materials or products at market prices. Resources sell for money, products sell for money plus VP. If the action pawn matches color, get a better deal or something.

* Collect Money: Collect some money according to the color of the pawn placed (red, yellow, and blue pawns yield a little money, orange, green, and purple pawns yield more money. Neutral pawns yield a middling amount of money)

* Upgrade: Pay products/raw materials for cards with permanent abilities and VPs on them. Maybe there are 3 slots (color coded red, yellow, and blue), and if you use a red pawn, then you can take the card from the red slot, and if you use a purple pawn, you can take either the card in the red slot or the one in the blue slot.

That's all I've got so far. Maybe I'll make some more progress on the flight back home tomorrow. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Eminent Domain, Redux on Reddit

To be honest, I don't spend much time on Reddit. I find it somewhat not-user-friendly, and at times abrasive, and I just haven't committed the effort to make it a regular internet stop.


However, every once in a while I interact with Reddit, like hosting an AMA (when Yokohama was live for example), or when my game Eminent Domain was Game of the Week in Reddit's GotW forum.

Today I found out that Reddit also has a Game of the Week, Redux forum, where people look back at a previous game of the week and talk about how it's held up over time. And guess what... This weeks GotW,R once again features Eminent Domain!

First of all, let me say that it warms my heart to hear that people are still discovering, playing, and enjoying Eminent Domain.

In addition I'll point out that this is timely, as I have just secured an illustrator and a graphic designer for my long-awaited-by-me final expansion, Eminent Domain: Oblivion. The deadline to get files to the manufacturer in time for a game to debut at GenCon is coming up soon, and I was sort of expecting that to be when things would be due, but a deadline kind of sprung up on me quicker than that when Mischa at TMG lined up a foreign partner who is interested in co-publishing the expansion, maybe along with other EmDo products, because they need time to localize the cards.

So I've been scrambling to secure the artists, which I have done. They're getting started in the next couple of days while I further scramble to make last minute tweaks and design decisions so I can write and edit the final rules. Nothing like an imminent deadline to get things moving!

So if you're following Eminent Domain, or the Oblivion expansion, or just me in general, then pop into Reddit and make some comment or ask some question, so we can use this opportunity to let people know about the greatness that is Eminent Domain! :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Moctezuma playtest and tweaks

Last Saturday I was able to get in not one, but two 3 player tests of Moctezuma's Revenge!

One of the main things that has kept this particular game down, and I think it's the thing that keeps many prototypes from making progress, is simply not getting it to the table. That's why I was so excited to play Moctezuma's revenge again, for the first time in 8 years.

I was over at Isle of Games, the FLGS that's nearest my new home, and it just so happens my longtime friend Ben is a manager over there. Ben is the one who tested Moctezuma's Revenge with me all those years ago, so it was neat hat he was around this time too... unfortunately he was busy working and couldn't join us to play :(

Here are some notes from those two games, followed by some changes to try next time:
For reference, the rules I used: Moctezuma's Revenge rules v2.0.

The game went over pretty well with the players. I wonder if it couldn’t use some more fundamental changes...

Game 1
I used the "5 action point" rule set ("5AP"), and I used 14 cursed and 11 safe chits, requiring 2+ cursed chits for a temple to be cursed. This was a mistake, actually, and it resulted in 6 cursed temples out of 7 (I added chits to the prototype according to majority needed, not 2+, AND I counted wrong when deciding how many chits to use... OOPS). 6 cursed temples is almost certainly too many! I think 4 or 5 max would be better. The players thought it would be OK if the minimum number of cursed temples was zero, but I think it might be better to guarantee that at least 1 temple will be cursed each game. 

We all knew which temples were cursed a few turns before the end, which was lame. Jim and I had researched several times before going exploring, while Hillary just went out and started looting temples. She ended up with maybe the highest score, but the most cursed icons and therefore an automatic loss. Is an auto-loss too harsh? Maybe there should just be a bigger penalty for the player with the most curse icons, like -1vp/icon, while everyone else only loses 1vp/2 icons.

Game 2
This time I used the "2 actions per turn" rule set ("2A"), and I used 9 cursed and 16 safe chits, requiring a majority of cursed chits for a temple to be cursed. This resulted in 3 cursed temples. I had the most points, but also the most cursed icons so I lost. Jim and I did about 2 turns of double research before exploring, while Hillary did about 4 this time. The 2A version went quicker and felt a little lighter than the 5AP version, but I think we got to do about as much stuff. 

I didn’t like that it took a whole turn to move to or from the library, and I didn’t like the temptation to research everything first then go explore, and never really research again.

Here are tweaks I would make for next time:
  • In 2A version, it should only take 1 move to get to or from the library, but you shouldn’t be allowed to do both in the same turn (the Library isn’t a shortcut)
  • In 2A version, 2nd Research in a turn should cost a discard of any treasure card. This gives you another way to dump cursed treasure, and it also means you can’t double research until you’ve gone exploring. So you probably will turn 1 Research/Move and start looting temples, then later come back to do more research.
  • Asymmetric starting info would be nice, but how to implement?
  • Is “Most cursed icons = you lose” a good rule? Too harsh? Maybe just a bigger penalty? try "most cursed icons: -1vp/icon, everyone else -1vp/2 icons".
  • Try using 12 Cursed/15 Safe chits for a total of 27, so 2 are unused each game… so you can’t count. I think that leads to 1-5 Cursed temples (and more likely 2-4).
  • Maybe make the Loot action (2A version) 3 cards, then 4… so if you see the Name card in the first draw, you still have a choice of 2 cards to keep. Or else add a SEARCH action to look at more cards, keep none (see below)
  • Maybe make an option to look at more cards but keep none… for if you want to find the name of a temple at the cost of getting a card. So like:
    • Move 1/Move 2 (1 space in the first move action, 2 more if you move a 2nd time in a turn).
    • (temple) Search 4/5 (keep 0). Helps you find the Name card.
    • (temple) Loot 2/3 (keep 1). Gets you more cards.
    • (library) Research 2/3 (reveal 1. 2nd one costs 1 card). Gets you info, reveals some, allows a discard avenue for cursed treasure.
    • (library) Study: Discard 1 card to reveal that temple’s name tile. Discard avenue for cursed treasure, and a way to learn the name of a temple.
  • One idea I had to prevent over-researching was this: You can only research the CURRENT or NEXT column, not beyond that. Then if you want to see info in the 3rd/4th/5th columns then maybe you’ll return to the library once the game is about ⅓ (or ⅔) over. Alternatively, maybe you can always research any column, but it costs a card to research beyond 1 column ahead of where the game is currently at?


Here's the updated rules based on this playtest and commentary: Moctezuma's Revenge rules v2.1

Stay tuned for more playtest reports or info about this game, and the experiment in co-designing with Jonathan Gilmour.


Post script:
I just had a thought on card distributions: Maybe there should be some more texture to the cards as far as VPs vs Curse icons. For example, currently the treasure distribution is 5/3/3/2/2/2/1/1/1/1/1, where the 5 has 3 curse icons, the 3s and 2s have 2 curse icons, and the 1s have 1 curse icon.

Perhaps it would be cooler to have some of the cards with a disproportionate number of curse icons, not directly related to the amount of VPs on the card, something like:
5vp/3 icons
3vp/2 icons
3vp/2 icons
2vp/3 icons
2vp/2 icons
2vp/1 icons
1vp/2 icons
1vp/2 icons
1vp/1 icons
1vp/1 icons
1vp/1 icons