Thursday, July 26, 2007

Two new ideas, hope I haven't bitten off more than I can chew

To whomever may be listening,

So, before I get started on my rant about my game, I just wanted to say I got my appeal off, it’s received, and I asked my congressman for help. I don’t know, as cynical as I get about politics sometimes, I do really like this guy. I hope he’ll be able to help (I think he will, but can’t help but feeling like this cause may be hopeless at this point).

Anyways, two things I wanted to talk about today. Well, first a small update. So, things seem to be running smoothly with the game. I’ve test played it again a few times. I think that the rushing might still be a problem, although at this point it’s good enough that I can send the game out to beta testers and see what they think. I plan on doing that pretty soon, maybe releasing it on The Forge and The Board Game Design Forum. So, I’ll see how the viewing public likes it, at least in its first draft form.

I have two major things I’m wondering about now, like big things that I’m wondering how to change. First off, within a week I’ve had three completely independent people say that I should think about putting more links between the worlds in. Like, make more abilities that carry over, or things like that. Right now, well, there aren’t too many. I guess they are as follows:
-If a character dies in one world, they’re screwed in the other
-A few abilities have effects from one world to the other (though not many)
-Magic points are shared between worlds
-A character can only make an action in one world, rather than both, each turn
I’ve thought a lot about what more I could put in. Here are some thoughts. First, have “meditate” abilities, where the character in the spirit world falls unconscious, and it causes the character in the other world to power up. Second, that being alive in the real world can cause a dead spirit to become revived with some small probability. Third, maybe certain actions in the real world could grant a bonus in the spirit world, or vice versa. Fourth, a character, if they act in one world too much, grows tired (I don’t think I’ll do this, because I fear it might get overly complicated or annoying). I don’t know, I think I’ll post to bgdf about it, see what other ideas are out there.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is character creation. So, as it stands, what I’ve been doing so far is that each character has a class (or, as I call it, and archetype) in each world. All characters have the same stats to start with, and they each get 2 abilities. The abilities or stat increases a character can get depend upon the character class (so, for example, a warrior mostly gets things to boost her ability in melee combat). This has worked so far, especially for what I’ve done with it, but I can’t help but feel like there’s more to be had. I had an earlier post on bgdf, where someone suggested making the party design like creating a deck in a CCG. I thought this was really intriguing, though it will be hard to pull off. I mean, should I just let loose and let anyone create anything they want? If I do, will every party look the same? I mean, a real difference between CCGs and, say, D&D, is that in CCGs you often get really specialized decks (i.e. a burn deck, a rush deck, a dispel deck, etc), whereas in most RPGs, every party looks the same, a group of one of each type of specialists (a warrior, a healer, a rouge, and a magic user), forming a general group. I don’t know, the CCG model seems like it would be a lot more interesting, but hard to pull off. I feel like if anyone can just choose anything, it will turn into the RPG idea. So, a counterbalance thought I had to that was that each ability type has a color, or a flavor, or a guild, or something like that. Because of that, choosing one type of ability will rule out other types (i.e. getting a Necromancy power allows you to also get Black Magic, but rules out healing and protection magic). I also might make it that the more specialized your party is as a whole, the wider access you have to abilities (like, either you can get sucky abilities from every type, or decent abilities from half of the types, or really good abilities from only 1 or 3 types).

Anyways, something to think about. The whole appeal thing has me a tad emotionally drained, so I don’t really feel like talking any longer right now. Take care all!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Power 19 (first, or second draft)

So, after advice from former posts to The Forge (, I decided to write what is called the Power 19 for my game. Basically it was a way of, well, destribing your game, and basically getting you to think about it. This is my second draft of it (my first was pretty terrible and half-assed), so here it is.

I suppose I can take solice in the fact that even if I do get something wrong, no one is probably going to read it. I don't know, maybe I'm being to hard on myself, but does anyone actually read this blog? Maybe it's too soon, maybe I need to post to more forums, maybe I need to trade links (or whatever the advice on it was). I don't know, am I being too hard on myself, or is there more I should be doing to make this more public?

If someone is actually read this, I've got two questions. First, what do you think? Second, a new trial name is "Escape from Illeria." What do you think?

1.) What is your game about?
Game X is about conflict encounters as parties of adventurers explore and loot the lost Island of Illeria. Illeria was once home to the most powerful wizards of the world (who have sense mysteriously vanished), and sits on a rift between this world and the world made of magic and spiritual energy. It is about the desperation of characters who are trying to escape the island with their lives. Each game revolves around a single battle between rival parties. Victory in battle is (hopefully) determined mainly by strategy, rather than by luck. Each party has the possibility of being very unique, so that different parties (or different enemies) can provide significantly different game experiences.

2.) What do the characters do?
Each character is a member of a party exploring Illeria in search of fame, treasure, and power. Parties were sent to the Illeria with specific contracts, stating that they must collect a specified amount of treasure before they can return. Each party is lead by a single character (the “general”). The general is often the senior most member of the party, whose job is to act as the brains of the operation, instructing others in what to do. The remainder of the party is made up of adventure seekers and mercenaries who have come to Illeria generally for personal gain. They follow the general loyally (usually), and make up the brute force of most operations, acting in many ways as an extension of the general.

Over several battles, characters in the party advance, however they also become injured over time die.

3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?
Each player controls a party of individual characters. During battle, players control battles from the level of the general. Each battle takes place in both the physical world and the spirit world simultaneously, and players must choose how to allocate resources. Between battles each player controls the advancement of each character, and prepares them for future battles.

Game X has no GM.

4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
Each team of characters has a contract with a king, merchant, or other important and powerful figure. Their contract defines exactly what they must return with. Thus, given the harshness of combat on Illeria, each group only truly desires to be on the island for the minimal time possible, after which they can return home to their families.

5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?
Each character in Game X has two bodies, one in the real world and one in the spirit world. Each character begins with a basic set of combat-oriented statistics, and from that becomes unique by taking “advancements” (i.e. new abilities or stat increases). Players can choose from a pool of over 100 advancements for each character, allowing them to make their parties exactly how they wish. Players do not buy set models for this game, but rather are expected to provide their own (a fantasy setting was chosen for this reason, since it offers the widest range of models to choose from).

6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
Good military strategy and good planning are rewarded in this game, and conversely bad strategy and planning are punished.

7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
The better a player’s strategy, the more likely they are to win battles. Additionally, after each game, parties will reap the rewards or punishments of the game. Rewards will include character advancement and gaining treasure, punishment will include character death and equipment damage.

8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?
Each player is wholly responsible for controlling their own party.

9.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)
Game X is fairly fast paced. Each turn generally lasts less than 20 minutes (usually ~15). Additionally, unlike many strategy games, players do not have turns of their own. Instead, players share each portion of the turn. Two phases of the turn require a player’s active engagement at all times. In the third phase, players will take turns making single small actions. Because of this, a player will rarely be disengaged from the game for more than a minute.

10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
Resolution is determined by a well-defined rule system. Most effects are determined by a dice roll, or in some cases a series of dice rolls. Players generally play until one player retreats or surrenders, however some games will be played until a particular tactical victory is achieved.

11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
By having all of the rules well-defined, each player is clearly aware of the strengths and limitations of their characters, and what each is capable of. Additionally, it will allow him to approximately gauge the ability of his opponents (although, stealth and bluffing will, or at least can, be a major component of strategy). Without a clear rule system, it would be much more difficult to play strategically, and to determine a winner fairly in the absence of a GM.

12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
At the end of each battle, characters gain new abilities, or stat increases. Characters who are killed in battle can receive penalties in future battles, or possibly die. Generally, advancement should approximately offset permanent damage, so that parties will not have a huge change in power level over time (thus allowing most games to stay competitive). However, nearly all parties will be annihilated after too long (unless they are able to complete their mission first).

13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
The ever-present chance of death will help encourage a sense of desperation, and will create the need for characters to manage their resources well. The character advancement will help to keep battles interesting, so that the party is not exactly the same from game to game.

14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?
I hope to generate a feeling of both realism and desperation in the players. Players will need to manage their resources well, both during a battle and afterwards, otherwise their parties will not survive. Players will be discouraged from taking pointless risks, and from fighting for the sake of fighting (or for gaining experience). I also hope that players will generate a real connection to their characters, at a level much greater than those experienced in a typical wargame (though perhaps less than a typical RPG). Finally, I hope that this game actively engages the minds of the players, and makes them plan much more than in a typical wargame. Hopefully planning and strategizing will occur to a high degree throughout the game.

15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?
Magic, summoned creatures, constructs, and character creation. Each of these elements is given extra attention so that players can craft exactly the party they want. Hopefully, players will be able to specialize their parties, so that each particular group feels very different to battle. Additionally, magic, constructs, and summoned creatures were given extra color to create multiple layers of the game (so that a beginning player can learn a simple game without magic, and once they have mastered the rules, learn about new and intriguing abilities).

Also, I have attempted to make the spirit world much different than the real world, from the abilities to the basic troop types. I hope that this creates a very qualitatively different feel to interactions in each world.

16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?
To be honest, it changes from week to week. Perhaps I’m just excited about too many parts of the game. I’ve been exited about magic, summoned, creatures, and constructs, because they are all such fun and interesting rules. I’ve been really interested in the fully customizable nature of character design and party development (including the fact that there will be no set pieces). Also, I have been extremely exited about the unique campaign mode. Also, I have been excited about the dual nature of the game, and how each board will have a very different feel to it (and hopefully different tactics).

17.) Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?
One very unique factor about Game X is that it is played on two boards. This adds a new depth of strategy, since characters must split their concentration, and cannot simply rely on being able to hold a competitive dominance on one board. Additionally, this game is in all ways basically a strategy wargame, however it allows the player to keep the same characters from one battle to another, allowing them to advance and change. What’s more, unlike many campaign strategy games, the advancement is not monotonically upward, but rather generally downward. Finally, this game has a very strong planning component in the leadership system, which requires a large degree of strategizing and outthinking your foe.

18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?
Design a game that I can be really proud of, and then sell enough copies to break even. I hope to accomplish this by selling pdfs online, and possibly by selling actual copies from a POD service.

19.) Who is your target audience?
My target audience will mainly be players who enjoy small-scale war games. Additionally, I expect to be able to generate a good bit of interest from RP gamers who enjoy combat games (or, who just occasionally enjoy hack-n-slash).

Well, to anyone reading this, thank you so much, and fare well.


PS So apparently 2 more people in my Peace Corps group have left. I guess we're down from 67 to 58. Its always kind of sad to hear that. Although my appeal is almost finished, and I'm about to send it in, so we'll see how that goes. Hopefully the bureaucrats in Washington will, like, begin processing it within a month.

Friday, July 6, 2007

First post ever. Yay!

Dear gamers of the world,

I feel I should begin by saying that I’ve never had a live journal or a blog before. I always considered it to be to narcissistic. That or cultish. Mainly in college when everyone was getting an LJ, I didn’t have time to read other people’s blogs (I often felt like I didn’t have time to keep track of my own life, much less the lives of others), and thus it felt too narcissistic to think that others would have the time to keep track of my life.

So, fast-forward three years of my life. A year ago I graduated from college and joined the Peace Corps (teaching science in Namibia). I worked for 7 months (well, 5 plus 2 of training), and then was forced to leave for medical reasons. I’m trying to appeal the decision, I don’t know if it will work, and even if it does I will be in the States for a few months. So, being that I’m kind of in limbo right now, I asked myself what I really wanted to do, what would make me happy. It dawned on me that there was a game I had been working on (I stated the summer before I shipped off, though made a lot of improvements as I was battling boredom in the village), that I would really love to publish. I suppose more than anything I just want to see if I can really do it, so I set breaking even as my goal. I’m kind of new at this, don’t really know what to do, and so have been reading a lot of online forums. One suggestion that I heard is that I should start a design blog. Basically, people enjoy seeing the design process in action, and, well, like getting to know the designer of independent games. So, I figured if it will generate buzz, help me achieve my goal, and basically help people enjoy the whole experience of my game more, then why not?

That said, the working title for my game is Game X (I’m trying to come up with a better title, but this is it for now). It is set on the Island of Illeria. The backstory is that long ago, the wizards colonized this island, and set up a magic research school. No one knows what happened, but at some point everyone just disappeared. It quickly dawned on the outside world that the Illeria was home to unimaginable treasure and power, and hundreds of adventure seekers and military units soon organized to explore the island.

Game X is a skirmish-level tabletop strategy game. Each player controls a small team (right now I’m thinking 7) of characters, who do battle with other squads. The game is set in a medieval fantasy setting. I’m planning to at some point have a campaign system set up, so that after each game your group grows stronger (or weaker), though I figure it’s best to leave that portion to the very last (I mean, if the game isn’t good enough to play once, why would it be goon enough to play several times?).

So I really have three things about this game which I consider to be unusual and special. First, I am asking characters to provide their own pieces (something akin to the Cheapass Games idea), and making the character creation system highly customizable. How customizable I’m not sure yet, it depends a lot on, well, what I think is the best, and maybe how much patience I have (I did have someone suggest I try to make this into a skirmish equivalent of a CCG, but I’ll see how possible that is). Second, the leadership and command system is very structured. Unlike most games where you take turn moving your entire army, in this game you are given a limited number of commands each turn. Not only that, but commands must be made in advance, anticipating what your enemy might do. Third, combat is played on two boards, and what happens on one affects the other (and thus, resources need to be divided up between each). I’ll go more into this in a later posting, but it is the idea I’m most proud of (and that I think is the most unique).

Thus far I’ve played a few test games. I think a decent game runs about 2 to 3 hours, plus maybe 15 to 30 minutes to prepare an army. Last game I timed it, and a full turn seemed to take ~15 minutes (less on early and later turns), which I thought was pretty good. Thus far, I have tested the combat system (something that’s very simple, and seems to work well), the leadership system (I’ve had one small kink, which was fairly easy to work out), abilities (no overwhelming problems thus far), summoned creatures (no problems, other than it is easy to overpower them), and the general game concept.

The only major flaw I’ve had to deal with seemed to be in the last category. Basically, under my original rule set, it seemed like the optimal strategy was to dump all of your attention and resources into one board, and basically ignore the other. This put me into a panic for a week, though in my most recent playtest the problem seems to have been worked out. Basically, under the original game, it was too hard to move resources from one world to another, and as such it seemed like your best chance was to overwhelm your opponent before (s)he was able to overwhelm you. My solution: make it easier to move resources from one world to another (and actually, by accident I’ve done a few things to encourage them, such as make it so a given character can move freely while her doppelganger is in combat).

My friends have said that they think the game is very playable, and that it’s time to start getting a wider audience to testplay it. I feel like the game still has a few more kinks, and a few more rules to develop, before I begin subjecting strangers to it. Maybe this is just me lacking in self-confidence. Mainly I want to get magic working in my game (or at least appearing to be working) first.

With that, the two last rules I want to test during my next game are magic and constructs. An idea I had for magic long ago, which I still like to use, is that as you cast spells, it lessens your ability to cast future spells, but in a probabilistic way (in other words, if you cast magic arrow this turn, you are less likely to be able to cast it next turn). I’ve had moderate success with this system in the past, though I think I’ve figured out a way to simplify it so that it only requires one small calculation, and no conversions (i.e. there won’t be any, “Hmmm... so I take my power, add my dice roll, multiply this by 2, and then look at this table and compare it to my current health and the alignment of the stars...”). For constructs, things like animated objects and undead, I wanted to make the rules interesting. I had this thought: constructs can’t think for themselves, and only do what their masters have pre-programmed them to do. This means they’re basically robots, so why not have them act like robots? So, basically each construct is given a pre-programmed set of instructions at creation, which can be changed, and then act on their own. I’ll see how it works.

I suppose my other main goal is to keep things streamlined. I don’t know if this means I have to keep it simple. Honestly I hope it doesn’t because I’m afraid that will make it boring. I am trying to add interesting flavor rules, right now I have them for magic, constructs, and summoned creatures, and I’m debating if there are any more places to add them. I worry about this slightly, since the first person I ever got game design advice from told me that the key to successful board games is to keep them as simple as possible, and to have as few rules as possible (and suggested to try to avoid flavor rules, and if you must have them to only have one or MAYBE two). I suppose when I do beta testing I will hear what people think, whether the game is too complicated or if it’s okay. Part of it, however, is that I feel like one mitigating factor is that if you don’t want to deal with the rules for summoned creatures, you simply don’t put summoned creatures in your army.

So, I think this is about all for now. My goodness, this has reached page 3 in Word. I hope I haven’t bored you all. Take care, and thanks for listening.

Simon Stump