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

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