Monday, December 21, 2009


It's funny, you come up with a big fancy tool like a genetic algorithm, and half-way into analyzing the data you start getting confused about the output. I mean, it's obvious that if you run a simulation, and one ability wins 90% of games, that you have a problem. However, it's getting harder to quantify when something is really so good it's problematic. For example, what results would you expect if one ability had a 5% advantage over all other abilities? A 3% advantage? A 4% disadvantage?

i've taken to running what basically amount to calibration simulations to try to figure this out. Basically, instead of having a battle be long and confusing, I just simplify it as each person has a 50% chance of winning, plus or minus what they get from an ability, and pick a random number. I then run the algorithm with this as the fight routine, and see what the results are. One interesting thing I found: If one ability has a 5% advantage, you'll notice it under most detection methods. If one ability has a 10% advantage, and 3 other abilities have 5% advantages, you won't notice the 5% advantages.

The other thing I'm working on right now is somewhat of an equalizing algorithm. Basically, you run a genetic algorithm, and look at the results. If one ability is obviously stronger, you reduce it's power. If one is obviously weaker, you increase it's power. Then, repeat like 40 times, until hopefully you approach a steady state. I've tried it twice, and last time got results that can't be right. I am realizing that I didn't have a good measurement for "stronger" or "weaker," so right now am running a calibration to try to figure that out.

Blah, too much about computer simulations recently. Anyways, my hope is to try to get something reasonable by the time I go home for Xmas, so that I can playtest it with friends over the holiday. We'll see if that happens. If nothing else I might just abandon the GA simulation and switch to a straight out, each ability fights each other ability 10 000 times, and sees who wins the most.


“My main operating principal: Don’t take any shit from the zeitgeist.” – George Carlin

Thursday, December 17, 2009

More thoughts on points...

A thing I always wondered about: is it worth considering a psychological value when adding up points? Let's say you have a ogre, with a massive club. That is much scarier than a healer who regeneration and heavy armor. However, what if they are evenly matched? I sometimes wonder if the ogre with a massive club should be worth more, just because everyone is going to freak out when they see it. Does that make sense?

I guess to tie it a little more to my game: whenever I did playtesting, it was rare that anyone would give their character a boost to statistics. Everyone preferred something more sexy, like a special attack. However, I'm finding that often, the special abilities have been weaker than the statistics. The problem is, I slightly worry that if I weaken the stats so they do actually match evenly, then even fewer people will pick them. I mean, I guess that shouldn't be my concern, my concern should be what is actually even, and rather than leave a game ready to be unbalanced (as soon as a player really crunches the numbers).


“Your grandchildren will likely find it incredible - or even sinful - that you burned up a gallon of gasoline to fetch a pack of cigarettes!” – Paul MacCready, Jr.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Exciting news and a new thought

First, the exciting news: I have been programming a genetic algorithm to test the relative strengths of each ability. Basically, a genetic algorithm is a computer simulation based on natural selection. In this, we start out with a population of 1000 random characters. Each one battles everyone else. If someone dies, they are replaced with a clone of the winner. After every 500 battles, we shuffle things up and do it again. I've been doing this sort of piece-wise, adding one or two abilities into the simulation each day. Anyways, the problem I was having was that almost always, I'd run the simulation, and a single pair of abilities would pop up as the best (such as "Power of the Fist" combined with "Greatweapon"). Then, after adding my 19th ability, I ran the simulation, and got major oscillations. Basically, there were about 8 or 10 abilities which would in pairs begin to skyrocket, until they had almost become the only ability, and then would suddenly decline, and a different set of 2 or 3 abilities would start to skyrocket, and so on. The basic meaning of this is that there is no best combination of abilities, and that even if a few appear to be good, they can often be beaten by the right pair. Some abilities didn't really get used much. I might try to tweak things, although to be honest, I worry about this less for two reasons. First, most of the weaker abilities are not well modeled in this simulation (such as archery weapons, or healing powers), and have non-combat uses. Second, if you have 10 abilities that are strong and 2 that are weak, effectively that means you have 10 abilities that you would choose from. If you have 2 that are strong and 10 that are weak, you really only have 2 to chose from.

Second, the new thought on my game: My game takes place in two world. The paradigm has always gone like this: in the real world, people are slow and tough; in the spirit world, people are fast and frail. This often leads to games where people really charge in in the spirit world, and sometimes nothing happens in the real world. What if I mixed the paradigms, and made spirit world people both faster and more robust. My thought is this: now, you can rush in and fight in the spirit world, but often before you have finished, things are already happening in the real world. I don't know, it's a thought. I'll test it out and see what people think.


“Looking back, I think it was more difficult to see what the problems were than to solve them.” – Darwin

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Too long

Hey all,

Boy, grad school starts, and suddenly free time vanishes. I've been getting back into this recently. I had about a month where it really felt like I did almost nothing but work, then I had this eye of the hurricane kind of week where the planets aligned and I didn't have anything to do. I actually spent a Sunday sitting around bored, thinking to myself, "Okay, I used to have hobbies, what were they?" It's gotten me back into this.

I've rethought my back-story. It's a bit complicated. I wrote the whole thing up in detail and it was just over 3 pages. Basically, there is a fight over who becomes the next king after the old king dies. Balthazar basically wins by being the worst of any of the princes. However, because he is so terrible, there is an uprising. During the uprising (in part because of a failed assassination), Balthazar becomes paranoid of traitors, and creates a series of forced labor prison islands to lock up political prisoners, and anyone he suspects isn't 100% loyal. Eventually, he locks up all of the wizards in the kingdom, and forces them to study magic and produce things he can use to battle uprising. As time goes by, the wizards teach the other prisoners how to use magic, and everyone revolts, and takes back the island. Rather than try to reclaim the island, Balthazar basically curses it (long story, will probably explain later). All hell breaks loose, and basically former prison gangs reform in a fight for survival, all waiting until they can escape the island (when it becomes winter, the seas will freeze, until then it would be too cold and dangerous to swim).

I've gone back to computer simulations. A new thing I'm doing is testing what happens if characters have multiple abilities, using genetic algorithms. It's kind of surprising, abilities that didn't seem too strong before really come out when you can link it with another ability. It leaves me with that old question: how similar do abilities need to be, before that can be within an acceptable level of closeness? There are some real issues, for example, take regeneration. This ability allows characters to heal some number of hit points every turn, whether or not they are in combat. The question then becomes: should it usually lose to someone with a greatweapon (since that is a combat-only ability)? How much of an advantage should a person with a greatweapon have? Is there a way to account for this?

Also, it's kind of funny: these computer algorithms take quite a long time to program, and then it really feels like you can get most of what you want to know by running them once or twice. It feels, I don't know, almost anti-climactic. You write your programs under the idea of, "Gee, let's see, what can I do so that one simulation will give me all the information I need," and then when you finally run it, you're left with this feeling of, "This took me a couple hours to program. I should really run it more than just once." Funny how life works.


“Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies.” – Thomas Jefferson

Friday, August 14, 2009

Story, edits, and rules

I just got back from like a 3 week Greyhound trip, and then a couple days after arriving home moved to Tucson for grad school, which starts in a week. So, life has been a tad crazy lately. That said, conversations with one of the friends I visited, and too much time on the bus have given me a lot of new ideas.

First, perhaps the biggest: changing the story. During my visit I saw a good friend who’s a bit of a history buff (certainly more than me). He read my backstory, and was able to pick apart a number of weak elements in the theme. Also, after he read it, he said it reminded him a lot of the Soviet Gulag system, and recommended some books to read on that subject. The little I’ve read so far, it sounds kind of perfect. So, I see a somewhat major change coming soon, maybe. There is a good chance though that the owner of the island will be modeled somewhat after Stalin. Isn’t plagiarizing from history so great? You get such amazing off-the-wall stories, and no one owns them. Not just that, but you are actually thought highly of if you steal history’s ideas. I had another friend make this funny comment about how people who read the game will say, “Hey, he’s smart for knowing this about history, and I’m smart for also knowing this about history. This is great!”

I also have some ideas for shortening the textbook. I’m not sure if they will simplify or complicate the rules, basically I will spell out categories for things that were already de-facto categories. I guess the best example of this: it’s possible to do something in this game called storing spells, basically where you prepare them to be used once. Because they are a little obscure, I didn’t make note of them in the original rules. However, looking over it again, I have 4 abilities that use them, so I decided that rather than explain the rules individually in 4 places, I would explain it once in the rules. I don’t know whether that make it more or less complicated, since now everyone has to see those rules. I don’t know, maybe I’ll talk to my old roommate, he seems to be good at finding the simplest way of explaining things.

Other than that, I did a really thorough edit. Why does it take so many tries to make something sound right?

Lastly, I had a friend suggest, if I am hoping to run simulations, that I should just program them in C++. I used to know how to write C++ code, I’m a bit rusty at this point. This should be a good review.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Approach

After my last two posts, I was talking to my roommate. I think this was his suggestion, if not a direct descendent of his suggestion, but he said to just try playtesting it myself. For some reason this hadn't occurred to me, but it made perfect sense. What I am doing now is just that: I'm making groups of characters with a single ability battle each other.

I decided that, because the game is going to so rarely be about one-on-one, to test a 3-on-3 game. For all of my examples, I have had three characters with bows ('archers') fighting three characters with some kind of stat increase ('soldiers'). Basically, the characters would march forward as the archers were shooting them. I recorded how much damage they took before getting into melee, and then the end result of combat.

So far, my predictions have been mostly true. If a party has a high dodge, they dominate. If the have a high armor, they still win with some casualties. If they have an extra attack, it ends in a draw.

I wish I had thought of this before (and can't really believe I didn't). I see this as kind of the gaming equivalent of a lab experiment: everything is done under perfectly controlled (and closed) settings, and you can test one thing really well. What I'm going to start doing is testing how well different attacks fare against each other. For example, next I'll have a crossbow and see what happens, then I'll start using special attacks like "Life Drain," or even summon powers, and seeing who wins.

This has left me with two frustrations: First, this is something that I could do much faster if my computer was working better. Really I could just put all of the parameters in, then run it 1000 times, and see how often the soldiers beat the archers (instead of, "Yeah, I played 2 or 3 games, they seemed to go like this"). Maybe it's worth seeing if I could get Python working or something. Second, I discovered this magical development tactic two days before I move out of my current house and three days before I take a trip across the country. :( Oh well...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Anti-everything powers

Ok, was going to put this with my last post, but figured it was different enough (and the last one was long enough), that I should make a separate post.

When I was a senior in college, I saw this really interesting talk by a game designer who was trained as an engineer. I forget his name, but he was working on the City of Heroes CCG. The talk was about applying what you learn in college in novel ways. His example: a CCG is basically a chaotic system. As he put it, a set contains a couple hundred cards, each of which breaks the rules in its own unique way, and it's not possible to test out every card combination. You only get occasional times when you as the creator can control it (by releasing a new set, or by banning cards). So, how do you keep particular card combinations from being optimal? You put in negative feedbacks. In other words, he said about 10% of his cards are specifically designed to undo the remaining 90%. His example was, if a combination of blue power-ups gives you a super-super hero, you just put in cards that specifically destroy blue power-ups. Then, if everyone starts using that combination, people can win by playing an anti-blue deck.

In my game, in some ways I've tried to do the same. There are a lot of abilities, but for the most part there are ways of countering every kind of special ability (except maybe melee). For example, Aura of Chaos, Take Control, and Unsummon un-do animated creatures and summoned creatures; Aura of Mist and Sunbolt makes archery much more difficult; Antimagic Aura makes magic dangerous. Thus, if you base your group around any single type of attack, it can be undone by a single character.

So, the question is, what would stop a party from using these every time? Well, the answer is actually very simple, and I kind of discovered it in my last playtest. I made my group anti-summoned creatures, anti-constructs, and anti-archery. None of these abilities worked perfectly, but worked well enough that they could have shut down any of these types fairly well. The problem: nullifying all of these forms of enemy attacks required me to use most of my party's abilities. In the end, it was almost like neither of us had any abilities at all (or at least it would have been had I not spent so much time in hiding, see next post).

So the answer becomes this: When you plan your party, if you are particularly afraid of one form of attack, you can protect against it. However, doing so has an opportunity cost great enough to discourage you from trying to protect against everything.

Archery, again...

Okay, playtested another game recently. I'm trying to be better about selling the idea to others, even getting them interested, so I did this game at a local gaming store. Someone did ask about it, although I didn't go into much detail (mostly just answered what he asked). Next time I be more of a salesman, maybe even ask if they'd be interested in trying a playtest. Live and learn...

The game went pretty much like always. My friend got an army that was built for hiding and melee in the spirit world, and archery in the real world. I had the opposite (an army for melee in the real world and archery in the spirit world). The game was somewhat of a stalemate, with both melee groups hiding, hoping that the other would shoot. I guess same old same old at this point.

The game basically went like this: In the real world, I mostly hid, and he mostly did nothing. In the spirit world, I moved my archery up until I could get a clear shot at his characters, and he took advantage of this to counter-charge me. This ended in him killing my guys.

I guess that is one of the basic problems with this game, that if you are playing against an archery army, you can just hide. I think the problem is that I haven't had a good chance to really test out if a melee army could overtake an archery army.

Here is one philosophical test: let's say I have an archer with a bow (no other abilities), and you have a foot soldier (no relevant abilities), and they start 23" apart. This means that on average, the foot soldier will take 8.5 points of damage before he can reach the archer, assuming the soldier has no dodge bonus, no armor, and no cover (and assuming the archer shoots before the soldier moves). The average soldier has 15 hit points, so this would drain her of slightly over half her life. In an average round of melee, the archer will deal 3 points of damage, and the soldier will deal 4.2. This means that the archer is probably going to win. However, this in some ways isn't too surprising, since she has more abilities than the archer.

Okay, a few changes: let's say that the soldier can now get one ability, and spend it on the following things:
-> An extra attack: she receives the same amount of damage from archery, but now deals 8.4 damage per turn. This means they usually both kill each other after 2 rounds of combat.
-> +6 Hit Points and +1 Armor: in this case, she only takes 5.8 damage from archery, and then only 2.2 from melee, plus can absorb an additional 6 hit points worth of damage. In other words, her extra hit points will be absorbed by the archery attacks, and when melee begins, she will have the same number of hit points, but be on much better footing.
-> +5 Hit Points and +2 Dodge: In this case, she only takes 2.8 damage from archery, and then only 1.4 each turn from melee, plus has extra hit points to absorb damage. This is like the previous ability, only more so.
-> Aura of Mist (all characters within 4" gain +2 Dodge against archery): She and her companions each take 2.8 damage from archery before reaching combat. In combat, the archers deal 3 points of damage per turn, the soldiers deals 4.2. This means that after 4 rounds of melee, both will have dealt around 15 points worth of damage, and dropped dead. (maybe I should up this ability)

Ok, so on paper this looks fine. However, for some reason the game never works out that cleanly. First of all, this is one-on-one (which the game never is). It also ignores the effect of other characters (who might be standing by ready to charge), and assumes that the first character will just charge straight in. It ignores terrain and blocked vision (something my friend said could be a big factor). It also ignores luck points. Also, I'm not sure why, but the numbers here suggest that two competing soldiers would on average fight for 4 rounds of combat, then both drop dead. In practice, that never seems to happen.

I'm also never sure where when expected damage is an most appropriate measure. Here is my thought: the average soldier will take 8.5 damage before reaching the archer, but that only tells you what to expect over the course of 1000 games. What is the median damage? What percent of the time will she take less than 4 damage? What percent of the time will she be killed? Does granting +1 Attack actually make them evenly matched, or will the archer still win more than half the time? *sigh* There was a program I used to use on my computer to write code for simulations of this kind of thing, and it's not working right now. Stupid computer...

I don't know, I'd need to play this again, but maybe it is, as my friend suggested, mostly a psychological thing. You see an archer in the distance, you get scared, and don't want to run straight at it unless you have to. (I'm reminded of a movie of the French Revolution, where the peasants would charge, get shot, run away, charge again, get shot again, run away again. I couldn't help but think, if they continued to charge while the French soldiers were reloading their guns, they would win easily. It's just the panic that keeps the hordes at bay) I wonder what would have happened in my game if I really just had everyone charge? Oh well, maybe I should try that next time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A distraction

Okay, I've been distracted for the past couple weeks on another game. It's called "For Science." It was created because of a contest on the Board Game Designer's Forum. In some ways, it is there to be everything that Illeria is not. It's a very light, simple game. The rulebook is all of 2 pages, it takes 30 or 45 minutes to play, and is just vicious and fun.

Strangely enough, one or two playtests and it's already going really well. I don't know, the guys who have tried it all love it, though I think it could use some work (they are not quite the critics or perfectionists I am; this is probably why every game design advice column says don't just play with your friends). All the same, it's not like I have to playtest for hundreds of possible rule combinations with this one.

On the whole, this has been good, I think. I just hope I don't get disheartened by how easy this one is...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

New Theme

I hadn't realized that I hadn't posted on this yet. I did finally come up with a new theme idea that I liked. I previously had all these ideas about doomsday or a sinking Atlantis-type island, but none of them quite hit the mark. Then, I talked to my old roommate and personal muse Mike, and he suggested combining them. The best way I can think of explaining it is just by copying the new introduction. It's exciting, because this theme really finally feels right.

No one is really all that surprised by what Illeria has become. Why should we be? The very creation of this island was an act of evil. It has been home to the most horrific acts in living memory. I can only imagine that this is God's way of punishing us.

The Island of Illeria was created by Emperor Balthazar, a man who could frighten the Devil himself, as a prison camp. Criminals, revolutionaries, POWs, and other deviants of society, all were sent here. We spent our days doing hard labor, having information extracted by whatever means necessary, or acting as the test subject for new forms of warfare. Sometimes it felt like we were being tortured for no reason other than the entertainment of our guards. No one escaped. Illeria was not an inn or a dungeon, it was a grave.

Balthazar wanted to experiment with a new form of warfare, by allowing his soldiers to tap into the power of the spirit world. He knew that tearing a hole between the real world and the spirit world could be dangerous, and feared that this could have terrible consequences. Not only was Illeria far away, but also already had a small military base. Soldiers and wizards were brought to Illeria to learn how to focus their energy in both worlds, and in how to tap into the mystic powers of the spirits. As an unfortunate side effect, many of the prisoner learned as well.

Shortly after the rift between the worlds was opened, strange creatures began appearing on the island. We called them "phantoms." They are hard to describe, they just look like something not of this world. It very quickly became clear that they were not happy with what we had done. Battles with the phantoms often proved extremely bloody, so our wizards searched for ways to contain these monsters. Eventually, they developed a type of magical crystal. We placed these crystals around the island, and they controlled the influx of phantoms, at least for the most part. Illeria was able to grow, more permanent settlements were built, and the population of both soldiers and prisoners continued to increase.

But such a fragile defensive system was not meant to last. The wizards designed the crystals to protect against even the strongest attacks from the phantoms. They never expected the attack to come from natives of the real world. When the prisoners rioted, many of the crystals were shattered, leaving the flood gates wide open for invasion.

With Illeria being overrun by phantoms, order broke down. Soldiers and prisoners alike factioned into small groups, trying to improve the chances of their own survival. People quickly discovered that shards of the crystals still granted a modest amount of protection from the phantoms, who now roamed the island in numbers too big to control. The only hope that anyone holds anymore is that they might survive long enough for the monthly supply ship to arrive.

Other than that, basically same old same old, wishing I could playtest more, and friends always being too busy. I'm going backpacking with my dad next week, and have another trip planned before the end of the summer, so I'm not sure how much more of this we'll get to. Oh well I guess, hopefully I'll have a little free time in grad school (maybe?).

PS (after thought, edited) I had someone on say something to the effect of me putting too much energy into this, and that it's more important to create a good game than a good story. I don't know, that wasn't a concern on The Forge (and RPG site). Maybe it's just coming from the perspective of boardgamers (I mean seriously, how much of a story is there to, say, Monopoly, Risk, Go, Othello, Settlers of Katan, etc?). I mean, could you do a wargame like this without a rich background? I have trouble thinking of military games that don't include a good deal of mechanically useless backstory in their books (well, except for really abstract ones, and those based on historical battles). I don't know, perhaps idea was that the game should come first, and the story should follow (although, at The Forge, they kind of have the opposite idea, that you need a good story, or your game won't have an aim).

Either way, I don't really think I'm doing anything wrong (I'm certainly not going to throw my story away once I've bothered to come up with them), and I doubt that a game has every been hurt by too much story. I guess I'm just thinking out loud here.

Monday, May 25, 2009


So, I playtested two games recently. It's funny, the second one was a really fun game, but I felt like I got little to nothing out of it as a playtest. Pretty much everything worked (well, minus a few understanding problems). It's funny how that goes, you want there to be problems, because if there aren't, it means you can't improve.

The first of the two playtests I did hit a problem. Archery was still too powerful. I talked to my old roommate about this, and he made a really good point: if you look at history, ranged attacks always have beat melee attack, unless the melee possess a) superior armor, or b) superior numbers. This is probably part of why archery has almost always been a bit overpowered.

I guess I should explain, archery actually never gave me a problem in the Spirit World, only the Real World. I think the main reason: in the Spirit World, characters were so mobile, that even if the Spirit World weapons were stronger, they could get around it.

For my first attempt to fix this problem, I made archery do so little damage that it seemed like a waste. Then I fixed that, which made it return to the original problem. Next, I decided that if characters were given ranged weapons, it meant they had a weaker melee attack. This wasn't enough to fix the problem. Another problem was that I noticed that originally, if a character got a bonus to her Aim stat, it meant that she was a better fighter both at range and in melee. So, I decided that I could split up Aim into Ranged Aim and normal Aim (the way many games, such as Warhammer and War Marchines, do it). I also decided to give characters an automatic +2 Dodge (meaning that they were 20% harder to hit) against ranged attacks. Both were rather ugly attempts to fix the problem.

The problems I ran into this recent playtest: First, even if I split Aim into two parts, a character with +3 Ranged Aim (meaning 30% more likely to hit), was still too powerful (for example, it mean that they could shoot across the board and into cover, and still hit half the time). Second, for the entire game, I (the designer) kept forgetting the Dodge bonus. The result of this is that my real world characters were shot to death as they ran across the field (despite taking lots of advantage of cover).

The solution: First, I've decided to abandon Ranged Aim. Basically, now there is no way to improve one's ranged attack power (or, maybe I'll add an ability later). Second, I made an adjustment to the way range is measured. The system I've been using is similar to the d20 system (and I'm sure others, though I can't remember where I've seen it). For example, if your bow has a range of 8", then there was no penalty for shooting someone 1-8" away, -1 to hit between 9-16", -2 for 17-24", and so on. I decided to change it so that 1-8" is -1 to hit, 9-16" is -2 to hit, and so on. I figure this adds a certain amount of elegance that was lost with "You have one Dodge for melee, and an adjusted Dodge for archery." Third, I decided to adjust the range of a bow.

Hopefully now you can still have at least a mediocre archery group, one who can sometimes win, but won't always win. We'll see how it works.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New theme

First off, before I begin, I guess I've been working on this game on and off for like 2 1/2 years now. Almost 3. Mostly off, but still, it feels like a while. Anyway, yesterday I ran into someone at the local gaming store who said he'd been working on his game for 9 years, and was so excited that it was probably going to get finished by the end of the year (it looked like a neat idea, It kind of hit me: 9 years. Dang. There is a part of me that thinks of that as a bad omen. I really hope it doesn't take me that long. Like, get this done by the end of the year was my hope, but I guess we'll see.

Anyways, on to the theme. There was always something about escaping from a prison island that never quite sat right with me. I think in the end that the focus of the theme seemed too much about escaping, not about fighting. So, I think I'm going to scrap that idea. Instead, I'm replacing it with a new theme: basically, Illeria was once the world center of culture, science, and especially magic. Somehow, there was a downfall, and now everyone is trying to escape. Each battle will be about acquiring things that will help you on your route to escape, and in the end of each campaign, only a few will survive.

What is causing the downfall though is the problem. I'm letting the ideas jiggle around in my head right now. The favorite idea for now is a doomsday prophecy, but I don't know if I can make that fit with the other elements. I'm still not sure just why people would fight to avoid a doomsday prophecy. But yeah, I go into this with no ambivalent or reserved feelings though, so yay! Things on that end are, well, aligning themselves to fall into place.

Maybe I'll have lots of time this weekend to think about it during the unicycle rally.


“‘Where to we go from here?’ ‘Who says we’re here?’” – George Carlin

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Good enough"

There was a post I remember reading on The Forge about how it's better to release a meh game then not to release any game at all. It's something I'm eventually going to need to convince myself, but it's hard.

There are really two elements that I worry will not be good enough. The first is the theme. My game is set on a prison island. It is supposed to be about survival, and is supposed to be dark. At least in the real world. In the fantasy world, it is supposed to be utterly surreal. I worry that I don't do either of those points justice. I'm trying to work on that. I've debated trying to do my own artwork for the surreal part. I've also been working on flavor text to stick here and there, and on changing the names to really reflect this. Still though, I've sometimes thought that perhaps my basic back-story is not good enough.

Second, I worry sometimes that this game isn't getting playtested enough. I mean, it would take years and years to playtest every combination of abilities. I worry that inevitably there is going to be one or two strategies that dominate the rest, and that'll be no fun. Plus I worry that I won't be able to thoroughly test each special mission and special rule. I've debated if I should just give it a one or two time go, and see if they're alright. The later I'm less worried about, because if, say, the Assassinate mission is horrible, then no one will play it. I've sometimes debated if I'm going to need to drop some of them (or if it would be better to just release them under insufficient playtesting).

I don't know, I remember reading on The Forge a comment about a game (can't remember which one, but saw it a few times), that the game had such a good idea, but just wasn't well done. I worry sometimes that that will be Illeria. I don't know, as I said, I'll do what I can, but at some point a meh game is better than no game.


PS Random note: I really need to change my bio, stop saying that I'm about to go to Africa. I've done that, I'm back

“The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to be credible.” – Mark Twain

Monday, March 16, 2009

Trend towards simplicity

There was a post recently on, where someone asked if our games tended to become simpler, or more complicated as time went on. This game has done both, though honestly, I feel like most of it has been towards simplification.

The one asterisk I add to this is that I tried to develop the game in pieces. The last major game project I worked on ("Conquest of Diluna," a fantasy A&A-style game), the game began by me throwing everything in at once. The result: nothing was balanced, and I needed to balance several items at a time. In short, it was hard. It really took to about the 7th or 8th playtest before I had a game that didn't radically change from one time to the next. Here, the first time I played this, it was as simple as it gets. Each character had 1 advancement. There were no classes. There was no magic. There were no summoned creatures or animated creatures. And there were only 5 special abilities per world (including stat boosts). All I really wanted to do was test out if my basic mechanics (3 phases, orders that are mostly unchangeable, 2 worlds) were fun. It turns out they were. So, with that, I went into the game, proceeding slowly, trying to make sure each level of complexity worked before adding something new in.

That said, here are things that I've added in since the beginning (that weren't originally envisioned):
-Multiple missions
-Abilities where one character can influence their doppelganger
-Player aids (although, this is an addition that simplifies things)
-Terrain types
-Partial actions (although, this somewhat replaced disobeying commands)
-The "Retreat" action

Here are things I've dropped:
-Different classes having different stats
-Randomly determined HP
-A separate weapon system (never added, but originally I planned on it, this just got absorbed into abilities)
-One character must meditate at a time (basically, originally when a person was up in one world, they needed to be down in the other)
-Group orders
-Disobeying commands
-3 different types of savings throws
-The "Defend" order

Here are things I've streamlined:
-Spell failures (from roll a d10, on a 1, roll on another table -> to roll 2d6 whenever a spell fails)
-What happens when the general dies (it went from everyone makes Intelligence tests every turn -> to your # of orders are reduced)
-Damage (from either you do full damage or half damage -> to either you do full damage or x2 damage)
-Animated creatures (from you give them a specific order that you need to write yourself, much like programming a computer with a set of "if: then" statements -> to you choose from a list of pre-made commands)

There is probably more, although this is all that I can think of for now. Cheers!


PS It's still weird to think that after all of this simplification, the rulebook is still almost 70 pages long.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Too long...

Wow, okay, I'm back, it has been far too long since I've posted.

As of right now, I've played a few games recently. I was really proud of myself, one of my most recent playtests was the first playtest that didn't have any real criticisms. There were a few, "Well, I'm not sure, I'd need to play a few more games before I could give you a definite answer," but nothing like, "This is broken." YAY!

Unfortunately I've been having trouble finding time to play with my friends. I need to try harder. At this point, I'm actually thinking it's ready to release to the outside world. Pattie, the woman who runs the local gaming store, has suggested putting up a flyer advertise for playtesters. I'm going to go put that up today, and see how it goes.

I'll keep you all in touch!