What I Learned By Wednesday - 3 The Blurb
The Tagline - The Blurb -
Anytime I read the description for a new board game, I realize how jaded and used to disappointment I’ve become. I read an exciting cavalcade of prose like this:
“… is a fully cooperative, Tomb Diving adventure game! …You might be fending off the forces of the King of the Forsaken, a Lion-Man damned by the Ancient Greek Gods to forever be part beast! Or perhaps you must find the magical incantation to reincarnate the Colossus of the Land to stop the Nazi’s from using the Kraken of the Sea to dominate the Second World War!”
And I sigh.
Let me guess. You draw a card, read it, then roll some dice to resolve random combat at multiple explorable locations. You have a “twist” that makes it slightly different from other games of this ilk. Uggh, I’m stopping; even typing this formulaic stuff out makes me feel even more jaded.
The point is, it doesn’t excite me. But, do you know who it excites? Just about everyone else.
An exciting blurb is important. And knowing your audience is important as well. Vigorous lexicon flamboyancy turns middle-aged individuals into salivating consumers. Whether your gamer fanboys want to vanquish Cthulhu while pulling off a sick varial heelflip, or they cream their cargo shorts every time you mention mechanics like worker placement and variable player powers, writing sells.
I’m going to make sure I sprinkle in a little zazz when talking about my games. Because, I’ve learned that, surprisingly, not everyone is me.
What I Learned by Wednesday - 1 Unique
Let’s see how long I can keep this up. Every Wednesday night, since I usually have the evening off from work, I’ll write a snippet of something interesting and new (to me) that I’ve learned about Game Design. Sounds like a good idea to me. Let’s do this:
Everything is unique.
The weird, relatable paradox in game design is that a designer’s main drive to continue working on a project stems from intrigue over a unique concept that they have created, but he develops this idea by combining other mechanics that are common and familiar.
This is why so many ideas never make it past the “concept” phase. The initial, fun part is easy. Actually implementing that unique idea into a workable theme, bland mechanical environment, and then balancing strategies through feel or statistics; this mish-mash of potential, sterile, retread combinations is the real work. And it’s not usually completed with a finger snap.
The thing to take away from all this, is that all ideas are unique and that criticizing something for being “too close” to another design is a very subjective task. I need to stop worrying that 90% of my game has been done before, and focus on really emphasizing that unique 10%.
Diaries Entries - Xenon Profitier Part 2
Xenon Profitier or Xe$Pro for short or Xe$ for shorter
I’m staring at two boxes of Yomi. They are sprawled, half-opened among the stacks of reconfigured cards from Xenon Profitier, their garish colors and pop anime art-style drawing the eye like a neon paperweight. The concept of Yomi, the game design, the faux-depth and exception-based card-play, and especially the playing card suits printed on all the medium-quality cards, it all screams “misplaced pretentiousness.”
It was one of my first snobbish board gaming moments and I remember it fondly. Here’s a fighting game “guru” with a math degree that helped balance Street Fighter II’s HD Remix. That’s about it. With a flash of epiphany, his game design skills in obsessive two-player competition on the computers translates perfectly into a Poker deck with a bunch of tiny words on the cards and a stale mechanic. And it would sell for over $100 on the strength of his non-board-gamer fan base.
I dismissed him. I’ve always argued that a game should be great because the game is solid, not because of the designer’s name attached. I dismissed his work harder than I think I dismissed anyone’s work ever. I felt personally offended by his self-promotion style that seemed to promote his own image more than the merits of his design (something which I continue to lampoon in my own life). Also, he writes extensively and uses many examples about Chess, and Chess isn’t even on my top ten list of abstract games.
I loved that David Sirlin was egotistical enough to pass off a rock-paper-scissors variant with a Robo-Rally-style convoluted order of operations as something revolutionary in his blog entries. Some people eat that shit up. They call it elegance. He even channeled the elitist gamer mantra. He insinuated heavily that the game had a higher level of depth that only the best and truest martial arts combat aficionados would understand.
Yet, this analysis completely ignores the fact that this “simple” rock-paper-scissors game includes a non-decision tree like a checklist of coding ifs and thens that occur after the initial simultaneous card play. If we both attack, check the speed of the attack, then check the card ability or power, if it allows a combo action, then play more cards if they are in hand, if the card has text, then engage text, if opponent can break the combo, then activate text, then… the list of possible effects go on and on, but are usually countered and exceptions are numerous. Which is strangely ambitious considering the rules are printed on a single page (and are equally frustrating for that same reason). This resolution of events, is most decidedly not elegant; cumbersome and vaguely thematic are better words.
Hype and spin are very important marketing tools.
I’m not hating on Yomi or even rock-paper-scissors, just pointing out that one person’s elegance is another person’s mess and that this game is not a groundbreaking reinvention of the card game, but is a variation on a basic concept. It takes a familiar element, a 54 card deck with playing card suits, adds words to each card and creates a new gaming experience. Bluffing being a key game mechanic. I think David Sirlin has since evolved as a game designer and has expanded his board gaming vocabulary while still highly valuing the direct back-and-forth nature of 2-player mental combat. This is good, and I’m hoping his recent departure from strictly fighting-themed games reflects this continuing evolution.
The game itself is what is important. Maybe you can become really fantastic at Yomi, maybe it’s a random game with an over-inflated sense of self-worth, but once I stopped internally criticizing the man behind it all, it was still relatively fun to play. That’s what games are about. It’s like that. Even for a curmudgeonly, eurotastic, pacifist like myself.
And Xenon Profitier is like that. It takes a familiar concept like deck-building and the racing-style Euro game, creates a variation of both and pumps out a new game. That’s not exactly how I would phrase it on an advertisement, as it completely ignores all of what I consider to make the game clever, but it doesn’t make the statement any less true. It is new, but also an evolution. I could expound upon it’s loftier purpose in reverent tones. Say that it is like a haiku. A simple, thematic statement that artistically examines an often overlooked piece of our modern framework. By building an infrastructure, tempering chaos, and trying to control the air itself, we can observe man’s true conflict, the fight to find sense in an infinitely insensible world. A poem in game form.
It sounds good, but in the end, Xe$ (shortened, so I don’t have to type the title every time) is an experiment in mechanics supporting theme (see Nat Levan’s excellent post on isomorphism http://oakleafgames.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/game-theory-isomorphism/ ) and hopefully this makes the game fun even when the theme is not a reason to play. It’s a weird little game, which is par for the course for me, and I’m starting to think it’s pretty awesome.
The point of all this, is to explain how differently these two games attempt to draw players into their world. You can’t go into Xe$ with any sense of hype. There is no fireball throwing, time travel, explosions, or anime art to fall back onto. It’s a game. A little escapist fantasy about running a business that strives to draw you into it’s world merely by the interesting and strategic interactions players have while building their engines and solving a puzzle each turn. It has to be good, because it sure as hell won’t sell as many copies if I priced it at $100.
I ended the first entry before my first real play test, which is a nice cliffhanger for a game design. I’m a little better at anticipating player reactions after years of doing this, but there is always a sense of anxiety, especially when I know that I’m placing something less-than-ideal in front of a group. Luckily, I have a small, close-knit gaming group that eases my transition. A first play test with real human beings is the thing that either motivates me to continue with a design, or place it off to the side. And believe me, I’ve had successful play tests where I, personally, didn’t see the game play out how I imagined, so even in the face of positive feedback I’ve shelved the game.
My explanation was brief and stumbling, but it relied heavily on the fact that we had just played Trains two weeks previous, so I could make parallels. What are the differences? You can hold whatever you’d like in your hand for next turn, theres no money on the cards, and you can build permanent fixtures; these are what trigger the end-game. I explained bidding tokens, and wiping. And then, we were off.
Nothing broke. That was the first hurdle. The game was relatively close and ended in about nine turns, which seemed like the speed I was shooting for. Everyone took different strategies. My friend Steve culled his System down to nothing and pumped in Xe with a certain card combination, while E.B. drew cards and pushed the game to it’s conclusion with a money-heavy engine. Afterwards, there was high praise for the game, and I was already formulating ways to “fix” problems that only I saw while playing. I was a bit surprised when E.B. expressed her like for the game, as I just assumed she would shrug her shoulders. But, there was a general pledge around the table to try it again next week.
So, the last four weeks have been play test after play test, another six times alone with faux 4-player set-ups, and another twenty or so times with live players. Originally, there were three duplicates of every card in the game, with a few single outliers that could not be installed permanently, resulting in a deck of 24 cards. For anyone familiar with deck-builders, you can possibly see from this low number why this game is not really a deck-builder in any logical sense. But, I reduced the amount of duplicates to 2 for each card, and added a few more to support the bidding mechanic. And tweaked the numbers endlessly with sharpies.
Balance is key, and as I made more tweaks, players had to recognize tactical opportunities for a more well-rounded strategy, instead of simply rushing towards the game’s conclusion. The game is an “open” style game, which means that there are no procedural limitations to players, or negative feedback loops to navigate other than the inherent, but admittedly simple puzzle of clogging a player’s deck with cards every time that they gain capital (money). There’s no “I need to build this, before I can add this cube, before I can build this other thing…” This means that timing is more important than simply building a perfect engine, because the game end will creep up and trigger well before you are prepared. I didn’t want a perfect “standard strategy” to emerge as in other similar card games, so making sure that they are nicely weighted and that scooping up a key contract card for XPs might be just as important as grabbing a powerful upgrade for your system. Interesting choices, variable strategies.
And the reception from my players has been very positive. Too much so. I’ve had at least one player (occasional Magic player) that had never played a deck-builder give it effusive praise and it keeps getting requested at game nights each week. I didn’t bring the copy this week, because I didn’t want to sicken them with playtest-fatigue and I was surprised to hear a collective groan. Once I gain some more money and the ability to call off work again in mid-November, I will definitely be touring this game around to Unpub Minis and more.
I’m not a fan of games where a certain mechanic seems completely ineffective or introduced as a side-thought because it seems cool. Global Mogul has this neat bidding system that only occurs if players pick up Government Contracts. It’s highly thematic, and a fun addition, but it’s very weak in the game. Barely anything during play supports this concept and because Contracts are, in general, a crapshoot of possible payouts and a mishmash of various symbols, the actual bidding is not what would be considered “good” or interesting by bidding game standards. The game can even be played sans this bid, and some prefer it that way. Feels like a waste to me.
Originally, I wanted to steal this concept, but I realized quickly that I would have the exact same problem. Not only does it pause the flow of the game to have a surprise bidding round, but simply because something is thematically called “bidding” it doesn’t mean that it needs to be or should be abstractly represented by an actual bid. Enter Bid Tokens (I’ll probably changed the name of them eventually).
The concept is that I can place a Bid token onto a Contract or Upgrade. This prevents another player from removing the card from the line-up, gives me a discount of one money when purchasing the card, and if anyone else takes that card, they must pay me a money for the token. Essentially an indirect form of player interaction, and a way to encourage another player NOT to take your preferred action if you don’t have the money for the purchase.
The problem I was having, is that players only placed Tokens if they had absolutely nothing they could do on their turn. It was like a consolation prize instead of a real strategy and barely affected gameplay. Depending on the deck-builder, a “worthless turn” seems to pop up two to three times a game, and is decidedly annoying (although a consequence of poor efficiency). But, f that were to happen in Xe$, it could be nearly a third of the gameplay.
Concurrently, the idea of a booby prize or semi-worthless turn was brought up by my friend, Jim in a later play test. He felt that he could “always do something,” but the Distill portion of the turn had zero decisions. If you had an ability, you would use it. If you didn’t and you had a bad draw, well it felt like a wasted turn and to compensate, you would take MORE cards to gum up your system, which made the next few turns feel even more random. This also caused decks to become immense in a 4-player game, and I was quickly running out of AIR cards to add to decks. It also artificially accelerated the game.
I needed a solution to combat both issues. Bidding wasn’t being used. Players were ignoring everything except taking piles of cards in their deck for money. Something more than just simply renumbering the cards again (which I did).
So, the idea of OVERTIME came into play. Basically, you can FLIP your ASU (Air Separation Unit) to the backside at the beginning of their turn and take an accelerated turn with some specific caveats. You can Distill twice, which is the key portion, and then you are forced to Bid twice. There were no choices to make, players remove a ton of cards and are then unable to add cards to their System. AND most importantly, at the end of your turn, you RESHUFFLE. This final addition was the piece of the puzzle that vexed me for nearly a week.
I had essentially killed all the deck building tropes that I hated. Uncontrolled luck of the draw in both a deck and the line-up of available cards to purchase, not having enough time to use a purchased card because a deck cannot reshuffle, and not being able to actively affect what cards other players would choose. Even without any ways to directly attack other players, it felt like I could make “Take That” plays with a grin, using Bids to effectively make something too expensive for another player to purchase. And there was still a fair amount of surprise in the way that cards came up, both in the line-up and in a player’s deck. However, if someone hates Shuffling in these games, oh well, I can’t really help them.
I also added a few abilities that severely enhanced the placement of Bid Tokens. An option to Bid AND Buy in a single action (which becomes very powerful when used with Overtime), and an ability to place 3 tokens at once when placing Bid Tokens. Finally it feels as though bidding isn’t simply a side mechanic for mediocre turns, but a legitimate strategy.
I also used to hate sleeving cards. But, these sleeves make it so easy to shuffle small amounts of cards that I’m considering that if this were ever sold it should have optional card sleeves with special backs available for purchase alongside. It’s more viscerally satisfying to bridge shuffle, but practically, squeezing a line of sleeved cards together is wonderful and speedy.
And one final note; my friend, Steve, came up with a really cool game-end mechanic which actually increases some of the excitement. The person who triggers the end of the game (there’s two way to trigger the game end, both controlled by the players, i love that shit so much), finishes their turn and receives the XENON PRIVILEGE COIN. On one side is a picture of Xenon, on the other side is +2XP. All other players receive one final turn, BUT the player with the coin has to decide (before the other players take their final turn) if they will keep the extra 2XP OR take one final turn and try to score more points.
I think the decision is cool, as it adds one final bit of uncertainty to the end of the game, which makes it less calculable and more risk vs. reward.
I understand now why certain game designers talk about play testing their games two or three hundred times before they are released. Card games and dice games are like a dream for play testing. I mean, in comparison to a sprawling board game with tons of moving parts and pieces, or a game that requires 7 or 8 players to play (VivaJava), this is a cake-walk. And enticing players to bang out a game that takes under an hour to finish is like the icing. I’ve been dabbling with another survival game concept that includes up to 9 players and I dread finding the time, friends, and energy to go through the rigamarole of testing even a small, short game with that many players.
So, I created the PnP files for Xenon Profitier recently and posted them. I need more play testers. I need to see reactions. Link here: http://tcpettyiii.tumblr.com/post/66779068158/xenon-profitier-print-n-play
It’s a bunch of cards to print and cut, so I don’t expect more than a handful of people may attempt it, but it is extremely helpful. I want to avoid “standard strategies” or any game-breaking combinations that players may find. What are the confusing portions? How are my rules-writing skills improving (or devolving)? Feedback is all appreciated.
I spent six hours straight, simply typing out the rules into TextEdit; 3000 words. I used multiple new techniques that I’ve picked up recently and will have to blog about soon. Then another four hours re-reading and re-editing the format, adding new clarifications from recent play tests with new players.
Recommended soundtrack: Kraftwerk “Minimum-Maximum”. This robotic mix of pioneering bleeps and bloops and phasers should provide a wonderful ambience for a game of Xe$Pro.
And that’s where I am. Past the point of initial exploration and discovery, into the refining stages of design where I do less iteration and more data collection. Pages and pages of design notes are now simply ink-stained blobs that look like distant memories. Stay tuned for more info, more egotistical ponderings, and self-important meanderings that will titillate your brain taste-buds with glucose-covered theoretical design chunks.
Xenon Profitier Print-N-Play
To skip all the beautiful words below, simply click this link to be taken to the PNP page for Xenon Profitier: http://unpub.net/games/detail.php?proto=138
It’s time for you to isolate some Xenon! Today, I have completed the Alpha version of Xenon Profitier and want to share it with the world in order to obtain feedback and make the game the best game it can possibly be.
If you’re not excited by the prospect of running a cryogenic distillation unit to isolate the element Xenon from air for fun and profit, here’s an amazing excerpt from the rulebook:
"Xenon is a valuable nobel gas that is found in very trace amounts in Earth’s atmosphere. Due to the difficulty and expense of isolating high purity Xenon for various technological advancements in recent years, the need for Cryogenic Distillation of Xenon is on the rise. Having an entrepreneurial spirit, and an engineering background, you and several other similarly-minded individuals cobble together basic Air Separation Facilities to hopefully capitalize on this emerging market. By combining and upgrading new equipment to improve your System, while competing for the most lucrative long-term Xenon supply contracts, you will quickly expand your Xenon empire. Do you have the ingenuity, strategy, and tactical fortitude it takes to be recognized by several reputable business publications as the owner of the most influential domestic supplier of Xenon?"
Why Should I Play?
It plays with 2-4 Players in under an hour. It is easy to learn and teach. Setup is quick. And it is only 166 cards to print.
Xenon Profitier is a game for people who are sick of deck-building. I don’t even really like calling it a deck-builder, as you don’t actually build a deck. But, it’s also a game for deck-building fans that want something drastically different. The focus of the game is my favorite part of deck “building” and that is “removing” cards from a deck. And it isn’t a traditional deck-building game with a cool theme tacked on as an after-thought.
In Xenon Profitier, you must Distill Air as it occurs naturally, which is represented by cards for Nitrogen, Oxygen, Krypton, and Xenon. The more Air that you introduce to your System (deck), the more potential it has to slow down your progress. But, you’ll need to add air for extra capital and in order to isolate enough Xenon to fulfill lucrative contracts. As you build your Facility by attaching Upgrades and fulfilling Contracts, you create your own Air Separation Unit with different technologies each game. You’re not simply building a deck, but an actual Plant.
Unlike other similar games, currency is not printed on the cards. Timing is as important as buying the right combination of abilities. There’s no “standard” strategy and there are multiple paths to victory. And because of the card distribution, each game is different from the last, while Bid Tokens assure that a lucky random card draw isn’t what determines a victory. There’s some really neat mechanics going on in here. Check it!
HOW TO PRINT N PLAY
Here is the link to the Print N Play files located on the Unpub website:
Simply click the PNP button at the top of the page to download the .zip file.
What’s nice about the Unpub website is that there is a big RECORD FEEDBACK button on the page, so if you feel like playing and leaving anonymous feedback, you can do it right there. But, I love feedback in all forms, so you can always contact me at email@example.com
The file 1streadme.pdf gives directions on everything needed for the PNP.
And hey, if you’re just interested in checking out the RULES, just click on the Rules button at the top of the Unpub page for the pdf.
Thanks for looking! Thanks for the feedback! Thanks for buying coffee games! Thanks for believing in dreams! Thanks for the creepy massages! Thanks everyone!
Diaries Entries - Xenon Profitier Part 1
I’ll break from the norm and do a little game development diary action.
The last two weeks have been filled with the element Xenon and research and personal play testing and more work within that speedy time-saving application that is Illustrator.
The initial concept of this half-serious idea came from a tweet by Ben Pinchback, the taller half of the designer duo known for their successful card game Fleet.
Avoiding proofreading rulebook. I know I’ll read the entire wiki article on Xenon…. That was boring…. dang out of ideas.. onto the rules— Ben Pinchback (@pinchback21) October 1, 2013
So, while at the casino (I work as a dealer), I felt compelled to join in on this fascinatingly dull activity. I read the entire article during a twenty minute break, and it was as boring as advertised. Possibly moreso. I have no clue why this intrigued me, but the draining puddle of electronic blurbs within, suddenly inspired an idea. And while my table was dead, I began to formulate a basic concept of removing (distilling) cubes from a pile to make the pile more pure. Kind of like panning for gold. A player begins with a mishmash of elements, and while they have no value all together, when one resource is isolated from the others, it suddenly skyrockets in perceived value.
A note on boredom: I find just about every Euro/German-style game to be boring and even worse, abstractly related to specific historical events from a medieval/renaissance time-period. Usually this includes a village or town that know one has heard of before and looks the same as any other thatched roof, horse and buggy, muddy farming, market game where you build a castle or trade essential goods to make more of all this wondrous and generic regal drudgery.
This is called “elevation through theme.” Instead of fictionalizing a scenario or adding a trendy Zombie/Dragon/Pirate theme, the esteemed designer chooses a timeless pastoral setting, which allows older customers in European countries and abroad to justify their gaming as educational, adult, and dignified in a way that fighting off vampires with garlic guns and flamethrowers does not provide. Not that these “awesome” themes are any better.
But, I love Euro games. Direct conflict has always been the piece of the gaming puzzle that has alienated people like me, geeky girlfriends, and casual players from the board game hobby for years. Euro games embrace strategy over tactics and rarely venture into cut-throat territory. And most importantly, they are good in spite of their abstract, thematic shortcomings.
Lately, I’ve been obsessed with merging gameplay and theme in a way that cannot easily be separated, yet still keeping that strategic, puzzly core of the Euro. I’ve been challenging myself to design games that absolutely cannot be transposed into other themes without drastically altering the gameplay. The idea of creating a deck-destruction game, or a reverse deck-builder, isn’t necessarily a unique idea. Just about everyone has decided to put a spin on deck-builders in every conceivable way possible and it’s generally very annoying. But, I think this is what intrigues me about a game about isolating the element Xenon. The mechanic isn’t being forced into the fray; it literally makes perfect sense. There’s no artificial “elevation through theme.” It’s a boring concept that is fueled by mechanics that work and that are fun.
The idea: Air goes in. This jumble of separate elements (N, O, Kr, Xe) is what mucks up the player’s system (cryogenic distillation unit), or “deck”. Each turn players draw a new hand and must Distill out the elements in order of real, systematic priority, (N to O to Kr to Xe). When only Xe remains in hand, the player can use that Xe to fulfill real world contracts (televisions, medical research, etc.).
Even for a game that seems simplistic in intent, I always have a ton of notes.
So, last week, I created the initial prototype, which was somewhat labor intensive considering the amount of cards needed to test a deck-building game (about 120 initially). My focus was to make the game play quickly for 2 to 4 players and to use as few cards as possible, since players would be removing cards every turn from their systems. I knew that anything purchased would go directly into decks that were smaller than most deck-manipulation games, so I created a combo mechanic, where duplicate cards could be purchased and when used would then be permanently installed in front of the player. I’m not going to post pictures, since I completely destroyed another designer’s game with markers in order to build it.
I never playtest with other players FIRST. And I’m very glad that due to a Halloween parade, I was forced to wait and play test by myself. I stopped about half-way through the first game. In the game, cards come out in a random line, similar to Ascension or Thunderstone or countless others. However, there are two lines. One line for Contracts and the other for System Upgrades, each four cards long. I realized that my math was WAY OFF, and completely revised the Contracts. This caused the next game to swing wildly in the opposite direction, becoming extremely easy. I still didn’t know how players “WON”. I just had XPs and Money.
In the game, money is not printed on the cards like in all other deck builders to my knowledge; it is a completely separate pile of tokens that are earned when AIR is added to a player’s system, cards are activated and when certain Contracts are completed. This is a huge boon, as it makes decisions more pressing and important. Do I add AIR (4 cards, N, O, Kr, Xe) to my system for money, or do I wait it out and isolate Xe?
After another ten to fifteen plays in a relatively short week, I had determined a good mix for the game. Nothing perfect, just a bunch of mechanics that seemed to work alongside an accelerated engine building game. For a while, I had added Argon to the AIR mix, but this proved to add too much difficulty, too many cards, and randomness. I was becoming frustrated with how boring the game became when I inserted Argon. However, by this point, it was enough to consider how the theme and aesthetics would work together.
I jumped into Illustrator. The theme started to come alive as I made cards connected by a series of tubes, imagining the entire system coming together in some sort of pornographic interconnection of metal factory feeds and pipelines with a phallic distillation tower representing the player’s deck. The tubes made logical sense as “installed” upgrades, and the pipelines represented the real practice of fulfilling nearby contracts with underground pipelines.
More reworking. The numbers are getting tighter and each of the cards seem “a bit overpowered” which is exactly the type of quickness and efficiency I want. I’m looking to make players EXCITED to play a game about a subject that is unexciting. Plus, there’s actually an end-game condition; two of them!
For those curious, I was using sleeved cards with slips of copy paper inside and playing cards beneath for rigidity. I don’t usually like to do this, as I want to be able to write on cards and cross out things on the fly, but the amount of cards made that process difficult. The ease of shuffling was more important.
Also, the most difficult process was trying to make sure that EVERY turn players could “do something.” I remembered that even Dominion had a few “terrible draw” moments where players just discarded their hand and said, “your turn.” Early in play tests, I’d have many turns where my imaginary player 1 and 2 would Distill one card, then inwardly sigh as that’s all they could do. I made up a few more mechanics to alleviate this issue.
A few interesting mechanics used in the game: INSTALL. Players can buy a card for their deck, or pay a much bigger amount to permanently INSTALL the card, making it useable every turn and scoring points at game end. Cards in a player’s hand can then later be upgraded in the same way as well. WIPE. Players can either Introduce new Air into their systems or Wipe a line of Contract or Upgrades and redraw before purchasing. This makes it so that players always have opportunity to potentially buy a powerful card. BID. Going hand-in-hand with being able to WIPE all cards, players then must choose to either BUY or BID on a Contract or Upgrade. Bidding isn’t a traditional Bid, it’s represented by a token in your color. If you place a token onto a card it cannot be WIPE’d AND if another player purchases the card, they must pay $1 to any player with a token on the card. This causes some nice indirect player interaction, and makes it so that you can always save up cash for an important card and not have it disappear without receiving something in return. This was always something I hated in Ascension or DC Deck builder. Someone would just take the card you needed right before your turn and there was nothing you could ever do.
I’m worried about the longevity of the experience. Yes, each game is different, and there are always things to do, but how can I make the different strategies pervasive enough and equal enough to explore? It doesn’t have the Dominion or Ascension issue where a certain base strategy is always the best, which is good. I think getting the mix of cards correct is going to be the biggest challenge moving forward. The math is almost there.
Tonight, I’ll try to have a real play test and mine for some feedback. I’m actually excited to play a deck-builder! …i think i just threw up a little in my mouth.
Executive Level Muckraking
Today my first golfing experience in nearly four years ended early in a torrential downpour. My last drive was on a 400 yard Par 4, straight down the fairway, smashed past the 150 marker. Of course, then a vicious thunderstorm rolls in, nearly ruining my sister’s WonderWoman anthology and tragically ending my possible birdie attempt. I was impressed with myself, honestly, earlier I had reached the fringe twice in 2 shots for an Eagle attempt on two separate Par 5s and my shots were all straight as an arrow (even if not on target). Multiple Pars. That’s pretty friggin good for a four year hiatus.
But, as I sat there with my sister, soaked and miserable with water molecules all over everything, I think my mind began to soak in some of that muck and mud. I kind of wanted to complain, but I thought it better to simply shut up and let my mood sour. And then, I was a guest on the Geek Allstars podcast and, as per usual, regret letting an opinion slip. It’s tough not to burn bridges but still have an opinion. It’s tough to happily sling some mud and not get wet and dirtied.
What I said was relatively benign and was spurned on by some pre-podcast talks, expecting me to make some digs on other people’s “must-buy” choices for GenCon since I had none of my own. A little negativity and humor makes for good audio clips, I think (hope Dan knows I wasn’t serious). But, still, there’s a chance that someone involved will hear my “mini-review” of a newly released game called Dungeon Roll and become offended. As a designer of games, this is very counter-intuitive.
"Shut up and stay positive!"
Just think of all the heart-ache you can avoid by being the champion of every single game and game designer and game company that ever existed. It’s really good advice.
If you’re a game designer, smile, shake hands, network, and definitely leave your opinion out of your business dealings.
If you’re a game reviewer, nothing ever scores under a 7 out of 10 (except for one or two knowingly mass-market titles to stay objective). Publishers will send you more games. Games are generally fun! Smiles breed free stuff!
Jamey Staigmaier explains this concept in a much less curt and much more balanced way in his blog post, "Praise publicly, criticize privately"
I agree that it’s very good advice. But, here’s the thing. I’ll probably never shut up when I know it’s good for me. I’ll amend this by saying that I hold my tongue A LOT. I think most everyone does. However, I don’t believe that criticism should be resigned to besmirched reviewers from the deep recesses of the internet. Clear, intelligent assessment of the worth of something based on your opinion, combined with your experience is exceedingly helpful.
I’d rather take the bad with the good.
Tainted with Reality
When giving my opinion of Dungeon Roll, I stated: “It’s OK.”
It was meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek criticism. The vagueness and cold silence afterwards says much more about my overall opinion of the game. Yes, I was “trying to be funny” and it was not really a fair statement. It was snarky.
If I were more articulate, I would have opined: “Dungeon Roll is a 1 to 4 player, high-score-competition-style, dice game with zero player interaction. The single-player game, though psychologically altered, is exactly the same as the multiplayer game. While touted as a press-your-luck game, the system provides very few difficult decisions on whether to delve further or stop. This is due to the probability of success being elevated by the use of champions, potions, and treasure tokens. The balance of potential success for each player is appreciated, but is particularly devastating if a player takes a risk and fails to succeed on their turn as runaway leads can become insurmountable and early XP gains give a character bonus. Turns are swift though and present randomized puzzle situations which makes it a good, light filler for a young dungeon delver. The system is modern and well-play-tested presenting enough tactical options to make solving the “puzzle” as efficiently as possible each turn engaging and satisfying. For the price, the game succeeds. For those looking for the perfect beer and pretzels dungeon experience, I’d say this is adequate, though too head-scratching and solitaire for that crowd. Overall, it’s an okay game. Nothing especially gripping, but also nothing irksome or hate-worthy, so possibly worth checking out.”
A little wordy for a podcast. But, in this blog-space, possibly reasonable, though exponentially more real-estate to state the exact same thing. I’m probably unqualified to even make this mini-review as I played a friend’s copy because I knew ahead of time that these types of games are usually not my cup of tea.
But, there you go. My opinion, both negative and positive on another designer’s game. A designer that I follow on Twitter. A designer that I will probably interact with again. The problem is, like Jamey mentions, I look kind of like a dick. Am I making myself look smart by putting down others? Am I sacrificing a possible friendship with Chris Darden or even a business relationship with Tasty Minstrel Games? I guess I owe them all a beer (or non-alcoholic beverage).
To be honest, I think even thinking that either of those two “care” what I have to say is a bit presumptive. But, I ponder this every single time I consider rating a new game on BGG. If I rate this game poorly, am I providing a more accurate sample size for representative analysis, or am I just being a dick?
Freedom of Expression
Back when VivaJava was released, Ryan Metzler was preparing a Dice Tower video review for the game. He, being the nice guy that he is, contacted me ahead of time, worried that he might offend me by being critical of the game at lower player counts. I told him to say “whatever he wanted” about the game, good or bad. Christopher Badell from Greater Than Games really solidified my feelings on this subject. Any press is good press; don’t sweat it.
This isn’t me showing off my altruistic nature or virtuous championing of verisimilitudinous behavior, it’s just how I operate. And it’s how I expect others to operate. Don’t beat around the bush. Also don’t just blurt out hate-speech. Think about what you are going to say first, but then Say It. An open line of communication, even with all the filth and muddy muck that might entail, that’s something I believe in.
For example, Matt Drake played and reviewed VivaJava and didn’t like it. But, what the hell, this comes from an old codger that only likes games with theme (“dungeon crawls”) and hates Adventure Time. Which completely invalidates his opinions. BUT, he’s entertaining, enjoyable to read, with an acute witticism and a casual narrative voice. I point to his blog as a harbinger of off-the-cuff reviewing based solely on opinion. He’s good. I will send him a copy of every game I ever make and he can bash each one of them to hell.
Luckily for me, I generally think games are all okay. I know my preferences, so I avoid the card games in Walmart, epic wargames, CCGs, miniature skirmishes, and games with tons of dice. Outside of those, I’m willing to play anything. And if I really really hate something, I generally let all my immediate friends know, but don’t broadcast it loudly.
But I’ll also tell you exactly how I feel about it if asked. Sometimes reasonably. Sometimes snarkily. My friends do it to me and I consider every one of you dear readers as a best pal, so I’m going to do it right back. I don’t rate my own games (unless out of sheer ridiculousness) and I don’t comment on other people’s ratings of my games.
Yes, these opinions will probably get me in trouble a few times, and that dirt will cling my shirt for a while. But, I have to be flippant about it all. If I ever become some preeminent authority in the board game world, maybe a little more of this “opinions in the spotlight” stuff will be applicable. At least I can point back to this blog post and say, “see? I told you I was going to be a dick!” And then we’ll laugh and share a coffee at a diner and talk together about all the games we hate.
Opinions are grand. Have ‘em.