Anthony BoydellUnited Kingdom
Saturday dawned all bright, hot and sunny and I'd managed to blag a pass out to pop over to Chez Alan Paull for another of our Surprised Stare Games Ltd Design Days. For those who missed my previous post (March, sometime), these are semi-formal game development days: various designers are locked into some rooms for the duration to hammer out prototypes, complete blind play-tests and generally chew the fat about stuff.
My role is to chip in facetious comments and crack terrible jokes, eat a scrummy buffet lunch and then piss off before the clearing up. Such an agenda was set for Saturday, with the exception of me bringing someone else along to the party. Boffo, of Ross-on-Wye board-gamers (in)fame, had passed his Bridge-playing eye over the prototype of SSGs next card game (On The Cards from Sebastian Bleasdale) and had a great deal to say about it - so I figured I'd drop him into the lion's den and see what transpired.
After pouring ourselves some beverages, Boffo was incarcerated in the 'games room' with Alan, Sebastian and Ian 'I may or may not have done well in the recent Days of Wonder Ticket To Ride Map design competition' Vincent: the fog of deep thought and serious contemplation already rolling into the corridor.
Myself, Richard Breese, Brett 'Oracle Pathways gone done and won a Prize' Gilbert, Charlie Paull and Miles 'Shouldn't you be at playgroup?' Ratcliffe retired to the sun-baked living room. Our first game of the day was taking a peek at an add-on Miles had designed for his recently-released (and well-received) mini-war game effort Medieval Mastery. I'd not played the original, so we set to with a six player to get the feel (ready to have a punt at the 'add on' later). MM is a quick, interactive little combat affair: each player has dice in their colour and a deck of effect/bonus cards (all decks are identical). On your turn, you gain some Knights (pips on dice) and then push 'em out into a pre-laid Hex landscape. Areas on the board have VP values with the first player to reach 13 points instantly declared the winner. There are variations in terrain abilities (pluses and minuses to combat, restrictions on pips allowed in etc) and the deck is used to resolve combat between players 'invading' already-occupied tiles. Quick, fun and tidy, I enjoyed this enough to buy one of the copies Miles had brought with him (the initial run is limited to 100). The 'add-on' was, in fact, totally unrelated to MM and was a form of combat Yahtzee which we all quickly moved away from...
The next game on the agenda was Mountain Railway - my ever-lurking worker placement work-in-progress about getting down and dirty in the process of building a single railway up the side of a mountain - no top hats or shares in this one!
It also incorporates a devious little weather mechanic that affects players' abilities to work efficiently.
You collect and convert resources, in a simple way (this ain't no Colonia), and then try and maximise your contribution to the construction of the overall route - which wraps around the central board as a line of cards. This was an excellent session and one that achieved a number of key points:
- it took less that 90 minutes for 4 players (incl. rules explanation);
- the weather system worked;
- players tried different paths to victory (two players had more actions than the others but couldn't make 'em count - the player who took the simplest, uncomplicated route took the win);
- the core mechanics are sound with player interest maintained throughout
- play was brisk (none of that dreaded AP nonsense)
This is a design that has been knocking around for 4 years now and has already undergone some serious tweaking and refinement. Happy Tony!
To round off the session, as the mid-afternoon cut-off point was approaching, we took a look at Brett Gilbert's Oracle Pathways - recent winner of the Granollers game design contest. I've been chomping at the bit to try this one for a while now, and my patience was rewarded.
OP is a simple, but devious, filler with bluffing and screwage and nice icons. Play is simple, you will have a hand of cards (6) in four suits; the different suits have different distributions within the overall 36-card deck. You pass 3 cards to the player on your right, so you now have information about some of the cards 'in play' (not all 36 are used in a round).
There are tracks for each colour on a central board and when you play a card, you MUST move your marker on that track to a space that 'predicts' how many of that colour card will be played in the round (four tracks, four markers for you). As cards come out, people are moving their markers and occupying the spaces (single occupancy only).
At the end of the round, if you're exactly right, or within 1 either side you get +-ive VPS, otherwise you get -ive VPs. During each round you will pass cards to the right two more times, gaining different cards and more information. An elegant and appealing design that, hopefully, will be hitting the 'real world' soon!
Luckily, Boffo had just finished a session of Ian's ghost-busting game - a collaborative / co-operative design (ask Ian about the difference between the two terms - go on, I dare you! *evil laugh*) and we were able to drive off into the Summery PM.
Boffo was inspired enough by the days events to design an 18-card card game, while I was inspired enough to open a bottle of cider and retreat underneath the hazelnut tree.