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It's been a little more than a year since my last post. Reading that made me smile as I've solved most of the issues I had with Tell Me... back then. The game still has the same core mechanic but in other ways it's completely different as play now progresses through the ages, an idea I was highly resistant to at first but which I've come to realize makes the game much, much better, I have a rudimentary scoring mechanic which I feel much less of a need for, and the cards are fewer but can be combined in much more interesting ways.
The only thing I'm not completely satisfied about right now is the mechanic I'm using for refering back to existing elements (which is also the mechanic that's gone through the most changes). It works, but it's a little clunky and easily the most complicated rule in the game - though that's not saying much.
I've also done a lot more playtesting, and while there are bits I'd like to polish more what I should do is finish the translation into English and start looking for a publisher. I could take this to Kickstarter, but frankly I already have a job.
That's the new working title for the game I mentioned in my last post as "Why Did the Unicorn Destroy the World?" which I've been working on off and on since then. I did some demos/playtest sessions at a gaming con over Easter which were very encouraging.
It's still a very simple design which has some of the creativity of more pure storytelling games like Once Upon a Time but with a little more direction.
The main mechanic is that the players take turns asking questions about the world they're creating and then use voting on cards from different categories to provide the answers. This means that while the players can give a lot of input and direction, the end result will remain within the realm the game is aiming for and create some level of cohesion.
It's coming along very nicely and so far it's hitting most of the targets I've been aiming for:
* It's fun to play
Without this nothing else would really matter, and so far I haven't received any feedback indicating anything other than having a good time with it. Every group I've played it with has seemed to have a good time, usually with a lot of laughs, and player engagement is high throughout.
* It works for worldbuilding
At its heart this is a worldbuilding game (though I will be doing adaptations into other functions once I have this version mostly nailed down) and it works very well for that, in a group or for a GM or other solo player wanting to create a world by themselves.
* It has room for different modes of play
So far I've been playtesting the least structured version and it works fine for casual play, but I think if you want the end result to make more sense and feel more like a real world it needs more structure and probably longer sessions than the 45 to 75 minutes that seems to be the natural length. I've taken a couple of stabs at stricter structures where you set up more of the cosmology early on, and I think that can work well too.
There are also a couple of goals I'm still working towards:
* More game
Currently this is more of a storytelling exercise than a game, with no defined end point and no measure of success. I think that's fine as one mode of play, but I'd like to have at least one cooperative version and one competitive one with some kind of scoring system. Ending the game can be done after a certain number of turns, but it's difficult to tie scoring to anything other than the voting and that motivates players to vote for something other than what they find to be the best or most interesting answer. I think it's possible to solve that, but I'd like an elegant and simple solution and that may be more difficult. Coop scoring is if anything even more difficult.
* Recording the game state
Right now only the answers are recorded, and only in the loosest sense (by collecting the cards). The problem is that recording the questions would have to mean writing them down and that takes away from tempo and engagement. For a game that lasts about an hour this isn't a big issue as the players seem to be able to remember the questions well enough, but for a longer game or one that's broken up into multiple sessions this becomes a serious issue.
Also, one point of creating a world is to have that world afterwards.
I've also found a couple of unexpected strengths that I'd like to explore more.
* Non-gamer friendly
One playtester pointed out that this could work well with people who usually don't play games. It's highly social and creative, the rules are dead simple, and there's strong out-of-game player interaction all through the game. With a less esoteric theme it could perhaps even work with non-geeky non-gamers.
* Kid friendly
I think this could also make for a good game for kids, even pretty young ones. Telling stories and asking questions come naturally to most children, and with a theme more in line with their interests I think this could work well both for adults to play with children or for children to play alone.
In short I have high hopes for Tell Me Something About the World and hopefully I'll be posting more about it soon!
So it's been well over a year since I last posted anything here, mostly because things have been crazy at work so the energy I've had to spare for writing has been minimal.
However, I've still been working at some design ideas and just last week I finished a very rough first prototype of my new world-building card game which carries the working title "Why Did the Unicorn Destroy the World?"
It's a very simple design but from the first playtest I think it has potential to be a lot of fun! It's a more structured version of a world-creation game I've tried out before, and I think it can be finagled into doing a lot more than just world-building. We'll see how that develops.
I've also had a couple of more ideas for new games that I hope I'll be able to start working on, and this blog will be the place where I catalogue that.
Other than the card game above, I have two ideas that are active right now.
The Fantasy Factions Game
This is one of my oldest boardgame ideas and it has been through several prototypes ove the years. Sadly, none of them have been any fun to play, partly due to the sheer amount of information on the board. Currently I'm thinking of including a kind of communal deck-building element to reduce the amount of information a player needs to keep in mind when making their moves, as well as to make some of that information hidden. We'll see how that shakes out.
The Deadly Settlement Game
This is a very rough idea partly inspired by Dwarf Fortress. You send an expedition into a very hostile area to create a settlement, they get started, and then they most likely get killed by one thing or another. You send another expedition to continue where the first one left off, except maybe some of the things they built have been taken over by the hostiles in the area so they have to deal with that, and then they too get killed. This feels like a solo or coop game.
During [url="http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?719186-Thoughts-On-Dungeon-Crawling-and-Why-I-Don-t-Like-Traps"]this discussion[/url] on dungeon crawling at RPGNet I came up with some ideas that might be useful for the future.
Note that this is intended for a resource management focused dungeon crawl RPG, like the pre-AD&D2 editions of D&D.
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So here's a very rough draft just to make it more clear what I was imagining. Some of this I've figured out beforehand, some I'm just putting down as I think of it.
When it matters I'm assuming some kind of D&D-like class/level system here, just because that's most familiar.
Each character has a number of focus tokens to spend on various tasks. What these tasks are depend on the situation; here I'll mostly be discussing moving through a dungeon since that's what we've talked about and what I've most thought about.
I think all characters should have the same number of tokens with class differences and the like being expressed mainly in how efficient you are when spending tokens on a given task.
Dungeon Crawling Tasks
What do you do when you move around in a dungeon? I've divided the various tasks as follows (with all names being placeholders for something better):
* Exert: Move fast and/or carry stuff.
* Watch Your Step: Move carefully.
* Guard: Look out for approaching enemies or other things that move around or change.
* Search: Look for traps, secret doors and hidden treasure.
* Manipulate: Disable traps, open doors, mark safe paths, deal with equipment and the like.
* Command: Order hirelings around (and possibly other characters as well).
Some details on this:
* The more carefully you want to move, the slower you have to move. Mechanically, this means that if you have several tokens on Watch Your Step you are limited in how many you can spend on Exert.
* Actual movement speed will depend on the number of tokens spent on Exert and encumbrance.
* Search and Watch may seem similar, but in practice they are very different things. One is looking at details and trying to find things that are out of place, while the other is looking at the big picture and trying to notice when something happens.
I'd like to have a fairly granular set of movement speeds, so probably something like this:
* Immobile: Not moving at all for game purposes.
* Crawl: Moving very slowly, one step at a time.
* Advance: Moving slowly, either at a slow but steady pace or by taking a couple of quick steps every now and then.
* Walk: Moving steadily at a comfortable pace or in quick bursts with pauses.
* March: Moving briskly, at a fast wolk or a slow run.
* Run: Moving quickly.
* Sprint: Moving as fast as possible, with little room to maneuver.
Even when sprinting you should be able to at least have some idea of where you're putting your feet or what else is going on around you but not more than that which suggests that seven tokens is a good maximum number, allowing for six for Exert and one for Watch Your Step or Guard. (Could you Search or Manipulate while Sprinting? Probably not, which suggests that these categories could have a minimum requirement of two tokens. Command? Not sure.)
So should you be able to Sprint indefinitely? Of course not; there needs to be some kind of endurance system. Exactly how that would work and if it should hook directly into the focus token system, I'm not sure. I think you could do it that way, with characters having a certain number of tokens they can use all the time along with a supply of extra effort tokens that you need to rest to renew. But that's outside the scope of this for the time being.
When you're moving quickly, you can't look to closely where you're going and vice versa. If there are enough categories of "careful movement" (or if we cost them appropriately), this will take care of itself.
Categories for Watch Your Step:
* Heedless: You're not looking where you're putting your feet (but unless you're blind you can still see where you're going, presumably).
* Minimal Awareness: You glance down every now and then to keep from stumbling on things on the ground or the like. This is the default level for walking around on flat ground.
* Careful: You look down every couple of seconds to see what's on the ground. This is the default level for moving in uneven terrain, like on a forest path, or if you need to watch your step for some other reason. Anyone who's walked barefoot in a city know how this works.
* Very Careful: Constantly watching the ground and placing your feet very carefully.
So if Heedless is free and Minimal Awareness should be available to someone who's sprinting, that level should require one token. You could probably move at a March and still be Careful, as long as you're not doing much else, so Careful should cost a total of three tokens. Very Careful movement probably can't be done at a faster speed than Advance, so that should cost a total of five tokens. (Again, this is very rough and off the top of my head.)
At this point I think it's pretty clear how you would continue to build this: decide how many levels of focus each task should have, figure out how much else you could do at the same time, and cost the levels appropriately.
Sun Mar 16, 2014 10:27 am
Earlier today I read this excellent post on a player's recent first experience with Civilization. I wrote a long and somewhat rambling reply that is probably worth its own post so I'm putting it up here.
Some of my comments are very context-dependent so you should go read the original post first.
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Great post, and an astute analysis. I'm going to post my own points before reading the rest of the comments because I don't know how much time I have right now but I'll get to them later.
I've played Civ since it was a new game, and I agree with most of your points about the strengths and weaknesses of the game. The mathy bits get even worse towards the end of the game when you need to maximize the discounts you get from your civilization cards to up your score.
The token management aspect also relates strongly to the calamities. Having a big population - many tokens on the map - makes you much better at withstanding disasters. Militarily, a big population helps you take a specific area by saturating it with tokens (that you may want to kill off anyway) while it makes you much weaker on general defense as you move earlier which exposes you to surgical strikes from enemies who want a bit more land (and don't much care where) or just want to hurt you a bit.
Moving your tokens from the stock to the map or the treasury is fairly easy, but there are clear limits on how you can do it and mismanaging your tokens can lead to disastrous results. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to having many tokens in each area:
* If you have a lot of tokens on the map you are resilient to calamities (as noted above), and you are good at one type of warfare (piling lots of tokens into an area). At least as importantly, you can easily build more cities. With a small population you are more vulnerable to calamities and have a harder time recovering from them, but you are better at defending yourself against military attack since you can move tokens out of the way of the attacker after the fact or add just enough of them to win where someone with more tokens has to guess or push in big piles of them.
* With a lot of tokens in the treasury you are rich, meaning you can get ships anywhere you like and can sometimes afford a more expensive set of civilization cards. However, both of these effects are pretty marginal in most cases. The biggest use for big piles of tokens in the treasury (which may be from Advanced Civilization - that's the only version I've played since it was available so I don't recall all the differences) is to buy a card from the 9-pile of trade cards for 18 tokens. Generally, you want at least a few tokens here, but you also want to spend them quickly.
* Having a lot of tokens in stock is a mixed blessing. It means you can increase your population a lot and move many tokens to the treasury, but it also means you don't have many tokens in those areas already which indicates a weaker position overall. However, population you can place is often better than population already on the map because it more easily allows for greater concentration of tokens on the map, and you need to concentrate your tokens to build cities (especially if you're short on city sites). If you also have few cities you get to be the beneficiary of some calamities, but that's more a question of letting you catch up to those doing better than a real advantage.
Moving on to Advanced Civ it is IMO a much superior game, mostly for the reasons you mention above. There is also one huge difference: Where plain Civ is a race (getting to the end of the AST first gives you the victory with various tiebreakers), ACiv is a points accumulation game (getting to the end of the AST ends the game, but score determines the winner). It also has the advantage of being playable with a time limit, as you can set an end time and count up the score at that point. (This can change the balance between the civilizations a bit but that can be mitigated in a number of ways. The most basic is the traditional "bash the leader" strategy (though "don't trade with the leader" is probably more effective here); another is to auction the civs out in some fashion. Cutting out the last few turns also has the advantage of getting rid of the most math-heavy parts of the game where every player is trying to get the most out of their card bonuses.
As to why nobody has created the universally hailed Civ Lite I think there are several reasons. One is pure idealization. Civ is a great game, but it's also a very long game filled with, frankly, a lot of fiddliness. In particular trading and buying civilization cards are parts that could - perhaps even should - have been simplified a lot without losing much of the experience while vastly reducing playing time. (It's quite telling that the civilization cards in ACiv has a notation on the back giving you the ratio of buying bonuses to cost.)
Another reason is that most civ games focus on things that the original Civ ignores completely. Take military units: Civ doesn't have any. There are about half a dozen civilization cards that have any military application. (Metalworking and Military are the main ones, with Roadbuilding from ACiv close behind, and Astronomy, Cloth Making and Engineering being of some use in warfare but mostly good for other things.) There are no units, just population. (Well, there are ships, but all they do is move the pop tokens around.) There's hardly any warfare as such; it's mostly some population being lost in border areas due to general friction, with the odd attack on a city bing the big exception. The main reason for this is the strict token limit which prevents a civ from growing very big. The size of your empire on the map says very little about how well you are doing as most of your score is off the map in the form of civilization cards and AST position, and even your on-map position depends much, much more on how many cities you have. Even your hand of trade cards is more important to your position than how much of the game board you control.
Another area where Civ is surprisingly light is resource management. There isn't any. Or, there isn't any beyond the tokens. There are no mines or logging camps on the map, no trade routes, no stocks of various materials with which you construct buildings. All you have are your on-map tokens (which give you cities and more tokens) and your cities (which give you treasury tokens and trade cards). That's the whole economic engine right there.
Which takes us to the heart of the game, what Civ really is, which is a trading game - again with the irony, since trading, while important, is generally less emphasized in later civ games. If you take the trading out of Civ it becomes a very empty experience of moving tokens around and buying tech advances that help you move tokens around and protect you from the disasters you draw randomly when getting the cards you need to buy the cards that help you move the tokens around.
With the trading, Civ is a vital, dynamic game of bluff, counter-bluff, pushing your luck ("I think Jim will send me a calamity, but I'm trading with Sarah later so I should be able to pass it on to her" - again, this is from ACiv; I think it's somewhat different in plain Civ), deciding when giving someone a bit more than you'd like is worth it and when denying yourself something okay now to get something great next turn is the right move.
Many games also focus on the tech tree, while Civ barely has a tree at all. There are some techs that require others, but for the most part it's mostly a bag of things you can buy in any order. The techs themselves also do surprisingly little, with some perhaps hurting more than they help. (This is the case both in Civ and ACiv, though for different reasons. In plain Civ, due to the limit on the number of civilization cards you're allowed to purchase a cheap card can hurt you in the long run as it will give you a lower score for the tiebreaking at the end, while in ACiv some cards have strong drawbacks.) Many civ-type games have the techs give you powerful tools you use to achieve the real goal of the game, while in Civ they are partly that but mostly they are the direct means of winning as they give you points. This again emphasizes the trading aspect of Civ, as buying your civilization cards is more of an economic decision ("If I buy Astronomy this turn all other science cards will be cheaper next turn" ) with incidental game mechanical benefits ("...and I can sail to Greece!" ) than the other way around ("If I buy Astronomy this turn I can sail to Greece, and maybe it will help me win the 'Awesome Scientist' bonus score at the end of the game" ) which is often the case with other games.
The reason I think many civ games don't feel like a light (Advanced) Civilization is that they take their cues more from the computer game or other games that feature the civ theme but not the original Civ mechanics. A game that simplified the original Civ would mainly be a trading game with some basic map management and would quite possibly not be seen as a civ game at all.
We did a second playtest today with some new rules. We tried to incorporate aspects on the various geographical areas in a meaningful way and the end result was... well, so-so. It's something I want to continue working on, but I need to think a bit more on how to do it well.
I've also restarted work on a boardgame I've tried to get off the ground several times. I keep getting stuck in wanting enough detail to represent the game world without making things overwhelmingly complicated. It's an interesting problem, though frustrating: Had it been a computer games, things would have been much simpler, but currently there's just too many combinations that need to be found for each move so you can choose a good action for it to be playable.
I ran a playtest session with two of the players in my regular RPG group today, and things went very well. The game performed pretty much as expected, and while there are many areas that need work I'm convinced the foundation is solid. We all had a good time and there was nothing that didn't work.
The full session report should show up in the forums shortly.
This week I've added an appendix with notes on how to use the rules for Hero, Captain, King for other genres than fantasy. Nothing major, and nothing someone couldn't come up with by themselves - but then the point of doing this is that "someone" can get it without having to make it for themselves.
I have finally been prodded into doing the revisions to my 24-Hour RPG Design Contest entry Hero, Captain, King that I have been thinking of since... well, since I sent it in. I'm planning on adding or revising one section per week the next few weeks. This week I've made a change to how the character stats work, but more importantly I've added two more adventure structures:
Player who would prefer a less strict adventure structure can try this variant:
Instead of setting up a series of challenges as above, an adventure contains four unordered challenges which the player whose character is going through the adventure can undertake in any order. For each successfully completed challenge the player gets to choose one result from the following list:
* The adventure is successfully completed.
* The character survives the adventure.
* The character's actions doesn't have uninteded negative consequences.
* The character's actions have unexpected positive consequences.
When using this adventure structure the players should decide at the start of the game whether choices from the list are made at the end of the adventure, after all rolls are made, or after each successful roll.
Another variant is to have a linear advanture with four different challenges faced in order. To successfully complete the adventure the character has to succeed at every challenge, but two times during the adventure the player can change a failure to a success by choosing one of the consequences from the following list:
* The character is mortally wounded and will die when the adventure is over.
* The character's actions have unintended negative consequences.
* The character's reputation is tarnished and he is remembered as a great villain.
* The character's highest die rating is reduced to a d4 for the rest of the adventure.
Note that changing the roll to a success doesn't change the actual number roll. Specifically, this has no effect on whether a tragedy is triggered.
I ran a second skill challenge (preparing a feast and setting up a play for a friendly goblin village) using a revised version of the system for my group a couple of weeks back, and while it worked reasonably well there were some problems.
* Hindrances were too dangerous. The risk of additional setback was too great and the setback generated too great in magnitude. In the next version hindrances will generally not create setback but only add conditions and other secondary problems.
* Progress and setback rolls were too variable. Rolling 1d6+1, 2d6+3 or 3d6+5 works fine if you're making a lot of those rolls before assessing final success or a failure to achieve the roll at all doesn't have serious consequences, but as things stand in my system this is not the case. I will reduce randomness in this part of the game severely, though not to all the way back to the 4E default of "one success or one failure".
There were other minor issues that need to be worked on as well, but these are the main ones. However, my own experience and the evaluations of the players afterwards make me confident that I'm on the right path. Everyone had a lot of fun, and got quite involved with the admittedly slightly silly premise.
Next session will be combat-heavy as the party enters an abandoned dwarf hold, which gives me some more time to work on the next version.
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