For a game designer with game designer pals, perhaps the harshest side-effect of the pandemic has been the inability to get ourselves together to eat and drink and push our collaborations forward. Some work has been possible via Skype/Zoom/whatever but nothing quite beats being crowded round a table with a bottled beer in one hand and shoving components around a taped, paper board mock-up with the other. This weekend just gone, long time gaming pal Matt Green (Miremarsh, Flicky Spaceships, Beyond the Gates of Antares: The Dice Game a.k.a Bugger t'dog) journeyed up from England's garden - the South East - for a few sunny days.
Showing him to the spare room, I assured him that the shelves of museum stock were secured to the wall and presented no potential crushing hazard in the middle of the night. Then into the garden for sunshine, a welcome cup of tea and his first attempt at Aleph Null. The six hour journey - it's really NOT a good plan to travel around the bottom of London on a Friday afternoon - had knocked the wind out of Matt and, after a cod-and-chips supper, he retired to his room for a short nap...which turned into a full settle-down-for-the-night, leaving Mrs B and I with a couple of hours in which to catch up with the usual Friday evening TV.
The day dawned gloriously and, over tea and coffee, we set to work on the business of the visit:
Matt had started on a sort-of Tokyo Highway-ish, String Railways-esque every-game-will-look-different-at-the-end scenery building game; he mentioned it, in passing, on a Tweet and I chimed in with an urgent desire to know (much) more. What has ensued, these past months, has been a Google Docs exchange of ideas, schemes and assorted noodlings. With no particularly-easy way of just moving things around while apart, the main goal of this first face-to-face was to do shit 'for real' and see if we could settle on some clarified rules, currency and flow.
Ninety minutes later, we were patting ourselves on the back having established some clear - and elegantly-lean - parameters for the game; quite a bit of rework to the original docs is required but that's a job for another
dayevening this week. Gerv, the third aspect of the gathering's Holy Trinity who'd have to be away again by 7PM, turned up on the dot of 10AM and we were straight into the first playable prototype of the day:
Gerv likes RSR very much; indeed, it was the last game he played at a Newent meetup before the World went Covid. Matt is more than comfortable with multi-use card card games - though his oversight in one particular area would have to be rectified the following day (see later) - and was soon settled and complaining about the quality of his draws It was a tentative first twenty minutes as we danced ourselves into comfortable positions then things began to kick off - and kick-off quickly - with Gerv achieving the TECHNOLOGY crown, me the POLITICS crown and Matt (in the same turn as me) the CULTURE CROWN. I took the laurels thanks to a well-stocked CATACOMB and a "two points per" crypt bonus.
In summary: use MAJOR or MINOR actions to progress up (and down) the four attribute tracks, build buildings for points and track-affecting abilities, survive EVENTS and seek out combinations.
From a test perspective, RSR flowed well enough but Matt's initial discomfort at his perceived lumpen start - and the slow, first twenty minutes - suggests I need to find a way of getting things moving much quicker: the solution is to start everyone further up the board tracks so they are closer to INCREMENT-ing into the meaty effects BUT ALSO able to DECREMENT on tracks to use any MAJOR or MINOR action from the beginning.
More drinks and to something already-published by way of a palette-cleanser; Matt taught us Fort. It has suggestions of all of your favourite complex card games - eg. Dominion, RftG, GtR - with a joyful 'gangs of kids playing through a long, hot Summer' theme. Pizza and Toys are your resources, building a better fort is one of the goals and scoring points along the way is essential. The turn sequence goes as follows:
i. cards in your YARD go into your discard pile (cards are friends; if you don't "play with them" in your turn, they may go and play with someone else instead - see iii.)
ii. play a card from your hand for an effect - possibly boosted with other cards of the same suit (or wild); resolve it and/or a 'only for you effect' (if there is one) then all the other players may follow the open action by playing equivalent card(s) of the suit.
iii. draft a card into your discard pile from the deck, a tableau OR the YARD of any other player
iv. cards for your 'board' are discarded to your discard pile; and,
v. all other 'unused' cards go into your YARD and you draw 5 new cards.
Simple flow, simple actions: deliciously tricky little race game!
We wandered into a deserted and Sun-dusty Newent for lunchtime snacks and returned via The Shambles: the bijou retail courtyard home to the two potential Museum sites - both Matt and Gerv agreed that the 'Vape' shop site was, by far, the better option.
Bellies stuffed with salad, quiche, rustic breads and cheese, we moved onto the Patio for some train-based, Cluedo-inspired murder investigation:
BE has morphed from trad. worker placement to an Obsession-style WP: the train is now populated by a variety of workers who are allowed in some - but not all - carriages of the train. The WP replaces the roll-and-move but accusations must now be fueled by gathered resources: tobacco, money, wine, time, food and 'heat' (as in 'suspicion', rather than warmth). Workers gather resources and then convert them in to clues - accusations a la "PERSON in the CURRENT CARRIAGE with WEAPON" - that elicit card revelation in a Cluedo style (one or none, stop when someone has shown 'one' or everyone has shown none etc). There is another wrinkle in my design that allows you to reveal card(s) from your hand to gain a benefit for them being in play - as well as letting everyone else know what to eliminate from their investigations: the only feedback - after I'd Marple-d my way to the win - was that the card revelation effects should be less wordy and, if poss, more powerful. Excellent notes, gentlemen: I'm on it!
Not wishing to waste the gorgeous day, I took the boys - and Ziggy - for a medium-sized walk: toward May Hill and back again in a 75 minute tramp through tidal wheat fields (Gerv doing his best Maximus Decimus Meridius impression). It was more humid than we'd anticipated on 'set off' and, thus, arrived back at the house a little 'glowing': big, icy drinks please!
To let our brains relax a little, we played a couple of games of Res Arcana with Gerv dominating both.
The dart board attracted some attention until it was time to make fire and cook meat with pointed implements.
It was quite the palaver getting the sausages to brown but, in the end, everything was in place for the household to gather for a feast and, of course, the best garden game ever devised:
Everyone but Mrs B and "us lads" drifted off after my 3-0 drubbing of all-comers; Gerv had postponed his evening appointment to stay for just one more in the form of Rüdiger Dorn's SdJ nominee and aesthetically-pleasing Luxor:
It took just 60 mins to find our way into the central chambers and
lootpreserve the treasures for future generations; poor Matt was a little irked that he'd missed my mention of 'explorers score for the space they're on' as his last turn had him shunting a chap onto a 'gain a key' tile for '0' location points instead of any other for >0 location points: the difference, my friends between a WIN and THIRD PLACE! Gerv departed on a victorious high while we repaired to the Living Room.
Leaving LUXOR on the patio table.
For the overnight rain to despoil.
And my loverly cartoons notebook as well.
An even slower start for the Boydells on the Lord's Day apart from me. Matt and I got stuck into hot drinks and Fort, a teaching game of Glory to Rome (merciful heavens: how has Matt not ever played this before?!) and Gosu: Kamakor:
Gosu is a rather splendid shared-deck, tableau builder with plenty of CCG-esque combos and clashes to be milked from the six mini-decks (clans) that are shuffled to make the main deck. In summary: you play out, and sometimes pay for, cards into a virtual 3 row x 5 column tableau. The rows - Levels I, II and III 'ascending' - contain increasingly powerful creatures that support each other (part of the tableau-building rules) and provide strength for the 'Great Battle'. All of the tableau shenanigans are in preparation for this Battle: the winner, of which, gets a victory token. Reset tokens, leave the tableau in play and proceed to a new phase of preparations: the first to THREE victory tokens is the winner.
I enjoyed Gosu very much; it's chock full of 'I'm buggered...but, wait, no I'm not!' moments, lure plays, take that!s, exasperation and exhileration. Shame it's almost impossible to get your hands on in English.
The only prototypical treat was Matt's run at the third in my solo game trilogy: Triskaidekaphobia. I sat back and watched him wrestle with the ebbing and flowing of the zombie hordes; his stress level slowly increasing. He managed to survive the full 13 rounds of relentless, undead attacks - amusingly spending one long turn agonising over what to do about an 'Overlooked Doorway'. Matt, alone (one survivor point), walked away from the horrors of that long night: his mind haunted by the loss of the other 39 survivors in his community.
Ah, but all good things must come to an end; Matt departed, as he had arrived, in glorious sunshine. What a bloody fantastic working weekend!
Life and Games (but mostly games) from Tony Boydell: Dad, Husband and Independent UK Game Designer.
- [+] Dice rolls