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Subject: Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Contest Ready!] rss

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Manuel Correia
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Agent Decker
Singleplayer deckbuilding game for the 2015 Solitaire Print and Play Contest

Theme:
"I should have paid more attention in spy school" you mutter from the broom closet.

You're in trouble.

The blueprints made it all seem simple and learning by doing certainly sounded more appealing than listening to retired old spies talk about their experiences. The world is different now, and security systems have evolved. If you have the tools you should be able to get in, right?

Wrong. Now you're not sure where you are, and there are guards in every direction. You're going to have to learn if you're going to make it out alive.


Description of play:
Agent Decker is a mission-based singleplayer deckguilding game where you'll acquire gear and skills by facing obstacles. The alarm raises every turn, so you must pick who you take out.
Do you go for the cool weapon, or take out the security camera?




Components: 54 cards and two tokens
Gameplay time: 20 minutes for a mission, 5 missions in the campaign

Download links:Game Components and Rules
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Manuel Correia
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
Here's the video tutorial:

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Manuel Correia
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
Alright, let's do this! I've been sketching this for the last couple of days and I couldn't wait to start playing around with it. Making prototypes is part of my brainstorming process. It's the way to test if the core loop works and if there's something that sticks out. If it's not fun then I can change the game, and in turn there can be some surprises which can affect the theme.



Initial setup. Starting deck and hand at the bottom in yellow, Obstacles deck in white, Upgrades in green and Missions in blue. The pink card keeps track of the Alarm.


As you defeat obstacles you learn new skills and get gear. For example, you can defeat an Armored Guard



...to get a machine gun!


I love the rewarding feeling you get from building an engine in deckbuilding games, but most of the time I feel like they're missing something. If all the cards are laid out from the beginning, there's the possibility of you spotting the ideal path and just doing that, and if there's a rotating market it can feel too random. Often the goal is simply to get points, which can feel a bit too vague and really slows down the end of the game while people figure out who won after all.

Instead of whining about it I set out to make my own! There's a main mission picked out at the beginning (or more than one if you feel up to the challenge), and each untouched card in the market will move right until it's out - raising the alarm when it does. This will change the value of the card. You don't always want them, but maybe you'll take a few to avoid making the alarm go up.

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Kelly
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
This already looks amazing can't wait to hear more! Definitely interested in trying it out - what sort of number of cards do you reckon you'll be aiming for as I know deck builders can be quite heavy on the printing.
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Jessey
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
Really interesting concept! I'm subscribed, following and looking forward to giving it a test and providing feedback
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Manuel Correia
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
Kelzky wrote:
what sort of number of cards do you reckon you'll be aiming for?

I'm aiming for 54 cards, six A4 sheets with nine cards each. Since players will have to assemble the game themselves, I figure a large number of cards would scare a lot of people away.

Actually, dealing with the reduced number of cards is proving to be the biggest challenge so far. I want the game to be replayable and the cards to feel fresh, and that's not easy when the obstacles deck is only 30 cards!
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Manuel Correia
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
Candi wrote:
Really interesting concept! I'm subscribed, following and looking forward to giving it a test and providing feedback

Thank you. Posting this online is so good for my motivation, I wish I had started sooner!
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Kelly
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
gr9yfox wrote:
Kelzky wrote:
what sort of number of cards do you reckon you'll be aiming for?

I'm aiming for 54 cards, six A4 sheets with nine cards each. Since players will have to assemble the game themselves, I figure a large number of cards would scare a lot of people away.

Actually, dealing with the reduced number of cards is proving to be the biggest challenge so far. I want the game to be replayable and the cards to feel fresh, and that's not easy when the obstacles deck is only 30 cards!

Wow! My games not a builder but is 54 cards! I know I'd be happy to print off about 10 pages of 9 cards for a deck builder

gr9yfox wrote:
I wish I had started sooner!

I started thinking about mine and writing stuff down just before Christmas and you're game looks further ahead in development than mine XD
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Philippe R.
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
Single player deck building?
Sign me up!
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Joseph Propati
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
This looks good!!
subscribed!
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Manuel Correia
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
This morning's breakfast was extra sweet because I beat my first mission! After a couple of (not very fun) playtests I made a few tweaks and now it flows a lot better:

The initial setup now has six obstacles instead of four. This gives you a bit more time to adapt your deck in order to catch a specific card before it disappears. You would have to wait for the obstacles deck to loop in order to see it again, which can feel unfair (even though there are ways to speed it up).

You can now pick which defeated cards are added to your deck. Initially, you could take obstacles out and they automatically became part of your deck. I figured you would keep getting stronger and that could feel great, but actually the deck can get very bloated.
If you defeat a card and don't want to add it to your deck, you can leave it facedown in the line. When it leaves the line, the alarm won't go up.

This way it feels like you're actually sneaking past threats or knocking them out and taking what you need. There is a greater sense of purpose and control, which adds to the point of building a specialized deck for each mission and the thematic element of the alarm.

It also made it feel different than something like Ascension or Star Realms.
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Jessey
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
gr9yfox wrote:

You can now pick which defeated cards are added to your deck. Initially, you could take obstacles out and they automatically became part of your deck. I figured you would keep getting stronger and that could feel great, but actually the deck can get very bloated.
If you defeat a card and don't want to add it to your deck, you can leave it facedown in the line. When it leaves the line, the alarm won't go up.

This is a fantastic change, which addresses an unvoiced concern of mine regarding the dual-use cards.

As originally presented, I was concerned because they are dual use in a way that invokes a constraint (essentially obstacle and reward are one card - so the obstacle really is just the cost, although sometimes specific obstacles are problematic and so you want to deal with them independently of what their reward is). Dual use cards are usually a short route to an interesting decision in a game, but only when they ask the player "how to use me?". As linked cost and reward, I was concerned it would limit choice in an uninteresting way (and also that, as you experienced, the occasional reward would feel like a punishment).

But, this change, handily addresses the problem - and adds something unique to the game versus other deckbuilders!
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Colum Higgins
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
Good luck with this Manuel.

I look forward to giving it a play test.

Colum
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Manuel Correia
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
Candi wrote:
But, this change, handily addresses the problem - and adds something unique to the game versus other deckbuilders!

You're totally right, and I'm impressed you could put yourself in the player's shoes with the limited amount of information I published so far. I wanted to have a few cards with effects that happen when they're placed in the line, but there's a chance it would feel random and unfair (kind of like the Fate mechanic in Ascension) so I left it out of this initial prototype. As it were, the obstacle was little more than the cost and how fast the alarm goes up.

Changing the way you deal with them felt instantly better!


gamesknightrider wrote:
Good luck with this Manuel.

I look forward to giving it a play test.

Colum

Thanks for your support Colum, and I'm glad you found me here!
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
gr9yfox wrote:

It also made it feel different than something like Ascension or Star Realms.

As much I'm a big fan of both Ascension and Star Realms it will be nice to have something a little different so does turning the card face down have another benifit if you're not adding it to the deck? Or is it because you need to remove obstacles to complete missions?

edit: oh wait I've answered my own question by reading the original post, I forgot about the alarm mechanic!

So a different question - how long before we get to have a go?
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Manuel Correia
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
Kelzky wrote:
So a different question - how long before we get to have a go?

I'll be working on the obstacles deck and a couple more missions this weekend, but on paper rather than the PC for now.

It's my first time in a competition like this, so I'm shy about showing the game before I fix the broken parts!
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
gr9yfox wrote:
Kelzky wrote:
So a different question - how long before we get to have a go?

I'll be working on the obstacles deck and a couple more missions this weekend, but on paper rather than the PC for now.

It's my first time in a competition like this, so I'm shy about showing the game before I fix the broken parts!

You may want to try and share components as soon as you get the big kinks worked out. Once it's playable, and you're moving towards tuning, you should share it. There's a long contest period, and lots of interested players hanging around. The sooner you share something playable (or rules that are readable) then the more playtesting feedback you (might) get.
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Manuel Correia
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
Giving the player the option to defeat an obstacle and not include it in the deck made it very unbalanced for the current values, so today I sent out to make a new one.

Then I played it with the previous objectives and it was still very unbalanced, but in a different way! Now it's possible (and even easy) to defeat everything in the line of obstacles, which turns it into a waiting game while you wait for certain cards to come out. There are only a few cards that let you draw and it's not that hard to combo it so you draw the whole deck.

Over the next days I'll be tweaking it and coming up with a few updated objectives to complete. I'll start a digital version when it's more fun to play!
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
ares417 wrote:
Don't you think player input would also help?

I really do, but only when the flaws aren't as glaring as they are now. At this point I believe players would just point out the obvious. I want to deliver something that is really fun to play!
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Benj Davis
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
This sounds full of cool ideas. Look forward to seeing more.
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Manuel Correia
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
These last couple of weeks have been crazy. I was let go from the games studio I was working at and have been tying up a lot of loose ends before being able to enjoy the free time I now have. Luckily for you guys, this means I'll have more time to devote to this contest!

But enough chitchat and onwards to the game!



I brought it to a meetup! Watching someone else play it for the first time is always a thrill. Came back with four pages of player feedback and notes for the next version.

Scaling: This is a tricky subject, and I imagine this is where most time will be spent in the development. There are two sides to this. If I make some cards too expensive and they show up early, it feels really unfair. If I scale the prices down, there's a big chance the player will be able to afford/disable everyting that shows up and there's no challenge or replay value.

To counter this I made two quick changes that I'll be testing out. The first is increase the price of some cards. The second is to only allow the player to affect one obstacle per turn using cards from their hand. There are also some gear cards which stay on the table until the player discards them to use their effect.

I also wanted some cards to seem inaccessible at first, and be achievable in later missions. Looking at other deckbuilders I see a lot of good solutions (like Splendor's three decks) but that would take away from the scrolling obstacle track, or make everything a lot more fiddly.

Missions: In the first draft the amount of active mission goals would define the difficulty of the game, since you had more stuff to do in the same "time". You were meant to start with just one, and try more when you were comfortable with the game.
As an extra I wanted there to be a "Campaign mode" where you would complete them in a sequence. I quickly threw one together for the meetup and there was a lot of good feedback for the concept, even though the execution isn't there yet. That brings us to...

New Campaign Mode: Next up I'm going to be working on a more thought out campaign mode! I realized getting a reward for finishing a mission and adding cards to the obstacle deck is a cool way to scale the game and add some variety from one mission to the next so I really want to try it out. That also solves the scaling issue, because the expensive cards/mean enemies can appear as a result of beating the first mission.

Extra balancing is needed, but I believe this direction will help me do it!
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Manuel Correia
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]


New prototype!

After some good feedback and struggling with serious balancing issues I couldn't really solve, I decided the best thing would be to go back to the drawing board, so this week I restarted the game.

The biggest change is the mission sequence. Initially there was none of that. The player could draw a goal to complete during that session, or even raise the difficulty by drawing more than one. I liked that concept because it would add replayability without adding new cards. If you felt you were getting better at the game you could create new challenges for yourself.

All the "Obstacle cards" (the ones you can buy) were shuffled in a single deck and six of them were placed in the center of the table. Every turn some cards leave the line and new ones come in. That means some cards need to be "affordable" at the start of the game and a lot of them need to be more expensive, because later in the game your deck is so much better.

The thing is, the cheap cards might not show up at the start, which can lead to a few really frustrating turns.

Games like Ascension or Star Realms solve this by having static piles of "upgrade" cards which you can purchase independently from the central market. I had those at the start as well, but they never felt "right" to me because of the theme. You are walking past stuff in the enemy complex, so how come these things were always at an arm's reach?

Then, there was a really good surprise! The players always wanted to keep playing after completing the first mission. I started thinking how to achieve this without becoming monotonous and that lead to...

REDESIGN!
Story! Now the game has five missions you can play in a sequence. Every time you finish a mission you get a reward, and some horrible new cards are added to the obstacles deck.
Changing rules! That even allows me to change the rules mid-game, as a reward!
Layout! No more upside down cards. You really need to consider both halves of the cards every turn, so having them upside down can be really confusing for the player.
Also, I'm including notes or symbols to make setup and teardown easier
Highscore! Another cool thing this mission sequence brings is the possibility of a highscore! It's pretty simple. Add up the alarm you had at the end of each mission, and that is your score! ...but don't forget! You want a low number here.

If you read this far, thank you! It's good to be back.
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Nate K
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
Cool! Those sounds like excellent changes!
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Dan Nicholson
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
I'm seriously looking forward to this game!
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Manuel Correia
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Re: [WIP] Agent Decker - [2015 Solitaire Contest - Idea Phase]
I spent the last two days at the iDIG Music Festival showing my games to the visitors! I was surrounded by irish game developers showing their awesome games, and my boardgames stood out due to how different they were.



A lot of people wanted to know more about them, and some even sat down to play after asking how they worked! Agent Decker was the one that got played the most, mainly because nobody had heard about solo games and I could help them rather than compete against them.

Two players managed to complete it! Yep, the five missions in a row!

I quickly put together a digital version for the show.


The main goal was to have a version which looked a bit better than my scribbles on paper, and figure out how much room there will be for proper art later on. It worked pretty well!

Time to write the rules so I can publish it online!
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