Get Out of the Game Room!

talon slopeThere’s an aphorism in the ‘startup’ world, where I spend most of my non-gaming time.

“Get out of the office!”

The point is that if you get bogged down in what you think is cool, you won’t actually build something that’s useful to others. I think the same concept applies in game design. And while an obvious application of this is to get your design in front of people who aren’t in your immediate friend / gaming group, I think there’s a broader sense here too. The last three weekends I’ve been in Breckenridge (in the rocky mountains) doing outdoorsy things like climbing Mt. Democrat or tubing down the Colorado river with coworkers (also playing my first game of Agricola… whaaat?). Continue reading

Playtesting Tips Round Two — Lessons from Protospiel 2015

Not long ago, I wrote a post with some baseline strategies for running a successful playtesting session. I just got back from Protospiel 2015 in Chelsea Michigan (full conference write-up to come soon!) and had a few new observations for this helping to tune this process. Continue reading

Game Balance: Solving the Brigadier Problem

5 Galaxy MapOnce upon a time, I built a web-based MMO called Galactic Impact. This was intended to be an async-multiplayer game in the spirit of such classic computer hits as “Master of Orion” and “Pax Imperia”. Build out your home planet, construct colony and war ships, dispatch them to neighboring planets, and respectively, colonize or obliterate them. Essentially 4X in a browser, with 3 hour turns, the ability to queue commands if you weren’t going to be around, and a modest tech ladder (the minimum-viable feature of a tech “tree” :))

Because this was multiplayer, and these games tend to have an exponential growth curve, there were some balance issues with first player advantage, and since it was meant to be an MMO with players signing up any time, this was a major issue. Solving this is what has, in the interim, stymied development on the project. However, during the game’s first small-scale playtest (25 active players), a really interesting situation arose which I think about often while developing and balancing board games. I’ve termed this the “Brigadier Problem”. Here’s what it was, and how I solved it.

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Facebook Stole My Money

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 9.42.59 AMI’m taking a quick hiatus from my philosophy of positivity to share my observations around a distinctly non-positive experience I had recently.

I ran a “Boosted Post” from my Flightless.co Facebook business page, as a little experiment. I had new content, I’m working to build my audience as I gear up for a Valour kickstarter campaign, Facebook display ads convert really well for Mobility on Demand, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The boosted post featured original content from this blog. (Specifically, the Valour backstory.) Full disclaimer, I know this wasn’t an ideal ad: several equally-emphasized calls-to-action, many clicks through to a ‘conversion’; more on crafting a good ad in another post. But as we’ll soon see, my ad content never had a chance to fail on its own merit. Continue reading

Theme-first Board Game Design is Awesome

Concept sketching for some mechanics being born of theme.

Concept sketch showing the exact moment a game mechanic was born from a  theme.

I know some in the board game design community consider it sacrilege, but I’m definitely a theme-first designer. I make heavy use of my Catch Sheet day to day, while sitting in meetings, walking around, or wasting time reading articles online. Usually several times a week, I’ll be struck by an interesting economic interaction in real life, and want to build a game around it.

As I’ve gone over in the inception story (here, here, and here) for Valour, that design was entirely theme-first. I started making game notes based on the factual events from the history, and I was able to distill some really incredible game mechanics from them. While I’ve had to iterate multiple times in order to keep the rules and mechanics tight, it was an amazing starting point, and the reactions I get from seasoned gamers when they play Valour for the first time are universally positive, and many say that some of the mechanics are things they’ve never experienced before.

Now, don’t get me wrong — in now way am I arrogant enough to think that anything I’ve conceived of by starting from a real-life scenario and extrapolating a unique game mechanic is as revolutionary to boardgaming as, say, Dominion’s deck building, or Caylus’s worker placement/action drafting. And I also would never disagree with people who assert that games ARE the mechanics (I saw a comment online recently which implied that story without mechanics is just a novel). But theme-first game design is so much more than that. Continue reading

Playtesting Feedback Tips

IMG_4525A few weeks ago, Valour was tabled FOUR times in one weekend, with four entirely different groups. One group, after having the game significantly stalled early on by an edge case I hadn’t yet considered, soldiered on to completion late into the night.

Overall, feedback was extremely encouraging. Many of the mechanics are feeling more streamlined, and the repeat players all said this was the best session yet. A few systems in the game which are absolutely critical to gameplay are still experiencing some ambiguity and confusion, so those are the next things I need to address.

I’ve seen a lot of posts recently from other first-time designers struggling with how to react to feedback during a playtest. This can be really hard, but I’ve developed a few strategies to make the most of it, no matter what the situation. Putting them down here in hopes they’ll be useful. Continue reading

Recovering from Setbacks

It finally happened — I overcommitted.

I thrive on driving the throttle right to the edge, week in and week out. I despise the word ‘busy’, so I don’t use it, but on balance, I’m not sure what people generally do with downtime, so I fill it with things: pet projects, occasional contract work, blog posts. Like you do. (Right?)

Then, a member of the team I run at my day job departed. The added mental effort and extra hours of covering part of his workload while looking for a replacement pushed me past some kind of threshold. Obviously this is in no way his fault, but upsetting the delicate equilibrium was enough to topple the house of cards. Continue reading

Canterbury: FOR SALE

3229750It’s finally happening.

I’m putting my house in Michigan up for sale. Since I bought it in 2006 while working at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, & Dance, the Canterbury house played witness to countless memories, a few bad, but mostly in the good to great range. Dozens of cookouts, get togethers, and several killer Halloween parties went down there. That house was the backdrop to the best years I spent in Ann Arbor.

But it’s time. After moving to Boulder in August 2010, I put it up for rent, since the housing market wasn’t favorable, and I had outside hopes of one day turning a profit. It’s been occupied by a number of people in the intervening years, but the dream of ‘investment real estate’ never quite came to fruition. In the best of months (those when it was both occupied, and nothing broke or needed repair), it only cost me a $200-300 difference in the mortgage payment and rent. Times when things did break, the sky was the limit. It’s now April 2015… so you can do the math, because I would prefer not to.

More compelling than the monthly shortfall, however, was the bizarre budgetary reverberation this outflow/inflow caused. Each month, the outflow had to be set aside, and a few days later, a rent payment may or may not show up, dependent on my account balance with my property manager. It finally dawned on my what a snarl this was for my budget and savings goals, so when my current tenants decided not to renew, I contacted my real estate agent to get it on the market.

Here’s the listing.

It’s been quite a journey, homeownership, and I feel like I’ve gotten to learn about all the aspects first hand, but I’m pretty much ready to be away from it for the time being. Writing this has definitely made me wistful in thinking back — I’m going to miss it, and everything it represented to me over the years.

It was a good little house.

Short Story RPG Launched!

header-dunes

A world of adventure, right from your dining room table.

Posting a little late again this week… but it’s been a pretty crazy week!

I rebuild the lead-gen page for Valour, now that I’ve spent the time to put together a lot of the backstory and details, but more importantly…

I just flipped the switch last night on a brand-new website for one of the projects I’ve been cooking quietly over the last year!

Short Story RPG

It’s based on the premise that role playing games are actually a really cool medium for storytelling and human interaction, but complex rules, over-the-top themes, and difficulties with scheduling long-running campaigns all conspire to scare many people off. Continue reading

Valour: The Game

When we left off last week, I had the first physical prototype of my board game in-hand. Not knowing any better, I thought I might be near the end of the road. Now, after countless hours of play testing and revising, I know two things: a) I was WAY off the mark back then, and b) while I don’t yet know exactly where the road ends, I’m moving in the right direction. Read on to see the ins and outs of the current, and hopefully near-final, state of gameplay.
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