Building Abbottsville: Less Puma, More Cowbell

Abbottsville Village Alarm - Prototype, July 2014Taking Abbottsville with me to Protospiel-Michigan was another example of why I really, really enjoy these sorts of designer get-togethers. You get a lot of smart people around a table to look at your game in a spirit of creative improvement … and the results of those moments have always made my games better.

Thanks to those that played the game and gave great feedback, I now have some really good take-aways on Abbottsville:

  1. The game needs to get wider and deeper … more narrative (“more cowbell”) about the people and the village, a wider array of things for players to be after, more asymmetry between players’ objectives (quick aside: a nice article about asymmetry by Grant at Hyperbole games) … make it less about “go out and gather resources” and more about proving yourself as a village leader.
  2. Abbottsville People Card Example for Doco, May 2014 Have the character cards drive that narrative and have the narrative drive the scoring. In other words: remove the generic “reward card” scoring and go with a more specific “complete mission X to score Y points.” (A special thanks to Gravwell designer, Corey Young, for spending some 1-on-1 time to discuss possible options here.)
  3. Having the predators all descending on the village isn’t as fun of a game element as having them wandering the map and interfering directly with other players. (“less puma”)
  4. Have the map spread out more and give a larger array of different types of tiles.

Abbottsville, Center Starting TilesThese are some bigger things to work through and will change the feel and flow of the game quite a bit, while still retaining it’s original core — adventures around an 1800s village on the American prairie. At this point, I’m letting the design sit for a bit so that the ideas can percolate.

So, here’s a feedback request for you: What sort of things would you expect to run into or want to go find while exploring the wilderness around a village in this “old west, but not too far west” type of setting?

Interview with AJ Porfirio on Thematic Games

A.J. Porfirio of Van Ryder Games

A.J. Porfirio, the man behind Van Ryder Games

There is often a discussion of theme-versus-mechanics among board game designers. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I wanted to get a Q&A with A.J. Porfirio, of Van Ryder Games, about this topic. So, here it is.

Matt: Howdy, AJ, great to chat with you on this topic. Of all of my game designer/publisher friends, you are the one that specifically mentions looking for and loving “thematic games” … can you give me your definition of what you mean by that term?

AJ: Thanks Matt! I’m honored that you think of me in that respect as it is basically the mission statement of my publishing company, Van Ryder Games, to publish great, highly thematic games. Locking down a definition for exactly what the term “thematic games” means would be difficult, but here is what I would say … (more…)

Flags on the Walls?

Blue Flag of DangerMy testing and the PnP feedback for Danger at the Walls yielded a couple of things. First, the optional “move a leader” step at the start of a turn was fiddly and seemed to be overlooked at times. Second, the structured game end lent itself to a rather strong last turn advantage.

Going into the next version of the PnP, I’ll be making changes to fix these 2 areas. Most of the Leaders will be place-and-leave, just like the Archer and Cannon cards. This means the abilities of some of the cards will need to be adjusted to fit. For example, instead of the King & General moving cards around, they will instead do a simple 2X on their current strength at the Wall.

For the end game, I’m doing something a little more drastic. I should mention that I wanted to remove the 4 Archer Attacks because they didn’t quite feel as I had hoped (the Cannon Attacks work fine). Now I have something to replace them with — Flags! Each player will get a Flag in their personal deck, and the remaining 2 will be placed in the bottom half of the main deck.

To play a Flag, a player sets it on a Wall. The ownership of the Wall is now locked. You can still play things at the locked Wall — it just won’t change who owns it. When the 3rd Flag is played, the other player will get 1 more turn and the game ends.

This will give it a bit of a nearly-instant “go out” effect. But the opponent will get one more chance to respond … so a player will want to be sure when going out. I’m curious to see if this will work better.

Tweaking the King

King of Danger, Main Deck Back, Feb 2014The game of mine that got the most playtests while I was at Protospiel last weekend was King of Danger. While I was happy enough with it as it was — a super-tight little trick-taker about building and tearing down castles — it was wound a little too tight. There was no room to breath or make a bad play, and — as my buddy Chevee Dodd put it after playing it with him and a friend at his house — there was no room to be clever or coy in how you played.

As a result, I felt it needed improvement, and removed the print-and-play links and took it out of the TGC shop until I could nail down what I wanted it to be. Before leaving Chevee’s place, we brainstormed a little bit and found that if it wasn’t quite as strict about following suit, allowing you to follow suit OR play a King, it loosened things up a bit. This felt better, so I tweaked the rules and brought it with me for testing. (more…)

Heading to Protospiel-Michigan this Weekend

Map to Protospiel, Chelsea, Michigan, July 2014Tomorrow, I leave for a pretty exciting game design related road trip. I’ll be picking up Jeff King (from All Us Geeks), Jason Glover (from Grey Gnome games), and David Sheppard (known to most as Sheppy) along the way. We’re headed to this year’s Michigan Protospiel event, where indie designers get together to test prototypes of their games with each other. While it’s always great to get games tested by a wide mix of players, getting them tested by other designers can yield espresso-like shots of great feedback you can’t get anywhere else.

King of Danger, TGC Version, Card Examples - March 2014I will be focused on testing my two Land of Danger card games – King of Danger and Danger at the Walls — along with my tile-laying, pick-up-and-deliver game set on the 1800s prairies, Abbottsville. I will also bring Magistrate along for continued testing as well.

Abbottsville, Early Playtest at Paul's Cabin, May 2014Another exciting development will be that Jeff Large from Happy Mitten Games will be there, testing my game, Aether Magic, which they will be publishing later this year. Can’t wait to watch that one being tested by Jeff and the designers there. A few of them may have played it in Milwaukee during the March 2013 Protospiel when it was still called “For Goods and Honor” … it’s undergone quite a thematic change, but the main social and production mechanics are still there.

I will try to send out tweets while the roadtrip is taking place, and throughout the weekend. So, follow me on Twitter to see how that bit of chaos works out! ;)

Hostage Negotiator – A Unique Game by an Indie Designer Friend

Hostage NegotiatorMy friend, A.J. Porfirio, runs a publishing company called Van Ryder Games (named after his oldest kids), and really likes what he calls “thematic games.” I’m hoping to have him on a Q&A blog post sometime in the next few weeks to get a more detailed definition from him on that term. (I think it’s sort of like using the word “weather,” in that everyone *knows* what it means, but it’s really hard to pin down a worded definition because it can encompass so much.)

As an example of what he brings to the market in this area, I want to point out his Kickstarter project that just launched for Hostage Negotiator. It’s a single-player game about using conversation and taking actions to get a hostage-taker to release their hostages. Very deep, thematic (obviously), and tense. Check it out and let me (and A.J.) know your thoughts.

I will be on TV! (or, at least YouTube)

Something From NothingThis coming Sunday night, July 13th at 7 p.m. central time, I will be on a web show called Something From Nothing (see previous episodes here), hosted by a handful of game designer acquaintances — TC Petty III, Chevee Dodd, Jason Slingerland and Rob Couch — with conversation around a wide range of game-design related topics. Levi Mote, designer of the game Ruse, will also be a guest on the show.

To get the link to the live broadcast on YouTube, watch my Twitter feed for a link just before 7 p.m. central on Sunday night. To ask questions, post comments or otherwise interact with the show in real time, Tweet using the hashtag #btgsfn (it stands for “Building the Game, Something From Nothing”)

Solo Flight through the Jump Gate

Jump GateAs I mentioned a few weeks back, in my post about solitaire games, I’ve been working on single player rules for Jump Gate. They are ready to share to a limited audience, so I put out a call to members of BGG’s 1-player Guild to do some focused testing on these rules.

Once I get their feedback and improve my rules doc, I’ll post things here for other owners of Jump Gate to give it a try.

In the meantime, think about what you’d like a solo-play of Jump Gate to be like. Drop a comment here or on Twitter or Facebook and let me know your thoughts! :)

Muse vs. Focus

Whisper, whisperIf you’re familiar with the classic Greek concept of the Muses, you’ll know what I mean when I refer to my muse giving me an idea for a game … or when I say that I’m waiting on my muse to help me figure out the answer to something I’m working on.

I don’t actually believe that I have an invisible woman following me around, whispering in my ear with new, creative ideas. But, I’ve always found … (more…)