One step forward, two steps back

boardgame, boardgame prototype, game design, playtest, Public Squares

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Want to know what’s been happening with Public Squares?

1 – Rules and scoring systems

I’ve been experimenting with sets of rules and scoring conditions to motivate the players to create patterns, and it’s dawning on me why I haven’t really seen other games attempting this. Even though the brain is great at spotting patterns, turning them into an elegant, intuitive rule set is not easy. If you’re not careful there will be optimal patterns and every grid will end up looking very similar.

Ideally the players should be able to rotate shapes and patterns, even mirroring them across the grid. I created a few rule sets which do this in theory, but scoring them at the end of a game took as long as the game itself and resulted in three digit scores. Exhausting!

 

2 – Shapes

One of the core concepts for Public Squares is to use the pips of standard six-sided die as the shapes that fill the grid. When you take a die you can use a hammer to chip away blocks you don’t want, and then draw the remaining shape.

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After playing just a couple games, I began to notice a pattern. My largest area was ALWAYS composed of repeated X shapes.

Looking at the die faces it’s obvious why. Out of the 6 possible shapes, 5 of them help you make an X! Even without modifying the shapes, you can get an X by combining 1 and 4 or 2 and 3, making it a safe bet.

It would be easy to create six new shapes which correspond to the numbers, but then the game would lose one of its unique features. Fortunately I have a few ideas on how to deal with this one!

 

3 – Other Games

One of the ways to test rules systems is to cut most of them and bring them back one by one, to see where they break. I always learn something when I do this, and would suggest you to do the same.

While experimenting I stumbled on a couple of rule sets which were a lot simpler but showed promise. I tried them out and they were fun!

That evening I found not one but TWO games which use the same concepts:

  • Criss Cross (Reiner Knizia): Roll two dice, draw the resulting symbols orthogonally adjacent on your grid. In the end, check how many times each symbol appears in each line and column to know how much that line/column is worth. Add them up to know your score.
  • Mosaix (Christof Tisch): Roll four dice, arrange them into a shape (reminiscent of a tetramino). Every player fits them in their grid. Their goal is to create several big areas composed of the same symbol.

This was eye-opening. These games are so close to my goal that I’ll have to take a few steps back and find a new direction for it.

Glad I found them so early in the process!

Public Squares

boardgame, boardgame prototype, game design, playtest, Public Squares

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Last week I woke up at 5 in the morning with an idea for a roll and write game about Portuguese cobblestones. How could I ignore it?

In Portugal the ground is paved with limestone, often in intricate patterns that go from geometrical to historical. These are so common that, in their routine, most people forget to look down – myself included.

I only started appreciating them when I left the country and saw how grey and monotonous foreign sidewalks were.

calçada portuguesa

The main concept of the game is:

 

Each player is in charge of their own square, which they will decorate using the patterns they rolled. Players take dice, chip pips away using a hammer and draw them on the sheet. Negative space is important, as players score by creating patterns.

How does that sound?

I’m calling it “Public Squares” for now, a suggestion from Carlos Leituga!

This is very different from the other games I’ve designed so far but that’s part of the appeal for me. So much hinges on the scoring system, but that’s a topic for a future post.

Stay tuned!

Blight Chronicles Designer Diary 2 – Your Mission

Agent Decker, Blight Chronicles, boardgame, boardgame prototype, crowdfunding, designer tips, game design, Superhot

Missions are a key part of Agent Decker.

The original game had a fixed sequence of five missions:

Agent Decker (full art version) by Sara Mena

For added variability SUPERHOT: The Card Game ditched the fixed sequence and instead had a deck of goals to draw from. The further you are in the levels, the more goals you draw.

SUPERHOT: The Card Game by Paweł Niziołek

Due to its heavier focus on story and progression, Blight Chronicles needed a new system.

First let’s clarify the terms: in this game “Mission” refers to the whole campaign, which is divided into “Stages”. Stages define the goals you’ll have to complete in order to progress through the Mission.

One of the challenges of letting the players customize their own deck throughout the game is that, depending on the player’s choices, some goals might become too easy and there’s even a risk of them being solved instantly once the setup is done. This, combined with our motivation to make the goals more challenging and engrossing, lead to the current system:

Multi-goal stage cards!

Blight Chronicles (work in progress), artwork by Ramses Bosque and graphic layout by Paweł Niziołek.

As you can see, the goal is “Discard 6 Mixed resources to jump over the fence”, but did you notice the 1-star requirement before it? That means you can’t complete it right away.

You see, before the start of the stage a briefing will inform you that you’ll need a pair of Night Vision Binoculars in order to keep a low profile when infiltrating the enemy complex.

Blight Chronicles (work in progress), artwork by Ramses Bosque and graphic layout by Paweł Niziołek.

As part of the setup for the stage the binoculars are in the Obstacle Deck and will eventually make their way to the line. When you manage to eliminate the Guard House you get two things:

  • The Night Vision Binoculars, an item that you can use from now on.
  • A star token (currently named Event), which is placed on the Stage Card.

Now that the requirement is met you can finally complete the goal!

I won’t spoil the other goals but I hope you can see the potential of this system! We’re having a lot of fun coming up with different ways to use it.

“Special Setup”? “Visibility”? What could those other icons mean? Stay tuned for the next Designer Diary!

Blight Chronicles Designer Diary 1 – Expanding Agent Decker

Agent Decker, Blight Chronicles, boardgame, boardgame prototype, crowdfunding, designer tips, game design, Superhot

Welcome to a series of posts about the design and development of Blight Chronicles: Agent Decker, the expanded official release of Agent Decker, published by Board & Dice.

Agent Decker’s campaign is designed around a sequence of five missions.

The good part is that they give the players new objectives along the way, forcing them to adapt as they’re gradually forced outside their comfort zone. The bad part is that this only works once. Once you know the missions and how to beat them the mystery is gone and you can prepare for them in advance.

– From “SUPERHOT: The Card Game – Designer Diary 3

The design for Blight Chronicles started from that very problem and arrived at different solutions, for three reasons:

  • Story: While it seems subtle on the surface level it is an important part of the process because it informs the design of every card.
  • Progression: The feeling of progression where you’re gradually facing stronger obstacles as your gear (hopefully) improves.
  • Relevance: The original Agent Decker files are still available online and Superhot: The Card Game is in stores, so why would you play this one instead?

The obvious solution to increase replayability was to leave the obstacles deck untouched and simply increase the amount of goals you need to complete. Instead of a fixed sequence of 5 missions you would have multiple goals for each mission. During setup you shuffle their pile and draw one for each – face down so you can’t fine tune your deck in advance.

Simple!

The thing is, this time I am not designing alone.

This is a co-design with Matt Dembek, who was so inspired by the original game that he wanted to expand it in pretty much every aspect. I can’t wait to tell you what we’re working on, starting with how we changed the missions.

Blight Chronicles: Agent Decker is coming to Kickstarter soon!

SUPERHOT: THE CARD GAME – DESIGNER DIARY 3

boardgame, boardgame prototype, crowdfunding, designer tips, game design, Superhot

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Agent Decker’s campaign is designed around a sequence of five missions.

The good part is that they give the players new objectives along the way, forcing them to adapt as they’re gradually forced outside their comfort zone. The bad part is that this only works once. Once you know the missions and how to beat them the mystery is gone and you can prepare for them in advance.

Being a print-and-play game the players would have to assemble it before playing, so I wanted to keep the card amount fairly low. Instead of adding more goals I added a high score system. The first goal is to beat the campaign and the second, if the players want to, would be to beat their previous high score.

This lack of replayability was one of the first things I wanted to address in SUPERHOT: The Card Game.

In the original videogame the main objective is to kill every enemy in the level. That’s where my design started, but I quickly ran into three problems. First, it’s easy to lose track of how many enemies are left in the deck, and I didn’t want the players to stop playing to flip the deck over and count.  Second, being a deckbuilding game there was the risk of a player simply adding all the enemy cards in his/her deck in a previous level, preventing the completion of the next one! Third, having a single objective got very repetitive, even if the enemy total would increase throughout. It nudged the players towards building one specific type of deck, ignoring everything else you could do in the game.

To fix this I had to steer a bit away from the original game. Varied goals were added, aimed at exploring the game’s mechanics and obstacles while keeping within the focus of the game: manipulating the level, the enemies and the flow of time. The goals can now be shuffled to give the players a different sequence every time, keeping players on their toes.

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This meant I had to rethink each goal’s difficulty. Agent Decker’s fixed sequence let me control the pace at which the difficulty increases. This system doesn’t. The goals have to work whether they show up at the start of the game or further along, when the challenge is meant to have ramped up.

The solution was simple: more goals!

  • Draw 1 goal for Level 1
  • Draw 2 goals for Level 2
  • Draw 3 goals for Level 3

The difficulty comes from the time flow mechanic and the bullets.

The core structure of the game had to change as well. Once a planned sequence of goals where from time to time new cards are added to the deck, now the obstacle card had to be designed for versatility.

To extend the replayability that ramp had to be replaced by a more open design. The cards became a series of dots which the goals ask you to connect into different shapes.

SUPERHOT: The Card Game is on Kickstarter right now! It was funded in the first three hours and is currently at 703% of its goal.

SUPERHOT: THE CARD GAME – DESIGNER DIARY 2

boardgame, boardgame prototype, designer tips, game design, Superhot

In the last post I wrote about the time flow, one of the main mechanics that bring SUPERHOT to life in the card game. Now let’s talk about the glue that holds it together: the bullets!

Bullets are an ever present threat in the original videogame. Pick any random moment in the game and the odds are you’re reacting to a swarm of bullets flying in your direction. If a single one hits it’s game over and you have to replay the level.

What can you do?

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The most intuitive solution is to dodge, but you must be careful. Time advances with every step you take and dodging a bullet can mean three others just got closer.

Time goes hand in hand with the bullets, but how do they work in the card game?

At the end of the turn the enemies in the Line will shoot. These bullets will go to the objectives discard pile. That’s right! The bullets don’t go straight to the Line. Just like the original videogame, you have some time to deal with bullets from distant enemies before they come back to haunt you.

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When the obstacles deck runs out you shuffle their discard pile to form the new one and from this point onward bullets will sneak into the Line.

If a bullet leaves the line it will go straight into your hand – and stay there. This is a big problem because it has no use, takes up space and blocks you from drawing new cards at the end of the turn. If you get hit by four it’s game over!

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You might notice it takes four bullets to die when in the videogame one is enough. This is where I had to bend the rules. In the videogame you push a button and the level instantly resets. In a second you’re back in the action. In the card game you would have to separate the cards and go through the setup again. Three minutes, maybe?

That’s too much. It’s punishing and it makes the players dwell on their mistakes rather than give them the will to try again. Making the bullets a growing hindrance instead of the end game also let me bring a key aspect from the videogame, but I can’t mention it without spoiling!

SUPERHOT: The Card Game is coming to Kickstarter very soon. The campaign preview is already up, and I’d love to hear your feedback!

SUPERHOT: The Card Game – Designer Diary 1

boardgame, boardgame prototype, designer tips, game design, Superhot

SUPERHOT is a first person shooter in which time only moves when you do.

I’d like to tell you how I brought that core mechanic to SUPERHOT: The Card Game.

If you look at it closely, SUPERHOT is pretty much turnbased already. The super slow motion gives you time to look around and plan your next move, and the choice of when to speed it up is in your hands.

The mechanics in SUPERHOT: The Card Game are based on Agent Decker, whose core systems are deckbuilding and mission progression. The main thing that didn’t fit the theme was the Alarm, which is the main threat and the source of the hardest decisions.

This was the perfect time to bring in SUPERHOT’s core concept: “Time moves only when you do”.

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At the center of the table there’s a line of six cards. They represent where you are, what you see and which enemies are there. Using the cards in your hand you can destroy or knock them out, changing the line.

In the following example you have used two cards from your hand. This means the last two cards in the line will be discarded at the end of the turn.

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The remaining cards will scroll to the right and the line will refill back up to six cards.

It’s up to you. Use one card and the line barely moves. Use your whole hand and it can change radically. Time moves only when you move.

This change worked in both a mechanic and thematic thematic sense but without the Alarm we needed a new source of tension. Something to make the players think twice about scrolling the line at maximum speed. Something that is coming in your direction.

I’ve got just the thing: bullets!

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The final piece of this puzzle creates interesting dilemmas, which I’ll cover in the next article.

SUPERHOT: The Card Game is coming to Kickstarter very soon. You can stay up to date by subscribing to the newsletter.