Ludopolis

competition, Sinking

Ludopolis is a gaming event that will take place in Lisbon, June 2012. Other than the obvious usual reasons (meeting new people, playing new games) the big draw for me this time is the Boardgame Design contest because the winner gets his game published by Runadrake. Given all the big steps you have to climb to get such a game on the market, this seems like a pretty good opportunity.

Each designer can send three games for evaluation. “Sinking” is running out of design creases to iron out so I plan to apply along with another idea I’ve been sketching out.

Interested? You can check out the rules here.

Design notes: Blind bidding ties

boardgame prototype, Sinking

In the last post I was talking about ties in other blind bidding games. This post is mostly about dealing with that, along with some notes on avoiding band-aid game design.

When I was researching this game type I noticed that a lot of these games cancel each other out. After playing a couple I found this to be pretty frustrating and I thought that avoiding that could be a cool feature for my game.

In the most recent version there is no tie in which the bids are canceled.

To achieve that I defined that the player that has sunk the most wins ties. This could turn some nasty situations around, and sinking faster would be a viable strategy in the beginning of the game. At least one player per game so far does this willingly. They let it sink, get some resources and go back up before the other players even thought about fighting for that action.

Their only worries are outbidding the other players and not sinking.

This creates a weird situation where the two sunken boats can be in the same spot on the board. Who wins then? I started experimenting with placing the boats in line inside board spots, allowing for the player who’s been there the longest to stay in front of that line. There, solved – or so I thought.

I taught the game to a couple of people who don’t regularly play games and they found these rules hard to memorize. That just means this made no sense to them. But…I was just trying to give everyone a change to progress even if there is a tie!

In an attempt to simplify these situations and have a unique rule for solving ties, I thought back at those other games in which ties cancel each other out. This can be frustrating for the players, but it gives each bid a greater importance. Now, instead of just thinking about outbidding the other players you really have to consider that they might be betting on the same action. Having that action cancelled is bad for both as all resource tokens spent in the action will be discarded just as if they’ve been used. This will most likely promote some more variety in the actions the players will be doing because each of them will have a good reason to play in an unpredictable way – and give some extra chance to the losing players because (at least) two bigshots will waste a turn and lose some resources at the same time.

Now I get why other designers chose this.

This still gives losing players some time, brings up a new layer to the mind game and is a lot more elegant. I’ll be experimenting with that in the next playtest.

Prototype update: Hold on to that piece of wood!

boardgame prototype, event, Sinking

Finally the new wooden tokens have arrived! The coins stacked up nicely but the cubes take up less space, allowing me to print smaller boards if it need be. It brings a more familiar, warmer feel to the game which works well when opposed to the cold crew member pieces.

I tested the game again with a new player and he got sort of confused about the way the ties are solved. I had a couple of different situations with specific rules, but it seems like a unique universal answer is a lot easier to memorize, so I’ll be sure to try that out. That’s what I get for not cancelling them out like most games do! I do get why they do that though, and I’ve been tempted to do that as well because it has the potential to add to the mind game and scatter the resources in interesting ways.

That’s all fine and dandy, but here comes the real question: Did I win? No.

Showing the game at Eurogamer Expo was nice, I got to meet some of my idols and definitely got some people curious about the game. Showing it as part of my design portfolio seemed to pay off because too many game designers pay attention to videogames exclusively and they end up running around in circles. There are a lot of fresh ideas in boardgames that haven’t made it to videogames yet, and I believe clever designers will eventually pick that up and run with it.

Eggscape got 10th place!

boardgame prototype, competition, Eggscape, event, Game Jam, Ludum Dare, Overpopulous, Sinking

Eggscape got 10th place in Ludum Dare Jam 21, ranked the 5th most innovative game! As if that wasn’t enough, it got into PC World‘s “10 Free addictive games to play in your browser”  and Nerd Age‘s “Ludum Dare’s Favorite Games”! This is great motivation to finish everything that was missing and officially release it to the world as a complete game.

With all of the ties solved the boardgame is running pretty smooth! I’ll still keep on testing but seems like it’s complete – until I spot a splinter, which hasn’t happened in a while.

This week I contacted two portuguese boardgame designers with a respectable portfolio and they gave me some very good advice. Seems like odds are strongly against boardgame designers at this time. I reached the point where I have a fun game that people enjoy and that was the most important part of this project. Editing it would be another great step forward, but one that has to be carefully planned first.

I’ll be in Eurogamer Expo in London this next week. If you’re there too come and say “Hi!”, I’ll be the smiling guy with the tired eyes and the accent you can’t quite identify.

Playtest update – pirate ties

boardgame prototype, playtest, Sinking

Yesterday’s playtest had two neat surprises:

  1. The game is balanced now
  2. I won at my own game for the first time

I finally reached the fine balance I was looking for. I took notes about the problems I noticed in this session, but they were only about solving the several types of ties that can happen mostly at the start of a game. I won’t change the player boards for the next sessions, this version seems like a winner so I’ll play it until it breaks.

Speaking of winner, I finally won! It took 12 play sessions  but I did it. That’s how you know the game isn’t rigged – though now you can argue I’ve been changing my game so that I can finally win.

Also, if you’re hanging around Lisbon check out MOTELx! Besides the horror flicks there will be a Horror-themed Boardgames and Roleplay session from 19h to 5h from Saturday through Sunday. Come by Cinema São Jorge and give your brain a workout! All the cool kids are doing it.

Playtest update – making it more intense

boardgame prototype, playtest, Sinking

Another really good playtesting session showed me a couple of things that could be better about the player boards. Good thing that paper prototypes allow me to just write the changes on them and use them in the next game.

Those minor changes made the game a lot tighter. Some exotic ties were solved and now the boat can sink a lot faster. Going “all in” is an even bigger risk than before because now it allows the other players to make you sink even further.

I thought these changes would make the game a lot faster -and that would send the endgame spot on the board flying from 20 to 30 – but that didn’t happen. Both games lasted just as long, but this second one was way more intense.

It gets to a point where everyone sort of forgets about fighting and just wants to drain water out of their ships! The ending is very tense, but it’s balanced so that no players get too far ahead. So far haven’t found an optimal strategy because the real action costs change every turn.

Still need something to identify the players’s ID colors so they can plan accordingly. Asking a player’s color can reveal your secret plans and that shouldn’t be part of the game. Other than that I don’t think I’m going to change the boards for the next playtest because it’s really solid.

Time to think of a name for it!

Playtest update – we’re getting there!

boardgame prototype, playtest, Sinking

This third playtest was by far the most successful one, but it started on a road bump. I got there and realized I didn’t print the new center board (the square one with all the numbers) and had to improvise one on the spot. It worked well enough, nobody complained. It may actually have lowered expectations from new players and eased them in.

At the start there weren’t that many people available for a game so I tried a two-player game for the first time. I didn’t really know if it was balanced or not. Turns out the game is a lot faster with only two players, but it’s hard to bring back dead crew members because the winning player can use the two cannons to attack, and score most of the time. I’ll test it out more and fix some of the rules for a fair two-player game.

The four player game was by far the most balanced yet and most fun yet. The new rules made it a lot more interesting, because going “all in” puts you in great risk. We cut cut the board short at 15 because it was really late, but that made the game more intense and I was very surprise when it brought a crowd in to watch the final turns.

More than that, the people who were watching were mainly people who hadn’t played it before and were curious about the rules. A couple players wanted to know what had changed since last time because both boards looked different.

It’s really getting there, and it will only get one minor wording tweak for the next playtest.

Big thank you to all the playtesters, you’re shaping my original idea into a good game!

Prototype update – water’s leaking in!

boardgame prototype, Sinking

Water’s leaking in! The new ship design update now features an area where the water level is rising. The players can order their crew members to the base of the ship, where they’ll throw water out and actually control the speed at which you’re sinking. It also turns “all in” bids into something risky and a gamble.

The “Attack” and “Defend” zones now have cannons which point in to other player’s positions (Defense was working pretty much as a second attack, no point in confusing players) with slots for the resources and the wheel that explains the rock-paper-scissors fighting logic.

I made a new central board that represents the amount of water that leaked inside each boat. The previous spiral board was meant to represent the player ships actually going down on a whirlwind  (which also made every boat sink 1 square at the end of each turn). This is not intuitive and it’s easily forgotten, and ended up being more of an annoyance than welcome flavor.

Now it’s rectangular-shaped, so it allows the free space in the middle of the sheet to serve as storage space for spare crew members and resources. More than once the spiral made it hard to understand which way was “good” and which one was “bad”, and that’s why this gradient color scheme is there. Plus, it fits the theme and hopefully it will be easier to read.

Dice are most certainly out. I want the game to be played by player’s choices and failures rather than by a random element. Changed the attack effect to allow this, and created a situation where the players may wish to wait to a point where their attacks are more effective.

Now I’ll look at the ships for a couple of bus rides, fix what’s wrong and print in time for the Wednesday playtest session!

Playtest updates – sacrificing “Sacrifice”

boardgame prototype, playtest, Sinking

The second playtest was a lot of fun, but it was marked by the most game-breaking rule yet, “Sacrifice”.

My intentions were to create opportunities for losing players to get back on track, but I had no idea it would be abused as it did. As soon as I taught the testers about this rule I could see their eyes shine as their plans formed.

I knew I had made a mistake, but I let the game start like that anyway.

The players started using it on the very first turn, which is something I expected. What I did not expect, though, was to run out of crew tokens. This rule is out!

This lead the way to a new idea that increases tension and reinforces the game’s theme. Not mine, but Jorge Graça’s. I just adapted it to fit the game. Now you’ll have a chance to control the speed at which you are sinking by assigning crew members to drain the water out. Betting big on an action means you’ll have to take them out of there and risk sinking faster.

Also, there’s an 8 crew member limit now.

The arrows on the side of the actions were barely used as a reference at all, so I’ll keep the standard from left to right, up to down order and update them for reference’s sake.

I’ll give the players more opportunities to chose which other player’s crew members and resources are they affecting with the most expensive actions.

I have to mention Nuno Carreira found a design flaw and pounced onto it like a hungry cheetah, winning the game in a way I hadn’t thought of before. Thank you man! I’ll fix it in time for the next playtest.

Next up: both board redesigns and an updated prototype!

Prototype updates – tidying up the board

boardgame prototype, Sinking

The first playtest sessions made me change several parts of the player boards.

First I rethought the relevance of some of the most expensive actions and added new actions which could be paid using any resource token. It’s easy to end up with duplicates of any given resource and not know what to do with them.

Then I switched the order of every action on the board and placed arrows on the lower corners of the actions so the players know in which order they get resolved. It was left to right, top to bottom the first time and players got confused. Now its order curves as you reach the edges, so they can follow a line from start to finish.

Even though the Attack and Defend rules changed from the first playtest session their titles didn’t change (yet!).

The boards were printed in slightly double the size to fit multiple tokens in the action zones – and that made the current board shields useless.

The previous shields were too small and light, and could easily fall down if you weren’t holding them in place, so I got new thick cardboard to hide the boards. Now every ship is a fortress! They’re seriously huge, heavy and look like Dungeons & Dragons DM screens. To be honest I’m sort of worried they’re too big.

This is how it looks now when it’s set up:

Next up: what did the players think of it?