Game Design: Family Think & Make Workshop


I recently gave a presentation about tabletop game design at Perry Meridian Junior High School as part of their series of Think and Make Workshops.  These events are run by their wonderful librarian, Leslie Preddy, and with the help of a few dedicated volunteers.  One of the school’s math teachers and resident gaming expert, Doc Rissel, also took part in the presentation by teaching the audience about strategy and tactics as well as how to make variants of existing games.

 

 

For my part, I gave a short speech about my personal background with gaming, game design, and powerful lessons I have learned that I believe can help aspiring game designers or creators in general.  I followed this up by creating a basic board game template and then allowed the students to customize their own copies thematically so each student left with unique copy of a game they played a part in creating.

I began my presentation with some background on how I became a gamer, which is of course the foundation of how I wound up designing games.  I explained that it all began by angering my grandpa!  The first game I can remember playing was Checkers with my Mom’s father.  He taught me when I was about 5 years old and much to the surprise of all, but especially his, I crushed him!  Pa was not pleased.  In fact he displeased enough that he not only never played Checkers with me again, but to the best of my knowledge never played Checkers with anyone ever again!  While he may have done a poor job teaching me sportsmanship, he had awakened my love and talent for games that endures undiminished to this day!  Thanks Pa, who knows what would have happened if you never taught me Checkers!

I explained that Checkers led me to learn Chess, Poker, Chinese Checkers, and countless other games at a very young age.  I discovered Rpgs in my teens and played more advanced board games like Axis and Allies and true hobby games like Battletech until the bomb dropped.  The bomb in question was Magic: the Gathering which, aside from Poker utterly dominated my gaming life from 17 until nearly 30.  I explained that the near decade and a half of Magic was my doctorate in learning iterative design and understanding the interactions of game mechanics, even though I did not yet know it to be the case.

It was only after I had given up Magic and discovered modern board games in around 2006-2007 that I slowly began to feel the itch to design a game of my own.  After playing modern classics such as:  Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Ticket to Ride, and so many more I began to believe that it might be something I could do.  For the next few years I played at being a game designer, but did not really put in the work needed to actually accomplish my goal.  I would test once in a blue moon and make countless changes, but never really got down to business.  That is until I saw a video that made it all so clear to me exactly how I had to proceed!  This video, and its message, was the first piece of advice to my young audience.  I recommended they watch it.  I recommend you watch it.  I recommend everyone who thinks they might ever try to make or do anything creative!

 

Fail Faster

This the most powerful advice I have ever received in my life!  It made it possible for me take the partially formed Legacy Wars game idea I had and mercilessly pound it into the ground with my testers and eventual publisher V3G until it emerged as Strife: Legacy of the Eternals and realize my dream of becoming a game designer!  This helped me to overcome my fear of showing people something that wasn’t ready by allowing me to understand that doing so was the only way it ever would be ready!  It seems obvious, but it is not.  Apply the concept of failing faster to your creative endeavors, games or anything else, and they will start you moving down the right path!

“You can do anything, but not everything.” – David Allen.

This was my second piece of advice/wisdom to the kids.  During the run-up to Strife, their were a number of friends and some even in the industry who strongly advised me to self publish and run the Kickstarter myself.  While considering my options I remembered this quote and helped me make up my mind.  I realized that the extent of my game industry talents were working on a game and applying the fundamentals of iterative design and that was it!  I knew nothing of art direction, producing a product, running a Kickstarter campaign, graphic design, shipping a product globally, warehousing or any of the other important skills/knowledge sets that going into making a game or any product for that matter.  Now I am a smart guy, and I believe that I could learn how to do any of these things or at least how to hire out to skilled people who could, but I did not think that trying to do so on the fly while also designing my first game was the right time to do so.  Yes I could do anything, but not everything and I had to prioritize my goal to match with the skills I possess.  I wanted to design a game.  Out of all of the aforementioned skills this was the one that I felt I most possessed.  I knew that I would be best served focusing on that goal alone and that having a publisher handle all of those other concerns was the way for me to go.  I may someday run my own Kickstarter, as I have learned, and continue to learn so much from the great people with whom I have worked, but I truly do not know, as all I really want to do is design games.  I have no doubt that my design would suffer or at least my pace would be greatly reduced if I had to juggle everything else at the same time.

“Haters gonna hate.”

I am the furthest thing in the world from a fan of rap or hip-hop, but this saying is an absolute truism that all creators need to understand.  So much of what stands in the way of people creating a game or whatever their dream may be is tied up in the fear that someone will hate it.  I want to put your mind at ease…someone will definitely hate it!  Think of your favorite food…someone hates it.  Think of your favorite movie…someone hates it.  Think of anything in all the world that you think is wonderful and amazing…someone out there hates it!  So, given that there is a 100% chance that someone will hate what ever it is that you create there really is nothing to fear is there?  People are going to hate what you make for legitimate reasons in that it is simply not to their taste, which is fair.  Unfortunately people are also going to hate what you make for completely illegitimate reasons because they don’t even understand what is, which I find somewhat less fair.

To illustrate this point to the audience I read to them some of the most interesting reviews of my game Strife:  Legacy of the Eternals. It is designed to have a very low amount of luck and is as a result almost entirely a game of skill.  Some reviews back this fact up by referring to it as, “Card Chess” and “A challenging game with virtually zero luck.”  While some of the reviews and ratings are from people who simply do not enjoy that kind of game, which is a perfectly valid opinion, but there were also others.  Others who said things like, “This game is totally random with no skill at all,” and “Strife is a game that seems like it requires skill, but is really all luck.” The vast majority of the people who did not enjoy Strife fully acknowledged that is was a low luck high skill game, but not their preferred type of game, but as you can see some people did not even recognize what the game was about, but they knew they hated it.  This will happen no matter what you make and rather than worry about it you should embrace it and be freed from your fear.  After all, no matter what you do haters gonna hate!

Clackasaur vs Ninja Squirrels

My second part of the presentation was to help the kids in attendance make a game that they could take home with them.  During the week leading up to the event I designed a simple battle game where a “Big Monster” would be trying to steal the “Valuables” of “Type of Small Animals.”

This is the picture of the board and set up.

In my case I used a crab token that my step-daughter Katie gave me as part of a Christmas present full of prototyping materials as inspiration for my monster, Clackasaur.  Ninja Squirrels are my small animals and they are trying to defend their valuable, cotton candies, from the rampaging Clackasaur.  Obviously, this is ridiculous, but that was part of the point of the exercise.  It allowed the kids to use their imaginations when filling in the theme they wanted the game to be and understand that a game can really be about anything.  The Fail Faster video mentions this when it explains the silly concepts some of the world’s most iconic games have, such as:

Mario Brothers: Is about plumbers on drugs.

Sonic the Hedgehog:  Is about a blue hedgehog in sneakers that can run really fast.

Gears of War:  Is about linebackers fighting bugs with chainsaw guns.

They even go on to explain that Angry Birds, launching birds at pigs in castles, made a billion dollars!  It is about perfectly implementing your concept in an entertaining manner instead of coming up with the perfect concept.

The kids really enjoyed this part of the presentation and I will list below some of my favorite titles and valuables they came up with:

  • Locoraptor vs Elven Bunnies for the pieces of the Scepter
  • Big Joe  vs  Tiny Lizards for the Crickets
  • Ronster vs Flying Mice for the Cheese
  • Hydrasius vs Invisible Chipmunks for the Golden Strawberries
  • Giant Raccoon Vs Armored Turtles for the Iron Ingots
  • Dragonzilla vs Ninja Wasps for the Divinity Logs

 

A game in progress!

There were several others, but as you can see they let their imaginations run wild and we got some unique takes on the game from these young minds!

After customizing the attack cards in their battle decks to thematically represent the creatures they had chosen, everyone played their games.  I am happy to report that the results were reasonably balanced, as I heard stories of both animals and monsters winning, but most of all everyone having fun.

As the event came to a close four Gen Con passes, that had been generously donated, were awarded two at a time by random drawing.  I was given the honor/curse of drawing names, and as such was able to both fulfil and crush the hopes and dreams of the attendees.  I answered any questions the departing crowd had, with the most interesting coming from a young man who first told me I was awesome, always good way to get my attention, and then desperately pleaded to do some playtesting for me in the future.  When I told him to subscribe to this blog so I would have his email if I needed to reach him for testing he was super excited!  Leslie, thanked me profusely and told me the kids loved it and that I had been elevated to hero status.  She also gave me a little card containing a present I had not expected.

All in all, it was quite an evening.  A presentation like this is exactly the sort of assignment I would have skipped when I was in school, as I have long had terrible fear of public speaking due to my extreme introversion, and now here I was volunteering to do it as an adult!  Young me would be shocked to learn of such a future, but as the say, “What long strange trip its been.”  I must confess that most of my encounters with the education system as a step-parent and in general have left me disillusioned and cynical about its current state.  However, it must be said that Leslie and Doc are incredible educators, who are passionate about bringing unique experiences to their students that will broaden both their knowledge base and their minds!  It was inspiring to see such dedication and a great pleasure to help them in the small way I was able.  We need more like them!

In closing, I am glad to say that it was a positive experience for all involved including myself.  I originally offered to volunteer as a favor to a friend who teaches at the school, but after meeting Leslie and Doc found myself becoming more excited about the event.  It was truly a case of stepping out of my comfort zone, and although it made me nervous I feel the better for it.  You should try it sometime.  You may find it an excellent opportunity to learn something even as you teach others!

 

 

Remember to share and subscribe if you liked this article.  Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

How to Win New Games By Playing Like My Wife

What is the only thing better than trying out an exciting new tabletop game?  Winning the first time you try out an exciting new tabletop game!  “Easier said than done,” you might say.  After all, depending on the complexity of a game it can be quite challenging to form any sort of coherent strategy with such a limited understanding of it.  This would seemingly result in a relative crap shoot as to who will win if the entire group is made up of novices.  I am here to tell you this notion is wrong!  By carefully observing the behavior of an expert new game winner I have solved this riddle for the ages by copying her method.  Who is this nigh unstoppable force of nature at winning new games you might ask? It’s my wife…the one and only Mrs. Heather Hamm!

Frequent readers of Life in Games will have surely heard me talk about Heather and some may have even read one of her occasional guest posts that can be found under the heading, Wife in Games.  For those of you not familiar with her it is important to realize she is a skilled, but relatively casual gamer who tends to shy away from the heaviest games or those with too much direct conflict.  Despite being more casual and drawn to somewhat less ruthless games or styles of play she has an incredible track record of winning, or nearly winning games that all of the players are playing for the first time.  How can this be?

First, a little background on the topic.  Heather and I have been married since September of 2008 and she has gone to every Gen Con with me since that year, while we were just engaged.  Every year I make a list of new or new to us, games that I believe we would both enjoy and try to seek out as many as we can during the con.  It is not uncommon for a few of our friends, often some of my very hardcore gaming buddies, to join us in these games.  When this same group plays games at home, ones we have played many times before, she is often competitive, but seldom wins.  We tend to simply be more familiar with the game and due to that greater understanding we are able to form optimized strategies that usually results in one of us winning.  However, a year or two ago, she and I noticed that she was winning about half of the new games we played every year at Gen Con even though we were with the same four or five people as at home.  Even if you account for the unfamiliarity with new games as a balancing factor, a 50% win rate year after year against people who usually beat you is quite surprising and more than just luck.  I have often thought my own win rate to be somewhat suppressed in this situation because I tend to be the rule reader and game teacher.  Having to constantly reference the rulebook for myself and others takes my attention from the game and hampers my ability to play.  This generally does not bother me, as Gen Con represent a rare occasion where I play with a much more casual attitude and focus more on having a good time then trying to win at all costs.  Still, I knew there was no way that this was the only explanation, especially since it only applied to me, and not the other players at the table.

 

Heather implementing an aggressive strategy during our first Gen Con together!

 

The answer  came to us one day when she and I were discussing the difference between tactics and strategy.  I am very strategic by nature.  I formulate a specific strategy and then employ the necessary tactics to implement that strategy.  She tend to be more of a pure tactical thinker.  Excellent at making the best decision in the moment, but not as strong at the long-term detailed planning.  As such, she usually picks a very basic strategy, that may very well be far from optimal, and then focuses a 100% of effort on that one plan.  It turns out that this is incredibly effective for winning games being played for the first time by your group, even if the rest of the group tends to be more hardcore than you.  In fact, their own hardcore nature may even work against them!

The most hardcore players are prone to trying to create an optimal strategy even when they are too unfamiliar with a game to do so.  This natural urge can cause them to make a number of mistakes that they would not make after a few plays.  Whether a result of ego or the force of habit, this often places these hardcore players at a disadvantage when playing games for the first time.  This provides exactly the opening Heather’s style of play requires to have a very high success rate!  Rather then fumble about trying to act like she knows the game perfectly, she picks an element of the game that offers decent value and applies laser-like focus to it and often wins as a result!

 

The Stone Age board being setup.

 

After considering her track record of success, I decided to give this play style a try in a recent game of Stone Age in the Indy Gaming Series.  I had never played, and neither had one of the other players, with the third having only played three times over a number of years.  After a shortened practice game, to familiarize ourselves with the rules, which I lost terribly, I activated the Heather Plan!  I proceeded to play a very low risk, highly focused strategy that virtually ignored entire elements of the game.  I felt really good as the game was progressing.  I had a sense of comfort from not trying to over think something I did not fully understand and when the final scores were totaled, I had won!  Eureka!  Not only had I won the game, but I had successfully field tested our theory regarding her tremendous success playing new games!

So, if you and your group are all trying out a new game, and you want to win, I strongly recommend giving the Heather Plan a go.  It is officially my new strategy for such occasions and I expect that I will racking up quite a few more first time wins!  Even though it might cost me a few extra dirty looks from Heather for stealing her move, it’s totally worth it!

 

 

Don’t forget tell your stories in the comments, subscribe to Life in Games, and follow me on social media for more gaming content!  To learn more about the Wife in Games herself, checkout Heather’s blog Story of a Better Me!

What’s New and What’s Coming.

Hello everyone!  It has been far too long since I have posted here, but that is all about to change.  I have not written as I have been giving a lot of thought over the past few months about the direction that I want to take with Life in Games.  When I started this site, I covered all aspects of my gaming life, but transitioned heavily into the world of reviewing games.  I reviewed both games in my collection and games that were to be released or Kickstarted in the near future.  Before long this became the primary source of my content and I like to think I provided objective information about all the games I have reviewed.  I was never anything but honest, and even in the event I disliked a game it was my goal to inform as to why rather than to be cruel.  However, as my gaming life has changed more and more over the last couple of years my time and interest for doing reviews has greatly diminished and as a result so has my content production.

I still play a ton of games for recreation, but the time once spent on reviews has now been filled more and more with designing games of my own.  Having a full-time job and a family only leaves so much time for game playing and that is filled with gaming with friends and playtesting.  I simply do not have the time to review games anymore and especially those reviews that come with a deadline from the publisher.  This is ok.  I have accepted it and am now ready to move on in a new direction with my articles.  Given that the site is called Life in Games, it only makes sense that the content would change as my gaming life does as well.

Going forward, much of the content here will be directed toward game design, stories about gaming, events that I attend, or super cool projects that I am aware of and want to spread the word about.

The articles on game design will range from updates about my current projects, methods and processes I use, and helpful resources that I discover.  It will be a mixture of excitement for my games and a resource that I hope will help other aspiring designers!

 

The box for my upcoming game, Legendary Creatures!

 

 

The stories about gaming will remain much the same as they always have.  The occasional tale from the IGS (Indy Game Series) to which I still belong and any cool story that occurs while playing games with friends or strangers alike!

For events that I go to, I will report on those I attend in a formal capacity for Life in Games or as game designer as well as those where I am simply there to play games and have fun!

Lastly, as part of my adventures in the game industry I have met and reconnected with some amazingly creative people and if I am made aware of a great project I will write about it.  These will not be reviews in the cold analytical manner I used to write, but the musing of a fellow gamer/fan who cannot wait to see these games get made.  I will still be completely honest regarding such games, an will never engage in shilling, but if I am writing about a game now it will be because I am genuinely excited for its release!

I am very excited to start posting here again and sharing all of my experiences in the gaming world with all of you!  Feel free to find the Life in Games page on Facebook, hit me up on Twitter, or comment on this site.  I would love to connect and hear all about your gaming stories as well!  Happy gaming and stay tuned for big news!

The Lords of Rock: Description and Review

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The Lords of Rock, by Dave Killingsworth of SolarFlare Games, mixes the unlikely thematic duo of mythology and a cosmic battle of the bands.  In this game, 2-4 players will take control of a mythological Pantheon of gods and attempt to out rock the others for control of the universe!

 

The review copy that I received is a late stage prototype that appears to have much of the final art and fairly complete rules.  Some rules may change before the end of the upcoming Kickstarter, but this review is based on this version alone.

 

Game Overview

 

In Lords of Rock, players will select a mythological pantheon (Greek, Aztec, Norse, or Egyptian) from which to create their band.  Each pantheon has two band leaders, one male and one female.  A player must select one of these no matter what.  After selecting a leader, players select the rest of their band from the available gods as they wish, but must have exactly four band members with each having a different primary skill: Vocals, bass guitar, lead guitar, and drums.  When selecting the make-up of their band, players will also want to consider the secondary skills of their performers as these can come into play depending on where the gigs are played.

Venues

Prior to choosing the gods in their band,  all players will be given four random venues, two of which they will use during the course of the game.  Each venue has a size, a list of the skills to be used, a set of reward based on the where players finish, and some even have an additional bonus for the winner.  Players must consider the venues they have in hand when deciding which gods to choose for their band.

 

Gods

As mentioned earlier, each player will have a band made up of four gods.  Each god has a primary skill and a secondary skill that may be used if they are applying the other during a gig.

 

Set Lists

Each player will take 7 set list cards at the start of the game.  These will be played during shows at the various venues during the game.  They generally consist of positive modifiers that players play face down in their own area, negatives that are played face up on other players, and roadies that can help to deal with negatives a player has been targeted with by another player.  The use of these modifying cards is to help players raise their strength or lower that of their opponents as the total will determine the winners at each venue.

 

Game’s End

After all players have selected and resolved their second venue, the player with the most souls is the winner.  In the event of a tie, the players involved in the tie have one last battle of the bands at a random venue with the victor being the winner of the game.

My Review

 

The Lords of Rock is a light and fun game that perfectly integrates its unique thematic combination of mythology and rock music!  The art of the mythological figures as “Rock Gods” is perfect and really adds to the flavor of the game. While The Lords of Rock is short on strategy it is long on fun.  Clearly, it is designed as a filler game, but there is still room for some clever decisions and sneaky moves.  Although many players dislike “take that” mechanics, and The Lords of Rock certainly has that element, the game is short enough and humorous enough that it adds rather subtracting from the game.

Screenshot_2016-08-01-21-11-44-1

I have very little in the way of negatives to say about The Lords of Rock. Obviously, it is lighter than my normal tastes in games, but it is exactly what it is trying to be.  If you are looking for hardcore strategy look elsewhere, but if you are in the market for a humorous game this will not even be a negative.  It can also be a little heavy on the mathematic computations, as each battle of the bands is essentially a sum of modifiers and skill totals.  I do not generally have an issue with this, but people often do, and thus it is worth mentioning in a review for potential buyers/backers.  That being said, these are minor details and The Lords of Rock will be a big hit for you and your group if you are its target audience.

 

Overall, my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed The Lords of Rock.  It is very much in the vein of other products from SolarFlare Games that I have played, having a tweaked sense of humor, simple rules, and quick play time, but is their best to date in my opinion!  If already a fan of their games you will not be disappointed, making this a must back/buy.  If you are not familiar with their work, but like social games that are funny and easy to play chances are that you will have a good time with The Lords of Rock as well!  The Lords of Rock hits a perfect note for the type of game that it is trying to be, and that is all any game can try to do!

 

 

Let it be known to all readers and government officials alike, that Life in Games received a free copy of this game for the purpose of providing an objective review.  No further compensation of any sort changed hands between myself and the publisher.

 

 

Gen Con Is Coming: A Wife in Games Guest Post

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This article was originally posted at storyofabetterme.wordpress.com/

 

As I look through the memories of Facebook this morning, I realize that this day in 2015, we were at GenCon. Dubbed the “best four days in gaming”, it is truly a nerd girl’s paradise! There are plenty of costumes to admire (and yes, there is Wonder Woman shirt for every day of the con, buuutttt, this year I have my tiara to wear with them – HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!), fantastic fantasy and nerd art, but my pull is the endless rooms and infinite piles of games…  it is a great place to let my geek flag fly!

Although I joke about being a nerd, or a geek, or gamer girl, I really do pride myself on my intelligence, and as you know, part of the campaign of #becomingabetterme does have to do with the full me, not just the physical… and gaming is a fantastic way to exercise your mind. I do not consider myself a strategic game as much as I do a tactical gamer, but by playing different styles of games, with a laundry list of different mechanics, I am getting better. That is not to say I am as good as the group of friends that we game with, but I can hold my own against them in several of the games we do play.

Just like with exercising your body you have to make sure that your brain cells are fully charged to keep the synapses firing… FOOD. Food in important. I did mention this was a convention, so by definition, it will be at a convention center, which is not the best place for food. Dried out burgers, greasy pizza, and “what is that really” chicken sandwiches, not exactly what one would consider healthy.

Knowing this is what we are looking at, I had a nice conversation with my hubs about how this was not going to work for me, we decided to make a trip to Fresh Thyme and get some healthy snacks to keep us fueled and alert. I am sooo ready! SO. READY.

I know this isn’t really like my traditional posts, but as this event gets closer for me, the more excited I get, and I am really just using this post as a reminder that I can still remain on my journey and enjoy all the nerdiness that life has to offer.

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As I look through the memories of Facebook this morning, I realize that this day in 2015, we were at GenCon. Dubbed the “best four days in gaming”, it is truly a nerd girl’s paradise! There are plenty of costumes to admire (and yes, there is Wonder Woman shirt for every day of the con, buuutttt, this year I have my tiara to wear with them – HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!), fantastic fantasy and nerd art, but my pull is the endless rooms and infinite piles of games…  it is a great place to let my geek flag fly!

Although I joke about being a nerd, or a geek, or gamer girl, I really do pride myself on my intelligence, and as you know, part of the campaign of #becomingabetterme does have to do with the full me, not just the physical… and gaming is a fantastic way to exercise your mind. I do not consider myself a strategic game as much as I do a tactical gamer, but by playing different styles of games, with a laundry list of different mechanics, I am getting better. That is not to say I am as good as the group of friends that we game with, but I can hold my own against them in several of the games we do play.

Just like with exercising your body you have to make sure that your brain cells are fully charged to keep the synapses firing… FOOD. Food in important. I did mention this was a convention, so by definition, it will be at a convention center, which is not the best place for food. Dried out burgers, greasy pizza, and “what is that really” chicken sandwiches, not exactly what one would consider healthy.

Knowing this is what we are looking at, I had a nice conversation with my hubs about how this was not going to work for me, we decided to make a trip to Fresh Thyme and get some healthy snacks to keep us fueled and alert. I am sooo ready! SO. READY.

I know this isn’t really like my traditional posts, but as this event gets closer for me, the more excited I get, and I am really just using this post as a reminder that I can still remain on my journey and enjoy all the nerdiness that life has to offer.

As I look through the memories of Facebook this morning, I realize that this day in 2015, we were at GenCon. Dubbed the “best four days in gaming”, it is truly a nerd girl’s paradise! There are plenty of costumes to admire (and yes, there is Wonder Woman shirt for every day of the con, buuutttt, this year I have my tiara to wear with them – HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!), fantastic fantasy and nerd art, but my pull is the endless rooms and infinite piles of games…  it is a great place to let my geek flag fly!

Although I joke about being a nerd, or a geek, or gamer girl, I really do pride myself on my intelligence, and as you know, part of the campaign of #becomingabetterme does have to do with the full me, not just the physical… and gaming is a fantastic way to exercise your mind. I do not consider myself a strategic game as much as I do a tactical gamer, but by playing different styles of games, with a laundry list of different mechanics, I am getting better. That is not to say I am as good as the group of friends that we game with, but I can hold my own against them in several of the games we do play.

Just like with exercising your body you have to make sure that your brain cells are fully charged to keep the synapses firing… FOOD. Food in important. I did mention this was a convention, so by definition, it will be at a convention center, which is not the best place for food. Dried out burgers, greasy pizza, and “what is that really” chicken sandwiches, not exactly what one would consider healthy.

Knowing this is what we are looking at, I had a nice conversation with my hubs about how this was not going to work for me, we decided to make a trip to Fresh Thyme and get some healthy snacks to keep us fueled and alert. I am sooo ready! SO. READY.

I know this isn’t really like my traditional posts, but as this event gets closer for me, the more excited I get, and I am really just using this post as a reminder that I can still remain on my journey and enjoy all the nerdiness that life has to offer.

 

 

Consider visiting Heather’s blog, Story of a Better Me, for tons of great content!

Apr 29

Game Design: Family Think & Make Workshop


I recently gave a presentation about tabletop game design at Perry Meridian Junior High School as part of their series of Think and Make Workshops.  These events are run by their wonderful librarian, Leslie Preddy, and with the help of a few dedicated volunteers.  One of the school’s math teachers and resident gaming expert, Doc Rissel, also took part in the presentation by teaching the audience about strategy and tactics as well as how to make variants of existing games.

 

 

For my part, I gave a short speech about my personal background with gaming, game design, and powerful lessons I have learned that I believe can help aspiring game designers or creators in general.  I followed this up by creating a basic board game template and then allowed the students to customize their own copies thematically so each student left with unique copy of a game they played a part in creating.

I began my presentation with some background on how I became a gamer, which is of course the foundation of how I wound up designing games.  I explained that it all began by angering my grandpa!  The first game I can remember playing was Checkers with my Mom’s father.  He taught me when I was about 5 years old and much to the surprise of all, but especially his, I crushed him!  Pa was not pleased.  In fact he displeased enough that he not only never played Checkers with me again, but to the best of my knowledge never played Checkers with anyone ever again!  While he may have done a poor job teaching me sportsmanship, he had awakened my love and talent for games that endures undiminished to this day!  Thanks Pa, who knows what would have happened if you never taught me Checkers!

I explained that Checkers led me to learn Chess, Poker, Chinese Checkers, and countless other games at a very young age.  I discovered Rpgs in my teens and played more advanced board games like Axis and Allies and true hobby games like Battletech until the bomb dropped.  The bomb in question was Magic: the Gathering which, aside from Poker utterly dominated my gaming life from 17 until nearly 30.  I explained that the near decade and a half of Magic was my doctorate in learning iterative design and understanding the interactions of game mechanics, even though I did not yet know it to be the case.

It was only after I had given up Magic and discovered modern board games in around 2006-2007 that I slowly began to feel the itch to design a game of my own.  After playing modern classics such as:  Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Ticket to Ride, and so many more I began to believe that it might be something I could do.  For the next few years I played at being a game designer, but did not really put in the work needed to actually accomplish my goal.  I would test once in a blue moon and make countless changes, but never really got down to business.  That is until I saw a video that made it all so clear to me exactly how I had to proceed!  This video, and its message, was the first piece of advice to my young audience.  I recommended they watch it.  I recommend you watch it.  I recommend everyone who thinks they might ever try to make or do anything creative!

 

Fail Faster

This the most powerful advice I have ever received in my life!  It made it possible for me take the partially formed Legacy Wars game idea I had and mercilessly pound it into the ground with my testers and eventual publisher V3G until it emerged as Strife: Legacy of the Eternals and realize my dream of becoming a game designer!  This helped me to overcome my fear of showing people something that wasn’t ready by allowing me to understand that doing so was the only way it ever would be ready!  It seems obvious, but it is not.  Apply the concept of failing faster to your creative endeavors, games or anything else, and they will start you moving down the right path!

“You can do anything, but not everything.” – David Allen.

This was my second piece of advice/wisdom to the kids.  During the run-up to Strife, their were a number of friends and some even in the industry who strongly advised me to self publish and run the Kickstarter myself.  While considering my options I remembered this quote and helped me make up my mind.  I realized that the extent of my game industry talents were working on a game and applying the fundamentals of iterative design and that was it!  I knew nothing of art direction, producing a product, running a Kickstarter campaign, graphic design, shipping a product globally, warehousing or any of the other important skills/knowledge sets that going into making a game or any product for that matter.  Now I am a smart guy, and I believe that I could learn how to do any of these things or at least how to hire out to skilled people who could, but I did not think that trying to do so on the fly while also designing my first game was the right time to do so.  Yes I could do anything, but not everything and I had to prioritize my goal to match with the skills I possess.  I wanted to design a game.  Out of all of the aforementioned skills this was the one that I felt I most possessed.  I knew that I would be best served focusing on that goal alone and that having a publisher handle all of those other concerns was the way for me to go.  I may someday run my own Kickstarter, as I have learned, and continue to learn so much from the great people with whom I have worked, but I truly do not know, as all I really want to do is design games.  I have no doubt that my design would suffer or at least my pace would be greatly reduced if I had to juggle everything else at the same time.

“Haters gonna hate.”

I am the furthest thing in the world from a fan of rap or hip-hop, but this saying is an absolute truism that all creators need to understand.  So much of what stands in the way of people creating a game or whatever their dream may be is tied up in the fear that someone will hate it.  I want to put your mind at ease…someone will definitely hate it!  Think of your favorite food…someone hates it.  Think of your favorite movie…someone hates it.  Think of anything in all the world that you think is wonderful and amazing…someone out there hates it!  So, given that there is a 100% chance that someone will hate what ever it is that you create there really is nothing to fear is there?  People are going to hate what you make for legitimate reasons in that it is simply not to their taste, which is fair.  Unfortunately people are also going to hate what you make for completely illegitimate reasons because they don’t even understand what is, which I find somewhat less fair.

To illustrate this point to the audience I read to them some of the most interesting reviews of my game Strife:  Legacy of the Eternals. It is designed to have a very low amount of luck and is as a result almost entirely a game of skill.  Some reviews back this fact up by referring to it as, “Card Chess” and “A challenging game with virtually zero luck.”  While some of the reviews and ratings are from people who simply do not enjoy that kind of game, which is a perfectly valid opinion, but there were also others.  Others who said things like, “This game is totally random with no skill at all,” and “Strife is a game that seems like it requires skill, but is really all luck.” The vast majority of the people who did not enjoy Strife fully acknowledged that is was a low luck high skill game, but not their preferred type of game, but as you can see some people did not even recognize what the game was about, but they knew they hated it.  This will happen no matter what you make and rather than worry about it you should embrace it and be freed from your fear.  After all, no matter what you do haters gonna hate!

Clackasaur vs Ninja Squirrels

My second part of the presentation was to help the kids in attendance make a game that they could take home with them.  During the week leading up to the event I designed a simple battle game where a “Big Monster” would be trying to steal the “Valuables” of “Type of Small Animals.”

This is the picture of the board and set up.

In my case I used a crab token that my step-daughter Katie gave me as part of a Christmas present full of prototyping materials as inspiration for my monster, Clackasaur.  Ninja Squirrels are my small animals and they are trying to defend their valuable, cotton candies, from the rampaging Clackasaur.  Obviously, this is ridiculous, but that was part of the point of the exercise.  It allowed the kids to use their imaginations when filling in the theme they wanted the game to be and understand that a game can really be about anything.  The Fail Faster video mentions this when it explains the silly concepts some of the world’s most iconic games have, such as:

Mario Brothers: Is about plumbers on drugs.

Sonic the Hedgehog:  Is about a blue hedgehog in sneakers that can run really fast.

Gears of War:  Is about linebackers fighting bugs with chainsaw guns.

They even go on to explain that Angry Birds, launching birds at pigs in castles, made a billion dollars!  It is about perfectly implementing your concept in an entertaining manner instead of coming up with the perfect concept.

The kids really enjoyed this part of the presentation and I will list below some of my favorite titles and valuables they came up with:

  • Locoraptor vs Elven Bunnies for the pieces of the Scepter
  • Big Joe  vs  Tiny Lizards for the Crickets
  • Ronster vs Flying Mice for the Cheese
  • Hydrasius vs Invisible Chipmunks for the Golden Strawberries
  • Giant Raccoon Vs Armored Turtles for the Iron Ingots
  • Dragonzilla vs Ninja Wasps for the Divinity Logs

 

A game in progress!

There were several others, but as you can see they let their imaginations run wild and we got some unique takes on the game from these young minds!

After customizing the attack cards in their battle decks to thematically represent the creatures they had chosen, everyone played their games.  I am happy to report that the results were reasonably balanced, as I heard stories of both animals and monsters winning, but most of all everyone having fun.

As the event came to a close four Gen Con passes, that had been generously donated, were awarded two at a time by random drawing.  I was given the honor/curse of drawing names, and as such was able to both fulfil and crush the hopes and dreams of the attendees.  I answered any questions the departing crowd had, with the most interesting coming from a young man who first told me I was awesome, always good way to get my attention, and then desperately pleaded to do some playtesting for me in the future.  When I told him to subscribe to this blog so I would have his email if I needed to reach him for testing he was super excited!  Leslie, thanked me profusely and told me the kids loved it and that I had been elevated to hero status.  She also gave me a little card containing a present I had not expected.

All in all, it was quite an evening.  A presentation like this is exactly the sort of assignment I would have skipped when I was in school, as I have long had terrible fear of public speaking due to my extreme introversion, and now here I was volunteering to do it as an adult!  Young me would be shocked to learn of such a future, but as the say, “What long strange trip its been.”  I must confess that most of my encounters with the education system as a step-parent and in general have left me disillusioned and cynical about its current state.  However, it must be said that Leslie and Doc are incredible educators, who are passionate about bringing unique experiences to their students that will broaden both their knowledge base and their minds!  It was inspiring to see such dedication and a great pleasure to help them in the small way I was able.  We need more like them!

In closing, I am glad to say that it was a positive experience for all involved including myself.  I originally offered to volunteer as a favor to a friend who teaches at the school, but after meeting Leslie and Doc found myself becoming more excited about the event.  It was truly a case of stepping out of my comfort zone, and although it made me nervous I feel the better for it.  You should try it sometime.  You may find it an excellent opportunity to learn something even as you teach others!

 

 

Remember to share and subscribe if you liked this article.  Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Apr 13

How to Win New Games By Playing Like My Wife

What is the only thing better than trying out an exciting new tabletop game?  Winning the first time you try out an exciting new tabletop game!  “Easier said than done,” you might say.  After all, depending on the complexity of a game it can be quite challenging to form any sort of coherent strategy with such a limited understanding of it.  This would seemingly result in a relative crap shoot as to who will win if the entire group is made up of novices.  I am here to tell you this notion is wrong!  By carefully observing the behavior of an expert new game winner I have solved this riddle for the ages by copying her method.  Who is this nigh unstoppable force of nature at winning new games you might ask? It’s my wife…the one and only Mrs. Heather Hamm!

Frequent readers of Life in Games will have surely heard me talk about Heather and some may have even read one of her occasional guest posts that can be found under the heading, Wife in Games.  For those of you not familiar with her it is important to realize she is a skilled, but relatively casual gamer who tends to shy away from the heaviest games or those with too much direct conflict.  Despite being more casual and drawn to somewhat less ruthless games or styles of play she has an incredible track record of winning, or nearly winning games that all of the players are playing for the first time.  How can this be?

First, a little background on the topic.  Heather and I have been married since September of 2008 and she has gone to every Gen Con with me since that year, while we were just engaged.  Every year I make a list of new or new to us, games that I believe we would both enjoy and try to seek out as many as we can during the con.  It is not uncommon for a few of our friends, often some of my very hardcore gaming buddies, to join us in these games.  When this same group plays games at home, ones we have played many times before, she is often competitive, but seldom wins.  We tend to simply be more familiar with the game and due to that greater understanding we are able to form optimized strategies that usually results in one of us winning.  However, a year or two ago, she and I noticed that she was winning about half of the new games we played every year at Gen Con even though we were with the same four or five people as at home.  Even if you account for the unfamiliarity with new games as a balancing factor, a 50% win rate year after year against people who usually beat you is quite surprising and more than just luck.  I have often thought my own win rate to be somewhat suppressed in this situation because I tend to be the rule reader and game teacher.  Having to constantly reference the rulebook for myself and others takes my attention from the game and hampers my ability to play.  This generally does not bother me, as Gen Con represent a rare occasion where I play with a much more casual attitude and focus more on having a good time then trying to win at all costs.  Still, I knew there was no way that this was the only explanation, especially since it only applied to me, and not the other players at the table.

 

Heather implementing an aggressive strategy during our first Gen Con together!

 

The answer  came to us one day when she and I were discussing the difference between tactics and strategy.  I am very strategic by nature.  I formulate a specific strategy and then employ the necessary tactics to implement that strategy.  She tend to be more of a pure tactical thinker.  Excellent at making the best decision in the moment, but not as strong at the long-term detailed planning.  As such, she usually picks a very basic strategy, that may very well be far from optimal, and then focuses a 100% of effort on that one plan.  It turns out that this is incredibly effective for winning games being played for the first time by your group, even if the rest of the group tends to be more hardcore than you.  In fact, their own hardcore nature may even work against them!

The most hardcore players are prone to trying to create an optimal strategy even when they are too unfamiliar with a game to do so.  This natural urge can cause them to make a number of mistakes that they would not make after a few plays.  Whether a result of ego or the force of habit, this often places these hardcore players at a disadvantage when playing games for the first time.  This provides exactly the opening Heather’s style of play requires to have a very high success rate!  Rather then fumble about trying to act like she knows the game perfectly, she picks an element of the game that offers decent value and applies laser-like focus to it and often wins as a result!

 

The Stone Age board being setup.

 

After considering her track record of success, I decided to give this play style a try in a recent game of Stone Age in the Indy Gaming Series.  I had never played, and neither had one of the other players, with the third having only played three times over a number of years.  After a shortened practice game, to familiarize ourselves with the rules, which I lost terribly, I activated the Heather Plan!  I proceeded to play a very low risk, highly focused strategy that virtually ignored entire elements of the game.  I felt really good as the game was progressing.  I had a sense of comfort from not trying to over think something I did not fully understand and when the final scores were totaled, I had won!  Eureka!  Not only had I won the game, but I had successfully field tested our theory regarding her tremendous success playing new games!

So, if you and your group are all trying out a new game, and you want to win, I strongly recommend giving the Heather Plan a go.  It is officially my new strategy for such occasions and I expect that I will racking up quite a few more first time wins!  Even though it might cost me a few extra dirty looks from Heather for stealing her move, it’s totally worth it!

 

 

Don’t forget tell your stories in the comments, subscribe to Life in Games, and follow me on social media for more gaming content!  To learn more about the Wife in Games herself, checkout Heather’s blog Story of a Better Me!

Apr 09

What’s New and What’s Coming.

Hello everyone!  It has been far too long since I have posted here, but that is all about to change.  I have not written as I have been giving a lot of thought over the past few months about the direction that I want to take with Life in Games.  When I started this site, I covered all aspects of my gaming life, but transitioned heavily into the world of reviewing games.  I reviewed both games in my collection and games that were to be released or Kickstarted in the near future.  Before long this became the primary source of my content and I like to think I provided objective information about all the games I have reviewed.  I was never anything but honest, and even in the event I disliked a game it was my goal to inform as to why rather than to be cruel.  However, as my gaming life has changed more and more over the last couple of years my time and interest for doing reviews has greatly diminished and as a result so has my content production.

I still play a ton of games for recreation, but the time once spent on reviews has now been filled more and more with designing games of my own.  Having a full-time job and a family only leaves so much time for game playing and that is filled with gaming with friends and playtesting.  I simply do not have the time to review games anymore and especially those reviews that come with a deadline from the publisher.  This is ok.  I have accepted it and am now ready to move on in a new direction with my articles.  Given that the site is called Life in Games, it only makes sense that the content would change as my gaming life does as well.

Going forward, much of the content here will be directed toward game design, stories about gaming, events that I attend, or super cool projects that I am aware of and want to spread the word about.

The articles on game design will range from updates about my current projects, methods and processes I use, and helpful resources that I discover.  It will be a mixture of excitement for my games and a resource that I hope will help other aspiring designers!

 

The box for my upcoming game, Legendary Creatures!

 

 

The stories about gaming will remain much the same as they always have.  The occasional tale from the IGS (Indy Game Series) to which I still belong and any cool story that occurs while playing games with friends or strangers alike!

For events that I go to, I will report on those I attend in a formal capacity for Life in Games or as game designer as well as those where I am simply there to play games and have fun!

Lastly, as part of my adventures in the game industry I have met and reconnected with some amazingly creative people and if I am made aware of a great project I will write about it.  These will not be reviews in the cold analytical manner I used to write, but the musing of a fellow gamer/fan who cannot wait to see these games get made.  I will still be completely honest regarding such games, an will never engage in shilling, but if I am writing about a game now it will be because I am genuinely excited for its release!

I am very excited to start posting here again and sharing all of my experiences in the gaming world with all of you!  Feel free to find the Life in Games page on Facebook, hit me up on Twitter, or comment on this site.  I would love to connect and hear all about your gaming stories as well!  Happy gaming and stay tuned for big news!

Aug 01

The Lords of Rock: Description and Review

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The Lords of Rock, by Dave Killingsworth of SolarFlare Games, mixes the unlikely thematic duo of mythology and a cosmic battle of the bands.  In this game, 2-4 players will take control of a mythological Pantheon of gods and attempt to out rock the others for control of the universe!

 

The review copy that I received is a late stage prototype that appears to have much of the final art and fairly complete rules.  Some rules may change before the end of the upcoming Kickstarter, but this review is based on this version alone.

 

Game Overview

 

In Lords of Rock, players will select a mythological pantheon (Greek, Aztec, Norse, or Egyptian) from which to create their band.  Each pantheon has two band leaders, one male and one female.  A player must select one of these no matter what.  After selecting a leader, players select the rest of their band from the available gods as they wish, but must have exactly four band members with each having a different primary skill: Vocals, bass guitar, lead guitar, and drums.  When selecting the make-up of their band, players will also want to consider the secondary skills of their performers as these can come into play depending on where the gigs are played.

Venues

Prior to choosing the gods in their band,  all players will be given four random venues, two of which they will use during the course of the game.  Each venue has a size, a list of the skills to be used, a set of reward based on the where players finish, and some even have an additional bonus for the winner.  Players must consider the venues they have in hand when deciding which gods to choose for their band.

 

Gods

As mentioned earlier, each player will have a band made up of four gods.  Each god has a primary skill and a secondary skill that may be used if they are applying the other during a gig.

 

Set Lists

Each player will take 7 set list cards at the start of the game.  These will be played during shows at the various venues during the game.  They generally consist of positive modifiers that players play face down in their own area, negatives that are played face up on other players, and roadies that can help to deal with negatives a player has been targeted with by another player.  The use of these modifying cards is to help players raise their strength or lower that of their opponents as the total will determine the winners at each venue.

 

Game’s End

After all players have selected and resolved their second venue, the player with the most souls is the winner.  In the event of a tie, the players involved in the tie have one last battle of the bands at a random venue with the victor being the winner of the game.

My Review

 

The Lords of Rock is a light and fun game that perfectly integrates its unique thematic combination of mythology and rock music!  The art of the mythological figures as “Rock Gods” is perfect and really adds to the flavor of the game. While The Lords of Rock is short on strategy it is long on fun.  Clearly, it is designed as a filler game, but there is still room for some clever decisions and sneaky moves.  Although many players dislike “take that” mechanics, and The Lords of Rock certainly has that element, the game is short enough and humorous enough that it adds rather subtracting from the game.

Screenshot_2016-08-01-21-11-44-1

I have very little in the way of negatives to say about The Lords of Rock. Obviously, it is lighter than my normal tastes in games, but it is exactly what it is trying to be.  If you are looking for hardcore strategy look elsewhere, but if you are in the market for a humorous game this will not even be a negative.  It can also be a little heavy on the mathematic computations, as each battle of the bands is essentially a sum of modifiers and skill totals.  I do not generally have an issue with this, but people often do, and thus it is worth mentioning in a review for potential buyers/backers.  That being said, these are minor details and The Lords of Rock will be a big hit for you and your group if you are its target audience.

 

Overall, my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed The Lords of Rock.  It is very much in the vein of other products from SolarFlare Games that I have played, having a tweaked sense of humor, simple rules, and quick play time, but is their best to date in my opinion!  If already a fan of their games you will not be disappointed, making this a must back/buy.  If you are not familiar with their work, but like social games that are funny and easy to play chances are that you will have a good time with The Lords of Rock as well!  The Lords of Rock hits a perfect note for the type of game that it is trying to be, and that is all any game can try to do!

 

 

Let it be known to all readers and government officials alike, that Life in Games received a free copy of this game for the purpose of providing an objective review.  No further compensation of any sort changed hands between myself and the publisher.

 

 

Jul 31

Gen Con Is Coming: A Wife in Games Guest Post

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This article was originally posted at storyofabetterme.wordpress.com/

 

As I look through the memories of Facebook this morning, I realize that this day in 2015, we were at GenCon. Dubbed the “best four days in gaming”, it is truly a nerd girl’s paradise! There are plenty of costumes to admire (and yes, there is Wonder Woman shirt for every day of the con, buuutttt, this year I have my tiara to wear with them – HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!), fantastic fantasy and nerd art, but my pull is the endless rooms and infinite piles of games…  it is a great place to let my geek flag fly!

Although I joke about being a nerd, or a geek, or gamer girl, I really do pride myself on my intelligence, and as you know, part of the campaign of #becomingabetterme does have to do with the full me, not just the physical… and gaming is a fantastic way to exercise your mind. I do not consider myself a strategic game as much as I do a tactical gamer, but by playing different styles of games, with a laundry list of different mechanics, I am getting better. That is not to say I am as good as the group of friends that we game with, but I can hold my own against them in several of the games we do play.

Just like with exercising your body you have to make sure that your brain cells are fully charged to keep the synapses firing… FOOD. Food in important. I did mention this was a convention, so by definition, it will be at a convention center, which is not the best place for food. Dried out burgers, greasy pizza, and “what is that really” chicken sandwiches, not exactly what one would consider healthy.

Knowing this is what we are looking at, I had a nice conversation with my hubs about how this was not going to work for me, we decided to make a trip to Fresh Thyme and get some healthy snacks to keep us fueled and alert. I am sooo ready! SO. READY.

I know this isn’t really like my traditional posts, but as this event gets closer for me, the more excited I get, and I am really just using this post as a reminder that I can still remain on my journey and enjoy all the nerdiness that life has to offer.

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As I look through the memories of Facebook this morning, I realize that this day in 2015, we were at GenCon. Dubbed the “best four days in gaming”, it is truly a nerd girl’s paradise! There are plenty of costumes to admire (and yes, there is Wonder Woman shirt for every day of the con, buuutttt, this year I have my tiara to wear with them – HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!), fantastic fantasy and nerd art, but my pull is the endless rooms and infinite piles of games…  it is a great place to let my geek flag fly!

Although I joke about being a nerd, or a geek, or gamer girl, I really do pride myself on my intelligence, and as you know, part of the campaign of #becomingabetterme does have to do with the full me, not just the physical… and gaming is a fantastic way to exercise your mind. I do not consider myself a strategic game as much as I do a tactical gamer, but by playing different styles of games, with a laundry list of different mechanics, I am getting better. That is not to say I am as good as the group of friends that we game with, but I can hold my own against them in several of the games we do play.

Just like with exercising your body you have to make sure that your brain cells are fully charged to keep the synapses firing… FOOD. Food in important. I did mention this was a convention, so by definition, it will be at a convention center, which is not the best place for food. Dried out burgers, greasy pizza, and “what is that really” chicken sandwiches, not exactly what one would consider healthy.

Knowing this is what we are looking at, I had a nice conversation with my hubs about how this was not going to work for me, we decided to make a trip to Fresh Thyme and get some healthy snacks to keep us fueled and alert. I am sooo ready! SO. READY.

I know this isn’t really like my traditional posts, but as this event gets closer for me, the more excited I get, and I am really just using this post as a reminder that I can still remain on my journey and enjoy all the nerdiness that life has to offer.

As I look through the memories of Facebook this morning, I realize that this day in 2015, we were at GenCon. Dubbed the “best four days in gaming”, it is truly a nerd girl’s paradise! There are plenty of costumes to admire (and yes, there is Wonder Woman shirt for every day of the con, buuutttt, this year I have my tiara to wear with them – HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!), fantastic fantasy and nerd art, but my pull is the endless rooms and infinite piles of games…  it is a great place to let my geek flag fly!

Although I joke about being a nerd, or a geek, or gamer girl, I really do pride myself on my intelligence, and as you know, part of the campaign of #becomingabetterme does have to do with the full me, not just the physical… and gaming is a fantastic way to exercise your mind. I do not consider myself a strategic game as much as I do a tactical gamer, but by playing different styles of games, with a laundry list of different mechanics, I am getting better. That is not to say I am as good as the group of friends that we game with, but I can hold my own against them in several of the games we do play.

Just like with exercising your body you have to make sure that your brain cells are fully charged to keep the synapses firing… FOOD. Food in important. I did mention this was a convention, so by definition, it will be at a convention center, which is not the best place for food. Dried out burgers, greasy pizza, and “what is that really” chicken sandwiches, not exactly what one would consider healthy.

Knowing this is what we are looking at, I had a nice conversation with my hubs about how this was not going to work for me, we decided to make a trip to Fresh Thyme and get some healthy snacks to keep us fueled and alert. I am sooo ready! SO. READY.

I know this isn’t really like my traditional posts, but as this event gets closer for me, the more excited I get, and I am really just using this post as a reminder that I can still remain on my journey and enjoy all the nerdiness that life has to offer.

 

 

Consider visiting Heather’s blog, Story of a Better Me, for tons of great content!

Jun 30

Whelps to Wyrms: Description and Review

Whelps to Wyrms, designed by Rick Perez, is the latest offering from Lamp Light Games and is a game for 2-5 players. The players take on the role of dragons striving to acquire the greatest hoard of gold in the realm.  Everyone begins the game controlling a relatively weak dragon whelp, but as they gain experience from doing what dragons do best: eating livestock (and people), destroying structures, and exploring unknown lands, they will grow in strength and power possibly even reaching the status of Wyrm!  With careful planning, strategic use of your unique dragon powers, and a little luck you can emerge as the richest and most feared dragon in all the realm!

 

The copy that I received was a late stage prototype with a few rough edges, having neither the final rules nor components. As such the final product may well differ to some degree from what I describe in this article.  However, based on my two previous experiences with Lamp Light Games I am quite confident these concerns will be more than addressed by the final product.

 

Game Overview

 

The player sheet for the mighty Red Dragon!

The player sheet for the mighty Red Dragon!

 

Players begin the game by taking the game sheet for one of the five dragons:  Red, Blue, Black, Green, or White.  At the start of the game they are a lowly whelp  with all dragons beginning in the center hex of the board, the Nest.  The nest is then surrounded by a number of hex tiles equal to the player count, plus one.  These tiles are made up of four terrain types: Plains, Mountains, Forests, and Lakes.  The first three have their own improvement decks and one from the appropriate deck is place on each of these.  Lakes may not be improved and require extra movement to fly across.  Next, shuffle the objective cards and place a number equal to the player count face up in a display.  Now, take the top nine cards objective cards and place them face down in an objective draw pile.  Lastly, randomly determine a first player and give them the starting player marker.

 

The player sheet for the chilling White Dragon!

The player sheet for the chilling White Dragon!

 

Each round of the game is made up of a number of phases:

Ready Phase: The starting player token is passed to the right, the top card of the objective deck is revealed, and camps/farms receive their livestock/gold.

Action Phase: Players now take their turns beginning with the starting player and progressing in clockwise order.  A player may move a dragon a number of spaces up to its speed and perform a number of actions based on its current size.  Actions may be used to do the following:

  • Attack-The dragon may make a combat roll against a lair, slayer, or another dragon.
  • Eat-The dragon may consume a creature on its current hex which awards experience points.
  • Search-If on a hex that does not currently have an improvement, the player draws the top card from the appropriate deck and places it on the hex, gaining one experience.
  • Explore-The dragon reveals a new hex and places it on an unoccupied edge of its current tile, gaining one experience.
  • Raze-The dragon may spend both actions to remove an improvement from its current space rewarding the dragon with gold and freeing up the space to be searched again.
  • Skill-The dragon may utilize one of its powers that require an activation that has been purchased with experience points.
  • Pass-Players may end their turn while still in possession of unspent actions, to gain one experience for each such action.

At any point during a player’s turn, as a free action, experience points may be used to purchase powers on the dragon’s “ability tree” and/or increase its size.  If this results in the dragon gaining additional action cubes, they may be spent on this turn.  It is important to note that, players may only purchase powers of a lower or equal level to the current size of their dragon and only those which the player has all of the earlier versions.  Players may also take any objective cards in the display whose conditions they have met.

Slayer Phase:  In each round after the first, the current holder of the starting player token draws the top card of the Slayer deck and places it in play.  In addition, all slayers are moved during this phase, either towards dragons to harm them or away in an effort to deny points for defeating them.  After all slayers have been resolved, the round is over and play returns to the Ready Phase.

During the game, combat may occur with slayer or other dragons.  In the event that a dragon takes a wound from combat they roll a six sided die and place a marker on the correspondingly numbered action space on their player board.  That action may not be taken until the dragon heals.  If there was already a token on that action an additional token is placed on top making it even more difficult to regain that action.

 

Play continues until there is not an objective card to reveal during the  Ready Phase.  At this time, players receive gold from their completed objectives, any they may earn from the end game objectives, and combine it the gold they have on hand.  The player with largest amount of gold is the winner!

 

The modular board spreading out from the nest.

The modular board spreading out from the nest.

 

My Review

Whelps to Wyrms is an interesting game in that it places players in a dragon’s scales for a change, and they discover that their goals are much the same as the adventurers players are accustomed to playing…loot and experience!  Whelps to Wyrms is fairly easy game to grasp with its straightforward mechanics and relatively basic goals, but the large number of possible outcomes in tiles and improvements creates an array of challenging tactical decisions.  Overall, my fellow players and I thoroughly enjoyed the game, both for its theme and mechanics.

From a mechanical standpoint, I always enjoy a nice modular board, and especially one that grows the world during the course of the game.  This, along with the improvement tiles, really works in tandem with the exploration/adventure elements of the theme in a wonderful way.  I also liked the manner in which the starting player token is moved around the table, by making the previously last player the new starting player with play then continuing in clockwise manner.  This maybe less important with fewer players, but with five it met with approval from everyone.  The wound system was also a fairly original take on such a thing, and although random, I rather enjoyed the chance to gamble on what might get damage if I wanted to raze one of the auto-wounding improvements.  It allowed me to decide how much risk I wished to face and make that decision based on whether or not I thought the reward was worth it or not.  This is the correct use of randomness!

While the mechanics are solid, it is in its theme where Whelps to Wyrms really shines.  The simple, yet genius idea of having players start out with a small dragon piece and replace it with larger ones as it grows is great!  I know, in the grand scheme of things this seems like nothing, but it helps players feel a true sense of progress as they advance and it really adds to the immersive nature of this game.  Speaking of immersion, the skill tree allows players to customize their already unique dragon both for flavor and strategic reasons.  The mixture growing your dragon’s size and skills really gives the game a great feel.  Even if a player loses, they can still have fun by realizing how far their dragon has come!

 

From little whelp to mighty wyrm!

From little whelp to mighty wyrm!

 

There was very little that I disliked about Whelps to Wyrms, and those things that I did mostly fall under the umbrella of personal taste.  That being said, there were a few issues that I feel are worth mentioning.

Perhaps it was due to playing with the full five players, but the objective cards seemed to dry up very quickly.  I am not sure what could be done about this, as they are also used for a round timer.  It just seemed like the initial display was quickly gobbled up and then they trickled in one at a time from then on.

I also could not help but feel that the dragons, while unique, pretty much have a baked in strategy or two for each.  This is fine, and they do offer a different play experience, but it makes the game far more tactical than strategic.  Your strategy will mostly be dictated by your dragon, but there will plenty of short term decisions to keep things very interesting.

In Conclusion

I really enjoyed Whelps to Wyrms as did those with whom I played.  Everyone agreed that it was fun to play as the dragons rampaging throughout the realm!  Even those who lost commented how they enjoyed the feeling of progress derived from growing their dragon and advancing its powers.  As a light to medium weight game with room for some strategy, tons of tactical decisions, that provides feelings of adventure, and offers tremendous re-playability due to the modular nature of its board, Whelps to Wyrms is a great success!  If those are features that appeal to you or your gaming group, I recommend adding it to your hoard!

 

 

 

 

Let it be known to all readers and government officials alike, that Life in Games received a free copy of this game for the purpose of providing an objective review.  No further compensation of any sort changed hands between myself and the publisher.

 

Whelps to Wyrms is live on Kickstarter now!

 

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