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.

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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!

Feb 15

How an Idea Becomes Reality

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During the most recent update the Strife: Shadows and Steam Kickstarter campaign, Jake from Vision 3 Games showed the process an idea goes through on its way to becoming a fully realized card.  Even as the game’s designer, I was not fully aware of how this worked and thought it was fascinating!  I decided this is just the sort of inside baseball game junkies love, and chose to share it here as a blog post.  Obviously, if you like what you see, checkout our Kickstarter which is running for about another week!  Either way, thanks for reading!

 

Curious as to how we develop our amazing artwork? Well it really relies on the magic of our artists, but we thought we’d show you with the process we just went though with Claudio for our first Event card: A Race for Resources.

The first thing that happens (after Chris makes sure the rules are buttoned up of course!) is that we’ll send a brief description over to the artist, along with the rule(s) and a working title. For these event cards, we definitely let the artists take the reigns and creatively interpret them. For this card, we sent the following,:

Race for Resources – Combat always begins at the location with the highest base vp value. If there are multiple locations tied for the highest base vp value, combat begins on the one located furthest from the location deck.
Concept: possibly an airship race between two airships? Or a locomotive vs an airship?

So what happens next? Claudio sends us three quick sketches. These are just to show form and function, as well as establish a color palette for the scene. Here’s what he sent:

Initial concept sketches from Claudio.
Initial concept sketches from Claudio.

From there, we bounce it around a bit internally, and make a call on what direction we like best, along with any comments or revisions we might think necessary. We’ll send feedback to the artist, who’ll take it back for another slightly-more-polished pass.

For this card, we gravitated to the bottom one after a little debate, but felt that we didn’t want it to look like one of the airships was capsizing. We also noted that we wanted to convey speed, not just a leisurely jaunt. So how’d Claudio take that feedback and run with it?

Claudio's second draft of the chosen concept.
Claudio’s second draft of the chosen concept.

You can clearly see he’s emphasized speed more, added details and played with the coloring. That horizon is looking stellar in the background! From here, we’ll give any more feedback as necessary. On this particular piece of art, it wasn’t. “Move forward!” was the cry. So how’d the final illustration end up? Check it out:

Final artwork from Claudio.
Final artwork from Claudio.

Stunning, isn’t it! We’re constantly amazed by Claudio’s efforts. Simply outstanding. But we’re not done yet! There’s still one more crucial step – graphic design and layout.

We’ll take this final artwork and lay it into our Event Card template, and make any adjustments we need to on the overall color balance or contrast on the artwork, while accounting for the cropping we need to fit all the rules text in there.

Final "A Race for Resource" card layout.
Final “A Race for Resource” card layout.

And there you have it. A card ready for the printer! The entire process takes roughly about 2-3 days. As you can see, there’s a lot of effort and love poured into each card. Here at V3G we pride ourselves on the quality of our games, and we hope it shows!

 

 

 

Feb 04

Strife: Shadows and Steam-Designer vs Publisher Showdown

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I recently dropped by V3G HQ to battle Jake Leeman,, the publisher of my Strife series of games, in a head to head, take no prisoners, epic grudge match in Strife: Shadows and Steam!  Despite some early technical difficulties, the video below shows nearly the entire game. For those of your who have never heard of the Strife series, this will be a quick introduction.  For those of you who have, it will a look into how the new set works and how a full match plays out.  Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

 

 

Remember, Strife: Shadows and Steam is currently up on Kickstarter.  If you are interested in learning more click on the widget below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jan 31

Strife: Shadows and Steam overview and Introduction

This video is a brief discussion of some differences between Strife: Legacy of the Eternals and the Strife: Shadows and Steam.  It also delves into elements of strategy for the new set and gives an overview of the champions. Strife: Shadows and Steam is currently on Kickstarter here.  Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

 

Jan 27

Nightmare Forest: Dead Run: Description and Review

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Nightmare Forest:  Dead Run, by Dave Killingsworth of SolarFlare Games, is a game in which players are campers racing to escape a forest that has suddenly become overrun by undead animals hungry for their brains. Fight crazy zombie animals, cut through the underbrush, sabotage your former friends, gather weapons, and when all else fails…rely on the luck of the dice!  Only one, or none, will survive in this mad cap scramble to be the first out of the Nightmare Forest…will it be you?

Note*  The version that I played and that is reviewed here was a late stage prototype and as such it was not judged on the artwork, components, or graphic presentation as all of these are subject to change.

Game Overview

The players are racing to be the first to make it from the campground (starting area) out of the forest (past level four).  The first to do so is the winner.  It is also possible that no one will make it out of the forest alive, and in this case there is no winner.

 

Screenshot_2015-12-03-20-38-31

 

 

The play area is set up with one column of forest cards per player.  Each column has two rows of level one cards, level two cards, level three cards, and one row of level four cards.  These cards are placed face down and represent the path that each player is on during the game.  While there are different types of cards amongst these, they are primarily made up of undead animals that players must defeat to advance toward the exit of the forest.  As the players progress from level to level the zombies increase in difficulty to defeat with the final row being the most challenging by far!

Gear for killing zombie animals!

Gear for killing zombie animals!

In addition to encountering zombies, players will also likely acquire gear during their journey to the exit of the forest.  The items tend to be fairly standard zombie fighting paraphilia (Shotguns, chain saws, machetes, etc…), with a few nice comedic exceptions, like the hot dog skewer!  As a life-long camper, this one in particular, warms my heart!  Players may either make use of this gear to hasten their escape or throw it at players ahead of them in order to delay those who are further along.

The primary mechanics are dice pool management and press your luck.  How a player chooses to allocate their dice each turn will increase or decrease their odds of success for whatever actions they choose to undertake.  How thin a player chooses to spread himself across various options is a large part of the press your luck element.

The first player to defeat their level 4 zombie escapes to the road and wins the game.  All other players are left to be transformed into another mindless flesh-eating undead monster.

My Review

Nightmare Forest: Dead Run is a relatively light, highly accessible game that is valuable as a filler or fun for families, particularly those introducing kids to the horror genre. It is in the role where the game works best and is highly successful.  Although it is far lighter than most games I would play now days, I would have absolutely loved this game as a kid.  Playing with my parents on a camping trip, would have been a blast with just the right amount of creepiness thrown in to add to the fun.  My wife, also really enjoyed playing it and although she is a seasoned gamer, this could bode well for those who are always seeking to convert their significant other to our hobby.  If they already have a toe in the geeky world of horror or a dark sense of humor Nightmare Forest could be just the gateway they have been looking for.

Given the game’s nature, dice and random set up of fixed paths, there is certainly a great deal chance involved in the outcome.  However, a player does have a number of options at their disposal to try to mitigate chance’s role.  Under normal circumstances, I am strongly opposed to a large luck factor in a game, but I find press your luck mechanics to be a slightly different animal.  They are in effect gambling, and like in most gambling games one can simply make the best decision based on the odds, game state, the facts at hand, and hope for the best.  If it does not work out, the game is short enough that it will not ruin one’s evening.

Another plus, is the dark sense of humor that pervades every part of Nightmare Forrest.  All of the cards contain flavor text that ranges from the macabre to the downright hilarious.  The numerous puns and pop language references really add to the mood of the game and keep everyone laughing as the merciless horde of zombie animals closes in.

I was particularly fond of the rulebook's motif!

I was particularly fond of the rulebook’s motif!

 

In Conclusion

Nightmare Forest: Dead Run provides a darkly humorous gaming experience for those new to the hobby or those looking for an easy going game to throw some dice and share a laugh.  If you are a hardcore gamer, who abhors chance and views hardnosed competition as the primary purpose of games, this one is probably not for you.  However, if you prefer games that are lighthearted escapes to be shared with friends and family, then you will likely enjoy Nightmare Forest: Dead Run very much!

 

 


Jan 24

Design Diary: Strife Shadows and Steam

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As readers of this blog know, I fulfilled my lifelong dream of becoming a published game designer in late 2014 when Strife: Legacy of the Eternals successfully funded on Kickstarter.  That story was told in two posts which can be read by following these links: Part 1 and Part 2.

This is the continuation of that story, as Strife: Shadows and Steam will be launching on Kickstarter 1/26/16.  Strife: SaS  is both an expansion and a sequel to Strife LotE, as it uses the same core mechanics and is fully integrable, while also being a standalone game in its own right.  Here is how it came into being.

Long before Strife: LotE existed it was called Legacy Wars.  After all, an aspiring designer must name his creation something, right?  While the game was taking shape I began to envision multiple sets of champions that could be used stand alone or for deckbuilding.  I do come from a heavy Magic the Gathering background, so it would be natural for me to think in this fashion.  Besides, Magic without mana-screw was one of my main inspirations!

Being the fantasy geek that I am, I stuck to that genre as I created additional champions, because it is what I know best.  As I worked on playtesting the main set of champions, I was always coming up with new abilities and thus potentially new champions for future sets and made sure to write down all of my ideas.  It was about this time that I met Jake from V3G and things began to change!

When Jake and I started to seriously discuss publishing, I told him that I had other abilities and champions in the works and he was interested.  Our first goal would be to make the base game as tight as possible and try to publish via Kickstarter.  If successful we would consider what to do with the other champions.  Jake, not being from a Magic the Gathering background thought the idea of sequels as opposed to traditional expansions would be a unique way to go.  This caused me to suggest having the game take place in a persistent world.  After all, the players were supposed to represent immortal beings, so it made sense that time would pass, the world would change, but the shadow war of the Eternals would continue.  We agreed that if we were lucky enough to ever make a second set, that would be the basic path.  Given the traditional fantasy theme of the first set, we felt that a fantasy world’s next logical step would be a form of steampunk technology.

Illusionist from Shadows and Steam with the Necromancer from Legacy of the Eternals.

Illusionist from Shadows and Steam with the Necromancer from Legacy of the Eternals.

 

As the finishing touches were being done to Strife: Legacy of the Eternals, I was already hard at work with my trusty lead playtester Nick Garwood, of Garwood’s Peak fame, working on Strife Shadows and Steam.  Despite having several champions waiting in the wings, I did not want to just slap a steampunk theme on them and pass it off as the plan all along.  I wanted the set to play differently and for the champions to have abilities representative of the theme.  This lead to many of the existing champions being completely redesigned or cannibalized for some abilities while others were discarded.

I wanted to add more cards using the “set aside” mechanic because it gave the feeling of powering these abilities much the way the new technology would have to be.  This idea of having powerful abilities, but at a cost was explored in the first set with the Wizard and seemed perfectly in line with how technology works.  The champions of Aerim have gained access to this new type of power, but at what cost?

I also knew I wanted to introduce tokens into the game.  The Clockwork Minion tokens and the Steam Traps help to capture the theme by being products of the technology.  The destruction tokens help to demonstrate the dangerous potential of these new developments.  However, from a mechanical standpoint, the goal was to give players an ability to reach even further into the future with their planning by seeding other face-up locations with tokens and provide them with both strategic and tactical opportunities.  If you use the Rifle Mage’s Legacy ability to place a Steam Trap on the location closest to the draw pile, it is almost like having two legacy abilities by the time it goes off.  You have your current legacy champion’s ability plus a trap.  Like all of the token related abilities, it allowed me to make even greater use of the location display to offer players more interesting decisions.

The Alchemist's home location in Shadows and Steam and the Wizard's home location in Legacy of the Eternals.

The Alchemist’s home location in Shadows and Steam and the Wizard’s home location in Legacy of the Eternals.

We turned to local writer, game designer, and author of Aerim’s lore Ryan Schoon, for advice on how to really achieve that steampunk feel.  Given that he is the head writer for the roleplaying game, Edara: A Steampunk Renaissance, we felt like he could really aid us with the theme.  He was very helpful fleshing out the steampunk element and for that I am grateful!

After tons of testing, the set had really come together in its own right. However, as the plan was for it to be playable against Strife: LotE or even for players to be able to combine cards from both sets into one deck, the real challenge was cross-set balance and making sure all possible interactions functioned properly.  Both of these factors led to yet another iteration of champion abilities as it was the most difficult phase of development.  This is largely because of the near infinite potential interactions in cross-set play.  We were essentially taking a system that was strictly symmetrical and allowing for asymmetrical play, while attempting to maintain balance and unique play styles.

It was during this phase that I started getting to see some of the illustrations from our immensely talented artist, Claudio Pilia!  Jonathan Powell blew our minds with his art for Strife: LotE and I was anxious to see what Claudio could do.  It was a conscious decision to go with a cleaner style this time as the imagery was from a more modern era.  Fictional yes, but more modern in its fictional style.  When I saw the first completed pieces, my jaw simply dropped at the quality of work!  Art holds a special place in my heart, because I have absolutely no talent of any sort in that area.  It may as well be some form a witchcraft as far as I am concerned.  I am always nervous until I see the pictures, because I can make the game work but I am completely powerless to make it beautiful.  So, when the art is as wonderful as Claudio’s, I not only experience awe but massive relief at the same time!

Finally…nearly all of the work is complete and we are preparing to launch the Kickstarter campaign for Strife: Shadows and Steam on 1/26/16!  I have done my part, Claudio his, the entire V3G team theirs and there is nothing left to do but brace for a crazy month.  Wish us luck!

*Special thanks to my wife Heather for supporting me in these crazy adventures.  I could not do it without you baby!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jan 01

VENOM Assault: Description and Review

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VENOM Assault, from Spyglass Games, is a competitive co-op deckbuilding game for 2-5 in which players rally the forces of Freedom Squadron to defeat the evil schemes of the terrorist organization VENOM.  Players work together, as they strengthen their decks and attack VENOM’s strongholds, but in the end, if VENOM is defeated there is an individual winner as well. Do you and your friends have what it take to foil the plots of VENOM?  Gear up soldier, the world needs you to find out!

*Note:  I was provided with a review copy in the relatively late stages of design. However, much of the art was not complete and it will not be judged on the graphic presentation in a negative way.  It is also possible that rules or cards may change prior to the final version, so keep that in mind.

Game Overview

At the start of the game, players select the mission that the want to play and follow its set-up requirements.  This generally involves a number of reward cards, colorful description, how many VENOM Leaders to use, and the various victory or defeat conditions for that particular scenario.  Once the board has been set, players take their starting decks of Commandos and Recruits (Basic Freedom Squadron soldiers), determine starting player, and begin the game.

The Starting player has one additional phase at the beginning of his turn where an event card is drawn.  As the name implies, events occur as a result of these cards that affect the game state including the chance to reveal a VENOM Strikes card.  These are the cards that show VENOM making progress towards achieving their nefarious ends.  If enough of these are revealed before the players can meet the victory conditions and any last chance opportunities run out, the players are defeated.  However, if the players accomplish their goal prior to this outcome the world continues to be safe for baseball, Mom, and apple pie!

Each player draws the top five cards of their deck to form a hand. In the event that a player lacks sufficient cards to complete a draw at anytime, that player simply shuffles his discard pile and takes the needed cards from the refreshed draw pile.

Next, a player enters the Recruitment Phase, in which the cards in hand are played one at a time in any order that the active player wishes and hopefully to his greatest advantage. Any abilities specific to this phase may be activated, but the primary purpose of this phase is to generate recruitment points that may be spent to acquire new soldiers, vehicles and buildings to place in ones deck.

The Tactical Phase is where a players bring the fight to one of VENOM’s many doorsteps.  The player may choose to attack a VENOM leader at one of the well themed bases around the globe.  Each VENOM leader has a Defense Rating, a Health Rating, and a Support Rating that will give the player a rough idea of what kind of trouble they might expect to have with a given leader.  Once a target is determined the Defense Meter is set, the Health meter is set and any abilities that the target leader has appropriate to the tactical phase are activated.  Now, the player chooses a combat leader, a soldier who may not have used an ability during the recruitment phase, and the decide which other cards to use as support for the attack.  This will tell the player how many combat dice they will have available to use while battling the VENOM leader.  An unsuccessful attack is simply wasted effort that allows VENOM to move closer to victory as well as pushing the player further behind in the individual contest.  A successful player receives the reward card, takes the leader card for individual VP, and resets the board with another leader and reward at that base if any are available.  This continues until VENOM has no leaders to replace, the primary base is cleared, the mission goal is achieved, or all of the above depending on the scenario being played.

After combat has been resolved and all of the abilities resolved, comes the Retirement Phase the Freedom Squadron player may choose one card in his play area to remove from the game prior to discarding and redrawing.

If the players fail to stop VENOM in time, they are defeated as a team with no winner.  If the players thwart VENOM in time they are all winners, but the player with the highest individual victory point total from rewards and leaders defeated is the individual victor.

My Review

To begin with, I will give my disclaimer regarding co-op games in general…The only way to win a co-op is not to play.  You might wonder, then why would I agree to review a game from a class that I am strongly inclined to dislike?  Simply put, I can set aside personal preferences and judge a game for what it is and not what I wish it would be.  In addition, I do believe that there are exceptions to every rule and the only way to find out is by not prejudging.  All of that being said, I enjoyed VENOM Assault a great deal!  Here is why…

Clearly a strong G.I. Joe motif!

Clearly a strong G.I. Joe motif!

First and foremost, I loved G.I. Joe as a child growing up in the 80’s and while not an officially licensed product, VENOM Assault perfectly captures the feeling of the cartoons!  I had armies of action figures and vehicles I used to wage countless battles and reenact scenes from the tv show constantly.  If this was your experience as a child I strongly recommend giving VENOM Assault a try!  While I am primarily a hardcore strategy gamer that eschews dice when possible and loathes co-ops, I must say that VENOM Assault succeeds at being thematically representative of the G.I. Joe experience. The art, that is finished, on the cards and board look as though they were pulled right out of an 80’s cartoon or comic book.  Clearly this game was designed by people with a great love for the “source” material as it shows at every level of the presentation.

Screenshot_2015-12-17-08-52-58

Now, with theme covered, I have some thoughts on the mechanics.  In general, there is not a ton of new stuff here mechanically as the game plays very similar to many co-ops and is quite reminiscent of Marvel: Legendary with dice added.  The deckbuilding mechanics are pretty standard with one particularly innovative mechanic during the Retirement Phase.  The ability to remove on card per turn automatically is a stroke of genius!  I have not played every deck builder and cannot say for certain that this is the absolute first game to use this mechanic, but either way it should be used in all future deckbuilding games.  Being able to weed out those crappy starting cards as a play decision and shape one’s deck going forward is great!

I found the layout and symbols on the rulebook, mission cards, game cards and board to be intuitive and easy to grasp.  My wife and I learned the game from scratch in 15 minutes which is impressive even considering our veteran gamer status.  Clearly Spyglass Games did a fine job of organizing the material in a manner that makes the game accessible and enjoyable very quickly.  Always a plus!

Evil bases galore!

Evil bases galore!

As I mentioned earlier, VENOM Assault has a great deal in common with Marvel: Legendary, but it does differ in some significant ways.  One of the biggest knocks against Legendary is that it takes forever to set-up and put away based on which heroes one is using and the scenario being played.  VENOM Assault does a much better job at this by using the same hero and VENOM support decks each game while it is smaller card sets that are modified for specific missions to provide variability.  While it may lose to Legendary a bit on the massively different deck buiding opportunities available it makes up for it with the different missions and the ability to start a game much more quickly.  A worthwhile tradeoff in my opinion.

I did have a few issues and concerns that need to be addressed. The dice do frustrate me a bit, as they certainly add a degree of luck that can ruin the best laid plans, but given that this is a co-op and not a truly competitive strategy game it is less of a problem.  The actual event deck that drives the plot felt a little clunky compared to some similar games I have played, but it was certainly serviceable. In truth, I did not play all of the missions, and it is possible that on some of the more difficult ones the pace accelerates making for a more consistent progression of the storyline.  Honestly, my biggest complaint, by my reading of the rules, is the seemingly huge advantage that the first play has in the competitive side of the game.  Starting player never changes and it is very possible that the first player will have more turns than the other player or players.  I went first in all of our games and I won all of them with the game ending on my turn.  As far as I can tell, the game ends immediately upon stopping VENOM and I ended the game every time.  However, the game is co-op first and competitive second, so this will likely bother players to a greater or lesser degree based on their own preference.

In Conclusion

If you are a G.I. Joe fan who enjoys gaming, VENOM Assault is well worth taking the time to checkout.  If you are already inclined towards co-op games or semi co-op deck builders VENOM Assault is very likely a game you will enjoy.  If all of the above are applicable to your tastes, I absolutely recommend looking into their Kickstarter that launches January 5th 2016!  VENOM Assault provides a thematically engrossing experience in a familiar mechanical package with a taste of nostalgia thrown in for good measure.  I had my doubts that I would enjoy it given my opinion of most co-op games, but now I know…and knowing is half the battle!

 

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