Jun 042006

Well, I said that I was going to talk about ways to overcome design blocks, but it looks like I’ve been distracted by the worst kind – something shiny. It’s always easier to let my attention drift away from something that I’ve got in some kind of decent shape to pour some energy into a new project (or a new phase of an ongoing project), instead of steaming ahead. But that’s okay – working in parallel allows me to apply things that I’ve learned in one area to another, so, let’s go with that.

The shiny thing in question here is, of course, “Hive”, the board game that I brought out for playtesting on Friday, which Dan was generous enough to give me a good amount of very useful feedback on. The game is in the late stages of prototyping and playtesting, and I feel like it’s pretty solid right now. The prototype that we played on Friday was the same one that I’d slapped together last year, just some glued-together construction paper for counters and a very poorly sketched and cut apart game board. Dan’s feedback impelled me to polish that part a bit, so that this next round of playtesting won’t be so painful – as much time was spent trying to hold the board together and keeping pieces from moving around as was playing, I think, and a better quality prototype will allow me to focus on making a few final tweaks to the gameplay, without having to spend all that time apologizing for the sorry state of things.

So, I sat myself down yesterday and fired up Inkscape and before too long, I had a spiffy looking new version of the board ready to go. A quick trip to Michael’s craft store in the afternoon got me all the bits and pieces that I needed to glue up and cut out the new board, plus a bunch of other goodies that I’m sure will come in handy one of these days. The counters are another issue altogether, though. They’re supposed to be 1″ hex shapes, with printing on both sides, and they need to be a bit thicker than the previous ones, as Dan mentioned, to make all the flipping a bit less odious. I brought home a few different kinds of materials to try out, with varying levels of success. I printed out the counter art on some full-size label paper, and went to town. My favorite ones so far are the 1/8″ balsa wood counters, with the stickers on either side, but each one takes a couple of minutes to cut and assemble and clean up, which is a bit prohibitive for the number of counters that I’m looking at producing. Fortunately, I also made a trip to a teacher supply store on the way, and picked up a few things, including a bag of 1″ two-color counters. A little sharpie magic, and I’ve got some eminently usable markers for the game – round, not hexagonal, and nowhere near as pretty as the ones I mocked up, but they’ll do the trick.

So, enough about the look and feel of the game – how does it play? Dan summarized the rules nicely in his post – one of my primary design goals with Hive was to make it as simple as possible, but it’s possible that I may have run too far in that direction. The full rules for the playtest version are literally short enough to be written on an index card, which I like a lot. While there are a couple of strategies and counter-strategies that emerged during the initial round of playtesting, it’s possible that casual players may find the game play a little “flat”. I added some optional rules in an attempt to address this – such as the corner cells scoring double – which will require some more play to work out the details. Hopefully, this will break up some of the clumping behavior that we observed, and lead to some new play angles – I’ve worked them out a bit in solo testing, but more brains will really bring out the wrinkles.

There are still some design issues that I haven’t been able to fully address. One that Dan mentioned, keeping track of the direction of the tiles when they are flipped, has vexed me since the very beginning. To be honest, I’m not sure that there really is a solution to this one – I’m just planning on making the counters as clear and easy to handle as possible, and hope that the players can work it out. The other issue that bugs me is during setup; the players must sort out their piles of counters without them being clearly marked as to which ones belong to which player. I do have a solution to this one, but I totally forgot about it in my eagerness to pump out the current batch of tiles, so it’ll have to wait one more go-around. Fortunately, it’s mostly a cosmetic hiccup, and shouldn’t be too big of an issue in testing.

Dan also mentions that he’d like to see some kind of numerical analysis of the optimal scores on each move. I have to admit, I’ve done very little number crunching on this one – the concept seemed simple enough, and tested well enough initially (after the usual fiddling and grumbling) that I didn’t really feel like it was necessary to break out the spreadsheets. Maybe I’m wrong – it’s definitely something to look into. Mischa also brings up a couple of ideas in his reply to Dan’s post, which intrigue me. I’m not sure I’d want to cut down on the range of numbers for the tiles – I like the amount of granularity versus complexity with 1-9, as opposed to, say 2-4-8, but I’m not against testing some alternate number spreads. I do really like the idea of allowing the players to rotate their pieces in some way, but I think I’d like to get what I have now solidified before throwing completely new stuff in.

All in all, Hive is feeling very close to done. I’m very much looking forward to busting through the next round or two of playtesting, and then moving on to the next phase – finalizing the visual design, and then trying to figure out how to manufacture, sell, and distribute the little guy. Fun, fun. As usual, any other input, comments or thoughts are greatly appreciated.

(Historical note: Hive was originally intended to be a chronic mini-game in a larger online science fiction massive-ish multiplayer game, in the vein of Pazaak, Triple Triad, or Tetra Master. The over-game, Parallax, was shelved indefinitely, but Hive took on a life of its own, in the non-virtual world. This is one of the joys of designing in multiple game media – things like this, or like Wu Xing, going in the opposite direction are bound to happen.)

Next: Zombies!!!

5 Responses to “Hive Preview”

  1. The comment I made about the statistical analysis stems from some observations I made on other games lately. For example in my game Salvage, I found that for the most part each resource card is worth 1/3 of a point. If a player can get a better return on his cards he should take the opportunity.

    In your game, I would relate this to how many points you can gain with the smallest piece. If there is a seven on the board, the best move might be to play an eight to net 14 points (or 22 (8+14) depending on how you look at it).

    I don’t really think there is a problem with your game. I was just wondering if there was a fool proof strategy out there that might guarantee a win every time.

    Also, how has turn order had an effect on play? To me, it seems like if you go second, you have an advantage. If you save a double-arrow “9” for the last move you are guaranteed to capture something.

  2. I don’t really think there is a problem with your game. I was just wondering if there was a fool proof strategy out there that might guarantee a win every time.

    Well, that seems to me like it would be a pretty big problem… There were a few strategies that would pretty much guarantee a win to one of the players in earlier versions, but I think that most of those are either ironed out, or too deep for your average human player to follow. I tend to think that kind of turn/score analysis is a pretty good idea for any game, but I also tend to be lazy about actually doing it, so, there you go.

    There is a definite advantage to going second right now, although that advantage has been whittled down through the development process. This is where that analysis would do the most good – I feel like this latest round of tweaks has mostly squashed that advantage, but only more testing will tell.

  3. So, what do the new pieces and board look like?

  4. Follow the “board” and “counters” links in the post, foo!

  5. helicopter…

    Spent a good chunk of the day working on my board game (currently “Hive”, but I’ll need to come up with a different name, as that one’s taken by another perfectly fine game). It’s just about ready to go now……

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