Marc Majcher

Marc is just this guy, you know?

Hey, do you want to win a free copy of Coalescence? I know you do. Well, how about that, and a free copy of Honeypot, to boot? There is no resisting a deal as sweet as that, right? So, what you need to do is get on over to BoardGameGeek, and check out the contest I just posted up there.

All you need to do is identify these nine stellar objects, and tell us what they are, and if you’re the first one to get them all right, the tubes are yours. Head on over for the official scoop!

Coalescence Contest Image

Okay, here’s the full rundown on what I did at BGG.Con 2007, also cross-posted from my blog. The short version: played a lot of games, promoted and sold Honeypot a bunch, and generally had a blast with a whole bunch of fine folks. And now, buckle up – here comes the long version.

Thursday 11/15/2007

I woke up at the unholy hour of 5:30am to finish packing and get myself together for the trip up to Dallas. This is my first BGG.Con, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but after hauling way too much crap around on the flight up to Indianapolis for GenCon, I was determined to err on the side of packing too little. I only brought a small clump of clothes and toiletries, my small bag to carry notebooks, schwag, and games in, a medium-sized box of Honeypot games to sell, and a big box of games for the math trade. I didn’t actually bring any of my own games to play, since I figured there’d be more than enough to lay hands on once we got there. Boy, was I right.

I got myself over to Nukes’ house around 7am, just before Drey, and before too long we were on the road. Huge props to Nukes for driving there and back – that would have been one hell of a bus ride. We arrived around 11am or so, found Mischa and our other peeps, got our room situations straightened out, stowed our junk upstairs, registered, and hit the floor rolling. Everyone got some kind of free game as a door prize, and I was lucky enough to show up early and snag Mission: Red Planet. I haven’t played it yet, but I’ve heard good things, and it looks pretty decent.

First thing, I sat down with some of the boys who were just finishing up a game in progress (I don’t remember which), and played a filler game of Honeypot with Peter while we waited to get in on the next one. First up was The Circle. This game has excellent art direction, and that’s about the best thing I can say about it. Took forever to untangle the rules, set everything up, and finally get started, and then the first several turns took another forever to grind reluctantly up to speed. By the time we figured out what we were doing and had a sense of how the game worked, we realized that it was pretty crap, and bailed. This was extra sad for us, because we could see the potential in the game, but it just wasn’t there for us. Not an auspicious start to the gaming, but everything was up from there.

After a brief interlude in which we ate some tasty greek delivery, someone brought out Saturn, a gorgeous dexterity game from the Theta line. Basically, you have these three rings around the center sphere that balance along various axes, and you have to place differently-sized balls in slots on the rings, without making them all tip over. It seems easy, but it was mildly challenging, and the scoring system was simple and elegant, and all the players were fairly engrossed the entire time. I’d definitely pick this up if I could find it cheaply, but it’s one of those rare games that will probably wind up costing more than it’s worth.

We cleared the big plastic planet off the table and set up Ruse and Bruise. Fast to learn, fast to set up, and fast to get started, this was a tight little card game that was simple, but still had a good bit of complexity to it. You have a deck of twenty cards or so that represent members of your court or something along those lines. You play these under a bunch of treasure cards that you want to claim – each treasure is worth a different number of points, and each requires a certain number of cards to be played under it before the round is over. When all the slots are full up, you count the total number of points that you’ve played under a treasure to see who gets it – aha, but many of the cards have special powers, which affect the outcome greatly. It’s easy for a cunning play that you’ve set up to be shattered by the wrong card played by a crafty opponent. It was one of those games with just the right amount of chaos to make things really fun – lots of banter and laughing, and quite often, someone would reach for the rules to check something out, and everyone would almost cheer, because we knew they were up to something. I’d like to pick this one up very soon.

The group broke up and some of us reconvened in another part of the gaming hall, and tucked right in to our next game, Patrician. Much more sedate than our last game, but still quite good. Basically, you play cards to either build two stories on one of two towers in one of the cities, or build one city and do a special action. The cards tell you where you’re allowed to build, and where you pick up your next build card, so although it doesn’t feel like there’s much choice at times, you can still shoulder your way in the direction that you’d like to go by basically choosing where you’ll be sent next. Some of the cards also have faces on them, which are worth points at the end of the game if you can collect sets of three of them. The game ended relatively quickly, scoring happened, someone won, we were all happy with it. Not world-rocking, but still fun.

Next up was Burg Appenzell, a sweet German game about mice trying to collect cheese in a castle with sliding floors. I loved this game – the bits and pieces are all very well done, the construction of the castle out of the box is awesome, and even the little mouse pieces look and feel perfect. The gameplay is kind of light, but still quite engaging – it’s kind of a cross between The Amazing Labyrinth and Stay Alive. You get three actions per turn, which include moving your mouse, sliding a row of floor tiles, or removing roof pieces to reveal a section of floor that you can enter. The floor tiles are either blank, contain a piece of cheese (which you can collect if two of your mice are on the same kind of cheese), or have a hole in them that you can fall through, losing your mouse. The game is over when someone collects three different kinds of cheese, or someone loses all but one of their mice. Lots of fun. There should be an English version out there somewhere (called Castle Roquefort or something), and it’s another game that’s high up on the wish list.

Wicked Witches Way was next. It had a cool box, and some custom dice with neat symbols on it. Other than that, meh. There’s some speed/memory stuff in there, a little card play, and some moving your little witch pieces back and forth on the race track. It didn’t really grab anyone, so we put it up after a handful of turns. We could totally do better with what was in there, but we repressed our re-designer instincts, and pressed on.

More building! Die Saulen von Venedig – or The Columns of Venice – was on the table next. In this game, you get to simultaneously lay down cards that tell you what occupation you’ll be playing in the current turn – you can grab columns or city pieces, sink columns into the water, build city on top of columns that are there, grab points off of someone else’s occupation card, beg or steal someone else’s occupation, or even blow up a piece of city that’s already there, and benefit when someone builds on the empty posts. Cards played are passed to the next player when the round changes, so everyone gets a chance to play everything, even if they get an initially crappy hand. Points are accumulated during the game for building and laying posts cleverly, and play ends when you run out of columns to build on. It ran about an hour or so, which was just about right – I enjoyed playing, and I’d definitely play again if it came up.

We broke for dinner at a wings’n’beer place across town – and by that, I mean “drove through the barren waste of the Dallas outlands until we hit a clump of neon and grease where we could get something that resembles food”. But, hot wings, cold Shiner, and a table full of geeks geeking out in a non-con setting. Good times. After, it was back to the Westin for more gaming – we assembled a group of ten or so to throw down with a game of Die Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg, or Coachride To Devil’s Castle. This game is always awesome, and I’ve never played a round of Kutschfahrt that wasn’t followed by the players talking about it for some time afterwards. Basically, it’s Werewolf on steroids – there are two factions, each of which needs a certain set of items to win, but nobody knows who’s on which side, or who has what. Each player has their secret affiliation and occupation cards (your “junk”) and a bunch of item cards (your “stuff”) – occupations and items give you different abilities in the combat or trading portion of the game. Each player in turn either challenges another player to a duel, or offers one of their items in trade. Combat is resolved relatively simply, with the other players supporting one of the duelists, after which the winner gets to look at the losers “junk”, or their “stuff”. Through strategic fisticuffs and wily trading, players slowly learn who is on their side, and attempt to gather their items to declare victory. If you declare wrong, your side loses. It’s an intense, exciting game, even though it doesn’t appear to have much going on when you look at the surface of the play. Kutschfahrt really requires a group of eight players who are down with the intrigue to really shine, but I will virtually never pass up a chance to play, if presented with the opportunity.

(I liked the game so much that I ordered ten copies from a German game company to sell/trade/distribute, in hopes of seeding some more play out there. Since then, a few American retailers have picked it up, but it can still be tricky to find. If you’re having trouble getting your hands on a copy, let me know, and I’ll see what I can do about hooking you up with some Coachride.)

After Die Kutschfahrt, we wound down over Fire, another very pretty game by the same folks who did Saturn. Very, very nice to look at, but not super enthralling with the play. It’s basically a slant on Jenga, only with round pieces of different sizes stacked in a U-shaped wooden support piece. The hour was late at this point, and interest was waning – pieces were drawn, pictures were taken, bits fell down and were re-built, people wandered off, and the evening ended.

Ah, yes. At several points during the day, I stood at the Pirate Billiards table in the main common area with various folks as we waited for people to assemble for food, or debated about what we would play next, or just loitered aimlessly. “Piratenbillard” is a game where you whack a canvas-bottomed board from below with these long mallets, and try to bounce your little balls from one end of the table to the other. You can capture other players’ balls, or destroy them with the cannonball or pirate ball or whatever it’s called. There’s some way to score points, but nobody really ever paid attention to that (except in one exceptional game, where we actually got it totally together), and we mostly just had fun trying to get the little colored balls to go somewhere near where we wanted them to go. I may have mentioned elsewhere that I might have a go at building one of these. Yay, fun.

That’s a lot of games, and it’s only the first day. Plenty more to come, directly.

Jun 062007

Mischa, Dan, and myself met tonight for a couple hours at Austin Java to give Dan’s Travelogue prototype one last go-around before it was shipped off to Italy. A three-player game ran just over half an hour, and I must say, it was a pretty solid, fun card game, all around. Mischa smashed out the lead with a monster twelve-point “trick”, but the scores were satisfyingly close, and everyone felt a certain level of control and pacing throughout the game. I like the broader range of scores on the cards, and the new stacking system for the destination cards. There were a few other modifications from the last time I played that I wasn’t sure of at the beginning, but it all hung together very well, and although I know that Dan loves to tinker, tweak, and twiddle his games over and over until everything is perfect, it feels like a winner to me already. I look forward to seeing how it fares in the contest.

We chatted some more and fiddled a little bit with designs here and there – Mischa brought out a copy of Siege Stones, and we played around with a few designs around the pieces in the box, including one based very loosely on Lines of Action. Dan also gave us the sad news that he’s going to be re-theming his Monkey Lab game along the lines of some fantasy thing, to make it more palatable to publishers. (Wah!) Mostly game chat, though – although, and the end, we decided that Flywheel needed another challenge, and we each put in one restriction. So, Flywheelers, here is your challenge: you have one week (or two, or three, or however long it is before you show up to the next playtest hootenanny) to devise a game that 1) uses a board, 2) does not use any numbers, and 3) uses cards, with some kind of “flip and take” mechanic. I’ll leave those open for now – if anyone wants to post a clarification question, the person who put forth the restriction can pipe up and sort things out.

In production news, I have found myself some artists! I have a spreadsheet delivered to and a promise received from an illustrator friend of mine in San Francisco to draw me some pretty spaceship parts for my RocketYard cards, and another one in Austin who says he’ll kick down some art for Pangaea and Fluffy Bunny Tea Party, and potentially some Flat Track Action down the road, when I get that game not to suck so much. This means that I need to get back on track with hunting down cheaper card and box printing for RocketYard, and start thinking about how I want to package Pangaea up – I’m leaning more towards a flat board, rather than the (pretty sweet) bandanna printing I used with HoneyPot, but we’ll see how that goes. Hopefully, with a few more games available (or more, if the rest of the Flywheelers want to sell some stuff indie-style on Gizmet instead of waiting around for a publisher) I can make more of a marketing push, and get things moving a bit better…

Our latest playtest session and design roundtable was a great success – all four of us had promising games to show, two new ones, and two revisions of designs-in-progress. I’m looking forward to seeing each one work its way into the hands of eager customers. I’ve actually been selling copies of Honeypot to people I don’t know, so now it’s time to keep turning the crank on the old game machine and get some new stuff out there.

The two top contenders at the moment are RocketYard, a card game about bidding for rocketship parts and shooting various animals into space, and Pangaea, a board game that uses some neat territory control and move-limiting mechanics to replay the breaking apart of our Mesozoic super-continent. RocketYard has been playtested pretty thoroughly, and probably only needs one or two more go-arounds before I can get some final art locked down and deepen my search for card game manufacturers. (The quotes I’ve received so far for smallish runs have been extraordinarily out of my acceptable price range. If anyone has any leads, I’d be delighted to hear from you.)

Pangaea, however, is brand spanking new, and that was my bring-to for playtesting this week. It started with my fiddling around with a little bag of plastic dinosaurs, trying to figure out if I could make a game that only used them as pieces, and blossomed into a larger strategic game that has a board with sixty spaces arranged in a grid (which is much too regular and ugly-shaped to work in the actual game – I’d like to retain the same topology, but squish it around until it looks like an actual land mass), sixty counters in six colors, and a small number of markers that the players use to nail down their territory as the continent separates. The rules are fairly simple – I’m a big fan of the one-page rulesheet – but still a little fiddly. It played well, however, and everyone in the group enjoyed playing it more than once, so I think there’s a good bit of promise in there. I almost hate to say that it feels like it almost works right out of the gate – game design is such an iterative process that when something works this well straight off, I get suspicious, and start trying to pull it apart and adding and taking out bits when it might not need pulling and prodding, just because that’s how it’s “supposed” to work. Either way, I’ll mock up a slightly prettier board and run it through a bunch more players, and see if I can smooth it out some more.

So, there’s that. Fun fun.

I’ve also got a card game in the pipe that has some potential connection to a hot little chunk of IP out there, which I’m still working the kinks out of, both game-wise and deal-wise. I’m pretty excited about getting the fire stoked under that one as well, but one thing at a time…

The tubes are in.

The first official board game from Gizmet Gameworks is poised to hit the shelf. Well, the virtual shelf, anyway. After a long period of design and playtesting, the game that has been through more name changes than [insert relevant Hollywood serial divorcee here] is ready to go. I cemented in a couple of rules that made it through final testing, and I declared Honeypot “done” about a month or so ago. Now, all there was to do was make the damn thing, and get it into the hands of the waiting, game-hungry public.

Since this is my first game for sale, I’m leery about sinking thousands of dollars into a good-sized run – I don’t have that kind of money on hand to drop on a project that may or may not sail. So, I decided to limit myself to five hundred or so units at first. I drew up an extensive list of manufacturers, did research, got recommendations from other published developers, made spreadsheets, figured budgets, and finally wound up with a fairly cheap bid from a US-based manufacturer. Cheap at first look, at least – the price of just under nine bucks a unit (which is not bad for such a small run) did not take into account additional costs for setup, shipping, or actually using good parts. All told, my most inexpensive option was still around twenty bucks a pop, which was much too rich for my blood. Despair was on the horizon – I could figure out some way to do this, or sit around waiting for the fickle finger of a publisher to point my way.

As luck would have it, I found a way. Not as simple as getting someone in a factory in Parts Unknown to fill boxes with boxes and drop them on my doorstep, but within a much more realistic budget. I drew up a plan, did some more research, and started ordering parts to print up and assemble myself.

The basic components for Honeypot are the board and forty double-sided hex tokens, a rule sheet, and a box. Not too complicated, hm? Well, getting hex counters made with any kind of quality is first a pain in the ass, and secondly a pain in the money. So, I took it upon myself to port my token art to a new platform – 1″ white labels, stuck on either side of a 1 1/4″ wooden disc. Labor-intensive, to be sure, but not rocket science, so I can produce about two dozen games worth of game tokens in the course of a DVD – more, if I put Battlestar in the disc changer. These came out beautifully, especially after discovering that a totally decent color laser printer could be had for a very reasonable sum – an investment that will pay itself off many times over in the coming while or so.

Next was the board. I found a great source for cheap blank 18″ square folding game boards, but that would involve more printing and cutting and pasting and getting boxes that fit and packing those boxes in other boxes for shipping and storage and all sorts of other grief that I didn’t feel like dealing with. However, a solution was at hand! Inspired by the good folks at Pair-Of-Dice games, I realized that the Honeypot board would fit beautifully printed on a bandanna. I did a bit more research, and a bit of emailing – the same story as usual, cheap stuff required orders of several thousand. Fortunately, by widening my search, I located a local screen printer who could provide exactly what I needed at the price I needed, with a turnaround of less than a week. Brilliant. Board art updated, resized, and made ready for screen printing, and sent off – I went over to check out a proof print today, and it looks awesome. The first order will be ready tomorrow. Woo!

Honeypot board proof

So, that just leaves packaging. I have a foldable and stuffable game board, a large handful of nice game pieces, and rules that fit on one side of a letter-sized page. I know what must be done. I whip up some cover art to go on the other side of the page (with logotype help from co-flywheeler Emerson), and begin my final edit of the rules (with much-appreciated input from Mischa, Dan, and the rest of our resident designers). This will be printed up double-sided on my swanky new color laser, and inserted into a clear plastic mailing tube, along with the lovely new cloth boards and candy-like “hex” tokens, and capped with yellow (or special edition red!) vinyl caps. Voila! A game that is attractive, economical, and pleasant to fondle.

Honeypot package

As mentioned above, I just received moments ago two large cardboard boxes that contain my shipping tubes. The boards will be delivered here tomorrow afternoon, and at that point, the only thing standing between Honeypot and the clamoring masses are five minutes assembly time and twenty bucks. (Once I get the product page on built, anyway…) The initial run is only about a hundred and fifty pieces, so I can get a good sense of what demand might be like. The killer part of this production method is that I can have parts for any number of games ready to go in a week or so, now, so a surge of orders can be handled with ease – one might even go so far as to call the process “agile”, if one were so inclined.

If anyone has a case of morbid curiosity about any part of the research or production processes, my esteemed suppliers, or anything else regarding the game, feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment here. I’m looking forward to holding the first totally complete Honeypot package in my hand tomorrow, and I’m looking even more forward to everyone else holding one of their own. We ship!

Time’s up!

Okay, flywheelers, post your games – make a new post if you want, or just add comments here. Here’s mine:

Two to five players, with one tree of icehouse piece each (small, medium, large pyramid), and one die for the game.

Set up with pyramids in radial lines, large in middle, small on outside – so for two, it looks like: S M L . L M S – a player wins when they can create a .LMS line in one of the other arms.

Put the die in the center, with the 1 facing up. Pick a player to start, and run clockwise. On each turn, the player turns the die to an adjacent face and moves one piece that many spots. A “spot” is either where a pyramid currently is, or the empty “spot” at the end of the line. Empty spots close up after movement. If the player moved the die to a number that was higher, they may “cap” an opponent’s pyramid with a pyramid of the same or smaller size – capped pyramids may not move. A player may cap their own pyramids similarly at any time. If the player moved the die to a number that was lower, they must move a pyramid of theirs that is capping another if possible. If a player moves a piece off the end of a line, past the empty spot, the pyramid is tipped, and the player must take a turn to right it. A pyramid may not be moved past a tipped pyramid. If a player is unable to make a legal move, their turn is skipped.

(Cleanup, editing, and photos pending…)

Long time no post. Time to fix that. Speaking of…

I met up with Mischa and the Nicks at Epoch this evening for some gamey activity. There was much talk about roleplaying and fondling of books, but we wound up spending most of our time playing three games – Category 5, Zendo, and Treehouse. Two of these games were a lot of fun.

If you’re not familiar with Zendo, you should be. The basic mechanic is this: one player takes the role of the “zen master”, and devises a rule to describe whether or not a particular configuration of Icehouse pieces (called a “koan” in the game) has the “Buddha nature” or not. He then sets up an example of one which does, and one which does not, and the players try to figure out what the rule is. For example, a simple rule might be, “A koan has the Buddha nature if all the pieces are the same size”. The zen master then sets up one that demonstrates that rule (say, three small pieces all pointing at each other) and one which does not (like a small pyramid stacked on top of a large one). The players then take turns building koans out of Icehouse pyramids, and either asking “master?”, in which case the zen master tells them whether their koan matches the rule or not, or “mondo”, after which each player puts forth a guess as to the correctness of the koan or not. Each player who chooses correctly wins a guessing stone, which may be used to make a guess about what the actual rule is – if they figure out the rule, they win the round, and become the zen master for the next round. The game sounds deceptively simple, and it kind of is, but the play is fairly deep, and requires a good deal of thought, both on the players’ parts, and for the zen master to pick a rule which will be challenging and fun to figure out, but not too hard or too easy. I highly recommend checking out Kory’s account of the design history of the game – it’s a great read, and gives a good amount of insight into the process.

This was the first fun game.

We also played several rounds of Category 5 (also known as “6 nimmt”), designed by the esteemed Wolfgang Kramer. This is another deceptively simple game with fairly deep play. The game consists of a deck of one hundred and four cards, numbered from 1 to 104, each of which are worth a certain number of points. (Most are worth one, some worth two, three, or five, and one worth seven.) The goal is to take the least amount of points possible, and games are generally played to seventy-five points – there are several variants, but we didn’t try any last night. The way points are scored is this: each player is dealt ten cards, and four cards are laid out face-up for starters. On every turn, each player chooses one card to play, and the cards are revealed simultaneously. There are some simple rules to determine which cards then go where – basically, starting with the lowest card, you either place your card on the end of a row if your card is greater than the value of the last card on that row, but less than the cards on the ends of the other rows. If the row that you place your card on already has five cards, you take those cards (and score the points that they are worth), and restart a new row with your card. Also, if your card is lower than the end cards on all the rows, you must choose one row to score, again starting a new row with the card that you played. Ten rounds are played, one for each card in the players’ hands, and points are tallied at the end. Sounds very simple, plays very quickly, and, as it turns out, has an amazing amount of strategy and tension for the amount of apparent randomness in the setup. This is a game that non-gamers can pick up very easily, but that still has enough meat to it that experienced gamers will still enjoy it greatly. It kind of reminds me of No Thanks! in that way, and may be my current most favoritest pick-up game outside of Jungle Speed.

This was the second fun game.

So, it looks like poor little Treehouse is left out. I really like the idea behind the game – it’s a little like Fluxx – but every time I play it, there’s a lukewarm reaction, and I usually never wind up playing it with the same set of people twice. So, what went wrong? Take a look at the rules – like the other two games, it seems simple enough, and it reads as if there’s a good amount of interaction between players and a wide range of stuff that can happen during gameplay. But in actual play, none of that comes out. The actions that you can perform on your setup are too random – the game doesn’t last long enough for the randomness to diffuse across the potential outcomes, or across the players. The rule that you must perform an action on your pieces if you can severely limits the number of interesting choices that the players can make – and whatever choices they can make are usually blotted out by the chunky randomness of the other players’ actions. I’ve never played a game of Treehouse where it felt that the winner won by skill – it’s always felt like it was just a matter of time that the player’s setup or the house changed to the right place where they matched, like a spinner coming to rest on a random number. Thankfully, a game of Treehouse lasts about five or ten minutes, and after a game or two, we usually move on.
Treehouse does not seem to exhibit what I’ve been calling “deep play” here. The choices available to the player are minimal, and the effects of those choices are minimized by random elements or other player choices. There is no tension in the game – we might not know who’s going to win until the last second, but nobody ever seems to care, either. There is a very limited range of action, and the possibilities that come out during game play feel like they are exhausted rather quickly. There rarely feels like there’s a reason to play it again, because it doesn’t give the players that feeling like they could maybe win this time, if they just did this or that differently, or that they may have won, but only because they outsmarted their opponents. I’m sure that my gaming companions could add to this list, and I hope they do so.

However! I would still recommend that you buy Treehouse, for two very good reasons. First, the tubes of stashes that make up the game set are an excellent and affordable source of Icehouse pieces, which can be used to play a whole boatload of different games, some of which are really, really fun. I’ll probably be picking up another four or five stashes myself in the near future.

Second, I hereby issue the first Flywheel Design Challenge! Mischa and I were discussing the shortcomings of Treehouse after playing last night, and decided that there’s a good game in there somewhere, and we should try to pull it out. So, Flywheelers, here it is: take a Treehouse set (five differently colored stacks of three Icehouse pieces each – small, medium, and large – and a six-sided die) and create a game using only those pieces. It should be easy to explain to a random person in a coffee joint, and you should be able to play it with two to four people on a small table. Try to limit game play time to, say, fifteen minutes to a half hour. You have two weeks to comply – I will collect submissions and post the results here.


Jul 262006

The group met up at Chris’s place for playtesting and whatnot. We sat down for a couple run-throughs of some mechanics for a board game that Chris has under development entitled “Vices and Virtues”, and a bidding/card game of Marc’s tentatively called “RocketYard”, in which the players take the roles of fictional third-world countries trying to buy and assemble rocketship parts in order to send various animals into space. It’s a blast. Ho!

We also tested Mischa’s new proto-boardgame, “Take The Money And Run”, which uses two kinds of currency to achieve some neat effects. I’m looking forward to seeing how that one develops. Ian had used his printing and laminating-fu to produce a playable Wiz-War, which is awesome, but before we sat down to relax with that, I sprung another card game on the unsuspecting boys – Fluffy Bunny Tea Party. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it’s hilarious.

Many good things will come of this.

Jul 232006

This weekend, I had the singular opportunity to sit on a panel with esteemed game designers Allen Varney and Greg Costikyan. A friend of mine was helping to organize the Texas Indie Game Developer Conference here in town, and signed me up to do my “game design improv” panel with a couple of luminaries. (Previously, I did this last year at… MilleniumCon, maybe(?) with James Ernest and Wes Jenkins.) I also do improvisational theater on the side (mostly with my troupe, Improv For Evil), and I’ve found that there are many parallels between the way we construct fiction on the fly, and the way that we construct game designs. So, to demonstrate this a little bit – and to have a bit of fun – we go before an audience at a game developer conference, take a number of suggestions from the audience, and design a game in front of them, in about half an hour. It’s a hoot.

Our suggestions/constraints this time were a very small budget, a year and a half development time, mobile platform target, something to do with World War II, and a target demographic of seventy years old and up. Whew. We eventually came up with a casual tactical/puzzle game game that would be built with a small team using open source tools, and sold and distributed on cell phones that are given out by our strategic partner, a retirement community. The game was a networked turn-based square hunt, where you had to help lead your grandchildren out of Nazi occupied France during the war, by hooking them up with resistance operatives and finding various items on the map, trading them between players and helping each other along the roads. I should have taken better notes – it could have actually been fun – but this is the nature of improv. Ephemeral. Big fun, and then it’s gone.

Anyway, it was a great experience, and I look forward to doing it again sometime soon. Yay game design, yay, improvisation.

Jun 192006

Went over to Chris’s last night for some playtesting and confabulation. Myself, Chris, Ian, Dan, and Mischa. Tested the latest round of Monkey Lab (below), Hive (which, I think is done – all I need is art and production), took a look at Ian’s (unnamed) game, and played Mischa’s prototype of Take The Money and Run. Which has a lot of potential.

Each player has a team of politicians (with four players, three each) that maneuver around the tracks and try to buy a spot in the middle (office?). There are two currencies, dirty and clean money, which are gained and used in different ways. You can buy “protection” for your pols, hitmat, lawyer, hooker, each have different effects on different thingies. Cost to go down levels, starting positions. Obviously an early prototype, but a strong theme, good mechanics, and a lot of fun – good stuff, and I look forward to playing the next revision…

Ran a couple more playtests of Hive at ghg on friday with ryan and yari – there’s still some debate whether or not the second player has an advantage. I think not, but I’d like to run another batch of tests, paying closer attention to that.