I’ve been revamping Space Port lately to fix some issues with the game. Actually, I’m revamping it to allow for more design space to fix some issues. Here are the changes:


The first change I made was to the currency system. In this universe, I used StarCreds as the money of choice. It was a name made up during one of our improv game design sessions and has been a running joke ever since. The problem with StarCreds is that is just a simple system. You gain StarCreds through certain actions, then you use them to pay for other actions. Basically, they function just like any other currency. As I was looking over ways to create more design space, I saw that the StarCred wasn’t pulling its own weight. It functioned as just a number. It was always just in a range of zero to some unbound amount. My idea spurred from the desire to inject more information into this mechanism. What if the used StarCreds didn’t go away, but just stayed there in a “used” state? What if there was a limit on the number of StarCreds you could own? Bam! That’s when it hit me.

To make sense of what I was about to do, I rethemed the StarCreds from currency to Henchman. Henchmen are just like StarCreds except they have a binary state: active or inactive. When you would gain a StarCred, you now activate a Henchman. When you would pay a StarCred, you now use (deactivate) a Henchman. New actions also have arisen such as recruiting a henchman, which is just taking a Henchman from the supply. New design space has arisen from this all over the place. There is now a limit on how many Henchmen you can have active at a time (Before there was no limit on StarCreds). You can increase that limit by recruiting (a whole new area to design with). Timing (my favorite game mechanic) comes to the limelight as now it becomes important when you gain a massive influx of “currency” because sometimes you have the room for it (a lot of inactivate henchmen), and other times you don’t (only one is inactivate). Also, the main use of StarCreds was to pay for loading goods, trading, and “borrowing” ships. Instead of paying for it, you now just have your Henchmen do the job for you!

StarCreds acted as another way to gain points at the end of the game. Each two StarCreds was worth one point. Gaining those points just happened, and there was no real thought involved. This scoring is now replaced by Henchmen which are each worth one point (active or not). To recruit a Henchman, you need you use two other Henchmen while at a Cantina. See what happened there? Using two Henchmen is the same as using two StarCreds. Instead of having two StarCreds left at the end of the game to give you points, you now have to make the decision to buy that point during the game. Of course, recruiting a Henchman has other benefits, so it all fits seamlessly together. Letting the player make the decision is what game play is all about.

Risk Management

Bad stuff can happen to you in the game and you just have to sit and take it. This was brought to my attention by Ian and Drey. We talked about the issue at length, but in the end it boiled down to risk management. I decided that by giving the player the choice to protect themselves at a cost, he can choose the level of risk he wants to take.

Shipping -The game is full of shipping. You can use your ships, neutral ships, and even other player’s ships. Other players don’t like when you use their ship even though the borrower has to pay for the privilege. The problem is that you can’t deny other players from doing this. The solution to this is to modify the cost system of borrowing. Now, the borrowing player uses a certain number of Henchmen. The ship’s owner can now deny them use of his ship by paying an equal amount of Henchmen. The ship’s owner now must manage his Henchmen so that he always has enough to thwart any attempts to hijack his ship. The hijacker must now carefully consider whether or not he wants to try and steal a ship because if his attempt is canceled, then he basically wasted Henchmen as well as a turn. Besides all that, with the new Henchmen mechanism, this oozes with theme.

Contraband - Contraband is the hot ticket item in the game. You never just want to leave it sitting on your ship or in your warehouse because someone else might play an inspection card which discards them. It was discussed that there be a way to pay for more protection for your contraband if you wanted it. So, the new system is that if you have two active Henchmen, your contraband is safe. No payment is necessary. Thematically, they just sit there and guard it. Of course, having your guys locked up to do this means that it will be difficult to pay for other things, but now at least you have a choice. I still need to playtest this a bit more, but I think it is simple enough to work.

Well, we meet tonight and I hope to test this out (and a few other changes). My preliminary testing last night made for some interesting plays, so I’m excited to see how it handles with more players.

Jan 212008

I have been looking for some boxes for my games for awhile now. In fact, I was in a car accident earlier last week on my way to Hobby Lobby to look for boxes. (Long story short: Fault-Theirs, Car-Totaled, Me-AOK). So, my box hunt lead me to Wal-Mart where I found Duck Brand Boxes. They come in a three-pack for less than $5. They are all white with a tuck box lid. They are meant to hold a regular 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, which is perfect for what I’m doing. I had to modify them with a little tab made out of scotch tape to make them easier to open, and a little more tape around the flap to make them easier to close, but other than that, I they are pretty nice. I glued a simple printout to the top for a cover and they were ready to go.

Does anyone have any good tips for game boxes?

Jan 102008

Due to scheduling changes, at least for awhile, our game design meetings will be on Thursdays. Tonight I plan on testing Space Port to get it ready for a convention this weekend.

But first, a recap of last meeting…

First Drey, Ian, Marc, and I played Space Port. Actually we didn’t get very far. The whole thing fell apart gameplay-wise so we stopped. It worked fine last time, but I must have tinkered with the wrong gears and apparently made it unplayable. Surprisingly, this turned out to be a good thing. I got a lot of feedback about my train wreck… a lot of good and diverse feedback. This had me theorizing that “great” games cause enthusiastic responses, “ok” games cause silence or apathy, and “bad” games cause productive and creative responses. I think that the last one may be because they know that everything is changeable because nothing really worked, so all suggestions are more likely to be implementable.

Then we played Marc’s new re-theming of his old game Pangaea, called Coalescence. The old theme was about continents merging into land masses. The new theme is about star systems coalescing. He fixed some rules from the last time I saw it where the end game was hard to determine. This was fixed by making most actions irreversible. This worked perfectly and the game wrapped up nicely without any confusion. Both Ian (or was it Drey?) and I had a problem with the new galaxy board design. It was too busy and distracted us from the game. Other than that issue, and the need for a tie breaker rule, the game looks and plays pretty good.

Finally, we played with some hero cards and tactics cards from an expansion to Ian’s Taktika. The hero cards are “always on” abilities. The tactics cards are “one shot” abilities. Overall, the concept worked pretty smoothly, although the actual content of the cards will probably need to be tested and tweaked a lot.

Now for tonight…

I have been solo playing Space Port as a two-player game this week for testing. Tonight, I hope to try it out with more players. Right now, the game allows two to four players. Any more and the game would probably be too crowded. I suppose I could create a different board for more players with more spaces, but that is a problem for the future. A two-player game comes in at about 21 minutes, according to the four times that I timed it. I am going to speculate that four players will take twice that amount. Of course, my timing was based on me playing as two players, so it may be more or less that amount.

Part of my plans this year is to playtest as much as I can at conventions, especially easy-on-the-wallet local ones. This weekend Ian and I will be attending a convention in Round Rock where we plan on playing, playtesting, and selling some of out games. I’m trying to get Space Port to a solid enough state to where I can play it with strangers without having to apologize every minute about a hole in the rules or about a clunky mechanic. I am also printing up another copy of Travelogue to play. I haven’t played it since July when I sent it away to Italy, so I’m curious about my new perspective on the game.

I have been busy this past week working on Space Port (or sometime Space Dock, as I interchangeably call it). I can’t remember the last time I’ve worked so hard on playtesting and revising a game in so short a time. I think it may be a by-product of my new schedule for game design this year. Now that I know that I only have a fixed amount of time to work on this game, I guess I am putting more into it up front. I work better under pressure, and it shows. My current year’s calendar has me working on Space Port for four months starting in January. By the time March rolls around, I should be heavily playtesting it with whoever I can find. By the third month, I’ll have a polished copy of the rules to begin blind playtesting. In the end, I should have a publisher friendly game box with a nice prototype and rules.

Starting in February I will begin work on my war game for four months. So, the two games will overlap for awhile. This will allow me to have something to do when I’m frustrated with the other game. We’ll see how that goes. I plan on entering both of these games into the Hippodice game design contest at the end of October. I’l probably have to retheme them since they are both sci-fi themed, but that’s another issue for another day. So, February is my unofficial mini-deadline for Space Port since at that time my attention will be divided in half.

The rest of my year is also planned out with new games and old ones that need revisiting. One new game is for the Lucca contest, which I wont start until they announce the rules for entry. Another new game is just left wide open. I wanted to give myself an “elective” game of sorts. That way I can come up with a cool idea and rest assured knowing that I’d have time set aside to work on it. The old game I’ll be working on is Venture Forth which has been received with glowing indifference. I basically need to inject some pop into the game because I think it is worthy of it. I also have my group of finished (or 99% finished) games that are “on” all the time which means that I should be always actively dealing with them by sending them to publishers or refining that one extra piece. It is comforting to have this plan because I feel that I’m in more control over where my games are headed. While the past two years my games were in pre-school running rampant and doing what they pleased, this year they are in college with a nice schedule to help further them along to “graduate”.

So far, my plan is going smoothly. At the very least I feel more relaxed and focused.