End of summer update from Otherworld Games

Hello Otherworldly Beings,

The end [of summer] is nigh! Here’s an update on what Otherworld Games has been cooking over the season.

Color Space digital is available FREE on Tabletop Simulator

You heard that right. If you have Tabletop Simulator on Steam, you can download and play the digital Color Space mod right now for free. Give it a try to see if it’s the type of game you’d like to play in the physical world.

A poster for the game Color Space, out on Tabletop Sim for free. Kickstarter for the physical edition will be available next year.

Color Space physical edition Kickstarter has been delayed…

Due to the rising cost of freight and materials, the Kickstarter for Color Space has been delayed to some time next year. That just means there’s more time to playtest. 😀

One Last Job is in a contest!

Back in July, a little 1-card print-and-play game known as One Last Job was launched. It’s free to download and play right now, as long as you’re willing to print and cut out a card and 2 player aids. You’ll also need a small collection of assets. (Dice, chips, cubes—that sort of thing.)

Title art for the 2-player dice-rolling game One Last Job

That’s it! Oh wait, actually…one last thing

A new game is in development! With the working title “Cosmic Voyage,” this is a co-op game about space exploration and scientific discovery. Think of something that fuses together the vibe of games like Tokaido and Forbidden Island but has unique aspects such as career advancement and dealing with mental health on an extended space mission.

It’s still in early prototype stages but it’s coming along nicely. We actually just played a new prototype today and the game is fun and solid! More on this in the future.

Okay, that’s really all for now…see you around, Otherworldly Beings.

Overhauling Your Tabletop Game Mechanics

If you’re designing a tabletop game, you may have run across elements of your game that just didn’t click. Why, though? Well I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town! Wait, that’s not right. This is my first tabletop game, and it’s gone through many iterations. I’ve changed the theme, I’ve added or removed some minor mechanics, but for some reason the game still didn’t click. The answer came to me from one of my beta play test sessions. Someone gave me critical feedback. I don’t even think they were aware of how critical it was and how much I needed it.

Here’s what they said:

It just seems like all of these mechanics are a complicated way for me to just get one thing.

That’s when it hit me. I was trying to shoehorn in a resource management element to a game that’s about players trying to fumble together to create policy to solve problems. Later on, they—as an experienced board game player and statistician themselves—gave me advice on how I might change the mechanics to fit around the resource management mechanic. I, personally, took a different approach—I sliced that mechanic out with a machete and reconstructed the game.

So what was the problem?

The issue was that players weren’t encouraged to bargain with one another, they weren’t motivated to interact. There also weren’t any ways that players to make the game more difficult for one another. So I got rid of the resource management element in lieu of one that lets players tinker with the power of various factions.

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A prototype of the faction power board.

Now, players must create alliances and work together to solve in order to solve a crisis. If they can, their faction’s power increases. If they can’t, their faction’s power may decrease.

I’ve still got some work to do on this. I’m working to force more allegiances with players, and I may break this out into eight or twelve factions instead of just four.

What does all of that junk mean on your faction board?

You may have noticed that the green squares don’t necessarily go up at a steady increment—that’s a balancing technique, as it depicts the amount of influence that players receive at the end of a round. They use influence to bargain for an alliance, veto other player’s vote tokens, and to buy vote tokens themselves.

Players also have special abilities which are unique to their characters.

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Prototype of the character cards. (These are public knowledge to all players.)

The symbols on top of the sliders indicate a special ability that players who are aligned with that faction will get when they bring the faction to that level of power.

OK but how to do people win, just by bringing their faction to full power?

Players also have a hidden motivation. This is the true nature of how they win as individuals. I’m still testing this to see how much fun it brings to the game.

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Your motivation is only known to you.

Is that it, then?

I’ve still got more to work on with the bargaining and allegiance mechanics, and I have to figure out which special abilities factions will have when their power increases. But this is coming along! I’m hoping to have a mostly finalized version of the game for balance play testing within the next three months! (Stay tuned.)

Designing a Game is a Grand Balancing Act

Do you remember playing tic-tac-toe as a kid? What about checkers? Both were fun when you were young but got old just as you got old, right? That’s because both of them are solved games.

Are solved games what I think they are?

A solved game is a game whose outcome (win, lose or draw) can be correctly predicted from any position, assuming that both players play perfectly

Wikipedia, Solved Game

That’s one reason for a bland game, which results in loss of replay zest.

Then there are games that rely too much on random chance to support their mechanics. Both of these issues lead to the horrid plague of imbalance.

I’ve played Monopoly, now get on with it!

A well-designed game contains a medley of elements that prevent it from being solved and keep it from being imbalanced. I want to talk about these mechanics at their core. Note that these elements aren’t everything that you need to make a great game, but they’re four attributes that are important to think about when designing the mechanics.

Chance

This is important, but should be the smallest aspect of a game. Everyone has fun playing the odds a bit and it increases replay. Chance is also fair, as player outcomes aren’t as beholden to direct attacks from other players.

Too much chance comes with its own problems, though. It can drag some games out indefinitely (I’m looking at you, Risk) or it can make players feel like they have no control over their own outcome; like the game is pure destiny. You might as well spin around in a circle and point to the winner without even bothering to set up that game (Yahtzee, you’re only dice and paper but you’re still not worth the set up time).

Take a game like Bang! The Dice Game, for instance. There’s a lot of chance involved. But it’s balanced well with two factors:

  • The different mechanics of chance actually make the game nice and short
  • Chance doesn’t interfere with each player’s ability to take action—on the contrary—it lends to it

Attack and Counterattack

Fun games are ones that allow the players to take action against the game itself or other players (or both). I know that sounds like every single game ever made, but designing a fun, balanced attack move is difficult.

In Bang! the fun isn’t just in your ability to attack other players, it’s in what attack options they’ll have and their strategy for who they should attack and possibly counterattack.

Connected Mechanics

This is an easy idea to think about but a difficult one to continually put into practice. Mainly, because it means that you’ll need to continuously change and remove mechanics that may be amazingly fun, but don’t work well together.

Winners

I get it, this one is even more obvious. But at the same time, it’s not. The best part about winners in a fun game is that it feels like they deserve it. If the other three aspects are singing in harmony, then your win condition will be the least of your worries.

So, what did we learn?

I’ve been developing this game for a year, but designing mechanics for a tabletop game is still new to me. I’m familiar with storytelling, but my stories are always linear. I write them down, try to make them intriguing and fun, but the words on the final draft will always be in the same order.

The theme of the game (the setting, the events, and the player’s involvement), the players and the overall moves they could make—all of these ideas came naturally to me. Through trial and error, I’ve learned to make sure that attack and counterattack, connection between mechanics, and a little bit of chance make for a well-deserved winner. But if there are issues finding a winner, or that win doesn’t feel like it’s been earned—looking to tweak those three attributes allows the last one to fall into place.