Quarantine, Tabletop Simulator, and Improved Prototypes

It’s been a minute, let me catch you up on what I’ve been up to. COVID-19, the Coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), whatever we’re calling it—as long as we’re not calling it something prejudiced and hateful—has absolutely delayed plans. I had weeks worth of playtesting on the schedule. All of it erased. These things happen, I know. No one could’ve predicted this, and I’m well aware that my plans to develop a tabletop game being pushed out a bit are the least of everyone’s worries. I can weather the storm.

This doesn’t mean that A Colorful Game is cancelled. Far from it. This means that I’m rearranging my plans to develop a Tabletop Simulator version of the game. My plan was to learn a bit about Lua and scripting later, after I had mostly secured the game mechanics and design and the game was more or less in manufacturing. I’m shifting gears on that.

Uh…what?

Let me reveal a hypocritical anecdote about myself: I currently work in the tech industry and love technology but I severely dislike the efforts to bring tabletop games to the digital realm. Yeah, I’m one of those. I play board games to get away from screens. I don’t judge people who enjoy playing digitalized board games, I just don’t enjoy doing it myself. The only exception to that rule was TheCodingMonkeys digital version of Carcassonne (RIP). Even that was killed off by the horrid gimmicky 3D version that Asmodee vomited all over us. Have you ever bought the perfect piece of clothing, only to have the vendor come back to you ten years later and say, “can we replace that with this designer trash bag?” It’s like that.

Digressions aside, this isn’t about me or my curmudgeon tendencies, this is about getting a game out there that I think is quick, fun and can work on a digital platform. It’s not done, but here’s a sneak peak:

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A Colorful Game features limited quantities of tiles that you have to strategically add or move

But what about a version for that whatcha call it…physical realm?

I’m working with someone on the material design for A Colorful Game. I’m leaning toward using wooden assets, but I’m keeping my options open. I want to make sure the game looks good and feels good, but it also needs to last. What’s great is that this game has been whittled down to a few components, so I predict that I can keep the price reasonable while seeking high quality assets.

Here’s a look at what (aside from the rules sheet) is likely to be included in the physical version.

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There’ll be 30 roads and 10 tiles included, along with a rules sheet—compact but fun!

What’s next for this puppy?

 

Getting the game into tabletop simulator will allow me to ramp up my playtesting schedule more. A few things that I need to focus on:

  • Rules sheet layout and design
  • Box design
  • Settling on general game design

Then I can start advertising the game more and setting up preorders. All-in-all, I’m looking at this winter or likely early next year before a kickstarter. I’m OK with that. And, hopefully, we’ll be healed enough to be able to seek some good ol’ fashioned tabletop games fun.

Sorry for taking so long to write this. I’ll try to make more frequent updates.

Until next time…

The Many Trials of A Colorful Game

I’ve been heads-down refining the mechanics for A Colorful Game. Here are some of my discoveries from the 10 playtests that I’ve had so far:

Issue

Games were way too long. (1+ hour)

Resolution

I took care of this by minimizing the card count. Put the game at a smooth 30ish minute playtime. That’s the goal!

Issue

The game was also far more complex with decisions than I wanted it to be. You have to place AND move a tile—ugh! Too much brain juice to spend on what to do best. (I watched a player’s life flash before their eyes for more than 10 minutes, hoping to glean some forgotten wisdom to help them make a decision.)

Resolution

This was advice from another designer: Don’t make players have to add a new primary color tile to the play area AND have to move another tile. That’s a lot to deal with during a turn.

Note that doing this also helped to reduce the playtime to around 30 minutes.

Issue

Scoring points is just altogether difficult sometimes.

Resolution

Wild cards and bonus points! I added some cards to the game that let you fill in any blanks with a color of your choice. For example, if you have a contiguous path — orange, orange, green, purple, purple — you could play a wild with that to treat the green as a part of your path.

Also, if you scored with three or more cards, you get a bonus point; four or more and you get three bonus points!

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Wild card; but no bonus points for you!

This new format for the game helped shape it into the quick abstract strategy game that I was looking to make. That’s a huge milestone!

I’ve playtested this new version quite a few times and have found some new challenges to work through:

  • Games are a little too short now. It’s difficult for a player that’s behind to see a chance to come back and try to take the win.

    Idea to test: I’m going to add cards to the point deck or have the discard shuffle back into the deck.

  • With the introduction of wild cards, games feel like they’re not strategic enough (a little too luck of the draw).

    Idea to test: I’m going to add more wild cards and make them have a greater negative impact on players who use them.

  • Once you score a path, you remove all of the roads that you used to score that path with. That reduces momentum and gives too great an advantage to the first player to score.

    Idea to test: I think a “pick a color, remove all roads for that color” method can give the right balance of changing the play area in a fun way and not making players feel like they’ve got to start from scratch.

  • I need to work out how the game ends a little more. Right now, the game ends once the point card deck is depleted and neither player can score on their next turns…it just feels like an odd way to end the game.

    Idea to test: A “first player to x points” win condition should fix this. I just need to test whether this is fun and try to discover what “x points” value is best.

That’s all for now! Until next time…

Prototypes for Days

Here’s a Quick Status Update

Bullet pointed list, activate:

  • I just finished printing a new prototype for my hidden identity, country manipulation game
  • I’m close to a new prototype for my quick tile laying, tactics-based game
  • I’m working on revamping and injecting more fun into an abstract color making game

Here’s a Long Status Update

My latest build is coming along. I got a lot of feedback on game pacing and balance which I’ve incorporated into this version. I haven’t had time to cut out these new assets yet but it’s on my to-do list.

I’m experimenting with different art and graphic styles and I nail down some of my more concrete assets. (None of my final designs are present in the gallery above.)

How do I collect feedback, you ask?

I use a google form and sheets of paper during the playtest. I actually ask people to fill out the google form before providing open feedback. I do this to collect metrics (who won, how many players were there, and what character did everyone play) more than look at what they had to say about the game.

I also collect open feedback at the end of the game. What was fun, what wasn’t, etc etc. That’s what I act on when revising my later builds of the game.

My Other Games in Progress

I have two other games in the pipeline aside from this one. They’re both getting heavy makeovers.

A Colorful Game

This is an abstract color making game. You manipulate primary color cards to form the most of your secondary color on the board. I still have some kinks to work out. Mainly, the game starts in a grid format and I think I can do better. I’m going to convert these cards to square tiles and make it more of a tile laying game.

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Current assets that will soon receive a fabulous makeover—and be converted to tiles

Untitled Tile Laying Tactics Game

This one has been a blast to design but I still have a lot of work to do. I’m going to go full on hexes for this game, add a tile laying aspect (it’s currently set out in a grid) and add combat mechanics. Eventually, I’m going to change the way each element plays the game for some asynchronous strategy. (Although, the game won’t be entirely asynchronous.)

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The four playable elements

That’s all, Folks

Thanks for reading! Until next time…

 

My Promises to My Future Self

I have the corniest reason for selecting this picture of a mountain top as my featured image. I took this photo while backpacking for a couple of days in the North Cascades. This is Colchuck Lake. My wife and I took this trip as a sort of pre-honeymoon, a few weeks before we got married.

Gross.

When I took the photo, I thought it was neat how the mountain was reflected on the water. I’m using the photo now because it’s sentimental and reminds me of a time when I was granted quiet, peaceful reflection. Mainly, I reflect on how lucky I am to have an amazing wife who supports me and to be surrounded by people who also have an interest in what I’m doing here.

I’m ready to take the next step forward and turn this design thing from a fun hobby into something real.

This is a board games blog, not live journal (is that still a thing?)

I’ve got a few things that I believe I’ve got to change to really get me there. I hope that I don’t lose people during this transition, but I think it’s for the better. Here’s what I’m talking about:

  • I’m working on an official name for the entity that I design games under. It’s not going to be “Under the Tabletop.” I really haven’t cared about an official name so far. My thought process on this is that I should have a game close to ready, something to really show, before I brand my work. Nothing is set in stone yet and as such, I have nothing more to say on that. But I’ll keep everyone informed along the way. I’d rather make this change now than later when I have a game or two being kickstarted and I don’t really know what to call myself.
  • Some time early next year, I’m going to close down Under the Tabletop and redirect all traffic to a new site. I’ll still keep up my development diaries, although they may expand somewhat.
  • I likely may not continue the whole “drink and review” thing. I haven’t written a drink and game pairing review in a while. It was fun, but my time so far has been so consumed with creating things that when I get to play a game with someone, I want to enjoy the moment. The drink and game review began to feel like a chore. At first, I thought it was a great way to show everyone that I’m actively participating in the board game community, but I think I’ve got different ways of showing that now.
  • I’m going to take on at least one smaller project and have it ready for a kickstarter campaign by March 2020. When I mean smaller project, I mean a shorter-paced game that you could likely fit in your wallet or a tin can. I have a few ideas on what that looks like and I’ll definitely keep everyone posted on that.

Thanks to everyone who has followed me thus far and I hope that you’re all there after my vaguely worded changes. (I promise, I’ll have more to come once I settle on a name and set up a C corp.)

I got my ass kicked at my first public playtest

Finally! Is that why you haven’t written a post in forever?

I didn’t physically get my ass kicked.

Damn, you need a good whoopin’ though

I played a 1v1 of my latest game build against a volunteer play tester at a local event for board game designers to work out the kinks in their games. I got my ass kicked in two ways:

  1. I lost the game…the game that I made
  2. The play tester had a lot of feedback that has made me completely rethink my game

I think you should scrap making a board game and take up bare knuckle boxing

In terms of most types of testing, you typically want to test multiple times before deciding what needs to be changed. I believe that this play tester, who is an avid board game player and has no reason to pull their punches, had the ability to directly articulate the feedback that my friends and family (some of which aren’t hardcore board game players) have all been trying to provide me in one way or another.

I think the most helpful points of feedback were that they told me what they liked, as opposed to everything that they didn’t like. There were also things that I noticed during the playtest as well that I really wanted to change.

At points during the game, we were having fun and full of banter, at other times — I personally felt arrested. As if I could see every crack, every creaky plank, every squeaky wheel in my game but I had to keep playing.

What are you going to do about it? (Boxing is still on the table here)

Let me just lay out what they liked and what they disliked.

What they liked:

  • The blind auction-like voting
  • The currency and power manipulation
  • The hidden identity and hidden win conditions

What they didn’t like:

  • During the mid game, we both had more currency than we know what to do with
  • The veto mechanic and general power struggle was purely about who has at least one more coin than the other (especially so in a two-player game)
  • The guilds didn’t interact at all with one another
  • Aside form offering different types of tokens for purchase, the guilds weren’t distinct enough in their mechanics or thematic alignment — they mainly just seemed like means to an end
  • Crisis resolving seemed like a huge limiter in the game: Since they were random and the different types of crisis were extremely necessary for players to advance their win conditions, it was frustrating when a player had to wait forever until the next crisis type presented itself
  • The end seemed like a slog, like we were going through the motions
  • A lot of random elements, which lead to a lot of meaningless choices
  • When the play tester won, it was completely anti-climatic (there was an ability that they could easily exploit to win, which I couldn’t stop)

I repeat, what are you going to do about it?

First and foremost, I’m going to focus on what everyone likes. I’m going to remove four of the token types, leaving only four types of tokens in the game. I’m removing a direct monetary currency and replacing it with a far more intricate system of mechanics that involve general wealth, debt, reputation, and education. How players resolve crises will grant them all specific stats, which they can apply in a number of ways or trade in for a different type of stat. What types of stats they have and what guild their in will determine what combinations of tokens they’ll get.

I’m also opening it up such that every type of crisis can be solved in any way, and different outcomes occur depending on which token “wins” the draw.

Lastly, since there will no longer be coins that players spend to buy tokens or veto, I’m adding a four-way “paper, scissors, rock” style mechanic where players can cancel out or completely replace specific tokens during the draw. (Cancelled tokens are discarded, replaced tokens override the token drawn but can be replaced again!)

OK, OK — I get it…get back to work already

A lot of good things underway. My next build will definitely be a huge departure from the current one. But that’s how it should be after a good ass-kicking, right?