Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Day 25: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 25 - Lens 67: The Lens of Modes
An interface of any complexity is going to require modes. To make sure your modes make the player feel powerful and in control, and do not confuse or overwhelm, ask yourself these questions:

What modes do I need in my game? Why?
In a board game these map to the phases of the game maybe? Or perhaps to the actions a player can take. So the main game would be a mode, and the siege on the city/endgame would be a second mode. The actions available to the players change when the mode does. The second mode is 'needed' because it helps focus the last section of play on the endgame and provides a dramatic conclusion.

Also the two actions a player can take in a turn, recruiting or action. In this case the separate mode for recruiting is needed to regulate the rate that players can gain resources in a way that both provides a strategic choice and keeps players from breaking the economy. I tried just having players recruit at the beginning of every turn, but they often forgot and found recruiting to be an annoying task. When it was moved to it's own mode that issue went away.

Oh! And the most obvious mode change: Main Turn vs. Challenge resolution. This mode is necessary to allow for the social dynamics I am trying to create. Trying to allow players to adjudicate challenges in the same mode as the normal turn is both confusing and unbalances the game as the players not engaged in the challenge have much more time to conduct their turns.

Can any modes be collapsed or combined?
I think the endgame is not super critical to the game, but I like it's dramatic effect.
The recruiting as a distinct mode 'could' be eliminated by my hourglass timer idea, but it remains to be seen whether that can be made to work from a practical standpoint.

Are any of the modes overlapping? If so, can I put them on different input channels?
The two turn modes are overlapping between players. One player may be in the recruiting mode while another is in the action mode. This does cause some mechanical complication and needed some special rules to deal with a couple of edge cases where one player was recruiting and placing warriors on a base that was being attacked by another player.

When the game changes modes, how does the player know that? Can the game communicate the mode change in more than one way?
The change from main game to end game is clearly signaled by the removal of the city from the center of the board and the exposure of the city heads.

The change between main turns and turn and challenge mode is signaled by a raised fist.

I don't think that there is a clear signal whether a player is in a recruit mode or action mode. Perhaps there should be... or the signal may just be that the player is doing the actions allowed by a particular mode.

Day 24: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 24 - Lens 14: The Lens of the Problem Statement
To use this lens, think of your game as the solution to the problem. Ask yourself these questions:

What problem, or problems, am I really trying to solve?
The top level mechanical problem I was trying to solve was real time play. The game started out as an attempt to simulate that kind of play as a paper prototype for a digital (AR) game.  The rest of the gameplay arose to support the primary mechanic of simultaneous movement and action.

The secondary problem that immediately presented itself was how to make game with deep strategy when everything is so dynamic.

The other initial problem I was trying to address with the AR game was having meaningful interaction with other players.  I was frustrated by Ingress and the lack of interaction between the players. That was the impetus behind having direct player interaction be based on the prisoners dilemma.

There may be deeper theme 'problems' and a Lense 113 secret purpose that the game has become aligned with, but those came after the core problem that caused the game to happen.

Have I been making assumptions about this game that have nothing to do with its true purpose?
I think I do that all the time. I'm getting better about it, not the making assumptions, but at regularly looking at the game and stripping away things that are not part of solving the core problems.

Is a game really the best solution? Why?
Well, given that making a game is part of the problem statement it's a circular question, but is making a board game the solution? I think no. Making the board game is good, and something I want to do, but I would like one day to get back to the AR game and apply the solution proved out by the board game to THAT problem.

How will I be able to tell if the problem is solved?
I ask myself these questions with every change and play test:
Does it work?
Is it fun?
Is it deep?
Is it hard?

Monday, November 28, 2016

Day 23: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 23 - Lens 30: The Lens of Emergence
To make sure your game has interesting qualities of emergence, ask yourself these questions:

How many verbs do my players have?
Lets see... Move, Place, Pick-up, Attack, Ally, Betray, Fight, Recruit are all explicit game actions. There are a bunch of other social verbs like Talk, Plead, Threaten, Negotiate, Plan, etc. that color that layer of gameplay.

How many objects can each verb act on?
For all the social verbs the number would be 5, each of the other players. This goes to show why games with 3 or 4 players are less interesting, many fewer verb targets!

For the other mechanical verbs the number varies... Pick up for instance would have the targets of Path, Base, Warrior, opponents Warrior, and City Head. Also consider that there are 12 bases and 36 pahs (of 6 types) and Warriors from 6 opposing tribes... that's a lot of things to pick up.

Recruiting is probably the most limited verb in that you can only recruit Citizens, though how many you can recruit varies depending on how many Bases you control.

How many ways can players achieve their goals?
For the primary goal of the game, winning by having the most victory points, players will gather have some number of three resources. Ally tokens will be acquired through the Ally verb in challenges. Territories are controlled through some complex combination of all of the verbs, and city heads are acquired through the Pick-up verb in the end game.

That would make ally tokens seem uninteresting except for the fact that you use all of the social verbs in order to create an Ally event rather than a Betray event.

The weakest link there is probably the city heads, but they are supposed to provide a choice in the end game and drive the game to conclusion, they are the easy lo risk low reward end game option.

How many subjects do the players control?
19. Their Pawn and up to 18 warriors. Or possibly 3+, their Pawn and two bases plus any enemy bases they acquire during play.

How do side effects change constraints?
Where players place their paths affects both where other players can place paths and bases but also where they can move.

Where players place bases affects where opponents can place, but also the control of the territories, which factors into the victory points at the end of the game.

Where players place their pawns affects where they can place and pick up but also what other players they can challenge.

It seems like there are a good number of side effects for most of the player actions.

Never Rest!

So this is my first prototype for a crazy idea I have for an advanced turn free version of the game. This play mode would not be intended to replace the normal synchronous turns, but rather to give players that want a faster paced more intense experience a new way to play.

Clearly the hourglasses I have are too large, also a bit too long. They are a 30 second timer and I think 20 would be better, also they need to be 1/3rd to 1/2 smaller. Still you can get the idea.  The new rule would be that you can recruit a single citizen every time a base you control has an empty timer. You recruit and then flip the timer.  I want the timer to both add pressure to play quickly and to leave players waiting on their timers. They would keep play moving quickly while capping the maximum recruitment rate.

Clearly they will require a bunch of playtesting first to see if they will even function in the game in the way I would like, but then to balance the timer length. I have even thought of having a fast and slow timer for each player so that all bases would not be created equal. I kind of like that kind of asymmetry and the depth it could bring, but I worry that I will end up just creating a lot of chaos and noise for the player to deal with.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Day 22: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 22 - Lens 39: The Lens of Meaningful Choices
When we make meaningful choices, it lets us feel like the things we do matter. To use this lense, ask yourself these questions:

What choices am I asking the players to make?
All of them... this is probably the lens I had most in mind while designing the game. My thought was to give the player as many choices as possible at every point in the game. In my early designs I went too far... intentionally and to push the edges of the design space but still, too far.

'You are going to move on paths... ok, so here are 16 paths, choose 6 to use in the game.'

'There are 8 possible moves each turn, pick one!'

Most of the choice points I designed were reasonable and have continued to be part of the game, but there had to be a phase of cutting back to make the game playable, and then further cutting back to make it fun, then a little bit more to make it taught.

Are they meaningful? How?
So some of the choices, like path shape, turned out not to be very meaningful, or to have meaning that was so subtle that it would only matter to very experienced players and just got in the way of new players.

Most of the choices though I think are meaningful, they either shape the experience of the game, help to build dramatic social interactions, or influence the outcome of the game. I actually think, due to the complexity of the game and the unpredictability that the PvP structure of the game has, that the choices that the player has that effect the outcome of the game are the least clear and compelling.

All of the choices have immediate micro effects, which is good and satisfying... but they also have macro effects that are opaque to new players and uncertain even for experienced players. I 'think' that is good in terms of the long term health and replayability of the game... but it still feels like they are weaker or less compelling for not having that macro effect be clear.

Am I giving the player the right number of choices? Would more make them feel more powerful? Would fewer make the game clearer?
I think that given that the meat of this game is player choice and interaction that I make every choice meaningful. Given the current structure of the game every action is a meaningful choice... are all of those choices the right ones, or the most balanced or meaningful? I am not as sure, but I think only more playtesting or math that I don't have can answer them. So I'll be continuing the playtesting and tracking the choices and outcomes and making adjustments where I think they are needed.

Are there any dominant strategies in my game?
Maybe? But not that any players have found yet... I have run into a lot of, 'if everybody does this one thing and I do this other thing then I will always win.' There are even some strategies that if there was no social component to the game might be dominate, but an alliance of players acting together is always able to take down that leader making even the most mechanically sound strategy uncertain in the face of the social game.

I still worry that a dominate strategy will emerge that will ruin the game. I feel like the amount of playtesting needed to uncover that would require online play. I need to focus on getting the Tabletop Simulator version of the game done so that I can start gathering that data. I also need to look into what kind of metrics I can gather through tabletop simulator. Do I need to make a digital prototype to gather the data I need instead?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Day 21: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 21 - Lens 88: The Lens of Interpersonal Circumplex
The relationships between your characters can be understood by creating a graph with one axis labeled hostile/friendly and the other labeled submissive/dominant. Pick a character, put it in the middle, and plot out where other characters lie relative to that character. Ask yourself these questions:

Are there any gaps in the chart? Why are they there? Would it be better if they were filled?
I don't think my game has non-player characters in a way that makes this lense meaningful. It does have player characters though, and while they don't come with personalities that would make this lense useful they are embodied by players. I think it would be useful to look at whether there are methods of interaction available to the players to enact relationships that could be mapped to this graph.

Hostile Submissive:
This would be the act of avoiding confrontation with another player directly. Possibly allying with the player to get victory points and then removing paths or unguarded bases to undermine them. Agreeing to an alliance that is not advantageous to avoid a fight. Moving a base out of a territory under threat. Taking a single additional head at the end to deny it to others. Alliance after an attack.

Hostile Dominant:
Direct attacking and base taking would fall into this realm, also social manipulation of other players into hostile acts. Demanding unequal alliances in the late game. Retaliation after an attack.

Friendly Submissive:
Allying behavior, agreeing to attack someone else's base so that another can have it. Leaving a territory to another player.

Friendly Dominant:
Asking favors of allies, offering further carrots for compliance. Generating plans of attack against those outside of an alliance.

Ok, so it seems like I am pretty well covered here in terms of supporting these kinds of interactions.

Are there "extreme characters" on the graph? If not, would it be better if there were?
It depends on the players... but yes, players acting in the extremes of the graph toward each other makes for a more dramatic and entertaining game. So what can I do to encourage some of the interactions to fall into the extremes?

Are the character's friends in the same quadrant, or different quadrants? What if that were different?
I think that this is situational, but that situations arise reasonable often where players act in accord with or in opposition to players that are like and unlike them on this graph.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Day 20: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 20 - Lens 40: The Lens of Triangularity
Giving the player the choice to play it safe for a low reward or to take a risk for a big reward is a great way to make your game interesting and exciting. To use this lens, ask yourself these questions:

Do I have triangularity now? If not, how can I get it?
There is triangularity in almost every choice the player makes. Recruit or move? If you move attack or be defensive.If you place a base, keep it in your territory or expand. If you Challenge fight or ally... The question is whether the players perceive these as a set of triangular choices, easy either or's that are meaningful, or if they all just become a cloud of confusing possibilities. I think that my playtesting shows that the game starts out with too many choices, players are overwhelmed, but after a few rounds they see the shape of the main gameplay and enjoy it. I don't think that they see the larger goal based triangularity of the overall game. The choice of prep for taking the city or gather bases, or the taught balance of both. Or the choice of trying to get ahead yourself or weaken other players. Or of focusing on tactical decisions of being a social leader and manipulating your allies and enemies into doing what you need to win.

Is my attempt at triangularity balanced? That is, are the rewards commensurate with the risk?
I hope so? That's a very weak answer but I am still unsure. I have mostly tried to guess and playtest. I watch players and tried to change the rewards so that players would choose each option evenly. I have not done the analysis of who made what choices and who won. That is something that I should track over many games... I should add a section to the survey!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Day 19: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 20 - Lens 56: The Lens of Parallelism
Parallelism in your puzzle brings parallel benefits to the player's experience. To use this lens, ask yourself these questions:

Are there bottlenecks in my design where players are unable to proceed if they can not solve a particular challenge? Could Parallel challenges help?
The only way for a player to get stuck if for them to run out of paths in a place where they can not pick one up. It's an easy situation for players to avoid and hasn't come up yet... it is possible for them to have all of their placeable bases taken, which restricts their ability to generate new warriors. If that happens early in the game it can put them into a defensive posture, but even recruiting only one warrior from your home base each turn it is usually possible to be a credible threat in the end game and with victory points from alliances and city heads to win the game.

Are my parallel challenges different enough to give players the benefit of variety?
I think so... there are several pretty different ways to go about trying to win the game with the three sources of victory points.

Can my parallel challenges be connected somehow? Is there a way that making progress on one can make it easier to solve the others?
I think that this is the case with all of the elements of the games design. Alliances give VP, but also help both players mechanically. Heads give VP but necessitate leaving bases unattended. Taking the center takes guards that you could have defending bases... and so on. Everything is a meaningful choice that makes some things in the game easier and some harder... hopefully in a balanced way that is fun to interact with!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Day 19: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 19 - Lens 52: The Lens of Economy
Giving a game an economy can give it a surprising depth and a life all its own. But like all living things, it can be difficult to control. Use this lens to keep your economy in balance.

How can my players earn money? Should there be other ways?
The closest thing to money that exists in FotLC is the citizens of the last city. They are a limited resource that players can access through controlling bases. Adding more to do with the citizens, treating them more literally as currency, and adding other ways to earn them is an interesting idea but deviates from the base simplicity of the game significantly. You could perhaps earn them from a betrayal or a fight... you currently already earn them from an alliance, a rule that was added to sweeten the ally action and speed the end of the game.

What can my players buy? Why?
Currently they can only be spent on Warriors to be immediately placed on those bases.  The other resources in the game; paths, bases, and friendship tokens are given out to the players equally at the beginning of the game and can then be taken, for the cost of the taking action, at any time during the game.

Is money too easy to get? Too hard? How can I change this?
I think the utility of citizens and the rate that you can get them is balanced. If I added more uses for them I would probably want to add new ways to get them.

Are choices about earning and spending meaningful ones?
Yes, whether to get a citizen each round is one of the core gameplay choice.

Is a universal currency a good idea in my game, or should there be specialized currencies?
I think that having a single resource keeps the game simple and fluid. The economy is a tool in this game not the focus. You could argue that friendship tokens and city heads are also currencies, exchanged for victory points... and maybe that's true, but I think the system as it stands now is the right choice.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

New Info Card Designs:

These are the first round of designs for the info cards about the game that I'll be handing out at Conventions and playtests and local gaming shops:

Day 18: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 18 - Lens 101: The Lens of The Team
To make sure your team is operating as a well-oiled machine, ask yourself these questions:

Is this the right team for this project? Why?
Well it's the only team... do I have all the needed skills, no. That has forced some interesting design decisions that maybe have made the game stronger, particularly around theme and art. I think I lack the number crunching hard design skills that would benefit the tactical deterministic parts of the game. I do think that where I have chosen to involve others in the project I have chosen pretty well. Largely those have been people that I have close social ties with and that has smoothed communications. Also since I have asked for volunteer work I have been very careful about asking too much.

Is the team communicating objectively?
This isn't a very meaningful question on a team of one, but if applied to the playtesters and developers that I have had assess the game then I think it varies. When people are close to you they soften their feedback... at least at the beginning of development that can be ok as you don't want to crush your ego and give up on a project that may have potential, at the same time it becomes more and more important to question everything about your game as you go on because bad decisions will slip through and build on each other.

Is the team communicating clearly?
The clearest communications have been the most difficult. It's hard to hear negative things about your game or process. Language and experience with games can often ba a barrier when the team member (playtester in my case) just doesn't have the words to tell me what they have noticed about the game. As much as people resist the idea of unified language around games as a waste of time it would be useful here.

Is the team comfortable with each other?
Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Putting the game into the hands of people I am not comfortable around gives very different results than playing with people who I am relaxed around. The social tension in the case of my game raises the stakes of the social aspects of the game.  Also players often have a higher level of comfort with each other after playing the game.

Is there an air of trust and respect amongst the team?
If in my case we refer to the playtesters as the team then it's an interesting question. The game is about trust and betrayal and conflict, but within the context of the game I do think that players trust each other to follow the rules and to explore the space of the game together. Given the strangeness of real time play I think that I am asking for an unusual amount of trust from the players. Sometimes I get it immediately, usually from less experienced gamers. Sometimes it is earned in scraps. But the fact that almost all players now finish the game trusting my rules and me as a designer feels like an important metric. Perhaps there can be a question about that in the post play survey?

Is the team ultimately able to unify around decisions?
This one comes back to me being the only team member, when I make a decision there is no one around to question it... that is more of a problem than a blessing since not all of my decisions are good or reasonable. Doing heavy and immediate playtesting of every decision helps, but it may take more time than having a team-mate that can resist my bad choices, and my good ones. Overcoming that kind of healthy resistance would probably be faster than testing every decision.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Day 17: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 17 - Lens 45: The Lens of Competition vs. Cooperation
Balancing competition and cooperation can be done in many interesting ways. Use this lens to decide whether they are balanced properly in your game. Ask yourself these questions:

If "1" is Competition and "10" is Cooperation, what number should my game get?
Four I think. The game is mostly competitive but the ally mechanic introduces incentives to be cooperative.

Can I give players a choice whether to play cooperatively or competitively?
In the end the game is competitive. There is no tie condition for winning and the goal is to win. That said cooperation in the early game is common and the point of betrayal is usually what decides the game. The team that stays loyal the longest has an advantage... up to the point where the benefit of the betrayal is the game winning factor.

Does my audience prefer competition, cooperation, or a mix?
I think I get all three kinds of players. The ones that want a mix end up being the happiest. The pure competitive players want the prisoner's dilemma to be removed from the game and the coop players want a way to share a victory with their allies.

Is my team competition something that makes sense for my game? Is my game more fun with team competition, or with solo competition?
I firmly believe that the team competition makes the game better, it gives more choices and more options for how to play the game.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Day 16: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 16 - Lens 58: The Lens if The Puzzle
Puzzles make the player stop and think. To ensure your puzzles are doing everything you want to shape the player experience, ask yourself these questions:

What are the puzzles in my game?
There is the physical puzzle of piece placement, it was made less important when I removed the hex grid. It still comes into play a bit in the late game. The game is abstract enough and the point conditions are clear enough that strategy is mostly a puzzle in the absence of other players.

Should I have more puzzles, or less? Why?
I go back and forth on that. I kind of liked the tetris like quality of the piece placement, but I think the game is smoother and probably better without it. Mostly I think it slowed things down and got in the way of the players doing what they wanted to.

Which one of the ten puzzle principles apply to each of my puzzles?
The puzzle like aspects of the game are pretty light, but in the way that the strategy of the game is a puzzle you have the built in hint system of watching the other players trying to solve the same problems you are.

Do I have incongruous puzzles? How can I better integrate them into the game?
The piect placement puzzle is the most incongruous puzzle in the game, though the most explicit. Again, the rest of the puzzle like elements can just as accurately be described as strategy. Which I guess begs the question of whether abstract strategy games are PvP puzzles...

Day 15: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 15 - Lens 100: The Lens of Love
If the creators of a game do not love it, the game will surely fail. To use this lens ask yourself these questions:

Do I love my project? If not, how can I change that?
Do I love this project... yes? I love making games, to some degree this is an exercise that turned into a game that I believe in. Is this the expression of my life's passion? No. Do I think this is a great game that needs to exist and am I willing to do what it takes as a professional to make that happen? Absolutely. I have found that the more of myself that  I put into the project, the more I polish it and shape it to make it better the more I care about it.

Does everyone on the team love the project? If not, how can that be changed?
I am the only developer. My partner loves me and is thus willing to contribute unreasonably to the project, to some degree I think she has fallen a little in love with it in so far as it is an expression of my imagination.

As I move ahead and others become involved with the production of the game I need to make sure that they also fall in love with my vision for the game. Lucky for me the game is easy to love!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Day 14: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 14 - Lens 105: The Lens of The Crystal Ball
If you would like to know the future of a particular game technology, ask yourself these questions, and make your answers as concrete as possible:

What will ___ be like two years from now? Why?
What will ___ be like five years from now? Why?
What will ___ be like ten years from now? Why?

So, this one is pretty un-related to making a board game... but it begs the question of what technologies could be used with my game if they were more advanced, or even now. I'm going to write a little about that instead.

Because of the way I implemented theme in my game, making it a game played in the post-apocalyptic future rather that a game about that future, it is pretty averse to using any technology... but for the sake of argument:

VR technology could be cool in that it could immerse you in the setting. It would be a little strange to put on a headset to play a board game, but it might be worth it to play the game in a corrugated iron hovel with the toxic wind howling outside.

AR technology, Hololens, might be a good thing as the game has a lot of fiddly bits and being able to play it on an imaginary table without dealing with the pieces could be a good thing.

A app or computer version of the game in general could be good in that it would facilitate online organized play.

There is a modular reactive interconnecting hexes technology that might be useful to use for the paths if it could be made to light the possible movement available to you when you touch your pawn, or maybe show everyone's at once. That could actually help people with their situational awareness and promote path removal as a movement control tactic.

3D printing might be a important technology for the game as it would allow me to sell a print and play version with paths that looked like metal scrap. I have thought of using a 3D printer to make a prototype and if I did then I could use that as a way to distribute the game.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Day 13: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 13 - Lens 110: The Lens of Transformation
Games create experiences, and experiences change people. To make sure only the best changes happen to your players, ask yourself these questions:

How can my game change players for the better?
The most abstract mechanical themes of the game are about the difficulty and unpredictability of conflict with other humans. How that is almost always detrimental to everyone, how even clear victories often don't ensure or even contribute to 'winning'.  If that message seeps into players then my intentions to better them will have been served.

On a metaphorical level the game is about the fall of hegemony and how chaos can be just as bad. It's a game about grappling with the consequences of war. If that theme is perceived then again my intentions are served.

Of course I want to do all of that and still have the players think it's a fun game! So, just easy stuff...

How can my game change players for the worse?
Given the heavy themes and mechanics it's possible for players to miss those meanings and see the game as actually being about how fun conflict is... I think I avoid that with the letter to the winner at the end, but that's a pretty heavy handed thing to do and I'm still looking for a way to say things more clearly in the game its self.

Day 12: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 12 - Lens 109: The Lens of Profit
Profits keep the game industry alive. Ask these questions to help your game become profitable.

Where does the money go in my games business model?
I am pretty sure that I can't make money off of board games. My goal is largely to cover my costs and get my game into the hands of players. That said I expect to generate cashflow through Kickstarter and hopefully through subsequent retail sales. I would look to distribute through local New England gaming stores and possibly through Amazon?

Given that making the game artifact its self very high quality is a priority much on the money will go to that. I have little or no art cost and have done the design myself. I will want to spend some of the money promoting the game and would like there to be some form or organized play... but I just don't know how to go about that.

How much will it cost to produce, market, and distribute, and maintain this game? Why?
That is a very good question, and one I need to answer in concrete terms before the Kickstarter. I know that hand making a copy of the game costs close to $100 plus the labor that I put into it, probably around 20 hours a copy. Largely that is due to the metal materials and hand cutting the hex paths and bases, then hand painting them. The final product will almost certainly need to be made from a lighter cheaper material, unless I could find a manufacturer who could and would create a process just for this game... unlikely.

Distribution on a heavy metal filled metal ammo canister is also a problem...

Also creating and maintaining an organized play community is both complicated and time consuming. It's something I could do myself since I am unlikely to have the money to pay someone. If I got published I would want it to be part of the promotional plan.

How much money will this game make?
For me as profit? Probably none. Figuring out a unit cost and a general production cost and how many copies I would need to sell to make that reasonable is part of setting the kickstarter goal. 'Could' the game get wildly popular and generate a significant profit, sure. That's not part of the business plan.

Why do I think that?
The margin on the best of board games is slim. Designers get 5% from publishers generally. Small kickstarters are lucky to break even. Those are just the facts as I understand them. I will not assume my game will be an exception and as an indie dev with a good day job I can afford not to care.

What are the barriers to entry in the market for this game?
Exposure. That is I think the biggest barrier. I think my game is somewhat niche, but that it could do well if I can get the info out to that niche audience.

Day 11: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 11 - Lens 20: The Lens of Pleasure
To use this lens, think about the kinds of pleasure your game does and does not provide. Ask yourself these questions:

What pleasures does my game give to players?
I don't have a pat answer for this one. The pleasure of competition? Of deception? Perhaps of being deceived? I think that the game does a pretty good job at making both competition and social betrayal fun. It does that by setting the stakes high enough to be meaningful but low enough that players don'f feel bad for loosing. Inspired to feed into the competitiveness of the game but not become actually bitter and vindictive.

A second kind of pleasure that I put in the game naturally but didn't identify as critical or important to me until later is tactile pleasure. The game components strongly support the fiction and 'feel' real and authentic. I have received many comments on how much players appreciate the physical aspects of the game and how much better it makes their experience.

Can this be improved?
There has been a lot of iteration on the parts of the game that contribute to both kinds of pleasure. I don't see ways to improve them right now, but I am sure they are out there and I will keep thinking about it and watching in play tests.

What pleasures are missing from my game's experience?
There seems to be a conflict in the way that players interact with the ame. There are players that find the language of the rules charming and engaging and those that feel like it gets in the way of them getting to the rules of the game.

The pleasure of immersion in narrative conflicting with the pleasure of understanding.

Can they be added?
Perhaps I should provide a bare bones rules summary. That would allow players from both sides to find their pleasure. The thing I worry about is that the kind of game that FotLC is, is more attractive to the kind of players that don't like the heavy narrative theming.  I know that narrative focused players end up liking the game because of the narrative, and that rules focused players like the game once they get past the narrative... but am I working against myself? Am I limiting my audience by using heavy narrative theming in the rules...

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Fall of the Last City Story / Gameplay Trailer!

This is the trailer I have made for submission to the PaxSouth Indie Tabletop Showcase. We are not professional film makers but I think we did a great job! Thanks to all the actors and to Give Zombies the Vote for the excellent background tracks!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Day 10: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 10 - Lens 82: The Lens of Collusion
Characters should fulfill their roles in the game world, but when possible, also serve as the minions of the game designer, ensuring an engaging experience for the player. To make sure your characters are living up to this responsibility, ask yourself these questions:

What do I what the player to experience?
This question has two answers, one is what I want them to experience in the moment of play and the second is how I want that experience to change them through play.  During play I want to evoke excitement and intensity. During player confrontation I want to evoke tension, suspicion, greed, hostility, fear... Throughout the game I want to evoke a sense of concentration and strategy in tension with confusion and a sense of things spinning out of control. In the resolution I want to evoke a sense of inevitability and responsibility.

How can the characters help fulfill this experience without compromising their goals in the game world?
You would think that in an abstract strategy game there wouldn't really be any characters.  In one sense there aren't, or it might be more accurate to say that the game could be played in the absence of those characters? In the process of writing the rules and establishing the theming of the game I developed a narrator character for the game 'The Teller'. He (she?) does a lot to set the tone of the game, to set player expectations and in the end to point out the underlying themes in case the winner missed them.

The other 'characters' are barely that, but maybe they are still doing a job. The chits the player collects as resources are 'citizens' they become 'warriors' in your tribe and the pieces players capture for points are 'The Heads of the City'.

Does that characterization contribute to all of those complex emotional goals I listed in answer to the first question? I think they do in that they help to involve the player in the story of the game world and that greater investment translates into stronger emotional responses to the mechanics that come after.

Day 9: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 9: Lens 111: The Lens of Responsibility
To live up to your responsibility as a game designer, ask yourself this question:

Does my game help people? How? 

Well at the least it brings a group of six players together and puts them in a contentious social situation with rules. That's useful socialization and learning. Maybe it teaches strategic thinking. Maybe it has themes of the dangers of hegemony and the futility of war and the struggle for dominance... but whether things like that transfer out of the context of the game is an open question. Perhaps I could underline the theme by donating all profits from the game to a pertinent charity?

Addendum: Many months of development later I have taken on the themes of the game in much greater depth and have plans to do things in the kickstarter to involve a more diverse set of writers in creating the back story for the tribes. Also the end of the game poses the moral dilemma directly to the winner and forces more transference of the message of the game.

Day 8: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 8 - Lens 22: The Lens of Needs
To use this lens, stop thinking about your game and start thinking about what basic human needs it fulfills. Ask yourself these questions:

On which levels of Maslow's hierarchy is my game operating?
Well my game does not provide food or shelter... but it is about survival and safety and love and esteem and maybe even self. I make all of that kind of explicit in the letter that the winner reads. But it's also intrinsic to the gameplay. 
Does it fulfill the needs of competence, autonomy, and relatedness?
I very much think that it does. All three of those were major design goals from the beginning of the process, so from the blank board that the players decide how to fill to the social challenges every aspect of the game is bent in those directions. 
How can I make my game fulfill more basic needs than it already does?
Adding the winners letter was a recent step in that direction. Perhaps making the winner the judge for the next round of the game. Do I want to have language or ritual around the Challenge other than just saying 'challenge'. 
For the needs my game is already fulfilling, how can it fulfill those needs even better?
I'm not sure how much more I can turn these things up. The game is an abstract strategy game and it's mechanics suggest a lot... on top of that I have built a setting and context that reinforces those themes. Without becoming a parody of a meaningful game I may be at the limit .

Day 7: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 7 - Lens 107: The Lens of the Client
If you are making a game for someone else, you should probably know what they want. Ask yourself these questions:

What does the client say they want?
Since this is an indie passion product there is in one sense no client. At the same time I am clearly the client and should have to articulate my wants. So: I wanted the game to prove that real time dynamic placement of bases and guards. Once that was done I wanted to have a game that people liked. That people thought was innovative and smart. Then that was challenging and eventually that was fun.

Once I had that I wanted my game to be about something, doing things in that order makes it hard to have a game about something... unless the mechanics that are the game are intrinsically about something. Since I think that is necessarily true I guess it's better to say that what you are doing is discovering what your game is about, and deciding if you like that and then figuring out how to make it more clear... or obscure it!What does the client think they want?
I guess I kind of answered that above, everything there. But maybe what I wanted in the beginning was to make a game about something and it was all a process of discovering that. Next time I should start there and work backwards. Maybe.What does the client want, deep down in their heart?

As stated above, which is I suppose to make art. But also to be liked by my players and respected by my peers...

Day 6: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 6 - Lense 21: The Lens of Flow
To use this lens, Consider what is holding your player's focus. Ask yourself these questions:

Does my game have clear goals? If not how can I fix that?
The goals of the game are not clear... or rather it's not clear how to achieve the goal. Since there are three things that contribute to winning and one, territory control is somewhat complex.

I think that I can do better at describing the goals in the intro.

Are the goals of the player the same as the goals I intend?
Mostly I think so. It sometimes happens that a player decides that they can't win and changes their goals to either disruption or Kingmaking. If both are fun that might not be a problem.

Do parts of the game distract players so they forget their goal? If so, can these distractions be reduced, or tied into the game goals?
Players often decide the way they will win is by collecting guards, talking bases or some other thing that is not actually the best way to get victory points... but that's an issue of learning strategy. The social aspects of the game can take over, with challenges and alliances becoming the focus, but I also think that's ok...

Does my game provide a steady stream of gradually increasing challenges?
I think that depends on who you play it with. I hope that if you play with a consistent group of players that the game becomes more challenging as everyones skill and understanding increase.

Are the player's skills improving as expected? If not, how can I change that? 

Over the course of a single game I usually se a good increase in skill. I lack the data to know how that will progress over dozens of games. 

Day 5: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 5 - Lens 80: The Lens of Help
Deep down, everyone wants to be helpful. To channel this spirit toward engaging gameplay, ask yourself these questions:

Within the context of the game, who is the player helping?
The game is competitive and can only have one winner, so in one sense the player is only helping themselves. That said it is often the case that players need things from each other and take cooperative actions that benefit the other player. That social calculus in the game is pretty bare and brutal, and that's intended. At the same time the stories that come out of the game are often about how two players teemed up to do something... usually hurting another player of course. 
Can I make the player feel more connected to the characters who need help?
I might add the ability to offer an ally token outside of a challenge... that might unbalance the game, or it might add the ability to incentivise interesting player behavior. It's something to think about. 
Can I better tell the story of how meeting game goals helps someone?
Given that the game is competitive I think I've gone about as far as I can in terms of framing the competition in a larger shared goal (making the city fall) and fostering positive interaction among the players, allying... 
How can the helped show their appreciation?
Since the game is social there are no rules around the kind of concessions a player can ask for or receive for their help. I feel like allowing things like group combats with allies sharing warriors or allowing the transfer of soldiers would just imbalance the game though.

Day 4: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 4 - Lens 11: The Lens of Unification
To use this lens, consider the reason behind it all. Ask yourself these questions:

What is my theme?
I think that there are two things that can be meant by theme. The first is the kind of deep meaning and purpose that you think of when you talk about the theme of a work of literature. The second is the kind of setting and context that you think of when you talk about a Theme Park.

I have tried to give both of those things consideration in my game. Over the course of development what I thought the theme was has evolved. In the beginning I would have said something like 'realtime territory control'. Later the mechanic that describes became more complex... but I don't think that was really a theme.

As the game became fully formed I might have said that the theme was the tension between deterministic strategy and social interaction. That might still be describing the mechanics though. Perhaps the theme is the inevitability of social change... or the need for social stability in the face of an endlessly changing world.

As for the second interpretation of theme, I decided relatively early on on a post apocalyptic theme. The speciffics changed a lot but it was mostly an issue of refinement.

Am I using every means possible to reinforce that theme?
This time I will start with the setting interpretation of theme. I have gradually added more and more elements of the setting into the physical game, from the board and components to the language of the rules and their physical artifact. Even the way the players signal the end of a turn echoes the setting. I may find new ways to tie that kind of theme to the game but I feel pretty good about what I have.

As for the games deeper meaning I would love to say that I had a grand vision and have executed on it but in this case I started with the mechanics and thought a lot about what they were saying. Then I thought about how I could shift things subtly to be more in line with something I would want to say.

Having established what the deeper meaning was I did things like adding the artifact the player is given when they win the game. That uses the setting to kind of break the fourth wall and talk to the player about their experience. ...we'll see how that goes over in my next play test.

Day 3: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 3 - Lense 28: The Lense of The State Machine
To use this lens, think about what information changes during your game. Ask yourself these questions:

What are the objects in my game?

  • The Board
  • The City
  • The Player Pawn
  • The Soldiers of each Tribe
  • The Citizens of the City
  • The Heads of the City
  • The Bases
  • The Paths
  • Ally Tokens
  • Challenge Tokens
  • Tribe bags
  • Graveyard bags

What are the attributes of the objects?

  • Bases, paths, warriors, and pawns have a position attribute. Bases and paths on the board, players on paths or bases and warriors on bases or in players hands, or bags.
  • Ally tokens have a possessor attribute.
  • Challenge tokens have a ally or fight state.
  • Warriors can be in the graveyard (out of play) or on the board, part of a basses defense, or in the Tribe bag, available for challenges or placement.

What are the possible states for each attribute?

  • Bases and paths can be on or off of the board and in different locations.
  • Bases can be empty, occupied by a pawn, and or occupied by warriors.
  • The City can have from 180 citizens to none in it.
  • The City Foundation can have from 18 Heads to none on it.
  • Ally tokens can be possessed by their owner or another player.
  • Tribe bags can be empty or have up to 20 warriors in them
  • Graveyard bags can be empty or have up to 20 guards in them
  • Player hands! They can have a challenge token in them with an ally or fight state. They can have some number of guards concealed in them.

What triggers the state changes for each attribute? 

  • The board is the primary object and represents all of the public information in the game. All the pieces act on the board or other pieces that have been placed on the board.
  • The city in the center of the board represents the available resources in the game and also the time remaining in the game. It is acted on by players using the recruit action or resolving an ally outcome of a challenge action.
  • The placement of ally tokens represents both the state of alliances between the players, their potential movement and part of their end game victory progress. They are triggered by an alliance action or by a player violating an alliance.
  • Bags are acted on by players recruiting, picking up or placing guards or readying for a challenge.

Note on Components:
Social components are washers, smooth and round. The player, his warriors and the citizens he can recruit are nuts, hexagonal and jagged, except the players' pawn which sits on top of a washer combining the symbols.

Day 2: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 2 - Lens 35: The Lens of Expected Value
To use this lens, think about the chance of different events occurring in your game, and what those mean to your player. Ask yourself these questions:

What is the actual chance of a certain event occurring?

It's an interesting question. There is not a lot of chance in Fall of the Last City, so the likelihood of an event occurring is mostly dependent on the players. That said I have spent a lot of time on things like the length of the paths, the number of warriors each player get trying to make sure that the chance of fighting over bases and challenging other players is balanced. It feels reasonable though I am not not sure how to measure it quantitatively.

What is the perceived chance?

Players say that the chance of each thing feels right on a scale of 1 - 5 in post play test surveys so I think I am doing ok for now. More play testing data may make me want to adjust the numbers.

What value does the outcome of that event have?

Can the value be quantified?
Are there intangible aspects of value that I am not considering?
Again with the game being player conflict driven conflict wins for one player are losses for another so I have tried to balance that, to make losses not feel random, but still have wins feel empowering. Making that feel balanced without making the conflict feel flat has been hard. Like I mentioned above I have tried to get players to put a number on their responses so that I can have that view as well as having them describe their reactions and watching them. I try to assume that I am missing something every time I go into a playtest and look for it... sometimes something new pops out at me.

Each action a player can take has a different expected value.

Am I happy with these values?
Do they give the player interesting choices?
Are they too rewarding or too punishing?
Trying to make each choice feel different enough has been a challenge, in a lot of ways they are not intrinsically different, the difference comes out of what the other players are doing. Like in chess sometimes one move is just better than any other, other times many moves have equal value... I t feels like that is a positive in this kind of game.

Perhaps the place that it comes up most is in the value of the different ways that you get victory points. Is it better to take territories or to capture guards or to ally. I have tried to make all of those necessary and make the tipping point for when to do what as small and interesting to find as I can. I have seen games swing different ways and made many adjustments to the point values and availability of those points, but I feel like my dataset of outcomes is still too small to be confidant that it's perfect.

Day 1: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

I have been saying that the design of Fall of the last City is essentially complete for a while now. Last night in the Exploratory Game Design class I teach I gave the students the task of answering the questions on one of Jesse Schell's 'Lense' cards from his Deck of Lenses (App). The deck has 113 cards each asking questions about your game from a different perspective. It's an amazing tool based on his book 'The Art of Game Design'. It's also a great way to throw hard thinking and productive learning at a class when you find you have half an hour of extra class time.

To be fair to them I said that I would do the exercise too for a game I was working on. It's been something I have been saying to myself that I should do for a while. Well it was, as I suspected, very useful. So I am going to post it here and try to do a card a day for the next 113 days. It will be interesting to see how my 'finished' game design stands up to the scrutiny. So here we go.

Day 1 - Lens 42: The Lens of Head and Hands
To make sure your game has a good balance of mental and physical elements, use this lense.
Ask yourself these questions:

Are my players looking for mindless action, or an intellectual challenge?
My players are mostly looking for intellectual Challenge. My game may work at cross purposes with this because it is fast paced and ‘sport like’ due to the real time nature. I ‘think’ that makes the game better, but it definitely makes it harder.

Would adding more places that involve puzzle solving in my game make it more interesting?
There is a little puzzle solving with path placement, I smoothed that curve by removing the grid in the game as fitting to the grid seemed mostly frustrating where in a game like blokus that is not timed it’s satisfying.

Are there places where the player can relax their brain, and just play the game without thinking?
There is little or no relaxing your brain, except when there are challenges. For players not involved they allow a rest and passive entertainment. Making them more of a show might be a thing I need to reinforce. (Only provide two challenge tokens?)

Can I give the player a choice - either succeed by exercising a high level of dexterity, or by finding a clever strategy that works with a minimum of physical skill?
I do make the player think if they want to avoid moving fast, that tension is a strong point but I do not reward either strategy explicitly.

If "1" means all physical, and "10" means all mental, what number would my game get?
I would make the game a 7. The kind of mental skill it requires though is very agile. Situational awareness and the ability to place the pieces precisely and quickly do give an advantage.