Saturday, December 31, 2016

Day 53: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 53 - Lens 79: The Lens of Freedom
A feeling of freedom is one of the things that separates games from other forms of entertainment. To make sure your players feel as free as possible, ask yourself these questions:

When do my players have freedom of action? Do they feel free at these times?
Given that this is a board game there are a set of rules. I have worked hard to make those rules as minimal as possible and as unrestrictive as possible. That was hard for me and I was luckily asked some hard questions by a fellow developer. I had turns set up in a very structured way that had... I think 16 possible choices. My friend asked, why can't I do everything each turn. The answer turned out to be that there was not a good gameplay reason. I removed a huge chunk of restriction and the game was much better for it.

When are they constrained? Do they feel constrained at these times?
There are some constraints in the game, from the verbs available to the players to the division of the game into phases and turns... I 'think' those are the minimal limitations needed to give the players meaningful choices and to give the game shape.  I think that mostly the players feel either free or overwhelmed with choice, at least during their learning games.

Are there any places I can let them feel more free than they do now?
In a previous update I talked about removing the restriction on placing guards on ally and enemy bases. That may both give players more choices and make the board harder to read... I will need playtesting around it. But the more I think about it the more it seems worth trying.

Are there any places I where they are overwhelmed by too much freedom?
Oh yes! Particularly at the start of the first game. I have tried to deal with that by giving the tutorial section, but it's still a bit of a problem. I think it's ok at this point, but there is a learning curve.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Day 52: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 52 - Lens 89: The Lens of The Character Web
To better flesh out your characters' relationships, make a list of all your characters, and ask yourself these questions:

How, specifically does each character feel about each of the others?
So... there are the players, the fictional players within the context of the games fiction, the tribal leaders they represent and the fictional Teller that is the voice of the rules. All three of those groups exist on distinct layers of the game fiction.

The innermost layer would be the tribal leader characters that the player are portraying. Those characters have no defined relationships with each other, but will develope them whether or not the players are roleplaying their characters or just engaging with the game mechanics. The tribe leaders have an antagonistic relationship with the City and it's leaders. They were all once citizens of the city, or their parents were.  They are of course unaware of the Teller who exists on the next layer of fiction.

In the next layer of fiction the Teller owns the game. It was taught to him by the previous Teller and is an allegory for the actual fall of civilization. He is of course dead and the fictional players of the game that the players are embodying have discovered his game and are reading the instructions he has left behind.  He has been written to be a little comical but also a mentor figure. He interacts with the players through the 'Last words of the Teller' document which is a tutorial on how to play the game, through the game rules themselves, and through a letter that only the winner of the game reads.

In the topmost layer are the actual players. Their relationships are undefined, though they may be pre-existing if the players know each other. They will certainly be affected by the game play, at least in terms of their actions within the game.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is that the game mechanics help shape and define those relationships. Players can act against each other by attacking bases of course, but they can also challenge to ally or betray. That is a limited vocabulary, but it forces their relationships to become clearly defined and to tell the story that I want the game to tell.

Are there any connections unaccounted for? How can I use those?
The relationship of the tribe leaders and the teller does not exist, but could. He might for instance have letters that he had gathered from each of the leaders of the actual tribes that fought over the city. Letters given to the First Teller. Now those letters might or might not be real, or things created by previous tellers to underline the lesson they were trying to teach with the game.

Are there too many similar connections? How can they be more different?
There might be more ways for players to interact... lending aid to each other? I had tried that and it mostly just added complexity.

Trading warriors? Leaving warriors of your color on allied bases? That might be interesting, whoever has the most controls the base, ties mean neither recruits or gets points for it? Or it counts as a base for both players... I kind of like it in that it is just an application of the basic rule of picking up and putting down guards. Maybe it's no one gets the points for a tie with an enemy base and both get it if it's an allied base?

Sending recruits to an ally?

I don't know if those constitute different kinds of relationships, but maybe by raising the ways players can interact I can increase the resonance of their connections?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Day 51: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 51 - Lens 1: The Lens of Emotion
People may forget what you said, but they'll never forget how you made them feel.
-Maya Angelou

To make sure the emotions you create are the right ones, ask yourself these questions:

What emotions would I like my player to experience? Why?
Excitement, tension, anticipation, light anger, disappointment, camaraderie, schadenfreude, guilt and righteousness.

On the shallowest level because I think they fit together to make a fun game experience.

On a deeper level they mimic more serious emotions that fit with the theme of the game. I hope that playing the game and experiencing that emotional arc will make players vulnerable to the games deeper theme and messages and help them to transfer those out of the game... that's a big hope though, so mostly I'm happy if my attempt just results in an enjoyable game.

What emotions are players (including me) having when they play now? Why?
Mostly I am getting what I am looking for. There is some confusion and frustration that I want to minimize.  I think that there is probably a little frustration that will occur when players are losing, or feel like they are losing. But it's a competitive game and I don't think that can be completely avoided. I do think that I can do a better job helping players figure out that they can come from behind until very late in the game.

How can I bridge the gap between the emotions players are having and the emotions I'd like them to have?
I think I am very close. There may be some rules changes for the end game that will eliminate some of the frustration. Some additional story around the tribes, and ritual participation from the audience/Teller might up the emotional stakes of the game when played in public...

Day 50: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 50 - Lens 19: The Lens of the Player
To use this lens, stop thinking about your game, and start thinking about your player. Ask yourself these questions about the people who will play your game:

In general, what do they look like?
If I thought I knew that playtesting has taught me that I was wrong. If my audience are like the people who have enjoyed my game then they are not the serious core strategy gamers that I thought they were. While serious competitive gamers have enjoyed my game those that have made it most enjoyable and seemed to enjoy it the most have been the social ringleaders. They have brought a group of friends and the game has facilitated them having a good time with their followers. That's not what I expected!

What don't they like? Why?
The core gamers I thought were my audience don't love the social challenge mechanics. The casual gamers often brought by the social leader find the learning curve a bit steep but seem to end up enjoying the game.

What do they expect to see in a game?
Core gamers want less randomness, they want their strategy.  I'm in kind of a strange place because I am trying to change a lot of elements in the abstract strategy genera. I think of that as exploring a new design space, but it's true that at the same time I am asking a lot of my players, many find the game too strange to latch on to at first blush. That tends to be more true of experienced gamers that new gamers. People with experience have stronger expectations I suspect.

I think that for an indie game where I don't care about profits in an existential way it's probably ok. If I was making a commercial game I would consider just having one or two unique elements rather than almost all of the core gameplay be unique.

If I were in their place, what would I want to see in a game?
I want a strategy game where I can make a tactical decision and see a quick result.  I want a social game where I have real choice rather than choices limited by game elements like card based interactions. I want a story that is intriguing and that lets me feel like it reflects my actions and gives me a chance to take a moral stand. I want a game that looks and feels beautiful and solid. I want not to be bored waiting for others to play. I want a game that keeps me engaged and moves to a exciting and satisfying climax.

What will they like or dislike about my game in particular?
Some players think there are too many choices to make early on and have a hard time grasping the rules. The new way of teaching the game seems to have helped with that a bit. Hard core atrategy gamers don't like the unpredictability that the social challenges bring. They also are uncomfortable with the speed with which things can change with simultaneous rounds.  The most common complaint is feeling that the outcome is too unpredictable. That may be true, or it may be that it's just hard if you haven't played the game a bunch of times.

I reeeeealy need to have a group of 6 people that can play 10 plus games. Maybe I need to hire playtesters for a day? FOr 6 people for a day that would be something like $500 though... at $10 an hour. Maybe offering $50  flat fee for 10 playthroughs or 8 hours whichever comes first?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Day 49: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 49 - Lens 71: The Lens of Beauty
Beauty is mysterious. Why, for example, do most beautiful things have a touch of sadness about them? Use this lens to contemplate the mysteries of beauty in your game by asking yourself these questions:

What elements make up my game? How can each one be more beautiful?
The physical components: These could be of higher quality. The roads and bases are now painted cardboard. They would be better if they were made out of actual metal. The physical rules documents could be given some professional graphic design. While I want then to look hand drawn that doesn't mean they can't be more carefully designed

The Rules: The rules could have a more concise form, just writing that might help trim off some rough bits where I have added special cases. I have tried to make them simple and elegant, and while I am pretty happy with that creating a non-themed version might help me focus on the kind of elegance I want there.

The story: A good portion of the story is pretty generalized, some of that is god but letting the players identify with a tribe more could make them more compelling and make the choices they are given at the end 'beautiful'.

Some things are not beautiful in themselves, but are beautiful in combination. How can elements of my game be composed in a way that is poetic and beautiful?
I think that the whole that the game's individual parts form is greater than any one of them. It's a cliche of the Art of Game Design, but I think that I have succeeded in creating a fun and interesting experience with my story mechanics and technology... but I do want fun and interesting to become beautiful and I am probably not there yet. So I will keep trying things and testing.

What does beauty mean within the context of my game?
I think that there are two kinds of beauty I am trying to achieve. The first is that the game and the play of the game be beautiful. Mechanics and esthetics working together. The second is the kind of lasting transformative beauty that games like Spec Ops: The Line achieved for the players that were open to it where the meaning of the game revealed it's self in a way that made the player look inward and question their experience of playing the game and perhaps even themselves.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Day 48: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 48 - Lens 10: The Lens of Holographic Design
To use this lens, you must simultaneously see your game structure and the player experience. You may shift your focus from one to the other but it is far better to view your game and experience holographically.

What elements of the game make the experience enjoyable?
For most players the social interaction is the most enjoyable part of the game.  The act of putting down pieces to form the board and gaining mastery of controlling the space that way seems to be enjoyable, probably partially because it's unique, partially because the physicality of the pieces is pleasing, and perhaps because the mechanic is genuinely fun?

I think that the buildup to the end of the game is enjoyed by players, the end is clearly visible and the stakes escalate...

Sneaking into other player's territory when they aren't paying attention and taking their things. When a player gets to hear 'Hey, when did you take my base?!' they always grin.

What elements of the game may detract from the experience?
The results of the showdown at the end of the game are not clear enough to players... or they are unbalanced. Players have not been reporting as much satisfaction with the outcome of the game as I would like. Taking the last city feels too powerful to them in terms of winning the game. At the same time taking it does not guarantee winning the game. So it doesn't feel powerful enough.

The learning curve is still a problem. The new tutorial helps a lot but players don't see the whole of the game until it's over so the flow of the first game always feels a little unexpected.

How can I change the game elements to improve the experience?
Either I need to change the scoring so that the bases, which are the obvious scoring mechanism are more important bu making them be directly worth points, or I need to make the way they work now more obvious? It 'feels' to my design head like the way the mechanics work now is deep, and that's needed for long term play. But if players don't enjoy their first game and feel like the winner is arbitrary then there won't be repeat play...

 Maybe wording in the tutorial can help make the game flow more obvious? An outline of what is to come before the letting players go to play through the mid game?

In the broader sense I want to increase the importance of situational awareness, which increases the chances to sneak through an opponent's defenses and feel clever. The real time timers might do that. I don't think it will ever be more than an alternate play mechanic though since it will make the game so much more stressful that it will deter all but the most hardcore players.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Day 47: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 47 - Lens 91: The Lens of Character Transformation
We pay attention to character transformations because we care about what might change us. To ensure your characters are transforming in interesting ways, ask yourself these questions:

How does each of my characters change throughout the fame?
They don't, or not in fundamental ways. Looking at characters in a board game is strange to start with, and in the case of FotLC it is even more unusual: In one sense there are no 'characters', at least not at this point. There are pawns that the players manipulate, but they have no character.

In another sense the players are told that their pawns represent the leaders of a post apocalyptic tribe. The players may invest them with an arbitrary amount of character, and that character may shift over the course of the events of the game. That could be a complex character arc, but would be brought to the game entirely by the player.

In a third sense the players themselves have been told that they are playing people from the post apocalyptic future who are playing a board game. So they have been actively charged with playing these undefined characters.

How am I communicating those changes to the player? Can I communicate them more clearly, or more strongly?
The rules materials help at least the player running the game to shift into character a little and the end game reveal to the winner poses an in character question. That question directly addresses the question of whether the player or the character they represent has changed through playing the game.

Is there enough change?
The change in question is very focused. It's at the heart of the theme of the game. Making it the only important change makes it stand out. I don't know yet if that makes it too simplistic and thus boring, or if it makes it profound.

Are the changes surprising and interesting?
I think so. I don't expect the player to anticipate the question they are asked at the end of the game and I hope they find the choice interesting.

Are the changes believable?
As any change comes with a decision from the player it depends on whether the player finds the choice that they make believable. In one sense the tension created if they don't is just as interesting as the choice itself.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Day 46: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 46 - Lens 78: The Lens of Story
To be sure the story in your game is as good as it can be, ask yourself these questions:

Does my game really need a story? Why?
No... not 'need'. The game functions without the story. Going a step deeper you have to ask what you mean by the story. I think the story of the game is very important if we are talking about the high level narrative frame, the story in the sense of Chess having a story about the struggle between the armies of two clashing kings. In that case the story of six groups depleting a central deposit of resources and claiming dominance over the area around it is important because it defines the action of the game and gives the set of rules meaning.

If we mean story on the level of the narrative detail and theme then... well I still think that it is important, but not needed for the mechanics and gameplay to function. The more specific and complex story of fall of civilization and the idea that the survivors play a game about that fall to remember what happened. The character of the Teller, perhaps details about the tribes. Those will resonate with some players and leave them invested in the world of the game as well as in the experience of playing the game mechanically. I believe that that investment will make the play experience more meaningful and affecting for the players.

Why will players be interested in this story?
Players have been interested to various degrees. Some just want to get started playing and largely ignore all but the highest level of story. I have had players ask me for a theme/story free set of rules and I will probably provide one with the finished game. However most players seem to engage with the game and the best and most enjoyed playtests have embraced it.

How does the story support the other parts of the tetrad (aesthetics, technology, mechanics) Can it do a better job?
The story was built around supporting the mechanics of the game so they are very tightly coupled and do a good job of reinforcing each other. The design decisions about the other parts of the tetrad were based on the story.

How do other parts of the tetrad support the story? Can they do a better job?
The aesthetics and technology of the game were directly derived from the story so again they are very closely paired.

How can my story be better?
Perhaps the weakest part of the story is the tribes themselves. They are generic and interchangeable and only distinguished by their colors. I am thinking of adding a short backstory to each to give people a reason to want the City to fall as well as to reinforce my themes of the struggle against hegemony and oppression.

Day 45: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 45 - Lens 34: The Lens of Skill
To use this lens, stop looking at your game, and start looking at the skills you are asking of the players. Ask yourself these questions:

What skills does my game require from the player?
Situational Awareness
Spatial problem solving
Risk assessment (tactics)
Long term planning (strategy)
Physical small motor dexterity

Are there categories of skill that this game is missing?
The game has physical, mental and social skills. Moving the game out of the true real time range limits the amount of physical skill the game requires. I would like to add more back and restore a true real time mode, but I haven't succeeded to my satisfaction yet.

Which skills are dominant?
Mental and social skills dominate. I think the balance may be a bit to the social side, at least with some sets of players. If the social skills of the players are balanced then importance probably shifts back to the mental skills.

Are these skills creating the experience I want?
Largely yes... I would like to be able to apply a little more time pressure to the player to raise the skill level needed for mental and physical skills. Most of the 'fun' in the game comes from the social interaction at this point. Though skill focused players have liked the game enough to ask to play it without the challenges. I feel like the mental skills used, or the way they are used are not as juicy as I would like. There are a lot of strategic things you can do, but their outcome can be so uncertain that they feel less meaningful.

Are some players much better at these skills than others?
Yes, highly social players dominate play... but don't always win. Highly skilled players control the board but don't always win.

Does this make the game feel unfair?
The metric I watch to see if this is ok is whether the players report feeling that the outcome of the game reflects their performance. It has generally been ok, but I would like to make the outcome feel a bit more stable. That may just be a scoring change. I have considered adding the bases controlled back in as a part of the score. I can take the results of games and look at what the scores would be with several different systems without changing the rules in the meantime.

Can players improve their skills with practice?
Absolutely. However, I haven't had as much repeat playtesting as I would like so I don't have metrics on how much a player's skill can be expected to rise with each replay.

Does this game demand the right level of skill?
I think that the game is demanding, but if you have an inexperienced group of players it is fun regardless of your skill level. I think it would be much less fun with four or five experienced players and one newcomer. Having some kind of handicapping system in place for new players could easily compensate for that if I had score metrics for a large set of playtests of multiple games.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Day 44: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 44: Lens 66 - The Lens of Channels and Dimensions
Choosing how to map game information to channels and dimensions is the heart of designing your game interface. Use this lens to make sure you do it thoughtfully and well. Ask yourself these questions:

What data needs to travel to and from the player?
There is a ton of information to convey to the player, essentially the whole game state is constantly exposed to all of the players. Some private information is only given to a single player, but the players together have all of the information composing the game state.

Here is the breakdown:

Things everyone needs to see:

  • City state (not City State... the state of the City)
  • Player location for each player
  • Available moviment
  • Base location
  • Base defense
  • Alliance state of each player

Things the player should only see about themselves:

  • Number of warriors in tribe
  • Number of warriors in graveyard

Which data is the most important?
Data specific to the player or the action they want to take is most important to the player at any given moment. So the location of paths around their pawn, the number of bases they control when they want to recruit, or the number of guards on an enemy base when they want to take it. All of those are shown on the playfield and are highlighted to the player through proximity to their pawn.

Some information like what roads a player has available to place are proximate to the player location not the pawn location so their importance is static in the interface, however as they represent a constant option to the player that is reasonable.

Then there are hidden pieces of information, those that relate to the state of the other player. They are hidden by bags and are thus available to their owner through touch but hidden from the sight of the other players.

Which channels do I have available to transmit this data?
As indicated above there visual and tactile channels. The playspace off of the board in front of the player and the board itself divided up into the area in front of them, the center of the board, the areas proximate to them and those on the other side of the board.

Which channels are most appropriate for which data? Why?
Data specific to a player is mors appropriately shown next to either the player themself or next to their pawn.

I violate this logic by giving the player the ability to place or control bases that will be important to them on parts of the board that are not proximate to them and if they have moved their pawn not proximate to it. This is intentional and requires players trying to expand their power agressively to have more situational awareness to maintain an understanding of the parts of the board state that are immediately important to them.

Which dimensions are available on each channel?
The visual channels have a color dimension, a size dimension and a shape dimension.

The tactile channels have a texture dimension and a weight dimension... and there it is, the thing I didn't know when I started writing up this lens. Weight.

How should I use those dimensions?
How much things weigh should reflect how important they are to the player! That actually happens with the weight of the bags, but I should make bases weigh more than the paths.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Day 43: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 43 - Lens 96: The Lens of Friendship (38 in the deck?)

People love to play games with friends. To make sure your game has the right qualities to let people make and keep friendships, ask yourself these questions:

What kind of friendships are my players looking for?
Play testing has in this regard been less helpful as I often have players that are strangers rather than ones that are already friends. In normal play of a board game there will usually be preexisting friendships. When I have played with a more normal group of friends the game has performed better, however developing the game with a feedback source that is harsher than normal has made me focus on this concern.

So players that do not know each other are looking for allies and 'friends' that they can trust not to betray them. Normal play groups may form their alliances based on the friends they have that meet those requirements.

How do my players break the ice?
The learning the game document is used by one player to teach the game in an interactive way, then the 'raise your fist' turn mechanic gets players to all make a icebreaking demonstrative action each turn. Then the flow of game play brings players into contact with each other.

Do my players have enough chance to talk to each other? Do hey have enough to talk about?
Yes! Players have plenty of time to talk to each other, either during game turns or in the time explicitly provided during challenges. I have a mechanic (the fist raising) that encourages quick play, but players seem to negotiate pretty freely.

When is the moment they become friends?
There is a distinct moment when an alliance is made and the truthfulness of a fellow player is extablished that is powerful. Of course betrayal is also a possibility at any point.

What tools do I give the players to maintain their friendships?
Establishing an alliance or friendship with another player has mechanical advantages from the victory point to the free passage through opposing guards. Betraying that friendship removes those advantages.

Day 42: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 42 - Lens 112: The Lens of The Ravin
To remember to only work on what is important, ask yourself this question:

Is making this game worth my time?
Yes. I don't answer this question lightly, and I don't think Fall of the Last City is the most important of meaningful game I will work on.  It began as an exercise but it has evolved into a good innovative game. I early on started considering what the core mechanics of the game were saying. I didn't have an an answer right away. If I had never found meaning in those mechanics I would like to believe that I would have abandoned the game. But, as much through my own preoccupations as through inherent meaning, the mechanics of the game did suggest it's purpose to me. The game transformed from abstract conflict based strategy to a game that was trying to comment on both the futility of war and the inevitability of the overthrow of any hegemony, and the responsibility of revolutionaries to their future. That meaning is communicated in the setting and rules material, but if I have done my job well it also resonates through the mechanics and dynamics of its play.

For me at least that is enough to justify my time. But I also feel like this game is my Journeyman project. It's no longer a novice effort, but I am still learning so much from the process. I am eager to apply the things I am learning to my next projects, but for now it feels like seeing this through to completion is the most important work for me.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Day 41: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 41 - Lens 64: The Lens of Juiciness
Juicy interfaces are fun the moment you pick them up. To maximize juiciness, ask yourself these questions:

Is my interface giving the player continuous feedback for their actions? If not, why not?
Yes and no... The player gets good constant feedback about a lot of things in the game. Their position, the position of other players, the position and power of peoples bases, the number of citizens left in the city. Some information is hidden on purpose, the number of warriors in a tribe, the number of warriors committed to a challenge. But then there is the control of territories. It is not clear from a glance who controls what territory. You can tell by looking at the number of bases on the territory, but that info won't be the actual end state when and if someone takes the city.

To some degree that end game info is unknowable but it's also not clear that it's the most important thing about predicting the 'winner' at the end of the game. I don't know if I 'should' change it... but it's certainly unclear.

Is second-order motion created by the actions of the player?  Is this motion powerful and interesting?
Well, players certainly react to each other and those reactions effect how the player can interact with the game. Those reactions are sometimes strategic and sometimes social. The strategic reactions might be predictable enough to let a player use them to change the game in ways they want. The social reactions are harder, but a lot of the game is trying to manipulate those reactions to your favor.

The mechanic of picking up and putting down paths probably creates the most second order motion.

Juicy systems reward the player many ways at once. When I give the player a reward, how many ways am I simultaneously rewarding them? Can I find more ways?
Rewards in a challenge are often at least doubled. Players get warriors and an alliance token when they ally, as well as the goodwill of the player they ally with, and the credibility seeing an alliance gives them with the other players.

Winning a betrayal rewards with removing a enemy control point, and gaining one of their own, and allowing a change of position.

Recruiting increases your warriors and directly applied that power to your bases.

I don't feel like there is over all a very strong or distinct reward system in the game, mostly maybe it is a system of advantages and disadvantages... the game in some ways is less about progression and more about strategic situation.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Day 40: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 40 - Lens 46: The Lens of Reward
Ask these questions to determine if your game is giving out the right rewards in the right amounts at the right times:

What rewards is my game giving out now? Can it give out others as well?
Rewards are mostly from winning challenges or from allying in challenges, those being taking a new base or getting an alliance token respectively. You get some form of reward if you take a base in the form on increases production of warriors in recruiting turns. Gaining heads on recruiting turns in the end game could be considered a reward. Becoming ruler of the wasteland is rewarded by getting to read the victory letter. I can't think of other possible rewards...

Are players excited when they get rewards in my game or are they bored by them? Why?
I think the rewards feel like a natural part of the game but I don't think they stand out in a winning a pull of  a slot machine kind of way since they are not random or unexpected. I think winning a betrayal is the most unexpected exciting reward. Players do respond to that every time.

Getting a reward you don't understand is like getting no reward at all. Do my players understand their rewards?
I think that the rewards are pretty clear. Sometimes players don't get the way a challenge will play out the first time and don't like the results. I have altered the rules document and explanation of the challenges to make them as clear as possible.

Are the rewards my game gives out too regular? Can they be given out in a more variable way?
The rewards are player dependant. That makes them variable in both good and bad ways. The bad is that if the players play in a way that minimizes or denies rewards the game can be less satisfying.

How are my rewards related to one another? Is there a way that they could be better connected?
I think that all of the rewards are pretty tightly coupled. Each leads into or impacts the next. None of the rewards exist just to be a reward.

How are my rewards building? Too fast, too slow, just right?
Again this really depends on play. In a typical game I think the structure of the game makes the reward frequency feel about right throught the game.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Day 39: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 39 - Lens 45: The Lens of Competition vs. Cooperation
Balancing competition and cooperation can be done in interesting ways. Use this lens to decide whether they are balanced properly in your game. Ask yourself these questions:

It "1" is Competition and "10" is Cooperation, what number should my game get? 
2 - My game is essentially competitive with cooperative elements. Players can ally and perform game actions that benefit each other, but only one player can rule the wasteland.

Can I give players a choice whether to play cooperatively or competitively?
Yes, the degree of cooperation is up to the players. It would be possible for players to decide to cooperate and try to tie for victory, the end condition being 'nobody rules the wasteland'. Given that the stated narrative goal of the game is 'to make everyone the same' that could actually be seen as the hidden goal of the game.

Does my audience prefer competition, cooperation, or a mix?
Most of my playtesters have prefered the mix. A few hardcore strategy gamers have wanted more competition. I will probably include a rules variant without the prisoner's dilemma for pure mechanical competition.

Is my team competition something that makes sense for my game? Is my game more fun with team competition or with solo competition?
Cooperation in the game leats to team Competition. I have never seen all of the players decide to cooperate to take down the city and not form teams and strive to rule the rubble. That might actually be a degenerate strategy because it would not be very interesting after the first time.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Day 38: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 38 - Lens 55: The Lens of Visible Progress
Players need to see that they are making progress when solving a difficult problem. To make sure they are getting this feedback, ask yourself these questions:

What does it mean to make progress in my game?
Progress is depleting the guards of the city, placing bases to control territory, making alliances and taking the Heads of the City.

Is there enough progress in my game? Is there a way I can add more interim steps of progressive success?
I think there are enough indicators of progress. The swinginess of taking the Last City is hard to show and leaves many players feeling startled by the outcome.

What progress is visible, and what progress is hidden? Can I find a way to reveal what is hidden?
Progress toward emptying the City of Citizens is clearly shown. Progress toward controlling bases is clearly shown. Your progress in amassing warriors is know to you but hidden to the other players. Territory control is partially visible in that it will change when the last City is taken and whether you can take it is unknown. Progress in accumulating alliances is visible for everyone, but they shift over the course of the game.

Maybe having a point track or dial so you could track your progress, maybe with a 'if I take the city second dial? It might just be excess but it could be thematic and help some players understand where they are?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Day 37: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 37 - Lens 74: The Lens of Obstacle
A goal with no obstacles is not worth pursuing. Use this lens to make sure your obstacles are ones that your players will want to overcome.

What is the relationship between the main character and the goal? Why does the character care about it?
Since it's a multiplayer game there are six 'main characters' they are functionally identical though. I think this question is not one that is addressed in any interesting way in the theme or fiction of the game. It's an abstract strategy game and the goal is to win... but in the fiction the goal is to tear down the city and rule the wasteland yourself. That's well and good but there is no specific reason for each tribe leader to want that.

What are the obstacles between the character and the goal?
There are two types of obstacle between the player and their goal. The first are a pair of resource pools that must be depleted by player action. The first of those consists of 180 'citizens' that each grant the player a 'warrior' resource used to hold bases and engage in conflicts with other players. The second consists of 18 'City Heads' that can each be claimed by players. For every three they claim they gain a victory point.

The second type of obstacle is the other players. Players can take a variety of actions for or against the player. Navigating the player obstacles is the most dynamic and interesting part of the game requiring both mechanical strategy and social interaction.

Is there an antagonist who is behind the obstacles? What is the relationship between the protagonist and the antagonist?
In the most conceptual sense the City and the hegemony it represents is behind the resource gathering obstacle. This is not personified in the game outside of the flavor text in the rules. It's possible that additional narrative background around 'The City' would make the act of seeking it's downfall more compelling to some players, to others it would be irrelevant and should be optional and avoidable if added. Perhaps something like a short story from the perspective of each tribe recalling the evils of the city and the tribes motivations?

Do the obstacles gradually increase in difficulty?
Depleting the resource pool obstacles do not increase in difficulty until there are fewer remaining than the number of players and that is usually a short lived edge case.

The difficulty of the player obstacles in of course dependant on the skill and tactics of the players. It increases as the players learn the game, both within a single game and over the course of multiple games.

Within an individual game the player sees the tactics of other players and can use that knowledge to adjust their play making the game more challenging over the course of a single game. This is reflected in the iterative prisoner's dilemma.

There are not however mechanical changes in the game that give it an explicit difficulty curve.

Some say, "The bigger the obstacle, the better the story." Are your obstacles big enough? Can they be bigger?
Because the game is essentially competitive the size of the obstacles, and hence the quality of the 'story' of any individual game is player dependant. I have seen players perform their role as obstacles theatrically and watched that make the game more exciting and engaging, I am not sure how to mechanically reinforce that behavior, though I would love to!

I frame the challenge of overthrowing the city as the act of ending Civilisation, that's about as big of a narrative stake as I can imagine in the game.

Great stories often involve the protagonist transforming in order to overcome the obstacle. How does your protagonist transform?
The players begin the game with no specific animosity against each other but the competition for resources brings them into conflict quickly. How they react to each other can be seen as a series of moral choices causing them to evolve as characters within the story of the game. In every game some take on the role of the traitor, the ally or the victim, the aggressor or the peacemaker.

In the end the winner is given a narrative message from the designer within the context of the game's fiction, it is intended to cause the player to assess and question the meaning of their actions within the game.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Day 36: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 26 - Lens 103: The Lens of Playtesting
Playtesting is your chance to see your game in action. To ensure that your playtests are as good as they can be, ask yourself these questions:

Why are we doing a playtest?
For this project the answer has changed many times. In the beginning I used playtests to force myself to develop. Then I used them to force myself to make the changes to the game that needed to be made to make it playable. Then to make changes to make it fun. Then to make changes to make it balanced. Then to make changes to make it learnable.

I guess in short I have been using playtesting to drive development and as the measure of the success of that development.

Who should be there?
The answer has usually been me and the playtesters. I have had a person there to take video or notes before during important playtests. There have been a few special case playtests where there was a official observer from the Game Makers Guild there to assess the game. I have tried to playtest with diverse groups but have most often done it with other game developers.

Where should we hold it?
I have used many locations, interestingly my home has been a rarity. I usually took the game to a place that the playtesters liked to congregate, a party, convention, or game development event. I think that testing in the kinds of places the game will be played is important.

What will we look for?
This has again changed over the course of development. I have not been as specific in what I was looking for as I would like. If I had more playtesting resources I would run more special case tests, but I have usually just got people to play and observed them. The unexpected stunning insights I find from testing are never in the area that I think I will be developing.

How will we get the information we need?
I have tried to observ, film, and take notes in many tests. I also have created a google form survey asking a standard set of questions so that I can get consistent data points from as many playtesters as possible.

Intensive playtest meetup details!

This is the Meetup event for the Fall of the Last City Intensive Playtest. I need players of all experience levels, so whether you have played my game before or just think board games are cool please sign up! I need at least 6 players to make the test run. Having alternates would be cool and if we get 12 I have two copies of the game so the more the merrier. I'll be providing snacks, pizza and beer! I would like to start closer to noon than 2 and want to be done before the listed time of 6 so that I can head out to a social engagement that evening. If I don't get enough players by Friday night I'll reschedule for after the holidays.
The location will be 77 Mystic St in Medford MA. The 94 bus from Davis Sq. stops at our corner. Also there is parking in our long driveway.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Day 35: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 35 - Lens 38: The Lens of Challenge
Challenge is at the core of almost all gameplay. You could even say that a game is defined by it's goals and challenges. When examining the challenges of your game, ask yourself these questions:

What are the challenges in my game?
The things that make winning difficult are gaining alliances and not breaking them. Taking and keeping enough bases to control more than one territory. Gathering enough heads without losing bases. And accumulating enough guards to take the Last City.  Each of those things is in some opposition to the others so that neglecting any one thing can keep you from winning but to do any one thing you need to neglect some of the others.

Are they too easy, too hard, or just right?
Any player can do any of those things pretty much at will, that can make players feel like doing that thing was too easy. At some point they realize that they need to do everything and don't have the resources, then they feel it is too hard. I really feel like I need the win data from maybe 100 players over 10 or more games to see if the balance is right.

Can my challenges accommodate a wide variety of skill levels?
Yes! The challenge is directly tied to the sill of the other players and skill is acquired through gameplay. Since the game is unique most groups of players will start at a low skill level and gain skill together. A new player playing with an experienced group might need a handicap. Perhaps something along the lines of starting with an extra guard per game the most experienced player has over you? Or maybe the winner of the last game starts with only one base?

How does the level of challenge increase as the player succeeds?
Through increase in player skill. The batter the player the harder the game.

Is there enough variety in the challenges?
I think so. The things you need to do to win are pretty different from each other, and gameplay can be very different depending on the group of players and their strategy.

What is the maximum level of challenge in my game?
I am not sure there is one as it's PvP driven. At least I hope that's true. Either it is or there will be a maximum level of skill a player can acquire based on the real time play and mechanics of the game. If that is too low then the game will eventually fail.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Day 34: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 34 - Lens 99: The Lens of Griefing
To make sure your griefing is minimized, ask yourself these questions:

What systems in my game are easy to grief?
Since the game is Player vs. Player with a minimal ruleset and little interaction that is not with another player it's relatively easy to eliminate griefing that stems from exploiting the systems of the game. Players can act against other players but only within the confines of the rules of the game. Trying to take your opponent's king in Chess is not griefing.  That said it is still possible to concentrate all of your aggressive action on a single other player and make the game difficult to impossible for them to win, the counter is that it will also be very unlikely that this strategy will lead to a win for you. It's also possible for a majority of the other players to make the game difficult to impossible to win for the remaining players, but in the end those players will have to turn on eachother.  I am not sure that it's possible to make this kind of behavior impossible, and I am not sure that I want to. I think that the social elements of the game largely balance these play behaviors and that serious players will be discouraged by their lack of utility in generating a win.

How can I make my game boring to grief?
Well there isn't any utility in griefing another player past the point of taking their bases and wiping out their warriors. Not moving on to other players reduces your chances of winning, also attacking other players uses your resources making you vulnerable, so you need time to recover even after a successful attack.

Am I ignoring any loopholes?
The big loophole up to this point has probably been the possibility of a player hoarding control points and that unbalancing the game in their favor. I have never seen anyone do this and have it lead to a win, but I think it might be an unbalanced strategy. That and collecting paths in a way that denies other players so much mobility that it makes the game less fun. I have the idea of limiting the number of paths and bases you can have, not on the board, to the number you start with. That way you could take others bases and paths off the board but not so many of them that you could ruin the playability or enjoyability of the game for other players.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Day 33: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 33 - Lens 50: The Lens of Character
Elegance and character are opposites. THey are like miniature versions of simplicity and complexity, and they must be kept in balance. To make sure your game has lovable, defining quirks, ask yourself these questions:

Is there anything strange in my game that players talk about excitedly?
Well the game was built to have a number of unique mechanics. I don't know if those qualify as they were very intentional and core to the design. Players talk about how much happened in the game, how moving all at once makes the game exciting and difficult.

Does my game have any funny qualities that make it unique?
There is always, or usually a positive reaction to the 'raise your fist in defiance of the city' mechanic. I think that in a social game that this mechanic's performative nature breaks the ice and encourages the players to become more involved with the game. It's a little unusual to have a big demosstrative action like that in a board game and it helps break players out of the normal gaming mindset and get them ready for the action of this game.

Players also like the tie resolution mechanic where the tying players eliminate each other and the third place player wins. Or at least they like it if it is explained first or it didn't happen. Finding out you lost unexpectedly due to a quirky rule is received poorly.

Does my game have any flaws that players like?
I don't know... I feel like I need more repeat playtesters before I can even ask someone that question. I'll ask my most frequent playtester though.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Day 32: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 32 - Lens 47: The Lens of Punishment
Punishment must be used delicately. Balanced appropriately, it will make your game more meaningful, and provide successful players with a real sense of pride. To examine the punishment in your game, ask yourself these questions:

What are the punishments in my game?
The cost of attacking in the game could be seen as a punishment, you lose your warriors to take out your enemies. They lose theirs and the base they were defending.

Fighting in a Challenge has punishment for both sides. You both lose the warriors you commit to the fight. The looser looses a base.

Being betrayed in a challenge also has a punishment that can be harsh. You lose all of the warriors from one base and your opponent gains that base.

Acting against an existing alliance has the penalty of losing an alliance token for the player you betray while they keep yours.

Not participating in the siege of the city in the endgame has the penalty of not collecting those available victory points.

Why am I punishing the players? What do I hope to achieve by it?
All of the punishments in the game are risk/reward propositions.  The game is both packed with player choice and harsh consequences. I hope to raise the stakes of the players actions and reinforce the setting and the theme of the costs of conflict and war.

Do my punishments seem fair to the players? Why or why not?
Mostly players seem ok with the punishments when they see them coming. It's possible for the cost of betrayal to be very high, or for the cost of a fight to be devastating, but that's because of player action. The problem is when it is not clear to the player that they were risking a lot.

Is there a way to turn these punishments into rewards and get the same, or a better effect?
Allowing a different option than damaging the other player is possible. I am not sure if I want to blunt the cut throat aspect of the game by allowing softer outcomes, but it would be interesting to see how that changed the game.

Are my strong punishments balanced against commensurately strong rewards?
Mostly yes, or I have tried to make them balanced. If I see a consistent reaction or outcome that is not what I am looking for the punishment to elicit then I change it and re-test...

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Day 31: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 31 - Lens 13: The Lens of Infinite Inspiration
"When you know how to listen, everybody is the guru."
-Ram Dass
To use this lens, stop looking at your game, or games like it. Instead, look everywhere else. Ask yourself these questions:

What is an experience I have had in my life that I want to share with others?
A great many, finding the ones that would make this game better is the challenge. I have many times gone down the path of adding a bunch of cool ideas only to weed out most of them as weakening the game. That's part of iteration of course, but when looking this broadly I think I need to take each experience and view it through the lense of the purpose of the game. So...

I think one of my peak gaming experiences was when I was 9 or maybe 11 and on a train in europe with my parents. We were playing Pinochle and I was able to take every trick. My parents didn't see it coming and the nervous excited feeling as I took trick after trick and they realized what I was up to, reminded me that it was very hard and that I might lose everything (as I had the many other times I had tried) and then finally realized that I was going to pull it off was amazing. As much as I prefer cooperative games I'll never forget that and it keeps me coming back to competitive games even thirty years later.

In what small way can I capture the essence of that experience and put it into my game?
So, there is a lot of opportunity for this kind of thing in my game... but I think it's underutilized. Every challenge has an element of the bluff and gamble, but they are fast. Could I do something to make the reveal slower and more intense?

I think the larger challenge is that the board is SO dynamic and hard to predict that the kind of long term grand strategy that Pinochle taps into is hard to see. Will that come out in repeated play? Are there any things I can add to the game or emphasize that would capture that feeling? It will take me more that a morning of writing the figure that out, but I'm thinking about it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Day 30: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 30 - Lens 9: The Lens of the Elemental Tetrad (Because who doesn't love an Elemental Tetrad!)
To use this lens, take stock of what your game is truly made of. Consider each element separately, and then all of them together as a whole. Ask yourself these questions:

Is my game design using elements of all four types (Aesthetics, Technology, Mechanics, and Story)?
Yes, though since the game is a board game 'technology' I guess refers to the physical components of the game.  I think they are mostly standard, but the choices there have been strong and in harmony with the other elements. The aesthetics, theme,  and story fit very well.  The mechanics are probably the most loosely coupled in that they could exist with a different set of aesthetics, theme and story. However the ones that I have chosen work well with and support the mechanics.

Just to be specific here: The theme of self destructive strife and violent hardship straining the bonds between people is reflected in both the mechanics of the game and in its social mechanics, as well as the aesthetic choice to make the game out of distressed scrap materials and set its story in the apocalyptic future where the game is itself a retelling of the fall of civilization.

Could my design be improved by enhancing elements in one or more of the categories?
Possibly. If my use of technology allows the creation of base timers then the real time mechanics could be enhanced. I am still in the middle of testing those prototypes and am not convinced they will be viable yet.

Are the four elements in harmony, reinforcing each other and working together toward a common theme?
Very much so. I think that after almost two years of iteration they are all tightly coupled and create a strong game from top to bottom.

Day 29: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 29 - Lens 87: The Lens of Character Traits
To ensure that the traits of a character show in what they say and do, ask yourself these questions:

What traits define my character?
As have come up before there are no real non player characters in the game and the players don't play distinctly pre-defined characters. There is nothing in the rules preventing players from roleplaying characters, but it's not really a part of the game. To some degree the trappings and theme of the game encourage the players to imagine themselves in the fictional future where the game is played.

The rules of the game are told from the point of view of a character referred to as 'The Teller'. They are part of the lineage of people who have passed on the rules and traditions of the game.  They are wise and sarcastic and cynical.

How do these traits manifest themselves in the words, actions, and appearance of my character?
For the player characters I guess I would have to ask what mechanics or mechanisms the game provides to allow players to express character. It would be possible for instance for there to be aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive, etc. mechanics that the players could choose for the purpose of expressing their characters.

Which leads me to the idea of a game where players choose a role secretly at the beginning of the game and have a bunch of mechanics they can use, when the game is over everyone votes for which person they thought had which role and the players with the most correct votes win. Social deduction by mechanics.

The personality of the teller is only conveyed through words. As they are the narrator their voice rather than a description of them is used, but players seem to read the rules in the same way so I think they are conveyed clearly. Box art and promotional materials might also be used to convey this character.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Intensive Playtesting Call

I will be conducting an intensive playtest for Fall of the Last City on Saturday Dec. 17th from noon till around four pm. The playtest is part of the Game Makers Guild curation process. Playtesters will play the game a couple of times, learn it and then try to break it. Then they will fill out a short form, put them in a sealed envelope, and I'll submit them to the GMG curators.

I'll provide pizza and beer for the event and only ask that players be honest on their curation forms :)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Day 28: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 28 - Lens 95: The Lens of Spectation
For thousands of years, man has loved to sit and watch others play games - but only if the games are worth watching. To make sure your game is spectator worthy, ask yourself these questions:

Is my game interesting to watch? Why or why not?
I would like to think that it is interesting to watch. At playtesting sessions we often attract viewers. I have tried to make the game theatrical, with the end of turn fist raising, challenges and so on. This serves to entertain the players as well as viewers.  Also for most playtests I am just watching. Admittedly I am a biased audience but I find each match interesting both for the game play and the social drama.

How can I make it more interesting to watch?
That's an interesting question. I think that I could add some spectator interaction for flavor. Especially for running the game on convention floors. Things like having a call and response between the Teller running the game and the audience.

Teller: "Six stood in the wasteland!"
Audience: "The City stood alone."

Teller: "We have a Challenge!"
Audience: "Do they say true?"

Teller: "The City has fallen!"
Audience: "Who will take the heads?"

Teller: "Player Name controls the wasteland!"
Chorus: "How will you lead us?"

That kind of thing. I don't think it would be a part of the normal game, but for public matches it could add interest for the audience, help to draw more of a crowd and if it worked well make for a cool experience for the players.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Day 27: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 27 - Lens 102: The Lens of Documentation
To ensure you are writing the documents you need, and skipping the ones you don't, ask yourself these questions:

What do we need to remember while making this game?
I need to remember the core design decisions. When I make one it needs to be added to my design document.
I need to remember how my designs affect play. When I playtest I need to take notes.
I need to remember how players perceive my designs. I need to record their experiences.
I need to remember what failed. When I remove something from the game I need to note why.

I need to remember to keep thinking at the edges of my design. I need to write about my design daily prompted by things like the lenses.

What needs to be communicated while making this game?
For the development of the game I didn't need to communicate a lot other than playtest instructions as I did all of the development and art myself. I did need to establish channels for feed back and to gather data from playtesters. I used google forms to collect playtest data and began writing versions of the rules for each playtest early on. In future games I will probably be more rigorous as it proved very useful.

I also took regular photos of the pieces and boards of the game. Having those preserved has helped me understand the evolution of both those physical components and the design that shaped them.

Now that I am nearing the end of the design phase and am starting to market the game I am needing to communicate about the game much more, though most of that communication is not design related.


Fall of the last City now has a page on board game geek! Head on over and rate the game if you have played it. Please post questions about the game there and I will provide insightful and entertaining answers!

If you have the time and inclination I would love anyone who has played to post a review!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Day 26: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 26 - Lense 33: The Lens of Rules
To use this lens, look deep into your game until you can make out its most basic structure. Ask yourself these questions:

What are the foundational rules of my game? How do they these differ from the operational rules?
Let me take a shot at this...
Players try to achieve dominance over three aspects the playspace. The three aspects are The Social, The Physical and The Historical. (Historical? Really? Yup...)
Players either gather resources or affect the play space at any one time.
All players affect the play space at the same time.
Players control where they can move in the playspace.
Players try to control the six parts of the playspace.
When the resources run out players may choose to gain dominance in the Historical area of the playspace or continue to gain dominance in the Physical.
Players gain dominance in the Social area of the playspace by interacting with other players.
In each social interaction players can trade social dominance or attempt to gain physical dominance.

Are there "laws" or "house rules" that are forming as the game develops? Should these be incorporated into my game directly?
Many house rules developed and either resulted in new formal rules or drove changes to the game. The practice of raising your fist to signal the end or the turn was a house rule. There is a rule around the edge case of placing warriors while someone is trying to take over your base that is strangely special case and I would like to remove... but I am not sure how.

Are there different modes in my game? Do they make things simpler or more complex? Would the game be better with more or less modes?
There are at least two distinct modes to the game, play and challenges. The types of turn actions may be modes for individual players but both modes can be active at the same time for different players. The two pats of the game, main play and the city siege are probably also different modes. I think all of these are necessary and while their combination does cause complexity I think that it is the kind of complexity that I am looking for.

Who enforces the rules?
The players should be enforcing the rules on themselves. No cheating is just a rule. However having a arbitrator 'The Teller' as a non player role also works well.

Are the rules easy to understand, or are they confusing? If confusing, should I change the rules or explain them more clearly?
The rules are simple enough once they are known, the set is relatively small and there aren't too many details, compared to games like Shadows over Brimstone, or even Chess. However they are different enough from other games and need to be fully understood before play can begin in earnest that they are difficult to explain. That required a interesting technique to teach the game by playing the first few rounds. It turned out that all of the possible moves are used in the first few rounds. I wrote a tutorial that is a kind of dialogue that seems to work well.