Sunday, September 24, 2017

Showing at BFig 2017

I was able to show Fall of the Last City at the Boston Festival of Independent Games 2017 yesterday! Here are a few shots of the game in action:

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Returning to BFig!

Fall of the Last City will be returning to BFig this year in it's latest form! Come check us out in the tabletop expo! (And you know, vote for us for the audience choice award!)

Apocalypse in the woods!

I had a recent playtest while on vacation 'camping' in the woods of Pennsylvania.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Day 115 FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

This is it! Day 115 and the 113th unique lense! It's taken more than half a year to work through the whole deck, but it was a journey worth taking.

Day 115 - Lens 93: The Nameless Quality
Certain things feel special and wonderful because of their natural, organic design. To ensure that your game has these properties, ask yourself these questions:

Does my design have a special feeling of life, or do parts of my design feel dead?  What would make my design more alive?
I think that Fall of the Last City feels very alive. I think that the simple mechanics and the emergent gameplay that they foster accomplish that well. The life of the game comes from the fact that the other five players are acting independently for their goals and the game will play out differently every time it is played. The difficulty curve of the game emerges from the skill of the players. As a group of players gains skill the gameplay becomes more difficult and nuanced.

Which of Alexander's fifteen qualities does my design have?
1. Levels of Scale. We see levels of scale in “telescoping goals, ” where a player has to satisfy short-term goals to reach mid-term ones and to eventually reach long term goals. We see it in fractal interest curves. We also see it in nested game world structures. Spore is a symphony of levels of scale.
Yes, this quality shows in the control of a base/control of a territory/control of the wasteland. In an alliance with one other player vs. the global network of all the alliances.

2. Strong Centers. We see this in visual layout, certainly, but also in our story structure. The avatar is at the center of our game universe — and generally we prefer strong avatars over weak ones. Also, we prefer strong centers when it comes to our purpose in the game — our goal.
The bases provide strong centers as do the players pawns, and the City anchors the whole board.
3. Boundaries. Many games are primarily about boundaries! Certainly any game about territory is an exploration of boundaries. But rules are another kind of boundary, and a game with no rules is no game at all.
Bases and paths have strong boundaries as do the territories. 
4. Alternating Repetition. We see this on the pleasing shape of the chessboard, and we see it too in the cycle of level/boss/level/boss that comes up in so many games. Even tense/release/tense/release is an example of pleasing alternating repetition
The six territories and the division of paths and bases provide this.

5. Positive Space. What Alexander means here is that the foreground and background elements both have beautiful, complementary shapes, like Yin and Yang. In a sense a well-balanced game has this quality — allowing multiple alternate strategies to have an interlocked beauty.
The whole of the paths and bases vs. the empty space of the board and the filled and empty spaces within bases demonstrate this.

6. Good Shape. This is as simple as it sounds — a shape that is pleasing. We certainly look for this in the visual elements of our games. But we can see and feel it, too, in level design. A good level feels “solid” and has a “good curve. ”
The overall shape of the board in play and the shapes of the hexaheses provide this.

7. Local Symmetries. This is different from an overall symmetry, like a mirror image; instead referring to multiple small, internal symmetries in a design. Zelda: The Wind Waker has this feeling throughout its architecture — when you are within a room or area, it seems to have a symmetry, but it is connected to other places in a way that feels organic. Rule systems and game balance can have this property as well.
The paths and bases under the control of each of the players embody this.

8. Deep Interlock and Ambiguity. This is when two things are so tightly intertwined that they define each other — if you took one away, the other wouldn’t be itself any longer. We see this in many board games, such as Go. The position of the pieces on the board is only meaningful relative to the opponent’s pieces.
You can see this in the choices of the prisoner's dilemma and in the territory control mechanics.

9. Contrast. In games we have many kinds of contrast. The contrast between opponents, between what is controllable and what is not, and between reward and punishment. When opposites in our game are strongly contrasted, the game feels more meaningful and more powerful.
The consequences of allying vs betraying or having a base well defended enough to discourage attack vs having enough guards with you to force your expansion are examples of this.

10. Gradients. This refers to qualities that change gradually. The gradually increasing challenge curve is an example of this, but so are appropriately designed probability curves.
The increase in a player's power and in the bases they control and in their array of alliances show this, as does the increase in mobility as they lay down paths.

11. Roughness. When a game is too perfect, it has no character. The handmade feeling of “ house rules ”often makes a game seem more alive.
This is shown in the visual design of the game and in the presentation of the rules. Also in the inter player conflict.

12. Echoes. Echoes are a kind of pleasing, unifying repetition. When the boss monster has something in common with his minions, we are experiencing echoes. Good interest curves have this property, especially fractal ones.
You see this in the taking of citizens from the city, the placement of them in bases, the removal of them from enemy bases, the loss of them in challenges and the counting of them for the control of the city.

13. The Void. As Alexander says, “In the most profound centers which have perfect wholeness, there is at the heart a void which is like water, infinite in depth, surrounded by and contrasted with the clutter of the stuff and fabric all around it. ” Think of a church, or the human heart. When boss monsters tend to be in large, hollow spaces, we are experiencing the void.
The emptiness of the wasteland at the beginning of the game and the emptyness of the city before it's fall show this.
14. Simplicity and Inner Calm. Designers talk endlessly about how important it is for a game to be simple — usually with a small number of rules that have emergent properties. Of course, these rules must be well-balanced, which gives them the inner calm that Alexander describes.
I think the limited rule set works in this direction though I feel like there are still a few rough edges here...

15. Not-Separateness. This refers to something being well-connected to its surroundings — as if it was part of them. Each rule of our game should have this property, but so should every element of our game. If everything in our game has this quality, a certain wholeness results that makes the game feel very alive indeed.
I think the level at which all of the elements of my game from the rules to the esthetics to the emergent dynamics are the thing about the game that I am most proud.

Could it have more of them, somehow?
I could always use some more inner calm, and I will try to keep all of these qualities in mind as I make changes to the game going forward.

Where does my design feel like myself?
I think that the contradictions in the game are the things that are most like me. It's a game about taking control of a wasteland with violence... but in the end it calls that goal into question effectively enough that many players choose not to win.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Day 114 FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Wait... It's day 114 and you said there were 113 lenses! What kind of shenanigans are going on in this place?!?
Ok, so there are 113 lenses. But when I started down this road I was using the physical deck of them to draw from. Later I switched to the app. Somehow I screwed it up and ended up repeating a couple of lenses. No one noticed because there are 113 of the little guys and some of them look quite similar. In any case I am almost done, but I will end up with 115 lens posts once I track down all the duplicates and make sure I have answered all of the lenses at least once!

Day 114 - Lens 90: The Lens of Status
When people interact, they take on different behaviors depending on their status levels. To make your characters more aware of each other, ask yourself these questions:

What are the relative status levels of the characters in my game?
With respect to each other the player characters all have the same status... except that one person has taken the role of the person who found the game and is teaching it to the other players. So their wasteland game player character will have higher status. The role that character is playing in the game will be the same as all of the other players though.

In terms of NPC's the Teller has high status as he/she is the narrator.  The players are all playing tribal leaders so they have the highest status in their tribes. With tribal warriors below them.

In the larger world the tribes are below the citizens of the City. In a previous version of the game there were NPC tokens for the 'City Heads' who would have the most status in the game world, until the end of the game anyway.

How can they show appropriate status behaviors?
While all of the players are the 'same' status and are all working together to take down the City, they all know only one person will win so they are vye for power and status throughout the game. At the same time they need to know the rules and will listen to the player who is teaching the game.

Conflicts of status are interesting - how are my characters vying for status?
Throughout the game the players are trying to win, but being in a winning position involves acting against the other players. So players damage their social status with the other players by advancing their game goals in one sense. On the other hand being in the winning position and winning the game confer status in the normal way so players must balance that internal conflict.

How am I giving the player a chance to express status?
The status of players is important every time they enter into a challenge rather than just as a end game result. So having the mechanical advantage throughout the game has ongoing social consequences that affect the game outcome as much as the tactical aspects of the game.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

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

Day 113 - Lens 81: The Lens of Indirect Control
Every Designer has a vision of what they would like the players to do to have an ideal play experience. To help ensure the players will do these things of their own free will, ask yourself these questions:

Ideally, what would I like players to do?
Explore, come into conflict, ally and betray, claim victory or not and then think about what they have done.

Can constraints get players to do it?
I think that they of course help. The rules of the game are designed to shape that play pattern. You must place pieces to move onto. You must place bases to recruit from, you can challenge players when you are next to them. The high player number gives many chances to ally.

Can goals get players to do it?
The goals you have for points mean you need the territory and resources that other players have. In the end the rule that gives you an explicit choice about winning causes the players to reflect on the game in a way that I want. I was unsure if that would work but so far I have gotten positive feedback.

Can interface get players to do it?
I think that the layout of the game encourages the kind of play that I want. Presenting the player with the pieces they can place encourages exploration. Showing the position and progress of other players encourages securing your territory and defending it, or attacking your opponents weakly held territory. Showing the alliance tokens openly encourages players that have not allied to do so.

Can visual design get players to do it?
The game's thematic presentation as a game played in an apocalyptic wasteland helps put players in the ruthless aggressive mindset that I am looking for while distancing them from the real world so that they don't take the actions of other players as seriously as they might if they were playing as themselves... that is only true to the degree that players take on roles.

Can game characters get players to do it?
Well the Teller is literally telling them to behave that way so hopefully that works! Beyond that I hope that my plans to have back story created for the tribes (clans?) will help the players to identify with them and both increase investment and make the actions of other players seem less personal. Those two goals are in conflict and I am not sure to what degree it is possible to pursue both.

Can music get players to do it?
Perhaps. Many board games have provided soundtracks and I have thought of having a stretch goal of creating music for each of the tribes, the game and the climax... that is a huge cost though since I can't do it myself. I may recommend playlists for the game and I could try playtesting it with them and see if it enhanced the game.

Is there some other method I can use to coerce players towards ideal behavior without impinging on their feeling of freedom?
I think that in my case I use the story premise of the game, that it is a reenactment of a event that happened. To justify the rule based goals of the game and give players one more reason to act out the scenario that I have designed to be the most fun.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Day 112 FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 112 - Lens 72: The Lens of Projection
One key indicator that someone is enjoying an experience is that they have projected their imaginations into it. To examine whether your game is well suited to induce projection for your players, ask yourself these questions:

What is there in my game that players can relate to? What else can I add?
Currently the tribe leaders that the players portray in the game are blank slates. I want to have back-story for them available to the players as a kickstarter stretch goal. But for the moment they are non-persons and thus canvas' for projection rather than something identifiable.

The character of the Teller is pretty relatable and charismatic.

What is there in my game that will capture the players' imagination? What else can I add?
I think that the theme is very engaging. The physical presentation of the game shows the theme and invites imagination in a way I like. Giving the players things that they can investigate in the packaging and rules to dig deeper into the world will appeal to a subset of players.

Are there places in the game the players have always wanted to visit?
I think that the idea of the 'Wasteland' of Mad Max or Blood of Heroes has a place in the psyche of most modern game players and appeals to a good chunk of my potential audience as a place they would like to imagine being in.

Are there other characters in the game that the players would be interested to meet (or spy on)?
I think that the teller would be interesting to meet. I want to make the tribe leaders into identifiable characters... but I need to not be the one to do that actual work, so it has to wait until I can pay more diverse developers to do it for me.

Do the players get to do things that they would like to do in real live, but can't?
I think that living out the fantasy of being a conqueror in the Wasteland and bringing order to that chaos, perhaps starting to build a better world is powerful as we often feel like we are sitting on the edge of a catastrophic future that could lead to the world that the game is played in.

Is there any activity in the game that once a player starts doing, it is hard to stop?
Hopefully most of the gameplay fits into this category from the building out your territory to the challenges with other players.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Day 111 FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 111 - Lens 69: The Lens of Interest Curve
What captivates the human mind often seems different for every person - but in fact it is remarkably similar for everyone. To see how a player's interest in your experience changes over time, ask yourself these questions:

If I draw an interest curve of my experience, how is it shaped?
First off interest curves are subjective, so mine does not equate to my players. Second I have worked on the structure of the game a lot to shift the interest curve to its present shape.  My curve as the designer is also not the same as a new player or even an advanced player, it is much more focused on the reactions of the other players and how engaged I need to be to maximize their enjoyment of the game.

The curve I intend of the players starts with a spike then a extended high plateau as they go through the tutorial section, then a tough as they fill out the board to the first conflict or challenge, then a spike for each challenge, then a large spike as they take the city, then a trough as the winner reads the victory note, then a spike if they pass it.

Does it have a hook?
Yes, the hook is the real time description and the esthetic of the game. This seems to be a pretty strong hook and gets most playtesters involved in the game.

Is there gradually rising interest punctuated by periods of rest?
Yes, the game rounds are short but the time from when you finish moving and others are finished is rest, as is the time when others are having a challenge. Of course players are also interested in observing and assessing in that time so it can also be seen as a period of interest. There is not as much rest time in this game as in almost any other game. Even a real time game like Loopin Louie has more rest as it has player elimination so the time you are waiting for the next game is rest.

Is there a grand finale, more interesting than everything else?
Well, that's the idea. I keep reworking the battle for the city to make it shine as the most interesting thing in the game. I am hopeful that the idea of making it be a challenge will help punch up the interest in that fight. Having it be just a straight fight is fast but feels kind of like a let down after all the effort to get there.

What changes would give a better interest curve?
I think the stronger finally is important, it needs to involve allies and the challenge mechanic. I have taught the players all of these mechanics and the finally does not use all of them. I also think there is a rough spot between the end of the tutorial and the first conflict where players are unsure what to do. Perhaps I could suggest that they explain what they have done on their turn for a few rounds until everyone is completely comfortable with what is going on.

Is there a fractal structure to my interest curve, should there be?
I think that there is, and that perhaps that is something that is intrinsic in any real time game. If the game is discrete then there is at least a minimal level of resolution to the interest curve, but with a real time game you can just keep zooming in.

I also think that in any game it would be interesting to zoom out and look at the curve over multiple plays. How does it change from the first to the second to the fifth to the hundredth game?

Do my intuitions about the interest curve match the observed interest of the players? 
They have not always matched, but I have adjusted the game so many times that I think the observed interest is close to my intent.

If I ask players to draw an interest curve, what does it look like?
I don't know! But I will ask players to do it for my next playtest!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Day 110 FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 110 - Lens 65: The Lens of Primality
Some actions and interfaces are so intuitive that animals were doing them millions of years ago. To capture the power of primality, als yourself these questions:

What parts of my game are so primal an animal could play? Why?
While I think the rules are simple and many of the impulses behind the game actions are primal, the specific actions required to play the game are pretty specific and technical. The basic actions of taking territory, fighting enemies, seeking allies... those concepts are primal, but the game is an abstract representation of them.

What parts of my game could be more primal?
Maybe the end game? I keep coming back to that in these final lenses, probably because it's the part of the game that I am least sure of and I keep hoping to find clarity through one of theis views. Realistically though I think that the tone of the game in terms of being visceral is about right.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Day 109 FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 109 - Lens 62: The Lens of Transparency
The ideal interface becomes invisible to the player letting the player's imagination be completely immersed in the game world. To ensure invisibility, ask yourself these questions:

Does the interface let the players do what they want?
Well, within the constraints of the rules the physical interface of the game works well to allow the players to pursue gameplay. I think that it's interesting to consider that in a board game the 'virtual interface is the player's perception and the world is their model of the game in their brain. So in a six player game there are six copies of the game that must be kept in sync by the physical interface of the board sitting between them!

Do new players find the interface intuitive?
The introductory section of the game shows the players all the ways that they can manipulate the game and what all of the abstractions are. While I have had players find some of the subtleties of the game complex, the basic interface that they arise from is usually easily grasped.

Can players learn to use it without thinking?
Yes, by the end of the first game most if not all players are taking all of the possible actions quickly and correctly to further their in game goals.

Can players continue to use the interface during stressful situations?
Yes, and. Yes, players can make all of the required moves under pressure, but the most stressful aspect of the game, the challenges, are broken out into a non-timed format both drawing dramatic tension from them and allowing the player more space to deal with the more complex interactions.

Does something confuse players about the interface? On which of the six interface arrows is it happening?
I think the most confusing aspect of the interface is that it exists for all six players and they must find their own interface among the aggregate interface that is the board. Also they must decode both the state of the overall game and what the state of each player is from the overall interface space. This is complication on the physical output to player arrow.

Do players feel a sense of immersion when using the interface?
I think that the thematic nature of the physical interface draws players into the game compensating for the abstract format. Also the simple interface (rules and pieces) of the game and the real-time play put the players into a state of focus that is different than what they are used to for a game.

Monday, March 27, 2017

GDC Playtesting

I had a chance to playtest FotLC recently at GDC in San Francisco with a group of Conference Associates. I got great feedback and everyone seemed to have a great time!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Day 108 FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 108 - Lens 59: The Lens of Control
This lens has uses beyond just examining your interface, since meaningful control is essential for immersive interactivity. To use this lens, ask yourself these questions:

When players use the interface, does it do what they expected? If not, why not?
The 'interface' is a little complicated, in that the players have a reasonably large number of pieces that they can manipulate. Each piece does a small number of things, and the rules are reasonably clear, but there are still a good number of parts laid out in front of the player at the beginning of the game. I think that while the parts are abstract that their function is inline with their appearance even it it's not self evident from just looking at them. That is to say that paths look like paths and bases look like bases. Your 'pawn' or main piece is larger than your 'warriors' which are less important, and they are larger than the citizens which are least important.

Intuitive interfaces give a feeling of control. Is my interface easy to master, or hard to master?
I think that the interface is easy to master, or at least players have mastered it by the end of the first game. I have yet to see a group of players play more than two games due to the limits of my playtesting opportunities... also to see a couple of new players play with a majority of experienced players.

Do my players feel they have a strong influence over the outcome of the game? If not, how can I change that?
I don't think that players feel this enough. Because of the player driven nature of the game it ironically can feel like things are out of the control of any individual player. I 'think' that in experienced gameplay that players will behave more predictably and that experienced players will feel like they can predict that behavior more reliably and thus feel like they have more control... but that has yet to be proven and I am nervous about it.

Feeling powerful = feeling in control. Do my players feel powerful? Can I make them feel more powerful somehow?
When players take decisive actions they feel in control, ironically these kinds of actions often weaken them in the long term, but that is often not obvious to new players and can leave them later feeling powerless. Even though there is a certain satisfaction for the other players in seeing the mighty fall I don't think that this is a good thing... but again that kind of behavior is a new player thing and may not occur in experienced play.

Day 107: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 107 - Lens 48: The Lens of Simplicity / Complexity
Striking the right balance between simplicity and complexity is difficult. Use this lens to help your game become one in which meaningful complexity rises out of a simple system. Ask yourself these questions:

What elements of innate complexity do I have in my game?
The basic rule structure of Fall of the Last City has some innate complexity, but I don't 'think' too much. It has more than Go, but less than Chess.

Is there a way this innate complexity could be turned into emergent complexity?
I think that there may be a little to be eked out in this direction. I think that I need to write down all of the rules without thought of explanation. All of my rule sets so fer have been aimed at understandability and explanation. That has made it difficult to look at all of the rules in there most reduced form. The rule set for the game is not something like 7 pages with illustrations. That's low for a game that has worker placement and resource management etc. But it's too much to keep in my head all at once. I think that a minimal listing of the rules might let me see where the actual innate complexity lies and how to trim some of it away.

Do elements of emergent complexity arise from my game? If not, why not?
Yes! There is a huge amount of emergent complexity. I have a hard time not including explanations of some of it in the rules. I want players to understand how the rules generate the complexity so that they don't miss the possibilities in their play. Hopefully my hint system will allow me to introduce the emergent ideas that might be missed into play without bogging down the game.

Are there elements of my game that are too simple?
I think that the endgame, which was too complex with the taking heads mechanic, is now to simple. I am not sure what a better end game would be. Perhaps alliances should factor into it somehow?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Day 106: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 106 - Lens 44: The Lens of Cooperation
Collaborating and succeeding as a team is a special pleasure that can create lasting social bonds. Use this lens to study the cooperative aspects of your game. Ask yourself these questions:

Cooperation requires communication. Do my players have enough opportunity to communicate? How could communication be enhanced?
Yes and no, players can take as much time as they would like to communicate... however they are not provided with time exclusively to communicate within the normal turn. In a challenge there is explicit time provided for communication. I think that most of the time there is enough communication in the game. Making some of the hint notes be about the importance of communication might be a good idea.

Are my players friends already, or are they strangers? If they are strangers, can I help break the ice?
I have playtested with friends and strangers. I think that in most cases players will already know each other at the point that they are sitting down to play the game. Or at least they will know some of the other players. Adding a formal introduction round to the fully themed game might be good. I am always looking for ways to hang more ceremony on the frame of the game, and names are good elements to include.

Is there synergy (2+2 = 5) or antergy (2+2 = 3) when the players work together? Why?
It is very unlikely that all of the players will ever cooperate. However players cooperating are far stronger than players being independent, that makes alliances matter a lot. If all the players decided to cooperate then the game would lose its teeth though.

Do all the players have the same role, or do they have special jobs?
Mechanically all of the players have the same role. One player is probably taking the role of the new Teller and reading the rules. Strategically the players may take on leader or follower or traitor or rebel roles. I could probably talk about those roles and their consequences somewhere, maybe in the hint notes.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Day 105: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 105 - Lens 27: The Lens of Time
It is said that "timing is everything". Our goal as designers is to create experiences, and experiences are easily spoiled when they are too short or too long. Ask yourself these questions to make yours just the right length:

What is it that determines the length of my gameplay activities?
The game has a built in timer in the form of the resource pool in the center of the board. There are 30 citizens per player. Players can draw from 1-3 items from the board each round. They may not draw every round so the game would take 20 rounds on average per game, on average.

Are my players frustrated because the game ends too early, or bored because it takes too long?
I have tried adjusting the number a bit. The game runs fine at 20 per player, but it does not have much middle or room for players to be aggressive toward each other... and with more than 30 the game gets kind of repetitive in them middle.

Setting a time limit can make gameplay more exciting. Is it a good idea for my game?
The overall time limit works well. Having a per turn time limit turns out to be a bad idea. I wanted one very badly, but it just makes the game stressful and un-fun. I allow a timer to be activated by any two players in order to break deadlock situations where two or more players do not want to move first. This does not happen often but does require a rule to resolve it.

Would a hierarchy of time structures help my game?
There is one, and yes they were necessary to make the game flow as desired.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Day 104: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 104 - Lens 24: The Lens of Novelty
Different isn't always better, but better is always different.
-Scotty Meltzer
To ensure you harness the powerful motivation of novelty, ask yourself these questions:

What is novel about my game?
Er, almost everything...
The board is painted canvas and the game pieces are all metal.
The game is played in realtime rounds.
The game includes a iterative prisoner's dilemma.
The game includes limited resources that act as it's timer.
The end game includes all players.
Scoring takes both social and tactical elements into account.

Does my game have novelties throughout or just at the beginning?
Novelty in the game is distributed throughout its structure, including the end game mechanics.

Do I have the right mix of the novel and the familiar? When the novelty wears off, will players still enjoy my game?
The ideas of territory control and worker placement are common in modern and classic board games. If the game is balanced then it should hold up to repeated play.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Day 103: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 103 - The Lens of Motivation
Every game is a complex ecosystem of motivations. To examine them more closely, ask yourself these questions:

What motivations do players have to play my game?
Many motivations apply to any game such as:
to have fun
to socialize with friends
to fulfill social obligation to friends who want to play
to achieve mastery over something difficult
to achieve mastery over their friends
to understand the story of the game
to maintain gaming literacy

Some are specific to my game (or a game)
because they like THIS game
because they like me and feel social obligation
because the realistic post apocalyptic setting speaks to them
because the idea of real time board games is interesting
because the have played and like the real time aspect
because the prisoners dilemma social aspect is interesting to them

Which motivations are the most internal:
Having fun and liking this game are pretty internal. The drive for mastery is sometimes internal but more easily motivated by external forces. Most of the motivations though are some complex interaction of internal and external elements. I may enjoy the social challenges in the game both because I want to interact in fun ways with my friends and because it lets me outwit them and I perceive that as granting me social status.

Which are the most external?
See above. The more I think about the source of the above motivations the more I think a binary internal external designation is mostly meaningless.

Which are pleasure seeking?
Having fun, pursuing the story of the game/game world.

Which are pain-avoiding?
Avoiding losing. Avoiding being betrayed.

Which motivations support each other?
It's possible that there is such a density of motivations in the game due to the many aspects of the social and tactical play that they are just a mess. Or it's possible that reaching a certain motivational density allows the players to construct a set of motivations for themselves (or selectively perceive their motivations) in a way that makes the game feel deeply and naturally meaningful.

Which motivations are in conflict?
Having fun and not losing are probably in some conflict. Which is to say if you fail at not losing then you are probably also not having fun. Social obligation and fun are probably in conflict. Other things are just not related much at all like being interested in a real time game and liking the setting.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Day 102: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 102 - Lens 37: The Lens of Fairness

To use this lens, evaluate the game from each player's point of view and skill level.  Find a way to give each player a chance of winning that each will consider to be fair. Ask yourself these questions:

Should my game be symmetrical? Why?
Yes, the game should be symmetrical. While asymmetric six way multiplayer sounds interesting, that's not a feat I want to mix with the challenge of real time play and the balance of tactics and diplomacy that I am focusing on with this game. The symmetry makes the fairness of the game more clear, and that's important when throwing a bunch of new mechanics at the player.

Should my game be asymmetrical? Why?
Yes, well I at least think that a little asymmetry to allow handicapping experienced players is on the table for consideration. Things like starting more experienced players with fiewer potential warriors, or fewer paths. 

The board starts out empty but will essentially always be built in an asymmetrical way, so while the game is balanced and each player has symmetrical potential, the game as it manifests will not be symmetrical.

Which is more important: that my game is a reliable measure of who has the most skill, or that it provide an interesting challenge to all players?
Ok, so both is a cheap answer. So, while both are goals I want the game to be an interesting challenge for all players. I also kind of think that that is the wrong answer. I think that I should probably put more focus on making the game a measure of skill, and that is the stone that will polish the edge of the game's interest, particularly in repeated play.

If I want players of different skill levels to play together, what means will I use to make the game interesting and challenging for everyone?
Since the game is social and skill based I think there are two parts. The first is making the new players awair in the rules/tutorial that they should stick together and work against advanced players. Advanced players should be aware that they need the alliance of other players to win, so knocking a new player out of the running makes them a dangerous loose cannon... etc.

However there may also be the ability to apply handicaps to make the game more mechanically balanced for different levels of skill.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Day 101: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 101 - Lens 63: The Lens of Feedback
The player's feedback from the game comes from many things: judgment, reward, instruction, encouragement, and challenge. Use this lens to be sure your feedback loop is creating the experience you want by continuously asking these questions:

What do players need to know at this moment?
Looking at this question at this moment in development, but integrated over the course of the game will show a progression of things that the players want.

At the opening of the game players need to know the goal of the game. Then they need to know how to play the game. Then they need to know how to go about winning the game. Then they need to know that the game will end soon. Then they need to know who won.  That sounds kind of silly written down, but in the process of designing it is less clear.

What do players want to know at this moment?
At the opening of the game players want to know what it’s like. Then they want to know who they are in the game. Then they want to know what they can do. Then they want to know why they should be doing it… though they should probably know that sooner. Then they want to know where they are going. In the end they want to know what they have done and why it mattered.

I try to match the feedback that the game is giving the players to their wants and needs. Largely I use the esthetic of the game and then the narrative voice of the Teller in the instructions. I try, though this is hard, to make the shape of the game lend its self to helping the players form the above questions and then discover the answers to them. Given the dynamic nature of almost every aspect of this game and the limits of being a board game that will probably never be as effective or clever as it might sound.

What do I want players to feel at this moment? How can I give feedback that creates that feeling?
I want players to feel intrigued, then excited, then to feel mounting stress… though not to the point of discomfort. Then I want to punctuate that time of tension with spurts of fear and disappointment or elation. Then to feel determination, then suspense then relief and satisfaction with the outcome. (Hey, you asked)

The esthetics and mechanics of the game are intended to create those feelings… or I have watched those feelings emerge from the esthetics and dynamics and iteratively adjusted things to produce them as clearly and reliably as I can.

What do the players feel at this moment? Is there an opportunity for them to create a situation where they will feel that?
I think that the wants of players are les specific than the intended emotional payload of my game! I think that they want to be excited to find out about the game. Challenged by the moment to moment gameplay. I think they want to experience feelings of competence and mastery over the game. Possibly to feel superior to the other players. In the end players want to feel that they understand what happened. If they win they want to feel like they understand why, and that is even more true if they lose.

What is the player's goal at this moment? What feedback will help them toward that goal?
On some level it is to have a good time… by meeting the needs and wants above. The above affordances may provide that, if they don’t then the game is probably the thing that needs to change, not the needs and wants.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Day 100: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 100 - Lens 84: The Lens of the World
The world of your game is a thing that exists apart. Your game is a doorway to this magic place that exists only in the imagination of your players. To ensure your world has power and integrity, ask yourself these questions:

How is my world better than the real world?
The players have the autonomy to change the world, and a clear pah to try to do it. In most narrative ways the game world is dystopian and not at all better than the real world.

Can there be multiple gateways to my world? 
How do they differ? 
How do they support each other?
Right now there might be two gateways, the gameplay itself and the fiction found in the game documents. I want to expand that fiction and perhaps add art around the game and perhaps even music. All of these would be in the form of artifacts from the game world. The game is very different than the fiction of the world, however the fiction and the art of the world are similar. All of the aspects of world building are describing the same place and they all are structured to support the action of playing the game.

Is my world centered on a single story, or could many stories happen there?
Right now the world is centered on one story, but it's an interesting world and the possibility of more is at the very least implied.

Day 99: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 99 - Lens 6: The Lens of Curiosity
To use this lens, think about the player's true motivations - not just the goals your game has set forth, but the reason the player wants to achieve those goals. Ask yourself these questions:

What questions does my game put into the player's mind?
What are the other players doing?
Is the other player going to ally or fight with me in this challenge?
Should I (lots of strategic questions)?
What happened to this world?
Why should the city fall?
Who are the tribes?
Who was the Teller?
What does the "Read this iffin you win" message say?

What am I doing to make them care about thee questions?
The game related questions are given importance by the player's desire to win.
The world related questions are posed both by the game structure and setting and by the explicit writing of the rules and instructions, and eventually by the tribal histories. I try to make the world interesting and compelling by making the presentation of the game very authentic, by making it seem like a real artifact from a real place. I hope that will give it metaphorical as well as literal weight.

What can I do to make them invent even more questions?
Encouraging strategic table talk would cause more game related questions to be raised. Encouraging role play would raise more world related questions. I might be able to pose some of those questions as marginalia in the game documents which could put question asking into the players minds...

Day 98: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 98 - Lens 5: The Lens of Fun
Fun is desirable in nearly every game, though sometimes fun defies analysis. To maximize your game's fun, ask yourself these questions:

What parts of my game are fun?
Challenges are very fun now. The moving and taking bases is engaging, taking someone else's base is fun, particularly if they are not expecting it. I think that the social aspects in general are strong. The fast pace makes the game engaging and the mechanical play allows strategy, but most of the fun comes from the social parts. Though the fun of executing a strategy and hoping others don't see what you are doing can be strong when it happens.

What parts need to be more fun?
The end game could be more fun.  Oooh! I rephrase that to 'Winning needs to be more fun.' I still haven't found the balance between it taking too long, and being over before it's begun. And between it not being important and it deciding the game every time.

It's interesting to see the times when players find one part of the game fun vs. another. It has depended on both the types of players and on the way a particular game is played. Players that like pure strategy tend to find those aspects of the game fun, and players that like social games, or just being social like those aspects of the game. Interestingly everyone is happy with the strategy aspects even if they don't love strategy.  In terms of specific games the social aspect really shines when there is at least one performative player playing up the social aspects.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Day 97: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 97 - Lens 8: The Lens of Problem Solving
Every game has problems to solve. To use this lens, think about the problems your players must solve to succeed at your game. Ask yourself these questions:

What problems does my game ask the player to solve?
There are a normal set of game problems posed: How do you optimize your resource collection, when should you attack your fellow players, when should you make alliances and break them. But there are also some less normal ones like how should you connect the parts of the play spaces to each other so that you maintain control over them in real time play when you are not near them. Or, what should you pay attention to in a game where there are too many things happening for you to track all of them reliably.

Are there hidden problems to solve that arise as part of the gameplay?
I think that most of the interesting problems are hidden. They are things that are not part of the rules but that players realize as they play the game for the first time. I often hear comments like "I thought this was a game about 'X' but halfway through I realized it's actually about 'Y'! The comment is usually said in a pleased way, the players don't feel tricked, they feel clever for having discovered a deeper understanding of the game.

How can my game generate new problems so that players keep coming back?
I think, hope, that players strategies will develop in ways that continually challenge the players to try new strategies and make the game very replayable. I have resisted adding more complicated layers of play to the game because I want to have the simple mechanics generate the complexity through interaction with the players. Having six players means that even a little added mechanical complexity would make the game vastly more complex. However, adding to the mechanics is always a possibility if the game as it stands now fails to generate enough strategic depth.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Day 96: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 96 - Lens 68: The Lens of Moments
Memorable moments are stars that make up the constellation of your interest curve. To chart what is most important, ask yourself these questions:

What are the key moments in my game?

  • Opening the game has become a reliable moment. Seeing that the game materials are all 'in character' seems to get people's attention.
  • The first challenge reliably changes the way that people are interacting with the game and each other. 
  • The first betrayal. 
  • The final challenge can be tense if several people think they have a shot. 
  • And for the right players reading the victory note can be good.

How can I make each moment as powerful as possible?
I think the game does a pretty good job at calling out those moments. There are natural pauses in those places and the reactions of the other players reinforce the experience.

There are other moments, but the game is so driven by player action that they vary from game to game, but almost every game generates stories.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Day 95: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 95 - Lens 61: The Lens of Virtual Interface
Designing virtual interfaces can be very tricky. Ask these questions to make sure that your virtual interface is enhancing the player experience as much a possible:

What information does a player need that isn't obvious just by looking at the game world?
Players need to know that alliances are between other players. This 'could' be hidden information, but exposing it through an interface allows for more strategic play and avoids rules mistakes.

How many warriors they have in their tribe.

What the other players will do next!

When does the player need this information?
You need to know the state of alliances constantly as it effects not just your direct interactions with players but also your movement through your allies territory, and the movement of your opponents through the territory of their allies.

You need to have a general idea of your warrior number at all times but need to be able to check it when you place warriors and when you are in a challenge with another player.

You need to know the thoughts and plans of other players constantly, but most when you are in a challenge with them.

How can this information be delivered to the player in a way that won't interfere with the player's interactions with the game world?
The alliance state uses tokens placed next to the player's base on the board to show his alliances.

You can asses your warrior count by lifting your tribe bag to get a general sense of how many warriors you have, and look into the bag when needed to get an exact count.

Your opponents faces are your window into their thoughts. Because this is a board game we have real human faces, and reading them is a time honored and engaging part of competitive games. Challenges pause primary play allowing the time needed for this kind of interface access ;)

Are there elements of the game world that are easier using a virtual interface (like a popup menu) than direct interaction?
I think the elements I identified were easier to indicate off of the game board. I could have done something more tied to the pawn for the alliances, Like having a washer of the alliance color that would slip over a bolt attached to the pawn... I 'think' associating the alliance with the player not the pawn is better... but it's something to think about.

What kind of virtual interface is best suited to my physical interface?
I think that in the context of a board game a 'true' virtual interface would be a secondary player board or character sheet. I have eliminated any need for those in my game outside of the alliance tokens and warrior bags. Because the game is real time those kinds of interfaces are just to slow and fiddly to be viable. So any virtual interfaces used must be very simple and fast to use and read.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Day 94: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 94 - Lens 43: The Lens of Competition
Competitive games can satisfy the basic human urge to determine who is the most skilled. Use this lens to ensure that people want to win your game. Ask yourself these questions:

Does my game give a fair measurement of player skill?
Yes, in that the game is symmetrical and involves no chance. The game rewards situational awareness and both tactical/strategic thinking and politics.

Do people want to win my game? Why?
Yes, in that players usually want to win a competitive game that they sit down to win. The game reinforces that though the course of play by setting up conflict situations where players act against each other and then later inevitably (or at least very often) sets up situations that allow revenge. By the end of the game players are often more interested in who is 'winning' a particular back and forth with another player than in winning the game as a whole. That is intentional and both reinforces my theme and allows players who do not win the game (5/6th of all players) to feel satisfied with their performance. One could call it 'facilitating the formation of secondary goals', or maybe just 'revenge is sweet'.

Is winning this game something people can be proud of? Why?
Yes, because it's difficult. The note that players read when they win points out all of the things that they have to have demonstrated to win the game, and that it's really something to be proud of. At the same time, the game tries to point out through play and explicitly in the victory text that the kinds of behaviors that allowed the player to win are not necessarily positive qualities outside of the game space.

Can novices meaningfully compete at my game?
Yes, particularly if playing against other novices, or working together with other novices against experienced players.

Can experts meaningfully compete at my game?
Yes, I think... I have not had a chance to playtest with the same players dozens of the times. But again the game is symmetrical and has no chance, so if if provides enough place for deep strategies then it will hold up to expert play.

Can experts generally be sure they will defeat novices?
One to one yes, though several novices working together would make life very difficult for an expert. It's possible that in more even matches, say three experts and three novices, that I could give a larger pool of warriors to the novices to even things out, or an extra ally token. But for now I am keeping things symmetrical.

Day 93: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 93 - Lens 85: The Lens of the Avatar
The avatar is the player's gateway into the world of the game. To ensure your avatar brings out as much of the player's identity as possible, ask yourself these questions"

Is my avatar an ideal form that will appeal to my players?
No? I mean the avatar is the Pawn, and the pawn and the whole game is abstract so it's not an ideal form of the actual player in the way that Link or Lara Croft might be. That said I do intend it to be something that the players project themselves onto in terms or imagining themselves as the leader of their tribe moving around the wasteland fighting and making alliances and bringing down the Last City.

Does my avatar have iconic qualities that let a player project themselves into the character?
Other than being abstract I don't really think that there are any relatable qualities to the avatar. Being a nut and washer makes it both like the players warriors and the citizens of the city and something more... but again, very abstract.

I do want to add short stories for each of the tribes that give background on why they are fighting to overthrow the City. I want them to make the idea of each tribe distinct. I don't particularly want to use the stories to create a better canvas for the player to project himself onto but rather to rather the opposite, to give the tribe and leader more character so that the players are asked to consider their point of view. I hope it will be a little uncomfortable and thought provoking.

Day 92: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 92 - Lens 75: The Lens of Simplicity and Transcendence
To make sure you have the right mix of simplicity and transcendence, ask yourself these questions:

How is my world simpler that the real world? How can it be simpler in other ways?
I feel like it's simpler in every aspect of the world that it represents. All of the things that you do in the game are very consciously simplified stylized representations of real world actions. While the game did not start out that way, the process of iteration and a gradually clearer understanding of what my game is about allowed the game to become a representation and model of its meaning.

I have recently removes a section of end game mechanics that represented a logical part of the overthrow of the city but complicated the flow too much. I think that I might try replacing it with a simpler attack round that would have a similar emotional effect since removing it may make the game now end too abruptly...

What kind of transcendent power do I give to the player? How can I give them even more without removing the challenge from the game?
Leadership. The player has absolute power over their tribe and the ability to recruit new members, send them off to fight and die, to build bases and control territory and to make alliances or attack their neighbors.

Is my contribution of simplicity and transcendance contrived, or does it provide my players with a special kind of wish fulfilment?
I think that the simplicity and power of the game actions flows naturally from the theme and mechanics f the game.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Day 91: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 91 - Lens 26: The Lens of Functional Space
To use this lens, think about the space in which your game really takes place when all surface elements are stripped away. Ask yourself these questions:

Is the space of this game discrete or continuous?
Yes. Ok, that's a little confusing. My game features both discrete and continuous spaces. I seem to have broken all the rules when making this game. The playfield was once a set of discrete hex's but now it is a more complex hybrid. You can place your paths anywhere and position matters, so it's continuous. But, it is divided up into seven areas and whether your bases are in one area or another matters, so in that way it is discreet. The same is true for paths. They are discreet as being on a path makes you adjacent to other paths but it does not matter where on the path you are. But it is also continuous because if there is another player on the same path then they can block you, so position matters.

How many dimensions does it have?
Two. There is some stacking of pieces, but for the purpose of game play it's really just two.

What are the boundaries of the space?
The boundaries are marked on the board or are the edge of the pieces, but the board boundaries are loose and enforced by the scoring rules rather than by rules strictly defining them.

Are there sub-spaces? How are they connected?
Yes! Each path and base is a sub-space. And since the players can place and move these the play space is dynamic. It is defined in one way by the areas of the map which are static, but the movement of the pawn happens within the sub-space of the placed paths, bases and warriors. Sub spaces connect and disconnect as the players move paths and bases.

Is there more than one useful way to abstractly model the space of this game?
I think I want to draw out some diagrams of the connected points model and see if it shows anything about the game. I'll attach the sketches below after I finish them.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Day 90: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 90 - Lens 53: The Lens of Balance
There are many types of game balance, and each is important. However, it is easy to get lost in the details, and forget the fig picture. Use this simple lens to get out of the mire, ask yourself the only important question:

Does my game feel right?
Saying 'mostly' doesn't feel very satisfying... saying 'Yes!' feels arrogant and overconfident. I 'think' that my game feels mostly right. I think that it needs to have a bit more tension. I think it's probably good that that tension can be lacking for players learning the game and that as players become comfortable with the mechanics that they will apply pressure on each other and that that will ratchet up the tension to the level I would like to see.

I have been messing with the end game a little and I think that removing the head taking makes the end of the game feel less well defined. I also think that that section of the game didn't add a lot to the game other than that sense of a defined ending. Removing it raises the point value of the other aspects of the game, which is good.  I think that with another couple of iterations on the end game mechanics that part will feel right. Probably It's just a mater of making the end of the game trigger when a player moves onto the last city... making the game end the following turn. Doing that would allow the other players to take the capturing players bases, but then not be able to challenge for the city, or to move to the city to challenge, which is what the head taking accomplished in a much more complex way.

So, I think the 'feel' of the game is right, but that I still need to iterate on some small details a bit.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Day 89: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 89 - Lens 31: The Lens of Action
To use this lens, think about what your players can do and what they can't, and why. Ask yourself these questions:

What are the basic actions in my game?
Place/Pick-up Path/Base
Place/Pick-up Guards
Move Pawn

What are the strategic actions?
Increase warrior count size by recruiting
Control movement by placing/picking-up paths
Collect Paths to limit movement control of other players
Control territories by placing bases
Increase recruitment capacity by controlling more bases
Take warriors from bases to increase Tribe size
Place warriors on bases to control them
Place warriors on bases to support allies
Weaken opponents by taking their bases
Ally with opponents to gain warriors
Ally with opponents to gain victory points
Ally with opponents to gain passage through their territories
Betray opponents to take their bases and warriors
Fight opponents to take their warriors
Capture the Last City to secure control of territories.

What strategic actions would I like to see? How can I change my game in order to make those possible?
I have made many iterations of changes to end up where I am now. I think I have it close to right. I think that iterating on this question was probably the primary driver for most of my development.

Am I happy with the ratio for strategic to basic actions?
Yes. I think that the limited number of basic actions creates a satisfying number of strategic actions.

What actions do players wish they could do in my game that they cannot? Can I somehow enable these, either as basic or strategic actions?
Players have wished many things! Some would have made the game worse, and I know because I tried them. For instance placing warriors on paths. That made movement much more complex and didn't provide the territory control stability that players wanted. I ended up limiting the total warrior number to achieve that effect. Players wanted to do more on their turns, I end up letting them do everything, or recruit. That gave them a meaningful choice, and also a lot of strategic freedom. There are a thousand (or several dozen) design choices like those!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Day 88: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 88 - Lens 16: The Lens of Risk Mitigation
Because the sage always confronts difficulties, he never experiences them.
-Tao Te Ching

To use this lens, stop thinking positively, and start to seriously consider the things that could go horribly wrong with your game. Ask yourself these questions:

What could keep this game from being great?
I think that the biggest risk is that the strategy does not go deep enough, that either there is a reliable way to win, or that player actions do not have a strong enough or consistent enough effect on the outcome of the game to allow players to form meaningful strategy.

How can we stop that from happening?
More playtesting. Having smart strategic players pound on the game to see if it holds up and fixing problems when I find them.  Also to be fair learning more about strategic games to be better at assessing mine.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Day 87: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 87 - Lens 18: The Lens of Passion
At the end of each prototype, when you are carefully mitigating risks and planning what to do next, don't forget to check how you feel about your game with these important questions:

Am I filled with blinding passion about how great this game will be?
I like this game a lot, and it doesn't take much to get me excited about it, but development can be a long road and believing in something and knowing it's good can be as valuable as being passionate about it.

If I've lost passion, can I find it again?
I don't think I have lost passion, I think my passion is measured and subject to understanding what I want to accomplish with this game.  All it takes to relight my desire to work on the game is seeing one person play it and love the experience.

If the passion isn't coming back, shouldn't I be doing something else?
I think that depends. Producing art and craft can be hard and not always a work of joy and passion.  If you don't care about your game, then sure, go do something else. But sometimes you have to put in the un-fun time and make yourself work when you would rather be doing something else if you want to finish your game. There is a time for the art and passion to drive development, and there is a time for persistence and craft to drive it. The larger and longer a project is the more true that is.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Day 86: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 86 - Lens 86: The Lens of Character Function
To make sure your characters are doing everything your game needs them to do, ask yourself these questions:

What are the roles I need the characters to fill?
The teacher roll is filled by the 'Teller' NPC character. The 'Pawns', or leaders of the tribes are at the moment non-characters that are filled by the players. I don't think that the abstract strategic game needs them to be anything else. I plan on giving them character and background as an optional add-on for players that get caught up in the lore. They will give motivation to the players as to why they want the city to fall. It's a theme and secret purpose thing not a mechanics one.

What characters have I already imagined?
The Teller is pretty much fully formed. The idea of the Pawns is there but I have resisted making them specific because I think I need to find people with the right backgrounds to do that writing.

Which characters map well to which roles?
The characters exist to fill specific roles in my case.  I don't have any characters that represent the citizens... if I did I am not sure what role they would fill, but I should think about that.

Can any characters fit more than one role?
I am not sure, the characters are few and role specific so this may just not apply. Or maybe this kind of thing will become clear when I get to creating characters for the pawns. It's something to talk about with the writers I find.

Do I need to change the characters to better fit the roles?
Perhaps. I think about changing the teller to be The Teller, as in the first teller who created the game. And perhaps they were one of the actual tribal leaders that represent the pawns... that kind of thing. I don't know if I want to make the game smaller and more anonymous to make the game world seem bigger, or to make the game more important a part of the world.

DO I need any new characters?
Maybe the citizens. I have to think on what they would represent... guilt maybe? They would be ancillary in anycase and not mechanically important.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Day 85: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 85 - Lens 29: The Lens of Secrets
Change who has what information, and you change your game completely. To use this lens, think about who knows what and why.

What is known by the game only?
With new players the contents of the 'Read this if you win' note are secret, but nothing from the main gameplay.

What is known by all players?
The state of paths on the board. The number of citizens remaining in the city. The number of ally tokens that each player has. How many guards each player has placed.

What is known by some or only one player?
The number of guards in your tribe bag. In a challenge, how many guards you have committed and which side of your challenge token is up.

Would changing who knows what information improve my game in some way?
I think that this is a good balance, however knowing those things is dependant on players situational awareness and not all players will know all the knowable things at any given moment. That can make the game seem unfair to less observant players. The skill can be learned and is an important part of the game, but I worry about it ruining the game for new players.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Day 84: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 84: Lens 36: The Lens of Chance
To use this lens, focus on the parts of your game that involve randomness and risk, keeping in mind that those two things are not the same. Ask yourself these questions:

What in my game is truly random? What just feels random?
Nothing. There is no randomness in my game. Everything that feels random is actually the behavior of other players that a player fails to predict.

Does the randomness give the players positive feelings of excitement and challenge, or negative feelings of hopelessness and lack of control?
Both I think. I have tried to make the game forgiving enough that suffering from the actions of another player doesn't ruin the fun of the game, but at the same time give the actions of players weight so that they feel that they can have a meaningful effect on each other. It's a tough balance and I may not have gotten it right yet.

Would changing my probability curves improve my game?
There are no probability curves, but I can adjust things like the rewards and penalties for specific actions in the game. That has a similar effect on the feel of the game as adjusting the probability curves on a game with randomness.

Do players have the opportunity to take interesting risks?
Oh yes. Just because there is no randomness does not mean that there is no risk. But rather than their being the risk that you will randomly fail the risk is that you have misjudged the possible actions of the other players. I think this is much more meaningful, but I recognize that it can also be much more frustrating because you can not blame your failures on chance or luck.

What is the relationship between chance and skill in my game?
There is no chance, so there is a complete dependance on skill in terms of the unexpected effects that you encounter in the game. That said sometimes players take non-rational actions and anticipating those is hard. Failing to do so can feel bad, and that's a problem that I am not sure that there is a complete solution to other than mitigating the consequences to within players tollerence for their own failure.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Day 83: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 83 - Lens 12: The Lens of Resonance
To use the Lens of Resonance, you must look for hidden power. Ask yourself these questions:

What is it about my game that feels powerful and special?
I think the gamespace that it creates. The real time nature of the game gives it a kind of focus that creates a strong 'magic circle' or sense of a playspace. The social rules of the game enforce the theme of the game and color that playspace. So I want to say that the 'experience of play' is powerful... or perhaps 83 lenses into this excercise my head has worked its way up my posterior...

When I describe my game to people, what ideas get them really excited?
'Post-Apocalyptic Real Time Strategy' does a pretty good job. I think it varies a bit depending on what the players like.

If I had no constraints of any kind, what would this game be like?
There are two answers to this I guess. As a board game it would be of authentic components, I would make it as available as possible to play with as much ceremony and theme as possible, running it at cons and things like 'Wasteland Weekend' with a booth and costumes etc. I would get artwork and writing to support the fiction of the tribes giving them deep history for players that got into it, raising the thematic stakes of the setting of the game.

The second answer is that I would develop the AR game that inspired the game. That game would be very different, but I think that the strategic bones would be the same... though the theme would have to be very different, either Cyberpunk or alternate reality.

I have certain instincts about how this game should be. What is driving those instincts?
The desire to make an elegant game and the desire to make a meaningful game. Also the desire to make the game the best that it can be and to hone my design skills against it.

Day 82: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 82 - Lens 25: The Lens of Judgement
To decide if your game is a good judge of the players, ask yourself these questions:

What does my game judge about the players?
Ruthlessness, honesty, capacity for social manipulation. Tactical planning. Strategic planning. The desire to win vs the desire to be a hero.

How does it communicate this judgement?
By putting the player in a position where they must exhibit the capacities or make the moral decisions.

Do players feel the judgement is fair?
I think that they feel forced into the situations when they are aware of them. It's either 'Ah, I see what you are doing here.' or not knowing how they are being judged.

Do they care about the judgement?
Perhaps not as much as I would like them to. I think that they care about the social judgment of the other players. I think they internally feel the judgment of the game in terms of how well they do. In the end game choice I want to point out the judgment and give them one final clear choice that I 'hope' they care about...

Does the judgement make them want to improve?
I hope so... both in terms of their gameplay, how they interact with others and their moral stance... that's a lot to demand of players, maybe too much. But I think it's the real point of the game.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Day 81: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 81 - Lens 77: The Lens of the Weirdest Thing
Having weird things in your story can help give meaning to unusual game mechanics, capture the interest of the player, and make your world seem special.  Too much weirdness, though, will render your story puzzling and inaccessible. To make sure your story is the good kind of weird, ask yourself these questions:

What is the weirdest thing in my story?
The post-apocalyptic setting is pretty standard at this point. But maybe making the players the savage tribes trying to destroy the last bastion of civilization is weird.  Having the narrator be dead and communicating with the players through the notes he left behind is a little strange.

How can I make sure that wierdest thing doesn't confuse of alienate the player?
Establishing the communication between the player and the narrator (The Teller) has been a bit challenging. I tried being clever and labeling the first letter that is the tutorial for the game 'Read this 'iffin I'm dead.' And players were consistently confused and did not read that document first. I think I have to be super clear and just label it 'Read This First'. Things seem to largely go well once that connection is established.

If there are multiple weird things, should I maybe get rid of, or coalesce some of them?
I think story wise, all of the weird is closely tied together with the story. It's all part of the setting in a way that is mutually supporting and makes the game more interesting. How much detail to add has been an ongoing question. I think that I might want to have more setting materials be stretch goals, and maybe have a higher pledge level that includes them and an add on that collects them for other players.

If there is nothing weird in my story, is the story still interesting?
I think it's safe to say there are weird things. As to whether the story is interesting enough... I think it serves it's purpose as a frame for the game and the game rules. I think I can add more color for people who are interested, but that I should be careful to keep it from muddying the game and rules for people who are not.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Day 80: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 80 - Lens 108: The Lens of the Pitch
To ensure your pitch is as good as it can be, ask yourself these questions:

Why are you pitching this game to the client?
In one case my client will be the Kickstarter supporters, in another it would be a publisher. In both cases I need to get either money or distribution from them. I want people to be able to play my game. To do that I need the money to produce many copies and the awareness of the game that will allow me to sell them to cover the production and distribution cost.

What will you consider "a successful pitch"?
For kickstarter I will consider it successful if I can generate enough backers and funds to do a first printing of the game. If I can do that then in a pitch to a publisher I would want to first get the game published and second get as wide distribution as possible.

What's in it for the people you are pitching to?
For the backers, the game. Possibly art used in the game. T-Shirts are a possibility. For a publisher hopefully a compelling game that they can sell.

What do the people you are pitching to need to know about your game?
It is real time!
It is played after the apocalypse!
It is a six player game where it is always your turn!
It's a very social game with diplomacy mechanics.
It has a strong theme and esthetic.

Day 79: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 79 - Lens 98: The Lens of Community
To make sure your game fosters strong community, ask yourself these questions:

What conflict is at the heart of my community?
Strategy sharing is probably a big one. Hopefully like in Chess or M:TG the strategies of players are deep and varied enough that people want to talk about how to deal with them.  The competition within a game is very strong, but establishing some way for players to rank themselves would be good. Maybe total VP gained in wins / number of games? Provide a log book as part of the game and encourage sharing ratings on a forum/leaderboard. I could have a google form where you could enter your scores and a page that displayed the rankings...

How does architecture shape my community?
The fact that the game requires six players means a large number of players to copies of the game ratio.  I think that the game plays very well in public so having regular tournament play at game shops could do a lot to make the game a social event. Having a listing of places to play on the website to facilitate that kind of play could be important.

Does my game support three levels of experience?
Yes, I think it does that pretty explicitly. The question of whether is continues to be fun for new players to play with mid/upper level players is still open. But the game needs teachers so upper level players should be engaged with that part of the game. Building tools for tournament play would give advanced players another way to be involved.

Are there community events?
I think that there should be. I want to facilitate that. I think that I can start that as I move into the Kickstarter by holding games both on twitch and using Table Top Simulator, as well as at some local gaming venues.

Why do players need each other?
In the game players need each other as allies in order to maximize their victory points.  You really want six players to play the game so that is a built in need. The game is not PvE so there are fewer co-op elements or group puzzles/challenges. However one alliance deciding how to address the actions of another requires that kind of cooperation.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Day 78: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 78 - Lens 106: The Lens of Utopia
To be sure you are headed to a better world, ask yourself these questions:

Am I creating something that feels magical?
At it's best, with engaged players, yes. That's the interesting thing about playtesting, particularly with game developers. It's hard to get them to commit to playing a game enthusiastically and without cynicism. The good part of that is it makes your (and you) tougher... but it can be hard so see whether you are succeeding in creating magic with your game. I think you need to find and playtest your game with an audience that embraces it and wants to be there. You need to be able to see what your game does to those kinds of players or you will end up developing a very solid competent machine that is devoid of wonder.

Do people get excited just hearing about what I am making? Why or why not?
People who like board games, and geek out about them a bit tend to become very curious when I describe my game and want to play it. The video I made showing thematic play also seems to get people's attention. To the degree that my pitch looses people I think that the complexity and strangeness of the game can be hard to grasp.

Does my game advance the state of the art in a meaningful way?
Very much so. The way I am including social challenges is uncommon if not unique and the real time play is just not done in this way anywhere that I have found. Also the manipulation of the board is pretty new.

Does my game make the world a better place?
Well... I hope the final choice I give the players does that. But it's a lofty goal, perhaps the only important one though.

Day 77: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 77 - Lens 104: The Lens of Technology
To make sure you are using the right technologies in the right way, ask yourself these questions:

What technologies will help deliver the experience I want to create?
Given that this is a physical board technology is limited. I can talk about the techniques I use as analogue to technology, which might make sense. Real time play, dynamic board, social challenges... but that's kind of a cheap trick. I think I'll get a better insight from looking at the technology as 'physical board and playspace'.

Yes, for this iteration of the game I do think that this is the right technology. I would still like to return to the basic mechanics of the game a geolocated AR experience at some point.

Am I using these technologies in ways that are foundational or decorational?
The technology choices are extremely foundational to the gameplay. Or rather perhaps the gameplay is foundational to the technology choices since I built the prototype to test the gameplay.

If I'm not using them foundationally, should I be using them at all?

Is this technology as cool as I think it is?
Yes, choosing a physical space for this game has allowed a focus on the design that is fantastic for me as a developer and has allowed me to craft a unique and surprising game for the players.

Is there a "disruptive technology" I should consider instead?
I've looked into a smart board technology that could be a cool gimmick, but I think the low tech board works just as well and has forced a cleaner implementation of the rules.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Day 76: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 76 - Lens 32: The Lens of Goals
To ensure the goals of your game are appropriate and well balanced, ask yourself these questions:

What is the ultimate goal of my game?
Thematically 'to rule the wasteland' in game terms that's judged by controlling the most territory, having the most bases, and maintaining the most alliances. To break down the meaning of that I guess, to balance the tactical and social demands of the game to maximize your score.

Is that goal clear to the players?
The goal 'to rule the wasteland' is explicit to the players. They are told what things generate victory points at the beginning of the game. They are told in the game description that they can't win by tactics or politics alone. I think it takes most of a game for all that to sink in though and most players feel a little confused as to how their moment to moment actions are affecting the outcome during their first game.

If there are a series of goals, do the players understand that?
I think that the moment to moment goals are clearer and more transparent in play. The micro level tactical gameplay is very visual and the stakes and results are pretty clear. Those goals lead to reasonable play patterns even if you don't understand the larger game well, that allows new players to not be left behind during their first game, though they are unlikely to win against experienced players.

Are the different goals related to each other in a meaningful way?
Yes, all of the small tactical and social goals contribute to the goal of winning in the end. That part of the game structure is very tight, there is nothing extra going on in the game that is not part of that machinery.

Are my goals concrete, achievable and rewarding?
I think so. The player has a clear goal and reward for every action they take and they all also contribute to the larger goals of the game.

Do I have a good balance of short and long term goals?
Yes, the players always have a goal for their turn, for the next few turns and a strategy or goal for the rest of the game... or they should, the hooks are there for them to form those goals although they are not instructed to form goals explicitly.

Do players have a chance to decide their own goals?
Their goal for the endgame is defined by the rules, but then that is subverted and they are given a choice in the scoring phase. After the tutorial rounds players form their own turn to turn goals. That makes the game very dynamic and replayable, as well as hopefully making play feel free to the players.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Day 75: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 75 - 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?
Well this is a board game so the re are very defined rules, as opposed to a sandbox video game where there might be seen to be no rules and complete freedom. I think that would be a false perception and that all the rules in the video game are just hidden behind the experience that the player is accepting as their free reality. Things like how the player moves, what they can climb, swim across, hid behind, fight with, eat, kill etc. are still being defined by the game.

That aside I think that within the framework of my game the players have a great deal of freedom, probably more than in just about any other game. I think that once they know the rules players feel something close to the level of freedom they find in a sandbox game. Though the end goal is clearly defined for them how they get there is pretty open.

When are they constrained? Do they feel constrained at these times?
Players are constrained within a turn, they are constrained to the results of a challenge and to the order that time imopses on the game. I think that when one of those things gets into the way of their intention they feel constrained in a negative way. I hope that that mostly happens when they are learning the rules, but there are rules that constrain player actions into the shape of the game... I'm not sure that there is a way around that.

Are there any places I can let them feel more free than they do now?
I keep adding in and removing little bits of freedom. I added freedom by removing the movement limit, that allowed other players to use path removal to limit movement which deepened play and added more choices to the game. I added in the ability to place warriors in empty slots, that added complexity, but I am not sure how much it made the game better and I may remove it later... that kind of thing.

Are there places where they are overwhelmed by too much freedom?
At the beginning of the game. I created the tutorial document to address the sense of being lost and overwhelmed that I saw and had reported. It seems to have helped by supplying extra structure to the beginning of the game. The things that the players are 'forced' to do during the tutorial are really just the best move choices in the opening moves. They still have plenty of choices and can play differently from each other, I just took away the option for them to shoot themselves in the foot while they learned the basics in the first few turns.