A Paper Prototype, or a Quick Break from Larp.

As work continues on the 4x Larp, let’s take a little break to look at a prototype game. When I first started this blog digital game design was the focus where pretotyping and prototyping was big parts of that process. Here is a game idea which reached the prototype phase and is going to TempleCon with me to play test. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with an old acquaintance from larp who started a new game company, Gooder Games.

The general idea is that we have two groups exploring and settling a lush green land. The winner is the player who controls the most terrain by placing huts. Each player has three huts. There is one tile (lower right quadrant of the picture) which is a Mountain with a spring. This is the start tile. Sound like Carcassonne? Yup. I made this game because I wanted more Carcassonne. I also wanted to capture the feel of D&D maps.

Shuffle all the other tiles. Each player draws a concealed hand of three tiles. Choose who goes first. That player may either place a tile or place a hut. Huts can only be placed on Hill tiles or Plains tiles. They may not be placed on River or Mountain tiles. Play continues until all the tiles are played.

The winner is the player who controls the most contiguous terrain. Contiguous Terrain is an tile of a similar terrain type touching a hut. So if a hut is placed on a hill, count all hills connected to it as one group of terrain. Like Carcassonne you cannot play into a group of tiles already controlled by another player. You could merge fields or hills together. Its pretty bad if you do it to yourself (it means you wasted a hut), but forcing another players terrain to merge is a pretty potent strategy.

This is a terrible description and covers no edge cases whatsoever. Part of showing off the game and having people play it is to find the emergent strategies, make sure there are a couple and they are fun, and to practice telling people the rules. Eventually that will happen enough times that they can be written clearly.

A surprisingly large amount of game design is communicating clearly. Creating the concept, building a prototype, and testing the game are all easy compared with communicating the rules. There are so many reasons why I’m looking forward to TempleCon, working on a game design for fun is one of them. My wife suggests I do a kickstarter, and shoot for 2 million like Exploding Kittens. A full TempleCon report when I return. But until them more 4x larp.

P.S. Note to self: Do not write blog posts at 9:00 pm. You accidentally publish rough drafts.

Thoughts on High Grounds.

Spry Fox, the creator of Triple Town, has a new deck building game out.  It’s a pretty good game and has gotten a good review from PAReport.  With Scrolls coming along slowly and methodically, online collectible card games should have a good couple of years coming up.  Here are some of my thoughts on what it means to have a deck building or collectible card game in a digital medium.

When you take a Collectible card game and put it online you have this interesting design issue.  What does a ‘card’ look like online?  Does it have to be square?  The size and shape of the cards are limitations of the physical medium used to play the game.  But once the game gets created digitally it no longer has the same design constraints.

High Grounds clearly demonstrates the concept of taking a ‘card game’ and removing the design constraints. What does a ‘card’ start to look like once you remove a 2 inch by 3 inch piece of cardboard?  The card art becomes the character avatar, the stats don’t need to be displayed all the time.  Executing the stack becomes the portion of the game executed live, while playing the hand dealt becomes asynchronous.  Conceptually High Grounds succeeds at deconstructing a ‘card’ from a collectible card game while still retaining the essence of the basic game mechanics.

Whether the game is fun or not, I’m not sure.  Having played four or five rounds against the computer, it’s starting to drag a bit.  While no where near the grind that other online CCG’s can become in single player, turns are starting to feel a little too long.  The progression a little too linear.  There aren’t enough random good luck/bad luck things happening during game play.

I have not yet purchased any packs yet.  So perhaps my brain is expecting the risk reward stimulus from my M:tG days and not getting it.  There is just nothing like opening a bunch of packs and finding terrible stuff to activate the hope/despair portions of the brain chemistry.  Except maybe those times when you actually pull something awesome out of a pack.  Maybe if TapJoy were integrated into High Grounds I could earn a few gems by selling my time to advertisers.

There is clearly some tweaking that needs to be done on High Grounds, but it’s an interesting game which pushes the boundary of what a CCG means.  Overall I think it’s a very promising game, and it’s interesting to watch.  Now that you’ve read my opinions, go over and play the game at www.highgroundsgame.com!

Blogging a game idea.

In a previous post a closed economy fantasy game design was suggested.  This post is going to follow up on that idea and flesh it out a little more.  First we’ll recap the basics, then flesh out the game a little more.  Feel free to add feedback, suggest additions, etc.

Recapping the Basic’s

  1. A fantasy world with spells, magic, monsters, crafting of some kind
  2. A closed economy
  3. Items, Loot, and money, have weight and size.  There is no instantaneous exchange of platinum, gold, silver, copper.
If these things are true it might not be very fun to be the guy out there trying to get the loot.  Conforming to weight restrictions in a table top RPG makes players run in fear.  Additionally the game becomes more about inventory management rather then monster bashing.  To that end would it make more sense to make the Adventurers the NPC’s and classic NPC’s the stars of the game?  Embrace the limitation and make it a core mechanic.
As players of RPG’s we often see the Wizards, Fighters, Rouges, etc as the hero’s of the game.  Townsfolk often get relegated to the side lines.  One of my favorite games is Dungeon Keeper II.  Instead of playing the ‘Hero’s’, you play the dungeon master.  Creation and management of the dungeon is the main point of the game.  If you haven’t checked the game out yet, it is fantastic.  Grab a cheap copy on GOG.com
In the same vein lets turn the RPG genre on it’s head by playing the Merchants, Blacksmiths, Candlemakers, etc. of the game world instead of those heros out there slinging swords and spells.  The setting of the game is obviously going to be a town.  When we say the game becomes about inventory management, we literally mean the inventory of a shop.  Perhaps weight isn’t as much of a concern for the player anymore.
Let’s assume this is a prototype for now, so any lists or concepts don’t have to be considered comprehensive, but rather a place to start.  Additionally maybe we should assume a iPhone/iPad.  Hero Academy is such a fun game, the art and game play is just amazing.  From the folks who made another favorite of mine Orcs Must Die!.
Main Gameplay Loop
Lets define the main things a player would be doing while playing the game.  The player begins the game with some copper, or perhaps some basic supplies.  Maybe they get to make some purchases from an inventory list (a la Dwarven fortress). The classic D&D inventory comes to mind.  Maybe they start with random items and have to make the best of what they randomly get.
An adventurer comes to town looking to get supplies before heading to a dungeon.  Depending on Class, Race, or other factors, this Adventurer buys the goods it needs then heads to the dungeon.  The game determines how that character fairs in the nearby dungeon and if they succeed they return looking to sell some loot and move on.
There could be other people who come to town.  Examples include Tax Collectors, Caravan’s, Faires, Circuses.  These things could interact with the player in other ways and break up the main loop.
Some unanswered questions
Should the game be turn based or live?
What is the players backstory?  How did they get the starting resources?
How much does the player learn about the dungeon?  Is that important in the prototype?  How can knowing about the dungeon help the player?