5 great Podcasts for gamers.

There are some amazing game design related podcasts.  I’m always searching for more however.  If you have suggestions send them my way.  Here are a few of my favorites.  Additionally check out 198+ Game Design Resources (non of which are podcasts), I checked all the links they still work.

The Game Design Round Table
In which we find that Jon Schafer hates another kind of game, but still has interesting things to say about it.  As a generalist myself, the habits of specialists sometimes confound me, but are usually extremely useful to listen to.

Three Moves Ahead
As this podcast is also specifically about strategy games it can blur the lines between TGDRT occasionally.  Lately its been a deep dive into some very complex strategy games.  A little daunting for the new comer, but very interesting.  Frequently hosted by Rob Zacney a prolific Boston Local!

Core Elements Podcast
Wes and Spencer seem to be able to interview folks just before they do something that catches fire.  Or possibly just between making something and it getting really big.  They have a pretty amazing assortment of interviews and the older episodes are well worth checking out.  There aren’t so many episodes that going back through them is a chore.

PBS Idea Channel
Although not strictly a podcast and not really about game design this is still a must watch.  There are so many game culture related topics and discussions you have to check it out.  The episodes which are not about games are absolutely amazing as well.  Well worth your time.  The link takes you to the list of episodes specifically about games.  There’s some great theory in there.

Shut up and Sit Down
A review show about Board Games…  I think.  I’m not sure.  There’s a vlog, and a blog, and a podcast.  They talk about board games, terrible and awesome.  Board games which are neither terrible nor awesome. It’s all very entertaining.  There are some pretty deep dives in to the rules and merit of each game.  Bordering on a mechanics discussion.  If you want to stay informed about what’s out, and what’s fun in the board game world, check it out.  Who doesn’t want to know what is going on with amazing board games?!

The Nerdist
Hit or miss for me personally regarding the topics of game design. Sometimes their content is really awesome, but mostly it’s just ok.  Check out their interview, or rather interviews, with Gabe Newell about Valve and Games.  The rest of the podcast is ok, generally about stand up and geekdom.  Which is a compelling crossover.  It’s just tough to sift through a ton of material about a topic which is not terribly helpful to the pursuit of game design.

Card Game overview

This is an attempted description of the card game idea.  The inspiration is one part Game of Thrones Ascent, one part Magic: the Gathering, and one part Joshua AC Newman.  The idea here is to create a paper prototype card game and start giving it away.  Just to put something out in the world.  Just for fun,  knowledge, and my own sense of accomplishment.  Here is the beginning.

At the moment the game consists of 309 cards for a game played by two players.  The players take turns drawing from the Resource Deck, the Worker Deck, the Building Deck and the Military Deck and attempt to build their own castle and siege their opponent.  At the moment the theme of the game is very classical medieval warfare. Eventually that will change.  The Clockwork Fairytale Setting will most likely bleed in over time.  It would be nice to skew the game towards less confrontational topics.  There are enough war themed games out there.  
The Resources are kept simple.  Stone, Wood, Iron, Salt.  The basics of a bygone military age.  Wood and Stone are more common in the deck.  Iron and Salt mostly pay for military units.  Currently they are slightly rarer.  Ultimately this is most likely a digital card game do to the card count and all the different draw decks.

The  draw phase in Magic the Gathering is always so stagnant.  You just grab the card.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if the players had to agonize of the decision of the where to draw from?  The other player gets to watch them tensely attempting to anticipate their strategy.  You can probably learn to tell the first moves of the game just from which deck the opponent draws cards.  This seemed like a great way to make drawing cards much more interesting.  Whereas the resolution of combat has sort of normal usual trappings of card games hopefully the draw mechanics are more interesting.

Townsfolk card are all about creating a draw engine that feeds the military machine or builds the defense.  So the Worker deck might be much more important early game.  Unless your opponent gets a good draw and can play a military unit quickly…

After drawing out the basic concepts of the game on a single sheet of white paper, I created a card list.  Then it was time for a trip to Staples.  With supplies in hand and the paper prototype complete it was time to play a couple rounds alone to work out the rules.  Which are recorded in rough draft format.  The game is ready to be play tested.  Would you like to play test it?
If you download the Rules and the Card List, you can make your own.  The prototype version cost about $5.60 worth of index cards.  It took maybe three or four hours of time to construct the decks.  Buying the right kind of index cards helped speed up the process a lot.  Get the half index cards, because cutting lots of 3×5 index cards in half is tedious.

Thoughts on Victory Points

The Game Design Round Table with Jon Sheafer, Dirk Knemeyer and David Heron discussed Victory Points on their recent episode. Here are a few thoughts in reply which started to get too long to write in a comment box. If you haven’t listened yet, go on over and check it out.

Games where victory points work well: Carcassone. Although the player is constantly attempting to maximize the number of points they are acquiring, and constantly counting the points they earn, the points themselves never detract from the game itself. The point scoring mechanism is well integrated into the game in such a way that it doesn’t detract from the game play.

A game which works well without victory points: During the episode Talisman kept popping up in the back of my mind. The victory condition is about beating a large dragon (which was an amazing plastic dragon cherished by Warhammer fantasy battle players). To win you have to defeat the dragon, which had certain stats. Playing against other players became about guessing when they would attack the dragon, and if they could survive. It was an interesting ‘gate’ or ‘high bar’ to set the players as a victory condition without using points. Basically the stats of the dragon become the invisible victory point.

Lords of Waterdeep has a point scoring track. Around and ‘above’ the game mechanics the player is scoring victory points. At the end of the game all extra resources get liquidated into Victory Points. Almost as though there is this secondary currency floating above the first two (adventures and coin). Except the Victory Points can only be purchased, never spent. They are as ill-liquid as Modern Art.

Maybe my opinion is skewed by my day job, but humans seen to enjoy currencies more than Victory Points. Why have two currencies when one will do? Could we remove the Victory Point track and replace it with coin? This might turn the game into ‘Monopoly of Waterdeep’. Which might be a bit too much of a change to the game.

So here’s an alternative hypothesis which could assist in proving the point. What if we make Victory Points into a currency with a mod that uses some ‘house rules’ as a way to test that thought? It’s a partial conversion to the game which adds a new building to the board (one of the permanent buildings) that let’s you spend the Victory Point tokens to acquire resources. This way Victory Points can be both acquired and spent.

The idea is that if we move Victory Points closer to a real currency, the game will become more fun. Victory Points will be perceived as a core mechanic, instead of quick solution to the difficult problem of “Who wins?

The mod is written up in a Google document. If you play it, give some feedback. Do Victory Points feel more integral to the game if they are more like a currency? This is totally free, it’s a mod, so you have to have a copy of ‘Lords of Waterdeep’ to play. More thoughts on the nature of this ‘experiment’ in the document.

Why am I starting a game company?

Incidentally I have a ‘real job’, in the financial services industry which I am good at and do not hate.  But despite the safety and security of the day job it just does not keep me interested.  Something more creative is needed.  I crave something more.  What has so captivated my attention about game design?  Why do I make games?  For that matter, why does anyone?

There are so many things that it could be.  But lets strip away all the bullshit reasons, vanity, peer pressure, ‘cool’, why anyone does something.  Read Fuck Videogames.  What are you left with? Make good art.  Each of these pieces of advice are powerful alone.  But are especially so when combined.

Domain name issues…

Look at that traffic pick back up!  So apparently when you have a working URL people can actually see your blog.  Look at me learning how the internets work.  Although I haven’t been able to login to my domain registrar yet and solve the current issue, it’s most likely a simple lack of payment.

Now is a good opportunity to raises a question, is http://www.zorts.net really me anymore?  Zorts or Zombie Real Time Strategy is neither a successful project, nor part of my identity anymore.  It’s not even on my old business cards let alone my Dormouse Games business cards.  If not Zorts then what?  Jspringfield211 is still available by virtue of being a terrible brand.  But it is my twitter handle.  So there’s that…

Dormousegames.net might be a valid thing to try.  Squat on my own companies alternative URL.  But ultimately won’t that suffer the same issues as zorts.net?  My identity will change and grow, my URL static despite the best efforts of DNS.  This feels like picking a tattoo, for my forehead.

I have a (forced) opportunity to change my url to something that fits me better now.  Unfortunately I’m terrible at naming things.  Help me pick a new URL.  If you haven’t yet read some of my blog posts (if you’re new here) and tell me what works for my identity.  Group brainstorm: go!


Just a quick note this morning.  Dormouse Games is going to be using the hashtag #steamscouts.  We will be collecting feedback, both good and bad, via twitter, and communicating with our players.  While there’s nothing there at the moment, follow it to find out what’s going on via the twitters.  We will continue posting things elsewhere as well.

Board Game Review: Lords of Waterdeep

Lords of Waterdeephttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=thzopr-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=0786959916
is an amazing game in the Euro Resource Style. My wife has never been a D&D player, but as a huge fan of Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne she loves this game. Although I was never particularly into Forgotten Realms, the game is still amazingly entertaining for my wife, me and my friends. The setting never gets in the way, but often adds interesting flavor. The games play-ability by non D&D fans is a testament to its amazing design.

From a game mechanics standpoint Lords of Waterdeep adds a critical game mechanic to resource style board games. A player can play an agent to go first. This means that the first player can change in each round of play. The ability to gain the first player token is crucial to planning strategy in a resource style board game. It solves a long standing problem which many other games suffer from. This is a brilliant mechanic that needs to be included in future resource style games.

For any D&D RPG player the perspective change from first person to third person is going to be a little mind blowing; mind blowing in a good way. Something like what it was like to play Magic: the Gathering for the first time. The game is a whole new perspective on classic RPG concepts. It’s tempting to reverse engineer a new way to play RPG’s from this 3rd person perspective.

Some folks feel the theme and mechanics don’t work together very well. And I agree, they are not well integrated. But that is not detrimental to a players enjoyment of the game. In fact for non D&D players it might be necessary to get them to play at all. This is not the Impenetrable world of Forgotten Realms. It’s a fun game which lasts a set number of rounds (my wife’s favorite part, she knows exactly how long it will take).

If I were making a vlog, I would invite indie game developers to play this game, like Table Top, but then interview the guests about what they like and what they don’t like about the game. Everyone has a point of view on victory points. But how do developers see them? My own opinions are on the blog. It would be great to hear designers thoughts on what’s great, and what sucks about the game.

The expansion, Scoundrels of Skullporthttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=thzopr-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=0786964502
was released and adds tons more to the game. Once you’ve mastered the base game it is well worth picking up. At around $60 for the main game and $30 for the expansion, it’s a bit steep in price if you’re not sure about the game. But play a few rounds for free at Temple Con 2014, Pax East or any another demo event for Wizards of the Coast, and you’ll be hooked. The game is well worth the price.

Busiest Week Ever

March is a super busy month for game developers on the East Coast.  There is no end to the parties, events, and talks being held.  The week before gets busy because there is a captive audience.  Game developers from all over the eastern sea board, and some from CA (Such as the creators of PAX themselves) meet, greet, and hang out before during and after PAX East.

So here’s the Line UP for the week Before PAX.

3/19/2013 Xconomy Forum: Mobile Madness 2013—The Next Revolution
Technically a discussion by and for all things Mobile, the number of mobile game developers attending is rather large.  Tickets are still available  but Dormouse Games is skipping this one for sanity reasons.  And so I don’t get fired from my Day Job.

3/20/2013 HTML5 Game Development Monthly Meetup
This will be my and Dormouse Games first trip to an HTML 5 Game Dev event.  Have no idea what to expect, other than close proximity to BCEC may cause overflow of attendance.

3/21/2013 PAX East “Made in MA” Party 2013
After having volunteered last year for Made in MA at Pax, I’m up for helping out again and hitting this party. It would be awesome to see Dormouse Games on the banner for next year…  But we need a produced title first.

3/22/2013 PAX EAST Day 1
There must be some kind of party going on after PAX.  But PAX itself is enough for me to have to take the day off.  So exciting.  Cannot wait.

3/23/2013 Day 2
Yes I got a three day pass before they sold out.

3/24/2013 Day 3
No I will not sell it to you.

So that’s my current Itinerary for the week after next.  Hopefully we’ll have some good news about the game.  Things are rapidly coming together, and surprisingly enough we are still on schedule.  That shall soon change.

What are you up to for PAX East?  Attending any great partied?

How the new Xbox is like the old Steam.

The next Xbox is starting to get teased by Microsoft. The new Xbox will require an ‘always on’ connection to the internet. This will be used with some form of DRM to prevent used games from functioning. Business Insider has the basics. More about what that means below the jump.

This reminds me of when Steam was bad. The first couple years of Steam, right when Half Life 2 came out, were miserable.  I Hate, HATE, HATED Steam with a burning passion. I refused to play HL2, refused to use Steam.  Even refused to play any Valve Product, even ones already owned. The reason being Steam was basically useless DRM which was preventing me from playing a game I was very much looking forward to. However this was pre constant connection to the internet, during modem days.

That ‘constant connection’ shit was not cool. In the long run, Steam won me back. But only after getting into Everquest, WOW and online gaming.  After constant connections became a way of life.  The Orange Box (All of Half Life 2 plus Team Fortress 2, and some other Valve Games) got me back and onto the service. Valve turned DRM into a Service I was willing to use, and still use to this day.

What does this story say about Microsoft? Valve was brilliant to take crappy DRM software and turn it into a platform for software distribution which people love. Microsoft is the king of revision, and copying.  There is no way they have missed antidotal stories like mine. Although the initial reaction to the new Xboxs restrictions might cause backlash, in the long run if they can create a device which provides access to games without needing disks at all, they will be able to use a console to compete with the likes of Steam.

Will they be able to take down the king of internet gaming? Probably not. Steam has years of experience on Microsoft. They have tons of Good Will. Just search “Good Guy Gabe” meme’s on Reddit/r/gaming. Valve’s opening shot was the Steam Box, and Microsoft is firing back in kind. There are so many things that could go right, or wrong over the long run that guessing who comes out better in the end is a fools errand… But there’s a fight on and the ultimate goal of which is to capture the hearts and minds (but really eyes and dollars) of gamers.