Today in Board Games/Contest Reminder/AWA

This is a reminder to enter our contest, and help charity. There are only a few days left.

Also, if you haven’t seen our article on When Play Testers Disagree

Today in Board Games was kind enough to feature the article. Check it out.

As you may have noticed I have not been very active lately. I’ve been attending Anime Weekend Atlanta, and talking with some of the artists who attend the convention that are not local to Atlanta. It’s a great opportunity to meet some great talent.

I will however begin posting again after the contest is over, so please tell your friends to vote, and vote yourself if you have not, and keep checking back, or subscribe to the RSS feed, so you never miss a post!

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When play testers disagree

Learning to read play testers is a tough skill. Heck, taking proper, and full advantage of play tests is a very tough skill. I’ve seen a lot of developers tackle this problem in a lot of different ways. Some keep a note pad of scores, and stats. Others, play the game with the testers, and don’t ask for any feedback. They know what they think of how things went, and that’s all they care about. Some will quiz the testers mid game, and after the game. I tend to fall in the later category. Well, I use to do it more, but that was to help me get a true understanding of what the testers were thinking, and feeling.

You see, I learned pretty quickly you can’t trust a play testers body language, energy, or comments. I’m not saying they are lying to you. I’m saying everyone is different, and what you see as a good, or bad reaction may just be the opposite. For example, I ran a play test a few months back, and there was a tester who was animated, laughing, inquisitive about the game, and as engaged as you could ever hope a tester to be. After the game I asked him what he thought, and was surprised to find out he wasn’t a fan. (It’s OK two people haven’t liked the game out of 30+ people testing it. That’s a good ratio.) Still, his actions were the classic case of a happy tester, so had I not asked I wouldn’t have had a clue. (Also how can you be that engaged, and happy looking during a game, and say it wasn’t your cup of tea?)

My point is I’ve gotten better at spotting the red herring reaction testers will give you sometimes, so I focus a bit more on what I thought of the game than I use to, but true to my nature I’ll still ask questions post game. This brings me to the next problem. Sometimes your testers will not agree on what is best for the game. “I think it should be faster”, “I think it should be longer”, “I think it should be more random”, “I think it should be less random”, and every other idea can be tossed out, when this happens it’s easy to want to listen to the guy you tend to agree with. “Oh you loved the game? Great! Clearly your opinion matters more!” is not the best plan.

So what do you do when this happens? (And it happens.) How do you stay objective? And how do you give each tester equal time to give feedback, and consider their suggestions with the same weight?

Equal time is easy, resist the urge to focus on the guy you agree with. If anything focus on the guy you disagree with. You might learn more, even if you ultimately don’t go in his direction. (It’s a common sense rule to say, but easy to not follow if you don’t watch for it.)

Beyond that the rest is actually easier still. You find out what their comments have in common. A great example of that came up when I tried two different versions of a rule. One tester liked the first rule, the second tester liked the second rule. I decided the best course of action was to see why each of them preferred one variation of the rule over the other. I eventually realized they each felt the version of the rule they preferred helped them manage resources better. The solution was then pretty easy, pick the version of the rule I liked, and find an alternate way to address the problem that actually bothered them.

I think in the end this is one of those things that isn’t a big a-ha revelation, as much of a “If you say it out loud then you’re more likely to use it.” and that is OK. That’s why I’m saying it out loud, so in the future I’m more likely to remember this path, and that’s why I’m sharing it because I’m sure it applies to more than just game design, and now you’ve heard me say it too.

A Problem with Game Expansions

About a decade ago I decided to play more board games. This was partly inspired by a party game I bumped into called Loaded Questions. If you haven’t heard of Loaded Questions it’s an underrated gem. Think of it like this Loaded Questions is to Cranium as Settlers of Catan is to Monopoly. I loved Loaded Questions, so much so that I spent the next 3 or 4 years trying to find a new game that lived up to it. In the meantime we played Loaded Questions so much that we started to see the same cards pop up over and over again. I was so excited when they finally released an expansion… and it wasn’t very good.

That wasn’t the last time I got an expansion to a game, and it under performed, or made me feel like I was better off not buying it. Heck, there are a few expansions I’ve purchased where I opened the box, read the rules, and thought “Nope this will just make the game play longer without adding any real value.” That’s why when I heard someone say a few weeks back “Expansions for board games never work out, and just aren’t needed.” I was quick to agree with him. However, after a moments thought, I was also just as quick to disagree with him, mostly.

That is to say, he’s right a lot of the time expansions don’t add enough value to a game, turn the play time up, sometimes make old weaknesses in the game that much bigger, and any number of things that just make it not worth playing. (Say “New Caprica” to a board gamer, and watch them instantly develop tourettes.) Heck, be honest, how many games do you play so much that you really needed an expansion? Not many. I know guys who buy every expansion for a game they’ve played. I guess if you’re a collector that’s OK, but that’s not to my taste, and so for me, it’s not worth it.

There are, fortunately, exceptions to his rule. What are those exceptions? Well, I think at some level it’s a matter of opinion, so now I’m suddenly going to pull a twist on you, and turn this into a list article:

6 – Smash Up

Smash Up is a game that was built to have expansions, and that is partly what helps get it around the general rule of bad expansions. If you haven’t played Smash Up it’s a great light weight card game that says “deck building takes too long, just smash two piles of cards together, and play with those.” It also, wisely, creates the awesome theme of having every awesome theme. By that I mean you can Pirates, Ninjas, Robots, Dinosaurs, Aliens, Wizards, and so much more. It’s a game designed to have expansions. Oddly, the expansion falls a little short in that they almost instantly start digging up some strange entries like “bear cavalry”, and “killer plants”. I mean I know the source material that inspired those choices, but they are a bit more niche than the broad appeal of ninjas. Still, the expansion just makes the game that much better, and it’s a stand alone mini version of the game. It also introduces the badly needed score tokens. In short, the expansion expands the fun, and value, not the play time.

5 – King of Tokyo

King of Tokyo is a crazy example of an expansion done right! For starters the game didn’t need an expansion. It was a solid game that pretty much perfectly did what it needed to do. Light, dice rolling, fun flavor, fast. It was so good that last sentence is OK being incomplete. Anyway, if ever a game didn’t need an expansion it was King of Tokyo… and the expansion made it better. This is kind of the board game equivalent of what I was talking about with Secret Wars last week. The introduction of monster specific mutations, and leveraging the heart die facing for more effect take the game to a whole new level. Also, giant panda.

4 – Dominion

If Smash Up is a game that was built for expansions, Dominion is the justification for all game expansions ever. Not only is Dominion the best game ever [Citation not needed], but it gets better with every expansion. Yes, this includes the Alchemy expansion (No bias on this site.) if you use it correctly. For those of you who don’t know Dominion welcome to board games! It turns out there are other games than Monopoly, and they are actually good.

Honestly, not everyone loves Dominion, (I’m still confused by that one.) but the base game actually falls flat pretty quickly without expansions. It’s like all the core cards you need to fill basic roles are in the base game, and you need to them make the expansions better, and the expansions make them better. They are reflexively as a whole better than their parts.

Deck builders as a genre lend themselves nicely to expansions. There are exceptions to this as well, but I’ll avoid other deck builders in this list.

3 – Dixit

Dixit is an interesting party game. It seems to be that game that sounds super easy, like a party game should be, but causes more pauses, and ums than you might expect. Once you get your mind in the mode to play Dixit well it can be quite fun. The only problem is you see all of the cards every game. The rules of the game make it so it replays nicely but, in your mind you eventually want to see new cards. Because of this Dixit not only begs from an expansion, it just feels better when you finally have one. Additionally, the art in Dixit can be so surreal and wonderful that having new pictures to look at can be a great visual treat.

2 – Prophecies: In the Shadow of the Titan

For those of you paying attention I’ve just put my own game on a list of awesome stuff. I know that doesn’t sound very objective of me, but this game was designed to be expanded. Not only that it was designed to be fully functional, and to create a fully enjoyable experience, if you never get the expansion. Still, you might say, there are a lot of games designed with that in mind, but they don’t live up to that potential, and that’s part of the problem. How can you safely say that about Prophecies? I can’t. However, I did something odd when I made Prophecies. Part way through play testing I started making expansions for the game, and I included them in the play test without telling the people that were playing the game. They just assumed these new heroes, monsters, treasures, and scenarios were all part of the core game, a very large core game, and it turns out the feedback was universally positive. Still, you might continue, it’s still bad taste to include your own game in a list. Yes, I might add, but this is the only game I can make this kind of comment on. Perhaps, these other games went through a similar process, I can’t say, so I’m forced mention my own game. Good excuse right? Took me a second to come up with it.

1 – Sentinels of the Multiverse

Sentinels is a great game, and you can tell by the manual, the inclusion of dividers, and other artifacts that they most likely did what I just talked about with Prophecies. The thing is you don’t mind. Sentinels, as a base game, is awesome, and has an incredible amount of reply, but that doesn’t stop you from instantly wanting more, and they deliver. The best part is the game engine is very elegant, so expansions feel like they were always meant to be there.

Now, there are definitely more than 6 games that I could mention that include wonderful, meaningful expansions. Some of them I’ve only ever played with expansions, so I can’t comment on the contrast, I haven’t played enough, they are close enough to items on this list, I haven’t played them at all, or haven’t even heard of them. The point is I’m glad expansions exist, but they are like sequels to a movie, you never know what it will do to the series.

You pick the look for the Supreme Druidess!

Update: A lot of people are coming to this article from which is great! I must admit I didn’t even know about the post on BGG until recently. It was a friend of our site that posted that entry, and I wasn’t informed. This is an old promotion, so I don’t want you to waste your time. Still, please feel free to check out the rest of our site, as we have some great articles on game design, interviews with people in the industry, and great commentary on games in general.

The Supreme Druidess has been a popular class during play tests of Prophecies: In the Shadow of the Titan, and one of my favorites.

Last week I got some concept quick sketches of some of the classes including the Supreme Druidess. It was a wonderful work that hit the mark, in every way, as to what I was looking for, but with one exception. I thought the shoes might not be right for this hero. I made a quick note to the artist, and he came back with two new sketches for me to consider. After looking at all three I realized I loved them all, including the original!

Because of that I’ve decided to leave it to you guys to help me pick out the new look. Granted the only difference is the shoes, but ask any fashion conscious druid, and they’ll tell you shoes make every difference in Titan slaying.

Just reply to this post with an entry saying “Original“, “Alternate 1“, or “Alternate 2“, and the one that gets the most votes is the one we will go with.

In return you will have my thanks. However, I know that thanks aren’t enough to make things interesting, so I will also be giving away 1 weekend long pass to AndoCon 2014 to one random person. (Even if the one you vote for isn’t selected by the group.) You can only vote once, but don’t be afraid to tell your friends.

Also, AndoCon staff members can vote, but they will be excluded from the contest.

To keep things extra interesting, if we get at least 25 votes I’ll donate $50 to the Child’s Play charity in the winner’s name.

The Contest will end Thursday October 3rd after the Secrets Factory Meetup where I will select the lucky winner, and I will announce it on this site. You do not have to attend the event to win, but it sure will make it more exciting if you are there.

If you have any questions about the contest, rules, or the art please let me know. I look forward to seeing which one you select!

Original Druidess

Alternate 1:
Alternate 1

Alternate 2:
Alternate 2

I’m quotable.

EndersGame on BGG wrote a review for the Flash Point expansions, and was kind enough to let me know that he quoted my own comments on the game. In fact he quoted me 3 times! I suspect those are the only 3 quotes of value you’ll ever get out of me, so thanks for collecting them for everyone in place. 😉

If you are unfamiliar with my BGG ID it’s heya, so just look for those 3 quotes in his own well written review of the game.

You can find it here.

First look at Prophecies: In the Shadow of the Titan game art.

I’m very pleased to announce that art is starting to come in for Prophecies: In the Shadow of the Titan.

This is an initial sketch done by our artist, and it’s just incredible. While searching for an artist to do the character portraits I was being very selective. I got a lot of great submissions from a lot of artists, but when I saw Bramasta’s work I knew that he was capable of capturing both the spirit, and tone of the game in a way that could not be matched. We were truly fortunate to find him.

Here is what the Resplendent Rogue will look like:

Resplendent Rogue

How a ploy to sell toys became my primary design philosophy

Have you ever been in a conversion, or overheard a conversation where somebody says “[That really big successful idea], I thought of that before they did.” The most amusing/frustrating moments I’ve ever had in a comic shop was while standing in line behind a guy who was talking the ear off of the shop keep. (People say shop keep right?) and he bounced from one idea he had to the next:

“Why doesn’t McFarlane Toys make the figures more posable? I have an idea for toys that are like those, but you can play with them.”

To which my mind said “Because they are toys for adults, so they are just statues, and the increased cost to do that would be silly because you would be adding a feature adults don’t care about.” Of course that was my mind, and I’m not telepathic (yet), so he continued “You know the Aliens Vs. Predator comics. I came up with that idea like 5 years ago.”

My mind “Are you complaining that someone ‘took’ your idea? You know your idea about two franchise you don’t own, and aren’t affiliated with? I mean did you even try to do anything with your idea?”

He interrupted my thought “I should show them my notes, so they can see I had the idea first. I’d make so much money.”

Mind “Wait, is he serious.”

Him “I’ve done the math, and they owe me [insert insane amount].”

Mind “Holy crisp he is serious!”

That’s not the first or the last time this has happened to me. Well the only time at a comic shop, but stuff like this has happened to us all I’m sure, and why not. I’ve been tempted to think similar thoughts, and why wouldn’t I? I mean I’m full of good ideas. I can say that objectively because all humans are full of good ideas, and I’m human (seriously), and good ideas is kind of what we do.

So if all 6+ billion of us are full of good ideas, why don’t we see more good ideas? That’s not the question I’m here to answer, but I’ll indirectly answer it in the course of this, so bonus.

The real question is, how do you make a good idea live up to its potential? See that’s the trick, the problem, isn’t coming up with an idea of value it’s piecing out all of the details that allow the idea to exist with the desired value. If you mess up, or forget, one key detail the best ideas can function as the worst idea. (In the case of the comic store guy his missing detail was the ability/drive/talent to begin working on the idea.)

How did I learn this? I had a great idea for a game, over a decade ago, and I made it, and it sucked. It’s a boring story really, so instead I’ll focus on a variation of this lesson.

In May of 1984 Marvel comics released the first superhero cross over series. It featured Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, the guy who can stretch, Galactus, the X-men, and Doctor Doom. (Also, a lot more guys.) The premise was simple, an all powerful alien grabs each of these heroes, and villains, and throws them on a strange alien world, and says “heroes fight the villains, so I can understand you better.” The plot on paper is actually worse than I’ve just described. Why? Because as the compilation trade book admits, it was an idea some toy manufacturers came up with to justify selling a new line of Marvel toys. It was an idea as bad as the Spider-Mobile, and it came into being for the same reason.

However, there was a twist. This terrible idea actually told a great story. Like Secret Wars is actually pretty awesome. The authors, somehow took a terrible idea, and made it live up to it’s terrible potential, and then said “f it.”, used witchcraft, and out came one of the most influential comics to date [citation not needed.]. Now granted, there are definitely, better, and more well crafted stories out there, but at best those gems are living up to their full potential, Secret Wars goes beyond it.

That’s why when I make a game I try to come up with the best concept possible. I want to set a really high bar, so once I’ve hit the point where I reach that bar I know how good of a game I have.

Prophecies: In the Shadow of the Titan – Character Artist Found

I am pleased to announce that I have found the character artist for Prophecies: In the Shadow of the Titan. I have just commissioned this artist to do an initial picture of the “Resplendent Rogue.” Which is one of the epic heroes in the game. Once the picture is ready I will be posting it to the site, and I will be doing a feature on the artist behind the work.

It is my intention to hire this artist to do other characters in the game, and possibly the cover, and Titan art. It’s still early in the process, and I’m still in the talks with other artists.

Although, he has agreed to have me post links to his web portfolios which can be found here:

Unreal Smoker’s Deviant Art Page

The picture that inspired me to contact him:


And the picture he referenced as the format I can expect:

Death Knight

More details on this incredible artist, and Prophecies: In the Shadow of the Titan to come.

Additionally, I’ve updated the projects page for Addictive Alchemy.

Don’t do it! It never works!

I was told recently that most people who design a game never make a second one. That baffles me. If you feel the pull to create a game, a rush when the mechanics work, the relief of pulling an idea out of your head, and putting it into physical space, then how, How!, do you give that up?

I think this is especially true, since I don’t think anyone on their first try gets everything right. I mean that’s part of what play testing is all about. I’ve only made one game that hit the table, and basically didn’t change. That’s because there are lessons every game designer should learn. Yeah, some of it is stuff we’ll naturally know, but those things are different from designer to designer. Most of the time, most of the lessons to learn come from the practice of design.

Also, some of those lessons are wrong, well, actually they are right, but sometimes, they are wrong. And that, is what I’m here to talk about.

Tonight, I had to unlearn a “universal rule” in game design, and it taught me that sometimes, just sometimes, it’s OK to break those rule. You see I have a game that is in play testing where people love the theme, and they enjoy the way it plays, but not everything was clicking the way it needed to. I made some changes for the play test last Thursday, and some great stuff came out of it, but oddly the minor change I figured wouldn’t stay was universally loved, and the major change I thought would turn the game around, well, didn’t, at all. I reverted the major change, kept the minor change, and decided for today’s play test, on a whim, to break one of my golden rules of game design “Don’t ever let someone lose a turn. Don’t ever eliminate a player from the game.” Let’s face it, it’s never fun to miss a turn, and it’s never fun to sit for 20 minutes watching your friends play a game that you got kicked out of.

Why did I break that rule? Because it’s about giant monsters fighting. Someone is going to get beat up, and someone is going to get hurt. These monsters aren’t immortal, and I put too many rules in the game trying to avoid elimination, and it frankly wasn’t working. Instead I came up with a way to eliminate a guy, and not have him wait more than a few minutes for the game to end, and I removed all of the rules around keeping the monsters immortal, and the game worked exactly like I wanted. In fact everyone at the table said, without prompting, I love this! Heck, for the next two hours anytime one of them walked by they said “I really loved that game.”

I broke a golden rule, and gave it a quick elegant patch, and that was all I needed. On the drive home I realized that earlier in the play test for the same game I did basically the same thing, that is break a golden rule of game design, this one being “never use d4s”, see I had originally used d8s in the game, and on a whim switched it to 2d4. The math was better. I hate d4s, but the math worked, and adding the possibility of doubles gave me a new (good) side effect. I tried it, and again the same thing happened everyone loved the change. Twice, in the same game I broke one of my golden rules that I worked so hard to get around, and the game was so much the better for it.

Now my new golden rule of game design will be “Don’t work so hard to avoid what usually doesn’t work.” Why should I have been OK with this in the beginning? It’s simple, because usually I have these rules against things that don’t work, because they don’t work in other games. My games, by one of my primary objectives, are always different. If I am using a mechanic that has been done before I’m trying to find a way to do it in a way that hasn’t been done, and in most cases I’m trying to find as many new mechanics as I can put in my games. This means I’m always covering new ground, and what hasn’t worked in the past, might, just might, work. I’m not saying it always will, but I can’t afford to assume it won’t without at least considering it.

I can’t afford to say anymore “Don’t do it! It never works!”

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