Addictive Alchemy Art Update: Side Effects

The Kickstarter for Addictive Alchemy will be here shortly! We’ve got almost all of the details ready for launch. One of those details happens to be the updated art for the side effect cards! I’m very excited to show you a few of the side effects here!

If you’re wondering about the exact date of the Kickstarter don’t worry as soon as it’s set there will be an update, and you’ll have time to spread the word!

New World Alchemy at AWA 2014

Come see us at Anime Weekend Atlanta (AWA) 2014. We will be in the game room. Where exactly? My contact hasn’t given me the details yet, but even though the game room is large, it’s not so large that we can’t be found. To help you I’ve made a couple of nice banners. Look for these:

We will be running demos of both games, plus a 3rd game that I’ve only recently started play testing. It will be lots of fun!

More information on AWA can be found here!

New World Alchemy at DragonCon 2014

Come see us at DragonCon 2014. We will be in the game room. Where exactly? My contact hasn’t given me the details yet, but even though the game room is large, it’s not so large that we can’t be found. To help you I’ve made a couple of nice banners. Look for these:

We will be running demos of both games, plus a 3rd game that I’ve only recently started play testing. It will be lots of fun!

Game Design – Rapid Prototyping 101

Last week I mentioned my rapid prototyping system, but only hinted at some of the details. Now I’m going to share a little bit of what goes into my rapid prototypes. It’s important to note that every designer should find their own process and style for designing a game. What works best for me may not work best for you.

The first step in rapid prototyping is having a set tools at the ready. That is, have sharpies, pens, pencils, blank cards (easy/cheap to order on Amazon), deck protectors, dice bags, dice, and tokens in your supply. Odds are in favor that quick list I gave will cover most of the elements you’ll need in your prototype.

Myth: To make a prototype card you should have cheap Magic cards, playing cards, or some other card stock base to tape your paper stock card over.
Fact: Having cheap blank cards from Amazon is plenty. In fact the only reason I use them instead of regular paper stock is I have to cut out paper cards, and the blanks are already cut. If you don’t have blanks that are already cut, and you only have paper stock, then all you need to make the card workable is a deck protector. They will give more than enough sturdiness for the rigors of play testing. Please don’t waste your time taping your prototype cards to existing playing cards. This tip also applies to print and play games as well.

The next thing to consider when making your initial prototype is what are the bare minimum number of pieces you need to test the game once by yourself. This helps with a couple of things up front. First, you can very rapidly see if your game idea will behave as well as you hope. In addition, you are more likely to be open to changing things, even dramatically, if the initial test doesn’t go optimally. The general rule of thumb is the further you are into the design process the less likely you are to change things. The problem with that is if you are really far into the design process before you find out that you should change something, you are much more likely to justify not making the change. I’ve said before that play testers want to like your game, but the truth is if they only had middling fun, or worse with their initial experience, then they are much more likely to politely decline testing in the future. This leads to the final advantage which is you are more likely to put a polished game in front of your play testers.

How do you decide the minimum number of pieces? Let’s look at a card game for example. If you envision the final game needs 108 cards, ask yourself what the minimum, or typical number of players will be. If it’s 3, then ask how many cards will you need to get 3 players through 3 or 4 rounds. You might find that 32 cards is all you need. Pick 32 cards that you believe will give a good sense of the game experience, make those, and test the game by yourself. If the game has potential you should know after those first few rounds.

Of course all of that assumes you’ve put your ideas down on paper, or other medium in a way that lets you quickly transcribe the well thought out pieces, cards, etc. into physical space. Having the above components, and a process for turning them into usable game pieces is actually the second step. You don’t want to decide to make a game about something, and not have all of the cards, and other components thought out ahead of time. I personally suggest using Excel with multiple tabs to help map out your initial game idea, and details on pieces.

One tab can list some quick notes about the goal of the game, setup, turn order, victory conditions, and misc. notes that should be kept in mind. These aren’t complete rules, but just a space to organize your thoughts. For example, if the game has factions, for whatever reason, note the factions, and how they vary.

A second tab will likely list the cards in the game, perhaps their faction, color, cost, or other consistent attributes. Additionally, it will likely have a column called “special” which is where the special text that breaks the rules of the game go. If there are multiple types of cards in the game, then you’ll likely want a new tab for each type.

Depending on the game’s design or requirements other tabs can be created to note what the pieces are, and their vital stats. Other tabs might be used to track any math behind your balance, and notes for expansion possibilities. By putting all of this in Excel you’ve pretty much designed the core of the game. From here you can take your blank cards, and other pieces and quickly transcribe them.

The unspoken element in all of this of course is while designing these cards you have to constantly be planning for balance, and fun.

Don’t Make Your Game Look Too Good!

Recently, I gave a talk at a panel during AndoCon 2014 on board game design. There were a lot of great questions during the panel, and some of them were on topics I’ve already covered previously on this website. There were also a few great questions, that I haven’t shared my thoughts and experiences on, so I thought I’d answer one of those today. The question asked of me was on prototyping. It ended up being a multipart question that covered a few key points. The first being what’s the best way to make your game look good during a prototype?

I love this question because I’ve approached this several ways in the past, and I see designers approach it in a number of ways as well. The best approach is to have your game look as good as it is done. What do I mean by that? Basically, if the game is new, and has barely been play tested, then it visually should look pretty rough, and be made from unimpressive components. In that way, if the game is nearly done, then it should have great visuals, and nice pieces to reflect its state of completeness. This may seem counter intuitive. Why not have a game look great early on? Honestly I see a decent number of developers have wonderful pieces, for early drafts of their games.

Let me tell you a quick story. When I first got back into game design I decided to share a game I had designed with a local gaming circle. I decided I wanted to show them what I knew would become a great game, so I wrote the rules in great detail, created wonderful art, and even imported little glass vials and filled them with glitter to use as a game pieces. The game was gorgeous, and so the first time I took it to the board game store where I wanted to play test it all I had to do was open the box, and people flooded over to see my work. Let’s just say the game was nowhere near ready to have other people play. I in fact only took it to the store to buy deck protectors for it, and I wanted the cards with me to test. I was trying to keep the game a secret till I tested it a few times. I was talked into trying it the next day, and it went poorly. It didn’t go poorly for the reasons you might expect. Don’t get me wrong the game wasn’t ready, but that was only half of it. The real trouble was everyone could see the huge amount of effort I put into the project, and that made it really hard to get real feedback about the game. It wasn’t until a year later, and long after I scraped the project, that I finally found out details about what people thought.

Seeing that so many hours were lost making the game look good I decided I needed a way to get my ideas on the table faster. I also needed to get people’s expectations in line with the current state of the project. If the game was a rough draft, so were the visuals. With that in mind I eventually came up with my rapid prototype system. It started as an experiment. Get a bunch of cheap blank white cards on Amazon, grab a pen, and other bits, and see if I can design a game from idea to a finished playable game in under two hours. On my first try I had a game ready to play in just barely that time. It played, well, OK. It wasn’t great, but I had come up with an idea, and made a playable game in a very short amount of time. I later tried it again, and had a game ready in an hour, and it was honestly a better game. However, the goal wasn’t to make a good game, or a great game, but just prove that functional prototypes didn’t need to take countless hours.

Since that time most every game I work on uses some variation of the rapid prototyping system, and I found as a great side effect people give me more open and useful feedback. It also ironically seems to be that rapidly making games seems to improve their quality. Several of the games I’ve designed using this system barely change from their first draft to their final draft.

The real question people have for me is what is the rapid prototyping system? And that is a great question. I meant to answer it during the panel, but we moved onto another topic, so I’ll answer that in next post.

Havok & Hijinks – Don’t slay a dragon… BE one!

I’m really excited about this week’s interview. About a year ago I had the pleasure of meeting the team at Epic Slant Press, and not only did I get a chance to try their incredibly fun card game, but I learned a lot about the business of game design, Kickstarter, and even leadership. I was so impressed with the team I backed the project that night, and later when I found out about their other projects I had to share them with the rest of you.

Recently, their team leader, Adam “Ferrel” Trzonkowski, took a few moments to talk with me about all of these things including Havok & Hijinks

Twix the Magnificent

David : Hello Adam thanks for taking the time to meet with me today.

Adam: It’s my pleasure David, thank you for your interest in me and our project.  I really appreciate it.

David: I want to start by saying I had the pleasure of meeting you, and your team at Epic Slant Press, during last year’s DragonCon in Atlanta Georgia. You told me several things that have stood out to me as interesting, and useful. In fact I’d say I got more from our brief conversation than an entire con’s worth of panels. The first of those being that Epic Slant Press works to be a business run with a positive tone both inside, and out. I didn’t think to ask for details on how you do it, but even in our brief conversation I saw signs of it. Still, I’d like to learn more about this practice?
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