Print & Play Open Playtests

I’ve opened up both Lars Högman’s Dragon’s Lair board game and my own Swords of the Silver Throne to open playtest. Since I can’t seem to enable commenting directly on the P-n-P pages, use this post for comments on these playtest editions.



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The Abbey, Development

The Abbey board in play

Some years ago, my wife visited England and went to Fountains Abbey. When she returned, she had a collection of awesome photographs and a brochure that explained the history of the abbey. Monks growing grain, tending flocks of sheep, running a quarry and mining the upper stretches of the river for metals? That’s not history, that’s a Euro! Seriously, as with a lot of designer games, the history directly inspired the game, but initially too much history and an attempt to model events too closely to that history kept this game in the idea file only. Continue reading

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A Dozen Designs

It’s been a busy time but I’ve been working with the artist to refine our style for Who’s for Dinner? Here’s an even dozen of the new cards:
12 cards of Who's for Dinner?

I’m really happy with the faux woodcut look he’s developed for the cards, and the overall fun feel of them. In fact, it seems like the flavor text (like on Fork & Knife and Clean Hands) seems redundant now. Anybody got any thoughts on that?

While the Kickstarter drive is over, remember you can always preorder the game here.

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Who’s for Dinner? Development

There are those that say that Kickstarter will destroy the traditional Publisher-Distributor-FLGS model and there are those who say that Kickstarter will destroy the online stores instead. There are a few who say that Kickstarter will not destroy but create… create a new market for small independent games that could never make the shortlist for publishers or for a distributor, or even for your FLGS. On a good day, I believe the last. On a bad day, I hope that the last is true. I get a lot of use out of my FLGSs and I don’t want them to go away.

So I had final demo decks of Who’s for Dinner? ready and I felt confident that I had a game sufficiently developed for presentation on Kickstarter. I applied to start a project and waited nervously for approval.* It came in a few days… I should mention that when I submitted the project, I already had a website that had been up for a while, a dedicated email address and plenty of images of the prototype game pieces, both on my website and here. I’ve heard some horror stories from folks that have been denied and told their project was not sufficiently advanced to be posted on the site.

I was approved to start my project and I began building out the KS page. I had to record a video… I did one of myself talking about the history and development of the game, since I knew that Tom would be doing a preview video of the gameplay. I then worked on my backer levels, trying to come up with fun names for each of the levels and figure out rewards that would engage people. I put a lot of the stuff in the video onto the page itself… I knew I wasn’t going to be able to generate a super-high quality video, so duplicating important information for those who didn’t watch all the way through to the end was important.

Once I got all my rewards, story and video sorted out, I had to get Kickstarter to approve the project again. They were changing policies at the time, I don’t think a new project would go through that. I know it caught some people, like the Fleet guys off guard though.

I had made arrangements with Tom Vasel to have a preview video made, and I had also securing a shout-out on The D6 Generation. I didn’t know the exact timing of when these would come out, so I started the project a little earlier than I might have otherwise. However, Tom had some personal stuff trip him up a little bit and Craig went to New Zealand. Turns out I shouldn’t haven been in a rush, but it all worked out in the end. I decided to do a soft open for my campaign.

I had an idea about trying to get a viral thing going… I knew I would be offering at least one special promo card to those folks who sent me a code. I sent out a series of messages to different interest groups and sets of social networks, each with a different code. I also put up flyers in my local FLGS, each with their own identifying code as well. Early backers got personal codes as well. The viral thing never really caught on, I get codes from Tom’s video and from The D6G; but have received few of the FLGS codes and none so far of the personal codes.

My soft open did allow me to analyze each pledge as it came in, I learned that I was getting the majority of my pledges from folks discovering the project on Kickstarter… I got relatively few hits on my direct messaging, until I posted on the Geek and other news sites. Eric Martin kind of spoiled my announcement here… he mentioned it in his Friday newspost, and I had been waiting till Monday to make the first post here. Again, it all worked out in the end.

It’s been fairly consistent through the project, I get about 2 backers through Kickstarter for every 1 that come in another way. I think that’s about right… Who’s for Dinner? is a light game… a lot of heavy users of the big sites like the Geek are looking for something more meaty, and my smaller budget (due to a smaller price point) means I can only afford so much direct advertising.

I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned throughout this is that once you start a Kickstarter project, you’re in a zombie horror movie. YOU HAVE TO KEEP MOVING. If you stop (by not sending out updates, thanking each and every backer as they come onboard, not updating your friends and social networks), you die. I think that at least 50% of the failed boardgame projects are due to this… it’s a rare project that can continue to get pledges day after day on it’s original information, updates keep the interest up. Of course, too many updates and everyone starts ignoring them…

I had a last minute savior in the sense of a backer (Nick Seal, aka Sir Gamesalot yoda844) who put a lot of effort into making really good suggestions. Most everything that happened in the last couple of weeks was due to his great ideas. More on that next time.

Next time, artwork, non-game rewards, preproduction and the advantages (and disadvantages) of production on demand!

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The Development of Who’s for Dinner?

Crossposted from my BGG blog:

I really like the idea of Print & Play (PnP) games but despite having better equipment to produce PnP games than the average bear, I find that I don’t print or play as many as I want to. Thus one of the core ideas for Mr. W Games was created. I bet that a lot of people were in the same boat… they’d like to support more independent creators but the time and trouble of producing their own copy of the game was prohibitive.

I decided that I would try to offer all of my games as free Print & Play games but that I would also offer a Print-On-Demand edition of the game. Those people who had the werewithal to use the free files could do so, but if you were interested in my game, I would send you a completed produced version, for a modest fee. I think it’s a great idea (and was probably an even better idea in 2008 when it first took shape) and I’m working to implement it.

Last year, I took several of my games (Who’s for Dinner?, Public Transit and Space Traders) and put them on the Geek, confident I’d get them in a ready shape for release that year. That turned out to be premature… WFD was showing lots of promise, but Space Traders and Public Transit needed more attention and work for external (read paying) customers took priority over all three. Plus the Kickstarter phenomenon offered a slightly different take on the idea. Instead of releasing the game into the wild and then hunting for sales, I could try it out on Kickstarter and (hopefully) get the orders for those who would want the POD version of the game and maybe get some support for those who liked the idea that I would make the game available as a free Print & Play at a later date.

So now I’ve decided to launch Who’s for Dinner? on Kickstarter (coming very soon) and next time I’ll explain how I put together the reward structure and plan to promote the Kickstarter campaign.

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Making Choices

“The game plays you” is a complaint that seems to come up fairly often and one that I think that comes down to meaningful choices in the game. A game with few meaningful choices will often feel like it’s in charge and there’s no real choice for you to make. Lack of meaningful choices is usually due to either false distinctions or strictly dominant strategies.

False Distinctions

Consider a game where when you need to make a die roll you can select either a red die or a green die to roll. Both dice are identical and fairly weighted. While you have a choice (which color die to roll), it’s really a false distinction since the choice has no impact on gameplay. It’s rare to have such a stark example of false distinctions but they often present in games, lurking behind the math of the game system or in thematic elements. Consider a slighly more complex example: say I can make a choice between taking an action that will guarantee me 1 victory point or rolling a six-side die: three results net me 0 VP, the other three give me 2 VP. While it would seem each turn that I have a meaningful choice to make (take the sure thing or take a gamble) over the course of a long game the fact that the expected value of each option is 1 VP means I’ll likely feel like I’m not really making a choice.

Strict Domination

The other way choices losing meaning is when there is an obvious example of a strictly dominant strategy. Consider a two-player game with three possible actions: A, B and C. Selecting the same action as your opponent results in a tie. Action A wins against B and loses against C. Action B ties against C, but loses to Action A. Action C wins against A and ties versus B. In this game, Action C would always be the best choice, it ties two-thirds of the time and wins one-third of the time but never loses.

Dominant strategies in games can also be situational… there are some games where once a map area or technology is “unlocked” a certain strategy becomes dominant and there are no more meaningful choices to make. Whoever gets the highest die roll or best card draw will be the first to implement the strategy and come off the winner.

A Weak Solution

It might be tempting when you find a dominant strategy in your game design to try to rebalance the game to even ot the strategies but doing that can lead to false distinctions between the strategies. If all strategies have the same expected value then there’s really only one strategy just with different names.

I actually think that one of the best ways to ensure meaningful choices is to allow weak domination strategies in games. A weakly dominant strategy is one that is not victorious against all other strategies, but does win against at least one other. In games without perfect information, having multiple weakly dominant strategies can mean choosing a strategy has meaning. Of course, you need to constrain player choices or you’ll have players going off into the deep end of analysis paralysis.

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Keeping Score

One of the problems that kept rearing its head during the development of Who’s for Dinner? was the issue of scoring, or rather the keeping track of player’s scores. Initial playtest versions had players either using pen and paper or poker chips to keep track. But it always bothered me and eventually I had to make a rather radical change to the game in order to solve it.

In earlier versions of the game, both a Fire and a Pot gave you points. But because every time a player is eaten they must have a Fire and a Pot, they really added nothing to the score — no-one was going to win because of the points from a Fire in other words. So I reduced their value to zero. Also, the communal spice rack idea was beneficial to the gameplay but divorced the scored points from the cards that gave the points. Since the cards were out of play, I realized everyone could have their own little spice rack (scoring pile). That meant that players simply kept their cards that gave them points in a distinct pile and the was no record keeping needed. This did change Clean Hands and Fork & Knife into one-time benefits instead of an ongoing thing, but that was a small sacrifice to get much cleaner gameplay and no record-keeping.

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