Bruce Lee and Dragon Tides: Playing the Dragon, Part 2

The Story So Far…

Luther Bell Hendricks V and I just completed development on the Dragon Tides core game set.  Now we’re sharing the experience with you.

We knew immediately that we wanted Dragon Tides to promote the image of its stars, to have characters at multiple levels, a campaign mode, and action movie flavor.  With these objectives in place, we developed a core engine that would support them.  Our next step was to flesh out this core engine by differentiating its major characters.

Differentiating the Characters

The Dragon Tides core set features eight major characters.  Each one should have a distinctive feel when you play it.  We focused on two ways to differentiate the characters.  The first was by varying their statistics.  The second was through Signature Moves.

Character Differentiation: Stats

There are four Stats in Dragon Tides — Strike, Throw, Grapple, and Move.  The first three are different attack styles.  The last is the number of spaces a character can move on its turn.  Differentiating characters by adjusting their Stats is a venerable approach which we employed vigorously.

Bruce Lee, being a man who incorporated several styles into his own, was deemed to be completely balanced.  He was assigned even scores across the line.

Goliath is a thick, beefy, wrestling master.  He got a high rating in Grapple but low Move.

Luke Elba practices Capoeira, the acrobatic Brazilian martial art.  For him, Move was the primary rating.

Adjusting Stats gave us one form of differentiation but we wanted more.  This was where Signature Moves came in.

Character Differentiation: Signature Moves

Alex Lim of Artistic Justice Games had again laid a foundation for us here. His initial concept for the game featured a selection of special move cards. We built on this idea.

Under our system, each character has a unique mix of signature moves. Much like the powers in Sentinel Tactics, these signature moves give each character its own flair.

Brandon Lee was written to be a defensive character in the game and got Back to the Wall–a posture that boosts his defense dramatically when he’s cornered.

Ivan Castle is a fighter from the streets.  His moves include Slam to the Ground–When Ivan Castle throws someone, they know it!

Train Wong is quick and slippery.  Agile Like The Monkey shows this by letting him move after striking.

Each character can only have a single signature move into play at a time. Will you be defensive, or you press the attack?  Will you use the Hidden Dragon technique, or will you draw your pistol?  Tricky decisions for your players mean engaging gameplay for the designer.

An action movie would be pretty dull if its hero used the same moves every turn.  Our game is no different.  Each character must change its signature move each turn.  This both ensures varied interactions between characters and that players must constantly look for new ways to adapt to changing circumstances.  Good stuff.
Next Time

Our next post delves into the things that fill the game world–obstacles, items and objects.  Come by and see how an action movie character interacts with its environment.  See you then!

And if you’re interested in getting a copy of Dragon Tides for your very own, Artistic Justice is currently accepting preorders until the first week of March.

What do you think of the signature move system in Dragon Tides?  What other games used this approach?  Which ones used them best?  Why? Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.


Bruce Lee and Dragon Tides: Playing the Dragon, Part 1

Developing Dragon Tides has been incredibly satisfying.  My adolescence was filled with Hong Kong martial arts movies and my twenties were filled with Hollywood action movies.  Having a chance to design a game that brings these genres to your tabletop has been an honor.  This is the experience of cooking for a president, of painting The Queen, of painting for the Louvre.

This week marks our deadline for development of the core game set.  It’s a perfect time to share the experience with you.

eb8453e8fe149ad70c8b92ac6192b703_largeIt was Alex Lim of Artistic Justice Games secured the license for Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee and several other action movie stars for Dragon Tides.  AJG was partnered with Greenbrier Games to produce the game.  Luther and I already were already working on a project for Greenbrier so the two asked us to be the designers.

It was clear that this would be a big project but we were just coming off of Sentinel Tactics and eager to take on another project of that scope.

We knew immediately that we wanted Dragon Tides to promote the image of its stars, to have characters at multiple levels, a campaign mode, and action movie flavor.  Did we succeed?  I believe we did.

The Core Engine

Our first task was to create the core engine.  Alex already had a number of ideas about how the game might play.  He also had some sample components shown below–character mats, maps, custom dice–we set to work building on his ideas.

Preliminary DT bitsOur initial plan called for players to spend dice to make their characters take actions.  To move, you would spend a die that rolled a foot symbol.  To move multiple spaces, spend multiple feet.  Attacks would cost fists.  Defense costs shields.  Spend one type of die, then play passes to the next person.  The round ends when all players are out of dice.  This approach offered a fair bit of strategy but was lacking in excitement.  That’s no good for an action game.

The second plan was an extension of the first.  Dice were still spent in a similar fashion but now players spent all the dice they wished in a single go.  You might then spend 3 dice showing feet to move 3 spaces, then spend 4 dice showing fists to make a strength 4 attack.  Your opponent would spend shields to cancel fists on a 1-for-1 basis and take damage from any fists which remained.  Better but still not exciting.  Plus any player who had spent all her shields defending against an attack early in the turn was helpless against late-turn sharks.  No fun for that player.  Back to the drawing board.

We explored a few more ideas before finding the right system for Dragon Tides.

The custom dice stayed but with fewer icons: Fists and Shields only.  Each character on their turn gets to first move, then act.  Each character has a short list of Stats–Move governs how many spaces the character can move on its turn.  Strike, Throw and Grapple represent the three ways a character can attack an opponent or interact with things in the game world.

With our core engine in place, we were able to begin customizing the system to each character.  Dragon Tides was on its way!
Next Time

Our next post will take you on a trip through the Signature Move system.  Come by and see how a hand of six cards can differentiate characters.  See you then!

And if you’re interested in getting a copy of Dragon Tides for your very own, Artistic Justice is currently accepting preorders until the first week of March.
What do you think of the core mechanism in Dragon Tides?  What other games used this approach?  Which ones used them best?  Why? Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

Getting Ready For Protospiel 2015, Part 3


You prepped and polished your prototype.  You made the trip to a Protospiel event, an Unpub event, or some other awesome playtesting event. You put it your design in front of a bunch of total strangers.  They gave you tons of feedback.  Now the convention is ending and your next steps lie before you.  Where should you go next?

Successful design has three parts.  You had good preparation.  You had good execution.  Now you need good resolution.  What will you do AFTER the convention is over?

  1. A publisher expressed an interest in my game.  When should I contact her?

Your first step when a publisher expresses an interest should be to establish a timeline.  If you haven’t, there are a few general rules you can follow.

It is most likely that the publisher either took your prototype with her for in-house testing or asked you to send a prototype.  Send this within a week of the request and follow 3-4 business days with an email to confirm that they’re received it.  After that, my experience is that it takes publishers about a month to have a reply.  If you haven’t heard anything by then, send a short, polite message asking if they need any adjustments or have any questions.

  1. “They said it was awesome! How do I get it published? Should I publish it myself?”

Me? no.  You? Maybe.

I personally self-published one game–The Great Migration–for the experience.  I’m glad I did it.  Going through the whole process taught me a great many things about that end of the industry.  But I wouldn’t personally do it again.

Kickstarter and other similar crowdfunding platforms are opening new avenues for distribution and advertising however.  If you’re considering the self-publishing route, I would urge you to contact some of the folks who have already gone that route.  Folks in this industry are sincerely supportive and will give you solid advice.

  1. The playtesters wanted to completely overhaul my game.  If I take their advice, is this still my design?

This is a question I struggled with for quite some time myself.

The short answer is “yes.”

The long answer is that playtesters will give you every manner of idea.  It is your job as the game designer to analyze each suggestion, to carefully pick which ones to incorporate and which ones to set aside.  It takes a great deal of work to do that kind of fine-tuning.  It is that work which entitles you to put your name on the box.

  1. I got contradictory feedback from two different groups.  Now what do I do?

Congratulations!  Having too many ideas is one of the best problems a designer can have.

In this case, I often try to temporarily pursue both approaches.  This may go so far as to assemble two distinct prototypes.  I then alternate tests of each approach.  Eventually, one of these designs will reveal itself as superior.  When that occurs, you can drop the weaker design and focus on the superior one.

  1. But I have limited time and other responsibilities.  I can’t be working on two (or more) different versions at the same time.  Should I quit my day job?

In a perfect world, we have all the time and opportunity needed to pursue every avenue.  That nasty devil reality does tend to assert itself from time to time however.  Do not quit your day job.  Instead, pick the one(s) about which you feel most strongly and focus there.

  1. Was this playtest a “bad” playtest?

Gil Hova contributed this question.  Rather than trying to answer it myself, consider the response he offers.  I think it’s better than anything I could possibly say.

There are playtests where the game breaks down and everyone tears it apart, but I don’t think those are bad playtests, just difficult ones.

To me, there are three kinds of bad playtests…

First: The playtesters only say “Yeah, I liked it, it was okay,” and you can’t read any more feedback.

Second: The playtesters all LOVE the game. Then you play another, less polished game and they LOVE that one. Then you play a totally broken game and they LOVE that one too. And you realize that they’re cheerleaders, and they like pretty much anything they play.

Third: One playtester spoils the test somehow. Perhaps he is a high-maintenance special-needs kid who isn’t adjusted enough to social situations to play a game, or he is actually, literally insane and only offers lunatic ravings. These have both happened to me. They throw so much noise and static into the test that it makes the session tough to parse.

  1. This game just isn’t working. I’m afraid it’s a dead end. Now what do I do?

Mistakes and dead ends are all a part of the design process.  Take a step back.  Let the game rest for a little while.

This question of what to do with a dead end design hits one of the reasons keeping a journal in some form is so very important.

Your design journal is a repository for all those other game theme and mechanism ideas you may wish to return to.  It is also a place to look for inspiration if a project stalls or if you wish to go back and look at options you set aside earlier.

Take a look at your options.  Have you tried each approach you considered?  Perhaps there is an idea you had, an idea which didn’t seem useful at the time but now fits your situation perfectly?

  1. I set this game aside for months, then returned to it, polished it up and brought it to Protospiel.  It still isn’t working. Now what do I do?

It might be time to retire this design.  Perhaps this one simply doesn’t work.  That’s okay.  You will have plenty of failures along the way.  Keep working and keep trying new things.  Your successes will far outdistance your failures.  I promise it.

  1. “How can I keep in contact with all the wonderful people I met?”

Apart from trading email addresses with everyone you met, become an active part of the design community.  Facebook has a Protospiel group.  Boardgamegeek has its game design forums.  Board Game Designer’s Forum is another great place to commiserate and to exchange ideas.

If you’re an experienced designer, what do you like to do after a playtest event?  Do you have a question about playtesting that’s still searching of an answer?  Share with your fellow designers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create and account with wordpress and follow this blog.  It makes this old designer’s heart young again.

Next week, you folks get a look into the creation of Dragon Tides, the martial arts action movie game featuring Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee and a host of other familiar faces. See you then!

Getting Ready For Protospiel 2015, Part 2


Protospiel Houston (March 13 – 15) is only is five weeks away and Protospiel Milwaukee is just one little month behind it.  Designers–aspiring or otherwise–five hundred miles in every direction are scrambling to prep that game that just almost ALMOST works and get it in front of the crowd with the skill to push it through.

Successful playtesting comes in three parts–good preparation, good execution, and good resolution.  Last Friday’s column focused on questions of preparation.

Both JT Smith and Brett Myers weighed in on my claim that ugly prototypes are better than pretty ones.  I must confess to letting a bit of hyperbolic emphasis in this case.  JT pointed out that test groups in general respond better to protos that are more attractive.  JT is absolutely correct about this.  I would suggest that Protospielers are not the norm, however.  They are more design-focused and more able to focus on the game itself rather than its appearance.  The best advice might be Brett’s assertion that “functional” is preferable to “beautiful.”

Carl Klutze added his “must bring” list of game bits:

  1. Spare game parts so you can make changes to the game on the fly.
  2. Centimeter Cubes
  3. An ultra fine point Sharpie
  4. 3×5 index cards
  5. Clear plastic card sleeves (all my prototype cards are in these)
  6. Polyhedral dice, with some extra d6 (why would you leave home without these?)

Carl also mentioned that The Game Crafter brings prototyping materials to Protospiels in the Midwest.  This is a class move on their part.  If you have a chance, make sure to thank those guys for doing your fellow designers a solid.


Now let’s move our focus on to execution–what will you do during the event.


  1.  How do I keep someone from stealing my idea?

You don’t.  Seriously.  Your idea is a starting point and nothing more.  It is in your execution of that idea that the value emerges.  It is in polishing that idea until is is smooth and flows cleanly that your idea which was once nothing more than a rock gets polished into a valuable (and publishable) gem.

Everyone in the room has several dozen ideas of their own to wrangle with.  They haven’t got the time to think about stealing yours.  Free yourself of that fear and put your game out into the world.  The feedback and support you get will prove you made the right decision.


  1.  Should I have my playtesters fill out NDAs?

This is entirely up to you.  As a matter of etiquette, attendees should never discuss a prototype in any public forum without the expressed permission of the author.  NDAs make your wishes on the subject explicitly clear.


  1.  What if a publisher asks me to sign a NDA or similar release form?

Sign it.  Publishers have a variety of reasons to employ NDAs.  They have their own worries and need their own protections.  You want to build a good relationship with every publisher you can.  Being agreeable about an early request like this one will get you good karma with them.


  1. Does my game have to be finished? How close to being finished does it have to be?

A prototype can be at any state of being.  Testing is critical at every stage of the design process.

Many freshman designers talk about wanting a game to be “ready to test.”  This belief and all the reasons underlying it should be carefully researched and written into a large leather bound book. That book should then be thrown into a bonfire.  Aspiring designers should be made to encircle that fire and chant “playtest, playtest, playtest” until this demonic belief is exorcised from each of their minds.

No good design comes without playtesting.

Game designs are meant to be tested. Get your ideas on the table.  Do it every chance you get.  Make new chances and test it then too. Denying your design table time will delay its development and nothing more.


  1.  Is there anything I should tell my playtesters before we start?

You should tell them where your game is at in its development cycle.  Is the game new or have you been working on it for some time?  Is there any particular part of the game you’d like them to focus on?  Be candid. If you feel something isn’t working, tell them.  Let them take a look at it.  New perspectives bring new solutions.


  1.  What sort of questions should I ask my playtesters?

The answer to this may depend largely on where your game is the development cycle.

For an alpha prototype, my questions focus on the basics–is this fun?  Does the overall idea work?  Is this idea worth pursuing? What would you say was the core engagement of this game?

For a beta test, I’m hitting those questions of overall balance and asking players to pay close attention to their experience.  This is where I return to the question of core engagement and say things like “this game is supposed to be about ______. How well would you say the game reached that goal?”

During final testing, I urge players to look for every sneaky trick they can play, to find every loophole they can exploit, to try and rules lawyer the game out of whack..  Final testing is stress testing.  Just like with a new model of car, you want to slam it into a few walls to see how it survives.


  1.  Should I playtest a prototype the same way I’d play a published game?

People play games for a number of different reasons.  The purpose of playtesting is to test the game.  Players may try more extreme strategies than they normally might or actively seek loopholes to exploit.  The pace and the experience will likely differ radically from a normal game play.


  1.  What if they don’t like my game?

This is possible.  Different players have different tastes.  Every designer in the room has had that experience however.  Most of them are also able to separate themselves from their feelings to provide constructive feedback regardless.


  1.  What if I dislike their game?

This situation falls clearly The Golden Rule.  Much as you may hope people will be considerate of you, so must you be considerate of them.  Be respectful. Also be honest.  You do your fellow designer a disservice to be any other way.  Tell him exactly what you didn’t like.  Be as specific as possible about your emotional response to that game element as well as your intellectual response.  Offer suggestions and any changes that occur to you.  Trust that he will do the same for you.


  1.  What if I love their game?

Providing constructive feedback to a game you adore can often be harder than providing it for a game you hate.  Do your best.  Remember that the designer depends on you to describe exactly what you liked about her game, again being as specific as possible about your emotional and intellectual response. At any playtesting session, try to keep your mind on constructive feedback.


  1. What do I do if the game is bad and its really long? Is it bad form to gnaw my arm off so I can get away?

As Jame Mathe pointed out recently in the Facebook Protospiel page, a game does not need to be played to completion for it to be tested.  Some games need to be played all the way through but others can end early.  If the game elements are front-loaded, a half play can show all the major parts.  Sometimes, only a few rounds are needed.

If the game is truly dreadful, the polite way to express it is “I’m ready to talk about this game.  I’m not sure that we need to play any further before I offer my thoughts.” Or something along those lines.  From there, you can move on to discuss the issues you had with the game.

If you’re an experienced designer, what do you like to do during a playtest event?  Do you have a question about playtesting that’s still searching of an answer?  Share with your fellow designers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, subscribe.  It makes this old designer’s heart young again.

Our next set of questions cover the take-away–what to do after the playtesting ends. See you Friday!