BGG.FAM After Report

BGG.FAM 2016 was last weekend.  Since Comicpalooza is in June this year, we had a chance to slip out of Houston, escape the deluge, see some old friends, and to make new ones.

Here are some of the highlights from Dallas.

Spinderella-Bild-2_07Spinderella

The convention library had a sizable stack of family games up front and after looking through them, I settled on Spinderella from Zoch Verlag.  I didn’t know it at the time, but this spatial reasoning race game won the 2015 nod from the SdJ committee for best children’s game “Kinderspiel des Jahres.”  It certainly earned it.

Each player has a set of three ants who are racing from the base of one tree to the base of another tree on the opposite corner of the game box.  Using the game box to create the play space for a game is always a nice touch and doubly so in the case of a game meant for children.  Eager to dine on our delicate ants is the eponymous Spinderella who is suspended by a thread to two other spiders above.

On your turn, roll three dice.  The first die determines whether you will move an ant, the tree stump, or Spinderella herself.  Moving an ant is just as you would in any Pachisi type game–pick an ant and move it the number of spaces shown on the die.  Moving the stump covers or uncovers ants which either protects them (when covering) or frees them up to move (when uncovering).  Moving Spinderella is the hook of the game.  She is not moved directly.  Instead, you move the spiders holding her aloft.  As these two spiders near one another, she descends, as they move laterally, so does she.  It’s a bit like having a claw crane on the tabletop.  And when Spinderella descends but refuses to latch on to your opponent’s ant, it’s every bit as frustrating.

Track Spinderella down and check it out.  You’ll be glad you did.

Epic PvP: Fantasy

World famous game developer Brent Lloyd and I hit the Saturday morning flea market together.  This was a bad decision on both our parts since it turned out we were looking for the same kinds of games. Epic PvP was an impulse buy which the two of us quickly tried out.  Brent beat me 2-0 but let’s not hold that against the game.

If you think of this game as a two-player version of Smash-Up, you’re halfway there.  Each player chooses a race and a class, then shuffles the two decks together.  This gets you classic fantasy gaming combinations like Dwarf Paladin or Human Druid.  In addition to this deck, you get two additional powers from your race/class combination. 

Epic PvP Setup

Deck Setup

The game has a simple back-and-forth at its core.  This is an asset to the design.  It takes only a few minutes to understand the basic game which frees your brain to focus on squeezing advantage from every card.  The game also features a constant dimension between energy–called “aggression” in this game–and hand size.

Epic PvP offers plenty of replay at a small price.  I’m confident that I’ll be playing this one for a while.

Roller Derby Final Jams

Four years ago, Kevin Brusky hosted a company party for APE Games at a roller derby.  We had a great time and I’ve appreciated the sport ever since.  Two years later, Ref Tom Green, a roller derby referee himself, first showed me his prototype.  Rather than trying to carry you through an entire game, Roller Derby Final Jams covers only the final 6 minutes of play.  This enabled him to zoom in and pack the game with detail while still keeping the play time tight.

Roller Derby Final Jam

Even celebrities like a good roller derby!

The game has been tightened up since I first saw it and he was running demonstrations throughout the weekend.  Featuring simultaneous action selection, token drafting, simultaneous die rolling, and press your luck die rolling, this game looks like it would be a hodgepodge of unrelated bits but each mechanism does a respectable job of simulating its part of live roller derby.  For original theme and clever use of familiar game mechanics, Roller Derby Final Jams deserves to find a publisher and will hopefully find its audience as well.

Simon’s Cat and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Boardgame

I’ve known designer Randy Scheunemann for several years now.  I do not know collaborator design partner Samuel Mitschke as well but it looks as if both of these are going to be popular with their intended audiences.  

Simons CatSimon’s Cat is in the Crazy Eights  family of card games except that the deck is dealt out every hand.  When you cannot play to a pile, take the pile in front of you as a penalty and lead a new card.  The player with the most piles before them at the end of the hand loses the hand.

Playing Bill & Ted’s Excellent Boardgame is like playing duck! duck! GO! with two bird dogs and variable hand size.  And that’s a good thing.  Play two cards each turn to program your movement for the turn.  Carry them out in numeric order.  Pick up objective tokens.  Each objective token adds to the beginning of your programmed movement for all subsequent rounds.  Two characters hunt you across space and time–the sheriff and the knight.  Each of these moves right after you do, using the same program you did, depending on the cards you played.  If you hit one of these nemeses or they hit you, drop an objective token on the map where your pawn stands.  The player with the most objective tokens at the end of the game wins.  Fun Fact: if you put the cards in order, their art tells the entire story of the movie!

A group of us played one hand of Simon’s Cat and found the notes of hand management and card counting enjoyable.

A different group of us tried Bill & Ted’s with designer Scheunemann.  Apparently, we were much more aggressive that most, seldom allowing a player to hold more than two objective tokens at a time.

Both of these games are, as they say, the sort of thing you like if you like that sort of thing.  I enjoyed both.  Perhaps I enjoyed Simon’s Cat a little bit more.  Their intended audiences will love them.

My Village

My VillageConsidering the big hit that was Village, it is only natural that there be a sequel.  My Village takes a stab at using dice as an action selection mechanism.  The result is a pastoral experience.  My Village is a game to enjoy on a quiet afternoon.  The difference between a weak turn and a strong one is pretty small and it will take careful consideration to make the right turn.  Find players who naturally ponder the implications of each decision.  Brew a pot of tea.  Relax and enjoy.

 

Those were my highlights from BGG.FAM 2016.  How about you?  Were you at the con this year?  What stood out for you?  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.

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Cross-Platform Game Design, Part 3

The Story So Far

Luther and I were recently approached to design a boardgame to enhance an existing RPG product line.  This project got me started thinking about cross-platform game design.

To engage players in your crossover, it must give players new experiences while staying true to the parent game.

I’m heading up to Dallas for BGG.FAM for the weekend–and my 48th birthday–but first, let’s talk conversions.  This time, we move between miniatures games and roleplaying games.

 

Converting a Minis Game Into a Roleplaying Game

Well this is where roleplaying games started, isn’t it?  Gary Gygax was a fan of Jeff Perren’s minis rules and together, they created Chainmail.  Gygax and Dave Arneson decided to personalize this experience by playing the same character over multiple sessions rather than simply deploying nameless figurines each play.  The rest–as they say…

MechwarriorMany RPG conversions from minis games fall short of the potential of that medium.  My college gaming group of the late 1980s played tons of Battletech.  It was only natural that they would try out the official Battletech roleplaying game, Mechwarrior.  Although I wasn’t an active member of the group, I did sit in on a few sessions.  The campaign was all about a loose group of mercenaries and their attempts to get by without signing on to one of the clans.  Unfortunately, roleplay consisted of “I climb into my mech,” *spend two hours playing the minis game* “I climb out of my mech.”  They had boiled their RPG down into miniatures game in which you play the same mini repeatedly.  The RPG was quickly abandoned and the group returned to straight-up Battletech skirmishes.  They missed the opportunity to do anything deeper.

Converting from miniatures game to roleplaying game gives you, the designer, a chance to zoom in.  Your players no longer look at the coordinated force of a squad, division, or army.  Instead, they get to focus on a single character.  Play in an RPG is about the internal motivations and external achievements of that character and any RPG design should highlight them.

Converting from minis to RPG lets you take the game new places.   Using minis rules to govern the negotiations between two rival nations would probably be pretty dull but roleplaying is the perfect medium for such diplomatic drama.  Roleplaying games generally better at staging any dramatic scene–business aspirations, interpersonal romance, personal tragedy, visceral horror–than are minis games.

 

Converting a Roleplaying Game Into a Minis Game

OD&DMinis games are a solid compliment to many roleplaying games.  Original Dungeons & Dragons recognized this; the Men & Magic rule booklet advised players to use Chainmail to handle combat.

Minis games are better at clarifying combat.  They are better at giving each player an immediate  sense of their character and its surroundings.  They are also better at handling large groups of units.  Have negotiations broken down?  Must you lead your battalion to war?  Did you trip a trap and release twenty-eight massive, red, poisonous spiders on your team?  Have you found your way into the vampire den and must stake all of them before their numbers overwhelm you?  Break out the maps and the minis!

Rules and Complexity

There is no particular trend in complexity between these two game types.  There are simple and complex roleplaying games.  There are simple and complex miniatures games.  In general, try to keep the complexity close.  If the minis game is rules-light, create a rules-light RPG.  If the RPG is complex or nuanced, make a meaty minis game.

Malifaux 2EIt is ideal to carry core mechanisms from the parent game to its conversion.  If the roleplaying game uses a D20 system, so should the minis game.  If armies in the minis game roll buckets of dice as in Warhammer 40K, use a buckets of dice system in your RPG.  If the minis game uses cards as in Malifaux, bring that card play mechanism over.  If the RPG is dice-light like Fiasco, employ a similar dice light engine.  Keeping core mechanisms similar keeps the feel of your game familiar to players coming over from the original property.

 

Closing Thoughts

Roleplaying games tend to have smaller greater scope than minis games.  Any conversion from one to the other should align its complexity with the parent game.

Each can give a great gaming experience to our players.

In the next column, we will tackle board game/roleplaying games conversions.  Until then, keep on designing!

 

What do you think of roleplaying: minis game conversions?  Did I miss any features?  Have you written any yourself?  How did you approach it?  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.

 

Cross-Platform Game Design, Part 2

The Story So Far

Luther and I were recently approached to design a boardgame to enhance an existing RPG product line.  This project got me started thinking about cross-platform game design.

To engage players in your crossover, it must give players new experiences while staying true to the parent game.

Today, we take on the main traits of conversions between board games and minis games. There will be exceptions to every case I present but we are going to focus on the broad trends.

Converting a Board Game Into a Minis Game

Board games tend to be more abstract than their pewter and plastic counterparts.  Thus, when you make this type of conversion, plan to make the play experience more concrete.

 

Sentinel Tactics-mainCombat in the Sentinels of the Multiverse card game contains no information of location, no concept of maneuver apart from hand management.  Location is the foremost way in which the the board game made these super-powered battles more concrete.  Information of location let us highlight the kinds of details we don’t fret over in the card game.  Line of Sight could now become important, as could range.

Minis games tend to have more variability than board games.  Consider adding subsystems where the parent board game had fixed outcomes.

ST_Battle_ChessMy high school gamer buddies loved adding subsystems to board games.  When we tried Battle Chess on our PCs, several of us were keen to bring that experience to the tabletop.  For those of you who may not be familiar with Battle Chess, its claim to fame was the animations it added.  Digital wizards and soldiers bashed one another across our 8×8 battlefield.  It preserved 100% of the rules of traditional chess, however.  In came our version.  We preserved all movement rules but also gave each unit its own combat ratings.  When a piece moved into an enemy space, a quick die roll determined who captured whom.  Because our delicate Kings could now defend themselves–however meekly–checkmate was removed in favor of a rule requiring capture.  A fixed outcome–piece entering the space captures the defending piece–was replaced with the variable outcome of a die roll.

Adding detail and variability comes with a price, of course.  They tend to add complexity and with complexity comes increased play time.  There are a couple of ways you can address this issue.  The first is to simply acknowledge that your game will take longer to play than the original, to tell your players that longer play time is part of the price of entry to a richer game experience.  Another way is to reduce the scope of your game.  Where the original board game might cover the globe, your minis game might focus on a single battle.

Converting a Minis Game Into a Board Game

So what about the inverse conversion?  Should play become more expansive, more abstract, and faster?  Yes.

Chaos in the Old WorldWarhammer is probably the best known miniatures battlefield game in the world.  Eric M. Lang’s  adaptation Warhammer: Chaos in the Old World abstracted individual battles, making Chaos closer to an area control game.  Play time remained close at two hours but the feel of the game is much more epic.  Lang also gives each player a checklist of objectives.  Satisfy these objectives to win the game; a nice way to round out this board game conversion.

Vlaada Chvátil’s sprawling Mage Knight Board Game takes the battle maps of the eponymous game out of the dungeon and into the wilderness.  Rather than controlling a team, each player controls a single hero who explores the map, defeats interesting monsters, and takes their stuff.  Combat is similarly condensed down; it has multiple phases but damage is streamlined and defeated enemies are immediately removed.
Mage Knight Board Game

A Bit of Both: Board/Minis Hybrids

Titan BoardsMy friends and I were conceiving our version of Battle Chess in the late 1980s.  We did not know it at the time, but Jason B. McAllister and David A. Trampier had already taken our idea the rest of the way in the Fantasy Monster Slug-a-thon Titan.  Titan plays very much like a board game and minis game in one package.  Armies recruit units by travelling across the main map.  This part echoes resource gathering in your favorite eurogame.  When two armies encounter one another, they jump over to a tactical battle map.  You maneuver and sling dice on the battle map as you might in any other minis game.  If you’re interested studying in the strengths of each design type, Titan is a good place to start.

This crossover approach is not uncommon in the historical minis community.  Two players might be using the main map and rule set from We the People or Axis & Allies to govern global actions but disregarding the enclosed combat system in favor of a richer battle with their favorite minis ruleset.

Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit is another interesting hybrid.  The battle on the Naboo Plains and the battle inside the castle are both wargames but Anakin’s flight and the Jedi battle are much closer to timers in a boardgame.  Supporting the boardgame side are the game cards.  Each one can be played two different ways.  Supporting the wargame side are the dice, or rather that buckets of ‘em players get to roll in the battles.Star Wars Queen's Gambit

 

Closing Thoughts

Boardgames tend to have greater scope but less crunch than minis games.  Minis games tend to have heavier rulesets but smaller scope than board games.  Each can give a great gaming experience to our players.

In the next column, we will tackle minis game/roleplaying games conversions.  Until then, keep on designing!

 

What do you think of boardgame: minis game conversions?  Did I miss any features?  Have you written any yourself?  How did you approach it?  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.

 

Cross-Platform Game Design, Part 1

ADnD Players HandbookYou know Dungeons & Dragons.  You probably encountered it first in school.  Perhaps you played.  Perhaps a boyfriend/girlfriend played.  My first exposure to was in the fall of 1980.  Attending a new school and knowing no one, a classmate and I became fast friends over classic dungeon crawls and the occasional wild west shootout.  Roleplaying games are still a geeky passion.

Luther and I were recently approached to design a boardgame to enhance an existing RPG product line.  We are not currently free to discuss this specific project.  However, it got me started thinking about cross-platform gaming.  

220px-MechWarrior_1st_edition_1986
We’ve seen a few board game tie-ins to RPGs like
Dungeon!  and card game ties-ins like Pathfinder Adventure Card Game.  We’ve seen tabletop tie-ins to Minis Games like Chaos in the Old World. We’ve even got a fair number of RPG tie-ins to minis games like Mechwarrior or GURPS Autoduel.  Making these conversions must have been challenging.  Changing game platform tends to hit you with a shift of pace or tone. Fans of the original game are likely to judge every element–how well does your design measure up to their precious? You can be certain that they’ll tell you.

Why go to the trouble?  Why work on a conversion when you know your work will be judged as much by its faithfulness to the original game as by your own work?  Why work so hard when you know you’ll be scrutinized for your efforts?

Sentinel Tactics-main
The biggest and best reason to cross platforms is brand recognition.  Would the same number of people look at
Chaos in the Old World without its tie-in to 40K?  Would we be playing 1977’s Dungeon! were it not tied to the biggest Fantasy RPG of all time?  It was certainly a big part of the plan that Sentinel Tactics bring fans of the original SotM card game to our table.

Another good reason reason to cross platforms is to expand player experience.  Autoduel enabled Car Wars players to expand their relationship with SJG’s setting.  Chaos in the Old World  shows players the world of Warhammer from the perspective of a god.  Sentinel Tactics let Sentinels of the Multiverse fans see their battles play out across the spires of Megalopolis.

 

Considering Player Types

To make a cross-platform successful, it helps to think about what brought players to the original game.  Most gamer folk have experimented with board, minis, and roleplaying games.  Many gamer folk define themselves by their favorite category.  This is interesting when we consider that the mechanical distance between them is pretty small.  Each allows players to choose from a set of available actions and include rules for interpreting the results of those actions.  Want to build a University in Puerto Rico?  Want to lob a grenade at those MERCS?  Want to trick the super villain into monologuing in Mutants & Masterminds?  Each game has rules to cover its actions.

What separates players?  Why does one gamer identify as wargamer, another as boardgamer, and another as roleplayer?  As with many areas of design, it all comes down to core experience.  Roleplaying games are best at providing engaging social experiences and engaging settings.  Minis games are best at offering engaging tactics and engaging strategy.  Boardgames can expediently show off engaging mechanisms.

Preference in core experience motivates choice of game type.  Does this make writing a cross-platform game a fool’s errand?  Not so!  Plenty of minis games have an engaging setting.  Roleplaying games often draw on engaging knowledge.  Cross-platform boardgames simply require cross-platform engagement.

Player Engagement

Earning player engagement requires that the game highlight elements common to its counterpart.

OOTS

Order of the Stick is a webcomic about a meta-aware D&D party.  Most of its humor comes from references to its genre conventions.  When Kevin Brusky developed the OotS board game, he mirrored the first story arc–an extended dungeon crawl–and included lots of original humorous art from the comic’s creator.

Sentinels of the Multiverse is a game of collaboration.  When we developed the board game, we made sure that characters were complementary.  Each character had particular strengths and weaknesses.  Success in the SotM game would then require players to collaborate and cover each other.Star Wars Epic Duels

 

Star Wars Epic Duels proclaims its appeal on the the box.  “Did You Ever Wonder…” Yes I did, Mr. Daviau.  Yes I did, Mr. Van Ness.  And thank you for helping us all find out.

 

Closing Thoughts

In future columns, I will take on the main traits of conversions between board, minis, and roleplaying games.  Until then, keep the main points in mind.

Taking a property across platforms can be difficult.  Changes of tone and player expectations are both traps any designer could slip into.  But if you identify our target players and we find opportunities to give players a new experience, you will write a great cross-platform games, perhaps even exceeding its parent.
What genre or setting would you try in any game type?  How would you write any such a game?  What did you learn from the experience?  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.