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.

Advertisements

Designing Microgames–Duel, Part 10

The Story So Far…

A new microgame is in development.  Duel supports two players, each with a deck of 20 cards.  Players have a hand of 4 cards and may (1) play a card into an empty space, (2) play a card onto an enemy card, or (3) move a card one space.  After this, the player refills her hand.  The game ends if a player is down to 3 or fewer cards in hand and chooses to end it.  The player controlling the majority of spaces in a 3×3 grid wins.

Kevin (APE Games) Brusky has given the prototype a look and wants to proceed together.  APE Games will release the game in two-player packs containing two unique armies.

We have taken an extensive look at three decks–Pirates, Sea Monsters, and the Shogunate.  Now we look at the Masters of Kung Fu deck who bring the Merge ability into the game environment.

A New Deck: the Masters of Kung Fu

In the late 1980s, every Saturday night at midnight, right after Saturday Night Live, our local NBC affiliate ran Black Belt Theater.  These beloved B-movies boasted bombastic titles like Kid with the Golden Arm, The Nine Demons, and The Invincible Armor. They frequently packed the entire hero’s journey into their allotted 90 minutes or less.  I would argue that these movies even set the visual style for modern action masterpieces like Django Unchained, The Man With The Iron Fists and Tai Chi Zero / Tai Chi Hero.

For years, I longed for an excuse to create a game in this high-flying setting. Developing Duel has given me just that excuse.

While this set is still in flux, its variety of card interactions has proven popular with playtesters.  Unlike the Pirates or the Shogunate who tend to cover one another with their remote Strike abilities, the Masters of Kung Fu deck boosting through cards that directly enhance one another.

Chi FocusThis theme is in the three Sword Sisters–Strength 6 cards which gain +1 Strength for each other Sword Sister in play.  This theme is in the slippery Drunken Master–a slippery fighter who cannot be pinned down and can therefore jump to the assistance of a beleaguered ally.  This theme is seen in the Flying Punch–a Coup de Grace that immediately returns to your hand.

The card which drives this theme home is Chi Focus–the first appearance of the Merge ability–which can join another card, effectively increasing the strength of the original by +3.

Testing the Masters of Kung Fu

As of this writing, the Masters of Kung Fu deck is undergoing its first major overhaul.

The Drunken Master was too powerful at Strength 8. In response, he has been reduced to Strength 6.

Flying Punch stands accused of being too weak since its low strength cannot hold any spaces on its own.  We have a few possibilities being passed around–the most prominent among these being the simple addition of the phrase “you may.”  No definite resolution has yet appeared however and the version given here is its original.

Kung Fu 1  Kung Fu 2Kung Fu 3

As Duel enters its next extended playtest cycle, we depart from it here for a while.  Our next entry in this column will take a look at one of the big buzz games at Gen Con 2014 and what it can teach us about triggered effects in a deckbuilding environment.  To what game am I referring? You’ll find out next time!

What’s your take on the Masters of Kung Fu?  What do you find most intriguing about them?  Which cards would you change?  How would you approach them?  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.  You keep reading. I’ll keep writing.

Designing Microgames–Duel, Part 9

The Story So Far…

A new microgame is in development.  Duel supports two players, each with a deck of 20 cards.  Players have a hand of 4 cards and may (1) play a card into an empty space, (2) play a card onto an enemy card, or (3) move a card one space.  After this, the player refills her hand.  The game ends if a player is down to 3 or fewer cards in hand and chooses to end it.  The player controlling the majority of spaces in a 3×3 grid wins.

Kevin (APE Games http://apegames.com/) Brusky has given the prototype a look and wants to proceed together.  APE Games will release the game in two-player packs containing two unique armies.

We have taken an extensive look at two decks–the team boosting Pirates and the lone swimming Sea Monsters.  Each was created to focus on a certain part of the game.  Now we look at the Shogunate deck and bring the Ally ability into the conversation.

 

Rules Update: Terminology

The “Support” ability has given many players issues.  We have repeatedly seen them mistake this ability for a defensive boost rather than an attack boost.  This is natural, considering the connotation of the word.  To clarify, we ran through a list of replacements and came up with “Strike.”  The rules have been updated accordingly.

Duel Rules 3-2

 

A New Deck: the Shogunate

NagamakiClose on the heels of the Pirates and the Sea Monsters were the Shogunate. This deck was conceived around the kind of large-scale battles we see in films like Akira Kurosawa’s Ran.  And Ninjas.  You gotta have ninjas.

The Shogunate became an effort to blend elements from each of the previous two decks.  In this deck, we see the Ninjas equipped with a first strike ability akin to that used in the Sea Monsters.

We see Archers with a Strike ability similar to that of the the Pirates.  

The Shogunate also feature the first appearance of the Ally ability–Nagamaki cards that can to add to the defense of a space.

Testing the Shogunate

As of this writing, the Shogunate deck has been through three major overhauls.  The Ninja were too weak at first, the Swordsman too strong.  The version you’re seeing here has been testing well, however and I don’t anticipate any major changes any time soon.

Shogunate 1 Shogunate 2Shogunate 3

 

 

We’ll take a look at the Shogunate’s chief rivals next time when you’ll see The Masters of Kung Fu deck.  How do these decks interact with one another? You’ll find out Friday!

 

What’s your favorite Microgame?  What do you like best about it?  Have you written one? How did your players respond to 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.  You keep reading. I’ll keep writing.

Designing Microgames–Duel, Part 8

The Story So Far…

A new microgame is in development.  Duel supports two players, each with a deck of about 20 cards.  Players have a hand of 4 cards and may (1) play a card into an empty space, (2) play a card onto an enemy card, or (3) move a card one space.  After this, the player refills her hand.  The game ends if a player is down to 3 or fewer cards in hand and chooses to end it.  The player controlling the majority of a 3×3 grid wins.

Kevin Brusky has given the prototype a look and wants to proceed together.  APE Games will release the game in two-player packs containing two unique armies.

Several sets have been created. The first core set will be Pirates vs. Sea Monsters.  These two decks have therefore been receiving the most attention. Let’s check in on these two core factions…

 

Change is the Only Constant

Iteration is the heart of design.  Constant cycles of playtesting and tweaking sessions between each cycle are the best way to home in on something that is both balanced and fun.  Throughout this test cycle, we’ve been using a randomizer (from random.org) has been used to set matchups.  This data is helping us to identify the relative strengths of each deck. Because we’ve also used this randomizer to set the starting deck, we are able to look for any player order advantage as well.

 

Checking In With The Pirates

The last time we discussed the Pirates, they were being toned down a bit.  We lowered the power level of both the Dagger and the Cannon.  Since these changes came in, there’s been no need to adjust the deck any further.  The Pirates are sailing high.

 

Checking In With The Sea Monsters

JellyfishRecent testing indicated that the Sea Monsters had failed to keep up with the overall power level of the game.  They were beefed up a bit but still fell behind in general.  Even worse, one card–the Whirlpool–has been described as counterintuitive by players.

WhirlpoolOur last iteration gave the Jellyfish a limited first strike ability.  At the time, this first strike would immediately eliminate any card of strength 3 or lower, regardless of its position as attacker or defender.  When this ability was conceived, I’d kept the option open to raise this threshold to Strength 4.  This option has been activated and a similar version has been given to the Whirlpool.

 

With that all having been said, here is the latest cardset for our Sea Monsters faction:

Faction Sea Monsters Page 1Faction Sea Monsters Page 2Faction Sea Monsters Page 3

 

 

Checking In With The Ruleset

The biggest rule debate has hung on the ability to rotate revealed cards.  This rule matters quite a bit to the Pirates since their fiercest weapon is an array of support arrows.  We tried playing the game both ways–first where rotation was allowed as an alternative to a normal move action, second where rotation was disallowed.  These tests were met with mixed feelings.  Some testers enjoyed the extra option.  Others felt that the ability to rotate a card was a massive force multiplier.  For the moment, I’ve elected to deny card rotation once revealed.

 

 

Closing Thoughts For the Moment

Overall, Duel seems to be progressing well.  Its core decks are focused but still interesting to play. Next, time, I’ll be posting another faction for your gameplay pleasure.

What’s your favorite Microgame?  What do you like best about it?  Have you written one? How did your players respond to 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.  You keep reading. I’ll keep writing.

Designing Microgames–Duel, Part 7

The Story So Far…

A new microgame is in development.  Duel supports two players, each with a deck of about 20 cards.  Players have a hand of 4 cards and may (1) play a card into an empty space, (2) play a card onto an enemy card, or (3) move a card one space.  After this, the player refills her hand.  The game ends if a player is down to 3 or fewer cards in hand and chooses to end it.  The player controlling the majority of a 3×3 grid wins.

Kevin (APE Games) Brusky has given the prototype a look and wants to proceed together.  APE Games will release the game in two-player packs containing two unique armies.

The first two sets have been created and tested.  The pirates were underpowered and strengthened.  New tests were run. Now it’s time to see how the New And Improved Pirates performed…

 

Too Much of a Good Thing

Iteration is the heart of design.  Constant cycles of playtesting and tweaking sessions between each cycle are the best way to home in on something that is both balanced and fun.  During the last cycle, the Pirates seemed to be underpowered and needed a boost.  This cycle revealed that we’d gone a bit too far.

 

Another Look At The Pirates

Our last column described how we powered up the Pirates.  This cycle, the pirates showed themselves to be a bit too good.  Specifically, the Pirate set went 6-0 against the Sea Monsters and two other decks as well.  We need to turn the dial back a little bit.

Before going too far down this road, I stepped back to reexamined the set’s theme.  Reviewing Part 4 (), reminds us that the main categories of card ability are (1) Teamwork, (2) Individualist, (3) Movement, and (4) Card Manipulation.  The Pirates are meant to be individually manageable but strong in combination–teamwork.  It was for this reason that so many of their cards feature support.  What we have learned along the way is that support can be a major force-multiplier. Its strength needed to be toned down a little bit.

Examples of Modification Set 2 - Dagger

 

Our other major discovery related to the Cannon.  raising its strength by that little +1 and allowing it to be replayed immediately made it wildly overpowered. It had become a threat too big to ignore but also impossible to get rid of.  Adding insult to injury, trying to eliminate a Pirate Cannon actually helped the Pirate race through his deck, leaving you less time to respond.  Our solution was to shelve this ability and strip the card back.

Examples of Modification Set 2 - Cannon

 

Another Look At The Sea Monsters

The Sea Monsters seemed to be about right when played against the first draft of the Pirates.  As the Pirates were refined and other sets created (you’ll see some of those soon, I promise) it became clear that the Sea Monsters had failed to keep up with the overall power level of the game.

I again stepped back to reexamine the theme of the set.  The Sea Monsters were meant to be individually strong with limited combinations.  They were something more of a brute force deck than a support deck.  Perhaps this was the wrong concept.

Remembering that the Pirates push teamwork heavily with their extensive use of support cards and have a dash of movement in Calico Jack’s diagonal movement.  Let’s make the Sea Monsters push individualism and movement more heavily.

In the area of movement, we already have the Tiger Shark but with strength 6, it seldom gets a chance to really roam the board the way it wants to.  We decided to raise its strength to 7 and to have four of them in the deck rather than just two.  In this ways, a beginning player will have many more opportunities to interact with this mechanism.  To rebalance the deck, we reduced the strength of Giant Squid down to 6 and now only have two of them.

Examples of Modification Set 2 - Tiger Shark

Examples of Modification Set 2 - Giant Squid

 

The overall notion behind Hydra was sound but putting it on the defensive limited its play.  We gave it more options.

Examples of Modification Set 2 - Hydra

 

To fully round out the individualist theme, the Jellyfish got a little boost–a first strike ability.

Examples of Modification Set 2 - Jellyfish

The “4?” in parentheses indicates that this stat could go either way and is actively being considered.  Rules like these are frequently included on prototype components to encourage playtesters to keep an eye it and weigh in as we play.

 

 

Another Look At The Rules

All this testing also prompted a few rule changes.  Most notably, we’re testing the idea that in the case of a tie, the attacking card wins and claims the space rather than being eliminated along with the defending card.   This change tends to keep the board more full and give players a bit more to wrestle with but also makes the closing moves of the game richer and more exciting.

Duel Rules 3-2

 

Protospiel!

David E WhitcherNext week is the Protospiel main event in Chelsea, Michigan.  This is the best event for design of all those I attend.  Organizer David E. Whitcher  puts on a solid event, filled with the most helpful folks you’ll ever meet. Come on down–I’ll see you there!

And while you’re prepping your games for the event, be sure to check out our columns on what to expect.  Just follow these links toPart 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

 

What’s your favorite Microgame?  What do you like best about it?  Have you written one? How did your players respond to 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.  You keep reading. I’ll keep writing.

Designing Microgames–Duel, Part 6

The Story So Far…

A new microgame is in development.  Duel supports two players, each with a deck of about 20 cards.  Players have a hand of 4 cards and may (1) play a card into an empty space, (2) play a card onto an enemy card, or (3) move a card one space.  After this, the player refills her hand.  The game ends if a player is down to 3 or fewer cards in hand and chooses to end it.  The player controlling the majority of a 3×3 grid wins.

Kevin (APE Games) Brusky has given the prototype a look and wants to proceed together.  APE Games will release the game in two-player packs containing two unique armies.

The first two sets have been created and tested.  Now it’s time to see how the Pirates and Sea Monsters performed…

 

Initial Testing

Their first playtests revealed that opportunities for improvement.  This is perfectly natural.  If anything, I would have been more worried had we failed to.  Interestingly, the Sea Monsters set seemed to perform well just as it was.  It is in the Pirate deck that work was most needed.

 

Clarifying Card Art

I seldom worry over the beauty of a prototype.  Functionality is a different issue, however.  We found that players often had trouble quickly remembering each a given card’s support strength. For this reason, numbers went into the arrows as a reminder.

Examples of Modification - Anne

Examples of Modification - Redbeard

 

Adjusting Cards

The cards Dagger and Cannon were both seen as an interesting ideas but in need of adjustment.  In the case of the Dagger, its support simply wasn’t strong enough to matter in most battles while its Strength was low enough that it could be easily eliminated from the map at the opponent’s whim.  Its low strength was the lesser issue since low strength cards can be particularly useful for pinning down large cards so they couldn’t move.  That meant that its support was the real issue.  My solution was to boost its support while lowering its base strength.  The intent here is to focus the card more heavily on its role as a support card rather than as a direct attack card.

Examples of Modification - Dagger

 

The Cannon suffered from similar Strength-related issues.  With its marginal Strength 5, there weren’t so many cards worth discarding to reclaim it, particularly since doing so gave your opponent insight into your hand. We boosted its strength from 5 to 6 and made its power replay the cannon immediately.  This means that the Pirate player would have to play short-handed on his next turn in exchange.  We see potential for this to be an interesting decision point in the game. Playtesting will obviously be needed before we will be sure.

Examples of Modification - Cannon

Adjusting The Rules

As mentioned about the dagger, low strength cards can be particularly useful for pinning down large cards so they cannot move.  This is a doubly useful trick when the pinning card has a useful side ability as in the case of the dagger.  Players wanted a way to respond to such pesky cards. After extensive discussion, we found that in some cases, a player would actually be willing to sacrifice their possession of the space if it meant the opportunity to counterattack.  From that discussion came this new rule:

On your turn, you may Concede a battle in which you are the defender.  Discard all cards in this battle apart from the topmost enemy card.  That card remains to take ownership of the space. You may do this as many times as you wish, in addition to your normal action.

We don’t expect to see this rule invoked often, but if it does its job at critical moments of play, if it creates opportunities for skillful play, it will be carrying its own weight.

Protospiel!

David E WhitcherNext week is the Protospiel main event in Chelsea, Michigan.  This is the best event for design of all those I attend.  Orgainizer David E. Whitcher  puts on a solid event, filled with the most helpful folks you’ll ever meet. Come on down–I’ll see you there!

And while you’re prepping your games for the event, be sure to check out our columns on what to expect.  Just follow these links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

 

What’s your favorite Microgame?  What do you like best about it?  Have you written one? How did your players respond to 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.  You keep reading. I’ll keep writing.

Designing Microgames–Duel, Part 5

The Story So Far…

A new microgame is in development.  Duel supports two players, each with a deck of about 20 cards.  Players have a hand of 4 cards and may (1) play a card into an empty space, (2) play a card onto an enemy card, or (3) move a card one space.  After this, the player refills her hand.  The game ends if a player is down to 3 or fewer cards in hand and chooses to end it.  The player controlling the majority of a 3×3 grid wins.

Kevin (APE Games) Brusky has given the prototype a look and wants to proceed together.  APE Games will release the game in two-player packs containing two unique armies.

Card abilities have been categorized into five broad groups–teamwork, individualist, movement, card manipulation, exotic.  It is time to start codifying the rules and creating decks.

 

Making The Rules

I like to get rules written down as soon as possible no matter what sort of game is being developed.  These rules will get overhauled from time to time but they are a good progress marker nonetheless.  For reference, here they are in toto.

Duel Rules 3-0

 

Creating Pirates & Sea Monsters

As the first sets for the game, I tried to keep these two relatively straightforward.  Their abilities should be fairly easy for a beginning player to comprehend yet still offer some depth for experienced players.  I ultimately kept most cards extremely similar to the original navy set.  To give each deck its own flavor, these abilities were split between the sets.  The Pirates got support abilities–found on “Anne Bonny,” “Redbeard,” and “Dagger.”  The Sea Monsters got the old explosive Mine in the form of “Whirlpool” and a reveal power in the “Pilot Fish.”  Both decks got movement abilities–found on the Pirate “Calico Jack” and the Sea Monster “Tiger Shark.”

An attempt was also made to balance each deck in gross strength–the Pirates have a total card strength 100 and have support powers.  The Sea  Monsters have a total card strength 109 but no support and single use “Whirlpools.”

 

The Pirates

Pirates Page 1 Pirates Page 2 Pirates Page 3

 

The Sea Monsters

Sea Monsters Page 1 Sea Monsters Page 2 Sea Monsters Page 3

 

Initial Testing

Their first playtests revealed that these decks were not fully balanced.  This is perfectly natural.  If anything, I would have been more worried had we failed to find any areas for improvement. Iterative play with a steady stream of adjustments has and always will be the secret to game development.

We’ll take a look at where the imbalances appeared and how we adjusted the game in response to those imbalances next time.  See you Friday!

 

What’s your favorite Microgame?  What do you like best about it?  Have you written one? How did your players respond to 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.  You keep reading. I’ll keep writing.