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 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.

 

Designing Microgames–Duel, Part 4

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 play one, draw one.  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.

Since our meeting, I have added a new action.  Players may now (1) play a card into an empty space, (2) play a card onto an enemy card, or (3) move a card one space.

APE Games plans to release the game in two-player packs containing two unique armies.  The first deck sets selected to create will be Pirates vs. Sea Monsters and Kung Fu Masters vs. Shogunate Warriors.

 

Creating Abilities

Like a chef preparing a meal, I like to have my mise en place together before beginning work.  For a game like this one, that means creating a selection of powers that would enhance gameplay.

The test prototype includes a few already.  The Attack Submarine has “If this ship eliminates an enemy ship, return it to your hand. The Attack Submarine returns to your hand has if it eliminates an enemy ship.  The Aircraft Carrier deals 2 damage to each enemy card alongside it.  The Mine discards immediately after a battle.  The Minesweeper is immune to damage from mines.

What is the core of each of these abilities?

Aircraft CarrierThe Aircraft Carrier’s ability to support allied attacks was originally conceived as a way of abstractly representing aircraft strikes against nearby targets.  At its core, this ability delivers damage without putting the card itself directly into the battle. This mechanism represents ranged combat well–archers, snipers, artillery, spellcasters, or the like.

Attack SubmarineThe Attack Submarine can be used repeatedly to pick off small targets or to finish off a larger target already damaged by other ships.  It can also allow a player to extend her deck if she needs to delay endgame.  This ability is highly responsive to the strength of the card.  In the original game, a submarine can defeat 65% (13 of the 20) of the enemy’s fleet outright.  Players are encouraged to play it aggressively but with risk.  Giving it greater strength would make it dull since it could be played with impunity.  What if it were attached to a low strength card?  In that case, it would be good for delivering coup de grâce but not for direct aggressive action, forcing players to be more cagey.

MineThe Mine’s limitation as a one-shot makes it ideal for cards with high strength.  They can win one crucial battle but are then lost.

 

 

MinesweeperThe Minesweeper’s ability is problematic.  Immunity is an appealing idea but it calls out a specific card in the opponent’s deck.  This would not be a problem if sets were strictly standalone.  But they aren’t.  Any deck should be able to play any other deck in this game.  Naming a specific card is simply too confining.  It’s a shame to lose a good idea though.  What if a card had immunity to attackers of a certain strength–“Immune to strength 3 or less?” or “Immune to strength 7 or greater?”  These are ideas to play with, at least.

 

The Ability Categories

Having examined these abilities in detail, I felt prepared to begin creating new ones.  What followed over the next few days was a great deal of brainstorming, editing, brainstorming again, editing again, and sorting.  What emerged on the other side were these categories of abilities:

 

Category: Teamwork

Abilities in this category enhance one another.  They add strength to a nearby attack.  They add defense to a nearby attack.  They add strength to other cards by being adjacent or by simply being in play.  They can be stacked with allied cards to make a single stronger entity.

 

Category: Individualist

Abilities in this category enhance a card that plays by itself.  They win ties.  They cannot be attacked by multiple enemy cards.  They gain strength when attacked by multiple enemy cards.

 

Category: Movement

Abilities in this category break the normal movement rules.  They can move diagonally.  They can move to any empty space.  They must move into a battle if possible.  They are exceptionally strong but cannot move.

 

Category: Card Manipulation

Abilities in this category address how players interact with their deck and hand.  They give you an increased hand size.  They reduce your opponent’s hand size.  They return to hand on battle victory.  They return to hand if you discard a card from hand in their place.  They reveal face down cards.  They make your opponent reveal her hand.

 

Category: Exotic

Abilities in this category don’t directly fit into the other categories but are interesting nonetheless.  They are immune to certain types of cards.  They are eliminated even when they win a battle.

 

Another Shout Out For Microgames!

Patrick (Crash Games) Nickell wrote on 23 May his Crash Games blog entry Why I love the Microgame.  His post presents the viewpoint of a publisher of microgames quite effectively.  In summary, he puts forward that They are (1) inexpensive to make, (2) inexpensive to ship, (3) have a low barrier to sell to distributors, (4) are gratifying to play and (5) are highly portable.  Those of you interested in the business side of microgame creation will find it an enlightening read.

Next time, we look at the creation of the first decks for this new system.  See you Tuesday!

 

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 3

The Story So Far…

A new microgame is in development.  Duel supports two players, each with a deck of about 20 cards.  The game ends when a deck runs out.  The player controlling the majority of a 3×3 grid wins.

 

APE Games Introduction

Duel had undergone about a half dozen tests when Kevin Brusky–Mister APE Games–came by our Monday playtest session.  As the publisher of both duck! duck! GO! and Rolling Freight, we have an excellent working relationship. He was there to check on the progress of a game I’m developing for APE and to provide feedback on the other prototypes floating around the design group.

While he was there, I used the opportunity to give him a brief overview of the microgames I was developing.  This one stood out for him.  It could be sold at a low price point, was highly portable, and engaging.

Could it be expanded? Why yes, yes it could.  the current playtest set is entirely symmetrical but that was never its final intention.  The next logical step is to create even more sets, each of which has its own flavor but could be played against any other one.

We began brainstorming matchups that could go into a two pack–Pirates vs. Sea Monsters, Dungeon Crawl Characters vs. Fantasy Trope Monsters, Ninjas vs. Samurai, Aliens vs. Military, Zombies vs. Survivors, Werewolves vs. Vampires, Golden Age Superheroes vs. Supervillains, Kaiju vs. Giant Robots, historical wars like Hannibal vs. Rome or British vs. Zulu or Waterloo.  We also discussed a few others that might be fun to play with even if we didn’t yet know who to match them with–Chibi Anime Characters, Film Noir, 90s Action Movies.

news_rarrrIn the end, we decided to focus on archetypes which would be quickly recognizable and mechanisms which would support these archetypes.  Zombies vs. Survivors has seen plenty of coverage and I want to explore new ground so that pairing was set aside.  APE just released the RARRR!! Kaiju game so Kaiju vs. Giant Robots was also set aside.  The first deck sets selected to create would be Pirates vs. Sea Monsters and Kung Fu Masters vs. Shogunate Warriors.

 

Brainstorm: A New Action

Before diving into these new themed decks, there was a larger issue to tackle.  The game needed an extra dash of…something.  I wasn’t sure what yet.  Each time I’d played the game, a part of my mind was begging for another option, a new action which would give the game a bit more tactical depth.  A couple days of journaling identified a missing action–movement.

Here is the relevant journal excerpt: “As an option on your turn, you may move a [card] one space orthogonally.  With this rule, I can create units that can move further, move diagonally, jump, cannot move at all, etc.”

This change also opened up the endgame.  The new endgame rule became “if you have exhausted your deck and hold 3 (or fewer) cards at the beginning of your turn, you may declare the game over.”

 

A Shout Out For Microgames!

Boardgamegeek user Odd Hackwelder contacted me recently.  He runs the Microgames Facebook Group which I checked out and can say is pretty darned cool.  Those of you interested in Microgame design should direct your browser there and give it a look.

 

Next time, we look at how powers were created for the game and their implementation into the first set of themed decks.  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.

Designing Microgames–Duel, Part 2

A new microgame is in development.  Duel supports two players, each with a deck of about 20 cards.  It updates elements of classic battle games. The game ends when a deck runs out and the player controlling the majority of a 3×3 grid wins.

 

The First Test

Equipped with a fresh prototype, I needed playtest data.  What would the best hand size be? Should there be an even number of turns?  Is there a start player advantage/disadvantage? Should players play every card?  Several open questions were on the table.

Len Stemberger was hosting our club on this particular Saturday.  When I arrived, it happened that he was also the only player free.  We settled in for a few plays with the cardset presented in the last column.  Here were the big bullet points:

* Hand size 4 seems correct.  Play 1, Draw 1.

*  Attack and Defense can be a single number.  Splitting them has no particular payout.

*  Mines are not intuitive.  I need to work with the language text.

*  The minesweeper needs adjustment.

*  Many of the numbers need adjustment. Since Strength and Defense are being combined anyway, it will likely be possible to shrink the numbers as well.

*  Keep an eye on the momentum of the game.  In particular, what happens to the momentum when a card eliminates another card? When two cards eliminate one another? When a card holds its ground against another card?

* Begin thinking about asymmetry.  The current playtest set is entirely symmetrical but its final form will definitely be asymmetrical.  Each team should have its own areas of strength and weakness.  Each could have a unique unit, for instance.

 

Post-Test Adjustments

Back to the workbench I went!  Armed with this playtest data, a new draft was created.  Again, feel free to print everything and take it out for a spin yourself. What would you change next?

 

 

Next time, version 2 gets tested and APE Games gets introduced to the game.

 

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.