Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Eagerly anticipated box art

Hey, I just got a note from my publisher with a first cut on the box art for the "eagerly anticipated game."  They've got a good artist, and he's done a great job capturing the flavor of the game.  The company has also created a new trademark, apparently for their family game line, to distinguish those titles from their traditional wargaming base.  So it's all very exciting to see come together. 

It's a little intimidating to think about how important box art is to the sales of a game, but I guess that's a fact of the marketplace.  For my part, I'd like to think the outside of a game box doesn't drive my purchase decision.  To me, the most important factor in deciding whether to buy a game is whether I've played it before.  Second is whether someone has recommended it.  Third is seeing it demonstrated, as at a convention, for example.  Fourth is whether I recognize the designer or publisher and trust that I can buy something "untried" just because of their reputation.  Seldom will I buy a game based entirely on the box, but I have done it before, and with some success (as Can't Stop) as well as with some disappointment (as Clue: Secrets and Spies).  Conversely, I've seen some games I would never put money down for, just because the outside was so poorly done. 

I'm curious to know how many people there are who will buy a game just based on what's on the outside of the box, and what they look for.  I also wonder how big a company has to be to spend time, money, and effort on real research to analyze customer reactions to box art and appearances. 

A funny thing just occurred to me:  All else being equal, I think I'd be willing to pay more for a game if it felt heavy when I picked it up.  That sounds dumb, but it's important to recognize one's own human foibles, and that's one of mine.  I specifically recall a conversation at HistoriCon with the president of one wargame company in particular.  They have some excellent naval wargames, but as we discussed the latest release and why it was priced the way it was, I casually reached down and flicked the corner of the mapsheet with my thumb.  The map was essentially a glossy poster paper mapsheet, not hard-mounted.  Mind you, the graphics were terrific, and the reputation for the series of games is excellent, but to me, if I'm going to pay a lot, it has to weigh a lot.  That's dumb, but it's true. 

Something to think about if I ever get into the production end of the business.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

There's gold in them thar moons

I'm working in earnest on an idea I've had for a while and mentioned here once or twice.  The game will be set at a time in the future when mining expeditions to other planets and moons in the solar system become cost effective.  Precious materials like gold, uranium, and tritium are scattered all over the solar system, and earth-bound industrialists will pay top dollar for them on the commodities market.  Players are CEOs of newly-capitalized mining companies seeking wealth - that is to say, "shareholder value" - by prospecting and mining rare raw materials as close as the moon and as far as Mercury or even Titan. 

This game is going to be a step up from my previous designs in terms of complexity and, I hope, nuance of game play.  The real balance I want to strike is to make sure that there is no single run-away strategy.  I want players to be motivated to take risks, but I don't want the game to devolve into a matter of dice and card luck. 

One thing I might be in danger of doing at this stage is trying to do to much.  I want to include a corporate strategy element, in which players decide how much to borrow to fund rocket missions and how much to pay in dividends to keep stockholders happy.  I also want to include a commodities market element, so that players deal with rising and falling prices of the raw materials they sell and the aerospace products and services they need.  I'm even entertaining the idea of have a futures market, so that players can sell inventory for future delivery.  I also want to have a space mission element, in which players are faced with the problems of getting equipment and crews to distant planets and moons and then retrieving the raw materials back to earth. 

I think this is going to take some real time to work out, and a lot of playtesting to be sure I have the right balance.  I really want this one to work.  I really want it to be fun.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Know when to fold 'em

With a new printer and a new set of blank business cards, I printed my first prototype of the submarine card game for which I'd adopted the title, "Enemy Unseen" (thanks to the suggestion from my gaming friend Paul R).  Although my wife Kathy isn't much for wargames, she was willing to give this one a try, just so I could test out the mechanics and see whether the rules made sense.

Right away there were some obvious problems.  First, business cards didn't shuffle well.  (This has been a problem for all my previous prototypes as well.)  Second, the font size on the submarine cards was too small.  Third, the game depends on two distinct parameters - detection range and firing range - but to the new player, they are too easily confused.  I was careful to discuss all the parameters that affect detection range first, and that went well, but as soon as I got into the mechanics of determining firing range and combat resolution, the mechanics really seemed to fall apart.

USS Scorpion
Artist - Viktor Stepansky
http://www.subart.net/uss_skipjack.htm 
First, the submarines:  I included an assortment of NATO and Soviet 1970s-era submarines, both conventional and nuclear, including attack, guided-missile, and ballistic-missile boats.  The point value for each ranged from a one-point deisel attack boat to a six-point nuclear ballistic-missile submarine.  Each also had a "sonar quality" that could improve detection range by up to four kilometers (km) and a "noise factor" that could contribute to the opponent's detection range (i.e. increase the distance at which you would be detected) by up to four km.  The submarines would not be revealed until combat was initiated, so you would not know your actual detection range - nor your opponent's - until you had committed to combat.

I included some complicating factors:  Action cards could be used to modify the acoustic conditions by changing the strength of the thermal layer, or to change (secretly) a submarine's depth between "deep" (below layer) and "shallow" (above layer).  The strength of the layer and the relative depths of the two submarines would affect their detection ranges.  Also, combat options included firing a single shot, firing a salvo spread, or evading without firing. 


Image by Mike Stapp
http://www.kfai.org/node/12158 
 For the combat mechanics, I tried to work from a basic premise similar to the idea of a stand-off in an old Western movie.  At one end of the dusty town street stands the Bad Guy, pistol holstered, gun hand poised.  At the other end stands the Sheriff, likewise ready.  "Bart, I'm going to take you in."  "You're going to have to come get me, Sheriff."  One pace at a time, they approach each other, closing the range until one suddenly draws his weapon and fires.  The other draws and fires immediately as well, so that the shots are virtually simultaneous and the resolution immediate.  "You got me, Sheriff."

Okay, a little corny, but here's the point:  The gunmen approach each other until the distance between them is close enough that one of them believes he can hit his opponent, but the other hasn't drawn his weapon yet.  In other words, the distance at which shots are exchanged is the greatest distance that either of them believes he can hit the other - or, perhaps, the shortest distance that both of them feel secure that they have a reasonable chance of not being hit.  The idea is to initiate combat close enough to hit the opponent but distant enough to have a chance that the opponent's shot will miss. 

My thinking for combat resolution was that once a player decides to initiate combat at a certain "firing range," that range is compared to his "detection range" to determine the chance of hitting the opponent.  As long as the firing range is less than the detection range, there is a chance to sink the enemy - the greater the difference, the more likely the sinking.  But it must also be remembered that the opponent shoots from the same distance and compares that same firing range to his own detection range, so that if he has a better sonar and/or you have a noisier submarine, you are more likely to be sunk than to sink your opponent.

In my first iteration (which my wife and I playtested last week), I had the players "bid up the shooting range" until one of them "calls" by initiating combat.  That was really counter-intuitive to my wife:  Why would the shooting range go up if we're supposed to be getting closer together?  There were also some problems with how to force combat if one player has a high-value submarine and he just wants to get away without getting sunk.  What keeps a player from bidding up the range indefinitely until there's no way either submarine could sink the other?

Now, in both the gunslinger example and in submarine combat, it actually happens backwards - they bid down the firing range until one pulls the trigger.  Perhaps we ought to say that the players reduce the "too-far-to-shoot" range, or the "I-feel-pretty-sure-you-can't-hit-me-from-here" range, until one player decides they are close enough to take a shot.  So in my second iteration of the game (playtested the other day), I started with a set of range cards dealt face up between the players to represent the distance between the submarines.  Each player could elect to remove a range card to reduce the total range, i.e., to close with the opponent.  If a player felt the range to be close enough, he could elect to shoot, and the opponent would shoot or evade in response.

To solved the "difficult to shuffle" problem, I used some card protector sleeves (provided by my son) in several different colors (the kind used by Collectible Card Game [CCG] aficionados - you know, the Yu-Gi-Oh fanatics).  I put the Soviet submarines in red sleeves, NATO in blue, Action cards in black, and Range cards in grey.  That seemed to work very well physically.

But even the second playtest wasn't very satisfying.  Although my wife said the firing range mechanic made a lot more sense, I realized that players are not in general motivated to change the acoustic conditions, since acoustics affect both submarines in essentially the same way.  I had intended to create a certain "cat and mouse" effect, in which players tried to second-guess each other's vertical movements while attempting to close the range without getting too close.  Instead, though, we found ourselves continually closing range to some arbitrary point, and then shooting at each other.  Whoever had the better submarine generally won. 

So the bottom line is that I didn't really have the variety of options that I'd intended, I hadn't created any key decision points, and basically didn't have a game that was fun to play.  So I think "Enemy Unseen" is a bust, at least for now.  I think an important lesson in project management is to know when to kill a project that isn't working, and this might be one.  That's okay.  Not all game ideas are good game ideas.  I might go back to it again, but for now I think I'll just put it in mothballs. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Congress of Gamers recap - Part 2

After our game of Carcassone, I went to the vendor "Our Game Table" and bought a tile bag for Carcassone and box bands to replace broken ones at home. 

Image (c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved
So, Saturday afternoon at Congress of Gamers found me sitting down to play Settlers of Catan (designed by Klaus Teuber, published by Mayfair Games) with Meredith M. and my good friend Grant G.  Settlers is an old favorite of mine.  Grant obtained Longest Road fairly early on, and he and Meredith seemed pretty evenly matched until she linked two road networks to steal Longest Road from him and jump to a commanding lead.  I was able to catch up to her, and we were tied at nine points when I had in my hand exactly the cards I needed to build my last settlement and win the game.  But fortune would not smile on me, because before I could take my turn, Meredith bought a development card and turned up the University of Catan for her tenth and winning point.  Argh!  Victory snatched from my grasp!

Sunday I brought my son with me to Congress of Gamers to meet his friend (whose mother Sue C. ran the Catchy Quips vendor at the convention) and play RoboRally (designed by Richard Garfield, published by Avalon Hill [Hasbro]).  Our session was a crazy one, with ten players on three connected boards.  The game master, Marc Houde, randomly changed one of the boards every three turns.  At one point, the second objective flag sat on a conveyor belt, a literal moving target.  It became clear that the game could go on forever, so after three hours with only a few of us having touched the first flag, Marc announced that the first player to touch the second flag would be the winner.  One player got to the flag but was carried to oblivion on the conveyor belt before he could declare victory.  Much later, my friend Keith F. was able to capture the second flag and win the game, four hours after we started.  There is a lesson hear about adding random complications to an existing game design.  The result can be an unintended convolution that makes a game unnecessarily long and potentially frustrating and draining.

Because RoboRally ran so long, I missed the Puerto Rico session and instead spent a little time and money at the Harmony House vendor picking up parts for a prototype of an interplanetary mining game idea I've been kicking around in earnest.

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
Finally came the game I'd been looking forward to most - Agricola.  Again, Virginia C. was at my table, along with a woman named Helen and the game master Eric Engelmann.  Our table was the only one to use drafting, whereby players keep some cards and pass the rest to other players before the start of the game so that each has the opportunity to assemble combinations of favorable cards and dispose of those least applicable to a strategy.  My big early move was bringing out the wet nurse so that every room I added to my house came with a baby.  I had a few other interesting occupations and improvements but still felt as though I was behind the group until some late moves to plow and sow, as well as to renovate my hut to clay and build fences near the very end.  I just missed second place to Helen by a point, but Virginia took a commanding win with a five-room stone house and 13 points in improvements.  With that, Virginia swept the EuroCaucus category for the entire convention.

After all that competition, I had a fun session of Castle Panic with my son and his friend.  CP is a fun cooperative game, and it was a nice light-hearted finish to a fun convention.  After that, we packed up and headed home, content to have played a solid weekend of games in good company. 

And fun in the company of good friends and new acquaintances, after all, is what playing games is really all about.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Congress of Gamers recap - Part 1

Last weekend I attended Congress of Gamers in Rockville, Maryland.  This is a fun little convention that I try never to miss because it's low-key and good fun. 

Saturday morning I arrived to find my friend Grant G. playing Can't Stop (designed by Sid Sackson, published by Face 2 Face Games), which is a nice push-your-luck kind of game.  I had picked up a copy for my now-nine-year-old son for Christmas a year or two ago.  It's still something of a family favorite.  When I played it at PrezCon last February, I was astounded at how far teenagers will push their luck rolling the dice.  I'm much more cautious at the game, which sometimes works for me, and sometimes doesn't.  So in Grant's game, the table was cleaned up by a young player who completed three categories before anyone else got a single one; so I guess there's something to be said for calculated risk-taking.

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
My first game of the convention was Carcassonne (designed by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede, published by Rio Grande) with the river expansion.  [Edit:  Carcassonne has since been picked up for distribution in the U.S. by Z-Man Games under a new contract with the original German publisher Hans Im Gluck. - PDO]  This was my first time playing with the Third Edition scoring rules, whereby each farm scores three points for each adjacent complete city.  I thought I won against Amy R., Meredith M., and Tom R., but my EuroCaucus card showed I came in second.  Oh well. 

Every convention I try to learn a game I've never played before.  This weekend it was Endeavor (designed by Carl de Visser and Jarratt Gray, published by Z-man), a colonial mercantile game of expansion, action placement, and the usual conundrum of decision-making.  Though I advanced rapidly in technology to acquire advanced buildings, I neglected to accumulate tokens for taking actions (rather like growing the family in Agricola), and so was left with few opportunities for growth in the latter part of the game.  The winner at my table was a delightful woman who, it turns out, has a monthly gaming group not far from us in Virginia.  So once again, the nice thing about a convention is that if I'm not going to win, at least I'm going to make a new connection.

Next post:  Settlers, robots, and ... you guessed it ... farming.

Friday, October 8, 2010

More playing than designing this week

All week I've been coming home from my paying job and unwinding by playing games rather than buckling down and working on my submarine game. 

Image courtesy of
Rio Grande Games
Yesterday Kathy and I played Puerto Rico, inspired perhaps earlier this week by Race for the Galaxy, which is similar in concept though considerably more complex (to us) in execution.  PR is one of our favorites.  It's actually designed for three to five players.  We adopted the two-player variant that appears in a solitaire rules set called "SoloPlay Rules," which works well for us.

I used to approach PR with a rigid strategy in mind - either grow lots of cheap crops and ship them like a madman, or focus on generating income and go heavy on buildings.  I've since learned that a semi-flexible strategy is important, as is paying attention to what roles benefit one's opponent(s) as much as or more than oneself.  I have a hard time articulating my strategic approach to PR better than that, so perhaps it's worth some thought and a subsequent post ... and perhaps some research first into what others have written on PR.

In yesterday's session, Kathy picked up a hospice early, as well as a couple of quarries and a few corn plantations, so I was afraid she'd be off to the races. I had a small start in indigo but went pretty long in sugar. I picked up both small and large markets, so I had some good cash coming in, enough later to buy the fortress and city hall. Kathy got tobacco production going but could only sell it once or twice. She picked up the guild hall very late, but my building points ended up carrying me by three points at the end.

This afternoon was an absolutely perfect fall day, so Kathy lit a fire in the fire bowl in the back yard, I made some drinks, and we sat out and played a couple of games of cribbage.  That game was quite popular on my boat when I was in the Navy (and holds a submarine tradition going way back to World War II).  Nowadays, I find it a nice diversion.  I have to say that my opponent today is distractingly better looking and much more pleasant company than were my opponents aboard ship.

I picked up a copy of Castle Panic (designed by Justin de Witt, published by Fireside Games) today on the recommendation of my son, who came home after a game session raving about it.  We tried it as a family game after dinner tonight, and we picked it up pretty quick.  I think the cooperative aspect of this game works well for us as a family, once we have the "game courtesy protocol" established (no touching pieces on other people's turns, etc).  We players won against the monsters, and my youngest son emerged as the Master Slayer with 16 points.

This nice discovery of Castle Panic (thanks to Spike and Mary) comes serendipitously after my posting earlier this week in which I expressed concern about the approachability of games in their first playing.  CP turned out to be very intuitive and straightforward in its execution, and therefore easy to learn in the first play-through.  Now, it is a relatively simple game by any measure.  Still, I think its construct is conceptually transparent, so that individual quirks and capabilities of unique monsters and action cards could be learned one at a time as they came up.  We could learn each new capability as it emerged and accommodate it into our overall understanding of the game without the frustration of saying, "oh, well if I'd known that, I'd have done this differently."

So I think if I want to design family games, I really have to give some thought to this aspect of being able to sit down, start playing, and learn while playing without ever having to go back and re-visit points in the games that the new player previously thought they'd understood.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Submarine card game

I'm done working on my "eagerly awaited game" for the time being, so I've started in earnest on another idea I've had kicking around for a while.  It's a two-player card game based on submarine combat in the 1970s.  I haven't fully worked out the mechanics yet, but it will involve some kind of bidding interchange to determine the range at which the combatants shoot at each other.  Sonar performance will play into the game, with modifications for environment, depth, and the enemy's noise level.  I feel as though I also ought to account for active sonar somehow, but I haven't worked out how to do that. 

I've got a good idea what needs to be on the cards, though, so I've got one sheet of ten submarine cards done so far.  I think they look pretty good for a first prototype. 

I'm really bad at naming my own games, though, so if anybody has a clever idea that they don't mind sharing, I'd love to consider it.  My working title is "Submarine Combat."  See how bad I am at this?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Developer's turn

My developer says they have everything they need from me, for now at least.  They're working on a rules re-write based on some changes we discussed, so I look forward to seeing how they turn out.

So now it's time to work on another design in earnest.  I have two ideas on opposite ends of the complexity spectrum - a relatively simple card game based on submarine combat in the Cold War, and an idea for interplanetary commodities trading that gets more complex every time I think about it.  I'll probably knock out the card game first while I ruminate on the commodities game in the back of my mind.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Coming up - play balance

My game of Stonewall Jackson's Way with Paul R., and some responses I got on boardgamegeek about it, got me to thinking about play balance in games.  I'll follow up with a more detailed post over the weekend. 

For tonight, my focus is on finishing card updates for "PDO's Eagerly Awaited Game" that became necessary when my ambitious developer added nine cards to the deck.  More is better, right?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Stonewall Jackson's Way

This afternoon after work, I met my good friend Paul R. at our friendly neighborhood game store, Game Parlor Chantilly, to play an old favorite, Stonewall Jackson's Way (designed by Joseph M. Balkoski, published by The Avalon Hill Game Company, 1992).  We'd played various scenarios of this game before, and this time we went back to replay Scenario 1, "Cedar Mountain," which simulates Confederate General Stonewall Jackson's attempt to halt the U.S. Army of Virginia's movement toward Orange Court House, Gordonsville, and Charlottesville, Virginia.  Jackson's efforts would culminate in the Battle of Cedar Mountain, 9 August 1862.

I have always been fond of Avalon Hill games, and I have to say that SJW has become one of my very favorites.  The rules are meticulously written, to the point of utter detail and clarity (at the expense, perhaps, of brevity and succinctness).  They include some interesting methods for modeling troop fatigue and the effects of forced march and repeated combat on the organization and morale of units.  Leadership quality becomes important in attempts to coordinate attacks among multiple divisions.  Even in its small scenarios, it poses some great tactical dilemmas that feel true to history.  

Most of all, Paul and I found ourselves continually faced with operational challenges that we could easily imagine facing General Pope of the Army of Virginia, or General Stonewall Jackson of the Confederacy.  We each had to consider such problems as whether to pursue a retreating enemy at the risk of exposing flanks and exhausting troops, whether to force march a lagging division to reinforce defenses and risk losing unit cohesion, or whether to swing a lone cavalry brigade behind the enemy line for a flank attack at the risk of losing the initiative and seeing the cavalry isolated and wiped out.  Some wargames are better than others at posing these dilemmas in a believable way; I find SJW very strong in this regard.

So, of course, the bottom line is that Paul and I had a great time.  The game took almost four hours to play, and we enjoyed every minute of it.  I was fortunate to have gained the upper hand by the second day of the three-day battle, so on the last day I consolidated Jackson's corps in an uncharacteristically (for Jackson) defensive posture less than five miles from Culpeper.  Paul attempted to muster one final assault by I Corps under Sigel but could not unseat the Confederates from their close proximity to the objective.  We agreed that the third day's actions were somewhat unrealistic, in that Jackson would not have been so conservative and Pope would not have taken the risks that Paul was forced to take, artificialities introduced by our knowledge that the game would be over after the third day.  Nevertheless, it was a fun time, and a great reminder why I enjoy AH games so much.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Developers tweaking ...

I just heard from my developers, who are working on "PDO's Eagerly Awaited Game."  They really like the overall design.  There are a few changes they want to make to some rules to clean it up a little and simplify some things.  Sure enough, they'd pretty much zeroed in on the one or two weak areas that I wasn't altogether crazy about myself. 

I had invented a pretty convoluted rule for what to do when your piece lands on another player's piece, and writing it all out ended up taking up maybe a quarter or a third of the whole rulebook.  Well, that just doesn't make sense for a rule that's supposed to handle a contingency case.  So we're going to fix that.

I also have a few immunity cards in the original prototype that we think might just be too powerful.  I'd really hate to put out a game, only to have it end up that "whoever gets card x usually ends up winning."  Who would want to play that twice?  So we're kicking around some ideas to mitigate the power of those cards while keeping the intended effect of having them in the deck. 

I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes a game a success.  I have a few thoughts for tomorrow on what makes a game a failure.

Meanwhile, may your game closet be full of successes, and your game room full of friends to play them...

Farming with my spouse

Friday evening, home from work.  Time to settle down with a martini out on the deck for a game of Agricola with my wife. 

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
Agricola (designed by Uwe Rosenberg, published in the USA by Z-Man games) is one of the few games I bought without ever having played.  The acclaim surrounding this game has been so universal in the community that I figured I just had to have it, just to see what all the fuss was about.  At this point, I need to give proper credit to my friend Doug M., an annual pilgrim to Origins, who picked up a copy there for me at a very reasonable price.  (I have yet to attend Origins, notwithstanding Doug's perpetual campaign to get us there.) 

Although overwhelmed the first time we played with our friends Theresa and Brion, I have since come to appreciate Agricola (Latin for "farmer") as a work of genius.  It plays equally well for two, three, four, or five players, which in its own right is rather astounding.  So few multi-player games stand up well when played with just two players.  (It serves also as a solitaire game, which I haven't tried.)  Even more surprising is that the game's simpler version - the "family game," which is played without most of the cards - is in my mind every bit as fun and challenging as the normal, full deck version, though for different reasons.

Outside on the deck, we prefer the "family game," so that we take up a little less space on the table and don't have to manage hands of cards along with everything else.  There is remarkably little luck in the family game; the only random element is the order in which certain actions become available in each stage of the game.  One might reasonably expect that a worker-placement game with very little randomness would fall into a fixed pattern, but we continually surprise each other with tactical shifts and nuanced approaches to building our farms and trying to out-maneuver each other for critical resources. 

To me, the end-game really demonstrates the thought and rigor of development that must have gone into the refinement of Agricola.  It seems as though there are always several different, nearly equivalent paths toward maximizing the final score; there is seldom one single, obvious course of action to run out the end of the game.  I am almost always faced with a decision among three or four options, all valid, none self-evidently the "best" option, each with its own risk.  Some real analysis went into the elements of this game to be able to preserve that "exquisite choice" conundrum right down to the last stage.

As I mentioned in my previous post, it's important that our "cocktail hour" game be fun, challenging, and a good match between us.  Fortunately, we both enjoy playing Agricola, and we've each had our share of close victories and crushing defeats - er, that is, I mean to say, she wins some, I win some, but we always have fun together in the process.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Games with my spouse

My wife Kathy and I have adopted the practice of setting aside everything else at 5:00 p.m. or so to sit down before dinner and play a game like two civilized people.  We have a few favorites that seem to work out nicely as "lightly competitive diversions."  They serve us well, because really, on any given afternoon, either of us could win, but both of us will have fun.

It has been tricky, though, to identify the games that work in this role.  We'd never play chess, for example, because we would be somewhat mismatched, and it wouldn't necessarily be fun.  We don't necessarily want to play a game that brings out the worst of our competitiveness; we would like to have a pleasant dinner together after the game is over.  Also, many of our favorites work well when played among a group of friends but fail as two-player games.  When we sit outside on a nice day, too, we have only small tables in the back yard, so sometimes there is the additional structural consideration of a game that doesn't take a lot of table space and doesn't have a lot of small pieces to drop or papers to lose in the breeze.

In future entries, I'll discuss some of our favorite games that we've found work well for our afternoon session.  Today we played cribbage, of all things.  This was a big favorite aboard ship when I was in the Navy some years ago, and it has been fun to resurrect at home.  Although card luck plays its role, the skill comes (as in most card games) in making the most of the hand that is dealt.  Kathy has, to my chagrin, learned to do that rather handily.   

BoardGameGeek has a fascinating list of board games for this context, a "geeklist" entitled, "How Gaming Saved Our Marriage."  We are already familiar with a number of games on this list, and I'm eager to try others.  I'll be curious to know what two-player games others have found are "couple-friendly" rather than "relationship-straining."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Map Time

Yesterday my publisher sent me the game board currently under development, and I have to say, I really like the artwork.  It's a great-looking map.  We had agreed on a vague mid-20th-century setting for the time period of the game, and the board captures that essence very nicely.  They made a few adjustments and added a few features that enhance but don't substantively modify the structure of the game, and I think the result is going to be fun to play. 

There is something exciting about the introduction of someone else's creativity into one's own original design.  I had originally some pre-conceived ideas on how things would look and feel, but once I'd turned over the prototype drawings to the developer, I really didn't know what to expect (and I was a little afraid to find out).  But when I looked at this new map, I found that this game had taken on a new character, a whole new dimension in its style and flavor - all the product of someone else's talent, someone who perhaps had never imagined the game I'd conceived until they'd seen my draft.  It's a lesson, I suppose, in collaborative creativity.

I can't wait to see the cards.   

I can't wait to show off this game.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Don't get me started...

My friends are good sports.  They're the kind of people who are willing to spend an afternoon playing a game that nobody else has ever played before, a game that may or may not be any fun.  A game made of marker-scrawled butcher paper, cheap pawns, and misaligned printed cards with obscure, tiny instructions on them.  A game where the rules change over the course of the afternoon depending on how well I remember the instructions I re-wrote several times the night before.

I have really good friends.  They're the kind of people who can spend a couple of hours stumbling around my hand-drawn map in a confused effort to make sense of how to win a game whose fundamental flaws became evident only thirty minutes after the first card draw.  The kind of people who don't say, "will this game ever end?"  Friends who can make constructive criticism sound excited, supportive, and ready to buy, while I'm ready to go back to the drawing board.

Although I've designed many games in the privacy of my own little world, only two have seen the light of day outside my own family.  One of those quietly sits on a shelf, politely declined by one publisher, a game that just doesn't seem ready for prime time yet, a game that I like to think is in hibernation.

My second game is my pleasant surprise.  Demonstrated to the owners of a game company during PrezCon in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this year, it drew the perfect comment during a play-through:  "Hey, this game is fun!"  Before the afternoon was out, we had a handshake agreement to produce the game.  The last of the updates went out to them over Labor Day, and they expressed their intent to get it to the printers by October.  I'll pass along the details once the company formally announces the release.  For now, call it "Paul D. Owen's Eagerly Awaited Game."

My good friends await eagerly with me.