Game Design

Steamforged Previews Alloy For Guild Ball

Tabletop Gaming News - 29 September 2017 - 6:00am
You might think that a team like the Blacksmith’s Guild would have all the subtlety of… well… a gigantic hammer smashing into a near-molten-hot piece of metal. “Ninja” might be the last thing on your mind. However, the Blacksmith’s Guild knows that just running headlong into the enemy at full speed might not always be […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Design Flow: UI and Neighbors

Gnome Stew - 29 September 2017 - 3:00am

For the past few months, I have been wrestling with this small but annoying problem in the Hydro Hacker playbooks. It is a section of the playbook that defines your relationships with the other players. When I run this at conventions or in playtest groups, players always fill the section out incorrectly. Over several iterations of playbooks I have tried to refine this section so that it would be more intuitive, but it has not panned out.  Then in talking to one of the Developers (Senda), she gave me an idea that changed how I was looking at the problem – and with that, a better design appeared. Here’s what happened . . . 

Neighbors

Nearly every Powered by the Apocalypse game has some kind of relationship mechanics, be it Hx in Apocalypse World, Bonds in Dungeon World, or Strings in Monsterhearts. I wanted something very similar for Hydro Hacker Operatives (H2O). In H2O, I created Neighbors. The idea is that in a group of friends, you can group your relationships into a few levels of intensity:

  • Tight – you are close friends; besties
  • Cool – you like the person more than average
  • Neutral – they are fine but not the first person you would hang with
  • Putting up with – the person that uses more energy than they give

Each character has a number of spots in each of those categories so they can be Tight with a person, Cool with 2, Putting up with 1 and Neutral with everyone else.

There are more mechanics that surround this, including how to change those values in and out of play, and how you always return to a homeostasis between stories.

The important part to take away is that during character creation you have to put your fellow characters into those spots.

The Grid

My initial approach to the user interface (UI) was focused on the Neighbors ranking: Tight, Cool, Neutral, Putting up with. I designed a simple table that looked like this . . . 

I was going to explain what the Neighbors grid meant, but I think that will defeat my point. Clearly there are some problems with this design, and for me it was super intuitive, but as it turns out there are reasons why we playtest . . . 

What Went Wrong in Play

The trick in playtesting is not to jump at every potential problem someone brings up, but at the same time watch for trends. If you are explaining the same thing over and over . . . you have a problem. So the first few times I had people filling out the grid wrong, I noted it but waited.

Then I got some amazing advice from a fellow game designer, Jason Pitre. He told me that I should collect all the playbooks after the playtest and see how the players wrote on them – that it would identify problems. So the next playtest I ran, I did—and he was right.

What I saw was a lot of cross-outs and eraser marks on the page—clearly people were filling it out, then hearing me explain it, then fixing what they wrote. So it was a problem. I then tried to make some small fixes for clarity and came up with . . . 

Here I tried to label the columns and note that you could have an infinite number people you were neutral with. I took it to playtesting, and it was better, but I still found people getting it wrong. This was not the right design, but I did not know what else to do.

A New Perspective

I was doing a playtest/convention game at the QCC and we got to the Neighbors section. This time I was careful to explain (which is not what you want to have to do), and the players did something that had not happened before; In addition to their relationship slot, they decided to also create relationships between one another—two players were siblings, two were rivals, etc.

After that game, it dawned on me that there was another way that I could display this information and also give players a place to list their relationships. I could base the section on the Characters and not the Neighbor levels.

A New Design

I went back to the drawing board, and this is what I have come up with . . . 

In this design, there is a line for each player in the game (in truth you likely won’t have six people in your game). Then you just circle the intensity, and now you have a place to define a relationship.

My hope for this is two-fold: One, it will make more sense how to assign the Neighbor levels; and two, it will encourage the group to create relationships between the characters which will further strengthen their connections in game.

Back To Playtesting

I have started to show the design to my playtesters, and I will be trying it out at Metatopia to see how it works.

I will let you know . . . 

Have you ever encountered something on a character sheet that was not intuitive to fill out? How did you figure it out? Did you make your own sheets?

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Dragons Conquer America: The Coatli Stone Quickstart

New RPG Product Reviews - 28 September 2017 - 3:55pm
Publisher: Burning Games
Rating: 5
Dragons Conquer America tells stories of 16th-century New World warfare glazed with a heaping helping of magic, myths, and monsters. Using the RPC25 system to resolve conflicts with a standard deck of playing cards, DCA positions itself as a narrative-first game that offers just enough mechanical granularity to remain tactically engaging.

**Layout**
The beta edition quick start package includes most rules for character abilities and conflict resolution as well as a number of NPC statlines and a simple three-act adventure with which to cut your table’s teeth. All of this is couched in a lovely layout sporting unique a Mesopotamian flair, giving DCA style without compromising readability. If nothing else, the gorgeous full-page art, solid NPC illustrations, and expertly designed layout make DCA a joy to read on its aesthetic merits alone. Fortunately, there is plenty else to praise.

**Basic Mechanics**
The structure of DCA’s conflict resolution system is simple enough: players maintain a hand of cards, representing their characters’ stamina reserves, while the GM flips cards up from a deck to generate numerical thresholds for the players to challenge. Playing cards from your hand as a player is a tactical decision on multiple fronts. A play that corresponds with the situation a hand -- a Conflict card in a sword fight or an Exploration card while scrambling up a stone temple wall -- results in a redraw (and further bonuses besides if that category is also the character’s Affinity).

However, the number of the card is all that truly matters when calculating the degree of success, and so players must choose somewhat frequently between a comfortable margin of success and the loss of a card, or a more narrow margin or even failure but retention of a card. Furthermore, they must decide whether or not to play multiple cards in a conflict, evaluating this decision in both the short and long term as well. This decision point is recurrent, but is just complex enough to add a degree of tactical depth without slowing play down.

Most Abilities and Skills are simple, almost always granting Advantages and Disadvantages to allies or enemies, which function as simple +3/-3 modifiers to the total value compared in the resolution step. This keeps the game’s focus on the elegant card resolution mechanic, rather than miring gameplay down in minutiae and granularity. NPC stats are equally snappy, with GMs merely drawing cards equal to the NPC’s level, adding them up, adding the appropriate Skill value, and presenting the target number.

**Systems**
Magic is simple enough, with only Christian Miracles laid out in the book. Put simply, characters gain Spirit by performing appropriate actions such as prayer, conversion, and (of course) slaying wicked apostates, then spend that Spirit to cast spells, such as Miracles. The Christian powerset for this system has an interesting sub-mechanic of Corruption, wherein priests who draw too deeply from the well of God’s power might find themselves accidentally imbibing Satan’s strength instead. Gaining and losing Corruption in this way will make for a fun side arc.

There is one truly daring mechanic in the game: Prejudice. Player Characters must select a number of Prejudices, such as Xenophobia, Elistism, Classism, etc. at generation and cope with the consequences during gameplay. The authors go out of their way to delineate this system as option, but it’s nonetheless impressive in the simplicity of its implementation: your characters grew up in imperfect environments and must grow as people or be held back by their Prejudices. There is a Skill, Tolerance, that allows one to resist and eventually completely remove these Prejudices from one’s sheet, creating a natural character arc towards tolerance.

**Sample Adventure**
The adventure presented is nothing to write home about. It competently touches upon the major types of confrontation -- Conflict, Social, Exploration, and Divine -- without lingering on any for too long, gives an overview of the Spanish vs. Native conflict, and allows the players several choice points to align themselves with either or neither side of the conflict. There are some good twists and turns in there, but I won’t spoil those -- play it!

**Conclusion**
Dragons Conquer America has great potential for success, and if the editing and mechanics are tightened up to a professional level, it will likely become another indie gem. There are hints of Shadowrun-meets-7th-Sea in here, peppered with a healthy dose of Dragonlance. Give the Dragons Conquer America Quick Start, The Coatli Stone, a try as a one-shot; if nothing else, it’s worth the time just to flex the card mechanic.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Plaid Hat Games Posts October Release Dates

Tabletop Gaming News - 28 September 2017 - 3:00pm
We’re just a couple days away from October. That means a whole new set of releases coming soon from Plaid Hat Games. But what, exactly, is coming out? And when will it be available? All your questions will be answered. (well… those two questions, at least… But not, like, anything really metaphysical… You’re gonna have […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Corvus Belli Previews The Dice From Aristeia

Tabletop Gaming News - 28 September 2017 - 2:00pm
I think it’s safe to say that most miniatures games out there use dice of some kind. Sure, there are those that go for some other method, but the fairly tried-and-true method of randomization comes from little plastic polyhedrons bouncing across the table. Aristeia is no different. But Corvus Belli has decided not to use […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Video: Designing EVE Online's intelligent music system

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 28 September 2017 - 1:47pm

At GDC 2016, CCP Games' Baldur Baldursson (and Erkitonlist founder Kjartan Olafsson) explain how soundtrack of EVE Online was designed to intelligently complement the actions a player takes. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

New Alkemy Kickstarter Campaign Running Now

Tabletop Gaming News - 28 September 2017 - 1:00pm
Alchemist Miniatures has a clear goal in sight: get Alkemy onto as many gaming tables as possible. They’ve been working steadily toward that goal for quite some time now. The next stage of it is upon us. They are looking to fund a new starter set for the game over on Kickstarter. If you’ve been […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Get a job: Schell games is hiring a Game Producer

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 28 September 2017 - 12:25pm

Schell Games is looking for a Game Producer to join it in developing VR and AR games, location-based based experiences, and social games. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Paizo and Ninja Division Launch Starfinder Miniatures Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 28 September 2017 - 12:00pm
Starfinder lets you take a rules set you know (Pathfinder, in case you somehow didn’t know) and head out into the stars. Well, while there may be literally thousands of minis out there for your fantasy RPG games, the market is decidedly smaller for sci-fi games. Paizo and Ninja Division are looking to fix that […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Thursday Terrain Corner

Tabletop Gaming News - 28 September 2017 - 11:00am
The week continues along. This has been a pretty good one, I must say. My new dice came in. So I’m happy about that. We’re also getting ever-closer to the weekend. I’m making plans not only for Saturday gaming, but hopefully a regular RP here at the office starting next week. So that should be […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

RWBY: Combat Ready Board Game Up On Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 28 September 2017 - 10:00am
Rooster Teeth and Arcane Wonders are teaming up to bring you a new board game. It’s called RWBY: Combat Ready, based on the show of the same name. Players work cooperatively, taking on the role of one of the four main characters from the series, each with their own unique combat deck, looking to take […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Plastic King Tiger Kit Available To Pre-Order From Warlord Games

Tabletop Gaming News - 28 September 2017 - 9:00am
When we look back on history, it’s only natural to come up with “what if?” scenarios. How would things have changed if certain factors had been altered. One that plays on many WWII historians minds is “what if the Germans had put the King Tiger tank into action earlier or in greater numbers?” The few […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

ELO Darkness Relaunches on Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 28 September 2017 - 8:00am
Kickstarters don’t always succeed the first time around. This can be due to an almost unlimited number of factors. But if that happens, creators shouldn’t be disheartened. I’ve seen quite a few campaigns reconfigure, regroup, and relaunch with a campaign that blows away their initial expectations. It’s looking like that’ll be the case for ELO […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Plaid Hat Games Previews Flops From Stuffed Fables

Tabletop Gaming News - 28 September 2017 - 7:00am
Many people are excited for the upcoming Stuffed Fables storytelling game from Plaid Hat. It’s gotten quite the reaction over on our social network sites. So you should be excited to know that a new preview has been posted. This time, we get a look at another of the fuzzy creatures that you can play […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

What VR Needs to Evolve - by John Sutherland

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 28 September 2017 - 6:26am
Virtual Reality seems to have hit a plateau. But what it needs to break through to massive acceptance is as old as Aristotle. It has to realize its potential as a story form.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Six Years of the MADE - by Alex Handy

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 28 September 2017 - 6:24am
The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment celebrates 6 years open to the public, today. Here's a look at what's going on at the MADE before we celebrate 6 years this Saturday.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

The Viability of Spec Game Scripts - by Sande Chen

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 28 September 2017 - 6:24am
In this article, game writer Sande Chen weighs the primacy of gameplay inspiration over story, and story inspiration over gameplay, to opine on whether or not the game industry would ever accept spec game scripts.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

The Addictive Pulls of Gacha Design - by Josh Bycer

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 28 September 2017 - 6:24am
Gacha design has become a popular option for mobile and free to play games, and we're going to take a look at how it's as addicting as it is controversial.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

How to break into the gaming industry - by Lottie Wilson

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 28 September 2017 - 6:22am
Gaming is becoming a popular industry to work in: worth more than Hollywood, and bringing in approximately $60bn a year, it’s a lucrative marketplace.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

100 Days of VR: Day 15 Adding Shooting, Hit, and More Walking Sound Effects! - by Josh Chang

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 28 September 2017 - 6:22am
In Day 15, we're going to add more sound effects to our game from the same Asset pack we found from the Unity store the day before.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

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