Behind the Scenes of Creating a Game

November 11, 2013

A while back I was invited to a game day at a coworker’s house. I played a few good games and had a great time. After that my coworker and I started talking gaming at work. Next thing I knew we were setting up Twilight Struggle in my cube. We got in a few games over the course of many lunch breaks playing a turn or two at a time. I was finally able to make another game day with him and he told me, “We’re going to play Jay’s game this Saturday.” Turns out we weren’t the only gamers around the office. That’s when I first found out about Jay Meyer‘s gaming history and Noble Treachery.

Noble Treachery
This game is a bit of a twist on your traditional trick-taking card game that adds some chaos and enough strategy that it fits in well with today’s board and card game market. The game uses a custom deck of 55 cards with 5 suits (colors), 5 dice and 25 alliance tokens. There are 45 common cards in the deck – 9 each of the 5 colors and 10 cards that are unique. The strength of each card is determine by the value of that card plus the value of the corresponding die color which are rolled at the start of each round. The round is either a War round (highest total strength) or Diplomacy round (lowest total strength) determined by the highest bettor. The player that wins the round gains an alliance token. Each card also has text that can change the game state by re-rolling dice or earning alliance tokens through other means. The game play 4-6 players and finishes in under in hour.

First Play
When I showed up for the game day ready to try this new game I wasn’t expecting much. I figured it would be some cards printed and put in card sleeves, instead what I got blew me away. Jay had already commissioned artists and a local art and design school to produce prototypes for him. This game looked as good as anything on the market. And the game was fun to play. The chaos of the dice changing mid-round kept you rethinking your next play. And the ability to earn alliance tokens without winning the round gave everyone a shot. It was a good game and we played it twice.

Jay Meyer
After hearing about my enjoyment of the game, Jay gave me one of his prototype copies to play with friends and family. I got in a few more plays and reported back to Jay on my playing experiences. In addition to talking about the game I got to know Jay. He’s been playing games for years with his weekly gaming group. But not just any games: his games. He’s been creating his own board games and his weekly game group play tests and refines a game into something good or even great. They’ll play that until he’s got his next game ready to play. So far I’ve gotten to try out 3 of his games: 1) Noble Treachery 2) Labyrinth, a dungeon crawling, take-that deck builder and 3) a questing card game that went from a discussion at my white board to a playable game in a matter of days. After many years creating games (he’s made over 30!) he finally decided to fulfill a dream of publishing one. He, with the help of his game group, chose Noble Treachery as his first game. It’s fairly small (55 cards, 5 dice and some tokens) and seemed like a good manageable project for a first shot.

Game Development
Jay says the game was first created in under a week. He needed a portable game that he could bring along for a camping trip. The first version just used dice and cards and you kept score with pencil and paper and played with 2 teams of 4. It was originally called Ambush. After playing it for a while he thought he had something interesting. A few years back he brought it to GAMA and showed it off. He got a lot of feedback and knew he had to make some changes. First, he couldn’t limit it to just 4 players so he got rid of the partners and allowed up to 6 players. Because of this, each card had to be able to help you individually and couldn’t just help your partner during a round. That’s where the War/Diplomacy option came in. Second, the scoring mechanic was too old school. That’s when he added tokens, but two types: alliances for scoring and money for the betting. It seemed to work, but realized that betting a money token that didn’t change your score wasn’t meaningful. That’s where the switch to betting your alliance tokens came in. You had to risk your scoring tokens to take control of a round. A few refinements later and he had something.

Prototype
At that point he had a game that was good enough to start working to make real. He contacted the design school and got artists to make this game his own. He finally had 10 copies of his game. He passed this game on to friends to playtest and the results were very positive. The game played well for casual gamers as it was easy to learn and the random cards and dice helped level the playing field with advanced gamers. The strategy gamer could devise plans on when to play certain cards and when to take the bet. But, always wanting feedback he continued to ask how could this game be better. He also started to look at how to launch this game and make it a reality. Those two things forced him to take a deeper look at the game and what really makes you wanting to come back for more. A few minor tweaks to existing cards and the addition of more of the unique cards really spiced up the game. He was ready for primetime.

Kickstarter
Jay launched his Kickstarter campaign last week. Sitting in his office today we talked about how it’s been going. There was an initial rush of people pledging their support which was a great feeling. Then, last weekend the backers slowed down: only 1 on Saturday. Thoughts of failure crept in. Fortunately they were quickly dissapated after a play session with a group of Magic players who didn’t know anything about the game. After a wild game that came down to the last round he was confident in his product. This is a game worth playing and more importantly a game that has you coming back for more.

The End?
My post ends here, but this game’s story will continue. The Kickstarter has almost 5 weeks to go yet. If it funds there will be finalizing the added artwork for the new cards and working to get it printed. Then it’s shipping all those games off to the backers. If it doesn’t fund…? We’ll see what the future holds. All I know is, either way I’ve learned a lot from Jay and his experiences with this game. It makes me want to work on that game idea that’s been floating around in my head for while. Until then I’ll continue playing good games, like Noble Treachery, and look forward to Jay’s next creation.


Card Sleeves

March 17, 2013

I’m on another card sleeving kick. When I’m finished I’ll have gone through about 15 packs of sleeves. Seems like a lot, but Russ will be sleeving a couple of his recent aquisitions and it’ll make my sleeving seem like child’s play. Of course I haven’t sleeved all of my games… but who knows how long that will last.

To sleeve
This latest kick started when I was playing Rune Age. My two year old son wanted to play with – who can resist Fantasy Flight’s great artwork. Of course he’s getting his last two molars so the drool was flowing. Between the risk of water damage and the ton of shuffling occuring during the game, I decided I had better protect the cards. I ran out and picked up 10 packs of sleeves, enough for the base game and the expansion. After playing a few times with the sleeves I remembered how great card sleeves are.

– You don’t have to worry (as much) about greasy, dirty fingers (please wash your hands before playing my games though).
– They are insurance against drool.
– Sleeved cards are so much easier to shuffle. You just slide the cards together without worry of bending cards doing a riffle shuffle or dinging the edges.
– Sleeved cards hide any little card dings/dents that might give away a random card’s identity.
– You can sleeve your entire library now since there are card sleeve sizes for just about every game on the market.

Or not to sleeve
Of course there are a few drawbacks. I picked up Rune Age on the cheap and have now spent more on sleeves than I did the game. But if it saves me from having to replace a deck of cards due to damage it’ll have been worth it. The first couple of times you play the slick plastic cards will be flying all over the place.

Another reason not to sleeve is to just let the cards show their wear. The first time I played TransAmerica was with a very well played copy. The cards had several creases in several directions. It was clear this game had seen tons of plays and was well loved by its owners.

– Expense
– Slippery cards
– Every ding and dent in a card may tell a story or add character to a game.

I like the idea of sleeving all of my games, but I know it just isn’t practicle. How about you: do you sleeve your games? If so, why? If not, why not?


We’re Still Here! Plus iOS Games

December 20, 2012

Yes, the four horsemen of the boardgaming blogging apocalypse are still here (Rick, Russ, Joe, me). We are all living and breathing, just incredibly busy in our own ways, and more familial, academic, and professional responsibilities unfortunately means less time for gaming. But rest assured, dear readers, we will limp along here at Margin of Victory.

Juggling a new job, I haven’t had as much time to game as I’d like since September, but I have had some time to check out a few iOS implementations of some great board games on my iPad and iPod Touch. The first one I looked at was Neuroshima Hex back in April. It’s still a game I return to again and again because the AI is quite good, it’s easy to play against other people, and the electronic implementation enforces all the rules, some of which are a little vague in the original cardboard version. It’s also quite cheap ($2.99) and comes with the original four teams, while the five expansion teams are available as in-app purchases at $0.99 apiece or $3.99 for the group. It’s best on iPad, and I wouldn’t suggest checking it out on iPhone.

I’ve also purchased Ingenious, which I also prefer to play on the iPad. At $1.99, you’d think it’s a steal, but I have found that I much prefer the board game to the iOS app. The chief reason for this is that I find it difficulty to manipulate the pieces. Rotating them on the iPad is a pain, and there aren’t great tooltips for how to clear off your board and pick up all new pieces, which should be intuitive considering how critical it is to gameplay. After a few months of fiddling with the app, I’ve got the hang of it, but playing such a simple game should not be that difficult.

Last week I picked up the iOS implementation of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer. This is the only board game app I own without having owned or played the actual board game first. It was free last week on Free App a Day, but now retails for $4.99. This may seem like a very high price point, especially considering the expansions are in-app purchases at $2.99 apiece, but I think it is well worth it. First, the game is a deck-drafting/Magic the Gathering mashup, which is awesome. Second, the soundtrack is excellent. Last (and most importantly) you can play 2, 3, or 4 player matches online using the app’s online game function. Most games play in 10 minutes or less, and the iPod implementation is just as much fun as the iPad one, featuring a zoom function that makes it easy to read card text even on a small screen.

I know we don’t normally do reviews on the blog, but there might be some iTunes gift cards in your stocking this Christmas, and if a foot of snow makes it impossible to get to your friendly local gaming store, checking out these apps might be worth your time.

Happy gaming!


Another Game Day in Honor of St. Patrick

April 8, 2012

Two years after our first St. Patrick’s game day and party evening, we did it all over again…and it was good. The number of adults playing dropped substantially, but the number of kids on the scene increased dramatically (hmm, funny how that works out). And the beautiful weather outside–78 F on a Saturday in March in Minnesota–definitely meant folks had lots of early spring choices outdoors. But we had a blast regardless.

First up, a four player game of Cuba around 11 AM. My wife and I had never played before, but Rick was happy to teach us. The board was beautiful, there were a lot of wooden playing pieces being grown/produced/shipped/sold, and, unlike some Euro style games where I cannot figure out what the heck is going on, this game clicked after about one turn of play. I love that there is a “legislature” and that I got to spend all game happily making cigars and shipping them to wealthy Americanos. Rick won, I took second place just two points behind him.

Homemade pretzels and board games. Nom nom nom.

Next up, lunch. Feasting took place. Hurray! I put on a green shirt finally to celebrate the day. After lunch, Rick, my wife, and I sat down to play a game that recently arrived on my doorstep, Cosmic Karma. We quickly read through the rules and began playing. After a turn or two of looking up rules interactions, things began to click and we had a good time. While this is not normally my style of game (“roll and move” mechanic) we enjoyed ourselves and it was light enough that we could hold a conversation and play.

Oooh, pretty mandala board. 

Our third game of the day was Hare and Tortoise. Our friends Russ and Lily joined in for this one. This was also brand new (to me, anyway!) and I really liked how the presence of other rabbit racing players near my token limited my choices. You can’t plan too far ahead, but you also have to be aware of who is in what position on the board. And apparently, unlike in the animal kingdom, you get penalized for hoarding because you can’t cross the finish line with too many carrots. (This led to my demise.) Lily cruised to a first place finish while I had to sit on the last space and “munch carrots.”

High five for theme-appropriate snacks!

We finished our afternoon with a few rounds of 7 Wonders and a full table of players. And man, did the dining room table fill up fast with cards! I won the first round with the Colossus of Rhodes (A side), but took last place using the Statue of Zeus in Olympia (A side) in the second game. I always enjoy the good-natured griping that occurs in this game. It’s fun hearing, “Who shuffled the deck?” and the like.

Rick is the most accusatory of the Margineers.

After this, folks arrived for dinner and the games were put away in favor of other pursuits. And while it was a smaller game day than two years ago, we still had a lot of fun and will likely do it again! Thanks to all who came.


Free Board Games…and Lottery Musings

January 31, 2012

I failed to mention last summer that I won a free board game. Point 2 Point sponsored a contest to help Jeff Horger create some mercenary armies for his upcoming fantasy battle game, Fury. I submitted an army and my submission was chosen as one of three to be passed along to Jeff. Then Jason, the host of the podcast, rolled a D6 to see who would win a free copy of Manoeuvre for his efforts. One toss of the die and it was mine. (I later sold my old copy to Joe. And for the record, yes I am anal retentive and wanted the thicker counters offered in the second edition.)

Just a few weeks ago on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Rick hosted a game day at his house. Lots of people came and we enjoyed the board games, food, and camaraderie. Of course, Rick and his wife couldn’t help but spice up the event by putting every guest’s name into a drawing for three board games. He’s too humble to mention it much on this blog, but Rick’s thrift-fu is strong. He regularly finds great games in “like new” condition at local thrift stores and buys them for a song. Our options were Ingenious, Pentago, and Apples to Apples Jr. Each guest wrote his or her name down on a slip of paper and then ranked his or her top three choices. Sara and I both participated in the game day, so we each got a chance at getting a game. Although we didn’t stick around for the drawing (our toddler needed sleep!), each of us won. So we are proud owners of some totally free games. How cool is that?

We’ve played a few matches of Pentago, which is fast and fun. Ingenious hasn’t made it to the table yet, but it will soon because it’s one of Sara’s favorite abstract games.

In related news, I’m looking at my good luck over the last 8 months and wondering if I should start buying lottery tickets…


The (Missed) Games of the Year

January 18, 2012

Is 2011 done? What happened? Where’d it go? I feel like I’ve been so busy I didn’t even pay attention to what happened in the board gaming world this last year. So, you won’t be getting a game of the year nomination from me. Instead, here’s a list of all the games I meant to check out this year, but never got around to.

Super Dungeon Explore

This mash-up of board gaming, the Gauntlet video game, and excellent visual design make it a very attractive option. Of course, I don’t even have enough time to get around to check out the game, so I doubt I’m going to have the time to assemble, prime, and paint all the lovely minis. Sorry Super Dungeon Explore, maybe we’ll meet in 2012.

Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game

To illustrate just how far behind I am, this game came out in 2010. I enjoyed the mechanics of 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons when it first came out and thought a slimmed down version could make a for a fine board game. Well, apparently Wizards of the Coast have mind reading spells, because they too that thought and acted on it. And did it again and again. Of course, I have a spot for Ravenloft’s Gothic horror ever since fighting off worgs and dealing with gypsies as a youth at the computer in Strahd’s Possession so there’s only one option of the three games for me.

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

There’s just something about the feel of a deck of cards that I love, so I’m a sucker for card games. Whether it is the trying not to be sucked too deeply into Magic: The Gathering or shuffling Dominion expansions (which despite claiming to be not collectible game nearly is now), I’m always looking for something new to give a try. The LotR’s game is cooperative, which gives in an interesting twists compared to the other card game I play (although, when I first heard of it I was hoping to run a Sauran’s army deck and crush my enemies with a burning eye). I got a chance to play a few turns of the game once and it was enough to make me interested.

Quarriors!

This looks like a light fun game to pull out and play with friends between other games or as a warm up. With all the different colored dice and rolling, it’s probably not to bad for kids either.

Mansions of Madness

With about 50,000 Fantasy Flight Games quality parts, this box probably weighs 1.2 metric tons. In a lot ways, this is the game I want Arkham Horror to be, a focus on a single mystery and location, a touch of roleplaying (done in the right way), and some clever puzzles. A two (maybe more?) hour play time makes it a little on the long side for what it delivers and has kept me from jumping at it.

7 Wonders

John’s been raving about this game and I finally got a chance to play it over the holidays. My little sister received it as a Christmas gift and after one play, I loved it. The drafting mechanic is a whole lot of fun and being able to score victory points in a variety of ways makes for a number of different strategies. It’s a game I’d really like to dig into more and try to do some analysis to see if science is overpowered or if the wonders are really balanced.


The Next Game in the C&C Family

December 9, 2011

We here at Margin of Victory enjoy all types of games, but one game system that we really like is the Commands & Colors (C&C) system designed by Richard Borg. This system uses a simple set of rules that allow the players to take sides in (mostly) historical battles.

From the Romans and Carthaginians in C&C: Ancients to the Blue vs. the Gray in Battle Cry to the U.S. forces storming the beaches at Normandy in Memoir ’44 the system has been adapted to various types of combat very well. The system also crossed over to the fantasy realm with BattleLore which took the framework of the Hundred Years War and added goblins, orcs, dragons and magic. The latest C&C game, Napoleonics, is just as popular as the rest and may be my colleague’s favorite of this system so far.

These games rank among some of the highest over at BoardGameGeek:
Overall Rank / War Game Rank / Game
20 / 7 / C&C: Ancients
55 / 41 / Memoir ’44
66 / 42 / BattleLore
200 / 15 / C&C: Napoleonics
204 / 74 / Battle Cry
(Don’t ask me how those War Game Rankings work. Also, Battle of Westeros could be added here as it uses a very similar system, but is not designed by Mr. Borg.)

So what is the next in line in the C&C family? What historical war were you hoping to trample your opponents in?

How about the “cold depths of space”?

Wait…what?

It’s not exactly what I was expecting. I’m sure most weren’t. I came across the next in the C&C family: Abaddon. Here’s the description from ToyVault’s website:

In an exciting team-up certain to rock the cosmos, Toy Vault, Inc. and legendary game designer Richard Borg (Memoir’44, Battle Cry) have joined forces to take you on a new action-packed adventure through the cold depths of space in ABADDON!

It’s the distant future and mankind has taken a galactic leap forward through space, time, and technology. Life as we know it struggles to endure on the ABADDON. Once the home of a mysterious, non-human civilization, the planet is now a desolate wasteland bearing one immensely precious resource: Feronium power crystals. The unimaginable energy contained within the crystals is coveted by two groups of humans: the Satellite City-States and the Commonwealth Alliance. Using giant bio-mech suits called Links, made from modified military vehicles and alien technology; the warring factions fight a weary battle for territorial control of the ABADDON.

At your disposal is a huge, 28” x 19” battlefield game board with 32 highly-detailed mech figurines, 18 free-standing landscape terrain features, over 100 game-changing Wild Fire and Weapon System cards, dozens of tokens, battle dice and a Battle Manual containing over 15 mission scenarios.

Choose your allegiance and lead your army in non-stop excitement as you forge through unforgiving terrain, fight to overcome random and bizarre technological glitches, and battle your enemies in never-ending war. The fate of the future is in your hands as you race to survive and conquer the ABADDON!

So what do you think? Another hit game from the C&C series or will this one be a dud? I’m really excited to see and read more about this game, but I’m not so sure it’ll rise to the level of its predecessors. Will it falter due to the lack of any historical relevance? Or will the fantastic C&C system carry this game to greatness? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


BattleTech, Carcassonne, Finca and a Surprise!

September 19, 2011

A week ago Saturday started out as expected. My wife and I got the kids ready for the day and then we headed over to a friends house – our couples book club was meeting that day. After a nice morning chatting, I headed over to Russ’ house to start a new RPG Campaign set in the BattleTech universe. The session was the first time playing for all of us. With the MechWarrior soundtrack playing in the background we went out on a training simulation to get our feet wet. We had fun but had to wrap things up at about 4:15 as people had stuff to get to.

I got in my car and texted my wife I was on my way home. She called me back and asked if I’d stop at the store to pick up something we needed for dinner. No problem. When I finally I got home I walked in the door to our lower level and started up the stairs.

That’s when it happened.

“SURPRISE!” and at about the same time I saw faces that I didn’t expect to see in my house. Lots of faces.

I was floored. And speechless. My wife was thrilled. She had flawlessly pulled off what I told her many months before something she couldn’t do: throw me a surprise party. I was sure I would pick up the clues and figured it would never happen – I would find someway to spoil the surprise. Not only did it happen it blew me away.

I finally made it up the stairs and said hello to everyone – all 40+ people! Then I looked at my cake:

The meeples placed illegally were quickly eaten.

Cake-assonne! Even the Meeples are edible.

Wow. Even better than last year’s cake and that one was great.

All I could do is ask: How…? Where…? When…? I got the answers and all the little clues I had ignored previously started to make sense. Then we dug into the food and drinks and had a blast. Later in the evening I kept thinking about the past couple of weeks. It was like watching a good movie that has a surprise twist at the end. As soon as the movie is over you want to hit play again and see all the clues you missed.

A few days later I finally recovered my wits. Just in time to celebrate my birthday on the actual day. I received some fantastic gifts – one of which of course was a board game. This time: Finca. We played that night and had a blast. I’ve since played it 5 more times and am really enjoying it.

Now all I can wonder is: will I ever be able to top that surprise party…?


Commands and Colors: Napoleonics Storage Solutions

September 15, 2011

Having spent about four hours this weekend applying stickers to the blocks for Commands and Colors: Napoleonics, I was faced with a problem: where to store them all. While it’s true that the pieces all fit inside the game box, it’s a tight fit if you bag each individual unit type, which means finding another storage solution. After digging around a bit on the web, I settled on buying a Plano LockJaw box. I found one for sale at my local hardware store. The top portion of the box fits the Portugese, British, and French infantry with plenty of room to spare for an expansion or two:

Plenty of space left over!

Meanwhile, the bottom portion can easily be arranged to fix the larger pieces–cavalry, artillery, and leaders–as well as dice, terrain, and chits. If I ever purchase an expansion, it will be easy to transfer the last three items to the original game box. This should leave space for expansion playing pieces.

Open the lid, and you've got all large playing pieces with room to spare for terrain, etc.

Once you lock everything up, you’ve got a lightweight, organized carrying case for all of your armies. I think it will drastically cut down on setup time for this game.

Who knew you could carry the great armies of Europe so easily?


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Losing

September 7, 2011

With Labor Day weekend over, it is time to regretfully close the book on summer. Camping, grilling, brewing, mowing the lawn: Every day was filled with joy. That is, until I sat down in the evening to play a board game with my wife, friends, or family.

And then I lost. And lost again. And then lost some more.

Like my beloved but hapless Minnesota Twins, I spent most of the summer getting thrashed by the opposition. If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll know that every Memorial Day I declare a “summer of victory.” You may also remember that last year, the Summer of Victory III, didn’t go so well. However, it was nothing compared to the utter debacle that was the Summer of Victory IV: Actually, the Summer of Defeat, Don’tcha Know.

The overall number of games played went up slightly this summer, 43 compared to last year’s 38. Of these 43, I went 14-29, a .325 win average. This is a huge drop compared to last year (.447 average). In two player games, 26 in all, I went 14-12, again a huge drop off from last year, when I was 15-1-2. I attribute this to the fact that I was playing my wife a lot more, and she has proved stiff competition this summer, winning 8 of our 14 games.

The most popular games of the summer of loss were Hive (11 games played) and 7 Wonders (7 games played, no lie!). These are also the two games that Sara and I purchased together this summer, and we played them a lot. And it seems 7 Wonders is the new Carcassonne for me, as I have not yet won a single game of it. On the other hand, I finally snapped my 17 game losing streak in Carcassonne, winning for the very first time in the two years I’ve owned the game! That was a small bright spot.

In the end, I think this was a summer during which I learned to “stop worrying and love losing.” I don’t mean that I’m trying to lose, but that it doesn’t bother me like it used to. I’m much more focused on playing games that provide a bit of fun and some tough decisions as well, but even more importantly, I am enjoying the company of those with whom I’m playing.

A warmer, fuzzier John? Perhaps. But I’m still declaring a Summer of Victory V next Memorial Day!