Monday, September 19

Gaming With a Four Year Old

This week I'm off to America for work (I'm writing this at 5am in an airport cafe!), and I'm intending to spend a decent chunk of the early hours that I will have free due to jet lag laying out the new rules for Zombology v2. I've honed them and now my mate Mal (who has a far deeper grasp of English grammar than I do) is going through them with a fine toothed comb weeding out a few extraneous words and fixing all my errors.

In the last week The Daughter and I have spent a lot more time gaming than previously so seeing as I have no progress to report yet, I thought I'd talk about that instead.

Since she was three we've played a bunch of the Orchard Toys games with her: Lunchbox Game, The Cupcake Game, The Ladybird Game, Monster Dominoes and more recently Shopping List (which is essentially a rebranded Lunchbox Game). She's enjoyed a few of those (not so much Ladybirds, but Cupcakes was very popular for a while) and a couple of more dexterity based games: Hungry, Hungry Hippos and Elefun.

These games have been entertaining enough and she's enjoyed them, but there's very little in the way of decisions to be made (in fact The Cupcake Game is entirely predetermined by the shuffle of the cupcake deck), so there's not been much preparation for real games.

I was determined not to force her into playing real (i.e. my) games too early as I didn't want to put her off, but then a few months ago I read a post on BGG about how much fun a four year old son was have with Carcassonne, just because there were choices to be made ('it's like a jigsaw puzzle but I can put the pieces in lots of places'). So I soften my stance a bit.

The Daughter and I started playing a cut down version of Carcassonne - no scoring, no farmers, just taking it in turns to place tiles and optionally add meeples in legal places. She really enjoys it ('Carcassonne is my favourite game of all I want to play it every day with you Daddy'), but she still doesn't have the attention span to play through the full set of tiles, so we just play until she gets bored (20-50 tiles in). Because there's no points involved she often helps me ('I'll add this to your city Daddy to make it bigger'), but she knows what she's doing and she's enjoying it, which is the important bit.

We've also played a few rounds of Martian Dice together, not tracking the scores between rounds, just taking it in turns playing a round and noting the points we got for that round. She's enjoying that too.

This week I bought Animal upon Animal (Tier auf Tier) and The Wife suggested getting Dobble Kids too. She wasn't ready for Tier auf Tier, we started playing a game but she wasn't really engaging with it at all so I've stowed that for later, but she loves Dobble. We've played it loads of times already, and we've only had it a week. I can see that being a huge hit for months to come.

With all this real gaming going on she's now showing a lot more interest in my games. Frequently asking questions about the pictures on the boxes racked up in our Games (Dining) Room. Fun times ahead!

Monday, September 12

Brevity

This week I made it to Newcastle Playtest for the first time since April! It was a great evening - good to see the guys and catch up and also check in with their games designs. First we had a couple of games of The Book of the Dead, a fantastic little timed game from Paul Scott. We played it for almost the first time back in April and I loved it, and I was delighted to see that it was just as much fun this time round (by now with much nicer art!). Paul is thinking of Kickstarting it reasonably soon I believe. We ended with Galactic Contractors, one of Dan's that had improved greatly since my last play.

In between those we played a couple of games of Zombology, but with some slightly different rules. I'd played it a couple of times recently at work during our lunchtime games club and the rules explanation and then the confusion around hands of different sizes going round made me think I needed to do something about the Guru rules. I had an idea a couple of weeks ago that I tried out one lunchtime and that idea has since evolved in my head into a more streamlined idea. It has the double bonus of simplifying the Guru and failed cards rules and simultaneously getting rid of the uneven hand size too.

It worked pretty well, we played a seven player and then an eight player game (I think!) and won both. Everyone thought it was an improvement on the old rules, but we won both games, the first one in round three! The fastest win I'd seen in the previous 100-odd games was round five. So there's a chance it's suddenly much easier. I can't think how that would be true, but I need to play a load more games to get some empirical data.

During the week I've been working on the rules for a second edition taking the rules from the handmade limited edition as a starting point. I've changed the Guru rules as mentioned above which simplify things quite a bit and I've also tried to cut down on the word count. The rules sheet for the first version looked like a fairly intimidating wall of text, which considering it's not too complicated a game is a bit disappointing. It was so wordy once I'd covered off the rules and tried to make sure all the grey areas were clearly explained that there was no room for diagrammatic examples :-(

So this week I've been trying to pare the rules down a bit. The rules changes removed quite a lot of 'if this then that otherwise something else' and then I went through trying to cut out all the places where my natural loquacity had made things unnecessarily wordy. I've managed to shave off nearly 300 of 1844 words which, when I lay them out in InDesign, will hopefully free up some space for more diagrams and examples.

I'm not expecting to get much done this week - I've a work night out on Tuesday, Games Night on Wednesday, I've got to get stuff ready for a trip to America next week for work and I also want to spend some time with my family before I go.

But next week I'm in America all week so I'll probably have the hours of 3am to 7am every day to spend on sorting out the new rules in InDesign. Gotta love jet lag.

The good news is that the new rules don't require any new components - they work with the cards as published in the first version. The only slight exception is that the cards dealt in the first round have changed slightly, so the cheat sheet on the first round marker is now out of date.

Monday, August 22

Zombology: Round Three?

So as I alluded to last week, I'm considering another print run of Zombology. I've played the game a few times recently with people (before telling them I was the designer) and I reckon I could have probably sold a copy there and then if I had one. 'I'm sorry, it's only currently available in the US, shipping to the UK is very expensive and the pound has just collapsed', hasn't sold me many copies!

It would be nice to have a few copies around to flog and for Zombology to have a wider audience than the friends, family, playtesters and Reiver Games fans who got one of the thirty copies of the original print run. 

So what would Zombology Round Three look like? I'm speaking to the printers of the original run, getting quotes for runs around 100 copies. I'd want to change the spec slightly: 

Materials

The rules were printed on paper that was too thick really, and the cards were so thick that once they'd been laminated they didn't quite fit in the box tray. I've got a proof from the printer on slightly thinner card - I've got to cut them out and check that they still feel thick enough for use during the game.

Rules

I'm considering a slight change to the rules too. There's a situation where a player plays a card that's not valid and if the Guru has been claimed by one of the players the card goes to Guru owner's next hand. This means that one of the hands is now bigger than the rest, which is pretty confusing. Instead, I'm thinking that failed cards always go to the middle of the table, regardless of whether the Guru has been claimed or not. The Guru owner can then, before each round return a Therapy card from their hand to the centre of the table to draw a Therapy card that is the same suit as one of their Gurus from the centre of the table. That way the hands all stay the same size.

Art

The art is pretty basic, because my skills aren't great in that area. However, it's a similar sort of game to 6 Nimmt! which also has basic art, so I'm not considering overhauling it. However, that being said, there's room for improvement, so I'd like to tweak it. There's a few fixes I made for the Drive Thru Cards version that would need applying to the hand made one, mostly around making text more legible, plus the Army Perimeter is pretty bland, so I've some ideas to improve that. 

Last week I got some proofs from the printer for the thinner cards and got information from BGG about advertising costs. I also asked a poll on BGG to see if there's any interest in hand-made games on KickStarter.

This week I have four hours on trains going to and from my biannual hospital visit for my clinical trial, so I might start doing some of the art improvements on the off chance this goes somewhere.

Monday, August 15

4,000 Plays!

I joined BGG back in February 2006, when I was considering publishing Border Reivers. I finally got around to publishing Border Reivers in July that year, and started recording the games I played on BGG in August that year. In fact, Friday was the tenth anniversary of my first recorded game on BGG (it was one of five plays of Border Reivers that day at The Cast Are Dice in Stoke on Trent, the first convention I attended as a publisher).

Over the last ten years I've managed to rack up 4,000 plays on BGG - my 4,000th was Zombology at our lunchtime games club in the office last Wednesday. It's nice that the 4,000 are bookended by plays of games I've designed :-)

That's an average of 400 games a year or over one game a day for ten years! In fact, it's actually more than that, seeing as I didn't record plays of prototypes during my Reiver Games days and I only started recording mobile plays with humans a couple of years ago.

Clearly board gaming is a huge part of my life. There are six games I've recorded at least 100 plays of: unpublished prototypes, Carcassonne, Race for the Galaxy, 7 Wonders, Magic: The Gathering and It's Alive! and to be honest the numbers for Magic, unpublished prototypes and to a lesser degree Carcassonne are actually much higher than that, as I played them a lot before starting to record games. I've played over 500 different games during that period.

Here's to loads more gaming in the future!

In other news, I've been recently frustrated that Zombology is only available really in the US and Canada at the moment through Drive Thru Cards. There have been a couple of occasions when I could probably have sold a copy if I had one on me, and saying 'you can get it in the US for $12 plus $16 shipping' is not going to lead to any widespread adoption. It turns out I'm still rubbish at marketing though, so if I was got to do a reprint I'd need to seriously up my game at promotion, and maybe go down the KickStarter route, despite my previous KickStarter reticence.

Hmmmm.

Monday, July 4

A Sabbatical

As I'm sure you're aware, this blog about designing and playing games has been very light on the designing for the last few months.

Since my promotion at work last October I've been doing a lot more travel for work, and with a young daughter and The Wife at home, when I'm around I've been choosing to spend most of my free time with them rather than designing games.

Added to that, programming which has been a major hobby and/or my career for the last thirty years is no longer part of my day job, and I miss it. When I have found some time to kill recently, I've chosen to work on my phone apps to scratch that programming itch, rather than my games designs. I've got a few ideas on the games design front, but I can't seem to get the enthusiasm together to actually make any progress on them.

Board gaming is still a huge part of my life (I'm on course to play more games this year than I have in the last ten!), but game design seems to have slipped down the list behind spending time with my family, learning German and Portuguese, programming and finally getting some exercise. Slipped to a point where it's just not happening any more.

I have no way of tracking how many readers I have any more (my stats are getting spammed by spider bots), so I've no idea if anyone reads this, but my guess is that those of you who do are reading it to hear about my experiences as a board game designer and former publisher, not talking about my programming progress or how I hope to do some games design next week.

So I'm going to stop blogging weekly, and just blog when I have something worth saying (and hopefully reading!) on the games design front. Thanks to those of you who've read my weekly ramblings for the last four years.

Monday, June 27

I'm Stealthy, Like The Ninja

It's been a good week. Monday and Tuesday I had the house to myself in the evening while The Wife was in Germany, so I spent the time getting a decent chunk of functionality into German language phone app.

Wednesday I managed another Games Night (work commitments are cancelling a disturbing proportion of them at the moment). We played Lost Cities, Alea Iacta Est (knocking it off my not yet played this year list), Pandemic: The Cure (same again, plus we played it twice, so two more plays towards ten plays) and then a couple of games of Zombology. We'd also manged my first lunchtime games club in ages that day too - Gav beat me twice at Taluva. Man, I'm so glad I bought that! We've been playing it loads.

Then finally on Saturday I made it to Newcastle Gamers too. Newcastle Gamers is on twice a month. We're halfway through the year, so there's been at least (they hold a few special extra sessions every now and again) twelve sessions in 2016. And this was my first one. First! Turns out this new job is keeping me pretty busy.

Thankfully I had a great evening. I got there about quarter to eight, and after waiting for five or ten minutes I joined Ruth, Tom and Sarah for a game of Beyond Baker Street. It had a lot of similarities to Hanabi (you play with face-out cards in your hand and have to build sets playing blind from your hand). Our four player game seemed extremely hard and Tom and Sarah who had played it a lot since being taught it by the designers at the UK Games Expo said it was easy with two, but tricky with three. After that, they looked at my pile of games (Endeavor, Homesteaders, K2, Kodama and Zombology) and chose Zombology. We played it a couple of times and again, I didn't tell them I was the designer until we had finished. They seemed to enjoy it, and asked about where to get it, but of course the only option at the moment is the very expensive shipping from Drive Thru Cards.

After a couple of rounds of Zombology Tom and Sarah headed off so I went looking for another table and managed to join Becky, Mangler, Gordon and Richard for a game of Sushi Go! As soon as I saw it was I keen to play - I knew the designer was of interest to me (though I couldn't remember who it was) and I love sushi, so it seemed win-win. It turns out the designer was Phil Walker-Harding who used to blog here with me eight or nine years ago, before he became a very successful designer (Archaeology, Sushi Go!, Cacao and most recently the Spiel des Jahres nominated Imhotep). I'd not played any of Phil's games since I playtested Cannonball Colony years and years ago, so it was great to try one of his designs and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Like Zombology it's a drafting game, but one with a steadily diminishing hand and set-collection elements. The art was cute, the theme was cute and it was a quick, fun game. I've added it to my wishlist :-)

After a couple of games of Sushi Go! we also played a couple of Zomobology (after Gordon left), and again I neglected to mention I was the designer until after we finished. They seemed to enjoy it (and Becky was complimentary about the art too!) and they also asked about how to buy it when I made my reveal. I'm beginning to wonder whether I should make some more hand-made ones...

We rounded the night out with a game of Kodama, another one on my ten plays list (only one game left!).

All in all this week, I managed to play two new to me games (Sushi Go! and Beyond Baker Street), three games towards my ten plays list (Kodama and two of Pandemic: The Cure) and two off my not yet played this year list (Pandemic: The Cure and Alea Iacta Est). Busy week!

At the halfway point of the year, I've managed to played nineteen games for the first time this year, that's nineteen towards my goal of 24 - it's looking very achievable!

Monday, June 20

Getting Back Into The Swing Of It

After my full-on trip to the States I returned home to a very busy week at work, with loads of people from America and Manchester (including my boss) over for a meeting. To make things more exciting, I caught a filthy cold on the plane home so for most of the week I felt rough as a dog too.

By judiciously avoiding alcohol on a work night out on Tuesday (I also left at 7:30!), I managed to mostly get over it by Thursday thankfully.

My only real gaming this week was the first Games Night in three weeks on Wednesday when we managed to tick Agricola off my 'haven't yet played this year' list and another Colt Express play towards my ten plays list. It was a fairly quite one - just Ian, Mike and I which meant we could get a longer game in too.

Yesterday The Wife swanned off to Germany for a couple of days for a work conference, so until late Tuesday evening I'm solo Parent-In-Charge of The Daughter. I'm using the evenings after The Daughter goes to sleep to do a bit more work on my German language app (taking shape nicely!) and finally making the next version of Dragon Dance. Last time I played it with Paul (back in 1870-something I think) he had a great idea about replacing the short/long range indicator card with a card that tries to convey a sense of space. I'm going to knock something up tonight and will see if I can get it tested in the office this week.

Next week I'm in Romania for most of the week so, if it works, I'll have some time to knock up a proper version of it in InDesign during my mornings/evenings. Of course Romania means no Games Night or lunchtime gaming club again. I need to spend some time in the country!

The week after Romania is Newcastle Playtest, and seeing as I've missed the last two (holiday in Portugal and conference in San Antonio), I'm really keen to make it to this one, especially if I've got a new version of Dragon Dance for Paul to try!