Wednesday, February 27

Playtesting Night

Last night I had Paul W and Paul G round to playtest Codename: Jorvik and Codename: Network. Neither of them had played either game before so I was keen to get some fresh feedback. One of the problems with designing games (or any creative effort for that matter) is you end up too close to the subject matter. I've been working on Jorvik for about eighteen months now, and while Network is a bit newer the development has been pretty intense over the last few months. While I'm fairly sure the games have improved, I don't know how good they are. Getting a fresh perspective on them was really good.

I'd made a new prototype for Network on the weekend, it featured improved quality components which are easier to play with, better artwork, and hexagonal instead of square tiles. The tiles sounds like a big change, but it wasn't really, the square tiles were intended to be placed offset (like brickwork) rather than a regular grid, so they were adjacent to six other tiles (remind you of anything?). After a game I'd decided I really liked the hexagonal tiles, they allowed you more freedom in the tile placement, simplified the rules, and I find them more aesthetically pleasing too.

We started with a game of Network. I'd only played this two-player with the recent changes, so it was good to get a three-player game in. After the first game we discussed what they liked and disliked about the game. Paul W didn't like some spcial tiles which allowed you to connect your network of support, and yet visually appear at first glance to be disconnected, Paul G felt that some of the actions felt like they should have a monetary component but the game didn't feature any money at all.

So we decided to play another game with a different set of rules. To counteract a bad starting hand I borrowed the draw six cards, discard two mechanic from Race For The Galaxy, we re-labelled the bonus points as money and gave everyone a few to start off with. We made several of the actions require 'purchasing', and we took out the special tiles that Paul W didn't like. These sound like fairly drastic changes, and they changed things quite a lot, but at it's heart it's still the same game.

The new game was quite different to play, much tighter. Generally I think I preferred it, but the starting layout meant that I, as the 'player in the middle' got trapped, and had to spend quite heavily to counteract that. This time I lost (16, 21, 22) which may be due in part to this.

Next up was Jorvik. As this is a two-player game I let the two Pauls battle it out while I sat back and watched. It was interesting to see how the card placement options available slowed things down for first-timers. Having played this verion quite a few times I can usually see a good (if not optimal) play pretty quickly, and I can set things up to work well with lots of the cards (as I know the card distribution very well). The game ended in a fairly low scoring draw. In some senses this is good (I normally score much higher so there's definitely some skill involved), but the draw is worrying. Most people prefer a winner.

At the end of the evening I got them both to fill in a brief questionnaire, we discussed what they liked and disliked about both games and some possible changes that might improve them. Generally feedback was positive and the experience was worth its weight in gold. Having playtesters fill in a questionnaire is really useful, it can be hard to tell from someone's description just how much they like a game, whereas a questionnaire is more objective.

I'm in Newcastle this weekend, where I'll playtest both games with a different bunch of people. It's beginning to feel like both games are getting there - which will be ready first? Hard to tell.

In a follow up, Paul W sent me some more considered feedback via email today too. Says he really enjoyed both games :-)

Monday, February 25

Busy Few Days

Four days of game-related busy :-)

On Saturday, Dave & Pip came round for a game of Twiglet with The Wife and I. It's the first time we'd played for ages, at least a year at a guess. We'd warned Pip it would probably last ten hours, but in the end came in at (only!) six and a half. The Wife made pizza and trifles, and we all got to drink beer and eat too much too. The Wife won, a good couple of turns before I could, but then I was the traders, and had a really military secret objective - no chance! It was great fun, nonetheless. I'd like to play it more often, but it's hard to find the time. I asked The Wife for the expansion for Christmas, but the shop she ordered it from cancelled it at the last minute, and we've not been able to find it since. Paul at Games Lore thinks a re-print is due so I guess I'll have to wait.

Sunday I spent making a new prototype for Codename: Network. The old one was directly scribbled on thick card, and using torn up bits of paper as cards. The new version has a slightly different theme (same type of theme but a different setting), and features pencil crayon colours and cards made out of actual card with some basic computer generated artwork. The thick card tiles also have paper glued on, but the glue warped them :-(

Tonight I finally made it to Paul's games night after about three weeks of aborted attempts, it was really good fun (playing games beginning 'Car' - guess which!) and we got to listen to Rammstein which was nice too. I got proper lamped in both games though. I seem to be on a losing streak.

In addition, as if three game-heavy days back-to-back wasn't enough, I've arranged for Paul to come round tomorrow to play-test Network and Codename: Jorvik. I'd done a new prototype of Jorvik on the computer but when I came to print it yesterday I'd accidentally deleted the files. D'oh. I need to do them again now. At least I've still got the felt-tip pen version for tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 20

Game Trade

I read Philip duBarry's Starting a Revolution blog. He's in a similar position to me, making games by hand trying to make a name for himself. Last week he posted that his new website is available, so I pootled on over to take a look. Very nice. Clean, informative and it has a flash demo of the game, cool!

The game looked interesting, so I contacted Philip, and he suggested a trade, It's Alive! for Revolution. Including shipping and the horrendous exchange rate the games are about equal ($38 for It's Alive! including shipping to the US, $42 for Revolution including shipping to the UK), so I agreed.

I'm paying my company for Philip's copy, since it's not fair to count a personal game as coming out of the company - it would be cheating the taxman and Yehuda out of royalties to do anything else.

I'll hopefully see my copy of Revolution in a couple of weeks, in the meantime, why not check out Philip's website & blog yourselves?

Tuesday, February 19


It's been a while since I last posted so here's a brief update of goings on Chez Jack.

The It's Alive! competition got around 40 entrants, I chose the winner, and sent their game off yesterday. It's Alive! has also been feeling the love on BoardGameGeek, with a few of high ratings pushing it up to 924 in the rankings. I sold two copies last week, and three the week before that, so the post-Christmas slump may be coming to an end. I've been making about six a week, so I've a decent stack of finished games now: twenty-two ready to go.

Codename: Jorvik has been hinted at as my next release in time for the UK Games Expo, but I'm now suffering a crisis of confidence after some negative feedback. Can I get it ready in time? Maybe, maybe not.

Codename: Network has been through a couple more iterations, and is beginning to settle down. I have some worries about the theme (it might be too hard to sell in the UK), so I'm trying out ideas for a theme with broader appeal, I've had some ideas, as have The Wife and Dave, though I've not picked one yet.

I received a new prototype on Saturday, Codename: Element. I've not had a chance to try it yet though.

In other news, I bought Race for the Galaxy on Saturday, and I've already played this a whole bunch of times. San Juan, but with a bit more depth and a space theme - what's not to like?

Monday, February 11

It's Alive! - Free Copy to be Won!

Sumbit your It's Alive! themed joke to this geeklist for a chance to win a free copy of It's Alive! including postage anywhere in the world. Submit your jokes before Saturday lunchtime UK time to enter.

Wednesday, February 6

Tuesday, February 5

Shopping For Quotes

Now that I'm committed to Jorvik, I need to get a few things sorted out. I'm feeling the pressure, but like Dave suggested, it's a much needed kick up the backside. Yesterday I dropped out of my weekly games night at Paul's to work on the computer art for a new prototype. This evening, I've finished the art, so all I need to do now is print it.

Another thing preying on my mind is: How much is it going to cost? I've got a rough idea of what I think is a reasonable price, but can I get it made cheaply enough? Being only a card game it'll definitely be cheaper than It's Alive! And it'll be lighter too, which means postage will be cheaper (especially for Europe & the World).

This evening I sent a load of quote requests of to my usual suppliers:

Initially, I was thinking I'd make tuck-boxes, but that looks really complicated and I had concerns about the gluing (though Phil did a nice job on Archaeology). The introduction of the priest means the box needs extra room for the wooden pieces, so I was afraid a tuck-box might get damaged in the post. As a result I've gone back to a rigid tray & lid box like Border Reivers and It's Alive!

I've already got the quote back for the boxes, just waiting on a few more...

Monday, February 4

What's In A Name?

Last night at the pub with Dave, we were chatting about Codename: Jorvik. He reckons it's nearly ready, and I was saying how the UK Games Expo guys offered the chance of a name-drop for my new game in their advertising, as long as I made up my mind soon. Dave reckoned I should bite the bullet, say it's going to be Jorvik, and then I'll pressure myself into doing the last bit of tweaking because I've now got a deadline.


Why not!

Ok, so you heard it hear first (or second if you've been on BoardGameGeek this morning), Jorvik will be the next title from Reiver Games. Gulp. That was exciting. Panic!

The next thing to do is decide on a name. I started a thread on BGG to ask for ideas/advice. It's been pretty active with lots of feedback. At the moment it looks like sticking with 'Jorvik' is the way people are leaning. Got an opinion? Add it in the comments here, or over on the thread.

Once I've chosen a name I need to add it to the BGG database, update my website, tell the UK GamesExpo guys and start drawing some attention...

Saturday, February 2

January Report

January was quite an exciting month. Lots on new games (though nothing that really grabbed me), but more importantly lots of progress on game designs.


Quite a busy month in terms of games played, I saw Dave & Paul, etc. for games several times, and The Wife and I spent two weekends with Dunk & Lucy which all in all lead to lots of games played. Here's the popular ones:

I've not played PitchCar in a while, still love it though. Carcassonne is getting a new lease of life through The Tower expansion - adds a new level of conflict which I enjoy :-).

The shrapnel includes a bunch of new games: Age of Steam, Memoir '44, Mystery of the Abbey, Pirate's Cove, Poison, Power Grid, Puerto Rico, Relikt, Runebound, Settlers of Catan Card Game, Thurn and Taxis. Age of Steam, Mystery of the Abbey, Poison, Relikt and Settlers of Catan Card Game were all new to me. Age of Steam was my favourite, but it didn't really grab me 2-player - I guess it's more fun with more players. Dave and I got to play the second half of the Pont du Hoc Memoir '44 scenario we'd played on Vassal while he was in Afghanistan. I won! He usually creams me a Memoir '44. Still it was a good month for playing games.


Things are getting more interesting in the creation arena too. It's Alive! has been fairly slow this month, though that's hopefully a sign of a post-Christmas lack of cash rather than an actual slowdown in interest. But there's been some real progress on Codename: Jorvik and Codename: Network this month.

It's Alive!

It's been a quiet month for It's Alive!, it's received several more ratings on BoardGameGeek, taking it above 100 ratings and well into the top 1,00 games (it peaked briefly at 962). Not many sales though. I've still not had a sales free week since I released it, but I'm just scraping that at the moment. There was the bulk sale to a shop in Italy which was great though. I need to put more effort into publicising it. I've started running a Google ad for it using a voucher I received from them, I'm still not sure whether that's worth it though, it's not lead to any sales yet. I've also contacted a new local train company which has just started operating. The tables on the trains have monopoly boards and chess boards printed on them, and the on-board shop sells those games. I've contacted them to see if they'd like to sell my games too - they've not responded yet. I've also just contacted BBC Radio 4 who in an advert for a Saturday morning show yesterday said "we're always interested in hearing about people's passions". Let's put that to the test!

Codename: Jorvik

Jorvik has been through a few crucial changes recently. The addition of priests seemed to improve the game, and with a little tweaking to make playing them more interesting they've really added to the conflict and choices within the game. I've only played the latest version four times, but it's far and away the best yet. I'm now doing some temporary artwork on the computer, so that I can quickly knock out prototypes for testing. I'm hoping to lend Paul and Lisa a copy next week, and get some more games in with my copy too. I now need to speak to my Dad again, to get some more sketch artwork prepared.

Codename: Network

It's been a fun month for Network too. I had an idea for a re-theme that I shared with the designer, along with the addition of a new narrative mechanic. The theme is pretty topical at the moment (though more interesting to a US market than a UK one), and I liked the concept of having to describe to the other players the story behind your moves. I sent my suggestions off to the designer, and he played them and came back with more. We've backed and forthed like this a few times now, and it feels quite exciting and really collaborative, despite the fact that he lives in America.

I need to release a new game at the UK Games Expo in Birmingham in June, what it's going to be, I've still not completely decided - but at least I've got some options now...