Thursday, August 30


Last week The Wife gave birth to our first child: a beautiful, healthy girl called Anya Janette Pope. As you can imagine I'm going to be a little distracted over the next 20-odd years, but I still hope to make some progress on my games design (especially Codename: Vacuum at the moment). I'm on Paternity Leave from work for the next couple of weeks and I've already bought everything I need to print and cut out the next set of cards, so hopefully I'll be able to find a couple of hours when I can accomplish that (around staring in wonderment at the baby The Wife and I - mostly The Wife! -have made).

I'll also try to keep posting here as I make any progress, but as you can imagine it will probably be a bit less frequent!


Look what I made!

Tuesday, August 21

Making Progress

Since I wrote that last post a few weeks ago, I've been thinking about Codename: Vacuum quite a lot and trying to work out the kinks in this early incarnation of the game. In essence the game works, but it's probably slightly over-complicated, and there are definitely a lot of balance issues to work out.

The first step is to play the game over and over and over again, making copious notes about what works, what doesn't, who scored what, which cards were played, which victory conditions were used and any ideas I've had.

Normally, the first tens of games would be played by myself, trying various strategies, getting the game basically working and trying to iron out the worst of the balance issues to ensure that when I start playing it with other people, it's a working game that won't be an entirely joyless experience for my playtesters.

It's a nice idea in principle, but I struggle to find the time for playtesting, and I really hate playing a game against myself: for me, a lot of the enjoyment of game is pitting your mind against friends in a structured competition. Playing against myself, where I know what cards my opponents have, what strategies they're following and what they are going to do next sucks all the fun out of it.

So I played a very brief test drive against myself early on before making a first prototype, and then I tested it with my games night several months ago. Since then, after a long hiatus I played it with my mate Paul, one of my key Reiver Games playtesters, and I've played it against myself again recently trying to judge whether the ideas I had during and after the game with Paul worked.

While living in York, and running Reiver Games, I had a weekly playtest session with some friends from the local games group (including Paul) where we'd try out several of the over a hundred prototypes I had received. After moving down South to near Bedford I set up a similar arrangement with my games group down there, which slowly migrated from being a playtesting session, to a playtesting session with a few real games, to a games session with a little playtesting and finally to a games session as Reiver Games ran out of steam.

Although I have a regular games night up here on a Thursday, I'm missing the chance to get some proper playtesting in - it doesn't seem fair to subject my games night chums to a half-arsed game that might not work at all, so a semi-regular playtesting session would be great.

I've spent the last week or so doing new versions of the cards using Adobe InDesign on the computer (that's the software I bought to do the real layout for Reiver Games - the final art that I sent to the printers in Germany). Just as I was finishing that I finally snapped the power lead to my laptop so I had to quickly save everything off to an external drive and uninstall InDesign before the battery ran out so I could set it all up again on this machine (The Wife's old one).

On my way home from work last night I got the card I need, so the next stage is printing and then cutting out all two hundred-odd cards. Then we're off to the races again...

The main focus at the moment however has to be preparing for the birth of our daughter, and then after that, raising her! Everything else will have to take a back seat for a while (or until she's off to university!).

Wednesday, August 15

Back Again

Another long hiatus! I actually wrote this blog post a couple of weeks ago, before I lost my home internet connection, now that's back up here it is!

It's been several months since I last posted here. In the meantime, We've bought a new house and moved into it and moved ever closer towards the due date of The Mini Pope.

With all the distractions I've done nothing on any games designs since the end of February - five months ago! Recently, now that most of the baby preparations are pretty much done and we're just waiting around for the big occasion my mind has started to wander back towards Codename: Vacuum, my steampunk/sci-fi deck building and tableau game.

I'd only played Vacuum once, with my regular games group back in February. The game didn't go well, not just because the game was a disaster (though as you might expect for a first play it was pretty bad!), but also because of the test. There was lots of discussion about things that could be changed and other ideas on every move, which dragged the game out over two and a half or three hours. I was hoping for a game that could play in 30 minutes with players who know it well, so two and a half hours felt disastrous, and the wealth of other ideas and suggestions (most of which would have changed the style of game dramatically) sapped me of my enthusiasm.

In the early stages of a game's design, you've an idea in your head of an awesome game, and scribbled on paper in pencil you have your first stab at that awesome game. Sadly, it's not awesome. It doesn't work like it did in your head. It's slow. Very unbalanced. Bits of it are clearly broken.

What you want to do, is play the game, find out which bits are broken, which are unbalanced and what is too complicated or too simplistic, and fix them. Then play it again. And again. And again. Each time making a few small changes. Some of your ideas will improve things, others will make things worse. It's an iterative process, culling the bits that don't work and thinking of some new ones that might. But, by the same token, you want to make incremental changes, not sweeping ones. Change something. Is it better? Worse? Change it again, or change something else. Slowly, over time it will get better. Then, strip it down to minimise the unnecessary clutter in the rules.

Now that things have settled down with the new house and we're nearly ready for the baby, my mind has wandered back to games design, and Codename: Vacuum in particular. After the first playtest I made some notes about things to improve, and printed a new set of cards that I thought addressed some of the problems that first game had. Last weekend, my friend Paul came up for the weekend and we played games late into the night on Saturday. Paul had been one of my key playtesters for Reiver Games, so I offered him a chance to play Vacuum.

The game went much better. We played the game in less than an hour and it went much smoother than the previous test. Most things worked. Several of the cards were unbalanced, but you only find that out by playing with them, so that's not a problem.

Paul enjoyed the game, and so did I, so now I'm enthused again :). I've spent the week since Paul's visit writing the rules up properly for Vacuum, so I don't forget things when my brain becomes addled due to new baby-related sleep deprivation. Next step is to print some more cards to fix the worst of the balance issues, then it's ready to go again.