Monday, August 25


This week I've done nothing particularly relevant to the blog at all. This weekend (today is a Bank Holiday in the UK) we've had lots of family up for The Daughter's second birthday and we spent most of last week preparing for the visitors and the party.

So, what to talk about? I've arranged a playtest this week on Thursday with my colleagues at lunchtime, as much as anything to force me to finish off the next version of Zombology ahead of the next Newcastle Playtest session on the following Tuesday. There's a bunch of graphics stuff to do in InDesign ahead of printing that out, so that's how I hope to spend the beginning of next week. It's been several weeks (maybe even a couple of months) since I last played it at work, so there have been a few changes since my colleagues have last played it. It'll be interesting to get their feedback on the changes and see what they make of the new version.

The new version also features some artwork that I've actually got permission to use. The previous version featured a hotchpotch of random images culled from Google, which seeing as it was just for personal use, I figured was alright. But the game looked a bit of a mess and the lack of rights concerned my puritan views on copyright, so I've finally got around to sourcing some legitimate artwork. Seeing as it's all come from the same place it all looks similar too, which ties the game together nicely.

So what is this source of free art I hear you ask? It's got over 1,300 icons that are freely available for use under Creative Commons, that you can even modify to better suit your particular project. These files are available as pngs or SVG vector art which make them easy to modify in a tool such as Adobe Illustrator (which I got as part of the InDesign Creative Suite while I was running Reiver Games for laying out and submitting art to the printers). I've tweaked almost all the art I've got from there, but without the starting point they provided I'd never have ended up with anything that looked half as cool. It's plenty good enough for prototyping, playtesting and submission to a publisher.

Monday, August 18

What a Blinder!

It's been a really busy week this week, both gaming and non-gaming. We're having a load of family up next weekend for a birthday party for The Daughter, so we're trying to sort the house and garden out a bit in preparation for all the visitors. On top of that, I've done a trip to Manchester for work and we've been to York for the weekend to see Paul and his family.

The week got off to a great start with some really detailed feedback for one of the two people who signed up for blind playtesting Zombology a couple of months back. He'd asked some questions about the timing of various things on receipt of the rules, which I'd given a really crappy answer to (the low quality of my answer was one of the things that encouraged me recently to address the timing resolution in the game). After that I'd not heard anything from him, so I'd assuming the shoddy response had put him off trying the game. This week I got a response from him detailing the four times he'd played with different groups and what everyone thought of the game along with some identified weaknesses and some ideas. He apologised for the delay getting back to me, he'd wanted to leave it until he had a bit more data. This was exactly the kind of feedback I was hoping for when I requested play testers, so it was very gratifying to receive it, especially as he's keen to continue testing it with the recent changes.

I took Thursday off work to wait in for a tradesman, and after exhausting myself in the garden I got an hour or so to update the Zombology rule book to the newest rules that I have in my head. Now all I need to do is update the cards as well and then print out the new version. In the evening we had a great Games Night with eight (!) games played, but the late night hurt me the next day when I had to be up at 5am for a trip to Manchester. Fortunately there was copious coffee to keep me conscious and Steve (a former Games Night attendee) and an iPad full of board game apps to keep me company on the six hours of train journeys. We chalked up another nine games!

This weekend we went down to see Paul and Lisa in York. Paul was my main playtester during my Reiver Games days, so I took Zombology again. We played it twice with his friend Chris along with six other games, so another great day's gaming. 24 games in 3 days! It was a great weekend catching up and playing games, plus hanging out with the kids.

I also started knocking together the cards for the new version. I doubt I'll have time before the party to finish them off, but hopefully next week in time for the next Newcastle Playtest.

Monday, August 11

Rush Job

This week was Newcastle Playtest again on Tuesday, but with guests visiting last weekend, I'd had no time to prepare for it so I went along with Zombology and Vacuum with none of my intended changes made to either. Newcastle Playtest is going from strength to strength, we had seven people, six of whom were regulars and designers and Olly, who's been a few times before as a tester.

To begin with Paul T wanted to try out a few mechanic ideas he'd had that he wanted to test. He'd brought a load of brightly coloured dice and matching Hot Wheels cars, which made it much more fun! We tried a few ideas, and suggested a few of our own, which hopefully will help.

After that, there were five of us, so someone suggested Zombology. I'd not made the changes I wanted to try out, but Graham had a pen and I had 100 cards, so I quickly put the two together and scribbled a small number on the top of each card, allowing me to test the idea that Dan had suggested the previous week. No sooner had we finished that game than Dan arrived, so we played again with six players. We won both games, and in fact in one of the games two players tied on points, needing the Cure as a tie breaker, so reducing the cures to value eight meant the scores were much tighter.

The timing thing seemed to work, there were a few suggestions for how to make it more obvious that all cards with the same effect happened together and that number was there only to break ties. I've had another of my own for clarifying that too.

Afterwards we split up and I finally got play Graham's flower nursery game, which was very interesting, and extremely well crafted considering how few times it has been played.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to struggle to find time to update my games as The Daughter's second birthday is fast approaching and we're having a bunch of family up for a party. The house and garden need a bit of attention so that's taken priority over games design.

In other news, I've 'finished' my Last Plays Windows Phone app, in the sense that it does everything I want it to do now. It need polishing before I could put it in the Store, but essentially it works. Unlike my new phone. I updated it to Windows Phone 8.1 and the camera stopped working. Everything else is fine, but the camera won't work from any app. I've tried rebooting the phone and even a factory reset, but to no avail, so I guess I'm going to have to send it off to the shop :-(

Monday, August 4

Timing Is Critical

As I mentioned last week, when I discussed an idea I'd had for Zombology with Dan (the other Newcastle Playtest organiser) he promptly countered with another idea which blew my idea out of the water. So, I'm going to steal his idea shamelessly. Here it is:

I've had a few problems with timing in Zombology. Each round the players simultaneously choose a card to play in secret and then simultaneously reveal them. The cards then get resolved in a rough sort of order: Upgrades, then Events and then Science cards. But within those groups it kind of all happened semi-simultaneously. Most of the time this was fine, but I'd come across a few problems with particular situations, and by far the longest part of the discussion about Zombology at the last Newcastle Playtest session was about one of these edge cases where the semi-simultaneity meant that the rules got really complicated and a little bit broken. I've also had a rather awkward conversation with one of the blind playtesters about how a particular card works if multiple people play it in the same round.

As a result of these types of problems the rules explanation is either not descriptive enough to cover edge cases, or so ridiculously wordy that it feels more like a legal agreement than a simple card game rule book.

Dan's solution? Number each card and then resolve them in number order. That's so simple that I can explain it in ten words. Ten. One of the games I've been considering as a guide while I design Zombology is 6 Nimmt! It's very quick, has simultaneous card selection and can get quite brutal as the cards are actioned and someone inevitably gets shafted. How does 6 Nimmt! solve the card resolution? You resolve them in number order. Genius! Why didn't I think of that? Seriously, why did I need Dan to point that out?

It solves all the individual problems I've been having and in a way that is simple to explain and understand and that cannot be debated during gameplay or lead to rules lawyering. Card 3 happens before card 5. Full stop. It allows me to be prescriptive about the order in which particular cards happen (if the Fatal Mistakes need to happen before Pay Rises to make sense, all I have to do is give them lower numbers) without bulking out the rules explaining that you must do A before B. In fact, it will take a lot of words out of the rules, making the explanation shorter and easier to understand.

Timing is critical to so many games - actions must happen in a particular order to make sense and to frame the game in a way that is fair to all players. I'd been focussing so hard on making the individual cards work alone and in conjunction with each other that I'd neglected to take into account the flow of the game. There had been warning signs in the form of awkward email explanations and long discussions about which cards relied on which others, but I'd brushed them aside. I really hope that when I finally get round to making a version with this improvement in it will be another leap in game quality - making things much smoother and simpler to explain.

It's Newcastle Playtest again this week, but due to the busy week last week and then guests over the weekend I've not had a chance to incorporate my new ideas into either Zombology or Vacuum :-( I'll just be going as a playtester this month instead.

In other news, my boss Ian and I played Border Reivers at the end of Games Night on Thursday. I'd not played for four or five years and it was Ian's first game ever. I was a bit rusty on the rules, but that was no excuse for the absolute beasting Ian delivered, crushing me at my own game in fairly short order. It highlighted a few of the flaws in the game that I was already aware of, and now I've got Border Reivers Second Edition in my head too. And also in Evernote. I need to finish something off and work on fewer games at once!