Monday, March 30

Like A Phoenix From The Ashes

I've spent half of this week in Germany for work, on a flying visit which left me with little time to see anything of Berlin. I did however get to see Konrad, one of my core playtesters and a friend who's supported me since the earliest Reiver Games days, who just happens to live in Berlin. Convenient.

I knew that Konrad was interested in Codename: Vacuum, and I'd promised him a copy of it after he was so helpful during my NaGa DeMon 2013 competition. It wasn't quite ready to send then, so I tweaked it a little and then got completely distracted by Zombology and later Dragon Dance.

It's been over a year since I'd played Vacuum, and until recently I hadn't even really thought about it at all either. About a month or two ago I had some ideas to streamline some of the clunkier bits and simplify a few things (I was also intending to complicate some others!). I started work on those changes on a recent train journey, but then I've run out of time to finish them off.

Seeing as Vacuum comes in a box the size of Race for the Galaxy, shipping it to Germany wouldn't be cheap, so it made sense to take Konrad a copy while I was over. Konrad kindly invited me to his flat one evening and offered to cook me dinner, so we had a plan.

Like all the best-laid ones, it all went to pot. I had little time before the trip to finish off making the changes I had in mind for Vacuum (and what little time I did have I spent programming my new German language app), so I didn't have a finished copy to take with me. Instead I crammed my personal copy (with the cards from Feb 2014 and the rules from August 2013!) in my suitcase, and told Konrad I'd leave it with him and send him updated cards when I'd finally got around to finishing them.

Konrad and I playing Codename: Vacuum

We had a great evening, a lovely meal followed by a game (and great discussion) of Vacuum and then a couple of games of Alchemy, one of Konrad's designs, which I really enjoyed. Konrad was even kind enough to give me a copy of that (which thanks to a smaller box than Vacuum meant that I had room in my suitcase for a little souvenir for The Wife and The Daughter). The game of Vacuum was a little embarrassing (it had been so long since I'd last played that I'd forgotten a number of rules until halfway through the game), but really useful, refreshing my memory of what works and what doesn't. Afterwards we had a lengthy chat about what Konrad liked and didn't like and my ideas for the next version, which Konrad's input has already simplified further.

A great trip all in all, and it's good to get back into Vacuum, the game that started my second wind of games design, post Reiver Games debacle.

Monday, March 23

Ich Bin Ein Berliner

And I don't mean a jam doughnut.

Actually, I'm not a Berliner at all. But I am in Berlin. My fourth trip to Germany (after a couple of trips to Spiel in Essen in 2008 and 2009 with Reiver Games, and a trip to Tübingen last year for work) is my first visit to Berlin.

Sadly, as with so many work trips, I'll get to see almost none of it: just the airport, the hotel and the conference centre (in this case the Technical University of Berlin). It is not however a total washout (like last week was, my only progress in anything was a play of Eclipse towards my ten plays goal thanks to a very busy week at work).

Tonight I am meeting Konrad, a Reiver Games customer of old who has become one of my best playtesters in recent years (he's won both of the last two NaGa DeMon competitions I've run). I've brought along my current copy of Vacuum which he's keen to play and I intend to leave it with him and then post him just the new cards when they are ready. I'm hoping to Playtest some of his games too. Once tonight is over I'm entering a bit of a gaming drought as I'll be going three weeks without a Games Night due to this trip and then having our bathroom replaced. I'm hoping to get some gaming in over Easter though, we'll be down in York seeing two lots of gaming friends...

Monday, March 16

Impromptu Holiday

The good news is that on Thursday evening, after Games Night, The Wife and I decided to take a long weekend away, so we were in a little cottage in rural Northumberland enjoying an impromptu short break for the last few days - hence the late blog post. We had a lovely time and even got some gaming in (it's been ages since The Wife and I have played games together, the sleep disruption caused by The Daughter has left us too tired in the evenings to do much other than slump).

The bad news is that I'm not making any progress on anything this week due to the holiday and work commitments so I'm not going to have Vacuum ready to take to Germany next weekend. I'll have to post a copy to Konrad on completion after my trip to Germany :-(

Still, I'm on holiday! Yay!

Monday, March 9

They Tried and Failed?

... They tried and died. That quote seems somehow appropriate this week.

It's been another busy week. Monday I was travelling for work with Ian again, so there was iPad gaming on the train (complete with another game of Galaxy Trucker, towards my ten plays goal) and then Tuesday was Newcastle Playtest.

I was pretty knackered though, so I left about nine o'clock after three games of Zombology and one of Dan's Ming Voyages. It was a really good turn out with eight of us including two new people and it was good to get some games of Zombology in with more players than the usual three or four we manage in my work lunchtime sessions. We played two games with six players and then when the new members arrived we played an eight player game. Because I'd missed the session last month it was the first time these guys had seen the most recent (and fairly large) changes. They liked some aspects of it, but weren't so keen on others, especially the reduction in control. The previous version let you keep a card between rounds. This gave you a lot more control as you could prevent a card going to an opponent, and could keep a card that would potentially let you complete one of the suits, thereby controlling which suits were scored at the end of the game. The downside was that all the good cards were being kept by players, completely knackering the drafting element.

I'm ok with it not being a very strategic game, it's supposed to be a 10-15 minute filler like 6 Nimmt! which also has very little control. I also like the way the drafting gives you increasing information about which cures are possible as the game plays out.

Between us we had a few new ideas to try out, and on Thursday lunchtime I got to try out one of those - dealing all the cards up front. This was a spectacular failure. It tried, and died! With only three players and all the cards dealt at the beginning of the game you know by the end of the third turn which suits can be cured (in our case: none!), which sucks a lot of the fun out of it.

I've some other ideas from Tuesday to try out, but they need new components, so will take a little longer to organise.

Thursday was Games Night which included a couple more games of King of Tokyo (which is fast becoming a favourite) towards my ten plays goal. Both our games were six player and we found there was very little incentive to stay in Tokyo till the start of your next turn for the two points. The winners of both games never went in to Tokyo at all! We're considering trying a house rule next time to encourage Tokyo hogging ...

Finally, on the weekend I did a bit more work on my German app. A bit of refactoring and adding some new functionality. It's slowly coming together.

This week I really need to crack on with Vacuum so I can try it once before I go to Germany. Ideally, I need to get it printed and playtested during the week...

Good progress on my goals for the year this week, but not on my more pressing aims regarding Vacuum and Germany. I need to sort myself out!

Monday, March 2

Back to App Development

Not much to report this week. I've not made any more progress on Codename: Vacuum ahead of tomorrow's Newcastle Playtest and my trip to Germany at the end of the month. Nor any progress on launching my company and getting back into Games publishing.

It's not been a total washout though. I've played three games towards my ten plays goal (Galaxy Trucker on the iPad with Ian on the way to Manchester on Tuesday and then Chinatown and King of Tokyo on Games Night on Thursday).

I've also started in earnest on my next Windows Phone app. Again it's a personal app that I'm going to make available to others, this time for helping me to learn German.

I learnt German for a couple of years at school and then again via evening classes while I was running Reiver Games. Since getting a smart phone I've tried (and got very frustrated with) a few apps for learning German. Then I got Duolingo which is absolutely awesome. I've been recommending it to everyone it's so good. But it's not perfect.

I learn best when I can visualise data in tables. Things like verb conjugation and adjective declension just make sense to me in tabular form rather than introduced piecemeal through an array of real sentences. So I'm making an app for that so I can help myself learn German in the way I find easiest. Hopefully as it develops and becomes more functional I can make it available and help others too.

German Learning app