Thursday, November 30, 2006


Even though I don't think many people consider board games to have user interfaces, technically they do. It's the components themselves. The parts are the things that the connects the players to the rules. When games are considered to be "too fiddly," that's just another way of saying that there's too much stuff on the interface. However, whether that's because there's too much needless stuff, or too many rules, is another issue, one that's primarily left up to a player's taste, for the most part.

I'm pretty amazed at some of the awful interfaces people have designed for various uses. I've seen gas pumps with a START button nowhere near the rest of the button panel, for example. Not very intuitive. There's quite a few websites that deal with bad/good interfaces which are fairly interesting to read.

In boardgame design, however, I think that most interface issues seem to fall into place fairly quickly during playtesting. You see very few games with insanely stupid interface decisions. You are more likely to see some bad interface designs brought on buy cost considerations more than true design thinking (or non-thinking). Such as using non-language dependant symbology for cards. It might look cooler, but having readable text that you understand sure helps a lot; however, if you can bring your cost down by only having to do one print run for the whole world of components, so much the better.

Anyway, where all this is going, is this: Someone emailed me about PocketCiv (which is becoming a lot less pocket-ful as I go, due to the work I'm putting in on the deluxe version), and wondered about the counters I had made for the City Advances (the red and blule counters in here). Basically, the question amounted to why i decided that each counter is a +1 AV counter that needs to be stacked, as opposed to simply having counters that get swapped out that said 1AV, 2AV, 3AV and 4AV.

I had considered this at one point. But when playtesting, I found that I sort of enjoyed the stacking aspects when a city gets built up. Aside from being visually pleasing, I didn't need to have to go searching for a specific tile with the right number on it, just grab another AV chit and stick it on top. And if an AV got reduced, simply pull one off the top and throw it in the pile.

Swapping of chits os sort of messy, since you have to search for the right chit that you need, and then remove the old one, and place the new one i the right place. The old chit being removed would presumably have to be placed in an area that you would have to remember where it was in case you needed to swap them out again. Not that this is REALLY a brain-bursting or Operation! twitchy physical action or anything.

In addition, anytime a player changes the state of a board, you are always prone to the player somehow accidentally whacking something that was not meant to be moved. Swapping tiles seems to complicate these issues a fraction more, since you are moving things at the board level. Stacking and unstacking tiles are slightly above board level, and is only one action, reducing possible whacking time.

Of course, there's always the condition that you now have stacked stuff that can fall down while you are moving other pieces around. So it's not THAT foolproof. But, hey, you go with your gut.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Monorail... Monorail... Monorail

After spending a few days at a trade show in Vegas, during when it was actually up and working, the LV Monorail is pretty darn cool. But it's no wonder why it's losing money.

If you walk on the strip, you have no idea it's even there. I am acutally reasonably sure that the "pull-the-number-out-of-my-butt" value of 80% of the people who stay on the strip doesn't even know it exists. It's simply too out-of-sight, too out-of-mind.

Thankfully, the next step is building the line to the airport (hopefully before the monorail goes bankrupt), which well help, but it doesn't solve the problem altogether. Which is this:

If you are going to build a people mover, don't put it in such a location that you need another people mover to get to it! Seriously. The monorail should've been a part of all those intersection overhead crosswalks they've been building on the strip. Run the monorail down the center of the strip. Let people see it. Let people walk the full length of the strip, and then ride the monorail back to their hotel. This puts monorail passengers right at the front door of the casino and hotel check-in, not the 1 mile walk through the casino, through the shopping mall, and past the employee parking lot.

So, instead of enjoying the wonderful view of the strip while riding the monorail, you now get the pleasent view of employee parking lots, and rooftops of two-bit hotels and bars littered with sattelite dish cables strewn about.

As it is, even built to the airport, it's still a huge chore lugging suitcases through the death march to get to the check-in desks. Hopefully, the hotel will start adding monorail check-in stations in the rear of the hotels for this purpose. Additionally, the riding the Monorail seems pretty much pointless if you stay at the newer, cooler, hotels on the west side of the strip, as the walk from say Ceasars to the ack of Ballys for the Monorail, is a pretty darn long chore for most people; and just hailing a cab will be faster.

For a city that is growing by huge leaps and bounds, it just seems like a hacken-eyed bad public plan. I assume that a lot of strip properties didn't want the strip to be monorail Central, due to the monorail blocking their landscaping, or something. But, the city really should've over-ridden that, maybe as a part of the "sure, you can now build your hotels twice as high now" deal from a few years back.

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The Random Pairing Problem

After some more discussion in chat at BGDF, we'v come up with an alternate pairing solution which, while not solving all the problems, might be better (or may not).

The problem pertains to Loose Triggers, Smoking Barrels. The exact problem is this:

Each player is secretly assigned two other players; one is a Weasel, one is a Pal. In addition to helping yourself, you want to also help your Pal, and you want to keep your Weasel down, so to speak. The big problem is, how do yo divvy out the Pals and Weasel secretly while making sure that the player dos not get his own name as a Pal or Weasel. And then, additionally, making sure that the Pal and Weasels are also different players.

The way I currently have this implemented is simple enough; if a player draws his own name, he puts it back into the mix and draws a new one. However, this creates a situation where players will know that Player X has just put his name back in the hat; it also doesn't solve the problem that the last player to draw can get screwed with having his name be the only one left, causing a complete redraw for everyone.

Now, I don't think redraws are truly that much of an issue in this game, it would just be nice to get rid of it altogether. Also,I'm pretty sure that it will become fairly obvious through the way the players play the game to determine who everyone's Pals and Weasels are. I think. A fairly slick player probably could hide it well. So, I'm not too worried about a single player redrawing because of him picking his name oout of the hat.

Still, it would be nice if a more elegant solution could be derived that could solve all these problems.

The thread generated a some good responses, but they all break down on some level. However I think Yogurt solved it pretty well; I can't find any really big holes in it,aside from players trying to memorize various "if player X and player Y put stuff together in one cup, then..." issues. So CONGRATS TO YOGURT!

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Politics, Not as Usual

I'm a pretty big fan of political games; I'm a sucker for running Werewolf games. Typically, I don't think there are enough of them, even though, many games really come down to being political without people knowing it. Monopoly, when played correctly, can become exceedingly political. Any game that involves players making deals and trading things has it. At any point in a game where Kingmaking becomes an issue, there's politics involved.

The beauty of Werewolf is how much the politics of the game is out front and in your face. It doesn't feel bad when players gang up on you because, well, that's the game. Unfortunately, in a game of Settlers and everyone decides NOT to trade with you, it feels awful. Of course, the time that a single game takes to play out of these games might have an effect, too. Additionally, Settlers has all the other trappings added on; the building, the random die rolls that always seems to roll out of your favor, etc.

Maybe that's why game that really focus on the politics without any of the other stuff really work. And games that have politics as a side effect of many other things are painful.

Anyway, after playing I'm the Boss, I've had it in my head of trying to do a strong, purely political game.

About the same time, I became aware of Cash n Guns, which has fascinated me for quite some time (well, at least the theme). The concept of designing a game around a Mexican Standoff is a fairly brilliant concept, with players pointing and waving the weapons around at each other.

But upon reading the rules, Cash n Guns sounded a little bit too mechanical for me. I have no doubts that it actually is fun, however. I wanted a reason to point a gun at someone other than "because the rules say so!" One of the fun parts of the movies that really take Mexican Standoffs to the extreme is how when other factions arrive, and they join in, suddenly targets switch. Cash n Guns doesn't have any of that. It's pretty much, "everyone selects a target and displays it on the count of three."

And so, in the back of my head, two basic concepts floated around, and eventually mated into Loose Triggers, Smoking Barrels.

One of the more interesting aspects of this design is that every player has a Pal and a Weasel. You score points for how well you do, how well your Pal does, and you score negative points for how well your Weasel does. I don't think another game has been approached in this way; where every player has a single player that they are helping while hurting.

I'm trying to come up with a more elegant way to divvy up the Pals and Weasels, however. I've gotten the guys on it, however, and we have made some progress.

But, I'm pretty happy with it overall so far.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Because You Can Never Be Too Young to Dress Like a Tart

Given that boys love destruction and mayhem, it only makes sense that they get KEWL vehicles that can magically transform into potentially death-causing, explosion-making, self-realized giant robots. But what about the girls...

Apparently, they love to get all slutted up, go out to bars under-age, and get over-aged men to by them drinks for free. So, it's only reasonable to think that this is a hidden transformer market to break into. Introducing the Polly Pockets Par-Tay Van. Because it's good to introduce girls as soon as possible to belly revealing tops, and falling-off-your-hips jeans; preferably before they even have hips to have them fall off of.

Mechanically, the van tranformation is cool enough to even make Optimus Prime proud. Heck it even has an elevator to get you up to the 2nd floor dance hall to strut your moves to "Baby Got Back." And it comes with a tiny DDR pad! Well, more like Simon; presss Polly on the light-up "floor panels" to follow the pattern. And it has a FUZZY PINK DJ STAND!!! Woo, Fun-Kay!

And what nightclub would be without a bar? Not the Par-Tay Van, since it also comes with a small bar with a mixer for making "smoothies." Uh huh, sure. Maybe if Polly's dad, Mr. Pockets, was running the joint; but Mr. Pockets is nowhere in sight. Most likely, one of Polly's under-aged friends with a hip, California name like Chad or Blaine would be running mixed-drink duties. I pity the poor Mr. Pockets, coming home from a late night at work, only to find the Par-Tay van parked out in his driveway, a bunch of barely dressed anorexic girls with large oversized head passed out on the lawn in their own vomit, and finding some ingredients from his "cabinet of relaxation" missing. Of course, Chad and Blaine, being finished with having their way with Polly and her drunken band of giggly hotties, are nowhere in sight; probably hanging around the 7-11 discussing the night's conquests.

As a side note, back in the 80's, I remember there was a small movement of creating dance clubs with smoothie bars for the under-age set in my area. With cool nightclub-sounding names and everything ("Jackhammer" is the one I remember). The only reason I'm aware of this is because the father of a friend of my sister (she was in high school at the time) opened one up. It didn't last long, since the whole concept, while rather noble, is flawed.

One, being a business, it needs to make money. Nightclubs make money pretty much solely on selling alcohol throughout the wee hours of the night. You can't turn a profit of selling Coke and fruit juice for 3 hours a night.

Two, being a teen hangout, not only required the same amount of security inside the place, but an inordinate amount of security watching the parking lot outside, to keep the undesirables away, who would gladly sell what couldn't be bought inside. Sadly, more than a few fights broke out in the lot. At a real bar, the owners just call the cops and be done with it; at a juice bar, the owner now had to take the additional responsibility of being a baby-sitter. You know, because it was HIS fault Joey wanted revenge for Louie tripping up his double axle grind in front of the Baskin-Robbins the night before.

Three, while going to a kid-friendly nightclub might be cool when you turn 16 (which I think was the minimum-age requirement), what self-respecting 18 year old is going to there? Especially when any 18-year old girl with any amount of gumption can easily get into a 21 and older bar? And then get free booze handed to her by duping the males hanging out at the bar? It should be noted that, in general, 18-year old boys get booted from bars pretty darn quickly; since they don't quite bring in the biz that a hot young chick does. So where does that leave the 18 year old punk boys? Why, to scope out the 16-year old girls at the juice club. Assuming, of course, those 16 years old that you are scoping out really aren't 13-year olds with enough gumption to sneak into a juice bar. And then trying to get 17-year old boys to buy them free Hi-Cs.

The above is all null and void assuming you live in a college town, where anyone who has a hand and a mouth can drink often and openly. Heck, you don't even NEED a Par-Tay Van at that point; just a keg and something that gravity with make it rest on.

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November 2005 - Hero, Myth, Hail Toileticus!

Since BGDF has moved over to a new server, they will eventually lose all of their old posting. So now I have to keep a record of my showdown entries somewhere else.

Place plastic Items randomly on "Lands" (islands and coast areas) on the large map of the Mythic Greek coastline, islands, and reefs. Each player starts his ship on the village Olympus.

Each player starts with five Persuasion Chips, and gets 12 Collection Cards in the player's color and randomly discards four. Cards show Items that players must return to Olympus.

Give one player the Spyglass, which designates the Navigator. The Navigator asks each player in turn (who becomes the Captain) if he wishes to Follow a Course, or Plot a Course. After each player has been a Captain, pass the Spyglass to the left to start a new round.

The Captain may select a new crew by taking up to 6 Double-Dice ("Sailors") from the stock if he is docked at a Village. Otherwise, he sails with his current crew.

Plotting a Course: The Captain declares which Land he wants to sail to, starts with a dry-erase marker on Land near his ship, and puts on a blindfold. One of 6 sand timers based on the crew size (more Sailors equals the faster the timer goes, due to supply usage) is flipped, and the Navigator verbally instructs the blindfolded Captain in drawing his Course.

If the Course hits a Beach or Village before the timer runs out, the Course is finished, regardless if they have reached the desired destination. The Captain may dock his ship on this Land. Mark the starting and ending locations of the Course with the initials of both Captain and Navigator. If the desired destination is reached, the Navigator gains 3 Persuasion Chips.

If the Course hits a reef or a mountain side of a Land, or the timer runs out, both players get a Shipwreck Counter, the Captain discards all Sailors, and places the Items on back on Lands (always at the Captain's choosing). This course is erased.

(It is the best interest of the Navigator to help: he can use drawn Courses, gains Persuasion Chips, and avoids Shipwreck Counters.)

Follow a Course: A Captain moves his ship along any Course marked with his initials that is connected to a Land that his ship is at. After moving, erase this Course.

When at a Land, the Captain may collect the Item there. If the Item is a Monster, it has a Strength Number, and the Captain must Battle to collect it.

The Captain rolls the amount of Double-Dice shown as the Monster's Strength, then his Sailors. The Captain aligns one Strength to one Sailor. With uneven forces, the Captain removes excess dice after rolling at his choosing. Any "inner die" (DEFENSE) that is less than the "outer die" (ATTACK) of an opposing die, discards that Double-Die. Since damage is inflicted simultaneously, both dice can be discarded. If dice remain on both sides, they are rolled and arranged again by the Captain. If the Captain loses all his Sailors, he places the Items back on Lands and docks his ship at Olympus. If the Captain has remaining Sailors and the Monster has no Strength, he collects the Item.

If two ships are docked at a Land together, the Captains may trade Items, or the acting Captain may start a Battle. Each Captain rolls their Sailors, secretly align their Sailors in a row, and then are revealed, matching them in one-on-one battles, and "deaths" are resolved as above. The losing Captain moves his ship to Olympus, and hands over all his Items to the winning Captain. If both Captains lose all Sailors simultaneously, all Items are placed back on Lands, and both ships are placed at Olympus.

When docking at Olympus, a Captain delivers his Items to the Gods by placing the delivered Items back on Lands, and placing matching Collection Cards on the leftmost (highest-scoring) open spot in the appropriate row of the Scoring Board.

After delivery, a Captain can try to persuade the Gods to swap any one of his Cards with another Card directly to it's left on the Board. The players of both Cards secretly place any number of their Persuasion Chips in their hands and reveal simultaneously. If the acting player reveals more, the Collection Cards are swapped. The Persuasion Chips that were used are swapped between players.

Play ends when:
--One player has placed all 8 of his Cards on the board (instantly declared the winner).
--The amount of Cards on the Board equal 5 times the amount of players. Points are totaled for Card Values on the Board and Persuasion Chips. Shipwreck Counter values are subtracted. Total points win.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

December 2005 - More...Brains

Since BGDF has moved over to a new server, they will eventually lose all of their old posting. So now I have to keep a record of my showdown entries somewhere else.

(Ghastly Graveyard, Deluxe Starter Set w/ Grabby Hands)

Using the 25 tiles provided, randomly build the Graveyard Map in a 5 by 5 square. Each tile has a Safety number on it (Safety number range from 15-40). Players are divided into either Zombies or PreZombies (Humans) through any known random means. Roughly 25% of the players should start as Zombies. PreZombies get character markers placed on the upper-left tile. Any PreZombie that makes it to the lower-right exits the Graveyard and wins. (For tougher PreZombie challenges, the Zombie ratio can be increased, or the Graveyard shape can be altered; for an easier challenge, the game can be started with less Zombies). Each Zombie gets a Grabby Hand.

PreZombies get dealt 8 Escape cards (Cards show numbers from -3 to 10) to start. Game begins!

PREZOMBIES MOVE: PreZombies move the markers one space vertically or horizontally on the Graveyard Map. PreZombies may discuss where they wish to move before moving. PreZombies that are on the same tile may freely exchange Escape cards.

After moving markers, PreZombies play any amount of face-down Escape cards from their hands in front of them. The sum total of the cards will be compared to the Safety value of the tile during the Reveal phase.

ZOMBIES GRAB!: All PreZombie players close their eyes. All Zombies "countdown" by chanting these words "Hungry...need...more...brains...NOW!" On the word "now!" all Zombies select a PreZombie by grabbing at them with their Grabby Hand. Selections by the Zombies should NOT be discussed beforehand. PreZombies can open their eyes now. When not using the Deluxe set, Zombies merely point instead of grabbing.

PREZOMBIES REVEAL: PreZombies flip over and reveal the total value of their Escape cards. Any PreZombie who exactly matches the Safety number on his tile with his value of Escape cards is safe from all Zombie grabs. Otherwise, a PreZombie is turned into a Zombie based on having the least amount of Escape points amongst the other PreZombies on his current tile. EXAMPLE: A PreZombie is turned into a Zombie if one Zombie grabs at him, and he has the lowest Escape total amongst the PreZombies on his tile. If 2 Zombies grab, then he is turned into a Zombie if he has the lowest, or 2nd lowest Escape point total; if 3 Zombies grab at him, then he is turned if he is third to last, second to last or last, etc...

If more Zombies grab at him than there are PreZombies on his tile, then the only way he is safe is if his Escape point total equals the Safety number of the tile.

A just-turned Zombie discards all of his cards and takes a Grabby Hand.

PreZombies that are not grabbed at are automatically safe.

Any PreZombies who survives AND matches the Safety number draws two new Escape cards automatically. Some tiles will offer bonus cards just for surviving on the card. Other will give bonus cards for PreZombies with the highest Escape total.

A new round starts. Game ends when all PreZombies have exited the board or when all players have become Zombies.

Hint: In general, PreZombies should keep together as only the "slowest" PreZombies will be typically lost. However, PreZombies are free to go off on their own in the hopes of collecting more cards, or for better matching Safety numbers. Other strategies include: trying to get Zombies to grab at you when you have matched the Safety number, and bluffing Zombies away from you when you have played ridiculously low-valued Escape cards. Conversely, Zombies should try and get a read on "tells" a PreZombie may have when playing low Escape cards, or when matching a Safety number.

Various new locations for maps/tiles: Montgomery Bringembeck Hospital, Restless Lincoln High School, Tombstone Central Mall, AirStrike 3 Military Base, etc.

New Advanced Escape card sets which can include weapons (ex: Baseball Bat, no escape points but reduces the amount of Zombies grabbing at you by 1) and ancient voodoo spells (ex: Elixer of Life: Select one Zombie grabbing you to return to PreZombie status. His marker starts on your current tile) to fight the Zombies.

For the real adventurous, Grabby Hand Dipping Slime! Zombies get to dip their Grabby Hand into a bowl of officially-sanctioned More...Brains! water-soluable slime before grabbing for their helpless victims.

And of course, more Grabby Hands!!

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Living Document

I've been sort of surprised by the amount of time PocketCiv is taking. But then again, not really. Maybe, due to that fact that it's more of a system than a standalone game, it's sort of taken on a life of it's own. And therefore sucking out a lot more than I thought I it would from my spare time.

One thing seems to just lead to another. While I am fairly happy with the way the basic PocketCiv works (even though I think I've failed to make it truly work while ON a plane), the game itself WORKS pretty nicely as a pasttime. I've actually managed to survive all 8 Eras while waiting for a delayed plane.

Anyway, I start working on making graphics for the Deluxe version (the boardgame version), and then I get to fooling around with creating specific scenarios. So, now, all my playtesting time has been taken up with Scenario creation, and graphics creation.

One of the nice features of the Scenarios, however, is the ability to lead a player through the game initailly without having them read the book (ala the first few round of a video game that introduces features as it goes along). These took quite a bit of time. The regular scenarios are easy. Too bad THEY need testing.

And now that I've got solid, mechanical, boards and peices, I'm mentally puting together a 2 player version...

There's not enough time to feed the Beast.

Anyway, if there is ANYONE out there reading this, feel free to at least playtest the basic version. You might have fun. Honest.

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