Thursday, January 29, 2009

Updated ESNA

Updated ESNA to include the missing rules as was reported by Aaron_ in the comments.

Also, I should point out that he found something similar. Granted it's much more dice-heavy, but kind of does the same thing. Which makes me want to move on to other things.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

The worst episode of BattleStar Galactica ever

So, we finally had a chance to play the Battlestar Galactica board game. Through natural selection of various reasons, we wound up with 3 players, which isn't really enough to fully appreciate the game. But we decided to play anyway since none of us had played it before, and felt it was worth getting the hang of it anyway.

And what we wound up with was a game that suffered from something that is a common malady that all game designers fear, regardless of what kind of game you are working on: "demo-itis." Here's how it works: in the middle of a design, you are required to show your game to some big wig or somebody, so you spend a day or two just making the thing work, through whatever means possible. Mr. Big Wig comes in for a demonstration, and you hope that the game does exactly what you want it to, the actual hooks and fun stuff becomes apparent, and everyone has a grand old time.

Unfortunately, the oppposite typically happens. While a complete breakdown, most likely resulting in fire extinguishers and ambulances, never occur, it's the little bugs, the things that you miss, or simply, the game does not show off it's features well, or obviously enough to someone who hasn't been wrapping head around the game for the last 5 months. Which usually results in some type of tap dance of "well, what you are experiencing is quite rare" or "well, that feature isn't quite finished yet," or some sort of excuse.

Anyway, in the case of the BSG game we played, the Cylon fleet never bothered to show up beyond their starting positions. Never. And not really through any clever type of card play either; it was just an unlucky shuffle of the deck for the most part. I played Roslyn, who has the quite powerful ability to draw 2 Crisis cards and only select 1 to play, and for the first 80% of the game I didn't draw a Cylon fleet card; it wasn't until the very last 3 rounds that they started showing up, and only to me, at which point I simply selected the other card.

Now I don't think that makes the game broken in any way. It's just that when you have events driven through the random ordering of a shuffled deck of cards, this is bound to happen at some point. And in fact, it even points out how powerful Roslyn's ability is with three players. For a round of all three players, the other two players draw one card, while Roslyn draws 2 and picks one, so she alone is seeing 50% of all crisis cards drawn; once Adama revealed himself to be a Cylon, now she was seeing 66% of the crisis cards. (Since, typically, revealed Cylons draw from their own deck).

It's enough to make me think that Roslyn probably shoudn't be selected in a three player game.

Additionally, I tend to agree with the observations that with three players, you wind up drawing too many card than you really need. At some point, we were defeating crisis checks with monstrous numbers just because we had so many cards to toss into the stack; if we have to discard down to 10, might as well use them anyway.


One of the more interesting features of the game is that it thematically "feels" like playing out an episode of the show remarkably well. Except in cases where the game doesn't work properly due to a bad randomization of the cards. And so, I present to you our episode, "One Is The Lonlient Cylon," probably the worst episode ever, but sort of humorous if you can imagine it as a "real" episode playing out.

After the opening credits, we find Roslyn doing her presidential duties on Colonial One, building confidence with the Quorum. On Galatica, Starbuck jumps into a Viper to defend the few human ships behind Galatica from a few Cylon raiders, while Admiral Adama commands that a few for Vipers should be launched, acting like a true leader.

Not much interesting is happening at this point, Starbuck takes down a raider, Roslyn is dealing with the Quorum, and Adama is yelling "frak" a lot. The Cylon basestar lauches a heavy raider, and right before the fleet executes it's first jump, the raider lands a boarding party on Galatica.

At the fleet's new location, Starbuck decides to jump in a Viper again, and go off on patrols, just waitin for the Cylons to jump into range. Adama waits for someone, anyone, to yell "Draedus Contact" because he is getting itchy with his control over the nukes. And Roslyn is just hanging with the Quorum.

So we wait, and wait, and wait. Sure there's a few minor crises' going on, but the fleet is constantly spinning up their FTL drives, so there's no big issues. Roslyn complains that maybe someone on Galactica should, you know, deal with the Cylon raiding party that is on Galactica, who really aren't doing much raiding anyway. Maybe they are a Cylon READING party and they've found Adama's bookshelf. In response to Roslyn's request that maybe someone should take care of the Cylon reading party, Starbuck responds, "Hey! That's not my job, I deal with stuff OUTSIDE of the ship!"

Adama, for his part, laments his need to throw anyone in the brig, but because of his emotional attachment disadvantage, he doesn't have it in his heart. We find a need to look up some rules, and Adama is disheartened that he can't launch one of his nukes at Starbuck.

Roslyn decides to put up "WANTED" mug shot posters of Starbuck just for fun, and finds out that Starbuck is not a Cylon. Morale on the ships drops a bit.

After a jump, Starbuck decides, "It's fraking boring doing training runs and patrols, I'm going to run for fracking president." Adama also decides to run for fracking president. President Roslyn, upset that noone cares about the Cylon reading party on Galactica, decides that it's up to her and her cancer-ridden body to deal with it, and transfers off to Galactica.

Meanwhile, both Starbuck and Adama are holding numerous press conferences on Colonial One announcing their intentions to be fracking president.

Cancer-ridden Roslyn visits the armory, gets her weaponry, and defeats the Cylon reading party. Starbuck gets sent to the sickbay due to some crisis, and then Admiral Adama also becomes fracking president.

While cancer-ridden Roslyn, due to a crisis, goes off on a mission to find water, Starbuck goes back to Colonial One and holds some more press conferences. President/Admiral Adama does something wacky during a crisis, makes it obvious he's a Sleeper Agent Cylon, and reveals himself. As President/Admiral Sleeper Agent Adama is sent out an airlock (and gets reborn on the Resurrection Ship) the bombs he planted on Galatica go off.

Fortunately for the humans, Sleeper Agent Adama doesn't know his own ship that he commanded for years. Even though he wanted to knock out the FTL drives, he inadvertantly placed a bomb in both the main gun control room and in the armory. Which would be useful to him if other cyclon ships ever bothered to show up.

Starbuck winds up becoming both the President and the Admiral. Roslyn, still cancer-stricken, just waits it out on Galatica.

Starbuck and Roslyn work together to spin up the FTL drives as quickly as possible, jumping the fleet. Cylon Adama on the resurrection ship continues missing rolls and getting lousy crisis/super crisis card selections. Foolishly, both Roslyn and Starbuck hang out together in the lab which just makes Cylon Adama want to continue to take pot shots at Galatica, in the hopes of hitting the lab and sending them both to sick bay.

But it doesn't happen, Roslyn and Starbuck just hang out together tossing back beers and Chamela Extract, reliving the good times.

With two fuel left, Galactica performs it's last needed jump, and the humans win.

Closing credits roll.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

ESNA finally written up

Ok, it's been awhile, and I've been sort of distracted by real life things, but I finally got around to putting together the early beta rules I've been playing Epic Solitaire Notebook Adventures with, for those who want to play along.

Remember, it's kinda mean at this point.

Clicky here for the rules and stuff.

It's also in my Half-Baked sidebar.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

2 more playtest

Well, two more playtests for ESNA. I'm learning a bunch about the flow of the game (which moves very quick) and the balance (which is favored VERY heavily in the game's hand I think).

Game two actually was moving along swimmingly well, I managed to build a castle, went on a few quests (one involving going off and slaying a stinky elephant, two of them involving going of and returning an emissary from another Region, and one involving escorting a princess). Even managed to get up to Level 2, and created a few Level 2 creatures (Burrowing Gophers and Flying Kangaroos).

Unfortunately, on my next request for a quest, I needed to defend the castle in Brykestok from the invading Burrowing Livestock horde (well, two of them), and in since I was so busy transporting people around like the variant taxi driver I am, I never bothered to stop at the village to rest and reclaim HP, so I totally blame that on me. I was planning on doing that on the next Quest, but got hoodwinked into the castle defense.

Game three was a pretty sad state of affairs. I got beat up by two Undead Football Fans really badly; I couldn't even muster past their ridiculously slow speed rating of 3, to avoid their early hit.


Initially I figured that the player's total score would simply be whatever gold he has when he decides to retire (which at this point in the design cycle seems to be, don't even start adventuring; be a farmer). But gold is an interesting fungible resource; right now it is used to reclaim HP at the Village, and to advance levels at the Temple. Ultimately, I've determined that the race to simply retire with some amount of "vast sum" is kind of boring. It's pretty much at this point, "well, the game is getting too hard, might as well stop when I get a big payday."

And aside from that, the terraforming is kind of fun. And while it's sort of fun to run around the world, you can sort of do it on autopilot; I need some more decision points.

So, the player can build a Keep now, in which to retire in. The sheer impressive size of his Keep
will be the player's score.

At any point in the game, the player can determine his Keep location by selecting a Region without a building in it. At this point, the player can funnel money into his Keep.

But there's a trick to this. To increase the value of his Keep by one, he must pay the sum total of the levels of all the buildings that currently exist in the Kingdom. Early Keeps are easy to build while "building resources" are plentiful, but the money is tight early on, and you might want to spend money instead of HP (as I've learned quickly). Later on, while the Kingdom is functioning nicely, it's more expensive, but gives you an excuse to dump that extra cash into something nice like a media room or your Keep. So there's a bit of risk/reward decision making in the process of how and when to spend your cash. And that's typically good.

Along those same lines, I've been pondering the use of a new building, the Quarry, that will also let you spend money, this time to increase the Level Values of the Buildings. I don't want to increase the +1 Events too much (even though I will), and again, this will allow the player to make more decisions into the game with regards to money managements.

All is well in the world. Except for Fred, the Third, my latest Nameless Wanderer.


Since there seems to be a little bit of interest in the game, I don't mind spending some time to put together an official, full functioning, completely pre-alpha ruleset for those who are really interested in getting the butts handed to them. Feel free to chime in.

From a design article standpoint, the game is doing what I thought it would do, and I really hate giving rote playtesting stories, as I'm much more interested in talking about design concepts, goals, and ways to achieve those goals. Since this game has pretty much fulfilled the "build the components as you go" requirement at this point, my need to present lengthy papers on personal dsign opinions has lessened for this!

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Monday, January 05, 2009

ESNA playtest

Yes, I'm still screwing around with ESNA (Epic Solitaire Notebook Adventures). I just took my first playtest spin with it tonight. Granted, it's a first test, but some notes....

It ran pretty smooth. It ran pretty short, because I got decimated pretty quickly.

As you can see if you click to enlarge the picture on the left, I managed to explore my little Kingdom out to 9 different Regions, eventually meeting my demise in Hillyhills on my return from the dead-end otherwise known as Icabod's Roost due to a particularly strong pair of Armored Snakes. One of the interesting features that developed was that I only drew the "+1" twice; my first use was creating the useless Level 1 Temple in Caroyln, the second use was developing my Village in Alyndale up to a Level 2, since I was watching the terror of continuous hordes of level 1 creatures just CONSTANTLY gnawing on my extremities with every turn.

In general, I felt that the development of the Kingdom went well, with enough "0 Additional Path" cards drawn to make my life a pain to move around in, but not so much that I felt trapped. The Region of Byzantine, Diamonddale, and Icabod's Roost were the Regions that "dead-ended" out; Diamonddale being particularly damaging as it was a central Region, and it canceled out one of my 4 gimme routes out of Alyndale.

Clicking on the left picture here shows my Creature List. Since I didn't even come remotely close to being able to advance to a new level, all of the creatures encountered were also Level 1. Overall, there were 9 total encounters, plus the two Building Advances, and I think a single "no event happens" phase, which leaned against me slightly in terms of expected probabilities.

Early on, I defeated a Flying Kitten, which, aside from a tiny amount of gold, netted me a treasure, so I opted for a +1 Crown of Flying (+1 due to the Kitten being a Level 1 creature, this allows me to add +1 level against all flying creatures during battle) to place upon my pretty little skull. Sadly, the very next encounter, which I believe was against the Armored Dumpling, wound up putting a curse on my crown.

Defeating the Stinky Jackalope netted me the +1 Bodice of Stinkiness (again, +1 level for me against Stinky creatures). But sadly, by this point, even though I increased my village to 2, I was not able to really rescue enough hit points to continue on.

The second encounter of Armored Snakes (which now doubled their damage because there were, well, two of them due to being it's second encounter) did me in nicely.

Finally, I guess as creatures go, even though typically I like my Undead to be zombie-like slow, I guess if they are Undead Rebel Bikers, their bikes would explain their higher speed rating.

As you can see by my character sheet, there's not much to be filled in. Pity the poor nameless wanderer, for nature has run it's course on thee.

Obviously, in one playtest, there's not enough data at this point to determine if "the numbers" are out of whack...but my intuition tells me that the game leans pretty hard into the player (at least at the starting level) at this point, just based on the fact that the encounter/improvement Event occurances are relatively close for a small sample. I started with 50 hit points...perhaps that's not enough to start with.

But I think that the need to advance levels quicker that the creatures can multiply is of prime importance. Also, I was playing with an Initiative rule where when a creature is encountered I would check a Battle Result number from my Level against that creatures speed. Losing that check gave the creature a free hit on Nameless Wanderer, which didn't help.

On the other hand, this is what I assume it felt like playing a 1st level Magic-User in the first editions of Dungeons and Dragons:

"Oh yeah, ok guys, you go off and fight that monster and I'll be huddled in the corner over here, keeping my one stinking Magic Missile around in case we REALLY need, but otherwise, I'll just be Cowering. Occasionally shaking my staff at the the monster."

Too bad this is a solitaire game.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Pod People

Over at the BGDF, Seth posted a blurb about a co-op/traitor game, based on Reservoir Dogs. While everyone loves a good backstabbing divide-the-loot game, I'm not sure how adding a traitor element to something like this would "feel." Sure, there's a lot of traitor-ish games out there, and technically you could just easily boil out a lot of the space opera of Battlestar Galactica and retheme the game, but I'm not sure it would feel right. In others words, it's a strange thematic paradox. Mostly because in a game themed around everyone being thieves, EVERYONE is supposed to be a backstabbing bastard, not just one guy.

Plus, there's something about the EPIC SIZE of the goal of a game of BSG, and to a lesser extent Shadows over Camelot, offer. In the case of BSG, the storyline is nothing short of saving the entire human race. The themetic power of being a traitor against that cause is, well, powerful. Being a tratior is a roomful of untrusty, slightly off-kilter thieves isn't as impressive. And to make matters worse, if the goal really is to take the most loot, then everyone is sort of working against each other anyway, there's no real reason to trust each other to begin with. Traitors need the opposite, the complete need to trust to work together to a common goal, not an individual one, for the traitor goal to succeed.

Converting the theme on it's head a bit, and making it something like old school Mission:Impossible, where a team is working together, and that, to me, makes it more interesting, if only because everyone is supposed to be working together. The traitor is truly a traitor at this point. Granted, this is a stupid theme change, and nothing more, but I think that in traitor/co-op games the theme is important in defining the role and motivation of the traitor; more important really, than the applied theme of most games.

Somewhere at the half-way point of this theme, is probably the hero-thief archetype, ala the Ocean 11 movies (old school or new school, it doesn't matter), or really any heist theme where the criminals are presented as the heroes.

Digressing a bit...

Currently, most co-op games really are just re-themed disaster movies. By this, I think Bruno Faidutti thematically got it right with Red November; a bunch of players thrown into a situation where an escalating bunch of things constantly, randomly going off in their way and trying to deal with it as best. Perfect for a submarine disaster game.

What is a core theme to the M:I and Ocean 11 movies is not really the sense of trust amongst the team of individuals, but the unfolding of the clever, ridiculously complicated plan of the people we are following. What would be interesting, from a design goal standpoint, is a game where it's not a bunch of random obstuctions (like the seeming never-ending stream of ghosts in Ghost Stories), but instead, there's a random world created with a goal, and all the players figure some way to "solve" the world, but this requires some percision of various players needing to be doing X at Y in the timelime at location Z, for another player to do something. Sure, little random bumps can occur along the way to get in the way, but the focus should be on developing and trying to maintain a long term plan, and not simply, "How do we put out the newly created fire at location ZZZ."

And the final digression...

As I spent some time mulling around in my head why I didn't feel that traitors don't work well as a game element in a Reservior Dogs world, I happened across the classic movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And it got me to thinking a slightly different approach.

(For those uninitiated, Body Snatchers involves "space pods" that perfectly clone a human, and then when you sleep, they absorb your thoughts and memories, and then mysteriously somehow displose of your body. The Pod People, then join the rest of the Pod People, spreading the pods around, secretly (or not so secretly) converting people, knowing full well that eventually, they'll fall asleep. Generally, Pod People are pleasant enough, only because they only thing they lack is emotion, so while there is no hate, or greed, there isn't any love or God either. Even though they do have an abundance of "converting to be like us is the greatest thing in the world" moxie. In the end, Pod People wind up sort of just being the same person, just with different physical shells, and that's why you don't want to be one, I suppose.)

As with most traitor/co-op games, there's the team, and then the potential tratior, who conspires against the team against them completing the goal. But those roles, once selected never really change.

What if the goal was more internal? In the case of a Body Snatchers game, the team is trying to do "something," whatever that may be. Getting out of town, finding a cure, whatever. But the real goal belonged to the tratior, and that would be infecting all of the other players, turning them into pod people, who then join his side? All of this is would have to be done somewhat secretly.

In my imagination, it would have to work generally like this: every player would have a set of traits that would be decreasing, low traits man bad things happen, a zeroed out trait means death. Traits could be replenished with some kind of supplies like FOOD, WATER, or SLEEP and whatever else. It is randomly decided at the start of the game which supply actually can cause the conversion (and maybe one of the goals of the team is to determine the cause somehow). Once players have been secretly converted to Pod People they can poison the supply further, and obviously "help" other players to convert to their cause. The game would be designed with the need to replenish your traits often, and hopefully paranoia would settle in as players are strangely offering help, and presumably making slightly different perceived actions once they are converted.

Of course, the hard part in all of this is handling the secret conversions so that true humans don't know where they stand. I never said it was going to be easy...

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