Monday, August 10, 2015

Announcement: Summer Hiatus Over!

Oh, look. Someone's already invented my game.

Dear Valued Readers,

I'm back to the grind!  Thanks for not going anywhere.  Over the course of the next week, I'll be ramping back up to my normal posting schedule.

As you might remember, I took a month off from posting to work on a board game design that I hoped to launch on KickStarter later this year.

Designing a board turned out to be a lot harder than I expected, but not for the reasons I expected.

I thought the most difficult part of designing an actual product would be the business logistics: how it would cost to print a game, how I would raise funds for the initial printing, where I would distribute the game from in order to minimize postage costs, etc.  It turns out, the real challenge was my own runaway exceptions.

It has been pointed out before (and I can now see it for myself) that I have a tendency to go overboard on things that I'm excited about.  For example, you might have noticed that I have a hard time nailing down one single topic for my blog.  First, I'm posting art, then I'm linking to art news, then I'm writing about comics, video games, and science fiction, when suddenly I decide to begin posting short films I like...

That's pretty much how my game design went.  I started out designing a nice simple Pick Up and Deliver game.  It was going to be like The Great Heartland Hauling Co., but on hex tiles and with a cyberpunk theme.  We'll re-theme this game inside a month, and have a KickStarter up in time to ship for Christmas.

Then, I was like, "you know what would spice this game up a little?  Player interaction!"  So, I added the ability to fight with other players with a set of dice.  No problem.  I'll borrow the mechanic from  Serenissima.  Easy peasy, and the game's less likely to be pegged as a rip-off.

That was week one.

Week two rolls around, and I'm like, "This game's cyberpunk theme feels a bit pasted on.  We need to add something to it that feels like hacking."  This is where my brother, with whom I'm collaborating with began to glaze over, and where a wiser man would have turned back.  But not me.  Me?  I went looking for a hacking mechanism to splice into my simple little Pick Up and Deliver game.

After a day or two of research, it occurred to me that framing the hex tiles as "networks" and giving them each their own rising security levels might add some urgency to the game play.  So I adopted the mechanism from Dead Men Tell No Tales in which a card draw at the end of each turn brings random tiles closer to being destroyed if a player doesn't sacrifice a potentially profitable action to lower a nearby tile's security level.  Then, I added that same game's villain spawning mechanism in which NPCs are place on the board and dispersed by the same card draw that controls the encroaching doom of the tiles' destruction.

So now, each of the tiles that composes the game board is slowly being destroyed while NPCs are bouncing around.  Cool, but a bit random.  My intention had been to add an aspect of player interaction to the game, not to transform it into a game of dodge ball.  So, I promptly doubled down by adding a series of "network sentries" that resemble the Navy ships in Black Fleet in that players can use them to sink their opponents.

Dear Readers, if I had stopped there, I might be able to report back to you today that we had successfully completed our game.  Maybe we would have a game just a hair more complicated than previously expected, but the fundamental framework might be in place.  From there, we might have whittled the game down into something playable.  But no.  Why?  Because I had allotted myself a full four weeks to tinker with my design, and I still had two weeks left.

Week three is when disaster struck.  You see, in week three, I encountered a run through video of an excellent game with a really novel chase mechanic - Run, Fight, or Die!  It's a very simple dice game in which a player tries to defend himself from a slowly advancing horde of zombies.  What does that have to do with a cyberpunk Pick Up and Deliver game you ask?  Absolutely nothing... until the idea struck me to make my cyberpunk data couriers parkour tracers like in Sam A Patel's Data Runner.

Now you might be asking yourself how can a character be both inside a computer network AND running parkour?  Good question.  Where were you a week ago?

Long story short, four weeks of work have left me with the world's most complicated Frankengame.  It's a Pick Up and Deliver game in which you must earn a delivery commission, quell network security to keep tiles passable, dodge NPCs, outrun NPCs that are chasing your down your "escape lane" because you couldn't dodge them, collect weapons and buffs to defend yourself if case the NPCs catch you, and deliver data cubes on time, before they expire.  Meanwhile, you're laying viruses in your wake to trip up your opponents, who may be lurking around your delivery route to challenge you to a duel.  It's basically what Merchant of Venus would have been if Richard Hamblen had been a meth addict.

All told, the game involves a draw bag, three player boards per player (character/inventory, stat board/score track, and a four stage "chase lane"), 34 hex tiles, 48 dice, 140 cards, 160 tokens, and a game manual that is currently composed of index cards that completely cover a six by eight section of my bedroom wall.  My guess is that it'll be about ten very dense pages longs when compiled with graphics.

My brother's like "Have you seen Kittens in a Blender?  Cuz that's sort of more what I had in mind."

At this point, I honestly don't know if I'm going to scrap the whole thing and start over, roll back the game to an earlier point in the design process, or actually complete the prototype and spend the next three months whittling it down.  In any case, it's a safe bet that you won't be seeing my name on a KickStarter campaign anytime soon.

Yours Truly,

Twitter Log of my Game board Design Efforts

July 11
Me: How do you depict cyberspace on a game board?
My Brother: Just tile it with kittens and porn.
Me: That WOULD sell well on KickStarter.

July 12
I've been working on a board game design for a week now, and do you know what I've learned? That this is the most ironically unfun job ever.

July 13
Seriously. I've been designing board games for a week, and I've invented checkers twice... only somehow, it was worse both times.

Is it possible that I'm just not German enough to design board games for a living?

Okay, enough pity party for me.  Back to work on Space Checkers: The Reckoning.

July 22
My brother on my board game design: "Hey, let me show you this game inside a game I'm working on for while you're playing my other game."

July 24
Three weeks trying to design a board game, and this morning, I wrote "Drink coffee" on my ToDo List to feel like I'd accomplished something.

July 31
After a full month, I've got a working draft of my game. My brother is describing it as "a cyberpunk-themed version of doing your taxes."

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