Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Last Gaming of the Year

I am sure you are all looking for some news or an update about Taipan, and it is coming, I promise.  There is just not a lot to show or talk about just yet.  In between playing all these games, I have been working on updating the rules (which you can find HERE)  and creating all new cards to replace the old ones that done work with the new rules.  I should have all new cards printed and ready for playing by the weekend.  Until then, here is the latest version of the Far East map with the latest corrections.  Enjoy!
I went to my friend Bryan's place last night to play some games.  We played Merkator a ponderous game that is too complicated for what it is.  So complex in its game play I barely know where to begin.  Players can buy and sell Bonus Cards and Buildings at the start of their turn.  Then they can travel to locations to collect resources and when they do this, the adjacent locations connected by a rope (don't ask) on the board gain 1 addition resource on their location.  They can also travel to these locations to complete Contracts.
Players start the game with 4 contracts ranked 1-4 and are only allowed to keep 5 Contracts.  Contracts can be completed over and over multiple times.  Each Contract has a location and a set of requirements the player must deliver to that location to complete the contract.  If the player completes it, he gets money and a new contract 1 level higher than the level of the Contract he complete.  Players have to travel to these locations and depending on the location ether takes a Time Token or pays Time Tokens (its all feels very arbitrary).  When the player takes a Time Token for traveling to certain locations they flip it over and the Letter on the back is the Column (on the players warehouse) that all players must discard a Good from their warehouse.  Also, other players can then pay that player time tokens to travel with him to perform actions on their turn.  This makes it important to know that focusing on one area or one set of Contracts is the wrong way to win the game.
The game ends when all the Time Tokens are depleted or a player scores the single Level 14 Contract.  Bryan crushed us mostly by cheating (Unintentionally).  He was keeping more than 5 Contracts and several round went by before we caught him.  But he also just had the most options of things to do at the most locations.  I focused on two really good combos, but it cost me too much time to do those combos over an over to be worth it.  Bryan was getting a lot done on our turns and doing a lot on his own turns.
I like the concept but there was so much abstract, vague, and arbitrary rules and mechanics that, In the end, I just did not have a good time playing.  It was all of our first times playing and we discovered several rules that were over looked, or lost in the original translation that we were all just guessing at some points. I would be willing to try it again, but we would have to go another round on learning the rules and check the errata online first.

After a dinner break we came together to play Age of Empires III.  This was sold to me as a 3+ hour game.  In that sense I was not lied to.  It took just over 5 hours to play.  Let me start by saying this is not my type of game.  I could have played 2-3 games in the time it took us to play this one game.  Bryan taught us the Rules and after 40 minutes we started.
This game is big and Epic.  To try to explain it all here would take forever.  Here is the Abridged Version.  Each player is a European contry trying to expand and colonize the New World.  You do this by placing colonists on one of many possible actions.  Colony Ships let you move your people to any place that has been discovered.  Trade lets you take one of the 4 trade goods that are available. Trade Ship acts as a wild card for your trade goods (you only get money if you have 3 of a kind), Construction lets you spend your money to buy buildings. Discovery lets you send a group over to try to open up a new area for colonization. Specialists lets you get one of the special characters that have additional abilities depending one where and how you use them.  And last is Warfare that lets you attack other players.
On top of all the special places you can place a colonist, there are 5 special types of colonists.  Soldiers, Captains, Merchants, Builders, and Clergy.  Each one can be used in different ways depending on where you place them.  Soldiers give bonus money when you used them for discovery and they are used in warfare as a colonists.  Captains count as 2 when bidding on the Trade Ship and when used for Discovery.  Merchants give 5 gold when they land in the New World and they count as 2 when bidding on the Trade Ship.  Builders make buildings cost 5 less and they make fortifications in a Colony that act as End of Game Victory Points.  Clergy count as 2 colonists when they land in the new world.
At the start of the game only the Caribbean is available to Colonize so it gets crowded fast.  In the image above you can see Orange and Purple have piled their people on there.  I got blocked trying to get the Trade Ship twice and I got blocked on getting the building I wanted. I ended up getting a lot of Soldiers, but no money or trade goods.  So I went on the War Path.  Half way through the game I was sure I was in the lead.  I was scoring so many points from the colonies that I had conquered, I knew it was down to Alex and me.
But in the end, it was Ben who pulled out all the stops.  He had generated enough money to buy some really valuable buildings that gave him score multipliers on how much money he had.  He had also got a ton of points from his trade routes.  Alex and I were dead last!  Once we understood what were doing and how all the different Colonists are used, the game started to pick up speed and play faster.  I think with people who really know what they are doing the game could be played in about 3 hours.
Its interesting that on the scoreboard, the two people who where in the lead ended up being last.  And the ones in last place on the board pulled all the way to the front.  While I did enjoy this game, I do not like 5 hour games, so it is unlikely that I will every play this game again, but I would consider it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Another round of gaming!

Its rare for me to get this much gaming in such a short period of time.  I have a feeling I better enjoy it since it will come to a screeching halt in January.  In the early part of the day I went to a co-workers house to play some games and then later that night I went to Ziggy's Tavern where they have board games every Tuesday.

After a bumpy start we played Blue Moon City.  This should have been a fast game but I hadent read the rules or played in a long time so I was a bit rusty in getting it set up and started.  This is an interesting game where tiles are placed down on the brown unpainted side to represent a once great city that suffered a catastrophe. The players are rebuilding the city, working together in a way, but ultimately they are trying to gain enough influence that they can make the most offerings the Obelisk at the center and be placed in control of the city.
The game is played with Pawns which are moved around the city, and Cards which are used as a resource to rebuild the city, and as special abilities.  The abilities are triggered by discarding the card and range from extra movement, convert cards into wild cards, and move Dragons.  The Dragons are helping the players rebuild the city and give the players golden scales for each part of the city they repair in the dragons presence.  The scales, once the pool is depleted, are converted to Crystals.  When a City Tile is completed it is flipped over and the reward for completing the tile is given out to each player who contributed.  The other side of the tile has a bonus that will be given to each adjacent city tile that is completed from her on out.
In the end the player wants to take his Crystals that he gets for completing each city section (with bonuses for adjacent tiles already flipped over) to the center and make an offering to the Obelisk.  The first person to do that 4 times wins. I tried a strategy that while I think would have been good, did not work out for me this time around.  In the end I lost to a player who is fairly new to the Board Gaming experience.  Good game Kyle.

Next we played Eclipse.  We knew we were going to have limited time with this one and only after we had gotten into it did we think that we should have played this game First, and then played another if we had time.  Oh time we will know better.
After an hour and  half of learning the rules and set up, we start playing. I am not going to try to explain the rules of this would take forever and this Blog post would be 5 times longer.  Basically you all place different Galactic Empires on the path of conquest.  
Very quickly the galaxy starts to get explored.  The turns go quickly at first and you don't need to worry to much about to much resource management.  Managing your resources (Money, Science, and Materials) you will be able to Explore, Build Ships, Upgrade, Research Technology, and Colonize worlds.  Its incredibly complex but plays very smoothly.  After 3-4 rounds of exploring we start to run out of money and have to start focusing on other aspects of the game.

With the galaxy's farthest reaches explored, the players turn their attention towards the coveted middle of the board and start building up their forces for the inevitable conflict that will soon begin.  The alien worlds that frightened us when we didn't understand how combat worked no  longer worried us and they soon fell.  Ryan found an alien world with "Shard Hull" that he put on his ships.  This gave his ships +3 hull early on.  As far as I can tell, that was very broken and let him start marching over the other alien worlds that had more alien tech and valuable resources.  
Unfortunately I could not stay to the end of the game and will have to hear about the outcome tomorrow.  I had a great time and want to play this game again.  At $100 I don't imagine that I will every buy this game for myself, but it was a lot of fun and cant wait to do it again.
After going home and taking care of some errands, my girlfriend said that she was tired and had to get up early so she was going to bed.  This gave me an opportunity to go to a local place called Ziggy's Tavern that I know has board games every Tuesday night.

I got there late so many games were already well underway.  I did find myself invited to a game of Settlers of Catan.  The owner brought out his First Edition of the US version of the game.  I know the game very well so I socialized with a few of my friends who where there until they had finished explaining the rules.  For those that don't know SoC, it is a resource management game where you roll dice and get resources, you spend resources to build towns and roads and ultimately cities in a race to be the first to 10 points.  There are cards that give special abilities that can be bought with resources.  There is also a Thief that is a mechanic players can use to block the resource gathering of other players.  And then finally players can Trade their resources with each other.
Getting Clay was very tough in this game.  After many rounds of very little progress I start to make some progress. I get some lucky breaks and get enough to build a city on the only Clay on a common number (8). I think I have this game locked down and should be winning with in a few turns.  Thats when the other players start ganging up to hold me back.  The Thief sat on my 8 blocking me from getting any Clay and dragging the game out.
The game is close and I have been at 9 points for the last 30 minutes.  I see one of the new players has caught up and he also has 9 points. I am thinking that it's going to be a repeat of the Blue Moon City game. Then the flood gates open and I get the cards I need to win, but it's not my turn.  I am convinced that a 7 will be rolled and I will loose everything.  Unbelievably no 7 is rolled and I have a stack of about 20+ cards in my hand.  Its 3x more than I need to let me build my final city and win the game.
I still love this game, but I have move on to play so many better games that I rarely have the urge to play SoC.  If I do its on the Xbox because I can play a game in about 20-30 minutes with the computer doing all the book keeping and set just goes so much faster.  A one and half our game of SoC just doesn't make much sense to me anymore. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Time out for some gaming...

I have been working like crazy on restructuring my Taipan formulas and spreadsheets.   Below, you can see the new Cargo Spread Sheet.  The main reason it became so complicated is due to the fact that I created a lot of automation using Formulas and Conditional Formatting.  I have it set up so I only need to change a small set of numbers on another page and the formulas do all the calculations and adjustments on this page.  Its like very light programing, its complex and time consuming but I am hopping it will spead things up in the future.  I also have all of the Cells set to change color based on the values in the Cell, this allows me to see at a glance the best and worst numbers giving me a good sence of the balance.  If the number is at its base level the Cell is White, if its lower that the base value its Yellow, and then if the number is above its base value it is Red.  This is all automated through conditional formatting and is a big hassle to set up.  The nice thing is that now that it is done, whenever I make a change, every affected Cell will automatically change and update its colors accordingly.
It has been a big pain in the ass and I needed a break.  To turn my brain off, I have been playing Saint's Row: The Third.  It's what is called an "Open Sandbox Game" where you have a large world and have almost no restrictions on what you can do or where you can go.  Just like in all the games like this (Grand Theft Auto, etc...), you race around car jacking people, killing your rivals, police, and anyone to slow to run out of your way when they see your coming.  But Saints Row is more about the outrageous and outlandish and goes more in the direction of a game just trying to let you have fun with a big box of toys.  Lots of mini games involving tanks and attack choppers.  The second game had mini games where you were driving a septic truck around spraying sewage over your enemies territories.  This game is aiming more for mindless fun rather than cerebral challenges.  Saints Row is fun, but ultimately forgettable.

And before you get up on your high horse and give me crap about violence in video games corrupting our youth: I am an adult of 41.  I have no kids.  And I have been watching horror movies and playing video games since I was 5.  For as long as there has been violence, do we really need a specific cultural event to blame?  Before video games it was Rap Music, before that it was Rock music.  Before that it was Comic Books, and then Pulp Novels, and on and on and on!  People need something to blame because its easier than blaming themselves for being bad parents.  OK, putting my soapbox away and getting back to games.

Thankfully, my friend TJ came by to play some board games and saved me from the mindless doldrums.  We broke out my unused copy of Ascension and still shrink-wrapped copy of Blood Bowl: Team Manager.  Let us first talk about Ascension: Chronicles of the God Slayer.  This is a Dominion style card game that has been artificially bumped up in price by the introduction of a useless board.  I am sure this was a marketing trick to increase the selling cost by $10 for something that most likely costs about $1-$2 for them to print.  The game has some good parts, but really falls flat because of the random nature of the available cards.  Imaging if the available cards to buy in Dominion were not set, instead a single deck all shuffled and 6 cards laid out for purchase.  Then when one is bought, you immediately replace it.  That is a very basic idea of how Ascension plays.
Why is there a board for this game? Why, to jack up the price of the box set of course!
There are two economies, Attack and Magic, and each is used to buy diferent cards laid out in the middle.  Attack Cards will eliminate creatures and Magic will let you buy cards that are added to your Deck.  The big problem with having two economies (and those of you who have played the Dominion: Alchemy expansion know what I am talking about), is that it creates barriers to make strategic choices.  It instead relies on luck to get you enough of what you need, and this game has a lot of luck.  Luck of what out there to buy.  Luck of what cards come into your hand allowing you to buy.  And Luck that the other player didn't take a card you needed.

But still, the biggest flaw in the game is the book keeping.  You have Cards that all largely look the same.  Some are removed from the board when you pick them and some go into your discard pile.  Some are played in front of you and give bonuses for the remainder of the game.  Some give bonuses only on the turn you play them and then they go back into your discard pile.  Some let you score points if you perform certain actions.  Its all very cumbersome and gets in the way of what initially appears to be a very smooth and quick playing game.
TJ's experience playing the iPad version
allowed him to crush me in Ascension.
TJ has played a ton of the iPad version of this game and based on our conversation afterwords, it is clear that that the iPad is the best way to play this game.  The book keeping is handled by the computer letting your focus on the game.  On top of that, it's only $4.99 as opposed to the $40 of the board game. 

Now lets talk about a fantastic game, Blood Bowl: Team Manager.  This is another deck building game with focus more on building up your bonuses and earning Fans which are the Score of the game.  Your Deck is important, but it doesn't grow in variance to the same degree that other similar types of games do.  Your deck is only Players and you only get 5 cards per turn to play.  There are some player types that let you draw more players but you always have to discard down so you never have more players in play than another player.  But this is a Team Manager Game and building up your franchise is just as building your Roster of Players.  You will need to do both to score enough Fans to win the game.
The first round of Matches are complete.
You will want to gain Manager Cards that give you some bonus fans at the end of the game, but also let you use special abilities during the matches.  The Team Cards are similar to the Manager Cards, but are designed specifically for each of the Teams.  They give bonus Fans based on certain criteria at the end of the game and in rare cases allow the player to tap the card to perform special actions.  This is the one aspect of the game that gets a bit cumbersome making it hard to remember all the special cases that you get your bonus fans or forgetting that you could have used an ability at a critical moment.
The end of the game, even tho the score board
 don't show it, I will go on to win this one.
I had an advantage over Tj with this game.  I have played twice and knew the importance of the Manager Cards and building up your Team Roster with Star Players.  I tried to show him the value but I don't think I did a very good job because he was surprised at the end of the game by how many points I gained though the final bonuses I had acquired.

In the end we both had a great time.  I would not recommend Ascension to anyone unless you have played the iPad version and absolutely loved it.  Blood Bowl on the other hand I can't recommend enough.  It plays well and scaled well.  TJ and I were just two players and I would say it played just as well as when I played with 4 players.  Maybe just a bit faster.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

And the vote is in....

...and the polls are closed!  The theme of Taipan will remain set in a historical Earth.  With how popular the Steampunk genre is at this time, I have to say I am kinda surprised that it didn't go that way.   I am also not disappointed.  I have a feeling that changing themes would have been more work than I thought it would be.
A great paining of the ship HMS Nemesis destroying War Junks in 1843 during 
the first Opium War.  The Chinese Junk Captains called her the "Devil Ship".
With my art bug temporarily satisfied, I have returned to working on making changes based on the last play test that went so horribly wrong.  Mostly card changes and minor adjustments to various rules.  But there are some major changes to the game as well:

The first big change is that all event cards will be a global even that will effect all players equally.  This will be good for eliminating the severe amount of random swing in the games outcome, but makes the world map feel a bit small and static.  I am wondering if I should have two decks, one for Global Events and one for  Player Events.

The Second big change will be making all city Cargo Values based on a universal value that only changes slightly.  For Example: Hong Kong is stable with its Rice cargo selling for 1 coin.  2 Spaces away Shanghai will sell their rice between 1-3.  4 Spaces away Hai Phong will sell their rice between 2-4.  Additionally, where the price is very good, the cargo value will be marked by a special color.  Buying or selling the specially marked colors will cause the card to change to the next pricing card for that city.  This is somewhat similar to the value of goods in San Juan, with a value token for every city.
In San Juan, the value of Goods changes very little but it makes a big difference.
Change number three will be that every city will let the player Upgrade their ship.  The difference being that Hong Kong is the least expensive place to do this.  Hong Kong will have the Upgrades for 4 while everywhere else will have them for 6.

The Fourth change is that all players start with -50 in debt tokens.  This is the players score.  The first player to pay off his debt ends the game once all players finish their turn.  The player with the most coin and least amount of debt wins.

The last big change is that a player's ships can be destroyed.  If a player reaches 0 on any of his stats, his ship is destroyed.  The player looses all cargo, half of their carried coin, and is returned to Hong Kong.  The player receives a -5 Debt Marker and may continue playing on his next turn.

There are lots of other smaller changes, and I could write all day explaining everything I am doing to change the game and the rules, but I think I will just start working on the changes instead.  On a similar note: I am trying very hard not to copy Merchants and Marauders.  It's a great game and there is no reason to have another game just like that one.  Its just that they did so many things right that, even when I am not directly copying it, its hard not to see similarities in what they did and what I am doing.
Such a good game, I must do my best to learn from it but not copy it. No small task!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The New Map

I have been searching the web for a lot of images that will work for my game.  Public domain images that I can use a series of Photoshop Filters to speed up the work of making the art all match a certain style.  I want the art to be cool and not just a low-res screen grab of free art.

However, after last weeks disastrous play test, it occurred to me that I still don't have all my cards and mechanics nailed down.  But being in an artistic mood I felt the need to make some art, so I dove into working on a new map for my game.  What you see before you is the final result.
LEFT SIDE: The new high res map.  RIGHT SIDE: The old quick map.
I think its clear to see the superior product here.  The new map is an amalgam of lots of maps mashed together.  Various parts of the maps have been shifted around to make room on my game board, and countless Filters have created the feel of a textured and painted surface.

With the holidays fast approaching I expect to get a lot of work done on the game.  Check back soon for more updates.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Disastrous setbacks!

We played Taipan last night, and I am sure you have guessed by the title of this Blog, that it did not go well.  But first, we played Europe Airlines.  A neat game that has a lot of similarities to Ticket to Ride but almost none of the "Screw You" mechanic that makes me loath Ticket to Ride.
Bryan teaches and set up the game. 
You play stock out in front of you to build up income to spend on placing airline routes that make the value of your Stocks go up (being how you score in 3 rounds that randomly come up in the Sock Deck).  It is a very clever game that took a little while to wrap my brian around, but once I did, it was too late for me to win, but it was still fun.
Daniel (left) plans out his crushing victory of Gammon (right).
I didn't diversify my stock portfolio enough and while I did win the coveted Abacus Stock, it was not enough to pull me out of last place.  In the End, Daniel took the win over Gammon who was in the lead for most of the game.  Sadly, I did not take a final picture of the board which would clearly illustrate my only real issue with the game.  The absolute mess the board becomes, is near impossible to decipher.  The other problem was that it was very easy to make changes to the board, and then forget to move the Stock value track to reflect the new changes.  The game is very deterministic so its easy (if you have decent math skills) to do an audit of the score and make any corrections.

On to Taipan!   Game Development always seems to go this way.  The first play test is good, the next is amazing (despite the normal problems of a game in development), the third play test is an unmitigated disaster, crushing your soul and leaching your strength and willpower to get out of bed.

The start of the game.

First of all, no matter how much you think you KNOW your game, if you haven't looked at the rules in a week, you are going to forget stuff.  Especially when you have just made a bunch changes.  I would highly recommend after making a bunch of big game changing alterations, to play thought the game by yourself at least a few times.  You are almost assured to find some mistakes that you forgot to change or obvious things that need to be addressed with the new changes.  You will also solidify in your mind how that game plays from the last version of the game.  This is what I DID NOT do, and it wasn't pretty.  I thought I was ready to teach my game to the new players, but I had forgotten half of the changes I made since version 2.  I also missed a few of the new cards in my last run of re-prints.  This ended up being a mess with the players not catching on quickly and lots of questions about rules that I got messed up based on my memory of how the game use to play before I made the changes.  *Sigh* 
Confusion ensues!
The next thing I want to talk about is Realism.  No mater what you think, your game doesn't need realism.    Real is a word that just doesn't have any place at the Game Design Table. The first thing to remember is that this is a game.  Players are always willing to give a little up to play a fun, well thought out game.  If the game is balanced and fun, no gamer worth his salt will scream about how "Unrealistic" the game was.  Fun always trumps realism.  A perfect example: Every game by Reiner Knizia!  They are always about fun game play mechanics and almost never have anything to do with realism.  I am not the biggest fan of the completely abstract nature of a lot of his games, but there is no doubt that they are fun, and they are making FUN more important than realism.  Just take a deep breath and let it go.  It's just a game and everyone knows this.
Bryan wins with the same exploit used by Alex in the last Play Test.
Somehow I missed several things during the last changes I made.  Various cards did not get their new version, so there was some confusion about that.  I thought I had solved the problem of the Event Cards providing to much randomness in the game, but all I did was focus on minimizing the EFFECTS of the cards.  I completely forgot that having one Event Card per player in a game with more that 2 players creates so much change that the game is just non-stop chaos.

The player who won used the same trick that the winning player from the last game used to win.  He never had to venture very far south to have great prices for selling cargo.  THis game had a lot of pirates and a fair amount of combat.  Being that this was the first time it got to be tested, ee found a massive problem with Combat.  Players have no incentive to repair their ship.  The damage doesn't affect their ship past a certain point.  I didn't want players to be eliminated from the game, so they cant be sunk.  But I think I have a solution for that.  If any one ship stat would be reduced to 0, the ship is sunk and the player is returned to Hong Kong.  He looses all his cargo and must by a new ship for 5 coin.  If he does not have 5 coin then he receives a debt token that must be paid off to win the game.

I have a lot more notes of all the problems but don't have time to detail them all out here. I will do another update tonight or tomorrow and hope to include the art samples I was talking about yesterday.  Also, just a quick reminder: 4 Days till the Poll closes.  If you haven't voiced in, you should do that now before friday.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Game Day!

Last week my good friend Ben gave me some info about using images that are public domain.  With that new knowledge, I have been scouring the web trying to find enough images to match the cards I have.  I think I got a fairly good jump on it and hope to start making the images tonight.  After that I will put up some samples.

But first, its game day.  A few friends are coming over to play some games.  I am not 100% sure what we are playing but I will be sure to take pictures and give an update/evaluation of the games we play.  If perchance we do play Taipan, I will be taking lots of notes and I will take pictures of that to share with you as well.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mansions of Madness

We got to play Mansions of Madness tonight!  If you like Arkham Horror you will love this game.  It's a co-op game where the players are all working against a single player called the Keeper.  The Keeper sets up the game based on a set of specific information.  It's a bit complex to set up, but once you have done it a few times I can imagine it wont be too bad.  The rules them self appear, at first glance, to be very overwhelming. Thankfuly, once you get into the game, it plays very smoothly and flows well.
The players then take turns moving though the mansion trying to uncover the clues to solve the mystery.  Meanwhile, the Keeper is spending Horror tokens to use event cards, summon monsters, and play injury cards to impede the players.  There is a really fun Puzzle Mechanic where the players need to use their Intelligence to solve mechanical and object orientation puzzles to open containers and doors that lock some rooms.   The players had a lot of fun with the puzzles and being terrified of all the nasty abilities the Keeper could play on them.
It was our first time playing but I would say that it feels like the Keeper has an advantage to winning.  I made lots of mistakes and had many opportunities to do some other nasty stuff, I just didn't realize it until the last two turns of the game.  Even with a bunch of actions that I wasn't taking advantage of, I won fairly easily.  The only reason it was close was that I chose to put the final bad guy close enough that the players could reach him.  I could have put him anywhere I wanted and that would have made it impossible for the players to reach him in time.

All in all, it was a lot of fun and I am looking forward to playing it again.  As much as I enjoyed Arkham Horror, there is something a bit more personal about this game that I think I like a little better.  Maybe after a few games I will have a better feel for the game and give another write up to share my thoughts.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Dangerous Time....

Board games are a lot easier to make than a computer game.  I can sit down, build all the parts, design all the mechanics, and do all the art myself.  But wow is that time consuming.  I worked for a solid month getting Taipan to a playable state for the NaGa DeMon last month.  And now I feel like I am floundering. This is a dangerous time for me during the game development cycle.  If I don't stay focused I will loose interest and start working on something else.  Once that happens I loose all my  steam I had for the last game I was building.

I just got a bunch of games and we are supposed to play one of them (Mansions of Madness) tomorrow night.  So I cleared off my table and put Taipan in a box with the intent of setting up and learning the new game.  As I did this, I thought to myself, this is how all of my ideas end.  I put it up with every intent to start working on it again right away, but it never happens.  Since I stopped working on Taipan, I already have two new ideas I want to start building.  A city building game and an Assassin game.

A long time ago, I was an artist.  I worked for Blizzard North working on the Diablo games as an Animator, Modeler, and Designer.  At some point I started doing more design and less art and eventually my art skills atrophied.  I don't get much opportunity to do art on a regular basis anymore, but my current job is giving me some artistic outlets that has re-fired my old love of doing art.  This past weekend I had some free time, so I got to do some art tests.  Here is the progression of my art skills coming back to life after almost a decade of cobwebs had built up:
Early free hand drawing with no reference. (5 minutes)
Painting of a military captain from the 1800's (10 minutes)
Cheesy girl from Halloween costume picture. (15 minutes)
Photo of an actor from a Hong Kong movie (25 minutes) 
Painting of a Merchant from the 1800's (4 hours)
I will undoubtably get a bit faster with each new image I do, but I have 60 unique cards that all need art.  Lets do that math and assume my current time as an average: 60x4 = 240 hours. Not to mention the game board, and box art.  If I were to do all the art myself, based on how much free time I have, it would take me about 240/4 + Flex Time = 60 days to get the game done.  I will not have that kind patience and this project will cease to make progress.

I tried some quick solutions where I took pictures I was referencing and automated the process with photoshop.  Here are the results:
Paining of a Captain from the 1800's (5 Minutes) 
Paining of a Port in Japan (5 Minutes)

Paining of a Junk hit by a storm (5 Minutes)
So now I have the time down to a very reasonable time but there are some problems.  1.) Each on of these images took a long time to find.  Color images from the 1800's are just not that common.  Most are black and white etchings or portrait paintings of nobility in Europe.  2.) I don't think these look as good as the last portrait I did.  The richness of color and cartoony quality of the Merchant I feel looks a lot better than the automated washed out image of the Captain.  3.) And this is the big one.  I have no idea where some of these images came from.  They could be copyrighted and I could be sued for using them.  Board Games already don't make enough money to make a living without having to worry about legal issues.

Dangerous times indeed!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Do your research!

I have a new lesson for you today.  Make sure you do your research before you get locked into a project.  You don't want to launch a game that is grounded in real history to be historically inaccurate.

I played a game on the old TRS-80 back in the early 80's called Taipan. The player is the Captain of a ship trading goods from the Japanese city of Nagasaki to many ports all the way down to Batavia (know known as Jakarta).  The game was inspired by the novel Tai-Pan and I am almost positive that the game inspired future games like Sid Meier's Pirates.
For years I thought Taipan meant Captain.  But I just recently discovered that I have been wrong all this time.


1   [tahy-pan]  Show IPA
(in China) the head or owner of a foreign business establishment.

Because of this I am going to make some minor changes to the back story.  Also, the Captain Cards I was working on will have a much wider variety of looks.  Now I can have them be English, Russian, as well as any of the Asian nationalities from Japanese, Chinese, and Thai.

In addition to this I have decided to allow you to give me some feedback on what you think.  I have created a Poll that you can add your voice to what themes are interesting to you.  Feel free to select multiple entries.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Last Resource

I am very happy to say that I have finished the final art for all Cargo Cards.  The Silk turned out great but I am not as happy with the Medical Crate.  But really what can you do with a box.  Maybe I can try making it look like a Red Urn or one of the those cool chinese pots with the decorative feet.
Silk and Medical Crate Artwork
I am also working on creating a new card type I want to play with after the next play test.  The Captain Cards!  Players will choose one of these cards at the start of the game.  Each one gives some minor ability that is useful at deferent times during the game.  Here are some examples:

  • Navigator: Moving into or out of Port can be ignored once per Sailing Phase.
  • Noble: Starts the game with 12 Coin.
  • Raider: In combat, Sail Damage counts as “Destroyed” when attacking pirates.
  • Merchant: Gain +1 Coin on every sale.
  • Shipwritght: May repair up to 1 Damage Card in between each port visit.

I plan to have about 10 Captains for the final list, but might go as high as 12 or 14 depending on printing limits.  The print sheets may have enough room that it will cost me nothing to print more cards.

On a different topic.  I make a comment on another game design blog about changing the theme of my game and how hard it would be, then I did my post about Mechanics verses Theme.  I was toying with the idea of changing my game to be set in a Steampunk setting.  Then I found this game, Kings of Air and Steam, funded though Kickstarter.  Its a Steampunk, merchant trading game!  There goes that idea.  I guess Ill stick with my historical 1800's Far East Merchant Trading game.

Then I found this image by the artists Raybender, and swung back the other way all over again.
This image has so much cool, I want to play that game.  In reality, I think this is a totally different game, and I will not try to make my game into this one.  This game could be cool though.  Maybe one where the Imperium has hired the players to hunt the metal horrors of the recent tech war that just ended.   The aquatatons, mindless machines set to task by the defeated Empire, sink any ships in the channels.  Players hunt them down using various weapons, but they can salvage parts from the machines to improve their weapons, upgrade their ship, and to make repairs.  The players are granted Status (the victory points) for each machine destroyed.

OK, thats enough"stream of consciousness" designing...I just thought the image was so cool that I had to share.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

DM-Press Interview

I just finished my quick interview with David Craddock of DM-Press.  He has been working on a book about the glory days of Blizzard north and the development of the Diablo games.  Having just spent almost 10 years there, I had a lot to say.
The original Diablo box cover.  Classic!
Not sure when the interview will be up but you can go there now and find out all about the book "Stay a while and Listen" slated to be out the future.

On the Taipan front, the game is ready for the next play test session, I just have to find the time and players who have the time to play.  In the mean time I am still working on more art and continuing to work on the rule book changes which can be found here:
Feel free to check them out, make some comments, suggestions or if you spot any glaring problems that I have overlooked, please let me know.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Resource Art and New Games!

I havent had a lot of free time this week, work has been very busy, but I did get to work a little on some my Resource Art for Taipan. 
I am not to happy with the Gun Powder Barrel.  I lost track of what I was doing and ended up with something more detailed and less cartoony than I was originally going for.  You can see how the Rock and the Gold Coins are limited to about 4-6 colors, but the Barrel uses lots of blended colors, stippled shading, etc.  The only part I did correctly was the Black Powder at the top of the barrel. I will go back and redo it when I have the time.

On a side note, and completely unrelated to my game, my friend Bryan just took a bulk order of games from all of our friends to get them at a discounted price.  I put in a request and have these games on the way:

I am very excited to try Mansions of Madness but, if I had half a brain, I should have also got Merchants and Marauders.  Seeing that I am working on a similar type of game, having that on hand as reference might have been a good idea.  Oh well, maybe for Christmas.  =)