Sunday, January 29, 2012

Taipan is still here...just barely!

Things are moving along very slowly.  Work has kept me busy and I have had several setbacks with the cards and data sets.  There wasn't much point in posting till I had some good progress to report.  Sadly this is a report on how little progress I have made.
My ship was nearly sunk by adding all this art!  As cool as it can be RESIST!
On my last post about Taipan I showed off the new art I had been doing and trying my damnedest to dissuade you from following in my footsteps.  DO NOT DO ANY ART until the game is done.  Remember that mantra I was chanting a few weeks ago?  Well, doing art continues to take a big wet bite out of my ass.  In the process of making images I could post for you all to see, I saved on of my more complex Data Set images into a single layer JPEG.  What does this mean?  I will have to rebuild that file from scratch.

Since I had a free weekend (the first in almost a Month) I thought I would have an opportunity to finally print the new cards with all the new art.  Sadly this will not be the case.  I have been finding lots of little problems with the Data Sets since adding the Art References and now I will have to rebuild the City Modifier Event Cards.  It brings up one more good point about not doing the art yet.  Its one more moving piece that you have to get lined up with all the others.  It adds another layer of complication to your design process and just gets in the way of making the fun.
Sailing once again.  I will have more news soon.
I hope to have good news in the coming week.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dissection of Cargo Noir

Last Friday, after playing Thurn and Taxis, I played Cargo Noir.  I have played this game several times and have really enjoyed it.  It's a simple, elegant game, with a great theme and art style.
Players are smugglers traveling the world and trading in illegal goods.  At the start they each receive  3 ships and 7 coins.    Each player takes his turn by placing all of his ships on locations around the world to make a Bid of no less than 1 coin on the goods located there.  This is called Worker Placement.

The Worker Placement mechanic is very common and there is nothing unique or special here.  In many games, the spaces that workers are placed can only be used once or have limited space requiring players to make the hard choice of choosing one thing over another because, once each player has gone around in order, the thing you want to do might not be available.  However, in this game there is no limit to the number of players that can occupy a spot.

Players may also choose to go to the Casino space or they can go to the Black Market space.  Then it's the next players turn.  That player has the same options of placing his ships where he wants.  But now if he wants to bid on the same cargo as the first player, he must outbid him.  Play continues like this until it is the first players turn again.
The first player, at the start of his next turn, recovers his ships in any order he wants.  If he is the olny bidder in a world region at the start of his turn, he pays his coins to the bank, recovers his ship, and collects the cargo and places it in his warehouse.  If another player has outbid him, he has must choose to up his bid or pull out.  If he ups his bid he must sit there one more round and hope that no one out bits him again.  If he pulls out he gets his ship and his money back.  This is called Bidding.
Games that have a Bidding type of mechanic often do it all in a single turn where all players participate in the bids.  This game has an interesting twist on the Bidding Mechanic because players must decide if they want to spend an action to keep their ship in that spot, increase the bid, and hope they are not outbid again, having to wait until their next turn find out if each player in turn will jump in on the bidding action of that space.  This makes staying in an auction costly and should only be done if you absolutely need the cargo at that location.

If a player's ship is on the Casino he takes his ship back and gets 2 coins for each ship on the Casino. Any ships on the Black Market are recovered and allow him to choose to ether draw a random cargo from a bag or trade any one cargo for any one of the eight cargo there at the black market. Once he has collected all his ships, cargo, and coins, he starts placing his ships in hand back out on the board again like he did on his first turn.
My warehouse has too much in it.  I must spend it or loose two cargo.
Collecting all this Cargo is great, but there is a problem.  You can only hold 6 cargo after our turn is done.  If you dont spend it you loose it.  Before the player's turn ends he may have as much cargo as he wants and he can spend the Cargo before he looses it.  The Cargo value is a little tricky.  In the image above I have collected 3 Jewels, 3 Alcohol, a Uranium and a Gold.  Looking at the chart at the bottom of my Warehouse you see the scoring chart. Three Cargo of the same type is worth 9. Two Cargo of different types are worth 3.  So I have a total of 22 points (3 jewels = 9,3 Alcohol =9, Uranium and Gold = 3) to spend on victory cards.  This mechanic is called Pairing.

Pairing is the act of collecting many of the same type of item, resource, card, etc.  Many games have this and is most familiar in games like Poker.  The interesting thing in this game is that the Pairing mechanic is coupled with a scaling value system applied to it.  This makes it more difficult to collect large number os the same type, but also a lot more valuable if you can do it.  The nice thing is that they have an alternative scoring mechanic if you cant make the more valuable Pairs.
In addition to victory cards there are 3 cards that affect the game.  Syndicate cards give you 2 coins if you are ever outbid.  The Warehouse lets you hold two extra cargo.  Cargo Ship gives you one more ship token to place on your turn increasing your actions each turn.  Each of these cards are great but will not win you the game alone.  This gives some nice perks but if you spend your turn buying these thats one less turn focusing on wining the game.  Its a balancing act that has to be evaluated carefully.

The game is elegant but there are some problems.  As the game progresses it starts to slow down.  Each player that gets more Cargo Ships adds to the duration of their turn and decision making.  In addition it is a perfect information game where you know everything out on the board and in each player's warehouse.  This can create long waits between turns if you have players that are very analytical who evaluate every player's option and likely direction.  This is the one bad thing about this game.
Our game was less than stellar.  Coming off of Thurn and Taxis which didn't go that well for me, and John didn't seem to enjoy it all that much, there were a general feeling of unhappiness.  I thought this game was light enough and it would play fast enough to be OK.  Unfortunately, there was an important rule that we over looked until mid way though the game.  When cargo tokens are removed from the board they are immediately replaced from the bag.  Well, we were mistakenly putting the tokens that we were spending back in the bag.  It should not have been done this way, the rules say to remove the Tokens from game until the bag is empty.  Removing the tokens makes for a more balanced distribution of the cargo allowing players who are collecting one type of cargo know the value of the cargo out on the board.  i.e. if you know there is only one more of a token on the board it can be a lot more valuable depending on if another player is trying to grow his set of that cargo type.  This might encourage other players to out bid him to prevent him from getting a large scoring set of cargo.
This was the worst game of Cargo Noir I have played and I think its because of the mistake we made about putting the cargo tokens back in the bag.   There was another issue that only seemed to be affecting John.  If you are out bid and remove your Ship and Money, you are not allowed to place your ship back on that spot to out bid another player.  John kept forgetting where he pulled his ship from and then got hung up on it.  His frustration was palpable about half way thought the game.  To solve this, we used black wooden cubes from another game as markers.

I love the theme of the game and the art style captures this magical time of 1920's through the 1940's, but at the same time it feels modern.  All of the characters look like they are straight from a movie that I cant quite put my finger on (except the americans...that would be the Godfather).  They do skirt the edge of the offensive racial stereo types...but I also think that adds to the charm.

The last point I am going to make is that while I love the theme, its very abstract.  There is no reason it had to be smuggling.  There is no law officers trying to bust you.  No port authorities you have to bribe. No thugs with guns or attacking other players.  It could just as easily had been a merchant trading and biding game, but the theme makes it much more interesting.  I feel like it's fairly clear that the game was designed, played, and balanced, long before it was a smuggling game.  It just goes to show how a theme can carry a game idea and really make it shine.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The dissection of Thurn and Taxis

I took a break from the long days at work to go play some games last night.  I went to my friend Bryan's place and when I got there they were half way though a game of 7 Wonders.  I helped a newer player with his first game.  After that I drank way too much Rum and got my but kicked in Thurn and Taxis and Cargo Noir.  I should have stayed at work.
I am going to try something a little different.  Being that I am a game designer and an aspiring board game designer, it feels like I am doing myself and anyone interested in reading my ramblings a disservice.  From now on, I am going to attempt to give a re-cap the rules of the game and then dissect the game mechanics.  I think this will be a lot more interesting than what I have been doing.

Thurn and Taxis
This is a typical Euro game where you are building the first mail routes in Germany during the 16th century.  It has a similar feel to Ticket to Ride and shares some similar mechanics.  It is a light game at first and gets closer to a medium game as the game progresses.

At the start of a turn, Players MUST draw a city card and MUST play a city card each turn.  Players can draw a random City Card from the top of the deck or one of the 6 of the available cards out on the board.  Players may also use the special ability of one of 4 of the helping characters.  They give the ability to: Draw 2 Cards, Play 2 Cards, Discard and replace the 6 Cards on the Board, or Gain a carragie with less cities than normally needed (The carriages are point cards you gain when you close a mail route and have enough citires in a route).  After drawing and playing cards, the player can close his route to score, or pass his turn.

The entire game is a Perfect Knowledge game with the exception of the Cards.  This means that you can see everything every player is doing with the exception of the cards in other players hands.  The Cards is the only Randomness in the game, but its enough.  It makes it hard to build a stratagy or plan based on the cards that are on the board because by the time it comes around to you, the cards on the table are not very likely to be there.  Because the game is almost Perfect Knowledge, you sit and wait while the other players contemplate the best cards they can take for themselves while damaging your visible routes. This makes for longer turns and longer wait times for the other players.
Bryan teaches us the rules to Thurn an Taxis
Building a route is done by laying Cards in front of you.  This MUST be done every turn or you loose your entire route and do not score any points.  This is called a Press your Luck or Risk Reward Mechanic.  You keep adding onto something for as long as you want, but each time you do, you risk loosing more.  If you Score the longer routes you get Bonus Score Tokens, and can collect Carriages that required longer route to collect, but must be collected in order.  This creates an exciting sensation of risk for the player, they have to choose when to cash in or loose it all.  Basicly, it's gambling!  It also has a good chance of making players upset and feel disgruntled about their gaming experience.  In T&T it felt wrong, what is the reason for loosing the mail route if you don't add another city?  Don't know!  But thats the way it works because the designer decided it would be a good place to shoehorn this mechanic.
Early on I was doing very well, then I got unlucky and fell way behind.
Each City Card in the route must connect to the neighboring city on the board.  Once you have placed a City Card, you can only place another connecting City Card.  You can place Cards on ether end of the route as long as the Card connects to the adjacent city.  This is a modified version of a Mechanic called Pairing.  Players are trying to collect sets or runs of items.  This is most recognizable in games like Poker.  In T&T, players are trying to collect runs of Cities that must be connected by roads on the board.  This was the most interesting mechanic to me.
John, Bryan, and Ryan
Scoring happens when a player closes his route.  Before I explain this part of the game I should explain that the Cities on the Board are divided into regions that are colored.  Each colored area has a number of cities and a stack of Score Tokens.  In  addition, SOME of the colored areas are divided into two shades of the color (i.e. light blue and dark blue).
Note the colors of the province that each City is in.
To collect  the Score Tokens you must have a house in all Cities in an area.  When you close your route, you may choose to place a House 1 of Cities your route hits in each region your route passes through or, all of the Cities in a single region your route touches.  This includes the division of colored regions.  So, for example, if you choose to put all your houses in the green region, you will have to choose if it will be the light green or dark green part of the that region.  Are you confused about why the designer added this layer of complication to this game?  I am not 100% sure, but if I had to guess, I would say that the designer noticed that people would just focus on one region at a time, complete that, then move on to the next.  This would force players to use both mechanics of placing all houses in a single region and 1 house on each city in a region.
Thankfully nearing the end of the Game!
This was out first game and there were a few rules that we botched.  Because of that, I misunderstood a few things and as a result made several critical errors.  The distinction between the different colored regions was not explained very well and there were some mistakes made there as well.  This resulted in 3 bad turns in a row and loosing a route.  Because of this I spent the rest of the game trying to catch up.  By the end of the game I was feeling very frustrated.  The mistakes I made and the bad luck that caused me to loose my route made me wish for the end of the game to come quickly.  All in all not a bad game, but some of the arbitrary mechanics makes this game feel (despite there very specific theme) a bit abstract.  It would not be a game I seek to play again, but would play if asked.
Later we played Cargo Noir which, since this post went longer than I planed, I will cover in my next write up tomorrow.  I will try to have something up on this by Monday since I want to try and find time to work on Taipan, spend time with the girlfriend, and do this dissection as well.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

And I thought I was soooo clever!

Well, its been a fun week.  I have been working late every night as we try to meet our deadlines.  It seems that working 12+ hours a day does tend to cut into your Play Time....who knew?  That Said I did manage to get a basic art layout for all of my cards.
From left to right: Cargo, Captain, Damage, Cities
I am still using the test art for the Captain and Cargo Cards but that will be changing soon. You can see the difference in visual quality on the Cargo and Captain Cards compared to the City and Damage Cards.  I will have to go back and rework them so they look like the same art. Thanks to my good friend Ben and his fantastic info about how Public Domain works, I should have most of the art done in the next week or two.

Now for this weeks lesson:  DO NOT ADD ANY ART until your game is much closer to being done.  There are a many, many....MANY reasons for this:
1.) Cards Change and so does the Art.  There is no point in making art that will get thrown away.  You will be driven mad by how often you will change stats, layouts and cards.  Save your sanity. 
2.) Printer Ink Costs are not cheep.  There is no point printing out all the ink and colors if the balance of the cards are broken.  Save your money. 
3.) Until you have an artist hired, your art will be inconsistent and look like its from different games (like my cards).  Save your time.
4.) Once you add art, you have invested a significant amount of time and money into your game.  Now you will be less likely to make the changes that your game needs because it will mess with all that work you put in, making you more resistance to change.  Save your creativity.
5.) When you finally bring your game to a publisher, and persuade them to publish your game, they will hire an artist and have all of the art redone.  This can be very frustrating since you grow attached to the work you put into your art.  The Publisher will have other ideas about how best to market this game they are taking a chance on and will (unless you are a world class artist) insist on changing the look and layout of the art.
In the end, you should resist adding art.  I know it makes it all look better and gets others more excited about it, but you will only kick yourself.   Making art is very time consuming. Unless you are an artist, you will be better off using stick figures and focusing on making the game play and mechanics fun.

I know all of this and I still do it.  Almost every game I have ever made I started piling the art on almost from day one.  Maybe I am starting to learn since this time I waited a full 2 months to start in with the art.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A first look at the Cards

I have my first prototype of what the Cards will look like so wanted to share it with you.
The new Hotness!
It has taken a lot longer than I originally thought, partially because of work monopolizing my time, all the gaming I have done over the Holidays, and the complexity that my Data Sets have taken on.  In addition, while working on creating the new Data Sets, I became unhappy with some of the Event Cards.  I have been struggling with how to make the old Event Cards, which only affected an individual player, work on a Global Scale to affect all players evenly.  Many of the Cards just didn't work, so I had to scrap them and create new ones.  Some of the ones I kept needed to have their mechanics changed.  

The Deadly Storm.
The Storm Cards were the most problematic Events.  Where they once just hit a single player, they now needed to affect an area.  I played around with dividing the map into 3 section, north center, and south.  To make it simple I even thought about making Storms affect the whole map, but this felt cheep.  Instead I choose to use the same mechanic that I use on a lot of Event Cards.  Draw a Cargo Card to choose a random city and then any ship up to 2 spaces from the city at the end of the round will receive damage.  This lets players avoid the area and escape it if they happen to be caught in the area when the storm hits.  This way, if a player takes damage from a storm, in most cases it will be their choice if they want to risk the storm.
The Pirate Bounty, a dangerous way to make some extra cash. 
To complete the Data Sets I needed to include the pointers to the Images that will be on the cards.  Once I had the place holders for the images, I couldn't stand looking at the empty Data Sheet "Fill Space" where the image would be placed when the Data was called.  So I got to work on inserting the image references into the Data Sets.  Even with the much faster process for creating the Art Images, it is very time consuming trying to find images that fit the theme and time period, and are free and/or Public Domain.  This is why it is always good to make a game themed to a fictional setting so you don't need to worry about being historically inaccurate. 
This photo for Ship Upgrades does not look right and will be changing.
It is very difficult to find images that fit for the cards I need to represent.  It has forced me to choose a few images I am not happy about and will be changing the first chance I get.  This image doesn't fit the other images because its built from a photograph.  This is one of the images I will change when I find a suitable replacement.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Math Bad!

I am going to go out on a limb and say that for any game designer you will have a much better success at designing games if you have a strong background in math.  It helps with more than you will ever know.  Take it from a guy who struggles with math, I waste a lot of time trying to solve problems that can almost always be handed by a moderately difficult math equation.  I end up doing more iteration because I don't do a great job of figuring out the math issues early on.  This leads to some wasted time and frustration.  Learn from me and get a healthy does of advanced math skills before you leave high school or college.

I bring this up because I played Automobile last night and fought myself to pay attention and understand what I needed to do all night.  It's a deep and complex game with lots of statistical and analytical thingking.  Players are trying to build their Auto Manufacturing company by building factories, manufacturing cars, managing Car Sales Men, using the Characters Special abilities (which can change every turn) to their maximum effect.
Bryan (center) teaching the Rules of the game.
You have money that is a lot in the first and second rounds but is gone after that and is near impossible to get back. I made several big mistakes but they were all based on assumptions about how the game worked and how stiff the penalties were.
An unknowing Me, about to get my ass handed to me! 
Late in the first round I used a special phase of the game to shut down my factories and avoiding the penalties I would have got for having the lowest technology Car Factories.  But I didn't do the math to calculate how much money the factories would be making for me and that I could have waited to sell the factories until turn two, making a lot more money.
In the end it came down to math.  The two guys who did the best were the math experts, correctly calculating how many cars they could manufacture and effectively sell, gaining the highest profits, allowing them to buy more factories and sell more cars.
Apparently Bryan doesn't know how to take a non-blurry picture of me.
Automobile is a cool game and I would play it again, but I don't think I would go back to it often.  It is the start contrast to my game, Taipan, which has a fair bit of hidden and random elements.  Speaking of which, I am having a hard time getting the new Data Sheets set up properly.  I have made so many changes that the Cards for Taipan have become so significantly changed on the Data side, that I have to clean up the Photoshop files before they will read properly.

As a bonus, check out this insane pistol that shoots shotgun shells.  This is Ben (Bryan's son) holding the monster of a gun.  That thing is almost as big as he is!
Heres me, a 6'4 reasonably muscled guy having a hard time even holding the thing.  Aiming it causes my hand to wobble from the weight.  Maybe I should have cheated like Ben and used both hands!  ;p

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A picture is worth a thousand words...

I have been working on a combination of Game Designs for the latest version of Taipan and new Art.  I have to admit that the Art is derailing me a bit and keeping me from getting my cards printed.  But since I don't have the time to organize and play my game this week, it's not that big of a deal.

I have added a new Debt system to Taipan that should make for a clearer Win Condition for the game.  Players must return to Hong Kong to pay off the 50 Coin of Debt they start the game with. The first player to pay off all their Debt ends the game.  The player who has the most Money and is Debt Free, wins.
I have created Coin Art for a 1,5 and 10 Coin.  I also have the Debt Coins made (The red one on the Right).  I searched for a while to find coins that were minted close to the same time the game is set.  I think the Silver Coin was the only one that was not made in the same time period (about 40 years later).  Also, the Debt Coin is not a Coin at all. It's a Wall Plaque that was created in the same time period.

In addition, I have been experimenting with paintings from the same time period (1750-1850) to try out some different ideas for what the final card images will look like.  It's very hard to get them all to match perfectly.  The art from that era was all so different from one another.  Also, there really isn't a lot that survived very well.  Much of it is too dark or too damaged to modify and ends up looking bad after I do my process to them.
 The Rebellion City Modifier Card
This will be one of the City Cards
This will be ether a Storm or Wrecked Ship Event Card.
I am playing with some textures to make them look like they are painted on rough canvas, but those are not ready to show yet.  I have a lot more images as well, but I will save those for another day.  I hope to have a sample card ready to show some time this week, depending on free time.  I am also going to get one last night of gaming in tomorrow.  We are supposed to play Automobiles, so I will have an update about that tomorrow or the next day.