Sugar Gliders

A while ago I wrote about a card game that Karl Lange of Ark Angel Games and myself were designing, it was called Colour Jungle. After plenty of testing and development, we felt that it was ready to show around, and while we got some positive feedback from various publishers (thanks to Karl for the leg work on this), it didn’t quite make the grade, and no-one picked it up.

Colour Jungle in testing…

Karl and I had an online meeting a week or so ago, and decided to take a different approach. Taking the feedback we had received from playtesters and publishers, we looked at the game again and pulled out the pieces that we felt were the strongest and most enjoyable aspects of Colour Jungle, and imagined ways we could redesign the game around those core elements.

Setting up the new spin-off – Sugar Glider Tag

Sugar Glider Tag is the working title of the result. We still have a way to go with developing this one, and who knows, this particular road may lead us to a point where we shrug, trek back, and look for a different fork in the path to explore.

Right now though work continues apace with the early development and playtesting. There are aspects of this new game that I really like, and there are aspects of the-game-it-was that I miss, but for now the only way is forward. Testing, trialing, playing, and seeing what feels like an interesting avenue to explore.

More testing, more tweaks…

It’s good fun, and I’m glad to have a design partner to work with. He keeps me honest, keeps me working at it, and two minds, as the saying goes, are better than one!

My attempt at a sugar glider, from a photo I found online.

Achievements – Board Gaming

2019 saw me step back into board gaming in a bigger way than I had for a number of years. Last post I wrote about all things related to 2019 and role playing, this post will focus on board games.

ShepparCon

2019 saw the third ShepparCon take off, a local game convention squarely focused on board games. Every year we have grown a little more, and given our venue for the last two years, some questions need to be asked and answered in the planning phase for 2020. It was a great event, and over 150 attendees came over the weekend for games large and small. I am proud to be a part of the organising committee for this convention, and have had a blast running the Wits and Wagers tournaments the last few years. A big shout out to Dominic Crapuchettes, from North Star Games, for being such a sport and recording a silly congratulations message with me for the winning team, or, as they were dubbed, the Wits and Wagers Champions of the World. It was a highlight!

Game Designs

Tentatively: Colour Jungle…

One of the other organisers of Shepparcon is a board game designer by the name of Karl Lange (you can find his website here), and we had the opportunity to put our heads together and brainstorm some ideas over the course of the convention. One game concept span out into three or four different game ideas, some of which are still in development. The most polished of these Karl took with him to Essen last year, and while we haven’t had any solid bites yet, we have had some positive and encouraging feedback, so that is something!

Working with a co-designer has been a great experience, and I hope it is something Karl and I can continue into 2020. This general focus on board games led me to create two other small prototypes, both of which deserve junking, but the bug has bitten. I am hoping to continue it in the coming year.

The hardest thing, as I have previously expressed in regards to role playing games, is finding both the time and the people for playtesting. I’m lucky enough to live in an area with a lot of gamers, but very few (that I know at least), who are interested in design. I am lucky that I have a long suffering group of close friends and family who will tolerate playtesting my games, but it is still a significant difficulty to find the time to make it happen.

As for playing games, this year has seen a significant rise in the number of games I have managed to get to the table. There has been some solid variety, many new games (many of those from Kickstarter), but I have also managed to blow the dust off a bunch of older games that have been sitting in my shelf unloved for years. For stand outs and most played games, well, I think that’s something I’ll come back to in a later blog post!

Podcasting

Last but not least 2019 saw me dust off my microphone and get a few things recorded for some podcasts. Last year I had the pleasure of gracing the On Board Games and On RPGs podcasts. It’s always a pleasure to have the opportunity to talk with Don and Erik, both wonderful people, ever accommodating of my umming and ahhing, and general inability to finish a sentence with brevity.

Exploring the Jungle

I wrote last time about working with a co-designer (Ark Angel Games) on a few games. All of these were spun from the same core concept, but all of these have developed along quite different paths. One which has moved the furthest in this process, seems the closest to finished, feels like it is in the tweaking stage, is tentatively called Colour Jungle. It probably won’t be called that when we pitch it to a publisher, but it’s what we call it for now.

Over the last few weeks the core mechanisms seem to settled, now we’re working on player powers, and simple games are hard work. Complex games are hard work too, but simple games are a different type of hard. Tweak this power, just a little, and it becomes too powerful, tweak it back, in a different way, and it becomes too weak. Trying to find a nice balance for the various player powers (we are working on six core powers, with a few more in the wings), is tough work. The only way forward is through playtesting, testing, testing, testing, and just when you think it feels right, testing some more.

When playtesting, be aggressive. Don’t be nice to your opponents, don’t be magnanimous, generous, or kind. Be brutal. Exploit the powers you have in the game in as many brutal and blunt and subtle ways as possible. Manipulate, dominate, and orchestrate, but never capitulate. Playtesting is about breaking things, about finding the holes and the weaknesses and ways in which the game system falls apart when pushed.

The powers we have settled on are close, but there are weaker ones still, and possibly a strong one. The more we test and play and test again, pushing a prodding, ruthlessly struggling for the best outcome every single turn, the closer we are to honing those down and getting all the little ducklings in a row. It’s been fun, and we’ve played this one a lot. Still, it needs to be played more. A few tweaks yet to make and a few powers yet to hone before I think it will be ready. Within a simple game engine, a little tweak is often troubling work though, a little tweak can resonate against the simple engine in significant ways. Little tweaks are rarely little. I think we’re close though, and getting closer…

All the Colours…

I’m working with a co-designer on a series of card and board games. It happened fairly quickly:

Karl: “Did you want to work with me on this design.”

Me: “Hell yes.”

Us: <Initiate torrential stream of concepts/>.

Karl (of Ark Angel Games) and I quickly found three core concepts to explore, all originally centered around the use of transparent cards that Karl had concocted. How things have changed in the months since.

Iteration, playtest, iteration, playtest, iteration, playtest. Two of the three are on version 3 or 4, while one is on version 11.

Some of these have come together quickly, feel close to being ‘right’, one is a work in progress, still missing a core something. All of them have changed, as is only good and right.

It’s like finding a path through a jumbled and dark room, ironically, one that you yourself have created. Feeling for what’s in front, trying to find the light switch. Once the light switch has been located of course, it’s not the end, oh no! The room needs to be surveyed, assessed, ordered, tidied, and made presentable.

At different points throughout the iterations I feel like I’ve found the light switch, but the playtest to follow reveals I have, in fact, found nothing of the sort. Things work differently in the mind to how they play out on the table, and that, while obvious, highlights *again* the vital role that playtesting has in the design process.

I have a brilliant idea! It will work! It will be glorious! It will add depth, and strategy, and… <initiate playtest/>… it just doesn’t work at all. How did I not see that!

Time and again we have come back to one or other of the games and asked ourselves – what do we want this game to achieve? If this game were on a shelf next to other games of a similar weight and a similar depth, what would those games be? What is the target audience? What other games do the people who will play this game play? Knowing the destination is vital to keeping it on track. But, by the same token, being open to a change in destination is also important.

Working with a co-designer has been a great experience. The ability to bounce ideas, come at things from other angles, and play to different strengths has been fantastic. If we have a tendency to spin one idea into three, that’s ok, I’m confident that one or more of these is going to turn out great!