Friday, May 22, 2015

Geekway + Anytown = More Changes

Last weekend, I took Anytown to Geekway to the West.  On that Friday evening, there was a prototype demo session.  I was a bit nervous going into the event because I didn't know if anyone would be interested in trying Anytown.  At the end of the event, I had 2 partial playtests.  For the first playtest, Zev from Z-Man Games sat down and played the first round.  At the end of the round, I asked his opinion, and he provided a lot of constructive criticism.  He said 3 things that have me starting to make changes:

1) He did not understand why there was card drafting.  A common pool of building cards would work just as well, and reduce play time.
2) He did not understand why the Improved Entry tokens were in the game (catch-up mechanism).
3) There should be more tension in the game.  His recommendation was to limit the number of workers that could access the standard resource locations (Forest, Quarry, and Gold Mine), which would force players to use more of the buildings.

While I understand Zev's reasoning for number 1, I want to attempt to keep card drafting in the game.  For those that do not know or remember why I starting designing Anytown, there was a comment at one of the game days that there were not many games similar to 7 Wonders.  When I heard this, I immediately thought "What would happen if card drafting and worker placement were combined?".

With that in mind, I believe I have the next iteration of Anytown ready to design.  Actually, I have 2 iterations of Anytown ready to design.  Let me explain.  I had a crazy thought yesterday of creating 2 different games with the same mechanics and components.  So here are my designs:

1) Focus on card drafting.  This game would play similar to 7 Wonders/Among the Stars.  Players would draft cards, selecting 1 to do something with, and then pass the remaining to the next player.  At this point, players would then either play the card to build the building depicted, discard the card to build part of the common building, or discard the card to gain some resources listed on the card.  After taking the card action, players would then place a single worker to use a building ability.  Each year would be either 3 or 4 cards (still deciding that), with 3 years in the game.

2) Focus on worker placement.  This game would be very similar to the current version of Anytown.  The main differences are that the Improved Entry tokens would be removed, and players would either gain resources when drafting or discarding building cards (still trying to figure that out).

For both versions of the game, there would be 1 main change - there will be no more standard resource locations (Forest, Quarry, and Gold Mine).  I think this will be a positive change for Anytown, provided it does not force players to discard too many cards for resources.

I am curious to hear your thoughts on these changes.  Should I pursue 2 games for 1 box, or should I focus on 1 of the game ideas?  Am I crazy for making major changes based on the feedback of 1 person, even if I believe it will improve the quality of the game?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Design 2 - To Space!

Enough of the teaser from my previous post.  Here's the information on my newest game design.

In a distant galaxy, there are 8 systems of planets.  Between these systems, there are 8 space stations that provide varied benefits to passing travelers; however, there is a major problem with the stations.  Due to flaws in the construction of those stations, they are all unable to maintain position in any one of the systems.  Every so often, the stations move to another system.

The inhabitants of the 8 systems gathered and decided on a solution: build a massive station to connect each of the stations.  By doing this, one station will be fixed in position near each system.

In the game, each player has a ship that travels to the various stations to gather resources to aid in construction of the central station, and then connect each station to the central hub.  Since each station has a different function, players must decide if they want to ally themselves with any of the stations (thus making it easier to use their functions).  However, becoming an ally with 1 station makes you disliked by another station, so players must balance their alliances  Also, players must watch out, as the order of the stations will change every 2-3 turns (depending on the phase of the game).

The game (currently called Stationary Change), is tentatively for 2-6 players and should play in 60-90 minutes.  The core mechanics are simultaneous movement and pickup and deliver resource management. There is a good amount of economic considerations in the game, as the cost for resources is determined by how far away the stations that provide resources are from the systems that produce those resources.

At this point, the initial playtest has been completed (2 player).  Based on that playtest, there were no aspects that required major rework or just did not work at all.  There were just a few minor items to investigate, which should not take too long (I have already made most of those changes).  For anyone that attends the Metro East Gamers meetups, I currently plan to have this ready at SWIC in 1.5 weeks, and welcome anyone that would like to playtest it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Anytown - Game Overview and a Look Ahead

Anytown: At the Corner of No and Where is a worker placement, card drafting, resource management game for 2-6 players ages 12+.  The game length is 40-70 minutes.

In Anytown, it is the height of the Gold Rush.  The players have gathered at an area of available land in the vicinity of a gold mine with the idea of constructing a town, and attracting as many citizens as possible.  Over the course of 3 years, an empty patch of land will be developed into a bustling town, and the player that attracts the most citizens will win the game.

As stated above, Anytown is played over 3 years (rounds).  In each round, players draft building cards, then proceed to construct those buildings (as building space allows), while helping to construct common buildings that require more than 1 person to complete.  After buildings are constructed, they can then be used for various abilities such as resource trading or gaining Citizen Points (CP).  At the end of the year, players discard unused building cards, and then the available land for the town is expanded for the next year.

Since the town is new, there is no reason for duplicate buildings.  Also, each building has multiple copies in the deck, so players are racing to be the first to construct each building.  Then, in later years, buildings already in play may be upgraded, allowing for co-ownership of those buildings.  Having an ownership stake in many buildings is highly recommended, since every non-owner using a building ability provides the owners with a bonus (either resources or CP).

To date, Anytown has been playtested around a dozen times between all listed player counts, and will continue to be playtested whenever possible.  At this time, I am seeking blind playtesters to help prepare Anytown to the next step (searching for a publisher). 

I have briefly considered doing a Kickstarter on my own, but with my family and work, I do not believe I would have enough time to devote to setting up and running a campaign.  Perhaps that will change over the next year, but I have my doubts.

Game Design - What has happened the last 7 months?

So I have been negligent on updating this space now for too long.  Here's a recap of what has happened since May:

1) The original design of the game has been abandoned.  Gameplay was too long (2+ hours), I had to keep adding mechanics to get more player interaction (which made the game overly complicated), and it started to not be as much fun.

2) Stonemaier Games announced a Design Day that took place in November.  This jump-started my thinking into the common town approach to the game.  With only ~4 months to have something ready to show, I got started on the redesign of the game to use a common town.

3) The first playtest of the new common town design took place in September.  Jamey Stegmaier was present, and participated in the playtest.  There were many minor issues, but even from that first playtest, I knew this design was vastly superior to the old design.  Over the next couple months, several additional playtests were completed, and the design (now called Anytown: At the Corner of No and Where) was ready for the Design Day.

4) Anytown was playtested at the Stonemaier Games Design Day.  I was extremely pleased with both playtest sessions.  At the end of each session, I had questions ranging from "Is there a website where I can follow the progress?" to "When will this be on Kickstarter?"  I initially thought that everyone was just being nice and did not want to point out any flaws, but then I received news that Anytown was rated in the Top 10 of the designs presented at Design Day!  I was completely speechless!  I thought I had a good game, but I would not have guess that something I had essentially thrown together in 4-5 months would have been so well received.

5) Blind playtesting of Anytown is now available.  If anyone would like links to the documents for a print and play version, please let me know.

6) I have started designing a 2nd game.  More on that in a later post.

I think that brings you all up to date.  My next post will explain Anytown in a bit more detail for those interested.

Monday, May 19, 2014

New Game Design - Playtesting at a Convention

This past weekend was Geekway to the West - a 4-day board game convention in St. Louis.  It had been a couple years since I attended, but it was just as fun as in years' past.  The difference between this year and previous years, however, was that I brought a game design to playtest.  I have a lot to learn about bringing a game to playtest at a convention.

My first mistake at the convention was not setting aside time just to playtest the game.  I am used to going to Geekway to take part in the Play and Win promotion (play a game, then enter for a chance to win it).  Unfortunately, I spent most of Geekway doing just that.  When I finally thought to myself that I need to get a playtest in, it was Saturday afternoon, which was spent at the Euphoria tournament run by Stonemaier Games.  This left Sunday morning to get a playtest.

To follow up on the first mistake, it's time for something I did right: I playtested someone else's game.  Ben Rosset (designer of Brew Crafters) was at Geekway playtesting a game (tentatively called Home Brewers).  By watching someone else demo their game, it gave me a lot of information on how to present my game to people that have never seen it before.  Ben's game was a lot of fun, and I hope that I provided some decent critiques based on my play of it.

So now, back to the mistakes.  My 2nd (and hopefully last) mistake was that I did not get the word out about playtesting my game.  When I finally sat down to playtest, I had a few friends at the table that wanted to play.  Naturally, I let them play, along with the 1 person that was unable to find an available game.  At this point, I had a 5 player game (which I had never attempted before - the game plays 2-6), so I did not even think about asking anyone else to join in.  Although I received fantastic feedback (only 1 of the four players had played the game previously), I think I should have attempted to find one more person so that I could get as much feedback as possible.

With all that said, though, the playtest was fantastic!  After the first Year, we had a good 20 minute discussion (started by the other players - I was going to wait until the end) where many ideas and critiques were voiced.  The biggest complaint in a 5 player game was that there was not enough player interaction.  I had done quite a bit to help that for 2-4 players, but the traveling coach did not work well in a 5 player game because not every player had a chance to use it in the first Year. My plan, based on the feedback provided, was that there will be a second coach for 5-6 players, and a new building in each starting town that allows opponents to trade resources with the owner of the town.  I need to look further into the new building spot, though, because, based on our discussion, it could be too powerful (by allowing players to return their Workers to their home town if no agreement is reached).

Also, it appeared that the resource availability was a little high (after the last playtest, I increased the amount of resources received per worker).  The consensus was that there should a different amount of each resource available depending on what season it is (since each Year is divided into 4 rounds, each round can be considered a season).  I have decided to take this one step further by combining the seasonal resource collection with the event cards.  My plan (at the moment) is to have a default value for each resource, then a card of the current season will be revealed.  This card will adjust the value of the resources for that turn only, and, depending on the season, may also have some event (based on the old event cards).

Unfortunately, we were only able to complete 2 Years of the 3 played in a game.  At the end of Year 2, though, one player had uncovered a strategy that would allow him to score 11 points each round in Year 3.  This definitely seemed like a very powerful strategy (since the best buildings in Year 3 can score up to 10-12 points if they are upgraded), so I am going to pay close attention, and see if I need to make a change to (just slightly) weaken that path.

Looking forward, when I next go to a convention, I plan to devote most of (at least) one day to find playtesters whenever I take a design with me.  I would love to go to DieCon in June to attempt another playtest, but I will be unable to do so (kid patrol).

For the other designers out there, do you have any tips based on your experiences at taking designs to a convention?  For other convention-goers, what do you look for when being asked to playtest a game?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

New Game Design - Playtesting

After a few months, I was finally able to get a playtest of my game!  There were many changes made since the last time it was playtested, so I will attempt to hit most of those changes as I describe how the playtest went.

This playtest was a 3 player game, so the first thing that had to be done was to take the cards for a 4 player game and randomly remove 6 cards (making sure at least 1 copy of each card was available).  Year 1 started with drafting all the cards (instead of draft 1 card and play it), which definitely allowed for better strategic choices since you knew all the building cards you had available at the beginning of the Year.  Since the number of rounds per Year decreased from 5 to 4, it was more important to have a good strategy based on the cards drafted.

For the 1st Year, I made the decision to get building cards that allowed me to increase my resource production and allow me to trade those resources (either for Gold or for Food).  On the first round, I also decided to build a house to get an additional Worker.  Even though this made it difficult early to have enough resources to keep constructing buildings, I really think it paid off later in the game.  At the end of the 1st Year, all 3 players had 2 buildings constructed in their "downtown" area, so everyone gained 2 Citizen Points (This was another change - the player with the most would gain 3CP, 2nd most 2CP, and 3rd most 1CP).

For the 2nd Year draft, my plan was to find a Blacksmith to lower my worker cost (1 Time reduction in all building costs), and then try to focus on protecting my town from opponent's Workers.  Early in the 2nd Year, I decided to try the new Traveling Coach (allows players to move their Workers to other buildings - at the end of each round, it moves clockwise to the next town).  To make up for losing a Worker in my town, I was able to build another house the next turn.  The Worker I moved to an opponent's town was a huge help as it probably gained me 8 or 9 CP over the course of the last 6 rounds (either by helping to build buildings or use one of their buildings to trade Gold for CP).  At the end of the 2nd Year, I had the most buildings in "downtown", while my opponents tied for 2nd most.

In the 3rd Year draft, I focused on getting buildings that could be upgraded for potentially large bonuses (5+ CP).  I was able to draft 3 such buildings.  Immediately after playing the first 2 of those buildings, however, I realized that I could not upgrade both, so I focused instead on upgrading the building that provided the best return, and used my remaining workers to get Gold to trade in for CP.  When Year 3 ended, I had 7 buildings in "downtown", while my opponents both had 6.

When everything was counted up, I won by a score of 66, 56, 53.  I finally won at my own game!

Now on to what needs to be addressed.  The glaring problem was that resources were too scarce.  It was extremely difficult to maintain enough resources to build anything late in the 2nd Year and during the entire 3rd Year.  Based on feedback from the other players (my wife and someone that has played the game twice before), I have increased the amount of resources that players receive when placing Workers in resource collection locations.  I also changed the cards that allow trading resources to match the change in resource collection.  At this time, I will not make additional changes prior to the next playtest, as I want to see how much this affects the game.

Something else that was brought up after the playtest was that it might be better to have a central town board that all players build instead of separate towns.  To help with this concept, I have decided to make the person that suggested this (Josh Walker) a co-designer to aid in determining the extent of changes that would need to be made to get this concept to work.  Josh has provided a lot of really good feedback every time he has playtested my game, so I have no doubt that we can make a really good game.

For anyone that is attending Geekway to the West this weekend, I will there all 4 days with my game available for anyone that would like to try it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

New Game Design - More Changes

Since my last update, my game has not been playtested.  There have been too many things going on to provide enough time to play a 2 hour game with about an hour of instructions.  To that end, I did some thinking earlier this week, and had what I hope to be a breakthrough.

First, though, I want to explain a little about the former structure of the game.  Since I started designing this game, it has been 3 Years long, with each Year consisting of 5 turns.  Each turn, all players pick 1 card and choose to either build it or discard it for a resource production boost.  The remaining cards are passed to the next player (similar to 7 Wonders).  Then players take their workers and place them to either build or upgrade their cards, activate abilities on their cards, or gather resources.

I knew that the addition of worker placement to the card drafting scheme would add length to the play time; however, I did not think that the length would be tripled due to the additional options made available.  To that end, I have decided to lower the number of rounds per year from 5 to 4.

With this change, I also had to make some decisions on starting hand size and card allocation. Previously, the starting hand size was 7, with players discarding 2 cards at the end of the year (1 of the cards would be shuffled into the cards for the next year).  Also, the card distribution was fixed based on the number of players (for example, there were always 2 copies of Saloon in a 3 player game).

While I liked the idea of always having a fixed set of cards every game (the drafting mechanic would allow for plenty of replayability), I was not always fond of hunting for all the 3+ cards for a 3 player game.  When I designed the cards for each year, I took my time to attempt to balance the power of each card when compared to the other cards of that year.  So now, here are the other big changes I plan to make:
1) Each player will start the year with a hand of 5 cards.  After 4 are played, the last card will be discarded (not added to the next year's deck).
2) To add a little more variety, there will be extra cards that are not dealt to the players (in a 2 player game, 10 of 12 cards will be dealt...15 of 24 and 20 of 24 in 3 and 4 player games, respectively)

The 2nd change is the one that will have the largest impact.  By having some cards unknown to all players, the strategy level gives way to more tactical thinking.  The biggest problem I am having with this change currently is that I feel that 3 and 5 player games will be a bit too tactical due to the additional 6 cards that are not used when compared to 2, 4, and 6 player games.  A thought I have to address this is to either have players choose buildings to remove from the decks for each year to makeup the difference, or reveal 6 cards from those not used each year.

I am still attempting to figure this "issue" out, and welcome any ideas that you all wish to share.

 At this point, I have many changes to make to have the game ready for a playtest.  Those changes include:
1) Board changes (both player and main board) to account for 3 fewer rounds
2) Card changes to account for fewer rounds.  This includes the removal of the Synergy abilities (they will be replaced with more Upgrade abilities)
3) Changes to the rules to account for all changes listed above

With this list, I do not believe that I will be ready in time for SWIC, but do hope to have something ready the following weekend when I have friends over to play games.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Kickstarter Spotlight #2 - Tuscany: Expand the World of Viticulture

Today's Kickstarter Spotlight shines on the newest project from Stonemaier Games (Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone) - Tuscany: Expand the World of Viticulture (KS link).  This game is an expansion pack that (as of this post) includes 9 expansions that they "uncork" over the course of several plays (generally adding a new expansion every 1-3 plays).  Since this pack contains many different additions to the game, I will break this up to describe each expansion separately, along with my opinions on each.

Before I get started, though, I feel that I should provide my opinions on the base game, Viticulture, so that everyone knows my starting position.  I consider Viticulture to be a very strong and enjoyable light to medium weight worker placement euro-game.  If I had to determine where it stood in my top games of all time, it would easily be in the top 10 (and in the top 5 for worker placement games).  There is very little that I can find wrong with Viticulture, and nearly all of the minor problems I had were fixed with the 2nd edition rules.  The only minor problem that I still believe exists with the 2nd edition rules is that the end game is very abrupt, and does not provide many chances for players to catch up due to limited placement spots.  Will this be fixed by one or more of the expansions?

The intent of Tuscany is for all players to discover the changes at the same time (when the choice is made for what to uncork.  Since, like most of you, I would be hesitant to buy something sight-unseen, I will make an attempt to explain all of the expansions with a minimum of spoilers.  If you want the full spoiler, then check out the rules to Tuscany here.

The rules for Tuscany break out the expansions into 3 tiers.  All expansions from Tier 1 must be "uncorked" before proceeding to Tier 2 (and similar for Tier 3).  I will go through the expansions by tier for this review.

Now, let's explore the many aspects of Tuscany!

Tier 1 Expansions

Mamas & Papas Expansion:

This expansion changes the beginning of Viticulture by introducing asymmetric starting resources.  At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt 1 Mama and 1 Papa card.  These cards provide the player with their starting workers, cards (Vine, Summer Visitor, Winter Visitor, and Wine Order), money, and possibly a pre-built structure (can take more money instead).

I think this is a great addition to the game.  By providing all players a different set of starting resources, it allows everyone the chance of pursuing a different initial strategy.

Property Expansion:

This expansion makes a minor change to the 3 fields that players plant their vine cards in.  Each field will now have a different maximum vine value (5, 6, and 7).  In addition, each field can be sold (and repurchased) for lira based on their maximum vine value.

I really like the idea of being able to gain extra money by selling the fields I do not use.  This will make money easier to acquire during the game, so structures can be built and workers trained earlier and more often.

Patronage Expansion:

This expansion attempts to give players a unique strategy to pursue.  Each player is dealt 1 card that contains 2 chances to score points.  First, the player must fill the wine order of the card (a 5-value wine of any type) to gain 3 VP.  Then, at the end of the game, if the player fulfills the additional condition, they gain 2 VP (revealed at the end of the game).

This expansion is probably my favorite of the Tier 1 expansions.  The chance to score 2 VP at game end by fulfilling the hidden agenda will help allow all players to catch up during the last year.

Advanced Visitors Expansion:

This expansion takes many of the existing summer and winter visitor cards, and enhances their abilities.  The changes are meant to allow the visitors to be used at any point in the game (in base Viticulture, some of the visitor cards are best used either early or late in the game).

I like the idea of making the visitor cards useful at any point in the game.  Hopefully, this will change the general idea that Summer Visitor cards are best used at the beginning, while Winter Visitor cards are best used at the end of the game (I realize that there are currently exceptions to this, but this is just a generality).

Overall, I think the Tier 1 expansions all have excellent potential to improve the re-playability of Viticulture.  These are all minor changes that should be very easy to pick up.  My only concern with these changes is that the game tempo will be increased due to the extra money and initial resource boost available to the players.

Tier 2 Expansions

New Visitors Expansion:

As the name implies, this expansion adds new visitor cards to the game.  Unlike the Advanced Visitor cards, though, these visitors will add new abilities that players can utilize to gain an advantage over their opponents.

I generally welcome anything that provides more options for players, provided it does not muddy the waters too much.  From reading the descriptions of some of the new visitors from the rules, I think these will be excellent additions to the game.

Extended Board Expansion:

There are many changes to the game made by this expansion, so I will just make a quick note of some of the larger changes.  Are you tired of only using your workers in the summer and winter?  Then this expansion is for you!  The expanded board allows for workers to be used in all 4 seasons.  Each season has 4 different worker locations, which means there will be new abilities to explore.  The wake-up order now provides different bonuses for each season, and there is a new area-control aspect where you want to provide the most influence to the regions of Tuscany. 

This is the number 1 expansion that I want to try.  I think that the new board, combined with all the Tier 1 expansions, will really open up the game to an entirely new level.

Special Workers Expansion:

Continuing from the Grande Worker in 2nd edition Viticulture (and the Aboriculture expansion from the Kickstarter version of Viticulture), this expansion provides new workers that have additional abilities.  At the beginning of each game, 2 of the special workers will be made available to all players.  Whenever a player hires a worker, they may pay an additional fee to instead hire a special worker.

This is a very interesting expansion.  Looking at the stretch goals listed, there appear to be more Special Workers to unlock. My hope is that players that do not hire the special workers are still capable of winning (I realize it will probably be more difficult).  I also wonder why the limitation of 2 Special Workers was placed instead of 3 (since players can train 3 additional workers)?

Overall, I think the Tier 2 expansions provide the largest and most interesting changes to Viticulture.  Of these expansions, I think the Extended Board will have the biggest learning curve due to all the changes made to the game.

Tier 3

Before I start on the Tier 3 expansions, I want to mention the main difference with Tier 3.  Unlike the other tiers, this tier is meant to only use 1 of the expansions each game.

Aboriculture Expansion:
This is the same expansion that came with the Kickstarter version of Viticulture.  There are some rules changes to make this compatible with Tuscany (mostly dealing with morale).

Having played Aboriculture with 1st edition Viticulture, I think the rules changes make this expansion more streamlined and easier to play.  I look forward to trying this with the other Tuscany expansions.

Formaggio Expansion:
I do not really have any information about this expansion, except that it deals with making (and I assume selling) cheese.

Final Thoughts

I look forward to receiving my copy of Tuscany: Expand the World of Viticulture.  The (currently) 9 included expansions look like they will complement the already enjoyable game of Viticulture.

If I had to choose an order to uncork the expansions, I would choose the following:
1) Mamas & Papas
2) Patronage
3) Advanced Visitors
4) Property
5) Extended Board
6) Special Workers
7) New Visitors
8) Formaggio
9) Aboriculture
What order would you uncork the expansions?

Based on past experiences with Stonemaier Games, I have no doubt that the quality and components will be top-notch.  To anyone on the fence about Tuscany or Viticulture, I welcome you to search BoardGameGeek and find anything bad mentioned about Viticulture, Tuscany, Euphoria, Stonemaier Games, or Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone.