Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Of Feast & Famine - New Thoughts

The simulation continues to suck.  But I've thought of some new ideas for the game....  I'm sure if the simulation helped with that or not.  Nonetheless, since I have new ideas for the game and I haven't yet gotten the simulation to work with the previous rules (much less the ones I just came up with).  I may have to abandon the simulation... at least for a while.

So here are the new ideas:
I'm going to give each player a pawn...  a different style pawn from the workers.  There are Eight specialties and Eight available colors from The Game Crafter, so that works out nicely.  Here's the color mappings: 
  • Agriculture - Green
  • Architecture - White
  • Combat - Black
  • Medicine - Blue
  • Diplomacy - Purple
  • Finance - Yellow
  • Religion - Red
  • Education (replaces the old specialty Planning) - Orange
Now when a player takes an action, they will place their pawn on the board.  There will be two new spots added to the board as well:  one for a school and one for a market. 

The school is really just giving a name to a game concept that was already in the game.  When ever you add new workers they had to wait a few seasons, but I didn't really explain why (because I didn't know yet!) .  But now I know;  They're at school learning the basics required to work.  Brand new workers take 4 seasons to teach.  Another subtle change here...  all workers have an implied ring for each discipline.  To add additional rings, you have to go back to school.  2 season to add the first ring.  3 seasons to add a second ring of the same type as the first ring.  Workers can no longer have a third ring (because there are implied ones for every worker).  I'll include fewer rings in the game too...  6 each instead of 9 each. 

The market is the way to make money.  Previously there was an awkward "add gold" action that didn't involve workers or a place on the board where it happened.  The market is that place now. You can place your pawn there and bring as many workers as you like and you earn one gold per pawn/worker.  I just had a thought right now, as I was typing.  Maybe there should be a 5th discipline for finance (yellow).  And your pawn counts as one too.  And another thought...  maybe your pawn always counts as one worker.  I'm not sure if it works in the barracks especially since orange and purple don't show up on the dice.  Anyway...  there are some things to think about there.

Many of the specialties have changed too (in fact some may have just changed in the last few minutes!).
  • Agriculture -Counts as 3 rings on the farm
  • Architecture -Counts as 3 rings on the castle
  • Combat - Can re-roll one die.
  • Medicine - Counts as 3 rings on the Hospital
  • Diplomacy - Can exchange a Tribute card for another one from the deck.  This is similar to the old planning specialty (that was too powerful), except that it's limited to Tribute cards and it now eats up a player action to do.
  • Finance - Counts as 3 rings on the market.
  • Religion - Can use workers in Poverty to generate gold...  this doesn't remove them from poverty; one gold per worker (yellow rings don't matter).  This is like a less powerful market except that you don't have to remove them from poverty which costs gold.
  • Education - Can teach workers in 1 fewer seasons than normal.
I think that may be it.  At any rate, I'm almost out of lunch break, so I'll have to end here anyway!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Of Feast & Famine simulation and other updates

The simulation for Of Feast & Famine continues....  right now I've simulated nearly aspect of the game with the exception of the Specialty cards (which I'm working on now).  But I'm bugged because the simulation only seems to end in a win about 1/3 of the time.  And yet in play testing it's been too easy.  Like I said before, I haven't simulated the Specialty cards yet which should make the game easier, but I would be surprised if it made it easier enough to account for the difference. 

I guess I just don't have confidence that my simulation is valid.  I feel like there must be a big bug somewhere (and there probably is).  But now I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever feel confident in it....  even if the end results start looking right, it doesn't mean that I got there in the same way. 

We'll see...  I'm not giving up on it yet, but I am a bit discouraged with it right now.

In other news, I was asked to do an interview for The Game Crafter a couple of weeks ago and the interview just went up today.  You can see it here:  http://news.thegamecrafter.com/post/28115029737/allow-me-to-introduce-you-to-allan-lamb-from-the#disqus_thread

Note the misspelling of my name in the link.. if that gets "fixed" you can go here http://news.thegamecrafter.com/  and scan the news until you find it.  Though if it's much later than 7-27-2012, you'll have to scan for a long time!

That's it for today!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Another game idea

Here's an idea that's pretty different from my normal kind of game.. which is to say, simple!  :)

 It's a game for 4 players: 2 teams of two actually.  The partners sit next to each other.  The board is pretty simple, there are 5 regions and each region has 3 parts to it: a part close to one team, a part close to the other team and a part in no-mans land.  Perhaps it's simple enough for some ASCII art:

Team A
|  |  |  |  |  |
|  |  |  |  |  |
|  |  |  |  |  |
|  |  |  |  |  |
|  |  |  |  |  |
Team B

Like that, except probably at a 45 degree angle.  There are 5 markers that start in the middle row of the board... except they aren't ordinary markers, they're sand timers.  The game starts with them exhausted.  Each team has a deck of cards and each player gets some number (we'll say 7)   cards from their deck.  The game is played simultaneously... no turns.  So when it starts (perhaps one of the sand timers could signify the start) everyone just starts playing.  You want to make sets of 3 cards.  You can draw new cards from the team deck and discard them to the team discard pile... or pull them from the team discard pile (which is how cards can be traded between teammates).  When you get a set, you discard them to a special discard pile and move one of the sand timers.  When you move a sand timer you move it into your opponents space and flip it upside down (so it starts ticking so to speak).  Once a sand timer is moved out of the center, it never goes back, it just alternates sides.  If the sand timer ever runs out, it's locked where it is...  you want that to happen on you opponents side.  Think of the sand timer as a time bomb...  you want it to explode near your opponent.  As soon as 3 bombs have exploded on a particular team's side the game (or perhaps round) is over.  Talking between partners is completely fine.  I haven't decided yet, but maybe the sets are typed and correspond to the particular sand timers and if that's the case, then maybe the cards are not equally distributed so that some kinds of sets are easier to make than others (or maybe not).  I would probably put a thin theme on it...  the time bomb metaphor is nice so I may run with that.  That's it!


Monday, July 23, 2012

Of Feast & Famine Simulation and other Updates

I just wanted to give a quick update on the simulation for Of Feast & Famine.  I have written the first version of it, but I not yet convinced it's all correct.  I've only run one game at a time so far... and in total it's probably been something like 40-50 runs.  So far, every game has been a loss... so clearly this doesn't yet represent a realistic simulation (at least not a realistic simulation of the game as I would like it to be).  Keep in mind that not every run is equal.  I've been finding bugs in the simulation so the earlier runs are less representative of the state of the game than the last ones. 

Right now, the hard part is determining how much of the results are due to more bugs and how much is due to the weak player AI.  As I said in the previous post, every player decision (or nearly every one) has an interface and an implementation (later it will be multiple implementations).  Most of the implementations are very simple.  The hardest one is one I call the "ActionStrategy."  It basically decides what action a player takes.  This turns out to be tricky. :)  From a game design standpoint, that's good!  But it does make the simulation kind of hard.  I might end up breaking that Strategy into smaller parts.

In other news...
I failed to mention this earlier, so I'll bring you up to date now.  I had a crazy idea a couple of weeks ago...  It was one of those ideas that starts out being no more than a joke in your head  until you keep thinking about it and then reach a point of saying... "You know, why not?!"  I was reading the blog of Patrick Rothfuss (Author of a couple of really great Fantasy Novels: The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear and if you're not familiar with them I highly recommend them) when I saw a reference to board gaming.  And I thought that maybe I had seen another reference to board gaming in his blog a while back.  I actually did a search to validate that he is, in fact, a board gamer.  So I thought, "Hey, why don't I send him a copy of my game?"  If you're asking what I expect to happen, all I can say is that he is a fantasy author with a big following and a like (or maybe love) of board games...  if he were to like my game "something" good may come of it.  What's that something?  I have no idea, but it couldn't hurt!

Anyway, so I wrote him an email...  correction an embarrassingly star-struck email.  I basically asked him if he would like a copy.  And he wrote back and said yes!  So I ordered a copy.  I'm guessing he'll get it in a few days.  It may not result in anything real, but it's kind cool anyway knowing someone famous has a copy of my game.

I'll let you know if something comes of it.  Later!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Of Feast & Famine simulation

I've decided to try something that I've never tried before with a game (at least not with a whole game).  I'm going to write a computer simulation of it.  The goal is to use the simulation to help balance the game.  I'm not sure how far I'll take it, but the farther the better. 

Disclaimer:  For the rest of this post, I'll be writing as if you understand Java (the language I'm writing it in).   That may be Greek to some people so I apologize in advance! 

Here's the basic idea:
Every time there is a player decision to be made I'm going to introduce an interface to represent a strategy to be taken in that situation.  (E.g. AssignWorkerSkillsStrategy).  Then I'm going to try to come up with a fair number of reasonable implementations of each Strategy.  (E.g. GeneralistAssignWorkerSkillsStrategy or SpecialistAssignWorkerSkillsStrategy).  Then I'll have a class called Player that is returns a particular implementation for each strategy.  Somehow I'll create players with different strategies.  I'm not sure if I'll make an exhaustive collection of every permutation of strategy or just make Players randomly...  it will probably depend heavily on how many permutations that would be.  Regardless, I'll then assign a Players to a game and run the simulation keeping track of if they won or lost (and if they lost how) as well as the strategies used.  Do that many thousands of times and I can get an idea about the difficulty of the game as a whole and which strategies seem to work best. 

I can then tweak the game rules so that the game is the right level of difficulty (actually I'll probably want a way to have several difficulty levels).  Real players are going to better than the simulated ones, so I want to lean on the difficult side.
I also want to make sure that there isn't one strategy that is clearly better than the rest.  Foolish strategies should, of course, fail.  But It would be nice to have more than one way to attack a problem.

Well...  that's the plan at least.  I started working on it a couple of days, but it will take a while before it's runnable.  We'll have to see how successful this is.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Of Feast & Famine - post play test

I play-tested Of Feast and Famine this weekend.  The game went ok...  it didn't fundamentally break.  But the game did seem to take too long and it was too easy.  So, I've decided to make some changes.  And since I just sent en email to one of my play-testers about those changes, I thought I would be lazy and cut and paste the email here too.  :)

Here it is:
I've been thinking about a few changes. 

  • I think the Planning specialty is too powerful...  being able to discard a plague card (which I'm starting to feel is the worst card) every round is just too much.  I don't have a way to tone it down just yet, so I might just end up tossing it.
  • I'm considering staring the game with hostilities from the other kings not at zero... the might help fast forward a bit to the exciting part (and make the game harder)
  • I've adjusted the costs on many cards (small increases to costs everywhere).  In particular, the Tributes for other kings has gone up and is variable.  That will hopefully lead to more battles.  As an interesting side note.  Earlier in the design, I had an "Ah ha!" moment when I decided to embrace death.  I didn't originally have the ability to add workers...  you started with 12 and you just tried to hold on as many as possible. But that made many aspects of the game design really difficult....  losing a worker was a big deal and it was tough to know what kind of event was worthy of that fate.  So when I decided to embrace death and make it less of a deal, the design became easier.  But the game play this weekend, felt like the team hadn't yet embraced death.  Not that you should if you can avoid it of course, but the game didn't force it enough.
  • I've updated the board (and attached an image).  This is mostly a usability change, the "calendar" has been taken out of the middle of the board and placed around the edges.  There are little icons that let you know what you do next.  There is, however, one rule change embedded here as well.  The number of workers that you can add is now variable by season and generally lower. In autumn for example, you can't add any extra works (the icon also applies to workers in poverty, but I'm talking about new workers here)  Actually there's one other small rule change shown here.  There's a gold Celtic star icon which means pass the Chancellor token.  But there's an extra one between winter and spring with a 4 near it.  This means that in a 4 player game, you pass here as well.  This prevents players from being Chancellor on the same season every time.
  • I've also tweaked some of the specialty cards... as mentioned above, I still haven't decided what to do with planning yet.
  • I also decided I needed a mechanism to control the game difficulty. My working mechanic for this is to start the game with some of the castle already built for easier games.  I'm a little bugged that this also makes the game shorter, but perhaps that's not such a big deal.
  • As for getting workers to be more generalized (which leads to much more interesting decisions).  I've considered attacking that problem directly.  Charge 1 gold to add a second ring of a particular color.  Charging again (and perhaps more than 1 gold) to add the third ring.  Though I may hold off on this for now...  it would be better if the other changes accomplish this without an explicate rule.

I think that's it. 

Thanks for your help!

And here's the image I referred to :

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Of Feast & Famine - part 2

Before I move on to the events, I actually had a thought last night about some of the things I blogged about in part 1 of this blog.  Most of it actually affects the events, but some does spill over into things I said yesterday.  The main one concerns taxation.  I'm now thinking about changing taxation to be an event card instead of an action. 

Ok, on to the events (as indicated above, this is a very fluid game right now, so what I say here could change by the end of the day for all I know!):

There are (I think) 28 event cards and all but two are bad.  The good ones are:
Merchants - allows you to exchange 3 of any resource for 2 of another (as much as you like).
Taxation (brand new!) - Adds one gold for every worker not in poverty.

The bad ones (some have more than occurance in the deck):
Repairs - minus 2 gold and  minus 2 stone
Poverty - Roll a die and one worker matching that color (if there is one) goes into poverty.
Feast - minus 2 gold minus 2 food
Famine - minus 4 food
Plague - plague level increases by 1
King <X> Demands resource <Y> - You can either agree to pay the price (every season) or allow the hostility of that King to go up by one.   This is the main change that I referred to at the top.  I didn't have the pay a resource option...  I did have a concept of appeasement, but it was a bit different.  This one could be tricky to work out....  if I'm not careful it seems like it would either always make sense to appease or never make sense to appease.. neither of which make for a good game mechanic.  Ideally, it make since to appease sparingly... just to buy a little time.  But it would also be kind of cool to get sucked into appeasing too much...  cool for the game design, not for the players!

I should explain the raising of the plague and king hostility levels (it's the same mechanic). It's designed so that the game starts off relatively easy and gets progressively harder.  There are 4 spots to put a cube.  Each time you raise the level a new cube is added or an existing one is moved. 

Check out this diagram that I had in a blog once before, (it has changed slightly...  so I'll copy, paste and modify)  0 is an empty space, X is a space with a cube:

OOOO  - initial state
XOOO - After hostilities are raised once
OXOO - After hostilities are raised again
OOOX - After hostilities are raised 4 times - since it got the the top (right), the enemy attacks with a "power" of 1
XOOX - After hostilities are raised 5 times
OXOX - After hostilities are raised 6 times 
OOXX - After hostilities are raised 7 times - enemy attacks again with a "power" of 2
OXXX - After hostilities are raised 9 times - enemy attacks again with a "power" of 3
XXXX - After hostilities are raised 10 times - enemy attacks again with a "power" of 4

Attacking with a power of X - that means that you roll that many dice to determine the outcome of the event. 

For plagues, each die indicates workers that get sick (any worker of the same color as the die).  You must treat them with 5 medicine or let them die.  If they die, their rings are removed and they are taken off the board.  The pawn can be added back again, but it indicates a different worker.

For attacks from Kings, each die indicates an attack on a segment of the population.  You can defend against it by having workers in the corresponding barracks with black rings.  Each black ring cancels out the effect of one die matching the color of the worker that the ring is on.  For every die that isn't cancelled out, every worker of the matching color dies.

Ok.. that's it for now.  Later!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Of Feast & Famine - part 1

I just did a quick search for what my last comments were on Of Feast & Famine in the blog and they were from quite a while.  I said something like: The game didn't work.  Well, I think I'm out of that level of despair!  :)  It's far from being done, but I wouldn't say the game doesn't work anymore. 

I don't remember exactly how the game was played when I said that, so I'll just give an overview on the mechanics as they are now (with a few question marks thrown in as well).  Ok, from the top...

Of Feast & Famine is the third game in the Altero Series (E.g. Of Power & Glory and Of Pride & Policy).  Unlike the other two, it's a cooperative game.  Each player represents a minister for King Cheshire.  They are in charge of keeping the Kingdom running in spite of wars, plagues, poverty, feasts and famines.  The game board has a numbered track going around the outside... it goes from 0 to 50.  This is used to track the amount of 4 different resources: Gold, Food, Medicine and Stone.  The game is won if you build the castle.  The game is lost if you can't meet the needs for one of the resources or if the population drops to zero. 

There are 12 pawns which represent to workers (population).  They are color coded: 2 each of Black, White, Red, Yellow, Green and Blue.  The colors are arbitrary, but not unimportant.  You start the game with one worker of each color available (others will become available later).

There's a circle on the board (called the calendar) that indicates the current season.  The rest of the board is map of the kingdom with several locations that workers can go (usually to work).  The game is played in rounds and each round is a season.  At the start of each round, one player is the "lead minister" (I'm sure there's a word for that...  "Chandler" I think, but I'll find out for sure).  The lead role moves to the left each round.  The Lead minister takes one event card for each player, looks at them and assigns them to each player face down (including one for himself).  

Quick note:  This has the potential for being a really cool mechanic.  One of the issues I hear that people have with cooperative games is that one person tends to take over and tell people what to do.  This mechanic (at least partially) forces that power to be distributed among all the players.  Anyway, back to the rules.

Each player can look at their own event card, but it can be shown to everyone else until the start of their turn.  On your turn, you take one action and then resolve the event (almost all the events are bad by the way).  The actions that you an take usually involve taking some number of workers from town (that's where they start at the beginning of each round (well...  almost always)) and assigning them to a location on the map.  Workers are not all equal.  When you assign a worker to an area, you have the opportunity to give them a ring that corresponds to that work location.  Each worker can have up to 3 rings (they can all be the same, all different or whatever).  The actual work done in any location is a factor of the number of matching rings in a location... not the number of workers.  Thus two workers with 1 ring each is as good as one worker with 2 rings.  Their are a few actions which differ form this pattern a bit. 

Taxing:  You can tax the population to gain 5 gold and then one worker goes into poverty (placed on the Church).  Workers in poverty can not be used for any other purpose until they're freed.  Freeing workers (I need a good term for that) means moving some number of Workers from the Church to the Town (and paying 1 gold each). 

Raising funds:  You can also simply use your action to move the gold up by one.  This is kind of a "I don't have anything else to do" action.  I hope it's not needed much.  I don't mind if it happens 2 or 3 times a game, but if players are having to do this every round, that's an issue.

Adding Workers:  Remember how I said there were other workers that got added later... this is how.  But you don't just add the workers to town, you add them to the calendar 3 seasons in the future.... you've got to educated them!  You can add 1 or 2 workers to any one season.  When that season rolls around, they are added to town.

Ok, so those were the slightly exceptional actions, but I didn't really talk about the more normal ones.  There are 7 locations that you can add workers:  3 barracks, the quarry, the castle site, the hospital and the farm.  Note that here are only 4 types of rings:  Military (used at all 3 barracks), Masonry (used at the quarry and castle site), Medicine (used at the hospital), Agriculture (used at the farm).

Ok, I'm running out of time, so this will have to be a part 1 blog.  Next time, I'll need to talk about events...  that will probably eat up a whole blog and that might do it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Brief Update

I'm going to try to make a regular habit of blogging during my lunch break.  I won't promise that I'll do it every day, but I will hopefully be a lot more regular about it than I have been the last few months.  So here are some updates on games that I'm working on:

Of Power & Glory:
This is kind of old news now, but since I never got around to saying anything about it, here it is.  I had Of Power & Glory reviewed by The Chief of The Dice Tower.  A pretty good review if I say so myself!  He gave it an 8.  Here's the video:

Of Pride & Policy:
I published it on The Game Crafter a few weeks ago.  My last post went into a little detail about the changes so I won't go into them again here.  I've sent off a copy to The Gamer's Table for review.  I'll update the blog when the review in done.

Of Feast & Famine:
This is the third game in the series and the one that I'm actively working on now.  It's a cooperative game so that's a new twist for me.  I don't have time to go into all the details, but in a nutshell it's a kingdom management game.  What I'm shooting for is a game where all hell breaks loose from every direction and the players have to keep 20 balls in the air at the same time to win.  Losing should feel like death from 1,000 paper cuts.  It remains to be seen how well I achieve that goal.  I hope to playtest it this Saturday at the Secrets Factory game design meetup (I've join that meetup group since the last time I blogged).

The Wardenclyffe Effect:
The Game Crafter announced another game contest and I'll give it another shot.  The strategy I'm taking is this:  Have a simple game with few parts so you can have a nice box and game board and stay under the $19.99 limit.  The contest theme is a Steampunk dice game.  My game uses a die, but I'm not sure I would call it a dice game....  that may hurt me in the contest.  But the rules of the contest clearly state that dice rolling need not be the primary mechanic.  I tried to stay with the spirit of contest (simple games).  The game is a fairly simple abstract game that I'm stretching a thin "Fictional Tesla Device" theme over.  The artwork is ok so far...  I've never tried to do Steampunk before, so it's a new artistic area for me.  I may end up tweaking the artwork more by the time the contest ends (August 1st).  Right now, I'm just working on the rule.  It's a two player game, so hopefully I can playtest it with my wife.

Treasures of Seraph Isle:
This is a semi-deduction based game that I've currently put on the back burner.  I playtested it once about a month ago and came away with some ideas for changes, but other games have kind of pushed it to the side for now.  I may get back to it at some point.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Of Pride & Policy

First I need to explain the long absence...
I had a job change a few weeks ago and that significantly changed my day to day routine.  That pretty much did in my blogging for a while.  Then, two days ago, i was asked to do an interview for The Game Crafter and in it I referenced the blog so I thought...  I guess I better pick that up again!

Now on to Of Pride & Policy.  We last I wrote about it, the game was called "Quitavox" and it had an ancient roman theme.  I decided to pull it into the Altero Series of games (e.g. Of Power & Glory)  and with that came a name change and a re-setting to the Iberia.  Historically speaking, Spain and Portugal don't make the most sense...  I know that!  But it is an alternate Europe, so I don't feel too bad about that.  The nice thing about Iberia is that it's relatively square... that made the layout easier.  I published it on The Game Crafter on June 21st and have sent off a copy to The Gamer's Table for a review.

As far as actual changes to game play are concerned, thee were many.  It's funny how when I placed it next to of Power & Glory how some of the game play seemed to morph that way too.  The biggest  change is that the players are doing the voting anymore... it's the territories.  It's been so long, that I can't remember all of the changes, though I know they were many.

I'll try to keep up my blogging better,,, then I won't loose all the details.  That's kind of the point isn't it?!