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Wednesday, October 28th, 2009
11:59 am
Need helps!
I'm submitting a game for publication. I've got all the forms and stuff! How exciting. So I want to canvas all you fellow designers for ideas and feelings about the game.

Object - you are merchant families trying to manipulate the politics of a renaissance city to get your loyal candidates into high offices (which scores you vp :-).

Gameplay: There are candidate cards, which have a number of loyalty slots, from 1 to 3. Players take turns influencing these candidates by placing loyalty cards in the slots - so most candidates are loyal to more than one player. Some candidates give equal points to each player, others give more points to a particular loyalty slot.

Then each round you get a hand of event cards, which you play on the various candidates. They go face up if they are public events ("Inspired Speech") or face down if they are private events (which are revealed at the end of the round ("Accepting Bribes!"). Good events are this turn only, bad events are less significant but last forever. You compare the score of each candidate (this turns good - all bad ever), and if they beat the candidate in the next job up they are promoted.

So the life of a candidate is a competition to rise to high office, before the slow drag of accumulated scandal, rumour and libel pulls them down. When a candidate falls off the ladder, you reclaim your support cards and place them on new candidates who are vieing to get on to the bottom rung.

Certain positions give the controllers of candidates in those positions points, or other abilities.

Candidates have traits, such as "chaste" which prevents all romance cards, positive and negative, from taking effect; or "paranoid" which means no treachery cards work on them; or "schemer" which means the controller of his top loyalty slot can play cards face down on the adjacent candidates regardless of whether they should be public or not.

After the candidate deck runs out, player with most points wins.

I'm basically after any comments, questions for clarification, ways to make it sound more awesome - I have to build a playable prototype and submit it soon :-D
Monday, June 29th, 2009
12:19 pm
Trick Taking
I think trick taking is an underdeveloped mechanic in modern games.

I seem to be full of succinct today. Anyway, Trick taking games ideas?

Mine: Bridge over the Skull River (clever title pun)

A coop wargame where you and your partner must, without seeing each other's cards, bid on objectives that you think you can take as attacker. The objectives are worth more or less points, and higher point scoring (and harder) objectives count as better bids.

Winning team starts playing, by playing a card that summons units to fight, the other team follows suit, with both sides placing units on the map of Skull River (and environs)

If the attacking team take their objective (eg "Capture Castle Rock") then they get the points, otherwise the defenders do, and the next round begins.

One potential variation - you can form an alliance with any other player, so "Me and Dave will take Castle Rock" can be trumped by Dave saying "Well, me and Suzanne will Capture the seven watchtowers" (or whatever).
Sunday, June 21st, 2009
9:59 am
Game Design
A free course on game design will run soon (1 week) at


I think I'm in. Anyone fancy joining me? If you do, let me know and we can register to be part of the same group.
Thursday, May 28th, 2009
12:53 pm
Complexity and Duration in System Design
These are two interesting related concepts.

1) Complexity - how involved a task is to perform. In general low complexity is good, but it's a trade off - roll three dice, remove the lowest and add the other two is more complex than just roll a dice, but also gives you more to play with.

The more frequently a task is performed the more complex you should allow it to be. Something that comes up once a game should be simple, because people will not learn it - they will have to look it up in the rules every time. Something you do every minute you are playing can be complex because it will become something people do by heart.

2) Duration - how long a task takes. In general you want low duration, but again there is a trade off. Bear in mind also that I'm talking about mechanical duration - interesting choices can create decision time, but that's a different thing from how long something takes to process.

The more frequently a task is performed the more a long duration will impact on a game - if final scoring takes 5 minutes, that adds 5 minutes to a game. If a single turn in a 20 turn game takes 5 minutes, that adds over 1.5 hours.

So here is the interesting relationship: High Complexity often means Long Duration.

I think it's an important part of developing a game to look at how you simplify things that aren't done often, and cut duration out of things which are regular events.

For example: I'm designing a game which involves firefights. There is a lot of shooting, and not that many hits, but hits are quite deadly. The movement system uses cards that you spend for action points or for special actions. I have tried to make it as quick as possible, as it happens multiple times a turn. I'm not worried about any complexity created, because people will be doing this every turn - it'll soon be second nature.

The damage system I want to make detailed and interesting because it's a big important event. I'm not worried about the duration that this will require because one bullet can be a big deal, and only a few hits will happen in a fight. I am worried about reducing the complexity of the damage resolution, because it will take longer for people to internalise the system, as it isn't a very frequent event.

I'm happy with the movement. Damage is quite complex, but might be okay. It'll be hard to tell until I start playtesting.
Monday, February 16th, 2009
10:48 pm
Dungeon Blitz
Okay, the melee side of Dungeon Blitz is pretty much complete now.

Magic needs work, but has the basics right.

Traps are still in development - I need to find a way to make it so rogues get to use awareness skill to do something useful, not just avoid bad effects by spending a large amount of their effectiveness, which is dull.

The system works like this: You have a number of dice, which partly measure the power of your character. The other measure is your skills, which range from no skill, through "6" "5 or 6" and then "4 5 or 6".

You take as many of your dice as you like, say what you are focussing on (attack, move, etc) and roll the dice. Then each dice gets allocated to do something depending on what it rolled. So if you have move skill "5 or 6" then any dice showing 5 or 6 can be used as a move action.

The thing you said you were focussing on? You can also use 3 and 4 results for that, regardless of skills.

The reason you might not want to roll all your dice at once is that you have some pools which you can store dice in for certain effects. The ubiquitous one of these is the dodge pool - dice here can be rolled in your opponents turn to avoid his attacks - each 3+ on a dodge dice avoids 1 attack success (you can avoid 2 attack successes per dodge if you move backwards, away from your attack).

You can also have a reach pool (eg with a spear) which lets you attack someone as they move next to you, a parry pool (with a sword, for instance) which can only contain one die, but lets you block any number of attack successes on a 3-6, and so on.

When you hit someone, you roll damage - as many as you have on your weapon, plus any power you put into the blow. You roll that many d6 and ignore the highest X results, where X is their armour (ranges from 1 to 3).

A 1 or 2 is ignored, a 3 injures them slightly (moves dice into an injured pool, which you retreive by using "Grit" skill). A 4 does a minor effect (miss a turn, knocked over...) a 5 does a major effect (Knocked out, crippling wound, bleeding) and a 6 is curtains.

It's good times. There's a variety of fighting styles you can use, involving parrys, or find weakness, or just hitting really hard and so on. It's tactically interesting. It's not entirely predictable what someone can do on their turn, but people usually come a cropper after they overcommit to an all in attack.

I like it a lot.
Monday, July 28th, 2008
2:22 pm
A snack
Before I get round to finalising and pdfing the card based wargame I've designed, a little something to tide you over:

Wargames with Tanks:

At the bottom of a (large) counter, you have 4 spaces, with icons for movement, main gun, crew, and explodes! Each icon has dots on each side, to show how resilient that vehicle is to that sort of damage from that side.

Weapons have penetration and damage. After a hit roll penetration vs armour, if you penetrate roll Damage(D6). If you get more 3s than the dots against movement, you've caused mobility damage - the vehicle can't move. If you get more 4s than the dots against main gun, the vehicle just lost its main armament.

And so on.

I think it's a neat system for differentiating vehicles. Stuff like crew death/blown up vs repairable can either be modelling in VP, or feed into a campaign system.

I haven't designed a game around this, but I think the mechanic is nice.
Thursday, July 10th, 2008
9:54 am
Quickfire Skirmish Game

Set up: Each player chooses a character, and takes the 10 cards for that character. They choose what equipment to carry, and take the cards for that equipment. Then they shuffle the lot together. They also put a marker for their character on a hexmap.

Play: Each player draws 5 cards from their deck, and chooses 3, placing them in a stack. Now everyone turns over the first card in their stack, and resolves it - the icons on the card make you move, take cover, aim, fire, reload and so forth. You do the same for the 2nd and 3rd cards, then everyone reshuffles, and loses one character-card for each point of damage they took. Lose 6 character cards and you're dead.

There are often more than one icon on a card, so for instance you can have cards that let you take cover while moving 2 hexes, or whatever.

Equipment cards slow you down because if you draw equipment instead of move cards, you won't move as fast. Lighter equipment has recycle icons on, which means you can ditch it and draw a replacement before you select your 3 cards.

At the moment there are three characters - Scout (sneaky quick moving guy) Tough guy (standard brute, probably weakest character) and Critter (fast, hard to hit alien) and a few weapons - knife, laser pistol, SMG, rifle, and claws.

I'll write it all up properly, and then offer up playtest pdfs for anyone who'll offer me a brief report of at least one game, and let me know what they thought.
Wednesday, February 27th, 2008
11:46 am
A thing about dice
Been quiet here recently...

Anyway, if you label dice thusly:


Then you can make a pretty good go at a fast playing blood-bowlesque game. Each player has certain icons, representing strength, agility, and so on. He gets some of these from Race, and others from his individual abilities.

So a Dwarf gets +Strong, +Tough and -Speed. As a player, he might be good at Dodging. Not yet being a star, he has no star, or superstar icons, and he doesn't have anything in Special.

When he does something, roll 2D6 and count icons. So if you roll "Pass, Race" in a block, you score 2 (Pass always counts as a pass...). But if you are running, "Race, Player" would net you -1.

Star and Superstar Icons are allowed to be of types other than the basic ones (which are Strength, Agility, Catch, Throw, Sprint and Tough), so they can trigger special effects. Special is there to cater for extreme cases like Ogres, Trolls, and players with permanent injuries.

Combined with a system of cards laid down before each play to simulate play calling, that's my latest invention. As usual, I plan to finish it soon.
Wednesday, December 5th, 2007
10:36 am
Cutting the Cake N ways
Starting positions in my game of nano-epic space empire building need to be somewhat flexible - there is no guarentee, given the morphology of the board, that there are N easily regulated fair starting positions, where N = number of players.

So instead, the first player sets up N starting Empires. Then the second player chooses where the first player starts. The third player chooses where the second player starts, and so on down, until the last player chooses the second last player's position, and takes the left over for himself.

This is just a general case for the specific "how do two people share a cake fairly, when they are both self-interested?" thing, where I cut and you choose. But it means the game can have varied starting positions - in a 4 player game you could have 4 medium empires, or you could have a position with more resources in the centre of the board, and three empires surrounding that one.

If the first player doesn't make them equal, he should end up with the worst position (because player 2 knows he'll likely get handed the worst remaining position by player 3). So he needs to make reasonably equal positions. I need to decide what choices he gets to make- location and number of planets are good, but should he also get to choose fleet-size, etc? Could slow down set up (great - Analysis Paralysis before the game even starts? :-)

Hope that's interesting, anyway.
Wednesday, October 31st, 2007
1:26 pm
A design dilemma
These are two things I think are good design goals:

1) To have all actions a player takes have some importance.
2) Not to eliminate a player early in the game while everyone else plays on.

There is an interesting decision to be made when you design a game, where you decide what compromise to strike between these two goals. If a player is fully in the game until the last die roll, whatever decisions he made, then his earlier decisions were pretty trivial. If a player can make really important decisions from the start, then they can put themselves (effectively) out of the game from quite early on.

One pseudo solution is to allow players to knock themselves out, but don't tell them. This happens in some German style board games, where there is no explicit player elimination, but you can sure as hell tell by turn 3 that you won't recover even by game end at turn 15.

I think that's a reasonable solution, actually, because it allows participation in the game, and for a player to push to accomplish the best they can from a bad lot. I think it's basically a kinder kind of player elimination, and the better you can hide that hopelessness, perhaps the better this solution is.

Another pseudo solution is dragging down the leader. If you make it possible enough to attack just the leader, and hurt his position, then players who make bad early decisions can hope to catch up with the pack as anyone perceived as leading gets dragged back.

This is also a reasonable solution, and I think it's a kinder kind of meaningless decision problem. A player might feel they can improve their position by excellent early moves, but actually, there was no importance in those decisions, because the leader will always be dragged back, so it will come down to who edges ahead at the end of the game.

So although I think there are reasonable work arounds to this issue, I still think it's an important consideration when designing a game.
Thursday, October 18th, 2007
2:12 pm
Swashbuckler - system ideas

Hey guys.

As a sort of follow-on to my previous post, I'm quickly jotting down some of the basic system idea-lets.  These are very early drafts of the ideas, so act as springboards, rather than finished system.

A quick list of some of the things that are inspiring me, to put you guys on something like the same page:
- 7th Sea (RPG)
- Cyrano de Bergerac (film - the Depardieu version especially)
- Princess Bride (film)
- The Musketeer (film) & others of that ilk
- The Baroque Cycle (books - trilogy by Neal Stephenson)

I'll try to explain my design choices as well.

A.  WFRP-like Fate Points that refresh on a daily/session basis.
B.  "hit points" as a combination of your willpower and physical resilience.
C.  Player-bribing dice
D.  Hats - specific props that grant you "special abilities" whilst in your possession.
E.  Passions/Beliefs that greatly affect your "stats" in any given situation.


A.  WFRP-like Fate Points that refresh on a daily/session basis.
In the swashbucklers genre, you want the players to take great big risks, to gamble on a "low chance" event.  The risk is that either (a) characters are hyper-competent, and the "does he leap the gap" is no risk at all or (b) characters make skill tests, and then fail teh "does he leap the gap", and plunges to his death.  This mechanic is intended to allow them to take big risks, but to allow some mitigation of failed results.

I'm chasing a villain across the rooftops.  I rush to the end of the roof, and leap, trying to reach the next rooftop, a great distance away.
[roll dice - SUCCESS] - I make the leap, and continue pursuing the villain
[roll dice - FAILURE]
Choice (a) - I fall, breaking my neck/becoming heavily wounded/being put out of commission.
Choice (b) [spend Fate Point] - as I fall, I pull out a grappling gun and fire it at the rooftop.  The hooks catch, and I swing backwards and forwards a bit.  I'm alive, but the villain escapes.

The importance in Choice (b) is that I got to look cool whilst failing, and avoided more serious consequences, but that's one less "safety net" until the next day/session.

B.  "hit points" as a combination of your willpower and physical resilience.
The idea is that this combines your will to fight and your stamina.  This is not a "calculated" stat (eg Will+Toughness), but a value in and of itself.  Swashbuckler sword-fights are not just acrobatics and fancy swordplay.  They are also full of witty repartee, insults, etc.  In this game, not only do swords do damage, but so do words.  You eliminate your opponent by a combination of excellent swordsmanship and cutting insults.  Both reduce your "hit points" to the point where you surrender/go unconscious/etc.  See "Princess Bride" & the initial fight in "Cyrano de Bergerac" to get the idea.

C.  Player-bribing dice
Sometimes, the GM wants the villain to escape.  Sometimes, the GM wants to capture the PCs.  In many games, the GM might fudge dice rolls or watch in horror as the PCs capture the villain/escape the villain's ambush.  In this case, the GM uses "GM fiat", and is allowed to say "the villain escapes" or "you are knocked unconscious in the ambush", but they follow it up with "... and here is a shiny bribe to allow me to do this, which you'll probably use to make the villain's life even more miserable", giving the PCs one or more bribe dice.  Note that if the villain escape/etc. by the rules, without resorting to this, the players don't get the bribe dice.

D.  Hats - specific props that grant you "special abilities" whilst in your possession.
Triggered by Tris' throwaway comment, and Lester's building blocks, something like this will now probably feature in the game.  This will probably be a set of cards in a published version, but I'll be pricing up proper tricorns and the like for the "Foppish DeLuxe" edition.  These would be props with inbuilt abilities, useable by my character whilst in my possession.  They're likely to bend/break game rules in a very specific way, and are intended to be passed around between the players.  My early thoughts are along the lines of combining benefits and flaws in one handy package.

Slowmatch Hat: benefits relating to brutal fighting and gunpowder, penalties in social situations.
Lace Hat: social benefits, penalties in fights

E.  Passions/Beliefs that greatly affect your "stats" in any given situation.
I kept the best until last.  There's a game out there (Burning Wheel) where the tagline is "fight for what you believe in".  Swashbucklers are driven and inspired by their passions/beliefs.  The one with the stronger belief is more likely to win, all else being equal.  Passions/Beliefs increase my stats dramatically, provided I can make the conflict about them.

e.g. to show you what I mean. A '+' indicates a Passion/Belief
I'm a PC.  My stat is 1.
+ For the King! (+1 to stat)
+ For the Musketeers! (+1 to stat)
+ For the love of Marion de Gex! (+1 to stat)
If I can make the fight about all of that, I have a stat of 4, as opposed to 1.

This is the bit I'm most excited about, as I'm also looking at how to Invoke/Risk them (gain an additional bonus, but risk them being destroyed), and how to Sacrifice them (gain a large one-time bonus in destroying it - renouncing your Passion/Belief).

Right.  That's my lunchbreak gone, so I need to get back to work.

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007
6:20 pm
Swashbuckling RPG done right - starting point

Hey guys.

I thought I'd bounce some general ideas off you as a starting point.

Inspired by recent reading, I've realised that I haven't yet played/run a swashbuckling RPG that did the genre proper justice.

Before I can properly launch into designing such a game, I need to get together some sort of list of what a swashbuckling game should involve.

From that, I can start to match my design to what is required.  I have several fledgling design tricks/ideas that fit the themes, but they should wait for a follow-up post.

Anyway, the starting list is as follows.
- villains must be exceedingly villainous, and we must be left in no doubt (by the end) of their villainy.
- swords & sword fighting
- pistols and muskets
- daring leaps and ridiculous acrobatics
- swordfighting and swordsman schools matter/are important.
- horsemanship
- showmanship
- the Age of Enlightenment & the (fledgling) wonders of science (Natural Philosophy)
- doing the right thing for [King & Country/your true love/the church/your swordsman school/your friend/your family/etc.]
- the power of the church

- romance
- duels & challenges
- importance of nationality
- drama
- dramatic and tense fights (mostly swords, but also court)
- tension & drama relating to the outcome of the (dice rolls).
- events boiling down to that "one dice roll"/"one event" you need to make. - using all weapons (eg sword AND dagger, rather than just sword)
- taunting & bluffing

- style!
- the importance and power of vengeance
- the power of the courts, courtly intrigues & plots
- working with your enemies to take out a more powerful threat (and they'll obviously betray you at the worst possible time)

Now, the question to you: what have I missed?  What should be included in a swashbuckling game/genre that I have failed to cover?

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007
12:43 pm
More of Fortune before/after
Worth noting: These both bleed into the other - a fortune before still needs you to make decisions which will go well or badly based on the next set of fortune before. A fortune after will, after the fortune, place you in another position to make decisions.

I still think this is largely a clear distinction, despite the bleed.

Fortune before decisions:
Almost every card game ever
Puerto Rico (plantation draws)
Yahtzee (!)

Fortune after decisions:
Almost every skirmish game ever
Most RPGs
WarCry (the Warhammer CCG)

Actually, I reckon this partly explains why I found Warcry so interesting. During the actual game play, you choose a unit to attack, and flip a card, reading off the die roll to see whether you succeed. It's a CCG, part of which is fortune after (some of it is fortune before).

I'll have to look at it again.
Friday, September 21st, 2007
9:10 am
Fortune before and Fortune after
A recent conversation has me thinking about fortune before decision, and fortune after decision.

A typical tabletop game has fortune after decision: You see the game state, make a decision, and roll the dice. "My orcs fire at those archers - I roll 5 hits - lose 5 archers".

It's also possible to have fortune before decision: You are randomly limited in choice, and then make decisions from there. "I draw a *fire* order - I'll spend that on these orcs to make them fire at the archers."

It's also possible to have both, for instance drawing the fire order, and rolling for the effect on the archers.

Fortune after seems to me to promote tactical seeking of the best moves, including calculation of the odds of various results. "If I fire at those archers, I could rout them. If I fire at the knights, that's extremely unlikely, and the archers will probably kill my goblins"

Fortune before seems to me to promote strategic seeking of the best game position, including calculation of the odds of various draws. "If I position the orcs here with this move, I have a good chance of drawing a fire order before those archers can decimate my goblins. If I move the goblins, they are quite likely to get charged by the knights"
Thursday, September 13th, 2007
1:02 pm
Okay, I suddenly wanted to play a quick and easy CCG about a fighting game, so I tryed to make one, here is the rambly first draft of the 'rules'

You start on 50 energy, when you take damage you lose that much energy. If you reach 0 then you lose.

If your deck is ever empty you reshuffle your discard pile into it.

On your turn you draw a card, then can play one attack or effect (or just pass).

If you play an attack, you resolve all abilities that happen before an opponent blocks, then they get the chance to block. If they do, you discard the attack and block card, and nothing else happens. If they don't, then they take damage from the attack, and you resolve all effects in brackets on the attack (basically 'if this deals damage' effects)

40 card deck, 3 of a card unless it has a U in the 'R' field.

The A on attacks is the area High Low or Middle
The D is their damage.

I hope that clears up confusions, ask questions, suggest cards, critize current cards/design holes etc : )

Card design is currently happening, and I'm hoping to come up with 30-50 cards to just see if this is going to work at all!
Thursday, September 6th, 2007
4:41 pm
Chit List
Basic: Lets you move, attack, recover from pinning or IV some drugs.

Leadership Tree:
Gang: Replaces 1 Basic. Lets you move with a buddy.
Leader: Added to pool. Lets you give orders to a small group near you.
Boss: Added to pool. Allows you to order anyone in communication with you.

Psychological Effects:
Tough: Added to pool. When pulled, immediately replaced unless you are injured, when you remove it and start ignoring one injury.
Rage: Added to pool. Always involves move towards nearest enemy, firing wildly.
Brave: Replaces one Basic. Recovers from pinning and allows move/attack on the same chit.
Coward: Replaces one Basic. Normal action replaced by "retreat towards safety" if nearby enemy outnumber friends.

Fizz: An extra Basic action, not replaced in cup.
Burn: An extra Basic action, replaced as usual, but if two are on the track at the same time, you OD.
Numb: When drawn, you begin ignoring the effects of one non fatal injury, until the end of the game. Not replaced.
Red Curtain: An extra Rage action, and Numb effect. Replaced as normal.
Shakes: Added to pot. If drawn, forces ganger to shoot up (as a free action) with his drug of choice immediately.

For now, I think that's it.

What do people think?
2:53 pm
Bridge over the River of Tears
I want to write a bridge like game, with random hands, and contracts, only with fantasy themed mercenary units instead of cards.
2:42 pm
Card/board game
Okay this is the brainstorm I had for a card/board game:

The board is simply a few locations, I was thinking 8 might be appropriate.
There are two card types. "Locations" which just say the name of a board area.

Specials, which have text that say what you do.

On your turn, you draw a card, then place a card face down anywhere on the board, and put any number (from 0 upwards) of your beads on the card. Going clockwise other players may also put their beads onto the card, then you flip it up, and if it's a location, everyone loses the beads on it, unless it's on it's location on the board, then they place them in that location.

If it's a special you do what it says

To win you have to do something... <_< Not sure what. So the game is about trying to get your opponents to waste their beads, by feigning strength and weakness, whilst trying to slip your beads through onto the board. Specials would be like. Return all beads you placed on this to your pool, all beads opponents placed on this are discarded. Place exactly 1 bead on this, if no opponent places beads on this, you add 5 beads to your pool. Discard all beads on this. Let me know any questions or complaints that you might have! : ) robert.
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