A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Prototype

February 21st, 2015

So if you follow the weather in the US you know that we seem to be having another mini ice age.  Cabin fever has set in big time.  But this isn’t a complaint about productivity or cannibalism.  I decided to spend a little money and move my game prototype from sleeves and paper with text to actual cards and non scrounged up tokens from my own board game tokens.

So I made mock ups of the cards in photoshop and sent them out to Printerstudio.  The cards came back and they were excellent and pretty reasonable as far as price goes.  I bought some wound tokens and other items from MeepleSource and those arrived and work great.

But while I was waiting for the cards and tokens a funny thing happened.  I just sat down and started writing out the rules for the space strategy game that I have had in the back of my mind for a long time.  And like Athena, it just sprung from my head fully formed onto the pages.  So within a day I had the rules.  Within two days I had a prototype of a scavenged pieces up and running.

So now I don’t know what to do.  I’m going to have to choose one to move forward with and it needs to be a winner.

Both games are 2-4 players and have a nice mix of conflict and solo goal based play elements.  What I mean by that is you can choose to interact with other players or try and just play the system and go after victory points.  Figuring out when to do either is part of the strategy puzzle.

One is fantasy themed with swords, magic and a really clever push your luck mechanism.  It’s got some light rpg level up mechanics in which your “character” gets stronger as you acquire weapons, skills, spells, allies etc..  So you have to balance that with actually going after the objectives that will win the game.

The other is a mini space opera game with a tile based sector map, capital ships, attack dice, pd/ew dice and space carrier dice.  It’s got lots of resource cubes and operation card piles that you have to set up and advance to have fleet battles and invade planets.  You can expand and exterminate or just trade and mine exotic resources from planets you explore and claim.  You have 2 secret objective cards that you get from your high command and if achieved give you bonus Victory Points when the end game trigger goes.

That’s just scratching the surface for both games actually.  I’m going to have to pick one to push forward on.  Having researched the production process a bit, the component list for both these games is pretty similar and will be a decent capital investment.  I’m going to keep playing and testing both before I make a decision.

Won’t be anytime soon at least.

Here is a look at what my Fantasy Strategy Card Game looks like.  It’s titled “Assassins of Vance”

Decision Space Analysis

January 22nd, 2015

The phrase “present interesting and meaningful decisions” has become such a mantra in designer speak that I almost get a little annoyed when I hear myself tossing it around or run across it while reading about other designers. In sports you have a worn out phrase “Deliberate practice and meaningful games.”  I’m always trying to be wary of groupthink.  I have run across it so often in the course of my life that I’m always on the look out for it.  The herd can find water together as well as walk off a cliff together.  In the case of “interesting decisions” or “deliberate practice” I think the group has found a solid nugget of wisdom.  The debates on the meaning of “meaningful” (or that other bogeyman called “balance”) sometimes make me wonder about the cliff.

Back on track though. When I studied electrical engineering back in the early 80′s one of my light bulb moments was learning about the Laplace transform. You get a whole new picture of a signal by doing a Laplace transform and going from the time domain to the frequency domain. This idea that you could do a mathematical transformation on something and see hidden data and meaning was astounding to me at the time. I’ve tried to apply the concept wherever I can. So with a game design I like to transform it into the decision domain or space and see what it looks like.  I don’t use integral calculus of course but I try to draw out a map of all the decisions in the game and how they interact.  Often it starts out like a simple flow chart or even just a list.  But if you get creative you can work the elements around visually to help figure out how the decisions interconnect.  This can also help you figure out whether decisions are interesting or meaningful.

Key Decisions for my board game

Play positive Guild Card to Mission that I want to win OR play negative Guild Card to Mission that I want to deny opponent

Decide Strategy for round based on my resources/Influence Points (IP) versus opponents’ resources/IP

Decide on use of Interrupt Text on any Guild Cards I have versus other useful text on cards i.e Guild Cards have split text options

Choose 2 of 8 options for my turn during round of turns (8 rounds total for 2 or 4 player game)

If need to rebuild resource base then decide on

1) visit  guild healer

2) take guild stipend

3) buy item card

4) buy spell card

5) charge a spell card

6) take secret objective cards

7) play guild card for “Guild Event”

8.  Attempt Mission Contract card to earn Influence Points then decide which mission

Decide on use of Guild cards, Item cards, Skill cards, Spell cards and Fate Tokens to accomplish challenges on sequential stages of mission challenge track

Decide which of the three face up challenge cards to attempt for each stage of the mission contract card.

Decide on how many wounds you can afford to take while attempting mission contract card challenges.

Decide on how far to push luck in mission/Abort Mission. i.e. multiple reward levels

Opponents’ Turn Decisions

Decide on use of Guild Cards with Interrupt Actions

Post Turn Decisions/Influence Bidding Phase

Based on gold stockpile (mostly from stipend and mission rewards) decide on bidding strategy for number of influence card auctions and opponents wealth/need for IP

Bid on Influence Cards based on need of IP, mission type matches to accomplished mission contracts and opponents’ positions

A Man’s Got To Know His Limitations

January 12th, 2015

I borrowed that from Dirty Harry.  But it’s a good piece of advice when approaching the design of a board game.  It might be better to rephrase it as a designer should know his medium’s limitations.  This is especially true when you are moving from computer game design to board game design.  Now, I’m not saying that board games are inferior or that computer games don’t have their own inherent limitations.  But before I started designing my debut game, I tried to first go over some pitfalls that I might encounter switching gears. Now I have actually putzed around with board game design for a long time but never with the intent to have it result in an actual playable board game.  Believe me when I say that I have notebooks full of unpublished proto-types.

So here are three big things that I thought I needed to consider.

1) Computers are great at house keeping, book keeping and data management.  Board games not so much.  As much as I loved setting up Avalon Hill’s Rise and Decline of the Third Reich when I was a teenager, I don’t think I ever actually finished a game.  There was that time when I spent a week planning my move through the Low Countries and the die rolls went to hell and I threw the board game up.  I should actually apologize to my younger brother for that.  But beyond that, the counters, tables, brp management etc. where a huge issue in finishing turns.  For a teenage kid there were a lot of moving parts and I remember reading the rules over and over until the paper pages were disintegrating.

There are probably much better examples, but in my mind RaDotTR was a game that had a lot of book keeping.  I remember an old SPI game called War of the Ring that we set up when I was 10 years old during the course of an entire night until 3 am and then we fell asleep before we could play. The game seemed overwhelming.  My point is that computers can facilitate playing huge hex and counters games to an amazing degree.  Automating things like supply, difficult rules, large numbers of playing pieces etc. I can say that I have actually finished Gary Grigsby’s Second Front/War in the East games several times, to the point where I had vacation homes in the Urals.

Now there is a place for mega hex and counter games in everybody’s collection but in general I think the modern designer has to limit the number of pieces in the game space.  Since the dopamine seems to be activated mostly by having players manipulate distinct cogs in meaningful ways i.e. tough choices, decisions etc., keeping the number of cogs/agents within a manageable scope is a probably a good idea. It’s also easier to manage the data for those limited agents in a board game space.  5 Dreadnought’s with individual cards tracking weapons, armor, ecm, life support and damage control is going to be a lot more manageable than 10 plus 20 battle cruisers, and 5 destroyer support squadrons.  Plus you have to consider physical space on a table.

In short, I resolved to keep the moving parts of the game limited in scope if at all possible.  I still ended up with some mission creep but in the end I was able to keep a handle on the amount of data that players needed to keep track of if they didn’t have mr. computer to do the heavy lifting.

2) Computers can present data in clever, informative or helpful ways. Even a simple thing like attaching a weapon card to a player card can benefit from a computer’s processing ability.  Poof.  The new +1 attribute for the magic sword is now displayed on top of the character’s combat attribute.  With a board game you always have to remember to add the +1. How many goblins have escaped death because a computer wasn’t around to add the +1? Or what if you have a card that says something like change a combat icon of your choice into a stealth icon.  You play the card and Poof, the computer changes the icon from a sword to a cloak and dagger.  In the board game world, you play the card, sing the imagination song from South Park and tell everybody that the icon is now a cloak and dagger icon.  Just take care not to forget that if you somehow end up back on that icon at a later point in the game.

It’s not an impossible task but the designer needs to keep these changes in game state data in mind when coming up with all the fun rule breaking cards, tokens, dice etc.

3) Computers make hidden information very easy to implement.  As an impartial judge, a computer can show some players pieces on the board and hide that information from others.  It can even present false information.  This was something I really loved working with when I designed Solium Infernum.  Stealth is so much easier to work with in a computer game.  The computer can process the visibility data and then present it to whichever players can see it.  When I worked on Armageddon Empires I had a lot of fun building the stealth systems.

Now board game designers have some tricks that can be used to hide information, show false information or permit bluffing.  But in general it’s a lot more difficult.  Playing a card face down is a start but unless every player plays a face card down into a pile (blank cards provided for passes) and the pile is shuffled, there is still vital information being conveyed about who is messing with you via the face down card.  In other words providing the anonymous screw you card takes a bit of work.

I’ve implemented some hidden information mechanics in my upcoming game.  Among other mechanics I have a bidding phase at the end of a round once every player has taken their turn for the round.  You can spend gold to buy important cards that provide both Influence Points (Victory Points) and passives on the cards that can be very beneficial. Each card has a minimum bid number that must be met.  Players bid by using a 20 sided die and holding their hand over the die.  All bids are then revealed simultaneously and the highest bidder wins with special rules for ties of course.  The number of auctions is always 1 less than the number of players. You can always see how much gold each player has in their stockpile but there are still tons of fun interactions to be had and bluffing and verbal cues and harassment can be very effective. Trying to figure out what your opponents strategy is also plays a part.  How badly would they want that card  Does it synergize with other cards they have showing? How much gold will they need on their next turn to accomplish their goals.  Wheels within wheels.

So to recap.  I’ve approached the design of this game acknowledging that moving from computer games to board games means changing my mind set a bit to avoid some of the obvious pit falls.  I hope that as you see more of the design you will agree that I’ve managed to avoid the lethal traps at least.

New Year, New Direction

January 3rd, 2015

Happy New Year!

I’ve been selling computer games for over 7 years and it’s been a great ride.  Selling games directly from this website has been an increasingly difficult task. My programming skills are so tied to an aging and abandoned development platform that making even a niche title like my previous games is a dubious proposition at best.  So I’m leaving the digital space and moving over to the card board arena where I hope my design skills can shine.

It’s a natural transition since my games have all been very board game like.  I hope that has been part of their charm. I will naturally continue to support all my customers with tech support and downloads of lost purchases. And I will continue to sell my digital games and support them as well for as long as they keep running.  God Bless windows compatibility mode. :)

But my next game will be a board game and I will have come full circle.  About 10 years ago I spent large chunks of my day packing and shipping physical goods.  I hope to discover that a lot of progress has been made in the logistics of processing and shipping physical goods.  I know that my garage can’t store them.

I have a working prototype of a 2-4 player game that involves players trying to accumulate enough “influence” points to win the game.  The theme is a fantasy setting set in a fictitious city of splendor named Vance. I’ll reveal a lot more about the theme and mechanics as things progress. In general it is played in rounds with each player choosing 2 of 7 possible actions.  It involves a card and dice system, screw you cards played face down and an end of round secret bidding phase for important cards from a special deck.  The currency is gold coins as befits the fantasy setting.

I’m really proud of the design and I hope that my old customers from my computer games will give it a try when it’s available.  In a few months I should have enough materials to get an announcement out and an entry up on Board Game Geek and my Cryptic Comet website as well.

I’m also going to try and keep this blog updated with information on the design process for this game as well as an occasional general game design entry.  My new year’s resolution is to do 1 entry a week so hopefully that will work out better than my diet resolution.

Best,

Vic

Rock Paper Shotgun – Humble Bundle

September 4th, 2014

Apologies to all for the lack of updates on this blog.  As you have probably figured out my game making has been on a hiatus.  But today is a big deal for Cryptic Comet’s future.  The wonderful gang at RPS has included Armageddon Empires in it’s 7th Anniversary Humble Bundle Weekly selection.  It’s a huge honor.

https://www.humblebundle.com/_widget/weekly

So what does the future hold in store for Cryptic Comet?  I am working on a new game.  It’s a turn based strategy game with a map, units, locations and very board game like.  The idea is for the player to use a completely different rule set than the 4 AI’s that he is competing against.  I don’t want to reveal the setting but I think it is going to be pretty far out there.  The player is besieged on all sides and has to manage limited resources to hold off the AI’s until a certain objective can be achieved. Rorke’s Drift is a big inspiration for this but there are no Zulu’s and your victory condition is pretty nihilistic…so it’s Rorke’s Drift meets the end of John Carpenter’s The Thing.  I’ve always wanted to make this game.

Occult Chronicles 1.07 Sale

October 15th, 2013

The Occult Chronicles 1.07 update is now available.  In conjunction with this release Cryptic Comet is also having a Halloween sale. You can purchase the game for the spooky price of $13.13 by following this link

More information about the game is available here

Update Installation:

You can download a .zip file or a self extracting .exe file.  Once you have saved the file to your computer, locate the folder that was created when you extracted the full game.  In most cases it is called OccultChronicles.  Go to this folder and delete a sub folder called GameData.  Now double click on either the .zip or self extracting .exe and copy the files to the OccultChronicles folder. You will be copying over a new GameData folder as well as replacing two files: MainIFace.cxt and GameEngine.cxt.  When you start the game it should now read 1.o7 in the bottom left corner of the main menu.

Changes and Improvements:

Added 2 New Encounters for the basement/dungeon levels. One is a tribute to an old D & D dungeon nemesis and the other tips its hat to a famous B.P.R.D. agent…no not the big red guy.

The item numbers on the right side of the item tray now turn green when you have an item that can be used during a challenge but that tab has not been selected.

Horror challenges now only happen once for each specific named encounter. i.e. if you have seen the zombies random encounter you don’t get the horror challenge again if you happen to bump into more zombies later on

The frequency of random encounters has been decreased further

The intensity of health loss and sanity loss cards has been toned down significantly to reduce the chance of large number penalties in a single failed encounter if you are at moderate or less health or sanity points. i.e. the more severe algorithm operates when you have high health and sanity points

Numerous bug fixes and display issues corrected

Numerous text errors corrected

Occult Chronicles Released

August 20th, 2013

Today is the anniversary of H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday oddly enough.  So the release version is done and the website has been updated to reflect that the game is officially out.  Just a mumbo jumbo formality but there you have it.  A big thanks to all those who sent me feedback and bug reports both by email and forum.  I’m going to keep improving the game over the course of the next several months.

Occult Chronicles Update 1.06

August 5th, 2013

Sorry this has taken so long.  I did some experimenting with some game play changes that ended up being dead ends and I had a phantom bug with some of the Major Arcana that had me second guessing some of the laws of physics.  It was one of those ultimate Doh! moments where you realize that computers just do what they are told and in the end the Machines will probably exterminate us for just that reason.  Moving on.

This will be that last update before the game goes to release mode in a week.  After solving the mystery of the Major Arcana bug, I feel like the parts inside are moving pretty smoothly.  I will be continuing updates for a while implementing balance adjustments and improving the UI.  I’ve seen lots of very reasonable and smart suggestions in the forums and via emails which have been very helpful.  A big thanks to all those who have taken the time to send me feedback in any manor.  I don’t always respond but the feedback is very appreciated.

Installation:

You can download a .zip file or a self extracting .exe file.  Once you have saved the file to your computer, locate the folder that was created when you extracted the full game.  In most cases it is called OccultChronicles.  Go to this folder and delete a sub folder called GameData.  Now double click on either the .zip or self extracting .exe and copy the files to the OccultChronicles folder. You will be copying over a new GameData folder as well as replacing two files: MainIFace.cxt and GameEngine.cxt.  When you start the game it should now read 1.o6 in the bottom left corner of the main menu.

Changes and Improvements:

-Fixed display bug for Spray and Pray
-Fixed display bug for Full Auto
-Fixed display bug in trick card presentation when max trick cards on board had been reached and certain special abilities had been triggered
-Fixed display bug in several skill cards
-Fixed all edges that bump item special abilities with a random number based on the edge level
-Fixed Quick Draw edge not working properly when condition was valid
-Fixed Inventory Display problem where cards could display while tray was retracted.
-Fixed roaming monster duplication bug which could occur in some rare cases where roaming monsters bumped into each other
-Fixed bug where mission specific random encounters were occuring in innappropriate locations
-Fixed wording of description on story token called “Growing Confidence” to indicate that it is for Combat Challenges only
-Fixed bug with doors not opening after multiple level transitions
-Fixed bug with Fountain of Blood not reseting in some rare situations
-Fixed bug with ammo occurance boosts caused by other edges conflicting with the trigger number calculation
-Fixed bug where some roaming monsters would flip flop between rooms when initial contact with the player was lost
-Fixed bug where quests could be removed before completion if a roaming monster triggered the encounter while moving
-Fixed bug in map generation where collapsed floor could occur above locations that blocked out landing room
-Fixed bug where some encounters had duplicates placed when encounter pool ran out
-Fixed bug in AI pathing routine for roaming monsters where other roaming encounters blocked pathing even after look ahead planning had returned a move possible result
-Fixed movement permitted bugs on some tiles where graphics indicated movement was not permitted
-Fixed bug in random selection of some items when rewards were generated
-Fixed bug in the input of luck attribute on random encounter generation
-Fixed bug in generation of Major Arcana cards during rewards phase
-Fixed bug in map generation that caused unconnected corridors to block tunnels connecting pit traps in some cases
-Fixed bug in map generation that put several escape or die traps in inappropriate locations
-Increased inter-connectivity of corridors in 3rd sub level (Catacombs that run under the mission level)
-Mindshield Psychic Talent now converts non Face cards as follows: 1 or 2 Wands = Page, 3 or 4 Wands = Knight, 5 Wands = Queen and 6+ Wands = King
-Each time you move into a sublocation within a room, there is a chance based on your wands, pentacles and luck attributes that a secret door (if one exits) will be revealed inside the room that you are currently in
-Seeing the same random encounter in a row should be slightly less likely
-All final mission encounters now have chances for Instant Death or Instant Insanity result cards (as appropriate) to be generated if you fail the challenge

Occult Chronicles Update 1.05a

July 12th, 2013

This is an update for a bug that crept into 1.05. It will fix repeated script errors after you have fled from wandering encounters in some conditions.  It also has some other minor bug fixes. I would recommend that all players update to 1.05a.  My apologies for the inconvenience.

Installation:

You can download a .zip file or a self extracting .exe file.  Once you have saved the file to your computer, locate the folder the was created when you extracted the full game.  In most cases it is called OccultChronicles.  Go to this folder and delete a sub folder called GameData.  Now double click on either the .zip or self extracting .exe and copy the files to the OccultChronicles folder. You will be copying over a new GameData folder as well as replacing two files: MainIFace.cxt and GameEngine.cxt.  When you start the game it should now read 1.05a in the bottom left corner of the main menu.

Occult Chronicles Update 1.05

July 8th, 2013

Installation:

You can download a .zip file or a self extracting .exe file.  Once you have saved the file to your computer, locate the folder the was created when you extracted the full game.  In most cases it is called OccultChronicles.  Go to this folder and delete a sub folder called GameData.  Now double click on either the .zip or self extracting .exe and copy the files to the OccultChronicles folder. You will be copying over a new GameData folder as well as replacing two files: MainIFace.cxt and GameEngine.cxt.  When you start the game it should now read 1.o5 in the bottom left corner of the main menu.

Changes and Improvements:

Fixed bug in shift arrows in personnel file.
Ammo, Charge and Courage is now consolidated when the item choice screen appears for deciding where to assign the points.
Fixed problem where winning mission or running out of time and failing mission would not delete the Reaper mode save game file.
Fixed rare bug where generation of pentacles item for a reward would cause a script error if the item had already been discovered in a previous encounter.
Fixed Atlantean Lens.
Fixed Strange Vial.
Fixed Clue text for Forbidden Knowledge mission.
Fixed Sign of Malachim.
Fixed Glasses of the Overworld.
Fixed Statue Garden movement error.
Fixed bug in health and sanity loss amelioration by some edges.
Fixed bug in gong encounter.
Fixed bug in clearing result card display after certain item abilities were used.
Fixed bug that could cause wounds and impairments to be removed when an item should have been lost instead.
Fixed numerous typos.

The UI for the claim item display now lets you view the newly acquired item in detail by selecting it with a left click so that you can compare it to items you already have in your inventory when deciding what items to keep and which ones to discard.

The expertise coins number displayed in the Personnel Folder is now red when the story icon that prohibits spending tokens is active and clicking on a space to add a coin now brings up a dialogue box explaining the problem.

The amount of ammo, charge or courage remaining for a special option added by an item is now displayed on the encounter dialogue UI.

Clicking ‘Ok’ on the targeting display when you have not yet selected any targets for an item’s ability now negates any targeting actions but does allow for card draws that were part of the items special ability.

Some characters have been excluded for use when entering a save game name.

The story speeds have been adjusted so that you have 10% more time on average to complete your mission. In standard speed this amounts to 110 extra turns on average.

Psychic Pushback can now turn positive health and sanity rewards into negative effects after you have won a challenge. Your pushback is divided by two and then a random number is generated. If the number is less than the halved pushback number then the result is switched from positive to negative. The pushback is then halved again for the next check on a positive result card for health or sanity.

Some of the psychic edges have had their maximum edge level reduced.

Added an encounter in the dungeon torture chambers that will help investigators find the final mission location.

Altars of the various abominations now have a much improved chance of generating a Major Arcana or Talisman reward.

Reduced the general chance of random encounters by 20%.