Board Game Design Update: Alchemy, Ale, and Party Games

It’s been a while since I blogged about the projects I started developing as part of National Game Design Month, and as part of a plan to keep myself organized, it’s time to discuss some progress and mention a couple new things I’m working on.

Existing Projects: In terms of board game design, I’ve really only moved forward on one of the board game designs, Gnomekiller Ale. I feel like I’ve made some pretty significant progress by trying to make the players feel like they’re actually running competing businesses with different resources and strategies. To that end, I’ve borrowed a page from Blood Bowl Team Manager and created four different decks for each tavern as well as a communal deck that each tavern can build from to refine and improve their own decks. This way, each player has his or her own method of getting Coins – the dwarf bar tries to brew frequently, the elf bar draws lots of cards, and the “hole in the wall” bar works to look good by comparison by sabotaging other players’ brews. I playtested this a little at DDXP in January, and it seemed to work well in concept; now I’ve got the game in a couple blind external playtesting groups to see how well it works with new players.

Another significant struggle I’ve been having with Gnomekiller Ale is artwork. Using a different picture for each unique card would require around 200 pieces of artwork. Even using the same piece of art for four or five cards, that would be a very significant cost for self-publishing or even for a decent prototype. I did, however, found a way around this when my wife and I were playing Innovation last weekend – icons. By putting icons on the prototype cards, I can make them still look professional and playable without the substantial art costs. Now, to make some icons 😉

New Project 1: Alchemy Wars. This game was inspired both by a contest on The Game Crafter to create a game with distinct roles and by the “X Dice” games by Steve Jackson Games and Tasty Minstrel Games. These games are fun, to be sure, but I felt that they largely lacked strategy and meaningful player interaction. Zombie Dice and Martian Dice really have no player interaction other than the opponent’s score being a motivator to push your luck (like Farkle with a theme), and Cthulhu Dice is too much of a “take that” game for my tastes. So I set out to create a simple game with dice-rolling as the primary mechanic that also gave the players distinct roles.

The theme of alchemy is one I’ve wanted to make a game out of for a while – I think it’s an interesting competitive quasi-historical context. I first tried a “push your luck” card game where you had increasing odds of blowing yourself up the further you went, then a variant of the same idea with a deck-building element. Both of those games didn’t feel right to me; they felt like playing War without the player interaction. I moved on to a dice game by more or less imposing the alchemy theme onto Farkle by giving the players the option to “buy” effects that enhanced normal six-sided dice as they tried to get up to 79 (the atomic number for gold), but that had its own problems – mainly that the game would require around 150 point tokens to work the way I wanted it to, and having more components to score than to play seemed like a poor design choice. After playing some “X Dice” and Elder Sign, however, I stumbled across an implementation that might work better, this time using custom dice.

In Alchemy Wars, you play the “role” of a guild trying to concoct a compound that can transmute lead to gold. You’re not trying to discover the formula – that’s been done. What you’re trying to do instead is make it more quickly than your opponents. To make the compound, you need Fire and Potions, which are obtained by rolling dice. If you roll more Fires than Potions, you blow up your lab (an important thematic element of any alchemy-based game if you’ve read any Discworld novels) and score no points. If you roll as many Fires as Potions or fewer Fires than Potions, you successfully process the alchemical reaction a given number of times, and each reaction produces between one and three doses of the compound (represented by blind draw of tokens). Another face on the die allows you to hire Staff, which introduce a number of effects (such as forcing an opponent to reroll a die or gain fewer compounds at the end of his or her turn). I wasn’t sure whether this was enough to give each player a distinct role as described in the contest rules, so I gave each faction a “Guildmaster” card at the start of the game; each Guildmaster can use staff of their element to perform an extra effect during the game.

This is the first game I’ve gotten to the full prototype stage (Gnomekiller Ale has always been missing art and graphic design as discussed above), and the constructed prototype has been ordered and is in the queue at The GameCrafter. I’m hoping to playtest at an upcoming board game meetup and get revisions in by the April 15 deadline.

New Project 2: Party Game. A few days ago, I was looking through some recent purchases, including In a Pickle and Rory’s Story Cubes: Actions, and I mentioned on Twitter that I want to try to design the kind of game that Gamewright would buy. To my surprise, I got a reply from their Twitter account:

With that kind of inspiration, I felt like I had to try to put together something, and neither Gnomekiller Ale nor Alchemy Wars felt like the kind of game that fit with Gamewright’s other releases. As such, I decided it was time to start on a party game (possibly one that I could even use at work). I’m a huge fan of party-style word games, but hadn’t tried to create my own yet. That changed as a result of the above exchange, and now I’m working on a party game where one player, the “Guesser”, needs to guess which words the other players will use when reciting a sentence using a particular word and theme. I’m really excited about it because it’s the first game I’m designing that actually draws upon my professional expertise, and I think I’ve worked out a mechanic to allow the “kid” version of the theme and the “adult” version of the theme (in terms of cognitive linguistic demand, not in terms of content propriety, you dirty, dirty minds) at the same time. Right now, I’m working on a proof-of-concept and trying to settle on a name – right now, my best guess for a name is “Best Guess” (it’s accurate to the game, works on a store shelf, and isn’t being used by any other game on BoardGameGeek), but I want to keep my options open.

New Project 3: Board Games and My Real Job. I don’t usually talk about my job on this blog, but in this circumstance, I’ve been blending my job with my hobby, so it seems appropriate. A few weeks ago, Out of the Box asked on their Facebook page about people who create their own games, and in addition to mentioning things I was working on, I mentioned that I was adapting existing games (including some of theirs) for speech therapy. A couple interested questions later, I decided I had enough material for a series of blog posts, the landing page for which is here. There’s currently three in the series, and I plan to add more at the rate of about once a week. So, if that’s the kind of thing you’re interested in, that’s how I’m using my board game hobby for professional enrichment.

I’m looking forward to developing all these projects, and I’ve got an upcoming school break to make a big push on progress. I think my goal for the break (in addition to finishing my non-board game projects like a new speech therapy app and a couple RPG adventures) is going to be to get work-in-progress, or WIP, pages up for all three games on BoardGameGeek so I can start getting more feedback and making some design decisions and pitchable prototypes made; if I can have one of these games pitch-ready by GenCon, I’ll be a happy camper.

-John

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One Response to Board Game Design Update: Alchemy, Ale, and Party Games

  1. Pingback: Game Design: The One Game a Month Program | John's Personal Blog

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