Game Convention Tip of the Day: Always Carry Cash

While we are not going to GenCon this year, this is some sage advice on “how-to” at a convention

Cooking Up Fun

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So you’re going to your first gaming convention and you plan on buying tons of games! But you don’t know what to do, carry your cash around in your pocket or just bring the good old plastic and swipe, swipe, swipe away. Both have their upsides and their downsides.

If you’re anything like me than you hate carrying around large sums of money in your pocket. Afraid you’ll drop some, or you’ll be stuck carrying your own body mass in little coins. So you use plastic, and you use it a lot. Well that fine, but at a gaming convention the green is key.

First of all not many smaller publishers or companies will have the cool iPad with the card slider on it. Or perhaps they don’t carry around the PayPal or you don’t have your PayPal set up yet. Perhaps you can’t even get a good enough signal…

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Micro Games….A New Prespective

What are these “Micro Games” all about and my expectations?

In the board gaming world micro games are one of the hot things people are talking about. What isn’t to like about them? They are portable, inexpensive, probably easy to learn, probably easy to play and playable almost anywhere. That all sounds great to me and yet when I play a micro game…..I always feel like there just isn’t enough game for me. Maybe my expectations are too high? I have never been able to get into micro games but I also felt that I was being unfair in some subconscious manner and could never put my finger on it.

A Change of Heart?

I was listening to the Whose Turn is it Anyways podcast about Vacation Gaming and Nate shared a story about introducing Love Letter to a couple ladies playing Uno on the train. They really enjoyed the game and they even made mention of where they could find the game to purchase. Suddenly it dawned on me that micro games have a micro barrier to entry. There is nothing scary about a micro game, “5-10 minutes to play and all the components fit in one hand.” Who wouldn’t at least give that game a try? I think we all know people who are quite happy to play their Unos, hearts and Spades and leave it at that. Micro games could be the answer to give the hobby game industry more traction among the mass market crowd and as a game designer I love that idea. I think games are a good way to learn and keep the brain active in a fun way. The wealth of benefits games have to offer should overpower the skepticism the uninitiated have towards hobby games, but that is a bigger subject for another post.

The Final Push

After listening to the story of spreading hobby games to people on a train, I was able to see the possibilities of micro games, but I was not yet moved to do anything other than cheer on others who were making micro games. I then listened to a Ludology podcast and Geoff Engelstein made a  great point about creativity. He made the point that restrictions on design parameters makes for increased creativity. This was the push I needed to make me want to do something with micro games. I got home that evening and I gave myself a few dice and 30 cards and I let my creativity go.

Results

I will always prefer a fuller game over a micro game. However, seeing the ability of a micro game to expand the ideas of hobby games and the challenge of designing a game with severe restrictions makes micro games very appealing to the designer side of my brain. I think it was also mentioned on the WTIIA podcast that full games could be turned into micro games. What a great way to build bridges to the games we make, the games we love and the hobby we love so much.

What has TGIK Games been up to?

Update of Current Games

Would like to post a little update of what we have been working on and what we have ahead for this week. The plan is to make this a regular feature on the TGIK blog…..no promises.

Charge!

We have started working on the artwork for Charge!. Nothing more to report than we have started it, but we will be posting some teaser pictures when we have something to show. We were able to create a basic walk through video for Charge! It is really rough and does not cover everything in the game we wanted it to, but we were in a pinch and needed to make something fast since the game was being tested at a local con and players needed a reference tutorial. Wen we made the first video, we knew we would be making a second, more full version. We started that video last weekend as we are happy with what we have so far. While the production value is far from professional, we are still happy with what we have. It is a little weird getting used to hearing my own voice on a walk through video but the process is more fun than I thought it would be. We also took the time to firm up the terms for each part of the game. We were having an issue with using various terms for the same things, so we decided to sit down and hammer out what we would use to name each pile and column. It finally feels like the rules are as complete as we can get them without taking them to an editor. Now that the rules are “done” and the game will be at GenCon, we are working on getting the PnP files ready for release. Along with the PnP files, we are working on making the game available to the public through The Game Crafter. It really depends on what kind of artwork we have available 3 weeks from now, but we want people to be able to pick up the game if they really like it and want to pick up a prototype copy before anyone else.

Dice Inc.

We have not been able to focus too much on Dice Inc in the past week. The most we have done with Dice Inc. is start to order the various parts required to make more prototype copies and we are starting to work on the PnP files. The only problem is that we do not have a finalized parts list so making a legit full PnP file is impossible at this point in time.  We have started talking about art concepts for Dice Inc, but with the focus being on Charge! we are not too worried about getting the art for Dice Inc hammered out in the near future.

Side Projects 

Chris

I have been working on a micro game based on the Three Musketeers universe. I have set some serious restrictions on myself and I want to see what I can come up with. I have also been building a few prototype parts for a yet to be named space mining game, Gravity Fields maybe. I am finding that with this game, making the prototype parts as the game takes shape is a good way to focus my efforts and cut out parts that feel like they are extra fluff or better used in an expansion. I don’t think I would design like this on a regular basis but I like what is forming so far and who am I to mess with a process if it seems to be working so far.

Aidan

Aidan and taken on the task of editing out videos and the mammoth task of working on the soccer/football team manager game we started two weekends ago. I have yet to see his notes, but we tried to work out some details about the how to’s and the what for’s and wow, sports games are hard. There are design decisions of what to leave out and how much do the cut mechanics take away from the realistic feel of the sport we are trying to gamify? I think I will stick to micro games this week, wish Aidan some luck!

What we have going on this week

Company Logo

We have decided on a few elements we want to be included in the TGIK Games company logo. We know we want dice and hats. We should see some early drawings later this week.

Dice Inc Walk Through

After we finish the walk through for Charge! we are going to start shooting the video for Dice Inc. We are going to start working on a script this week so we can hit the ground running. Dice Inc is also a slightly more complicated game than Charge! so the script is going to require more parts and more though into the timeline we use to teach Dice Inc.

Finish Charge! Walk Through

Hopefully next weekend we will finish shooting the second version of a Charge! walk through. The script is done and all we need to do is just sit down and film it. I am really looking forward to having it done and on You Tube for people to start getting familiar with the game.

Play Test of Dice Inc.

Last weekend we were able to play test Dice Inc. The big difference with this test was the fact that we had four players are the table for the firs time. All other tests have had only three people and the auction mechanic we have been using is a very different monster with four players.

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Our Goals for this Test?

We wanted to see our two sided auction system function in a similar way to how we hypothesized it would. A big feature of the auction we have not been able to test was the ability to switch sides in the middle of an auction. Now that we had four players, we were able to try out the switch function. We also wanted to try out the bond system we have that replaced the stock system we were using previously. We made the stock to bond change to make the math as simple as possible. We showed the game to Sarcastic Robot and the big comment was to simplify the math. We always knew the math was well, “mathy”; we just had not figured out a system we could use to fix it. Aidan thought up a bond system based on fixed payment amounts per outstanding bond and that makes the math much more manageable.

Who Was Testing?

Aidan and I were at the table along with two of our buddies, BJ and Tim (fantastic artist BTW). BJ is one of our main play tester who is great for his willingness to try out different strategies and is almost always trying to win. BJ has played Dice Inc on two previous occasions and has a strong understanding of the flow and mechanics of the game. Tim was the new guy to Dice Inc and I was particularly interested in how well we could teach Dice Inc in its current iteration. Just a side note, teaching a new game for the first time is a challenge for me. I have to balance my excitement for the game against the clarity required to properly teach a game. As I was trying to explain the game to Tim, I had to stop myself several times and wonder if this was the best way to present a particular part of Dice Inc. I felt bad for Tim, but he was a trooper and learned as we went along. Spoiler Alert: Tim’s post game comments were “That game was really fun, I keep thinking about it.”

What Did We Learn, What Did We Change?

We learned that that all the elements for the game we want to design are in place. The kinds of player interaction we are going for are there, they just don’t happen enough. We learned that while the auction mechanic is great fun, it can take a long time. We learned that there is a problem with front running, and I hate front running! We also learned that there is an inflation problem with each player’s ability to create as many bonds as they want. We learned that the floating effects have a major ability to force players to move around the board to find or avoid certain bonuses.

From these lessons we have make the following changes:

1) Two Round Silent Auction: We are not going to get rid of the regular auction system, but we need to consider the time required to play the game. If players want a quick system, they can use a two round silent auction system. I will save the details for another time since we have not tested with the silent auction. When we write the rules, we will have both systems outlined and allow players to pick what works best for their game night situation.

Before
Before
After
After

2) Pinning for Combat: We decided during the next test we are going to allow players to pin others into combat situations. While the on board “dance” that comes from battle mechanics is fun to watch, it was really difficult for players to get into combat. One of the ways for players to catch up is to engage in combat so we need to make combat more accessible. Again, since we have not tried it out, I will save the details for later.

3) Starting with two dice: Currently, we are starting with one die per player at the beginning of the game. Since only one new die is added to the board per round, the board felt empty and the reduced the amount of player interaction. We decided to add a second die for each player at the start of the game because one die seems pointlessly restrictive and having a board with more things on it is more visually stimulating.

New vs Old Hexes
New vs Old Hexes

4) Limit the total number of bonds per player: Front running was an issue in this game. I was in front for most of the game and my ability to issue as many bonds as I wanted made it very difficult for other to gain more dice. More die adds to a players income levels and as I got stronger my risk levels lowered, so issuing 20-25 bonds for me was not a big deal, and other players had to pay up big time for those bonds. Next time we play, we are going to limit total bonds to 25 per player. When player A wins an auction, the will have fewer total bonds to offer next round’s auction, this will in turn allow other players to have an advantage. Really please with this fix!

Piles of Money
Piles of Money
Paper Money has got to go, Foam!
Paper Money has got to go, Foam!

5) Ten Dollar hexes on the outer ring: So far, we have been placing all the hexes at random. We have decided to make the outside ring all ten dollar hexes. This is going to “force” players to the more valuable inner part of the board and will therefore increase the chances of player interaction….never a bad thing

Pause for Effects
Pause for Effects

6) Add more effects to the board set up: The floating effects made for some great board flow. What was missing was the effects! There were not enough of them on the board for our taste. Next time we play we are going to add 7 effects to the board at the beginning. The catch is that the effects will be face down when the players add their first two die to the board. We are doing this so that players have some unknown risk/reward installed into the initial set up. When all the dice have been placed, the effects will be revealed and play will begin.

Round Order
Round Order

Possibly 7) We are toying with the idea of allowing players to pay cash to roll up their die faces. We still need to figure out the cost but we see combat as a way to help weaker players defeat the stronger players and allowing for upgrades of certain die at certain times may serve as a good method.

Die Movement
Die Movement

Conclusion

We are very pleased with what Dice Inc has to offer. We are very early in the process but the base game is almost there. I believe we are two tests away from having a “set” base game. After everyone had gone home, I took the time to upgrade the prototype.

New Prototype
New Prototype

Indie Game Alliance: What a Wonderful Group

What is the Indie Game Alliance?

Indie Game Alliance (IGA) is a collective group of indie designers and publishers who have banded together to help one another get their games in front of the people who want to play them. When we decided to make our game design hobby into something more serious, we started looking at the ins and outs of the gaming industry. We learned very quickly that designing a fun game is not difficult, but testing that game and producing these games was expensive, time consuming and required exposure to large audiences at the various game conventions around the country. It was easy to see why designers are told that making money as a designer is next to impossible. Being able to travel to major conventions as a nobody would be a major challenge and there would be a massive amount of up front costs just to get notices by a large enough audience to make a name and gain a following. We decided that we would keep doing what we were doing and try to make a name for ourselves through local cons and social media….at least we were trying right? Along came a tweet from Matt Holden about the Indie Game Alliance and what an opportunity we think this is for small design studios and publishers. IGA has offered us a chance to get our games in front of countless play testers at local and big cons. The minion program IGA runs will give our games a chance to be played at Cons and FLGSs around the country and the feedback will be invaluable for the development of our games. IGA basically answers, for us, all of our concerns about how we can make a name for ourselves in the gaming industry.

Why we joined?

As I said before, IGA is exactly what we need to help TGIK Games find the types of gamers that want to play our games. Looking at what IGA has to offer and the way they have their model set up, made too much sense not to join. IGA has a free model where small shops that are just starting out can join and gain some benefit from IGAs minion program. For TGIK, this is perfect. We can look at their pricing structure and map out what we are able to pay for through the success of our games. If it takes a few games for TGIK to gain a following, that is ok, we can benefit from the IGA program until the games are able to support the program on their own. Even if TGIK wanted to join in at a lower level price point, the benefits vs the price are well worth to cost. When we look at our expected cost of travel to local and major conventions vs the cost of the IGA program and what the minion program has to offer, the best move is obvious, go with IGA. We joined because the versatility of what IGA offers fits perfectly with the growth of TGIK Games.

Why we think it is great?

We think IGA is great because it brings together designers and publishers who are in very similar positions. It is nice to know that there are designers out there that are in the same situation we are. Looking for ways to get our games tested by a lot of people and receive in return, reliable reports on play test sessions. I don’t have the words to describe how important testing and good feedback are to designers. Add in the fact that tests spread the brand of TGIK Games and the games we make at the same time, this is marketing gold.

What has it done for us lately?

Since IGA is just getting started, we do not have a lot of expectations. We are just happy to be part of the growing process and we have an opportunity to get to know Matt and learn IGA as it goes along. But in a very concrete way, we have already seen benefits from being part of IGA. We have sent a copy of one of our games to IGA and at this point in time, our game is going to be played at GenCon 2014. This is beyond our wildest dreams for this year. Even if the game is played one time, there is no way we could have dreamed of having one of our games make an appearance at GenCon without us being there, very exciting. On a local level, we have already been able to meet one of the IGA minions that happens to live in our area and we have started a gaming relationship with one minion on a face to face level.

Conclusion

If you are a small designer or a game player, you should take a serious look at the benefits of Indie Game Alliance. I have not even covered the benefits for minions but there is access to free games and a chance to see games while they are in the development phase. This could mean that minions could make a suggestion based on play tests and their suggestions could make it into the final product. From where TGIK Games sits, we do not see a downside for anyone involved at whatever level that are involved. We believe this is a game changing service being offered because an industry that is very difficult to make a name for yourself, IGA has offered a service that will change the way gamers can access new up and coming games while helping designers get their games “out there.” With an industry that seems to be growing in leaps and bounds, IGA has come along at the right time to help us and others grow along with it.