Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Apples to Apples. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Apples to Apples. Show all posts

Monday, January 16, 2012

Design inspiration

Working trademark for
"Gold on Mars"
Missing Unpub2 on Saturday inspired me to set aside a "designer day" of my own.  Since I had today off from work, I decided to sit down with "Gold on Mars" and nail down all the loose ends in my design.  My goal was to have a playable prototype by the end of the day.  I didn't quite get there, but I did get a good draft of rules for the commodities market written up and settled on the actual commodities and price structure that I think will work.  Everything will change with playtesting, of course, but I like my first cut to represent enough thought and planning that when it goes to table for the first time, it plays at least roughly well.

Space travel is still my major sticking point, and I wish I'd spent more time on it.  I think I finally settled on some rules for how much fuel is required to get to each planet, and how much fuel must be carried (or produced in situ) for the return trip.  I just don't want to get hung up on making players do too much math, or end up with such widely disparate transit costs among planets that a degenerate strategy develops to ignore distant mining sites in favor of those closer to Earth.

Another concern I have is the risk of a jackpot mining operation resulting in a runaway leader.  Mining is necessarily speculative, and has to have a major upside potential to justify the expense and risk of space travel, but if one player hits it big and others have mines that run dry, then the game simply ends up being an exercise in dice and card luck.  So once I do have a prototype, the first few playtests will have to expose the luck factors and point me in the direction of redesigning and reworking game elements to make it a contest of thoughtful risk management, more than just luck or puzzle-solving.

I do love a challenge.

***

Beer, wine, and Citadels
We did a fair amount of family gaming over the long weekend.  Saturday night saw us break in my dad's copy of Trains Planes and Automobiles.  We had a fun five-player session that saw the lead change hands several times before I finally won - almost entirely with railroad cities and without a single airport.  Sunday night we played a seven-player Sour Apples to Apples (publisher Mattel, strangely missing from mattel.com).   A Christmas gift from our oldest son, SAtA, like the original AtA, is a fun game for a big group.  (Lesson learned:  There's a big difference between the adjectives "immoral" and "immortal.")  And this evening, Kathy and I played another two-player session of Citadels in which she proved once more that she is living rent-free inside my head - and sometimes she even pulls the levers, tugs the strings, and pushes the buttons in there.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Family games - what works for both adults and kids?

As parents of boys spanning eight years in age difference, we've struggled to find family activities that work for all of us.  Naturally, my first choice for an indoor occasion is to play a boardgame - anything we can all agree on and enjoy.  In my experience, a game that appeals to kids as well as the adults in the family does not come along often.

The other day we tried a little game that my son got for his birthday called Pictionary Card Game (designer Brian Yu, publisher Mattel).  Unlike the original Pictionary, which requires players to draw diagrams and pictures, the card game has a set of pictographs - little cards with icons, sketches, and other abstract or symbolic drawings that can be combined or manipulated to prompt teammates to come up with the intended answer.  There are two levels of play - adult level, where the answers that teammates need to guess require a certain familiarity with culture and turns of phrase (like "Yellow Submarine"), and kid level, where the answers are more generic (like "ruler").  Each answer has an associated category (like "school supplies" for "ruler") so that players have a general idea of what they're trying to guess.

Sample pictograph cards used
in Pictionary Card Game
What we found was that when adults play with kids at the kids level, the adults will start shouting a range of generic answers to the category before the "clue-giver" has much chance to assemble the pictographs into any kind of clue.  For example, when "school supplies" was announced, people started calling out "paper," "pencil," "eraser," "chalk," etc.  In several cases, the right answer was stumbled on in a matter of seconds.  So the conclusion I reached is that PCG probably works well for kids among kids, and for adults among adults, but not in a mixed setting of adults and kids.  Other word-association games that have not always succeeded to bridge the adult-kid gap include Catch Phrase (which the kids love but which the adults tend to dominate) and Taboo.

Games that have worked well for us in a broad age range setting include Clue, Apples to Apples Junior (though not the original Apples to Apples), Pirateer, and Guillotine.  In larger groups, we've had success with Are You a Werewolf? as long as the participants are comfortable in a player-elimination game.  (If the group includes kids who are sensitive about getting "voted out," then Werewolf won't work.)

Trains Planes and Automobiles fits the bill as a family past-time in a group spanning a broad mix of ages - even more successfully than I expected when I first conceived and developed the game.  I am frequently and pleasantly surprised by the positive reactions I get from both children and adults when I demonstrate it at conventions or hear from people who have played it at home.  I mentioned in my last post that it had become a favorite of our friends' son and that they love the fact that they can get together and play it as a family without having to drag people to the table.  I think the principle reason is that TPA rewards good decision-making enough to keep grown-ups engaged but also has enough luck and balancing elements to keep everybody in contention for the whole game.  Kids feel as though they have a good chance to win, while adults enjoy playing a real game that is more than just a roll-and-move luck exercise.

Familia quod ludit una manet una.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Games that even the in-laws can play

Okay, to be fair, my mother-in-law may not be a convention-going serious Euro-gamer, but she likes to learn a new game or two, and she has really come to enjoy Settlers of Catan and Guillotine.  Even my father-in-law will jump in for a session of Word Thief.  So when they came to visit over the last several days, while the oppressive heat kept us indoors most of the time, the board game closet got visited quite often.  I had the opportunity to introduce them to a few games that they really seemed to enjoy.

First of all, I gave my in-laws a copy of Trains Planes and Automobiles and took the opportunity to show it off in true family-game fashion.  Although billed as a game for two to six players, I included an optional rule for seven or eight players.  So with both in-laws, three sons, my wife, and myself, we launched into a seven-player session - the only shortcoming being that I had to provide a spare game piece from another game to accommodate the seventh player.  I must say that as the game designer, I do very badly at my own game.  I kept chasing stories in locations accessible only by automobile - Vicksburg, Ciudad Juarez, and Phoenix* - while others jetted around from airport to airport, racking up assignments.  My oldest son Patrick overcame a late start and beat everybody to the final assignment to win the game.  I have to say, we all had a great time, and I'm really hoping to be able to demonstrate this game in the Junior Events room at World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania starting tomorrow.

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
Our game sessions over the last several days were frequent and fun.  My 15-year-old, usually so impulsive in push-your-luck games, turned out to have perfect timing in Incan Gold and won that game hands-down.  My father-in-law and other two sons pushed a lot of poker chips around the table playing Blackjack, in which my ten-year-old ended up winning his grandfather's house and car (or would have, if the titles were on the table). We had a great session of Apples to Apples that included Patrick's girlfriend.  My wife demonstrated her unstoppable command of word games in Word Thief.  We had several really fun games of Guillotine, which is always good for a laugh.  I was very pleased to engage my mother-in-law in Reiner Knizia's Ingenious, which is both intellectually and aesthetically satisfying - so much so that she insisted on a second game immediately.  And, finally, we introduced the in-laws to the notion of a co-op game with Pandemic, which we lost when the Player Deck ran out before we were anywhere near curing the black disease.  Our family has now managed to lose Pandemic in all three possible ways.

So the in-laws' visit became a smorgasbord of boardgaming fun.  The summer heat was never really a factor as we found great entertainment right in our own home and in the good company of family.  And that's what vacations are really all about.

* Now, I should note that I'm perfectly aware that you can fly to any of these places today, and might even have been able to do so fifty years ago.  But for purposes of making TPA interesting, I only put airports in about a third of all cities on the map, and provided rail service only to another third.  So there are many cities on the map that, in the game, can only be reached by car.  That's what makes it a challenge.