Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bakong: Why I Should Never Run A Game Company

As you may or may not know, I spend a lot of time communicating with people about games, and I'm learning more and more what it takes to run a successful game company.

And I couldn't do it - there are just too many things to balance.

For example: What games would I choose to publish? Right out of the gate, Game publishers have to decide whether they are targeting the hardcore or the casual gamer. There are publishers who do both - but you need a starting point, and veering too far from the starting point loses you fans. Asmodee has managed a middle-of-the-road strategy thus far - but they had a head start, as they are France's largest game publisher and had a number of excellent games to choose from.

Even so, were I in charge, I would have made some serious mistakes. For example, I would probably not have published Jungle Speed, which was (arguably) their first US hit.

I also would have passed on Bakong as being "too simple."

Bakong is very simple:

Start by laying out the "board" - basically, make a line of tiles from the starting camp to the Temple and back.

Then roll two dice. Use one die to flip a tile somewhere in front of you and use the other to move. There are hazards which can stop your movement or hurt you. Your move may allow you to pick up one or more emeralds. You may pick up some equipment to ignore one or more of the hazards. Picking up equipment and emeralds fills your backpack, by the way. You don't have room to carry everything you want.

Either way, each turn you have one decision: Which die do I use to flip, and which one is my movement die? If you manage to obtain equipment, it adds the further question, "Which piece of equipment is best for me?"

As soon as you reach the temple, you should take the largest Emerald still there and start back. The emeralds are large and impose some severe limits on space in your pack. In fact, if you have the biggest emerald, you can't fit the best equipment. The biggest emerald also prevents you from healing.

The first player to reach the Temple and return gets a bonus tile. After that, it's a matter of waiting to score.

You score points for Emeralds (the big one you'll have as well as the little ones), and lose points for wounds. Most points wins.

That's it. The game really is that simple.

It's a game that could do well if it found a spot on the shelves at Target or Wal*Mart. That's not to say it's a bad game - because it isn't. It's a very good game, and could very easily become an excellent gateway game, if given a chance.

It also fills a niche that is frequently overlooked by game companies: Games for children. There aren't many games which bridge the gap that falls between Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders and Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne. And most of these gap games aren't likely to be on display at GenCon, as they are mass-market.

Last year, we had some kids come to our booth to play games. The same five kids, over and over and over and over. While they could understand the rules enough to play the games, they just as clearly weren't grasping the strategy involved. This led to games where other people may have gotten negative impressions of a game because of how the kids played. These kids, for the record, were not dumb. They were just young.

If those kids are back this year, I'm gonna try to show them Bakong.

I'm also going to try to sell a copy to my friends Dawn & Jim. I think Eli is about the right age and attention span for this one.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

GenCon Games

GenCon Games
Originally uploaded by Gamethyme
As I'm sure you know by now, I work the Asmodee booth at GenCon. If you didn't know that already, then you probably haven't been reading very long.

So I'd been wondering what games we'd be focusing on at GenCon this year. I'm still not sure which games will be our focus, but, after receiving a package this evening, I now have a much better idea.

I was specifically told to be familiar with the rules for these games:

Bombay, Snow Tails, Dixit, Two expansions for Formula D, Bakong, You Robot, and Ca$h 'n Gun$: Live.

Not a problem. I also expect to play a fair amount of Giants, Jungle Speed, and Ghost Stories. And, of course, that old convention standby, Werewolves of Miller's Hollow.

This year, we're sharing Booth 1601 with Repos Production.

My lovely and talented wife, Stephanie, will be present again this year. It means that our booth has three languages covered - I speak English, Stephanie is fluent in Spanish, and, of course, the Asmodee and Repos folks all speak French.

We have less than a month to go until GenCon. Because of this, I'll be spending the next few weeks getting ready - it means my updates will be probably shorter than you've gotten used to. As long-winded as I've been lately, this might be a good thing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More Dungeon Twister Thoughts

Back to boardgaming.


In fact, I may not get back to roleplaying until after GenCon at this rate.

See, I have more Dungeon Twister 2: Prison info than I am allowed to share.

I just finished updating my DT Reference file. I can't upload it until the game comes out - and I haven't updated the "Rooms" tab, yet, either.

But I have some numbers on the new set that those of you who are numbers geeks will appreciate and the rest of you may find interesting:

One of the biggest complaints I've seen lately about DT is that the Hit is significantly more powerful than the Run. I don't necessarily agree with this assessment, but it looks like Chris has noticed it as an issue - the average Speed of this set is 3.75, and the average Strength is 1.875. It means that the speed is almost exactly equal to the overall average (which is 3.77) and the Strength is about .5 lower than the overall average (which is 2.361).

In fact, this box has the second-lowest Strength so far - only Fire & Water has a lower average Strength.

The three returning characters were known - Cleric, Wizard, Mechanork. The remaining five are ... different. And very interesting.

The "Human-Snake" that was previously mentioned has been renamed. He is now the Naga.

The "Loop-holes" are the Arrow-Slits which were introduced in Sylvan Creatures, and they will continue to be called Arrow-Slits in no small part because that is what the English-speaking fan community already calls them.

Item-wise, I don't think anyone will be surprised to see the Rope or Key returning - since the Thief isn't in this set, they are both pretty much essential.

LIDT Members have now seen three previews - an image of Room 37B, preview art and photos of La Traitresse (Backstabber), and information on her special ability. If you're not a paid member, these links will give you the main page.

I also still need Regional Managers and Tournament Judges. Please let me know if you're interested in either of these.

I've given up on trying to predict what I'll have ready next week. :) There will be a post, but I have no idea what it'll be. I do still have some things to say about roleplaying and systems and the like. I also have a lot to say about GenCon, which is now less than a month away ... so tune in next week.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

System: Player Expectations and Style of Play

Since I'm going to be talking about system and how it impacts games for a bit, I think that it would be good to start by defining system.

For role-playing, I define a system as follows:
System: A set of rules used to determine the success or failure of characters within a role-playing game.
There are other elements which nearly every system has, but they are all designed to support the core success/failure mechanism of the system. For example, most games have a character generation system of some sort.

The most common core mechanisms involve dice, and can be summed up in a single sentence - "Roll one die, add appropriate modifiers and compare to a target number." "Roll a number of dice. Count the number of those dice which equal or exceed a certain number."

Systems also provide reward systems. Most of the time, this takes the form of experience points which allow characters to change and grow.

Each system brings with it certain expectations, which can drastically color how players react to it.

Where do the expectations come from? A variety of sources.

The most important and influential piece of the player expectation puzzle is the game's reward system. In Dungeons & Dragons, defeating monsters1 and disarming traps give you experience points which are added to your total. At certain threshholds, you gain more abilities which make you more effective at defeating monsters and disarming traps. The system doesn't spell out rewards for outwitting NPC's or avoiding combat. This leads to a specific style of play.

In the Tribe 8 (and other Silhouette-system games), you gain experience for being involved with the game, for advancing the story, for staying in character, and for working as a team. Yes, you can get experience for defeating enemies, but you can potentially obtain more experience for a dramatic act of self-sacrifice than for that defeat.

In other games, survival is its own reward. Call of Cthulhu is probably the most infamous game in this respect.

Other games provide additional rewards - King Arthur Pendragon, with its Winter Phase allows players to build dynasties, not just characters.

While it's the major contributor, a game's reward system is not the only element which impacts a game's style of play. So what else influences player expectations?

Rules focus. In Ars Magica, for example, devotes more than two-thirds of the rules to the magic system. Not surprisingly, the game focuses on magic. In fact, the combat system is almost underdeveloped by comparison.

Skill Lists. Tales From The Floating Vagabond had a skill list which included, "Swing Nasty Pointy Thing with Panache." With a list like that players knew from the outset that the game didn't take itself too seriously. It's worth noting that the game (and a number of its supplements) are now available at Drive Thru RPG.

Interior Art. CthulhuTech is illustrated throughout, and there are a number of images that make me think, "I wanna be that guy."

Game Fiction. I'm not talking about the Dragonlance novels, here. Nearly every game includes one or more bits of introductory fiction. These are frequently incomplete and end with a cliffhanger of sorts before introducing the rules elements demonstrated by that fiction. More importantly, they give you an idea what the setting is.

So what about Universal Systems? That is: systems which don't tie to a specific setting or genre. Universal systems generally lack a specific rules focus, they have very diverse skill lists, and the interior art and game fiction are all over the map in terms of quality and flavor. GURPS, FUDGE, Silhouette, and d20 have all tried to be completely universal systems - how well do they succeed? I'll talk about universal systems next week.

1 Until fairly recently, "Defeating" always meant "killing." Now, if you can force them to retreat or flee, you get credit for defeating them.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Late This Week

I will have a post up this week - it'll just be late.

I'm still recovering from a (quite good) trip to North Carolina, where I didn't have any access to a computer and so wasn't able to get anything written.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Briefly Back to Boardgaming

Remember last week, when I said I'd probably have something to say about Dungeon Twister or Ghost Stories: White Moon or something?

Well, I do have something to say about Dungeon Twister. And a few other games.

See, I forgot that last weekend was Origins. And the SdJ announcement. Many congratulations to Rio Grande Games and Donald X. Vaccarino for winning both with Dominion.

Also, congrats to Archaia Studios Press and Luke Crane for Mouse Guard's upset win! I'll be ordering a copy from IPR after GenCon.

Remember when I mentioned that the LIDT was accepting paid members, now? Well, there is now a benefit to having paid: An exclusive preview of one of the DT2 rooms. Room 37B. It can be found here, if you are logged into as a paid member. The LIDT will also be handling tournaments and goodie distribution with the new edition. Information on membership is here.

I also tweaked the sidebar a bit - I now have a Google Voice account, so if you have a DT Rules Question that can't wait, you can call me. I don't know if it works outside of the US, but it doesn't hurt to try.

Next week, I'll talk more about System and RPG's. I promise. If this weekend's wedding in North Carolina doesn't kill me.