Baseball Quest! Design Blog #2: Theme Dilemma

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is whether or not to try and “reskin” Baseball Quest! into something less sport-centered. I’ve read a lot of people on BGG saying that sports games are traditionally a hard sell in the gaming market.

Originally I saw Baseball Quest! as a “fantasy” baseball game. Think gelatinous cube first basemen, goblin shorstops, rock golem catchers, and so on. After some research I found that there’s at least one other game that has done a similar idea for a theme (though, from what I gather, with very different core gameplay): Fantasy Fantasy Baseball. They were able to reach their Kickstarter goal running with it, so that does give me some hope. Blood Bowl also is another successful game that took a somewhat similar approach to theme (though I’m sure having the Warhammer license didn’t hurt).

But I’m wondering if a “fantasy” baseball game is enough of a difference from traditional sports to make it something marketable. What do you think? If it’s not different enough, then how do I “reskin” my game into something more appealing that still makes thematic sense with the game’s core rules?

One option I’ve come up with is the idea of a jousting game. Perhaps instead of a pitcher, the player would draft a champion that would ride against a team of challengers over the course of several tilts? Instead of trying to guess pitches, the jousters would target different spots on their opponent’s armor. One challenge here occurs when the challenger scores a success, as there are no baserunners in jousting. As a solution, points could just be awarded based on each individual success. Additionally, there are no positional requirements on a jousting “team” like there are on a baseball one.

Past this, I’m a bit stumped on other ideas.

So, what do I do? Do I hope that I eventually get some great art that sells people on the “fantasy” baseball theme? Or do I “reskin” and rework the game so that it fits some other gamer-friendly theme? Let me know what you think!

 

 

Baseball Quest! Design Blog #1: Play Ball!

Welcome to the first in a planned series of posts that will document the creation of my first fully fleshed-out game, Baseball Quest! In this space I hope to include my thought processes, troubles, successes, and evolution of the game as it’s made. It should act as a log for me to reference during the process, as well as a window into game design for any others looking to create their own game

The Idea

In my first post on boardgame design, I talked a little bit about where the idea for Baseball Quest came from. I’ll expand on that a bit here.

I had the idea that I wanted to create a game based on a sort of rock, paper, scissors guessing contest that involved more strategy and decision making than a typical game of RPS. I thought that if I could balance things correctly, I could create a system that encouraged some really interesting head-games, bluffs, and strategies.

The guessing game between the batter and pitcher in baseball seemed a natural theme to match up with this system. I figured that pitchers could select pitch types from their repertoire and hitters would have to guess what the pitcher was throwing. Different pitchers and hitters would have different stats (currently based on 3 tiers of color, with red being the best, green the worst, and yellow in the middle), adding a layer of strategy to the match up.

I also liked the idea of incorporating some sort of deck-building facet to the game. I imagined players, over the source of the game, creating lineups and bullpens that would line up strategically against their opponent’s.

I also decided that giving the game a fantasy-theme would allow for both some interesting mechanics and abilities as well as a more boardgame player-friendly

So, with these basic ideas in mind, I started brainstorming, writing, creating, and playtesting.

Where I am now

It’s been about a month since I first started putting ideas for Baseball Quest down in a Google Doc. Generally, when I’m working on a new project, I start with a sort of stream of consciousness-style document where I put down just about any idea or question that pops in my head. As I continue to work, this document gets refined, changed, and added on to. Eventually I take the ideas I like and rewrite them in a more organized way on a separate document, but I find that the freedom of the brainstorm is key for me to coming up with new ideas.

Since that month I have created a set of rules, two starting lineups of nine “replacement-level” players, 46 draftable hitters with a variety of special abilities, 12 starting pitchers, and 20 relief pitchers.

I’ve been able to playtest the game a few times, though not as many as I’d like. During one of the playtests I was able to watch a match played between two friends. Seeing two others play the game offered some great insights and encouragement: they understood the rules, had fun (including some genuine shouts and cheers), and allowed me to see things that I might want to work on that I might have missed had I been one of the players.

Gameplay Preview

The main feature of Baseball Quest! is the mind-game-like matchup between the hitter and the pitcher. Here’s an example of an at bat between a power hitting 2nd baseman, “Utley,” and the “Power Lefty.”

matchup

This is a good matchup for Utley. He has a red to green advantage over Power Lefty’s Curveball, which is huge for a hitter. His changeup matches yellow to yellow, and he is only down one tier in the fastball category with his yellow vs. the Power Lefty’s red. Luckily for Utley, the Power Lefty doesn’t throw a slider which is Utley’s weak point.

face-down

Here each player has placed their choices for pitch selection face-down in front of them. Does Utley try to sit on a curveball? Assume that Power Lefty is going to try to pump fastballs by him? Maybe he’ll do something unconventional and throw two changeups and a curveball. Let’s see what happens.

reveal

 

Not too bad for Utley! He correctly guessed that a fastball was coming first and that the Power Lefty would try and sneak a curveball in for the last pitch. If he had guessed changeup for the middle pitch instead of a curve, he would have worked a walk (or have the option to swing away in his most favorable matchup). Let’s see now what the dice decide. Since the pitch selection resolves from left to right, Utley’s manager will roll a yellow die and Power Lefty’s a red–the pitcher has an advantage, but in a game like baseball anything can happen.

dice-roll

Ah, a 1 on the red die! Poor luck for the Power Lefty! Utley rolled a 3. Normally a win by 2 is a single, but because Utley is an all-star with the “power” ability, he is able to drive the ball for a double. A token runner would be placed on second, Utley would go to the bottom of the deck, and the new batter on top would be up.

What’s Next?

At this point I just need to continue playtesting and fine-tuning the game for maximum fun. There are plenty of questions that I’ve been asking myself: Do abilities need tweaking? Should their be more players? Do the baseline stats work and encourage maximum fun? Is there any part of the game that should be sped up or slowed down? Are relievers getting used, or are they just collecting dust? Do I need a game board, or are cards and a few tokens enough?

Hopefully next time I’ll be able to address some of these questions, give another gameplay example, and reflect on some more playtesting.

The Others: 7 Sins Review: Worthy as the object of your Greed?

Number of Players: 2-5

Honest Playtime: 90 minutes to 2 hours

Playthroughs: 4 (Once as the Sin and three as a member of F.A.I.T.H.)

Overview: The Others: 7 Sins is an us vs. him game of tactical combat and tense-decision making with strong horror and science fiction themes; think of Event Horizon set on Earth (with more guns) and you’d be pretty close. It was developed by Eric M. Lang and released in 2016.

One player takes on the role of an embodiment of one of the seven deadly sins: Wrath, Pride, Sloth, Greed, and so on. The Sin player summons monsters, spreads fire and corruption, and generally makes life pretty terrible for the heroes and citizens of Haven–the fictional city where the game takes place.

The remaining players take on the role of members of F.A.I.T.H. (Federal Authority for the Interdiction of Transdimensional Horrors), a group of heroes that range from a werewolf, to a vampire, to a high-tech sniper, to a female Nick Fury-esque shotgun wielding, eye-patched leader. The heroes will work together to complete missions, clear corruption and fire, and, hopefully, drive the Sin from Haven. Many will not survive.

Gameplay: Games begin with the Sins player choosing their Sin of choice and the players together choosing which scenario and map set-up to play on. There are 3 main scenario types, each with different themes and missions for the heroes to complete: terror, corruption, and redemption. One terror game I played saw the city of Haven engulfed in flames and monsters. A redemption mission tasked the heroes with rescuing innocents from all over the maps. Corruption, I thought, was the most interesting mission type. During this game each hero is assigned a hidden “dark past” card that is flipped when their corruption meter fills. These range from annoying–the hero takes some damage–to terrible–the hero is entirely corrupted and joins the Sin player’s team. There’s enough variation between the mission types to keep things interesting and cause for a change in strategy. The heroes win when they complete their mission objectives, and the Sin player wins when the heroes enough are killed off and they can no longer muster any additional reinforcements.

There are four different hero classes for the FAITH players to utilize: fixers, leaders, brawlers, and shooters. Each hero brings their own unique abilities and stats to the game: the vampire brawler Morgana heals a wound every turn; the shooter Brad can detonate explosives that kill monsters but leave behind fire; and the demonic brawler Thorley can tank for other heroes. Over the course of a game heroes will almost assuredly perish. When this happens, a player simply gets to take a fresh hero from their remaining roster. If there are no remaining heroes on the bench when a death occurs, the Sins player wins. There is definitely a lot strategy to consider when deciding which heroes to start with, which heroes to save for later, and which ones to sacrifice for the greater good of the team.

At its heart, The Others is a pretty straightforward game of tactical combat–Star Wars Imperial Assault is a decent starting point for comparison, though The Others is a bit simpler (I was able to run through my first full game of The Others without having to refer back to the rule book more than once or twice). The heroes of FAITH will move around the modular board, complete objectives, collect loot and equipment, fight monsters, and remove corruption and fire tokens. The Sins player does not have traditional turns, but is able to react to the actions of the heroes by moving around monsters, engaging in combat, and playing reactionary Sin and Apocalypse cards. Combat is resolved through relatively simple dice rolls. If the player rolls enough damage to kill the monsters, he wins. If the monster rolls more damage than the hero has armor, it gives the hero a wound. It’s simple enough to pick up on and resolve quickly, though I did find myself wishing for some more complexity or decision-making at times.

There is one interesting caveat to the dice rolls in the game: the mechanic of so-called “exploding dice.” Each die has one side that acts as an “exploding” wild-card. If this side is rolled, not only does the hero get to choose the result, but they also gets to roll an additional die. This allows for a theoretically infinite series of additional rolls where the wild-card comes up again and again. The Sin player has a similar mechanic on their dice rolls as well, the only difference being they do not get a wild-card effect and instead can only stack damage. Because of this mechanic, victory is never entirely out of reach for the heroes or the Sin player. The most wounded, weak hero, could (with an extreme amount of luck) defeat the most monstrous creature the Sin player throws at them. Likewise, the most well-equipped and healthy hero could, if unlucky, perish by moving through a space that is on fire. I loved it.

Another interesting mechanic that I enjoyed and that makes The Others stand apart from other games in the genre is the ability for the heroes to voluntarily take corruption damage to temporarily improve their abilities. It leads to a great risk vs. reward system that leads to the players having to ask themselves some tough questions. Do I become more corrupted to guarantee victory, even if it could mean death later? Do I take corruption on this low-powered enemy now, or do I save it for going head to head with the avatar of Sin later? Is it worth it to take corruption to remove this blazing fire now, or should I just ignore it and take a point of damage instead?  

Every game of The Others that I’ve played has come down to a razor-thin finish. Two of the games I played came down to a single die of the final dice roll. The other two came down to similar do-or-die situations on the final turn. The level of tension created in these moments easily rivals any other I’ve experienced while board-gaming. There is a great balance of power between the Sin and the heroes and it always feels like things are just one bad roll from spiraling out of control.

I enjoyed my time spent playing as the Sin and as a member of FAITH, but probably preferred acting as one of the heroes. Talking strategy, planning moves, and facing off against difficult odds as a member of FAITH was, for me, more fun than reacting to the heroes as the Sin player.

Art and Pieces: The selling point for The Others has to be the miniatures, especially those of the Sins and their minions. They are sturdy and detailed, with each individual tentacle, slavering tongue, and gaping maw lovingly crafted. I’m not a mini-painter, but can imagine that those who are will find tons of little details to love and agonize over while working on these pieces. Browsing the images of painted figures on BoardGameGeek gives a great idea of the possibilities someone with an imaginative mind and steady hand could achieve. If you are into minis, they could be reason enough to purchase The Others.

The other artwork in the game is less impressive than the minis, but serviceable. Item card illustrations get the job done, character boards feature large color illustrations, and the rule book is full of lots of cool, horrific pictures of corrupted, betentacled hobos and other monstrosities.

The modular map pieces are the weak point of the game’s art. In contrast to the minis, they feel boring and uninspired. Additionally, many map locations will have corruption or monster-nest tokens printed directly on them. These can be extremely easy to miss because of too-dark or busy backgrounds.

Conclusion: The Others: 7 Sins offers a strongly thematic game of light tactical combat and tense finishes, all carried out with gorgeously horrific minis.

There is enough variety in mission types, Sins, and heroes to allow for a solid amount of replayability, and games are quick enough that they can be played through in a week-night gaming session. I don’t, however, see The Others as offering enough depth to make me want to keep returning to it year after year.

For a game that focuses largely on combat, the combat itself can feel a bit simplistic and random at times. However, the exploding dice and the corruption system mechanics did enough to make sure I was never bored while playing.

With an MSRP of $100–selling on Amazon for $80 at the time of this review–for the base game (there are many, many expansion packs that introduce new Sins and hero groupings), The Others is certainly not an impulse-purchase type of game. Yet, for the mini-enthusiast, there is a lot of great stuff that comes in the base box.

I’d recommend the game to anyone interested in gorgeous miniatures, but might caution those more focused on gameplay to think before dropping the money on the game.

Overall Score: 7/10

Adventure Time Love Letter Review: Yes? No? Maybe?

Number of Players: 2-4

Honest Playtime: ~30 minutes  

Number of playthroughs: Too many to count!

Overview: An Adventure Time skin of Love Letter? Mathematical!

Love Letter is a quick and simple game of reasoning, guessing, and luck. Players will take turns playing a single card from a hand of two with the goal of being the last player standing, or, if multiple players make it to the end of the round, having the highest value card in hand. Games of Love Letter go quickly and are simple enough for non-gamers to pick up after a few rounds, making it a great addition for parties, holidays, or family gatherings.

Gameplay-There are 8 different card types in Love Letter and each has a different effect: the guard–a servant of the Candy Kingdom–allows you to eliminate a player by correctly guessing what card they hold; the companion cards–BMO and Gunther–act as protective shields for a single round of play; the heroes–Finn and Jake–cause other players to discard their hand; the princess–Princess Bubblegum of course–has the highest value, but the player holding her loses if they are forced to discard her.

One or more cards–depending on the number of players–is removed from the deck at the start of each round. I liked this nuance. I felt it added a bit of excitement as the game is never one of totally complete information.

Over the course of a game players will have their hands revealed, swapped, or discarded. While luck does play a part of Love Letter, an attentive player will a large advantage. By paying attention to a player’s past turns it’s possible to deduce what card they most likely currently hold, making eliminating them that much easier. Correctly guessing another player’s card, or calling their bluff, or faking them out with a misdirecting play, is very satisfying.

The sting of defeat is short-lasting in Love Letter. Rounds go by in just a few minutes, so eliminated players rarely have a chance to become bored or disinterested.

The final round of the game often finds players in close contention for victory. As the game progresses, players are naturally encouraged to gang-up on the player in the lead. I liked this touch as it adds a bit of tension and teamwork–and a victory as the points leader often feels like a real me vs. the world triumph.

There are a couple minor rule differences between the Adventure Time version of the game and the original. For one, in the Adventure Time version, if a player uses the hero to discard the other hero, they automatically win the round. Secondly, players earn an extra point by winning with the companion in their hand.

Art and Pieces-There isn’t a ton of art to review as there are only a total of 12 different card faces. The art on the cards are faithful reproductions of the show’s characters. Jake, Finn, Lady Rainicorn, and the rest are as colorful, whimsical, and as charming as on the show.

Points are scored in form of small plastic gems. My gaming group and I loved this touch. There is something very satisfying about building up a little color-themed treasure trove with each victory.

The only other component is the velvet carrying bag. It takes the form of Jake’s face, and is simply awesome.

Conclusion- Love Letter is an absolutely excellent bite-sized card game that I eagerly recommend for anyone looking for something fun, light, and social–and it will especially appeal to fans of the television show. It rewards skill, attentiveness, and strategy while remaining light enough to be played on the fly with people unfamiliar with more complicated games. I’ve played it with my gaming friends before a round of Twilight Imperium and my non-gaming family before Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone enjoyed it.

For months my weekly gaming group used the game as a quick warm-up to the main gaming event, often rewarding the winner of Love Letter with the first player token in whatever game followed. I can’t think of a much better endorsement than that fact.

My only real complaint is that sometimes it’s easy to feel unlucky in this game. It’s possible, for example, to be eliminated from a round before even getting a chance to play a card. It’s fine when this happens once a play session, but when it happens 3 hands in a row, it can be a bit maddening.

With an MSRP of under 11$, this game is a great value-buy. It might not scratch the itch of someone looking for a complex, multi-hour game, but for a quick fix it is, in Finn’s words, mathematical!

Overall Score: 9/10

Board Game Design #1 Where to Start?

So, you’ve decided you want to give designing your own game a try. Where do you start? Is it with a theme, a concept, a set of rules, an original variation on a game you’ve enjoyed, or some combination? After you’ve latched onto something tangible what are the first steps you should take?

The Seed

Most of my ideas germinate from some original seed. When I write fiction, this might be an image in my head or a question I have. One story I wrote, for example, grew from a picture in my head of a young man and a bandaged, battle-worn woman sitting and enjoy a steaming cup of tea in a cold wasteland. Another story I wrote came from the question, what would happen if cities were able to die? All very poetic and abstract. Great for a story, but not so useful for designing something with rules and systems, winners and losers.

My ideas for board games, however, are usually more concrete. Generally, in game design, my seed takes the form of a game mechanic that is central to  gameplay. Often the mechanic or mechanics will evolve over the course of development, but starting with a solid, actionable idea gives me direction and a foundation to build off of.

Starting from a thematic idea in game design can be tricky. There are millions of games that could be made about dragons, or dungeons, or sports, or winemaking, or whatever. Starting with a theme can often make it too easy for the would-be designer to become overwhelmed with choices, options, and questions.

Sometimes a theme may inform a choice for a game’s mechanics. For example, a game about merchant ships is probably going to involve trading, buying, and selling. Or a Civil War game will likely involve wargaming elements. Still, these are broad categories and without a mechanic that is fun, elegant, and engaging, a game will not succeed.

The game I’m working on now, Baseball Quest, grew from me wanting to explore a system that involved a sort of blind-but-informed guessing game. A sort of rock-paper-scissors head game where the choices and outcome are based on more factors than just pure chance.

I’m a baseball fan and the matchup between the batter and the hitter seemed a natural flavor for me to explore this idea through. Thus, the idea for Baseball Quest was born.

Stuck?

If you are having trouble coming up with an original mechanic, take a look at games you enjoy playing. How do they run? What about the mechanic is it that you like? Do you have any ideas about how you could put an original spin on it? Would you like to make your own city building game? A worker placement game? A game focused on strategic combat and unit positioning?

Take the idea that seems most interesting and ask yourself “what if?”

What if turns in the worker placement game happened simultaneously? What if the city building game allowed settlement of foreign lands and the establishment of new cities? What if the combat game included a deck building mechanic?

Pick a question you like and let your imagination run with it.

Commit It to Paper (or a Word document)

One of, if not the, most important things you can do to make the seed of your game begin to become a full fledged thing is to write. it. down.

Whether you scribble notes on scrap paper, keep detailed spreadsheets, or write in a stream of consciousness on a Google Doc, by writing things down you make them real. You create a record that can be referenced, changed, and built on.

It’s like planting the seed. The paper, like the Earth, is a place for your idea to grow and become real. Without planting, your idea will remain like the seed: full of potential, but not a developed thing.

First Post and Caverna Review!

Launching this site is exciting! I hope to use it as a place to share my thoughts, document design progress, and share fiction.

Putting together this site took me a few hours. I know nothing about html or design, so it’s going to be a learn by doing process for me. Any and all suggestions are welcome!

Look forward to more reviews and other content in the near future and thanks for stopping by!

In the meantime check out my review for the board game Caverna here!