Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Peril in the Promised Land Update

12:46 PM by Mike · 0 comments
Here's what I've put together for the board. Like I said before, I'm not an artist, but I'm putting something together. I picked up Trivial Pursuit from DI yesterday. I'm going to have the board printed today and attempt to attach it, in some manner or other, to the Trivial Pursuit board. We'll see how it goes. Then, I'll pretty much have a decent prototype put together. We're going to my wife's parent's home for Thanksgiving, so I'll be able to play it a bit with her brothers, and possibly with her mother. It should be a lot of fun. I'm going to put up pictures of the "finished" prototype after Thanksgiving. I'll post about the experience of attaching the printout to the Trivial Pursuit board as well.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Settlers of Zarahemla: A Review

12:40 PM by Mike · 0 comments
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Another review here. This time we played Settlers of Zarahemla. I've got to say that I just enjoy the whole "Settlers" idea. I'd played Settlers of Catan a few times before and I think it's awesome. This LDS-themed version is just as good. It's built on the idea quite well and added it's own little touch.

When I looked at Settlers of Zarahemla, I didn't think I'd like not having individual hexes to place at the beginning of the game as in Catan. But, I've decided that it doesn't really matter too much. It's nice to have control over the design of the board as a player (I've tried to add that into the games that I'm designing), but it isn't as necessary as I had once thought. Settlers of Zarahemla comes with 5 pieces that make up the board: 1 five-hex piece, 2 four-hex pieces, and 2 three-hex pieces. These are laid down within the confines of the board. The board also includes a "score-keeping track." Around the edges of the board is a track with spaces labeled 1 to 12. Each player has a marker that moves along the board as the player's score increases. This was a nice touch. In Catan everyone just has to be aware of who has what score. This gives everyone an easy way to keep track. After setting up the board, the number tokens are placed on the board hexes. This was quite a pain. The instruction book tells you to place them on the board in alphabetical order. Not a big deal, right? But the letters on the tokens are extremely small and some strange looking font was used which added to the difficulty of reading the letters. Lastly, place the Gadianton Robber on the appropriate hex.

We then proceeded to place our settlements and roads. Not too much difference or difficulty there. Game play from here on out was pretty much the same as with Catan.

The game adds the possibility of building a temple. A combination of brick and stone will allow you to place one of your temple building blocks onto the temple, which is located at the top of the board. The first player to add 3 bricks to the temple becomes the "Greatest Temple Contributor," which is worth 2 victory points (similar to the longest road).

One thing that was weird was the Stripling Warrior development card. This allows the player to move the Gadianton Robber and steal a card from a player. It just seems strange to use a Stripling Warrior in conjunction with the Gadiaton Robber. Doesn't quite mesh with the Book of Mormon stories or theme.

The artwork on the board and the box is awesome. It really adds to the feel of the game (I think that artwork for games greatly impacts the experience; I'm not saying a game needs great artwork to make it fun and engaging, but it definitely helps; Too bad I'm not more artistic!). I was surprised at the thickness of the cards, but I just got done playing It Came to Pass, so I was comparing the two. The cards were fine, shuffling, dealing, etc. I did find that the wooden dice don't have the same bounce or something to them. But I'm sure that doesn't affect the numbers rolled.

Overall, I give this game a 5 out of 5.

I very much enjoy this game. It gives players a lot of options and makes winning difficult, as other players have those same options. A lot can happen in just one round of play. The only other thing I would add is that playing with only 2 players isn't as exciting as 3 or more. I know the box says 3-4 players, but the instructions explain what changes to make for a 2 player game. This make 2 games, It Came to Pass included, that playing with 2 players actually detracts from the experience. Overall, I enjoyed the game and am a fan of the Catan series, but are there some exciting 2 player LDS/Mormon themed games out there?

Buy from www.ldsboardgames.com

Friday, November 21, 2008

Self-Imposed Restrictions

1:05 PM by Mike · 0 comments
So, I've been thinking lately and I've come to the conclusion that I have actually imposed upon myself two fairly big restrictions when it comes to designing games. Firstly, I am looking to design LDS/Mormon themed games. This is a self-imposed restriction, as I am confined to the Book of Mormon and LDS culture. This is a restriction that I have chosen. I did it consciously. And I want to stick to it. Like I've said before, there aren't a whole lot of LDS themed games available currently and there aren't a whole lot published each year. I would definitely like to contribute, in whatever way I can. So far, I haven't really found this to pose too much of a problem. I have had many ideas for games that have been quite easy to theme.

The second restriction, one that I just finally came to realize is very real, is the need to keep the component count for each game very low. More components equals higher price for those who publish these games. Since the market isn't all that large, they can't take big chances with games, hoping that they'll be successful. I'm not exactly sure how this will be overcome. I guess this is my small attempt to help the situation (not that I know it will work, but I'm sure it can't hurt). Anyway, this all just hit me last night after I got done teaching (8:15 pm) and was sitting at the table with my wife eating dinner. It all happened in my head and is just now making it's way out. I've found that my wife is very patient and understanding. And most times she enjoys playing games with me and helping me improve my designs. I've just got to tone it down sometimes. So I didn't bring this up with her last night.

Once this realization came to me, I immediately started thinking of another design that would keep the components to a minimum. The idea goes something like this:

Components include cards and dice (4-, 6-, 8-, & 10-sided)
The dice are used as pawns. Each player would have his/her own set (color). At the beginning of the game each player would roll all 4 dice. The results would determine a few things about that pawn (for instance, if the 4-sided die came up a 3 then it would be able to do this, this, and this).
The cards are used to thwart your opponent, among other things, and create the board. The board would be created as the game progressed, depending on what the players wanted to do.

Well, it's obviously not a very finished design, but it definitely gives me a lot to think about. The only problem is that I'm having a hard time fitting it to a theme from the Book of Mormon. I'm kind of thinking that most of the other designs I've had started with a particular theme in mind, and if they didn't the theme came very quickly. I just haven't really had a hard time like this trying to theme a design. Not that this is in any way going to deter me from fleshing out the idea, it's just a first for me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Board Game Designers Forum

I just started my Game Journal about Peril in the Promised Land over on Board Game Designers Forum (here). I'll probably put more about the game there than I will here, as far as the rules and components go.

Theme, Mechanics, & Immersion

I just sent off the submission of The Armor of God to both Covenant Communications and Cedar Fort. I'll be waiting patiently to see what, if any, response I get from them.

Last night I read a pretty interesting article from The Games Journal about Theme, Mechanics, and Immersion of games (here). It really made me think about what I've got going in my games. All of my pondering was focused on Peril in the Promised Land as this is my favorite of the few games I'm designing/creating right now. Personally, Peril in the Promised Land has a great theme. I mean, who doesn't want to take the lead of an army of Nephite soldiers as they go into battle against the Lamanites under the Title of Liberty, seeking to recover their lost cities and freedoms!? It's the very popular good vs. evil theme. As Andrew Hardin points out the theme should do 2 things: 1) it creates an immediate sense of immersion and 2) makes game play easier. I've been working on making game play easier. I've cut rules, making things less complex and simpler to understand and follow. I've tried to get the rules to "connect" more to the theme, kind of making the rules seem logical in the given context of the theme.

The theme of Peril in the Promised Land also gets players immersed both mentally and emotionally, as discussed in the article. Firstly, players are mentally engaged in protecting themselves from the Lamanites, while at the same time they are trying to figure out how to go about recovering the cities that have been lost to the Lamanites. There are a number of possible strategies a player could choose. Options seem to be a good thing to keep players engaged and immersed as well. The emotional side comes in, which I think is very individual or person specific. This probably hits home more with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as they are familiar with the Book of Mormon and the struggles between the Nephites and Lamanites throughout the book. Emotionally players can feel the tension that is caused by Lamanite actions and the need for your army to not only succeed, but to survive in the process.

Thinking about these things makes me wonder: Is it the theme that really attracts someone to a game in the first place? For me, a lot of times I think it is more the mechanics of the game that draw me in. For example, I enjoy Heroscape, but I first became interested when I saw it in the store and found that you could change the terrain, design it however you choose. I also wanted to play Settlers of Catan because of the hex-shaped board pieces that you set up at the beginning of play. Shadows Over Camelot appealed to me because of the cooperative nature of the game play. Maybe my question is way off. But, there are probably people who pick up a game because of it's theme. In the case of Peril in the Promised Land, I would want people to pick it up because of theme, but also because of mechanic. I want to attract people who think playing as Nephite generals in a war with the Lamanites would be fun, but also those who think playing a game where players cooperate against the game (the Lamanites) would be fun. In the end I think it is about theme and mechanics to begin with. That has to draw people into picking up the game in first place. After that, I think the author is right, it's all about immersion. Those themes and mechanics need to really immerse the players in game or the attraction of the theme or mechanic will be lost rather quickly.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Armor of God

Since I received word from Covenant Communications about not wanting to pursue Peril in the Promised Land at all, I started working on a game that I had come up with a few months ago. It's a card game so it may fit better in their "less risk" category. I call it The Armor of God. Players compete to be the first to collect all 7 pieces of the Armor of God. It's got a sort of War feel to it, as players play point cards trying to have the highest point value associated with a piece of the armor and in this way "win" that piece. The pieces of the armor act like suits on the cards. I'm currently putting together the rules/instructions in a document that I will submit to both Covenant Communications and Cedar Fort per the suggestion of Bruno Faidutti (here). I'll also link to the document once I get it finished and off to them.

Here is the figure that I'll include in the document. I know it doesn't mean a whole lot removed from the rest of the rules, but those will be up tomorrow, right after I submit it all.

Monday, November 17, 2008

It Came to Pass: A Review

I got a hold of a copy of It Came to Pass this weekend and my wife and I played it a few times. I'm offering this short review as a result. Keep in mind that this is pretty much coming from the perspective of a would-be game designer/self-publisher, so it probably won't be like so called "normal" reviews of games.

First off, I started with the thought that the game was going to be a lot like Uno (I think this was the case because I read, I think on gameboardgeek, that the game was similar to Uno, and the guy who lent me the game also told me it was like Uno). This was a big mistake! I was reading the rules and thinking Uno the whole time. My wife and I had to consciously stop thinking it was going to be like Uno so that we could understand the rules. So we finally got over that and pretty much understood what we were reading. In other words, don't bring in preconceived notions of what the game is going to be like, it will hinder your understanding and perhaps enjoyment (even after learning how to play I was still comparing it to Uno).

Before I opened the tuck box and looked over the rules I read the outside. which can also be found on gameboardgeek:

A heart-pounding, card-slapping game of strategy and fun for Latter-day Saints.

Well, that seemed a little cheesy to me. I got a similar feeling when I read the back:

Get your hand ready, slide to the edge of your seat, and see if you dare to say, "PASS."

So much for first impressions.

The cards felt really nice. They were thick and had a very nice glossy/non-stick surface that made shuffling and dealing easy. (I can't wait to order from GuildofBlades to be able to compare the two.) Overall, the design of the cards was pretty basic. There are six different suits (colors in this case) and each suit contains numbers 2 through 10 and a Charity card and a Desolation card. The game can be played with just these cards (it's the Basic Gameplay). We, of course, didn't play this version. We were in for the "more excitement" that was promised when we were ready to move on and add the Option Cards (again, I got that feeling of chessiness). So basically, the front of the cards contained color and number or words (2 - 9, Charity, & Desolation). The backs of the cards have a nice looking logo, which comes from Mayan culture (the box also explains this). Overall, I thought, "how simple," and "I think I may be able to come up with similar designs."

The rules are explained on 2 "double-sized" cards included in the tuck box. This is another good job of keeping things simple. The rules are clearly explained, in a short and concise manner. It gave me hope that I can do the same with the rules/instructions for my own games. As I looked back over the rules, I noticed that some things are not explained; it's as if they are taken for granted; me, as the reader, should already know what I need to do. I guess that sometimes it's better to not try to explain everything in such great detail. As long as people are somewhat familiar with games in general, then they should be able to understand and play the game without having to read over too much detail. In other words, just include enough for people to play and don't worry about making sure each and every detail is covered in the rules. I guess I've got to find a balance (isn't it that way in everything we do in life?).

The whole object of the game is to build a hand of cards that contains the least amount of points. This is done by drawing and discarding. Here again I was comparing it to and thinking about Uno. In Uno you have to match either number or color, but in this game you can discard whatever card. It doesn't have to match what's already in the discard pile. The Charity card removes the point value of any other cards in your hand of that same color. Therefore, you can actually build a hand consisting of zero points. The Option cards add variation and fun. You definitely want to play with them in.

I give the game a 4 out of 5

I think the game is fun. The rules are simple. As with what others have said (here's a review of the game from boardgamegeek), I think it would be much more fun with 4 or more people. It was fun with my wife, but it didn't last long and we were ready to move on. (Little side-note: the Secret Combination card should probably be removed when playing with only 2 players.) I would bring this out with a larger crowd and would definitely enjoy myself. So, I would recommend it to others, larger groups, as a fun, party-type game.

Buy from www.ldsboardgames.com

Friday, November 14, 2008

What's been published? (& Other things)

So, I used boardgamegeek.com and found a list of Mormon/LDS themed games that have been published (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/10034). It's interesting to see that most of what appears in the list are games that are pretty much remakes of already published games. I'm not sure how to react to this. Firstly, I think, it's probably a good strategy: those games have been successful, people are already familiar with them. But then I think, is it really good for helping move forward more Mormon/LDS themed games? Then I think about the publisher (I guess my own experience with them kind of lit that up for me). They have to be extremely careful with what they take to printing. They have to worry about making money and whatnot. Maybe more grassroots/self-publishing type movements would actually be beneficial for this small niche that I'm jumping into.

A few side notes:
1. I just realized, in reviewing my post about Peril in the Promised Land, that I didn't really explain too much about the game. I'll have to do a much better job of that.
2. I've been able to join the Board Game Designers Guild of Utah (Yahoo Group). I wasn't able to attend the November meeting (they meet on the first Tuesday of each month in SLC), but I'm hoping to go in December. There are a lot of very accomplished designers in the group. It should be a lot of fun meeting with them and quite a learning experience.
3. On the Board Game Designers Forum I've set up an account and will be attempting to use their Game Journals goody to tell others about Peril in the Promised Land and share my design and prototyping experiences.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Peril in the Promised Land

So here is an overview of the game I have been mentioning.

Title: Peril in the Promised Land

The game is a cooperative game where players take on the roll of one of the Nephite captains from the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon during the great war. Currently this includes Gid, Lehi, Teancum, and Helaman. Each captain has a "special power" that aids him in his play (a-la-Shadows Over Camelot). The objective is to fulfill the orders that come down from Chief Captain Moroni (these are in the form of cards). There are 5 different "kinds" of orders, like retake the city of Cumeni or raise a Title of Liberty in Omner. The players must fulfill 1 of each type of order in order to win. But, they must accomplish this while protecting Zarahemla from within (the King-men who are trying to take over the Judgment-seat) and from without (the Lamanites attack Zarahemla).

The board is pretty much a map of the promised land with cities and roads. All cities, except Zarahemla and Zeezrom, start out as occupied by the Lamanites. Dice and cards are used in the game. There is a 6-sided die that is rolled to determine what action the Lamanites take. A 4-sided die is rolled to determine the number of spaces a Nephite captain can move. Cards are used to attack, defend, raise Titles of Liberty, etc.

I'm currently finishing my own art (I am in no way an artist, but I wanted to put together a good looking prototype). I will be using some game boards that I find at DI to make the board. I found Guild of Blades online (http://www.guildofblades.com/pod.php) and I'll get my cards printed by them. And I'm using meeple (http://www.meeplepeople.com/) as the pawns players use. I'm also working on finishing up the rulebook/instructions so that I can get that printed as well.

Well, there you have it. The first game that my wife and I have designed and are in the process of prototyping. Soon I'll post regarding some other games that I'm working on.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A long story made, longer

It must have been in February that my wife and I played Shadows Over Camelot. I guess my (I should really say "our," as my wife helped an awful lot) development our game went rather quickly. By April I was contacting Covenant Communications in hopes of being able to submit the idea to them, which we were able to do in May. After the Spring semester was over we took a trip to southern Utah (we have family there that we wanted to visit). On our way down we stopped by Covenant Communications in American Fork and I sat down with Phil Reschke. His first reaction ws one of surprise of what I had. That was quickly followed with a concern for the 3D miniatures that I had and the number of components. I had gone to my local hobby gaming shop, Phoenix Games, and picked up some D&D minis that I was using. It just made playing a whole lot cooler, but this was not a requirement for publishing. Anyway, I ended up sending him the game about a week later so that he would be able to share it with the committee who makes the ultimate decision regarding new games. Two weeks later they still had not reviewed it, so we decided to wait until November, as they already had the 2 games selected that they would be pursuing for publishing (he told me that they do 2 to 3 games a year). That way they could consider it for next year. Well, here it is November and, after contacting Phil via email, I got the following response:

Hi Mike,

Yes, things have been very busy. I would say that given the current economy, we won't be taking any complex, multi-component, unknown games to market for this next fall. We'll probably focus our game efforts on lower cost, lower risk games that appeal to a bigger segment of our market. Thanks again for letting us evaluate your game. I wish you well in all your efforts.


Needless to say, I was quite disappointed. I mean, I've (my wife and I) been working on getting this ready for the last several months. We have made many changes, making things less complex, reducing the number of components, and using more "standard" kinds of components. I'm not sure what I'll do with this idea now. I've looked into self-publishing a little bit, but I've got more to research before I could make a decision there.

Last night, after I informed my wife of the whole situation, we decided that we had other games that are less component-heavy. So, I'll be submitting a card game idea that we've put together. Hopefully I'll have it all ready tomorrow or Thursday. I guess we'll see how it goes.

You live and you learn.

Monday, November 10, 2008

How it all began

2:05 PM by Mike · 0 comments
Early this year a friend introduced me to Shadows Over Camelot. It was the first time I had ever seen a real, published cooperative board game. I had thought about such things before, especially when my wife and I would play games, which wasn't a whole lot because of the contention it would produce. We're both quite competitive so it was hard to lose. "Wouldn't it be cool if there was a game we could play that wasn't competitive?" I thought. After we played my mind really got going. I've had game ideas in the past, but now I really had something to think about. As I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I thought that it would be fantastic to have a game that couples could play (not that it wouldn't be fun for anyone else) in which they could cooperate in an attempt to be the game, not each other. One of the early ideas that I had (it was basically just an idea, I had never really done much but think, wouldn't that be fun) was players playing as Captain Moroni moving around the board, raising Titles of Liberty. So I went back to that idea and started really thinking about it, with the goal of making it a cooperative game. In the end it became a game of Nephites vs. Lamanites set during the Captain Moroni period of war. Players play as Nephite captains seeking to recover lost Nephite cities and protect Zarahemla from the Lamanites.
So, there you have it. That is how it all began.
More to come on this game and others.
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