Monday Brews 9-29-14
I totally missed out on National Drink Beer Day yesterday. I’ll redeem myself by enjoying one of my two kegged beers shown in the picture. I’ll write about my first kegging experience tomorrow. (Spoiler: I never want to bottle again!)
But today is Monday, so it’s time to cover the Boards & Barley that I’ve enjoyed over the last week. With a Board Game Night and a date night with my wife where we played games I was able to get a nice assortment to the table. But let’s start with the Barley.
BARLEY SPOTLIGHT: New Glarus Staghorn
My friend Jeremy describes this as the best domestic Oktoberfest. I agree with him. This is a very excellent beer and I’ll often choose it over the German Oktoberfests. Is that beer heresy? Doesn’t matter to me. New Glarus has produced a truly fine Oktoberfest. Next time you’re in Wisconsin in September or October, make sure you try it!
- New Belgium Pumpkick
- Tyranena Painted Ladies
- Lake Louie 10-81
- Boddington’s (My British colleague gave this to me as a gift)
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small
This game is my Spotlight game this week because I was able to get my wife to play it. She graciously learned a new game and when it was done said she’d play it again! That’s a big win for me. I’ve wanted her to learn Agricola for a while so introducing her to ACBAS seemed like a good intro. The gameplay feels roughly the same and the pasture/animal elements emulate those in the full game. So I think she got a feel for how Agricola would go. I’m excited about that.
This past week was a good one. I finished up prototype art (haven’t done that in a long time) and I got The Grand Illusion to the table for it’s first two playtests (It had been a long time since I put a new game design on the table).
Since the playtests were successful (I should write an article on what makes a playtest successful because I think that can mean a lot of different things) I thought I’d do a little more research into magic and the late 1800s-early 1900s magicians. I picked up a few books. I have no idea when/if I’ll have time to read them.
I think the playtests were successful for two main reasons:
- Both played to completion.
- It was fun (Or at least I had fun playing).
Playing to completion is a big metric for me. If you can design a game on paper or in your head and bring it to the table such that it can be played in full, that is a big accomplishment. Of course, that doesn’t matter as much if the game stinks.
So I had the two successful playtests and I’m ready to implement some good initial changes to things that were obviously not perfect. I think there are good things ahead for this game.
Grand Illusion Update
Today I wanted to report on the progress of The Grand Illusion. Normally I do that on Thursdays and I was planning on posting a game review today but I’m excited about the game so I figured I’d write about it.
I’ve begun prototyping! I have created a deck of skill cards. These cards represent the 9 types of magic in the game. The types of magic are in two separate tiers: basic and advanced. There are 6 basic types and 3 advanced types. Here is a picture showing the skill cards (thanks to The Game Crafter for blank cards – They have blank poker cards on sale right now for 1 cent each!).
Those are hand-drawn icons, people!
The next step for the prototype is to create a deck of Trick cards. These are cards that represent magic tricks. During the game you’ll need to collect the skill cards shown above and then turn them in to complete the magic tricks.
Once you perform a magic trick you will earn the rewards and audience shown on the card.
So let’s discuss audience… Audience is actually a currency in the game. It is necessary to build an audience during the game or you will not meet the requirements on your Grand Illusion card. So each time you perform a trick, if successful, you will gain audience. In the game you will collect skill cards, spend them to perform tricks, gain audience and increase your skills to be able to perform better tricks.
There will definitely be some engine building in the game. The goal of this design is to be an entry-level game with an easy rule set that is quick to teach and play. The main mechanics are set collection and engine building.
Engine building in games refers to the idea of obtaining some ability or benefit that let’s you do things a little better, then getting another one that builds on the previous ability or benefit.
In The Grand Illusion the engine is represented by the skills each magician will gain. Will you become a master of vanishing acts? Perhaps you’ll be the best at restoration magic? Ultimately you’ll have to get proficient at at least two basic types of magic and one advanced magic.
The question I’m currently struggling with is how exactly to create the engine building element. I have two options I’m considering:
In the game Splendor players turn in poker chips to grab a card from the table. Once they grab that card it usually acts as a poker chip. So for future card grabs they need one less poker chip. This would work perfectly for The Grand Illusion but I don’t want to copycat an existing game.
2) Tech Tree
A tech tree is something where you must complete “Level 1” stuff before you can work on “Level 2.” So in The Grand Illusion I could have a tech tree (pyramid) of trick cards on the table. When a player would perform a trick they would place a token of their player color on the trick to show they’ve completed it. This would also direct their play as there would be advantages and disadvantages for breadth versus depth.
I think that once I create the Trick deck I’ll try out both of these options. The Splendor-like version may work better, but I’m more drawn to the Tech Tree version since it is more original.
My goal is to prototype the skills deck this weekend and aim for the first playtest next week! Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the different engine building options.
Grand Illusion: The Drafting Mechanic
Today I continue with my open design for a game based on Victorian era magicians and illusionists. Two weeks ago I talked about the core mechanics of the game. I also mentioned the “currency” in the game being the different types of magic.
What this will ultimately boil down to is a set collection card game with a drafting mechanic and an inherent build up as players try to complete their secret Grand Illusion.
Note: I have not yet decided if I want each player’s Grand Illusion to be secret or not. If it is public then the drafting mechanic becomes more important as you can see what types of magic your neighbors may be working towards. And if you can see their magic types then you may want to take a sub-optimal card because it would have been a great card for them.
So let’s talk a bit about the drafting mechanic.
The Grand Illusion Drafting Mechanic
If you are unfamiliar with “drafting” here’s how it works:
- You are dealt a bunch of cards.
- You choose one card and keep it.
- You pass the rest of the cards to your neighbor.
- You receive the cards from your other neighbor.
- You choose one of these new cards and keep it.
- You pass the rest of the new cards to your neighbor.
Well, I’m not doing it quite like that. I want there to be a more random feel.
The struggle with making an awesome drafting mechanic is in the consideration of how you want players to feel throughout the process. I want the players to feel like magicians while playing this game. So how could my drafting mechanic incorporate that feeling?
I think there should be an element of sneakiness. Magicians utilize sleight of hand and I want an element similar to that. So I would want players to be able to have moments where choosing the right card was rewarding like a successful sleight of hand.
The question is: How do I accomplish that?
I would feel sneaky (or wise or clever) if:
- I put a bad card in someone else’s hand.
- I put a great card in a hand I knew I would receive.
- I was able to prevent another player from a great hand.
- I was able to craft a great hand for myself.
Those are a few things that would allow me to have a rewarding feeling and a feeling of accomplishment. Often, as a game designer, it is a challenge to take a concept of what you want and actually turn it into mechanics that meet that concept.
Concept to Mechanic
One way to accomplish this is to put out the Magic Trick cards on the table face up before the drafting occurs. This shows the players the types of tricks they have available to them that round. Then, once players have been dealt their cards, they will place one face up and one face down in front of them. Then:
- Pass to the left. Choose one card. Place face up on left neighbor’s pile.
- Pass to the left. Choose one card. Place face up on right neighbor’s pile.
- Pass to the left. Choose one card. Place face down on own pile.
What this creates is a magic hand of five cards. Three were chosen by you (one face up). One was chosen by each neighbor (face up). The other players may be able to remember what your final card was, but your first card will be a secret since you chose it before anyone passed their cards.
Now each player will have five cards in their hands. These cards will have the different currencies on them (the types of magic). In the middle of the table are the magic tricks that can be performed this round.
Players will use combinations of the magic types in their hands to fulfill as many magic tricks as they can. This fulfillment will be the topic of the next article on The Grand Illusion.
Hopefully this drafting mechanic will work to create an interesting dynamic between the cards one chooses to keep and the cards they choose to give to their neighbors.
Any thoughts about this? Remember, I would love to be designing this game with your feedback. Anything sound good, bad, or meh? Let me know.
Grand Illusion Core Mechanics
Today is the second in a series about designing a new game called The Grand Illusion. Via Twitter I asked for examples of different types of Victorian-era magic and illusions. Here are a list of some of them:
- Cutting off heads / Cutting someone in half
- Disappearing persons
- Sword swallowing
- “Anything with doves”
Of course there are others like sleight of hand, card tricks, collapsing cages, awesome tricks with electricity, etc. What I am looking for are core genres of tricks that can be used as the currency (symbols) in the game. So with that in mind I think there are several such genres that could be used. For now I’ll go with these:
- Sleight of Hand
- Cutting (of people)
- Grand Illusions
That gives 6 “currencies” in the game that can be used for set collection.
The real question we need to be asking is, “How exactly do you play this game?”
As I mentioned last week the idea is that you are a street performing magician looking to gain a reputation, earn some dough, and eventually find yourself on a stage performing a grand illusion for the masses.
This will be mostly a card based game unless the direction of the game changes. For now I have created preliminary icons for the 5 main magic genres listed above (excluding the Grand Illusions).
Players will begin the game with a hand of cards. They will also have their “Grand Illusion” card, which is private. There will also be a few magic tricks to perform that are laid out on the table. In each round the magicians will perform a random draft.
Here’s how that will work. Each player will decide which card they want in the pool of available cards. So each player will take one of their cards and put it face down in the middle. Once all players have chosen a card, then one random card from the deck will be added. Then the player with the smallest reputation will pick up the pile, look at the cards, and play one face up in front of them. All other players will follow in order of smallest reputation.
Once all players have placed one of the cards face up, each will have the opportunity to perform a magic trick. To perform a trick you must have a set of cards that appropriately matches one of the face up magic trick cards. So a trick might require 2 “Escape” skills and 1 “Levitate” skill. If you have played these cards in front of you then you can complete the trick. Turn in the three cards you used and take the completed magic trick card and place it in front of you.
These completed magic trick cards will have an icon or icons on them that allow you to perform better magic. Some will have icons that are not available in the standard pool of cards that are dealt to players. So players must complete magic tricks to gain the skills they need to complete their Grand Illusion.
Once a player completes their Grand Illusion, the end of the game is triggered. All players will have an equal number of turns to attempt to complete their Grand Illusion. If only one player completes their Grand Illusion, they are the winner. If several people complete their Grand Illusion, then a tie breaker goes to the player with the most completed magic tricks.
So now that the framework is set for how to play, the next step is for me to mock up some cards and solidify the actual gameplay. Here’s where you all can join me in the design. I want you to provide names for magic tricks. I’ll use these as the names on the prototype cards. If they are really good names then I’ll use them as one of the Grand Illusions.
Also, I would love your feedback on the basic gameplay here. As I was writing this article I realized that this game has a feel very similar to Splendor or The Builders. There is definitely some engine building with simple card mechanics. I’m not too worried about that since I think the drafting mechanic makes it different enough. But I really want your suggestions!
Design: The Grand Illusion
Ladies and Gentlemen, I welcome you to the big show. Tonight I will be performing a series of illusions of the highest grandeur. You’ll see things that no human has ever seen before. And then you won’t see them! Tonight it’s all about the magic. For my first trick I’ll need a volunteer…
I came up with a new game design theme a few weeks ago and it’s still rattling around in my brain. So I figure I should try to turn it into a real game design. For some reason I’ve decided to do all the design publicly on this blog. I think this will be a fun way to show people what is all involved with the game design process and I’m also looking for involvement from all of you!
So these design articles, starting today and continuing on Thursdays, are meant to be an open source forum of sorts where I welcome your comments, ideas, suggestions, etc.
I love the movie The Prestige. It’s a fascinating movie about competing illusionists in the early 1900s. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it. For me magic has always been an intriguing thing. Last year I had the chance to visit the Harry Houdini museum in Appleton, Wisconsin. It was neat to learn about his story and more about the era as well. It seems like an interesting time to have lived.
So I want to make a game about competing illusionists from that time. Therefore The Grand Illusion is all about magicians and their competition to earn the best reputation.
You are a street magician in the early 1900s beginning your career. You’ve got a few tricks up your sleeve that no one else has mastered. It’s time to build a reputation and become a household name in the field of magicians.
You start small doing a few tricks for small crowds on the street. Do them well and your skills will increase, as will your reputation. When you’ve got enough of a following then it’s time to take your show to a real stage. But beware, the crowd will always be expecting bigger and better!
If you can find a way to continually master new tricks and perform them flawlessly, then you may end up as the greatest magician of all time!
Basic Concepts and Components
My original thoughts for the gameplay involve card drafting and set collection. The concept is that you have to collect sets of cards that allow you to perform certain tricks. The bigger the set, the more likely you are to perform the trick flawlessly.
But there’s a catch. You know the old “Ball and Cup” trick? The idea of the trick is that there will be a ball under one of three cups. Then the magician will move them around and try to get you to lose track of which cup the ball is under. I want to utilize this as a mechanic in the game. If players each contribute a card to a common hand these would represent the cups. Then if there were a special card added to that hand it would represent the cup with the ball. Then players would blindly draft and whomever pulled the cup-ball card would get to perform the best trick. That’s my basic original concept for one of the mechanics in the game.
What I want players to feel throughout the game is a sense of accomplishment while teetering on a sharp edge. Players should attempt tricks and illusions throughout the game but always with some risk of failing and letting down the fans.
Each set of cards used for performing tricks will have several different symbols on them. These symbols represent different illusionary skills such as sleight of hand. When you complete a trick you can increase your skills in any or all of those categories. One emphasis for that decision making process would be that each player has a Grand Illusion that they are working toward completing.
The Grand Illusion
Like a private scoring condition, the Grand Illusion card that each player holds is a trick that could provide a huge boost near the end of the game. It is a trick that can only be attempted once, so players will want to make sure they have a skill set that will help them perform the trick with high success.
The idea is that as players become better magicians and build an audience and a reputation they realize that they have to keep increasing the awesomeness of their tricks or else the audience might go to another magician. So by performing their Grand Illusion it could put them at the top.
So that’s the current state of the design. It is just a bunch of basic concepts. But that’s where you all come in. What would you like to see in a game about Victorian era magicians? What mechanics, themes, components would you like to see?
Let’s design this together. Please comment on this article or reply on Twitter. I’m looking forward to designing this publicly with all of you. Thanks for reading!