A lesson about dependencies when creating a physical board or card game

I’ve been designing, re-designing, re-re-re-designing my The Infected card game, and I’ve come to realize there’s one huge challenge that I could have tackled differently. Now it’s too late to do pretty much anything, but to my future self: read this blog post.

Use icons, symbols rather than text
This is hugely important lesson. This way you can create a layer between card (or piece) and the action that occurs after use of the card. Rather than having “card -> action” (e.g. “card states heal 2 wounds”, you’ll have “card -> icon -> action” (e.g. card has an medkit icon, which meaning is explained in a rulebook: “medkit icon: heal 2 wounds”).

The reason is simple: Whenever I’ve made changes to the game rules… I might end up needing to alter several card texts or reprint some of the cards.

Helps you test & change rules
Here’s a simple example: rather use “Heal 3 wounds” as the description text of a medkit, simply have a medkit icon there. And write to the game rules that “medkit icon” means you get to heal 3 wounds. If you later want to adjust the medkit to mean that you can heal “2 wounds”, you can simply do this by adjusting the rulebook. No need to touch the actual cards.

Sure, later you might still need to ensure that medkit also means “draw a card”, and then you must add a card drawing icon on the card… so there’s cases when icons won’t save you. Many times they can though.

Translation
And what happens if you want to translate the game to other languages? With symbols or icons it’s pretty simple: you only need to touch the rulebook. With text written on the cards… not so straightforward.

Playtesting
And then letting others test your game: if you can improve your game by changing the rulebook, that’s pretty handy.

Updates!
And let’s not forget game updates later: if you want, you can tweak values of certain cards even after publishing the game. If medkit should have been “heal 2 wounds” instead of “heal 3 wounds”, it’s really simple modification to do & share to the players of your game.

This approach doesn’t necessarily work for all type of games, but for many games this type of thinking probably can come handy.

May game: Angry Troll Run

I’m finalizing The Infected card game (hoping to hit the online store this by the end of this month…) but also participating in game jams. In May, I created the Angry Troll Run (art public domain).

It’s my very first mobile app creation, so naturally I’m darned proud of it.

The game was created during several nights, using Monkey (buy it). And after all the manifest files and ant and whatnot setups, I managed to get it to google’s store.

What you think of games where characters are talking to the player?

There’s some movies and games where main characters discuss with the player. Usually they discuss with the other characters in-game, but sometimes somebody discussed “outside of the game” (or movie) to the player.

I belong to the clan who thinks this really breaks the immersion, and thus I don’t like it when characters make side comments directly aimed to me as a player.

I’m playing Sword & Sworcery game on ipad and while the game otherwise is really interesting, I can’t but help getting slightly annoyed by certain moments.

What you think of this type of storytelling?

Monsters in my brain

Office move done (I have an actual full room here – without diapers exhange station!). I’ve got some good progress done with my upcoming (yeh, now it really feels that way, after about 3 years since ignition) Infected card game.

But anyway. Creating Thinglings card game for last months one game a month (#1GAM) challenge has got some monster neurons active.

Here’s something I drew recently.

And since #1GAM was fun to do next month, chances are this chap might be seen in a new mini-game too…

If nobody plays it… is it a game then?

Defining the word ‘game’ is tricky. There’s many kind of different ways to define a game. We all know that Diablo is a game, and a painting of Mona Lisa isn’t.

Or is it so?

But what if nobody plays Diablo? Is it a game anymore? How could it be a game, if there was absolutely nobody playing it? A game requires a player.

And what if somebody makes a game out of painting (he watches the top edge, closes his eyes, turns his head a bit and tries to make so that his eyes will see bottom edge when he opens his eyes again).

Wouldn’t this suggest that Diablo as-is, actually isn’t a game. It becomes game only when somebody plays it.

And wouldn’t this suggest that anyone can play a painting if they want. It becomes a game if somebody plays it.

What you think of App Store censorship?

If I had a grocery store, then to me it feels natural that I get to pick what fruits I’m selling there. There might be fruit providers who want me to sell their fruit, but shouldn’t I get to decide what fruits I sell?

Sure, it might sometimes (or even very often) feel not fair, or not logical (perhaps I just like orange more than bananas), but still… it’s my shop. I get to make the rules, right?

If something external force would determine what products I should sell in my shop, I feel that would be very bad situation. Imagine if there was a law that said that if you sell your games directly, you must also sell coffee cups promoting “save the whales” – good cause sure, but in terms of freedom pretty shitty.

As the shopkeeper I need to listen to my customers (or won’t have a shop very long..) but in the end it should be my freedom to have 100% control over items I decide to sell.

What you think?

The practise of fun – #1GAM reflections

I participated in the #1GAM challenge last month. In this blog post, I’ll share a bit of what was going behind the cut-sceens while I was working on my game.

I was in the middle of moving (still am), both kids were ill, I had my main card game project going on…

…yet I decided to participate. Why was that?

How on earth could I find time to create a game starting 30th of March (that’s when I got the idea to join the event), ending 31st of March.

Luckily I had too little time to think whether I could do it or not. I decided I’d do the challenge, and that’s it.

Day 1:
I collected some notes from my previous designs that I come up with every now and then. I wanted to create something really simple, but something that gives player interesting decisions to make. Something easy, fast to play. Something for single player. Something with playing cards.

I had this idea about a game where you must balance “short term benefits” and “long term benefits” and also see what the lady luck brings to you. That was my starting point. I used some of my earlier notes, and soon I had the barebones version done, and list of cards that I’d need. I started the design thinking that there should be maximum of 32 cards, because that’s the smallest Tuckbox size for game crafter service (I wanted to make sure I could also order this deck physically if I ever wanted).

I then drew art, and colored it. I shared my progress via twitter too.

Then something interesting happened. Not sure if it was day 1 or day 2, but nevertheless: I redid all the art (10 cards). Somehow the colors of those chaps wasn’t pleasing my eye, so I decided to redo them… really quick. And I feel that the new art (that took minutes to draw – I needed to take care of the kids too here…) really fit well. I was very pleased.

Day 2:

Then it was the release date. Final day of the challenge. Odd thing to say “final” when there’s just 2 days, but to me it was final. It was feature-freeze time (I’d hope) and start wrapping things up.

I decided to simply use the existing engine I had for solo playtesting. I thought that would be easiest way to get release happening. I took the engine, and made couple of playtests, prepared art, tweaked a few factors (reduced cost of some cards, changed amount of cards and such) and it was good to go. I also prepped website and created rulebook.

…all this while packing my office preparing to move, and taking care of sick kids (you know: preparing food, reading stories and stuff like that).

In the evening, after kids finally got to sleep, I had couple of hours to get everything in shape. I did the final tweaks, prepared release package, set up paypal… and there it was. My game was online. Thinglings was created from zero to existance, in just 2 freaking days.

Conclusions

After getting the release out, I felt really good. First of all, I think this sort of game idea (at least some high level mechanics) had been with me for long time. Or at least near me. The 1GAM contest was the proper push to help me refine and execute the idea. The march deadline was really tough, which forced me to make firm decisions regarding how to do the game.

The interesting thing about the deadline was that I really took action. I used whatever worked, and even took time to polish the art, and just made sure that I’d get the product out in decent manner.

Overall, only good things happened: I got a (small) fun game out, I drew some art which other devs seem to like (so do I), I think the game is actually quite fun and decent… and generally I just felt really good for being part of the challenge, and succeeding (using my own metrics here to measure success)

To me, the march challenge was a really good reminded why these challenges should be remembered. They are simply pure fun to do.

There’s something cool about being able to create something out of nothing.

The outcome:

If you want to try the game, check out the webpage: Thinglings

Tools:

Here are all the tools I used to create my game from start to finish.

My PC/win7:
- BlitzMax (engine)
- Blide (bmax “editor”)
- GIMP (for image manipulation)
- Notepad++ (editing files)

iPad
- Paper 53 (drawing art)
- Notes (the basic app for writing text, not sure what’s it called in english)

(Also bought PS Touch app but didn’t eventually use it during the challenge)

And couple of self-written pieces of software for Windows:
- Duckduck (I use it combine gfx + text, it’s one great tool if you ask me. I should sell it)
- Tabletop thing (Don’t have a name for this, but basically a very simple tool for prototyping card games, solo, offline)