Week 2

Another week has passed! And I didn’t just watch episodes of Archer and Game of Thrones… I worked on board games!

The week started with writing a blog post and editing our latest Friends on Play episode. We talked about our top 3 favorite games of 2012. Mine were Skyrim, Spaceteam and Nintendo Land. Surprisingly, I didn’t put any board games on that list. I wonder why? The rest of the day was pretty light on game development, but I made a few new objective cards for future spies to pursue.

In the evening I met with one of the guys who worked on the dysFUNction board game. It’s a game about sharing your dysfunctional family stories. What a weird, fresh concept. I just got my copy in and I’m looking forward to trying it out. We talked about all kinds of things: designing the game, playtesting, self-publishing, and building their online store.

One of the best tips I got from him was this: when choosing the size of your game box, keep in mind the smallest USPS box that the game will fit into. Why? Because the smaller the USPS box, the less you pay to ship out each game to your customers. In the board game world, increasing the price margin like that is important because games are generally costly to manufacture and distribute, especially compared to my old world of online games (“manufacture” it once, distribute it almost for free). This money saved can be spent on better quality components, or developing the next board game.

He and I only just met, but at the end of the night he let me borrow some books that were helpful to his process. One of them is The Toy and Game Inventor’s Handbook. On the way out, there were tons of boxes stacked up near his front door. He asked, “Do you like Monster Energy drinks?” Apparently the company ships him cases of their products every week and he gives it to everyone on the way out. I ended up taking a case of Gluten-free juice boxes. I am intolerant to fruit, so I will save them for my future guests! How random. Funny things happen when you meet kind, new people. Haha. Anyway, it was a pleasant meeting. I’m glad we got together to chat.

The next day I met up with an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a while. We caught up, and found that we could probably help each other out in our endeavors. Everyone wants to help each other! It’s a nice feeling. I spent the rest of the day preparing my spy game item cards for a major rule change. There were timing issues with various item cards in the past couple of playtests, and the rule change set to fix that. I was disappointed to find that many cards required more text in their descriptions than in the previous version. I dislike adding wordiness and complexity, but I figured at this point it’s worth aiming for a cleaner rule set with the expectation of curating clean card content later.

A friend of mine tipped me off to start watching Archer for espionage ideas. Now I’m about 7 episodes into the series. I recommend it. The main character is a hilarious asshole.

Wednesday I saw potential office space. There are some other teams there that I could contribute to once in a while and vice versa, so that might create some good energy. It reminded me a little of the ETC. I’m just worried about spending too much time giving feedback to others and not focusing enough on my own projects. Perhaps I should just try it out and see how it goes. After all, it’s healthy to leave your own brain sometimes.

Later in the day I played the classic Clue (Simpsons edition). I also played Pay Day, which I’d never played before. Clue has an elegance that tickles me. Pay Day had a surprisingly fun and funny theme – going into debt! Ok, well, it’s funnier when the game says it =) The game board in Pay Day is a 31-day calendar. Players take turns progressing through the weeks, landing on different events that pay out/suck up cash and occasionally tempt you to take out loans. I’d recommend playing it once or twice if you can borrow a copy.

Thursday was a very productive day as far the game goes. I created a bunch of new item and objective cards. All in all, the content grew by about 40%. There are fun cards in there now, like an item that lets you reflect a successful spy ability back at your opponent. There was a great moment in a playtest where my friend thought her spy had killed one of my spies, but I revealed the card and reflected the strike right back at her!

Before playing (and before printing a new set of cards), she read through my card list. Despite my numerous iterations on the card wordings, she pointed out a variety of questionable cards and then proposed better wordings. Because of that, I can see I am too close to the product; at some point, the best edits always come from people who aren’t me (the designer). I am grateful for her insight.

Once I was happy with the card list in Excel, I set up a Mail Merge document in Microsoft Word that connects up with it — a process taught to me by my friend the week before. Mail Merge is a bit clunky at first, but once you understand it, it’s awesome. It lets you pull dynamic Excel content into Word. For example, in my game, I made an item card layout that looked like:

<card type>
<card name>
<card description>
<go to next row’s data>

I copied the above lines into each cell of a 3×4 table in Word so I could print 12 cards per page. The Mail Merge fills in all of the above information dynamically. So I ended up with 76 cards dynamically pulled into Word without me having to lift a finger after the initial set up. Very cool stuff. If you have questions about setting up Mail Merge, let me know.

After I printed the cards, I cut them up and prepared for playtesting. I mentioned the exciting moment earlier with the reflecting item, but this playtest wasn’t all positive. In fact, it was pretty tough on my spirits. You see, at the end of the last blog post I mentioned that the game started feeling fun. I thought this was a sign of a positive future! Well, the game WORKS better now, but it seemed to lose some of the fun from the previous test. It may have to do with having less potential for surprise in the game. Also, there’s an interesting thing I’ve noticed that whoever wins in the game enjoys the playtest, and whoever loses the game doesn’t. Guess who lost in this game? Yours truly. That can be taken as a good sign or a bad sign depending on how you look at it. It could mean that we are getting easily emotionally invested in it (good), or that the game just isn’t interesting when you’re losing (bad).

So for now I’m just not sure what it is. I’ll be doing some soul-searching over the next few days. I want the game to be simple to understand, but as deep as it was before. That’s always the challenge, isn’t it?