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My games in development

I'm having a day off for my birthday! So I thought I'd follow Seth Jaffee's example and list the current state of my board games. (As with Seth's post, some of the details here are more notes to myself than expected to make sense if you haven't played the game.)

Steam Works


Steam Works, of course, is getting published by Tasty Minstrel Games :D The artwork and rulebook are done, and the game is in manufacturing, and on track for release at Essen this October. The cover artwork was made public a week or two ago, and it's awesome! (Click for larger version)



Now, on to games at a much less advanced stage of development.

Space Dogsbody


This game is sadly retired. There was a publisher interested a couple of years ago, but they went out of business, and in the meantime I was becoming increasingly aware of a number of problems with Space Dogsbody: 1) The flavour is very sardonic / comic, but the gameplay is rather cutthroat tactical manoeuvring. A game with SD's flavour ought to have gameplay to match. 2) The rewards for the different reputation tracks were too explosive. It was all about who managed to make their score explode first. 3) The different reputation tracks didn't all work. The Hacker track and Freelancer track worked nicely, but the Merchant track encouraged a very boring style of play, and the Sheriff track was a bit too all-or-nothing even having added Explosives.

Nonetheless, it had a bunch of nice mechanics to it - particularly the way the pirates move around threatening all players but in a predictable way somewhat under the players' control - and I'm certainly looking to reuse aspects from Space Dogsbody in other games.

Castles in the Air


This is a game I started working on almost ten years ago. It's got a fun flavour and pleasing mechanics. Here's some of the current prototype tiles to give you a feel for it:

The state of the game seven-ish years ago was that it was fun but seemed to be lacking something, so got abandoned. Having worked on a number of games since then, this year I decided to revisit it with my more experienced game designer's eye to see if I could find what that missing part might be. I tried replacing gems with treasure cards in hand, each of which could be "spent" (but you still score for it) to gain some oneoff ability. That didn't work very well - the cards were mostly somewhat situational effects, which meant people didn't spend them as fast as they gained them, leaving players towards the end of the game with lots and lots of not-very-useful options and a lot of AP - so that's been quickly reverted. I've had a plan for adding some special rooms to the castle where players can trade gems for special powers, but haven't had much energy to actually implement this and try it out.

Airship Investment


I had high hopes for this one, but it doesn't seem to be working. The core mechanic is that players have several actions they can take, which each start off very expensive (in Action Point cost), but one of the actions is "Investment" which reduces the AP cost of any other action (to a minimum of 1). I tried to come up with a suite of actions all of which could plausibly be in any of the categories "never do it all game", "do it once or twice", or "invest in it heavily then do it lots". I also tried to make it that no one action was able to stand alone and be the only thing you do once you get it down to costing 1 AP, but that you'd need to balance or mostly alternate two or more. But basically that mechanic seems to inevitably result in meaning that players look for some combination of upgrades or effects that let them "go off" with one particular action down to 1AP. That wasn't really what I was going for, so this one is on the back burner for now.

Empire Builder


A game about gathering resources and building structures, to fulfil certain missions, some of which are shared by all players and others of which are in a player's hand at the start of the game. You do this by using cards from your council of five underlings, each of whom can be used each turn either for their ability to gain resources or build, or can supply you with cash to hire new underlings (but you only ever have five available on any one turn).

This one seems to have potential. The idea of using each of your cards either for their effect or for buying a new card seems good; the costs of the different resources and the relative achievability of the mission cards seems good. Players mostly keep pace with scoring each mission the same number of times as each other, but with enough variation that there's not much risk of tied scores, and players feel good for spotting ways to score an extra mission here or there. Letting each mission card be scored in precisely two scoring rounds works very well. Current problems include that players really aren't doing much blocking of each other, mostly just parcelling out the board into the territory each of us is interested in because of our particular mission cards; nobody wants to buy the advanced underlings as it seems better to just spend rounds 5-10 building structures; and if you "run out" of missions your final couple of rounds are distinctly boring.

Things to try next time I look at this: One big theme is increasing competition/interaction. To that end: Some mission cards that explicitly encourage you to be touching opponents' buildings. Also some ways to "jump" away from your existing territory and some missions for disconnected groups. More missions that mention the same terrain as each other to increase competition. Special contested resource spots on the board which several underlings refer to / count, including one of the starting underlings, but you're not allowed to start actually on them. Plus miscellaneous other ways to encourage players to get in each other's way.
Other changes I'm considering: Make the later underling cards cheaper and/or give you a benefit the turn you buy them. Rework the system whereby you need to buy an otherwise-suboptimal underling who makes crystal to have any chance of buying the magic users - I'm thinking perhaps several of the otherwise-useful underlings also have an inefficient way to make crystal.

Vaguer ideas


I've got a few other ideas which haven't even made it to a first playtest yet. A few months back I was having a play with http://www.boardgamizer.com/ and it offered the intriguing suggestion of an Ancient Rome area-control game where you achieve victory by "Helping the Most Players". I've done some thinking about what this could mean but not actually got as far as making a prototype yet.

Similarly an idea about spies transmitting data through cyberspace, which would have two boards - one for your location in meatspace and one in cyberspace. The players would have to keep moving to avoid detection, and need to have "conversations" with each other to communicate certain key data, but risk also giving away other secrets they didn't intend to.

And there's a game in early development where I love the theme but I don't want to mention it here yet :) Players will be drafting cards for assistants to help them with their tasks, and be spending favour with authorities to try to get missions that suit their particular combination of abilities. I'm rather enjoying making plans for this one but it'll be a while before it's ready to playtest.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
woodpijn
May. 29th, 2015 10:58 am (UTC)
I still really like Space Dogsbody :) I think I personally enjoy it more than Steam Works, while admitting that Steam Works is probably an objectively better game. I'd love to see it published as close to its current form as possible, rather than cannibalised for parts for other games.

I don't see the flavour "mismatch" as a problem: Small World, Black Fleet, Belfort all have comedy flavour to some extent and serious gameplay. Comic flavour doesn't mean it has to play like Munchkin.
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