Archive | October 2016

Adventures in video games

I grew up in the 80s, so my introduction to gaming was pretty lo-fi back then. Atari, Commodore 64 (oh my god the tapes, THE TAPES), and even some little handheld video games (like my prized Ms Pac-Man tabletop arcade game). I gamed a little on our home PC once we got that – some SimCity, Dune, Lemmings and the like, loading from 3.5 inch floppy drives and CDs, having to enter a code every time from the booklet to ensure you weren’t playing a pirated copy (those halcyon days). Eventually, I got myself a Sega Mega Drive (when I was still young enough that staying up all night to play Robocop vs Terminator only gave me weird dreams) and progressed onto various Playstation consoles. I’ve always loved video games, but it’s never been up there as my main hobby – and since board games came on the scene, even less so! I’ve slowly gotten back into it over the last 5 – 6 years with the WiiU, PS4 and a Nintendo 3DS living with me. What I hadn’t delved back into was the PC gaming I’d loved in the 90s, primarily due to my lack of a desktop in the last 10 years, and the cross-platform availability of a lot of games; but I figured, why not try out some of the lower scale games (as far as hardware requirements) available on Steam on my laptop?

I created a Steam account and started browsing around some of the indie games available, and also asked my friends on social media for recommendations – and the recommendations (plus Steam keys because people are wonderful) really rolled in! Hilariously, the game near the top of my wishlist was something my other half had downloaded for free on our PS4 a while ago and I hadn’t realized – the atmospheric Gone Home. (Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the Steam games in a bit!) I didn’t know anything about this game before going in, and was completely delighted from the 90’s PNW setting to the seemingly infinite amount of investigating and exploring the environment allows. The game gently guides you along with a journal-based narration as you discover more and more around the house – the rest is up to you and how in-depth you want to explore. There’s a sort of creepy feel to the game, as you’re essentially roaming around an abandoned home in a thunderstorm – and I was suitably spooked at times! – but it slowly starts to feel like more of a narrative about family, love and life choices, exploring someone’s life. I interacted and wandered as much as I could, finding little easter eggs like X-Files VHS tapes and posters and audio tapes of various 90s Riot Grrl musicians, feeling like this game was almost made just for me. It’s not high-action or necessarily fast paced – but that’s why it works. I’m so pleased to have played it through.

Screenshot of the lobby of the house from Gone Home.

Gone Home

Not long after I had finished Gone Home, a friend recommended Virginia to me, which was due to release shortly. From reading some pre-release articles and watching the trailer, I was on board. Also set in 90s PNW (yeah, I know) and having a Twin Peaks/X-Files vibe to it grabbed me – in addition, it looked like there was a great diversity of characters including the player character, a freshly minted FBI agent who is not only a women, but also a POC. I was hoping it would be as open for exploration as Gone Home was, but it had much more of a guiding hand to progress you through the narrative of the game. What’s interesting are the jumps that the narrative takes back and forth through time, and how that starts to drop little clues as to what’s going on. Without dialogue, the game leaves quite a bit open to interpretation – and with the Twin-Peaksy vibe, that only adds to the mystery of it all. The experience was intriguing, even though it wasn’t quite as extensive as Gone Home was for ticking the exploration boxes. Metaphor and vibes drive the game rather than the action and urgency that the stories of other games have – and this is not a bad thing.. Virginia is one that will wash over you, and you’ll be puzzling about for a little while after finishing.

Character from Virginia - hands holding an FBI badge over a sink

Virginia

If these two games are any indication, it seems that – overwhelmingly – adventure and discovery are enriching rewards in games for me, and that’s the sort of thing that will keep me going back for more. Don’t get me wrong, I love lap after lap of Mario Kart 8 – but playing games like Gone Home and Virginia are reawakening my excitement for exploration in games. Increasingly I want to be able to take things at my own pace, ponder the meaning of a game’s progression and narrative, and puzzle out its story. I’ve definitely gotten this feeling, albeit on a much larger scale, with Skyrim – while there are structures and quests to that narrative, it has a lot of give as far as letting you roam the landscape. Although not as great as Skyrim, Witcher 3 has scratched that itch a little bit for me, but the storyline feels much narrower. Let me out there to collect flowers and talk to dragons and stare out into boundless, beautifully rendered landscapes!

Anyhow, yes.. back to the PC. I’ve started to work my way into the little library of games I’ve built up on Steam, with more adventuresome titles to begin with. Sorcery 1 & 2 were a simple yet enjoyable D&Dish romp which ended up being like a fun on-screen choose your own adventure; The Stanley Parable, a strange and surreal game that gets very meta and is really all about exploration and what could be real or not (do you follow the narrator’s prompts, or just go where you want to?); and a simple yet touching playthrough of The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne, an exploration of what it means to experience social anxiety (by its nature a small game with limited choices, but was eye-opening). I still have over a dozen games in my Steam library to get to. Next up on my list to explore are Undertale and Her Story – each an excursion into dark places in their own way, but with their own unique interface and way of storytelling. Although having just started Stardew Valley, I fear it’ll be tough to wrest myself out of that intriguing little world. Gotta plant some parsnips!

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Attempted Design – Update #2

Satin Bowerbird

Satin Bowerbird and nest [BBC]

After sharing my last update, I got great feedback and responses from friends. In particular, my friend Ace gave me thoughtful questions to ask myself as a designer creating a new game. So, figuring this will be the next great step in me thinking more about the game before starting to put it to paper/cardboard, here we go! And a note more to myself than anything else – this isn’t how the game will be forever. This is brainstorming and throwing stuff down to see what sticks. It’s always going to be changeable, malleable.

  • What would be the basic turn structure?

My basic idea would be for players to spend (x) time (on the track) foraging for food (sort of the currency of the game) until each player passes. Then, spending food values, players can bid on a selection of treasure (nest) tiles – once a player wins a bid to pick a tile, they pay and the auction round goes to the other players (or once one player is left they pay minimum bid of one food for the tile left).

  • What, if any, ways could a player interact or affect another player?

Bidding highest to get the first take of a tile, mostly. And making it to a public bonus goal first.

  • Why are the objectives secret if you’re fighting over the same mate?

Each player would have a unique mate hidden in their hand – possibly more, if it would work out like tickets in Ticket to Ride where you could possibly take more mates and score some of their points later in the game? But yeah, there’d be a chance to have different mates each time you play, anyhow.

  • How can you use the secret objectives to create tension?

This is a tough one. Tension in the auction, and the race to succeed at the public goals? (i.e. who makes X shape first, who hits 7×7 filled nest spots first, for example?)

  • What information is hidden?

The goals you’re aiming at for your mates to successfully lure them.

  • How does that hidden information inform game play?

Definitely directs what tiles you’re bidding for, and also the patterns/size of the nest you’re decorating.

  • Can you move tiles/remove tiles after being played?

Perhaps if I allowed during-game scoring of mates? But that doesn’t seem quite as thematic (that also leads to the thought of does having multiple mates to score mean it isn’t as thematic? But the male birds have many females come by to inspect their nests before one chooses, so…) So I’m guessing most likely no, once they’re played they stay.

  • Are/is the tile pool/s singular or player specific?

The tile pool (nest treasures) would be shared – drawn from a bag (perhaps each auction round would have player number +2 tiles as a range to bid on?).

  • Where, if any, would you incorporate randomness?

The bag draw for the nest treasure tiles for sure, and I suppose the allocation of the hidden mates (even if they’re drafted to start the game, and especially if more come out during the game). I know a game like Patchwork has everything visible to start the game, but I think that might be a bit much for this? Maybe to mitigate the randomness of the bag draw, the tiles would be visible during the food collection phase.

  • Where would you say the interesting decisions are?

This is the tough part as I don’t have the game quite fully realized. I want the public and hidden goals to be challenging, but not so random they’re not obtainable. I want players to take their goals and use those as their guide on how to bid, when to let other players win certain phases and the like in order to most efficiently gather together what you need.

  • What type of experience would you like this game to invoke?

A feeling of making the best puzzle, collecting sets to maximize points and having fun making something pretty!

-::-

Following on from this, I need to make a firm decision on the structure of the game, most importantly:

  • Will players draft mate cards?
  • Will there be opportunities to partially score mate cards throughout the game? (Or in drawing new ones, perhaps take 3, keep 1 for instance)
  • How the timing track/food collection will affect the phases/progress/length of the game, and if that makes a difference for player turn order
  • How many treasure tiles, what their shapes and types will be, as well as point values if that’s necessary (for public goals perhaps?)
  • Draft up some shared goals for shapes, sizes, and set collections for treasure types

I’m sure more will come up, but I believe this little brainstorm and following up on those particular points will help direct me further into this game and the process.

Attempted Design – Update #1

Most of you are aware that I’m super into board games. I love playing them, talking about them, and even writing about them sometimes. In the past few years I’ve gotten to try game prototypes at various stages of design, and it’s a fascinating process to gain insight into. I’ve become intrigued with ideas for games, myself – but I wouldn’t fancy myself a game designer. The first game I had an idea for was all about running a museum (and I still have ideas and notes for that, but it’s a really big idea that’s a bit much to tackle right now). One day at work I was randomly chatting with a colleague about a game jam coming up, and how it might be fun to make a natural history-themed game somehow and my brain started percolating.

My first idea was pretty simple, because I’d thought I might approach it at a game jam – it was basically to reskin the 2 player tile-placement game Patchwork as a game where you played a male Bowerbird, laying tiles down to decorate your nest. (I even went to the library at work to read a bit about Bowerbirds, folks!) As time went on, the idea was still there in the back of my head and on the drive home from a convention earlier this year I was chatting with friends about it. We threw ideas about left, right and centre; I tried to hold on to as much of that brainstorming as possible, and one evening while chatting with my other half, threw some more brainstorming notes down on paper. A little while ago I found them while looking through a notebook and figured I should start more work on this!

Oh god why didn't I make sense of this months ago when I wrote it. >.<

A post shared by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

 

I was able to decipher most of the notes, and as I typed things out I fleshed out ideas and organized things a little better. The idea has come a long way from just the blatant reskinning of another game – while I’d still be using a tile-laying element, the game itself has taken on a little more of a life of its own. What do I do now, though? I have a bunch of ideas that seem to go together, but little idea of how to start executing them physically to try them out. So, I’m going to try and take it a little at a time – parcel out little pieces of it to figure them out, and see how that goes. And I figured writing about it might motivate me to get my shit together, too! Haha.

So, you wanna see what I have so far for the summary? I think I need to work on how the rounds of the game might progress, and then think about developing a series of the secret goal (mate) cards first up!

You are a male Satin bowerbird (P. violaceus) living in the Eucalypt forests of eastern Australia. Nesting season is approaching, and you need to attract a mate to your bower. Your bower begins as a structure of stones and sticks – you will, over (x) rounds, collect (hopefully) beautiful blue objects to decorate your bower with. The more beautiful your bower is to female Satin bowerbirds, the better you will do!

How to get points

  • Sets of objects – either same or different
  • Size of nest (have penalties for empty spaces, or bonuses for certain sizes met?)
  • Optical illusion patterns (Bowerbirds lay out objects in patterns to make optical illusions to look extra amazing to potential mates)
  • Dancing bonus, sound bonus (these could come up as cards among food resources, perhaps?) – not sure where these would come in!
  • Leftover resources (food, objects etc.)

If you have met the (secret) conditions of what your mate is looking for, you perform a courtship dance and are successful in attracting your mate. Check the conditions of your mate cards, and any bonus goal points you may have attained – whoever has the most points has made the best bower and pleased their mate above all other birds.


I’d love to hear your thoughts – leave a comment, or ping me over on Twitter at @iheartmuseums

Spiel ’16 – games I’m looking forward to!

I don’t have preorders or anything right now, but here’s what I’ve got my eye on to play once they’re released after this year’s Spiel board game event in Essen, Germany! And if you don’t feel like reading, here’s my rambles in a video.

What’s on my hot list to try:

Key to the City: London – R&D Games: I love Keyflower, but I think the game could do with a better setting (a not so generic one) so I’m looking forward to seeing what this game does!
Cottage Garden – Spielwiese: Uwe Rosenberg’s riding the tile placement train and so far what I’ve tried of it has been great, so it’s no surprise I’m looking forward to this one. I wonder how it’ll compare to Patchwork, being 2 – 4 players!
Great Western Trail – Stronghold Games: To be honest, not super stoked on the theme of this one, but I love love LOVE the designer Alexander Pfister.
Terraforming Mars – Stronghold Games: I’ve heard many great things about this game, so it’s on my list to try for BGGcon (plus, someone posted a pic of a card that’s got a puppy, so I’m on board!)
Mystic Vale expansion – AEG: I loved Mystic Vale but, like many others, felt it needed more. Can’t wait to see what’s going on in this expansion.
Oh My Goods expansion – Mayfair/Lookout: An expansion for another Alexander Pfister gem. One of my fave releases from the last year, Oh My Goods is a great small Euro in a card game package. Excited to see what the expansion will do.
Clank! – Renegade Games: I always love trying fun dungeon raiding types of games (Welcome to the Dungeon, Dungeon Raiders, Claustrophobia to name a few) and I’ve  heard fun things about this, so now it’s on my list to seek out.
The Last Friday – Ares Games: I am still kicking myself for missing out on this at Gen Con! I have a preorder, and even if the disappointment I’ve heard about the game is warranted, I still can’t wait to see what it’s like!

Games i’m interested in but could wait: 

Dragon & Flagon – Stronghold Games: Heard many good things out of Gen Con and want to try it, but I am not sure about picking this one up
Pandemic Iberia – Z-Man Games: I haven’t even finished my Pandemic: Legacy campaign yet, so the other Pandemic flavours have to wait 😦
La Granja the Dice Game – No Siesta! – Stronghold Games: Loved La Granja, but the time investment means it’s hard to get to the table. Intrigued by this, wonder if it could make it more accessible.
Jorvik! – Eggertspiele: I mostly want to see how the new theme’s been implemented over the Speicherstadt! Curious if it’d be a better play than I had of the original.
Inis – Matagot: Having tried Kemet & Cyclades, and hearing this is similar, it makes me a little hesitant (I like Kemet for sure but don’t like it enough to own it) – but it does sound interesting. Plus, the art looks really neat.
Pandemic the Cure: Experimental Meds – Z-Man Games: I got to try a prototype of this a while back, so I’m excited it’s finally coming out! MORE THE CURE! One of the best dice implementations of a board game ever ever ever.

Finally, what I’ve tried and recommend:

7 Wonders Duel: Pantheon – Repos Productions: 7 Wonders Duel is one of the best 2 player games out there, and this adds some cool unique player abilities in the form of God cards players can obtain. Very awesome addition.
Adrenaline – Czech Games Edition: A first person shooter Euro! Truly fantastic fun. Move around a board to attack your opponents, but also try to make the most of those attacks by taking up the most area on their damage tracker. Looking forward to grabbing this one.
Feast for Odin – Z-Man Games: This is a hefty game. The box is almost the size of my 15lb dog. It’s a great Euro worker placement/tile placement game that has so much complex strategy I haven’t scratched the surface in even a few plays. Love it so far though!
Colony – Bezier Games: A lovely twist on a city building game with tableau-building and the use of dice as resources! BONUS: post-apocalyptic setting. Woo!
Cry Havoc – Portal Games: If you hadn’t guessed from my Inis blurb above, i’m not too much of a fan of “dude on map” games, but this invasion/area control combat game has a really fresh approach with the ‘factions’ you play and the unique combat resolution. I actually had fun playing a combat game! Best.
Captain Sonar – Matagot Games: Real-time Battleship with dry-erase sheets. Get in.
Networks – Formal Ferret Games: I love this game – medium strategy card playing and a hell of a fun sense of humour. Make sure to preorder if you’re going to Essen!
Oceanos – Iello Games: Everything about this game is wonderful. It’s pretty, it’s light and fun, and you have a submarine. Just get it.
Vanuatu 2nd ed – Quined Games: We have an older version, and the game’s terrific (role selection, interesting decisions to kinda maximize for yourself and block other players). If they’ve updated the art, that’s great!

If you’re looking for a great tool to help make sense of and sort through all of the releases for Spiel, head to Tabletop Together’s “Spiel Together” tool. (Which couldn’t be useful at all without the amazing work that is put in over at BGG by W. Eric Martin on the BGG Spiel Preview!)