Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A helping hand

I have been getting a bunch of testing in on Camp Nightmare this past week while I am visiting my parents for Christmas.  There is a pretty varied set of people that have played with me from a few pretty serious gaming geeks to older relatives.  As you might expect the gamers found it straightforward to pick up but some people really struggled with the mechanics.  It is tricky because I have to be very careful not to try to please everyone.  The people that really want Go Fish and Pictionary aren't going to enjoy the same thing that the players of Agricola and Advanced European Theatre of Operations are.  Pick your target audience and make the best possible game for them, I say.

The trouble with testing the game by playing it with people is that I don't get to see what sorts of mistakes people make on their own.  This manifests itself in two ways:  First, rules explanations and basic understanding of mechanics is always smooth because any misinterpretations are squashed immediately.  I can also leave pieces of the rules explanation out until the appropriate time comes for them to be explained which lets people get a sense of how the game plays without being submerged under endless rules at the start, often rules clarifying mechanics they don't yet understand.  To figure out if my written rules are good and if text on cards in clear I have to step back and watch without playing.  This is hard because I love to play the game!

The second trick is that I don't get to see how people misinterpret situations and individual cards.  It can be very useful to know what sorts of strategies people will try and how those strategies will fail spectacularly.  The simplest example of this is the card called Telescope.

Any player may take a Stargazing Action in place of their normal Action.  Doing so costs them 6 Energy but gains 3 Fun.

Everyone who has drawn a Telescope seems hell bent on slapping it down and trying to use it even when doing so is a disaster.  The Telescope is powerful but situational - it is amazing at turning excess Energy into Fun but people often misunderstand how much Energy they need in order to have any to spare.  I have definitely used it to devastating effect but most of the time it is not the best card to play.  For new players though its appeal to efficacy ratio is way too high.

There is also the issue that players lead off with the idea that they should play a card every turn.  They drop down cards that improve Gather Wood actions and then nobody ever bothers to Gather Wood because they are so busy playing their own exciting cards.  Oftentimes they end up playing cards to zero effect because everyone is busy trying to be the hero instead of playing on the team.  This isn't a big issue long term because it rapidly becomes clear that you have to use your resources carefully instead of spending them like water but it is good to know how exactly this sort of thing happens.

One general thing that is completely clear is that new players who just read the rules and go for it will end up with absolutely miserable scores.  I expect a lot of starving to death in the wilderness while people figure out how to deal with all of the Disasters the game throws at them.  Good players will rapidly ratchet up their scores though and I think a group that learns the game together will have the great experience of slow but clear improvement as their mastery increases.  That is one really nice thing about coop games; rather than playing better against opponents that also improve you can actually see your numbers go up to mark your progress over time.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Sometimes I really get ahead of myself.  I have not yet taken any particular steps to publish Camp Nightmare and yet I find myself extremely involved in planning new expansions for it.  I feel like I have to pour out my ideas somehow, to turn them from buzzing noises in my head into cards and tokens and real things I can touch.  I know that one of the things bad game designers are most guilty of is sticking absolutely everything into their games so I must hold myself back and leave the base game alone but the ideas must go somewhere so expansions it is.

There are some real tricks to expansion design though.  In Camp Nightmare there are plenty of different Disasters and they vary widely in how terrible they are.  Crunch Oops for example is usually pretty innocuous while Poor Planning is really nasty.  Also Disasters determine the length of the game since you have to use all of them.  Given that I can't just print more Disasters and add them in because it would throw everything completely off.

New and more interesting Gear cards is another possibility and it is easier because the size of the Gear deck is not so important and Gear cards are all balanced.  Unfortunately this still constrains my design pretty seriously because the game is based around certain effects being available.  I kind of expect people to get a card that increases their Wood production, have access to a lot of Food cards, and have ways to boost Energy.  Unfortunately if I just create a bunch of new random cards to add to the deck people are often going to lack some of the standard effects and that will throw the game off.

Sleeping Bag
When any player Naps they gain +3 Energy.

For example, I have the card Sleeping Bag which lets the players regain Energy from Naps very efficiently.  I need cards that increase Energy production so I don't want to remove it entirely.  I also don't want to just replace it with an identical card from an expansion called Blankets or something like that - Sleeping Bags are iconic!  I could just make a list of cards that always stay in and put Sleeping Bag on that list but it is a giant pain in the ass to sort through all the cards before each game.

The other difficulty is that some Gear cards interact directly with specific Disaster cards and if I change either deck both of them cease to work as well as a unit.  Dull Blades causes the players to lose 1 Fun for each Axe, Saw, Knife, or Kukri in play and that doesn't work if those cards don't exist!  Unfortunately the only way out of this dilemma seems to be to rebuild both decks completely and in tandem with one another.  Essentially this would mean replacing all of the cards in the game with new ones which unfortunately requires either abandoning a lot of the flavour of the original game, having a big list of cards to take out and put in, or having many of the expansion cards be the same as the original.

The best way around it as far as I can see is to make expansions that include standard cards like Sleeping Bag but which are completely self contained.  The idea would be that you simply choose an entire set of decks before play, either the standard game or one of the expansions.  In theory they are balanced the same as the normal deck but in practice that would be very difficult to achieve precisely.  Not that perfect balance is necessary in a cooperative game mind you but it is definitely something I would like.

My current plan is to make a horror expansion where the players are not only trying to survive mosquitoes and food shortages but also a maniac in the woods who wants to kill them all.  After that it is time for alien invasion and a new mechanic where the players have to keep the aliens from getting a fix on them or they risk being pulled up into a UFO for some bad times.  I can't imagine anyone else playing a camping game with aliens tacked on top of it is going to take the balance as seriously as I will but that has never stopped my obsessions before so I can't see why it would now.

Friday, December 19, 2014

More wiping

I am still addicted to It's A Wipe!  Running a raiding guild where I can raid exactly when I want to rather than on a fixed schedule is really fun!

This game does a lot of things right that I find rare in any game, let alone one developed by a single person.  The standout surprise is how good the numbers are in the fights.  As you push through the game the dungeons get more challenging both strategically and numerically and it strikes a nice balance between requiring farming without requiring *too* much farming.  Gear scales up quite dramatically between dungeon tiers, roughly doubling in efficacy.  This works out well in that new tiers of fights are extremely difficult at the start but become pretty trivial by the end - it actually feels a lot like raids did in WOW in terms of that ramp up.

The developer did a good job tuning those numbers correctly, especially in that the final dungeon tier is really quite challenging even if you are almost fully geared out from the previous dungeons.  It is the last challenge after all (until the expansion!) so making it a bit of a brick wall is completely reasonable.  There are a lot of decisions to make in terms of who you take to the dungeon and how you are going to gear them and it is not clear to me what the optimal answers are.

Luckily that doesn't mean that there are no bad choices - on the contrary, there are a million ways to play stupidly.  What I really enjoy in games though is a situation where there are a bunch of interesting ways to be good.  If there are a million ways to play and one hundred of them are solid then there is a lot of room to play around hunting for the *perfect* solution without feeling like experimentation is just a waste of time.  I like finding the ideal setup but I want the sense that once I find it there might still be something out there a touch better and that is easiest to achieve when there are many ways to be good.

There are a couple of exceptions to the rule of good balance though.  Trinkets are really weird items and their abilities are all over the map unlike weapons and armour which are fairly predictable.  The good trinkets boost spell power, dps, crit chance, hit points, or armour.  These are all totally reasonable choices that you will use at some time or other.  The trinkets that boost damage usually give a ~10% boost, hit points go up by 10-200% (which isn't as broken as it sounds because dps classes with excess hit points aren't actually much better) and armour is useful.  So far, so good.

Then there are the awful trinkets.  Not just subpar, but on the verge of having no game effect.  Specifically there are trinkets to increase or decrease threat generated by 8%.  The way threat works is you assign a tank to each enemy and the enemies attack that tank no matter what.  Even if the tank never hits that particular enemy and the rest of the raid is beating on them the tank holds aggro.  How a small change in threat generation was supposed to be useful when tanks have literally infinite threat is a bit beyond me.  I am totally okay with items that aren't very good but these aren't a skill tester - they just don't do anything.  You can tell an item has issues when it does 8 of a thing and you wouldn't consider using it if that number was 1,000,000 instead.

The final dungeon in It's A Wipe! is changing my tactics a fair bit.  The main consideration is that there is a boss that mind controls one party member each round and dealing with that is an issue.  Your healers, wizards, bards and tanks just hit the tank for 1 damage so they are no problem.  Rogues stab the tank for a lot of damage so that is bad.  Mages however hit the entire raid for 50 damage which probably kills all of your wizards and mages!  Until I manage to farm up HP trinkets for all my wizards and mages I basically can't take a mage to the final dungeon.  That particular mechanic seems way out of line if I was actually playing with real people - the mages would be on the forums crying up a storm.  In this case though it just means I try to win with my mage riding the bench.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It's a Wipe!

Ziggyny told me about a new game on Steam called It's A Wipe! which is essentially a simulation of being a raid leader running raids with a bunch of annoying and incompetent raiders.  It is cheap in all senses of the word - art and animation that would be reasonable for a game released in 1985 and a price tag of $5.  I don't mind incredibly craptacular graphics if I can get a good core game though, and It's A Wipe delivers.

You play as a raid leader and so one of the characters is your own.  The other nine are drawn from seven different classes with a variety of specializations across buffing, dpsing, healing, and tanking and divided amongst AOE and single target specialists.  The raids are very much drawn from World of Warcraft (unofficially, of course) and just like in WOW you need to pick your raid and your strategies based on what sorts of fights you are having difficulties with.

You get to both direct your raid in fights and also perform the other challenges of raid management like talking to players who need extra attention, worrying about which raiders deserve the next drop, and figuring out who to bench.  Raiders all come with personality quirks like being hardcore raiders and never wanting to take a night off or being particularly obsessed with loot and taking it hard when they get passed over.  Initially I tried to have a deep roster so I could bench people on a regular basis when they needed time off but eventually I settled on running just ten total raiders and just taking nights off now and then when people got burned out.  This meant that they geared up faster because they weren't sharing loot and that I never had weird raid compositions.

The fights themselves have enough interesting mechanics to force you to pay attention but just like real raiding as your gear improves you can eventually trivialize mechanics and just brute force your way through.  The initial raid dungeon is pretty boring but the ramp up works pretty well, I think.  There are a ton of different commands you can enter to tell your raiders to swap roles, heal a specific target, change dps targets, get out of the fire, hug the monster, and more.  The trick is that these raiders often get bored and do things you do not like.  Sometimes the healer will decide to start attacking and you need to yell at them to get back to healing but you also need to tell people to get out of the fire.  This is a challenge because you can only yell one thing a round so you have to prioritize.

There are some issues with the game, primarily that of combat speed.  There are some combats that take a long time and have limited inputs and the fastest possible game speed isn't very fast at all.  I would have liked a game speed called Ludicrous to actually be Ludicrously fast instead of just twice as fast as Normal speed.  It would be good to be able to speed past the spots where there aren't a lot of decisions to be made because the fight is already on farm.

I don't think It's A Wipe has a ton of longterm potential because once you have beaten it I don't know that it will be worth going through again with a different team.  However, for the price tag I think it is a real win especially if you have fond memories of raiding in times gone past.  You can have fun learning raid encounters on a friendly schedule and gear up and that is good times.  It is a game worth playing.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The math

On Tuesday I suggested a model for monsters in Heroes By Trade that removed their damage rolls and allowed them to deal fixed damage.  Normally monsters roll 1d10 and add their damage bonus to it but with the new system they would, for example, deal 11 damage instead of 1d10+5.  This is generally a raw damage increase because 1d10+5 averages to 10.5.  A couple people talked about how this was potentially an issue because if a player managed to get their Armour value to 10 they could become nearly invincible to the monster hitting for fixed damage.  This is a valid concern so I decided to crunch some numbers and see how it actually shakes out.

This chart shows the average damage dealt given the Armour values on the left.

Armour value
Fixed Damage (11)
Random Damage (1d10+5)

What we see here is that fixed damage actually does more damage right up until Armour reduces the damage to 3 and isn't a big deal until Armour gets the damage taken down to 1.  This looks like a bit of a problem in theory but I am not sure in practice that it matters.  Here is the critical thing - any player with enough Armour to be taking 1 damage from attacks is basically invincible in any case.  Upping the average damage / round from 1 to 1.6 is hardly relevant to the outcome of the battle since when you account for hit chance the character can almost certainly stand there and just heal through 8 enemies beating on them constantly in either case.  Heroes By Trade is not designed for solo battles to the death so presumably those 8 enemies will eventually realize the futility of their efforts and go bash on somebody a lot squishier, disarm the character, or run away.  Characters with that much Armour tend to be very slow and clumsy so they are vulnerable to such tactics.

Also there is the consideration that if the battle includes multiple enemies with different attacks things will likely balance out.  If a character with 11 Armour is being attacked by 1 enemy that deals 11 damage and 1 enemy that deals 17 damage they take 7 damage per round.  If the same character is attacked by enemies that roll for damage instead they take 7.1 damage per round.  The only time the high Armour character is really out of line is when they are exclusively being attacked by enemies that fit in a very tight damage band and if those are the only enemies the character is going to mop them up no matter what system is being used.

There is an argument that carries much more weight though - if the system feels bad and players don't like it then the numerical benefits aren't particularly relevant.  Personally I have no issue with monsters dealing fixed damage because an ogre that hits for 23 does not feel in any way more realistic or immersive than an ogre that has precisely a 10% chance to hit for any value from 18 to 27.  What does get me going is that the fixed damage ogre gets its turn done faster so we can get back to doing cool stuff to blow said ogre up.

It is pretty clear to me that the combat math works just fine with fixed damage or rolled damage.  The only question is whether or not everyone has more fun.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Fast monsters

My next big project for Heroes By Trade is to find some way to make the GM's job easier in combats.  This was definitely one of my goals from the outset and I hoped to accomplish it by making resolution of actions quick and simple.  Unfortunately I think that I missed the mark along the way due to my tendency to go for complicated but pretty solutions instead of fast and dirty ones.  Imagine for the moment that a Giant Spider is standing next to a character and is going to attack on its turn:

First the GM rolls 1d6 to see if the Spider gets to use its special Acidic Bite or if it has to rely on a Basic Attack.  If the GM rolls 4+ the Spider will Acidic Bite.

Okay, so, 1d6 gets a result of 5.  Comparing that to the chart... it gets to use Acidic Bite.

In either case the GM then makes a Hit Roll and compares the result to the target's Dodge to see if the attack lands.

1d20 comes up with 13.  Add the Spider's Hit Bonus of 4, total of 17.  Does that hit your Dodge?  Cool, the attack hits.

Then the GM rolls damage, adds the Spider's damage bonus, and the target reduces the damage by their Armour.  Finally damage is applied, and if the attack was an Acidic Bite the target also gets Persistent damage to deal with later.

Okay, so 1d10 damage roll is 7.  The Spider's damage bonus is 4, so you take 11 physical damage.  Also tack on persistent damage so you will take another 10 next turn.

Even a very simple turn for a straightforward creature requires 3 rolls.  That isn't quick and because the GM doesn't even know ahead of time if the monster is going to have access to its special abilities there is limited planning that can happen.  I think that checking the monster chart four times for it to make an attack is just too many.  (Roll for Power usage, check which Power to use, look up Hit Bonus, look up damage bonus.)  I need to figure out some way to make things easier.  There are a lot of options.

1.  Remove special attacks from monsters.  This gets rid of the 1d6 roll and removes the need to choose attacks but it makes monsters boring.  No good.  Boring is a dealbreaker.

2.  Remove Hit Rolls.  This would require a complete system rewrite because automatic application of debuffs would make the game unplayable.  Not reasonable.

3.  Remove damage rolls.  This is actually very possible.  If monsters have a damage listing that looks like this:  10 (+4) the GM can choose between 10 flat damage and rolling 1d10+4.  This makes it very easy to speed up the damage portion of the fight but allows people to retain extra randomness if they want it.  The slightly higher but more predictable damage is probably a wash as far as the players are concerned.  Predictability favours those who are rated to win, after all.

4.  Remove Basic Attacks from monsters so they always use specials.  This is the reverse of 1. and has interesting effects.  There is less rolling, which is good, but more time spent choosing Powers.  However, with no roll the GM can plan ahead and have a horde of monsters all do the same thing which speeds things up considerably.

Combining 3 and 4 would result in much more rapid resolution of monster Actions without losing any strategic depth.  The only real downside is that fixed damage could occasionally be gamed by the players - if they know they will take 7 damage from the next attack they can plan around that.  Having the players plan to get their Focus down to 7 exactly in that circumstance seems pretty sketchy.  Perhaps that is territory best reserved for "A meteor hits you.  Make a new character."

A turn from a Giant Spider would go somewhat differently with these changes:

1d20 roll comes up with 13.  Add the Spider's Hit Bonus of 4, total of 17.  Does that hit your Dodge?  Cool, the attack hits.

The Spider decides to use Acidic Bite over Web Shot so it does 10 damage.  Also tack on persistent damage so you will take another 10 next turn.

This sequence has 1 roll instead of 3, and 2 lookups instead of 4.  Much faster.  The question is, will it *feel* good?  My hunch is that the players want the monsters to do their stuff fast so that the players can get back to doing fun stuff so the small loss in damage variability will be hugely offset by the chance to do more things.  This warrants testing for sure.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Writing things is hard

The question of the day is as follows:  What do you think the card below does?


At the beginning of each player's turn they either pay 1 Energy OR trash all of their Equipment.

Specifically, what does it do if you start your turn and have no Equipment in play?  Think on that a second.

In my mind this card gives you the choice to either pay 1 Energy or execute the function Destroy_Equipment(currentplayer, all).  Since you have no Equipment in play you execute the function and it does nothing.  Easy!  Unfortunately it became clear last night that other people read the Windy card and conclude that if you have no Equipment you must pay 1 Energy since you have nothing to destroy.  I think it is my math training that makes me think this way - I have no problem with performing an operation on all elements of an empty set.  Normal people don't seem to see it the same way though.

This is one of the things that playtesting thoroughly really brings out, especially when you get people to playtest without the game creator being involved.  Sometimes the numbers are right, the flavour works, and yet different people come to very different conclusions on what a card does.  This is why I find it so useful to test games with my hardcore math gamer nerd friends as well as more mainstream folks.  Tremendous insight can be found in the observations of people who have no real interest in the numbers at all.

The correction required for this card is a small one but it is critical to include so that the effect of the card is not warped completely out of shape.


At the beginning of each player's turn destroy all of that player's Equipment.  They may pay 1 Energy to prevent this from happening.

Hopefully this version makes it more clear that you are allowed to just ignore the card if you don't have any Equipment in play at the moment.  Of course I might be introducing some other issue into the mix because no one person is ever going to be able to see all the ways that other people will (mis)interpret a card.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A proper test

I got to test out Camp Nightmare on the weekend and learned a lot of useful things.  In theory the game would play well with up to six people but I hadn't had the ability to test it with more than four people up until then.  It turns out that my intuitive guesses about how well it would play with six were close but missed a few key things.  There were two cards in the game that really didn't work at all in the six player version and they looked roughly like this:


You can take an Action to go swimming, which gains you 1 Fun and 1 Energy.

In a game with a few players this works fine but in the six player version you often wouldn't even get back around to your turn to be able to actually go swimming.  Getting to swim twice was pretty nearly impossible and that meant that this card was a pure trap.  While I don't mind cards having different values in different circumstances I don't want players to draw a card and realize that it will never under any circumstances be right to play.  Originally my solution to this was to let people pay 1 Energy to borrow a card for a turn but borrowing swimsuits just seems like a mistake somehow.  If you are into doing that, why aren't you all just skinny dipping?  My solution is to rebrand the card and change it up a little.

Fluffy Towel

Any player can take an Action to go Swimming, which gains them 1 Fun.  No one can Swim on two consecutive turns.

I added in the extra line at the end to restrict the card somewhat because most cards that boost Actions aren't spammable to the same extent - you only need so much Wood or Food but Fun is useful in any amount.  Plus it makes a lot of sense that you need to let the towel dry out again before somebody else can use it to dry themselves off from a dip in the lake.  Go making sense!

The other thing that needed tweaking was the two major ways in which people could boost their resource production.  Gathering Wood is an Action that produces 2 wood normally, but is boosted by the following cards:


Each time any player Gathers Wood they gain +3 Wood.  


Each time any player Gathers Wood you can spend 1 Energy to increase the Wood gain by +5.

A typical circumstance is a player playing one of these cards and then people Gathering Wood 3 times.  With the Saw there is a total of 15 Wood generated over 4 turns, while the Axe provides 21 Wood at the cost of 3 Energy.  The Axe looks better because it generates 18 total resources instead of 15 but it has a major problem in that the person playing it needs a large store of Energy to make it work.  In the six player game getting enough Energy together to do that was a major issue and was completely infeasible at the start of the game.  Right at the beginning a player dropping the Axe would only have enough Energy to power it once and that leaves it as a very unreliable and situational way to gain Wood.

The main reason this was an issue is that in all games the Food and Wood are communal resources.  If the group needs more anybody can fix that on their turn.  Energy on the other hand is a personal resource so if you need Energy to power a card you might well have to spend a turn Napping to get Energy and by the time your next turn comes around the card you wanted to play probably isn't legal, never mind being a good idea.  Anything requiring specific people to spend Energy is extremely difficult to use profitably in six player games.  My new design isn't a complete overhaul but hopefully fixes the issues to a large extent.


Each time any player Gathers Wood they gain +2 Wood.  When this happens any one player can spend 1 Energy to increase the Wood gain by +3.

The idea here is that if you are constantly pouring Energy into the Axe it is quite a good card and produces a lot of Wood.  If you don't have extra Energy though it is still a reasonable investment compared to the Saw.  The breakpoint is that if you are simply Napping as your Action to gain 2 Energy and then pouring that Energy into the Axe it is not as efficient as the Saw.

Axe - Nap, Gather Wood for 7, Gather Wood for 7, total 14.
Saw - Gather Wood for 5, Gather Wood for 5, Gather Wood for 5, total 15.

However, if you are able to generate Energy efficiently through some other means such as a Sleeping Bag then you could get the efficiency of the Axe higher than the Saw.  This is pretty much exactly what I was aiming for - depending on your situation either of the two tools might be desirable but until you get into the game it is not at all clear.  The Saw has the advantage of being simpler and more reliable but the Axe has the advantage of offering choices and choices are powerful, particularly once you know the game very well.

I chose another direction with a card that had very similar problems to Axe called Survival Guide.  Here is the old version followed by the new version.

Survival Guide

When any player Forages you may pay 1 Energy to increase the Food gain by +5.

Survival Guide

When any player Forages increase the Food gain by +7 and trash Survival Guide.

The second version has a huge benefit in a short timespan and isn't especially reliant on game state.  This makes it very appealing and also means that it works just fine in games both large and small.  However, it is not able to generate really enormous benefits if used very efficiently by clever players as its contribution is set.  Now it is a card that I expect new players to always use and be very happy about but which experts will generally avoid in favour of trying to find a way to get a really high score.  You can't beat the record score by playing predictable cards - you need to play high risk, high reward if you want to set new records.  For that style of play you really want the Berry Basket and to find a way to keep it around long enough to use it a ton of times.

Berry Basket

When any player Forages increase the Food gain by +3.

I have also had new ideas for cards just flowing out of my brain.  Here are two of my favourites:

Air Horn

When any player Naps you can gain 1 Fun but that player gains no Energy.

Can of Icing

When any player cooks food you gain +2 Energy and then the cook gains +2 Energy.

Friday, November 28, 2014


Last night I tested Camp Nightmare again and while we had a good time our score wasn't the best (12) and we spent much of the game on the verge of hitting 0 and losing.  We did have somewhat poor luck on the draw of the cards but most of the issues were because we didn't stick to a particular standard strategy.  The game flips back and forth between Night and Day and the players have some control over that process.  Each time you switch you lose resources and all of your cards in play get destroyed so the standard strategy is to stay in the current time as long as possible.  We didn't do that as well as we could have and it ended up nearly causing us all to starve to death in the wilderness.

Nowhere in the game does it say that you should use this strategy.  Moreover, expert players may well swap back and forth rapidly under certain circumstances in order to maximize their score.  However, new players definitely will be best off staying in the current time as much as they can.  The question I am asking myself today is if I should try to communicate that to people somehow and if so how I should do it.  The tricky bit is that I don't want to make them think that they *must* stick to Day as long as legally possible, just that they should do so unless they have a extremely compelling reason to go to Night.  I am not sure that I can communicate that effectively because conveying what an extremely compelling reason might be to someone who has never played before is difficult.

Other games don't provide such instruction.  In Hanabi you learn not to give people every piece of information about their hand by trying and failing.  In Pandemic you figure out that you can't clean up every single disease cube by trying and failing.  In Sentinels of the Multiverse you learn that you can't win if you are playing Absolute Zero by watching him stand there and be useless.  In every case I can think of good games just let people fail and figure it out for themselves.  Most times people learn games by sitting at a table where more experienced players show them the ropes anyway so aside from those first few adopters it probably wouldn't matter what the instructions say about strategy.

This is probably for the best anyhow.  The most fun part of a board game is the moment of inspiration where you finally figure out how to push past your previous best or finally see a strategy that you missed every time before that.  Watching your score slowly climb upward over many playthroughs as you figure out how things work is fun!  Given that, perhaps by trying to help people to skip past the most problematic of newbie mistakes I am actually robbing them of their best moments.

It is hard to watch people play and struggle when I can see all the angles myself.  I suppose I need to get past that and just accept that such struggle and eventual victory is actually the best part.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Know your Role

I have been testing Camp Nightmare a lot and really like the basic game a lot.  I constantly have new ideas for things I could add in to the game but as any good designer knows the easiest way to make a new project unwieldy to the point of uselessness is to continually add in everything you can think of.  In no time you will have a teetering tower of poorly connected ideas that will shortly collapse in on itself.

However, when thinking about board game design it is very useful to consider how you might create expansions for the base game to allow those who master the initial mechanics to continue to push themselves and stretch their abilities.  My goal with Camp Nightmare is to have a set of new additions for an expansion that don't substantially disrupt the balance of the base game but add a lot of interesting new things to think about.  Ideally I want something where the experts can play the expansion while the new players simultaneously play the base game.

The way I am trying to do this right now is by adding in things called Roles which are roughly analogous to classes or jobs.  Each player will have one and it will give them new mechanics and choices without actually adding in raw power.  Now we all know that every time you give someone more options you are indirectly increasing their power but the difference is a fairly small one here and mostly affects the worst case.  In the best case you draw all the most effective options anyway so the extra choice offered by Roles won't matter nearly so much.

Some examples:

Any time you gain Energy you may give 1 of your Energy to another player.
When any player Forages you may take -2 Wood to gain +2 Food.

These all do fairly straightforward things that mostly you could achieve simply by playing properly otherwise.  They obviously change the game a bit but they don't completely rewrite things.  The ones below though have more bizarre effects.

During your turn you may discard a card.  If you do all players except you play with their hands face up on the table until your next turn.
When you Rummage you may search the deck and put 1 card on top of it.  If you do you draw 2 less cards than normal.

The idea is that every Role should make things a bit different and make you rethink how you want to approach the game.  Most of them end up being resource conversion but as we have seen there are a few really interesting ones on the list.  I like this implementation a lot because it hits every checkbox I was aiming for - small power increase, lot of new things to think about, and expert players can take a Role while not giving one to new players who aren't so familiar yet.  (Or they could give one of the very simple Roles to the new player so there won't be much thinking about it.)  Also there is a lot of great flavour that can come from the roles, exemplified by the examples below.

You are immune to Heat Wave.
Freezing Cold gives you -1 Energy each Night/Day swap.
When any other player Naps you may each spend 2 Energy to gain 1 Fun.

My next project is to start building flavour text for all the cards.  This is never the place that I start because I immediately start working on crunch rather than fluff (I was a mathie for a reason) but eventually you really need to make the game cute as well as balanced.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Controlling the zones

DnD has had zones of control (ZOC) and the attendant attacks of opportunity for a very long time now.  It was ill defined in 2nd ed, far too lethal in 3rd ed, but got a lot better in 4th and 5th.  The biggest issue with ZOC is that they create an arms race between melee and ranged characters that spirals out of control and becomes far too defining.  Instead of making it a deliberate choice whether or not to try to pin someone down the combat game often comes down to figuring out whether the melee character has more ways to keep in close than the ranged character has to get away and the result of the combat turning on that single calculation.

Naked Man recently came up with a bunch of ideas for making ZOC more important in Heroes By Trade.  He really likes the idea that once you engage someone in melee they can't just walk away trivially and he wants there to be a cost for retreat.  The idea that two combatants are really in the middle of a swashbuckling contest and not just trading blows sequentially does feel good and making retreat challenging supports that.  His solutions are very much like DnD in that people get to make attacks of opportunity when someone moves away from them but the package includes ways to get around that by skipping your Action for the turn.

There are real issues with this sort of implementation.  For example, it lets a single large creature rush in and put their ZOC on an entire group, effectively pinning the entire combat in place.  Nobody can afford to take a full extra attack from a single enemy nor can they afford to waste their turn walking away so they just stand there.  This isn't improving realism any because it isn't as though that ogre is meaningfully engaged in melee with six enemies at once, much less able to punish them all for retreating.  You can deal with this by restricting attacks of opportunity in some way but then you have to deal with facing, recording attacks of opportunity, or finding some other complex solution.  I strive very much to avoid complexity of mechanics particularly when it is overseeing trivial tactical decisions.

I think that complexity might actually be the real issue here.  If I design ZOC so that people can just ignore them because the penalty is low then all we end up doing is a lot of math for no tactical impact.  If I design them so that ZOC are critical then people will just stand there and brawl to the death as soon as they get adjacent to someone and that isn't the crazy mobile combat I want to achieve.  I don't know that I can actually hit the middle ground without ramping up the complexity so much that it isn't worth it.  You only get so much complexity before people just give up and tune out and I don't think this is the spot for it.

However, all this does make me question my current ZOC implementation.  Right now ranged characters take disadvantage on Hit Rolls while inside a melee character's ZOC.  That reduces their damage by roughly 35%.  It feels okay to me because it seems thematically sound that aiming a bow or a magical blast is harder while desperately dodging sword swings.  Of course you could make the same argument for dodging arrows or fireballs too and I don't do that at the moment.  This solution also does not restrict melee characters from wandering about at will.

I am hesitant to remove the system entirely though as if ranged characters don't have any sort of disadvantage when pinned in close I would have to amp up the numbers on melee characters massively to compensate.  I don't so much love the idea of melee characters getting whittled down as they rush in and then instantly annihilating any ranged character that failed at kiting.  That sort of thing just seems way too swingy.

My main concern in adding something that will consistently force melee characters to engage and then just stand there fighting to the death is that melee have traditionally been stuck with uninteresting choices in fantasy games and I really want to get away from that.  I like the idea of them dashing about and being able to decide who to bash on.

Taking all this into account I think the current system is the best one I have found.  It puts some pressure on ranged characters to make up for the simple fact of having ranged attacks and it allows melee characters to make lots of choices and be mobile instead of being pinned to the first thing that swings at them.  Those two things seem like things I want and achieving those goals with a fairly simple system feels good.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Not a nerf, promise

Diablo 3 has been all about Demon Hunters for a while now.  The thing about the game is that right now the endgame is utterly dominated by insane set bonuses.  You know things have gotten a big nutty when people say "So, how about a make a build that casts big spells at the enemies?" and everybody laughs at them.  The idea that anyone can accomplish anything of note by just attacking the enemies is a joke.  Demon Hunters have a set that lets them drop several invincible pets that each spam the best Demon Hunter attack spells.  Once the pets are down the player doesn't even have to be on the screen and they can go hang out in another room while their ludicrous pets mow down the enemies like grass.

Blizzard has decided that this playstyle is both overpowered and boring.  I tend to agree on both counts, and the fact that Demon Hunters are obviously crushing other classes in achievement and popularity supports that hypothesis.  However, Blizzard doesn't want to just say "We are nerfing you guys TO THE GROUND" because people will scream.  Instead the latest patch notes try to claim that they are changing the offending set bonus to something else without it being a nerf.  Essentially the change is that the pets only fire when the Demon Hunter fires, forcing Demon Hunters to actually attack and manage resources and such instead of just hiding.

As they are currently listed it seems completely clear that the changes are a huge nerf to Demon Hunters.  Not because their numbers will go down in the land of spreadsheets but because in practice the enemies actually attack you.  Having pets that do all the work while you hide is insanely powerful because it lets you ignore defensive stats and go pure beatdown.  In the new model Demon Hunters are going to have to spend a lot of time attacking and being in line of sight of the enemies and that liability is crushing.

All this is a good thing in general because it will make the Demon Hunter playstyle actually respect the enemies a bit and bring them back into line with other classes.  The interesting thing to me is how Blizzard is trying to present this as a neutral change and avoid the perception that it is a big nerf to Demon Hunter power.  There is a huge amount of politics involved in this sort of thing because players do appreciate it when their favourite class is competitive but once they have switched to the flavour of the month they get pissed if it gets nerfed TO THE GROUND.  I think Blizzard's strategy is a good one though ultimately I don't know if it will work, or indeed if anything would.

You can claim that their changes are neutral when the opponents are trivial but everyone knows that after this happens there will be a mass swap away from Demon Hunters to other classes because their absolute dominance will be at an end.  Toughness and mobility matter and when a change suddenly destroys your ability to stay alive it doesn't matter if your theoretical damage is the same.  The conclusion that this is a nerf is inescapable.

Sometimes though you have to do the best you can even when you know you can't win.  I suspect Blizzard is in that boat right now and they know it.  They will claim these changes aren't a nerf to preserve plausible deniability and go ahead and do it because it is the right thing to do.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The end of clicking

I hit the wall in Clicker Heroes.  At some point playing the game you get to a spot where there just isn't anything relevant you can do to get better and I finally got there after buying 21 of the 28 ancients.  I could farm up 40k souls very efficiently just one shotting monsters but the only useful thing left to do was slowly increase my current ancients in power - the remaining ancients were so pathetic in terms of return on investment that it felt sad to buy into them.  (Thusia, Chronos, Khrysos, Pluto, Energon, Kleptos, Juggernaut)  The last round of ancients I bought to increase my clicking at the end of a run didn't even feel worthwhile and these are much worse.

Unlike Cookie Clicker I can't just let the game farm up more stuff and slowly make progress.  In order to accomplish anything of note I have to sit there and click on things regularly and when there are simply no more interesting decisions to make I can't see the use in sitting at the computer constantly pushing buttons to just make the numbers bigger.  I do like numbers getting bigger, don't get me wrong, but Clicker Heroes has hit the absolute worst style.  I can't click all the time but I have to be at the computer ready to click every minute or so.  This means it is impossible to get into flow and yet it still keeps me from doing anything else.  Yuck.

The game was fun and I liked doing the research to figure out the optimal line.  I also enjoyed testing out new effects and seeing how buying various ancients changed the way the game played.  Unfortunately unless new things are added in there just isn't any compelling reason to keep on Clicking.  Cookie Clicker isn't really grabbing me either, but at least all I do is buy one more prism every day as I wait to get to 200 prisms - it doesn't stop me from doing all my other things.

I am very interested to see what sorts of idle games come out as time goes by.  There is clearly a market for these things and I have a real interest in their evolution but I won't claim to have a good sense of how exactly they should be designed.  It is still too soon and my understanding of how and why people play these games is not well developed.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

When I wasn't looking

Recently I got frustrated with managing all of the different documents associated with Heroes By Trade.  It was starting to drive me crazy because having multiple versions of a variety of files is a nightmare when you have links embedded in all of them pointing to the other documents.  It was high time to combine everything together into a Word doc for easier editing and version control.  When I finished slapping it all together I had a single spaced document 188 pages long.  I wrote a book when I wasn't looking!

So now I face the task of bulking it up a lot.  There is a lot more that needs to be added, mostly in the fluff department.  I need tons of examples of the various races and classes to provide background and inspiration as well as huge stacks of enemies for the players to smash in search of that sweet, sweet loot.  I don't actually have any sense of how this size a document translates to a finished product - how many pages would this be if it were printed like a normal roleplaying manual in terms of size, font, etc?

One thing I have been looking at is the way in which I present character Powers.  This is an example of the current wording of the Bird of Prey Power:

Rank 7
Effect:  Take a Move.
Target:  One creature adjacent to you
Hit:  Physical damage.
Effect:  Take a Move.

Rank 17
On a hit the target is Stunned for 1 round.

This is a very precise Power that makes it easy to adjudicate in combat.  However, if I wrote it as follows:


Rank 7
You take a Move, make an attack, then take another Move.

Rank 17
If your attack hits the target is Stunned for 1 round.

The second one just *feels* better.  The first example is much more like DnD 4th edition and like that system it is very straightforward to know exactly what happens and when.  The second is more like earlier editions of DnD where people need to exercise a little more thought.  It feels more organic, more like a description of a combat move than an entry in a spreadsheet.  There are definitely more complex examples out there and the wording of those may get trickier but I do like the idea of adding in a bit more fluff to the extremely crunchy Powers sections.

It is all well and good to have absolutely unambiguous descriptions but unless people want to use the ability in question it doesn't much matter how clear it is.  I think I need to lean more towards making everything sound cool and a little further away from making sure the descriptions are tight.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Helping yourself

In Camp Nightmare I initially designed cards around two styles.  Either the card helped everyone, like Saw, or it just helped you, like Axe.


All players gain +3 Wood when they Gather Wood.


You gain +4 Wood when you Gather Wood.

The thing is I want this game to work with any number of players from 1 to 5 so Axe wasn't really going to work as is.  In a 5 player game you would often not get to use your own Axe before it got trashed anyway and at most you would get a single use out of it.  To get around this I introduced the concept of Borrowing where players would pay 1 Energy to use someone else's equipment for a turn.  That worked out all right but it ended up being a serious balance concern because games with a lot of players poured *tons* of Energy into Borrowing and everyone had to keep track of which items were universal and which were personal.  It worked, but it was clunky.

I decided that a different approach that wasn't so strongly based on number of players was in order.  The new design has gear that just helps you but it does so based on what other people do.  Essentially you have selfish gear that doesn't diminish in power based on how many players are in the game, like the Hammock below.


When any player Naps you gain +3 Energy.

This way you can actually use cards that act on you personally and forward your own strategy without worrying that you won't get a turn to use them.  Of course your allies will need to work with you and take the Actions that activate your gear but the game is a cooperative game so that makes sense.  Of course a lot of the cards are more complex than the examples give above and take a form more like the Flashlight or Camp Chair where they are a hybrid between selfish gear and group gear.


When any player Rummages they gain +2 Energy and you draw 2 cards.

Camp Chair

All Food cooked on a Fire gives +3 Food.  You gain +3 Energy when you Nap.

The new design has the pleasant side effect of removing the need for the concept of Borrowing completely.  I take great pleasure in hacking out chunks of the rules because one of the signs of a good rulebook is brevity.  Take everything out that can possibly be taken out.  The easier it is to get new players in to the game and the less that needs explaining the better your design is.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


I found a great post on one of my favourite topics:  How to deal with what characters are holding in their hands in RPGs.  The post talks at length about the history of this particular issue but is light on solutions.  That is expected largely because this is one of the most tricky areas of RPG design I have come across.  In particular it is extremely difficult to balance the need for three things:  Cinematic flexibility, simplicity of rules, and preventing twinking.

I have often seen situations come up where players want to do things like fire a longbow one round, next round attack with two swords, then fire the longbow again.  I would ask "So, where exactly did that longbow go in the middle round?"  and they would answer "I stash it on my back."  Somehow the idea of a two meter long bow that is strung magically hovering above the character's back, cemented in place by nothing but hopes and poor bookkeeping never ceases to amaze me.  While these players weren't trying to break the rules or do something unfair they certainly were willing to think of the character like a hero in a first person shooter who carries around twelve different assault rifles, eleven of which are simply invisible at any given time.  For these players I really want the rules to be simple.

Then there are the twinks who use move actions to swap in a shield after they attack, get the benefit of the shield for the round, then use their move action next round to stow it and draw their weapon so they can make a regular attack.  It is a thoroughly ridiculous sort of thing because you can't even imagine a combatant doing this in a movie - nobody regularly swaps a shield in and out like this except to try to game the system.  When these players are on the field you need rules that prevent twinking in this way.  Most systems rely on the GM saying "Oh, you are doing *that* again?  Fine, the ogre hits you for 97 damage.  Make a new character, and try for one that isn't a pissant."  I could simply go with that system of abuse prevention but I would really rather the rules accomplish it on their own.

Thing is, there are players out there who really do want to sheathe their dagger, swing across the room on a chandelier, draw the dagger again, and stab the baddie in the back.  This is the sort of thing that is fun, makes for great stories, and isn't abusive.  I really want a system that lets people do this sort of thing because the mechanical "I hit for 12" bit of combat isn't nearly as entertaining or memorable as a chandelier swing.  That cinematic flexibility is great.

I haven't found a lot of good solutions to maximize all of these things though.  In Heroes By Trade at the moment people can rearrange their weapons with a Move so the shield swapping shenanigans described above are possible but costly.  Constantly swapping from a bow to a sword is feasible but you can't do it on the run - which I think is a fair tradeoff.  I tried a lot of systems to try to allow more cinematic moves and quash twinking but in the end I really just swung towards simplicity.  I have a nice out in terms of cinematic combat though in that players have Fate Points they can spend to do outrageous things and break the rules if they want to so they have only their own spendthift natures to blame if they aren't able to swing from a chandelier at the perfect moment.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Showing it off

My new game, tentatively titled Camp Nightmare, is now available for your viewing pleasure.  I have posted the current rules, cards, and pictures so you can take a look at what I have built or even print it out and make a copy of your own.  As usual you are free (and encouraged!) to read, share, or build but not to alter or sell the documents.

You can find the link on the sidebar with my other games.

If anybody has any suggestions for a better name I am all ears - I love the game itself but a name that really wiggles my waggle hasn't come to me yet.

The new version using coloured cards to represent Day and Night cards seems a lot better and I am really pleased with how it is coming along.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The rules

This weekend I did a playtest session for my new camping themed coop game and Animal Odyssey, a game that Improviser and some collaborators created.  The playtest illustrated the difference in the way I approach building a new game and the way other people do it.  The main difference between the two endeavours was that my game had well defined rules that made it very clear what the players could do and Animal Odyssey had at least a half dozen situations where the rules simply didn't exist or weren't clear.

I build games that can withstand a rules lawyering bastard who will twist wording, take advantage of inconsistencies, and abuse good faith rules in a ruthless quest for victory.  I can't help it.  Every time I build a rule I immediately think about how I am going to push past it, work around it, or otherwise maximize my chances of victory.  I am not a perfect engine of deconstruction but it is fair to say that if I take a game and simply can't find a way to break it that 99% of the population won't have a hope of doing so.  I am good at breaking games and I build games that I can't break.

Other people don't do this.  For example, in Animal Odyssey there was a rule to prevent people backtracking in order to stop them from just going back and forth between trivial challenges farming resources.  The trick was that nobody was quite sure what that entailed.  Does that mean if I go from A to B I can't go to A again?  Does it mean that ABA is okay but ABAB is not?  How about if I go AB, try C, fail, and want to go back to A?  Is ABCABC okay?  Nobody knew.  This rule was clearly intended to let people know that they shouldn't do abusive ABABAB tactics but it relied on people having a sense of when they had pushed it too far.  I quickly came up with a half dozen nasty strategies that might potentially be stomped by this rule... depending on what the rule ended up being.  I don't want to guess when I have broken the rules, and I don't want to feel guilty for doing something effective that might be a violation of the rules but might not.  Just tell me what I am allowed to do and let me be as effective as I can!

From looking at games that people other than me have built this seems like the norm.  People have a gut sense of what would constitute an unfair strategy and build rules to stop that but never take the time to actually look at every strategy in between Horribly Broken and Normal Play and make sure that the rule clearly and unambiguously draws a line.  It is fine if you get the rule in not exactly the right place (especially in a coop game) but it is important that the rule be clear and consistent.  I am not arguing for byzantine rulesets but rather comprehensive ones.  Some of the suggested rules about backtracking in Animal Odyssey were incredibly complex and most people would have found them impenetrable.  Especially for a game themed around animal adventures that children might want to play it is critical that the rules are simple.

One confounding factor is that Animal Odyssey has multiple creators.  It is always trickier to make these sorts of decisions when you don't have a single person that can just make a call and have the team push forward with that in mind.  When a group of people are contributing to a project they bring a lot of creative energy, which is great, but without firm direction it can be very hard to ever get the numbers right.  You can't sort out the difficulty level of the tiles until you know how many cards people will draw, you can't know that until you know how people can move, and you can't know *that* until somebody decides what the backtracking rules are.  It is easy to keep on producing content but you won't know if that content is built in a way that supports the rest of the design without making some hard choices.

I like the idea of having collaborators on my games but it would be really hard to give up control of the numbers.  If they want to rewrite Trolls in HBT, card names in my camping game, or unit titles in FMB I would be perfectly content.  But if they wanted to make chain armour give +3 Armour instead of +2?  Go to HELL.  The number is TWO.  I think this is a big part of the reason I end up building games by myself and that they are tight on numbers but lack some of the thematic breadth that I would like.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A victory of sorts

Last night at my Heroes By Trade session we said goodbye to Improviser and his character Kih.  Sadly Improviser is moving far away and so it was clear we needed to find some excellent way to send off a bizarre and often disturbing Ork.  Little did I know that Improviser would manage to vindicate my design choices in grand style.  It Was Glorious.

I have talked many times here about Epic Rituals.  That is, Rituals that are in the book that do all kinds of monumental things from raising the dead to summoning volcanoes to covering the land in darkness.  Just the sorts of things that make for tremendous stories.  One of the more maligned Epic Rituals I created is called Starbirth, which causes the caster to ascend into the sky in a fantastic display of light and become a new star, forever removing them from the game world.  People told me that this was useless and silly and it is easy to imagine why.

Our group has been hunting demons that were "accidentally" released from their ancient prison and results were mixed.  We certainly killed some demons but in the previous battle we managed to get a bunch of our mercenary followers killed and a player character died too.  Morale was low to say the least.  However, Kih told the rest of the group that he knew an Epic Ritual that could give us amazing powers in combat.  He would have to find a magic item that had been made magic by being used in an evil slaughter, smash that item, and then become a beacon of light for a day.  All of his allies that could see his light during that day would be filled with bravery and be extremely tough.  The only such item we knew about was sitting on Kih's head so he destroyed his magic crown to complete the Ritual.

Using the power of the Ritual we smashed the first demon camp we came to with ease.  However, Kih realized that his power was only extending to the people in our group and battles with demons may well be taking place all over, so he decided to help all people everywhere who might be battling the evil critters and used Starbirth!  He ascended into the air and the light from him was seen across the world, granting all those fighting the good fight tremendous fortitude for a whole day.  How many battles he turned, how many lives he saved, none can speculate.  What we know for certain is that he sacrificed himself in a way that you would normally only see in novels and we didn't even have to make anything up to do it.

So there you go.  Outrageous, seemingly ridiculous Epic Rituals changed the course of the game world and worked without any kludging required.  (Okay, totally minimal kludging.)

I am Fifty Feet Tall and Made of Steel.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

More clicking

I have taken up Clicker Heroes.  It seems that every so often one of my friends will blog about a new idle game they are playing (Cookie Clicker was my last) and now I am addicted again.  Clicker Heroes is a lot better than Cookie Clicker though because it actually has a lot of options in terms of how you play the game.  At the outset it is a simple 'buy stuff that gets you more stuff' setup but eventually you get to the point where you have to allocate resources to various Ancients that are extremely different from one another.

Both Sthenno and Ziggyny have been writing about crunching numbers on some of the Ancients but the best simple guide that I have found is this, which ranks them all from best to worst and gets it pretty well right I think.  The thing that has me interested is how there are a few different things you can do in the game and your choice of styles really changes your Ancient selection.

In the early going there is a big incentive to use the 'idle' strategy where you do short runs where you don't click at all and refuse to use skills.  The Ancients that boost that strategy (Libertas, Siyalatas) are cheap and you can get to a point where you do 30 minute runs for ~12 Souls pretty quickly.  You can simply stay on this path and keep on farming forever doing short runs that cover more and more ground as you improve your buffs but that isn't the only option.

There are good reasons to do a long run too.  To make it remotely efficient you need to cap out Vaagur and reduce your cooldowns by 75%.  This lets you increase your overall damage by 10% every 30 mins multiplicatively and that will overcome any obstacle given some time.  In this strategy you play a single run that lasts days or weeks and push really high levels to gather gilds and achievements.  The thing is that a long run like this is much worse for Soul farming than short runs and the achievements and gilds only come once for a given level so covering the same ground multiple times is terrible.

The optimal strategy I think is to alternate long and short runs.  Do short runs for a while to rack up a bunch of Souls, buy long term investments like Solomon and Atman with those Souls, then do a huge long run.  I went to 140 with my first run, then 199, then 300.  After a day of piling on short runs I set myself up for a long run that will probably ten days or so and I plan on going for level 800.  I figure 65 levels a day ought to be reasonable though I can push it higher if I am at my computer every 15 minutes throughout the day!

Thing is, there are a ton of Ancients with all kinds of abilities.  Want gold?  Get Mammon.  Want gold but are willing to invest in to two Ancients?  Screw Mammon, get Dora and Mimzee.  Using an autoclicker to generate enormous numbers of clicks?  Fragsworth and Bhaal are nuts.  The fact that your Ancient build is hugely dependent on your playstyle and the time you can put in is great.  Also there is some luck involved in which Ancients you roll - you can mitigate that by pouring in resources but that does have a cost you might not want to pay.

I also really like that as you play the game the gilds you get are random so people actually will end up with different numbers from one another.  You can eventually fix that by pouring in resources but the optimal solution for one person is not going to work for everyone and that makes it more interesting to me.  There is a good reason to figure out your own best strategy and you can't just use whatever the internet says - not exactly, anyway.

Clicker Heroes gets my stamp of approval.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ole' reliable

In making my new camping themed coop game I have gone back to the most common and consistent technique in my arsenal - Magic sleeves with a Magic card in them and a printout on the front.  Like so:

Years ago I ended up with tiny stacks of paper printouts for games I was developing and it was always a mess.  Shuffling was annoying, they were forever getting bent, crumpled, and marked, and they simply had terrible hand feel.  I need to be constantly flicking, shuffling, and manhandling cards I am holding and having a bit of stiffness and resilience is required.  Now this technique is my go to solution for nearly everything - FMB uses it, I constantly use it in roleplaying games, and now Camp Nightmare (the very not final name for my new venture) is using it too.

As far as Camp Nightmare goes, things are being excellent.  I finally got it all printed out and sleeved today and so I was able to do a couple of trial runs.  The game plays fine with just one player even though it is more designed for a small group.  I suspect that it caps out at five people as you could play with any number in theory but the gameplay would start to become pretty silly at six and above.  I got a completely outrageous draw on my first solo game and got a score of 25 which I don't know that I will be able to match again soon.  Wendy and I played together and had a much less favourable draw for a final score of 14 so I expect top notch players will be able to put up scores of around 20 on a regular basis.

Next weekend I am going to be doing a playtest of both Camp Nightmare and a new board game a friend of mine is developing called Animal Odyssey which is sort of themed around The Incredible Journey and similar stories.  I am already in love with my new game and I feel like it has a lot of potential in terms of deep strategy.  Some of that strategy is in playing the board as you see it, some is in knowing exactly what sorts of Disasters still lie ahead, and some is in reading your partners to try to figure out what they are planning.  A bit of computation, some memorization, and a dash of mind reading.

I am feeling really good about this one.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Once more unto the breach?

WOW has a new expansion coming soon.  The new mechanics are out for testing in the traditional 'nothing matters, try to break the game' phase.  All kinds of things are happening but unlike previous expansions I have really no idea what the gigantic list of changes means.  I skipped raiding in Pandaria nearly completely and though I used to be able to evaluate what a change meant for any class now I can barely figure out what the Paladin changes even mean.  I remember being really good at that, being a top theorycrafter for Retribution Paladins, and now I am a clueless noob.

It has left me feeling ambivalent.  For one thing the flexible raid sizes are a huge draw.  I want to recruit 17 good people and raid without worrying how many of them show up.  It sounds wonderful to be able to start raiding with 11, get up to 14 through most of the night, and still be able to continue even when a couple people leave early and I am back down to 12.  The idea of having challenging encounters that don't require me to constantly bench people and maintain a ridiculously tight roster is immensely appealing.  The consolidation of buffs and debuffs even further seems like it will help with that even more.  Raiding with less real life crunch... sign me up!

There are some things that really kick my excitement out from under me though.  First off the lack of realm first achievements this go around is a sad thing.  I know that going for the 'first to level 100' achievements were not good for me but I really enjoyed doing the profession firsts, largely because I could just be aggressive and rich and buy them because I want them more than anyone else does.  I want to get my fourth Realm First Jewelcrafter!  At least if they cancel them I will have a clean sweep on Vek'nilash server.  I know that they cancelled these because they felt that it promoted crazy behaviour but people are going to be lunatics anyway and people like me enjoy that challenge so much.

Part of my hesitation is that my life is more full now than it was last time I was a hardcore raider.  I have roleplaying on a regular basis and raiding a couple nights a week would play havoc with that.  I also just have more social things I do on a regular basis and I don't know if I can actually commit to getting back into it full on.  If I can't do it all the way I don't know that I will really enjoy it.  Even just in a pure gaming context I have lots of writing to do on Heroes By Trade and my new camping themed coop game I am grinding away on.  I don't have enough time for those so I don't know where I will find the time to play WOW several hours a day and do all the necessary theorycraft to play it properly.

Because you either do it right or don't do it at all, right?  I think I can live with using somebody else's spreadsheet to optimize my character even though it makes me feel all dirty to do so but I can't just goof off and not worry about it at all.  I have to know all the things that will let me play correctly and keeping up with all that isn't a small task.  I guess that is what is really making me hesitate - I know the level of play I have to achieve in order to be happy and I am not sure I can carve that out of my life again.  I desperately want the direction, the community, the sense of achievement that raiding gave me but I don't know that I want to pay the price to have that.

That an expansion for a game I don't play anymore can drive me into such an existential crisis is really ridiculous, but there it is.  I suppose once you have put your 10,000 hours into something it is forever a part of you.