The return of the telepaths: when an add-on ruins the game

GUEST POST BY MICHAL ORACZ

If I occasionally doubted in the existence of telepathy, it was until yesterday.

Somewhere around midnight I stopped my struggles with the add-on for Theseus. I looked on all the cards, tokens, units and special rules I rejected during proof-gaming. I noticed that I threw away ALMOST EVERY idea that at first occurred to me as revolutionary.

I sat in front of the keyboard and wrote an article about it. To be more precise, it was about this wild passion we authors have to turn the game up side down with an expansion. About how this rabid dog must be kept on a short leash and why.

Next day Ignacy published the text. The disturbing thing was that I haven’t even sent it to him. He published his own article, because he wrote exactly the same thing at the same time 🙂

One of us should definitely use Magneto’s helmet.

Hmm, what now… Maybe this will help:

Highlight half of the text and… DELETE.

OK 🙂

At the end of the (deleted) arguments I’ll use the newest examples taken from my everyday work.

I have just finished working on two, developed simultaneously, expansion – Missisipi for Neuroshima Hex and Robots (working name, maybe somebody has a better idea for a name of the machines’ faction?) for Theseus. Of course we are still polishing the balance but that is a completely different pair of shoes.

Missisipi. When working on an expansion I always feel tempted to show what I can do with a game. The first approach to a new army is like creating a demo. Ideas for creating a completely different game with the help of just one additional faction and eventually some new rules are trying to escape my head as if they were a bunch of wild animals.

I feel drawn to pour a whole bucket of innovations on the game. New units appear, they run all over the board game like crazy. Some new tiles and tokens appear and then coal mining and economy (just you wait, we’ll publish it one day but until then not a word to anybody!), tiles of special locations, armies consisting of mainly instant tiles or terrain tiles… Same thing in, I’m even afraid to describe it all: a tile that automatically kills everything around it. Indestructible tiles. Terrible area damage effects, wiping out few units with one shot. Units that can heal the Headquarters…

Robots. Here the situation is quite similar, first draft of the faction is a real display of fireworks. Each of the three (or four) units is different. Both reverse and obverse of the unit are not just better and worse sides. They simply have different actions. Each unit can enter the other unit and they can join to became a one big unit only to divide to smaller, specialized ones later on. Units have special directions of acting through walls. A whole bunch of new ability markers to place on your units.

I could stir things up like this all the time. I always loved it, especially when we created RPG games. I striped the game’s structure down to basic elements I meditated on each one of them. Could we improve it somehow? Could we change it to something else? Do it the way it was never done before.

When you create a game all that is great, there’s no problem.

But an expansion?

That’s why most of those innovations found their way into the trash just like half of the text I prepared, which was telepathically nicked by Ignacy (I’ll skip the argument that was brilliantly described by Ignacy and provide a bit of my own thoughts).

The author has to be fair with the player. First of all we won’t encourage new people to reach for the game. It’s an illusion. Some people think they can increase the popularity of a game and lure new players because from now on, thanks to the expansion, we have implemented deck-building and economy. No. The expansion is for those who liked the core version. They trusted us and it’s to them that we owe a debt that can only be repaid with the best possible expansion we can make.

And so for example in Neuroshima Hex if we had too much mobility it would kill the very sense of the game. No place for theory here or ‘I said so and that’s how we do it’. It ruins the game in the worst possible way. Hex is a game about positioning, its like very strategic puzzle making. If there is a faction with too much mobility on the game board, it starts to play a different game and then the worst thing happens – every now and then there is the proverbial „Cancel” or „Dispel”. Too much mobility in Hex turns off all the advantages of other armies. Others make their slow and strategic puzzle while the mobile ones are playing PacMan with them.

Same thing with instant tiles. It’s not a problem to design an army consisting only of these (I still have the draft of Parker Lots gang in my magic box, they are assassins who spit out instants as if they were mad). But Parker Lots play their own game on a board of NS Hex and the unfortunate army that goes against them plays a different one. It doesn’t matter that balance can be forced so that in the end it will be more or less equal. It’s about the fact that it feels unpleasant, unfair and frustrating.

All of the new markers got kicked out of Missisipi, same with the economy in Hex, instant armies and one hundred percent mobile ones.

Specialized units got kicked out of the Robots faction as well as piles of tokens and special movement rules – they might return in the future if they can defend themselves better in tests of a different faction. Until then they have the red card and will have to warm the bench.

An innovative expansion is a great thing as long as it deepens what we already love about a game, not simply denies everything we knew, in the name of innovation and game play variation.

That’s the end of demos, it’s high time to create some cool, complete new expansions for the fans of these two games.

It’s not about some sophisticated theory. It’s all very simple:

Each game has its own rhythm and characteristics of game play.

Let’s embrace it while creating expansions, we owe that to those who love it.

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Drug dealers from GW

zdjęcieIt all began in summer 1994. I was in Warsaw (capitol of Poland) at RPG convention and I had one in a life time chance to buy Warhammer Battle base box. It costed me more than my 1 year pocket money. But I didn’t hesitate. I spent all money I had and I bought it. I didn’t speak English so I had to read it with dictionary. I was stubborn and WFB was so cool!

I was into it for many years. I ran gaming club, I organized tournaments, I was running campaigns and – of course – I was buying miniatures. I had Dwarf army, Wood elves army, Empire army… Yes, GW took every penny I had…

Then I grew up, got into board games, my mates grew up and got into kids and wives…

I sold my Empire models. I gave my Wood elves models to one of my mates… Only Dwarfs survived. Hey! Dwarfs are dwarfs! No one touch my Dwarfs! They were stuck on my shelf covered with dust, forgotten for years.

I haven’t play Warhammer Battle for a long time.

And yet…

Today I bought a book. Even though I am 100% I will never ever use it.

I can’t help it. I am addicted. Shame on you Games Workshop!

Don’t change anything!

I bet you all heard about ‘orb thing’. Alien Artifacts, new expansion for Race for the Galaxy (one of the best card games out there!) adds new mechanism to the base game. It let’s you explore mini boards that you create from small tiles. Alien Artifact became one of the most discussed expansions right after it came out. People got crazy. Even Tom Vasel. He gets close to heart attack each time he even hears ‘orb’ word.

Why everybody is raving about it? Why it is so controversial? Why it pissed off so many players?

Because it changes the game.  Let me explain you…

*

You like the game. You play it and play it and play it again and you really love it. After many plays you know the game well and sooner or later you get bored. You’d love to play again with excitement, you’d love to feel again this magic you felt when you first played it. Unfortunately you know all cards, all powers, all strategies, you know every bit of your beloved game. No magic left.

You need expansion. You need expansion so you can play your beloved game again with excitement.

Let me emphasize: play your beloved game.

You don’t want new mechanisms. You don’t want new ideas. You don’t want different approach. You don’t want anybody to change anything in your beloved game! You don’t want to play new game. You just want to play the one you already love!

*

That is why so damn hard it is to design a good expansion. You have to add replaybility. And at the same time you can’t touch anything else. You can’t change base game.

Don’t you even try.

People buy expansion, because they love base game! You really want to mess with that?

That is why sometimes designers fail. They provide something original, something unique, something brilliant, and they surprisingly they face the fact that players are unhappy with that. They just wanted few more cards. No ‘stupid tiles’ and ‘stupid orb’!

*

I may be wrong. All I know is based on my experience. Babel13, expansion for Neuroshima Hex that adds terrain and campaign mode? Failure. Steel Police expansion for Neuroshima Hex that just add 1 new army? Super success. Undead expansion to Stronghold that changes all actions in the game? I still have in our warehouse Polish copies printed in 2010. Voyage of the Beagle that adds couple more scenarios? Nearly sold out in three months.

I don’t know. I may be wrong. But these days, when we work on expansion, we very carefully analyze – do we, by any chance, touche base game? If so, are we sure, we want to do it? Do fans of base game expect from us to change base game…?

What is your opinion? I’d really like to hear your opinion and some examples, which expansion for games you like and which you don’t. Please, contribute. It will help us all!

You don’t mess with board gamers!

zdjęcie

If by any chance you didn’t hear the news, here it is – IKEA announced that they will no longer produce Expedit shelf. Yes, expedit. This shelf you have at home. This one. They gonna replace it with Kallax shelf. The sides of the new one are 1 cm thinner. The change is made because of ecology reasons (to lower amount of wood used).

IKEA announced that new shelf has exact the same dimensions, but you know… People like what they already know. They don’t like changes. That’s why Facebook page ‘Rettet das Ikea Expedit Regal‘ that serves to save Expedit has more than… 24 000 likes 🙂

If you are scared, sign there. Or buy Expedit in advance, I don’t know, three or four shelves. Your collection of games will grow, right?

 

I wish I could do something. Anything.

This post talks about things that are way away from basic topics usually discussed here. I was struggling for the past six hours if I should write it. I decided I should. I am sorry if you were looking for different content.

 

Last year I was invited to Lviv for Igrosfera, board games convention. I met amazing gamers. I met very talented authors. I had a great time. Few months later I published in Poland one of the games I found there. It is bestseller in Poland now. I got really close with people I met there, with some of them I hang out at FB, with some at Twitter, with authors and publishers I hang out on Skype.

And now there is a war in Ukraine.

The war that takes place in Ukraine is a horror. And with me, knowing some of people, with me being there just few months ago it is really hard to treat this as a news item. This is not a news item. This is a horror. Today I spoke with Oleksandr Nevskiy, one of the authors of the game I published in Poland. Here is a quote from him:

‘Yes, I’m fine. Thanks. Our local special service shooted at our peaceful people during the meeting. So we’ve got one shooted young man and one injured women, she is in a very difficult condition. But if to compare with our capital Kyiv, we are ok. There is a bloody massacre.’

and then:

‘I’m often off-line as I take part in all meetings during the day and I with other guys keep watch in the streets during the nights.’

For the past six hours I was struggling what to do. I decided to post it. I played with this guy Robinson and Legacy (prototype version) few months ago. Now he risks his life fighting for freedom. You should know.

I have no comment. I am speechless. I wish I could help. I wish I could do anything to help them. I am sitting here powerless. All I can do is spread the word. I know it is not enough.

If you want to win GoldeGeenAward for Innovation in 2015…

new ideas

Yesterday we had an amazing time at Twitter where we were brainstorming simple topic: #GameAssumptions Discussion was inspired by His Majesty Rob Daviau and it spread like a fire. In a few minutes gamers from all over the world put quite a number of great game assumptions.

I looked at them – of course – from designing perspective. What a fuel for imagination! What a pile of great ideas! You just pick one, create a game and win a Golden Geek for Innovations! And since my schedule is full and since I have my prototypes ready for 2014, 2015 and 2016 I can’t use this ideas. I list some of the ideas presented at this brainstorming to show you that great designers took already took this ideas and created great games.

Felix Rios: “wait for your turn”
This assumption was broken by so many great real time games (Escape and Space Cadets Dice duel to mention only the newest ones). Both of those game were listed for GoldenGeek nominations! 🙂

Rob Davios: “You draw from a draw pile and discard to a discard pile and not vice versa.”
This assumption was broken by deck building games (Dominion was first!), where you discard cards to pile which in a moment changes into your draw pile. I am working on sf deckbuilder, so if you want to get GoldenGeek nomination for this, you better hurry 😉

Kyle Hendricks: “Your move/action is complete when your hand is taken off the applicable pawn/piece.”
This assumption was broken for example in Bohnanza where in your turn you put cards on table, but then, when there is turn of other players, you can interrupt, trade and put cards again! What a game! Won SdJ recommendation in 1997.

Willie Hung: “All players have the same set of rules.”
This assumption is broken by asymmetrical games, which I personally love. My Stronghold released in 2009 was that type of game – in Valley edition of the game there were two (2!) separate rulebooks – one for defender and one for invader. Each of players play his own game – and game blend it together into epic struggle.

Peter Lee: “the players know they are playing a game.”
Sounds obvious? Well, not at all! There is a game called I betcha which is played at parties, players have secret goals and in a fact not all people know they are part of the game! Really! 🙂

Daniel Solis: “The art is just decoration.”
Also already broken. You did played Dixit, right? Amazing art in this game is the whole game, it is fundamental part of rules. Won 27 different awards and nominations for awards.

Sam Bertken: “You must be able to see the board/monitor in order to play it.
Really? You must? I don’t think so! This assumption was broken in Visionary, where you build construction from wooden pieces, but you don’t see construction, you don’t see pieces, because the constructor is blindfolded! Yep, 1997 SdJ recommendation!

So, what can I say… You can do it too. You can design a game that is extraordinary. Just think out of the box…