Warning for my grandson

black-and-white-man-person-cigarette-mediumWe all have been there. You buy a game, you are so excited, you love it and… Yeah, your beloved partner doesn’t like the game. You will not play it. You awesome game gets stuck on the shelf.

I had it with Lord of the Rings: Confrontation. Dungeon Twister. Railways of the World. And so on and so on…

***

That’s why you have a son, right? It takes time, I know. It took me like 10 years of waiting, but the day have come. I took Dungeon Twister from the shelf. Believe me – layer of dust on the box was really thick. I opened the box with my hands shaking. I read the rulebook again. I explained rules to my son. We played.

He hated it. He said the game sucks and he won’t play it again with me. I put the game on the shelf again.

***

I have daughter. One day I will have grandson. Yes, I know it will take some time to play with him but I am patient. I can wait. But I tell you this. If this ten years old jerk fails me and won’t like Dungeon Twister… His grandpa might be really pissed off.

Just sayin’

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Five Families – genesis

Untitled designI am a huge fan of Legacy: testament of duke de Crecy. I believed in the game from the very first play. I remember this game exactly, we were in the office, me, Greg and Lucas, I remember my excitement and surprise that this prototype is actually so fun. I remember long months of very hard work on developing the game, all those tiny details we changed to improve the game play. I remember Essen fair, release of the game and wonderful feedback we received.

Believe it or not, trust me on this or think that this is some kind of marketing bullshit, but the truth is – my kids love the game. We play it once a while on weekends and each time we have a blast.

I am so proud to be publisher of this extremely thematic and fun euro game. And I was so sad we have no expansion for the game, no boost for players to play it again, no new cards and additional replaybility.

At some point this year, after meeting with Portal Games fans at Portalkon I decided that this is it. The game deserves amazing expansion.

***

If I could point out any problems with the base game, that would be lack of interaction. So many people asked to have a chance to connect their families with different players, make alliances and connections.

It took me some time to figure it out how we can make it happen.

Then it all just clicked. With some small bumps here and there, the expansion was ready in a few days. Then we only needed to play test it, balance it, polish it.

***

I designed deck of spouse cards that would represent cousins of a player. And then I let players trade them. It worked from the very first play test. Player have cousins in their hand and try to convince other players to marry those people.

‘Here is my aunt. She is pretty, she is a promising diplomat and as far as I know, she might get you a mission from the king…’

‘Here is my nephew. He is stubborn bastard, but trust me, this is best scientist in the Paris. And his father is rich. I mean, really rich. Your family gain lots of money if you marry your daughter with him.’

‘Here is Ann, my wife sister. Amazing women. She lives in Spain and she has a very wide connections there. I strongly recommend you set a date with her and your son…’

Matchmaking phase was a blast. From the very first game. It was funny, it was engaging, it was like a core of Legacy, both thematic and strategic. If other player takes your cousin card, he is welcome you for a help. You gain favor tokens. Collect them.

One day, one round you will use them…

***

So we have a new board with special actions. Spending favor tokens you can use space blocked by other player. He owns you a favor, he won’t block the action. Spending favor tokens, you can ask other player for money. He owns you a favor. Spending favor tokens you can get additional action pawn. Somebody helps you. He owned you a favor…

We put different value on cousin cards. Some are very powerful and will bring you many favor tokens. Some are weak, but you’ll get only one favor token.

The euro game begins. Build on thematic construction, build on thematic fundaments, we designed euro mechanism. Trade powerful cards that will help other players, but will provide you with many favor tokens? Trade crap so your opponents don’t get advantage, but forget about special actions activated for favor tokens?

Think. Make decisions. Play to win.

***

And when it all worked and made a perfect sense, we made this families like factions. Just like most of Portal Games games. You have a house of diplomats with really nasty, mean cards. Think of dark elves. Think of Egyptians. You have a house of merchants, with no prestige at all, but rich like a king. We have house of architects who change ordinary mansions into amazing buildings with special skills.

Now you play a house of… Now you play an unique family. Now you adopt your strategy to the deck of cards you start with. You play differently if you play with diplomats, you play differently if you play with scientists…

Theme meets euro mechanism. Again…

 ***

There is more in the expansion and I will talk about this in the next article. Let me just tell you today the same thing I tell you about every game we put. I am proud of this design. I believe in this design. I sacrificed many weekends, nights, afternoons working on this stuff. And I can not wait for you to play it. Because I know we did a hell of a job with my team. Again.

You can learn more about the expansion at Portal Games websiteYou can pre-order expansion at Portal Games webstoreExpansion is scheduled for Essen 2015. 

5families_cover_lores

Stronghold has a new edition, huh?

stronghold_cover_loresI didn’t need to do this. I mean, rights for the game came back to Portal Games. The base game was out of stock for some time. It was obvious we will do a reprint. Stronghold was always one of the designs I was most proud of. I wanted it to be back in stock.

But man, did I really need to do the whole new edition?

***

In 2014 I looked at the game to see what we need to change in a reprint. Yes, of course, rulebook could use some rewriting. Yes, square boxes are better than rectangular so we will change it in new print. Yes, artwork on cards looked like artwork from 2009. There was plenty of things we could improve.

Clearly at some point there was this moment where I could stop. When I listed all production problems with the previous edition, asked my team to fix them and we would be done. I could have new edition in couple of weeks ready.

If only I was not Ignacy Trzewiczek. I don’t go for easy solutions.

***

Glory board is super thematic, but it confuses players, makes winning conditions more complicated and leads some times to very unthematic moves that help defender win the game. I decided to trash it.

Battery ram was too weak in Portal printing and too strong in Valley printing and actually I never liked it anyway. I decided to trash it.

Variant for 3 and 4 players worked well, but no one on this whole planet ever tried it. Trash.

Over and over, trashing and trashing…

***

Being serious. I read a lot of opinions about the game on BGG. I read and listened to many reviews of the game. I read comments on webstores about the game. And what is most important, I began to play the game again. And even though I was very proud of this design, I found some things that I could do better now.

So I did.

No Glory board

The Invader will win the game if he manages to break into the castle in 7 rounds. Defender wins the game if he manages to defend castle for 7 rounds.

As simple as that.

What I like about this solution is a great approach of play-testers who played as an Invader. They were planning in which round they will hit hard, in which round they will make a false attack, when they will do two dispatches… They sit to the game and they knew that there is 7 rounds. And they planned. They built precise plan and then they began the attack. It is both thematic and strategic, it works on both levels, on the level of story and on the level of mechanism and strategic challenge.

And man, this is simplest winning condition ever.

Start faster!

I wanted the game to be engaging from the very beginning, I wanted it to let players engage in combat as soon as possible. That is why in 2nd edition Invader begins the game with his forces already on the board, already marching towards the castle. It is the first round of the game when cannons will shoot, it is the first round when dead bodies of orcs and goblins will cover the ramparts.

I made the game shorter. It is only 7 rounds, you start with forces on board, you are put into the action from the very beginning. No time to waste. No time for fooling around. You have your invading forces on the foregrounds. Run towards the wall! Run!

Objective cards and Defense plans

I added Objectives for Invader and I added hidden Defense Plans for defender. There is 10 cards in each of the deck. Each of these cards changes the game, each Objective will encourage Invader to consider particular move, each Defense plan will show Defender different options to surprise opponent.

Objective cards have some small task to achieve like ‘Have Orcs on two adjacent wall sections” or “Destroy two wall sections” and if the Invader manages to achieve this task, he is awarded with small bonus like “Gain 2 additional orcs on each foreground” or “Destroy one cannon”.

Defense plans are opposite. They give a bonus to the defender, but there are bad consequences. Use each of your cannons twice this round, but then remove them from the game. Get additional action points, but then loose two units. Your soldiers are doing their best, but there is a price for that.

With 10 Objectives and 10 defense plans I was able to add new layer of replaybility into the game.

***

I changed many things in the game. Instead of few weeks of easy peasy work on a new print run, I spent with my testers long months of playtesting new edition. It was huge task, it was revisiting the castle for hundred of hours and balancing this game over and over again but the final result is amazing. When we finished testing with my team, they were tired, they were sick of the game, they were so happy that we are finally done and that finally I will stop calling them and ask for another test game.

But what is most important, we were proud. We did so much more than just reprint. I have no doubts you’ll send us few Thumbs up, when you’ll play new edition. I know we earned them. Can’t wait for your feedback.

Designing experience in Convoy

ruch“A note of caution: there is a bit of strong language in this article.”

It’s all super simple. One player commands Moloch robots and has to win couple of battles and in the end to destroy New York. The other player gets deck of The Outpost and has to stop them, has to slow and sabotages them. He needs to do whatever he can to not let Moloch reach New York.

On one hand I had these powerful machines marching towards New York. O, man, I was having fun designing them. I wanted them to be big and deadly. I gave Strength of 3 to most of the cards, I gave Strength of 4 to some of them and I even gave Strength of 5 here and there. Why not, huh? Huge robots that will destroy New York in a heartbeat. The moment Moloch player gets his cards, he will smile, and this smile will mean one thing: “Knock, knock, NY, is anybody here?”

Then I sat with The Outpost deck. O, man, that was fun! I wanted them to be fast, to be sneaky, and to be smart. I gave Strength of 1 to most of the cards. I gave Strength of 2 here and there. I looked at them and said: “You guys are in trouble. Good luck. Try to get out of the shit I just put you in.”

Asymetrical games. That is what I love. That is what I’ve built in Zombiaki in 2003. That is what I’ve built in Stronghold in 2009. That is what I am good at. Watch me. This is me at my best.

I was going to cross over the line with Moloch. I wanted them to be ridiculously strong. I gave them high numbers and then I gave them super abilities. Kill soldier. Protect other robot. Turn off The Outpost abilities. All that crazy stuff. Every single card was overpowered. That is lesson I learned from Michał Oracz – do abilities that rocks, do abilities that are so freaking awesome that players will get crazy. Then think about balance.

I was not thinking on balance yet. I was designing experience. I was building emotions. Moloch has to feel like a train – slow, but unfuckingstopabble.

So I kept crossing the line. I added Modules. Yes, additional parts that you can attach to the Robot to make him even stronger. Just in case you would like to show off. Stuff like +3 Strength . You know.

I looked at the deck and every single card was clearly OP. I loved it.

To The Outpost now. Hey guys, how are you? Not good? Look at you. You have Strength 1 on most of the cards. And you want to stop Moloch, huh? Do you have a plan? No?

Don’t worry. You got me. I’ll help.

You are guerrillas. You will jink battles. You will cheat. You will get Robots back in hand of Moloch player. You will move them to the other city. You will appear from nowhere, blow them and escape. You will block their movement. You will be fuckin’ cheating, because this is your only chance to win. You will loose three battles in a row and then you will hit him in his steel balls and trust me, you will hit him hard.

Yes, your average Strength is 1. I know that, I designed these cards. Yes, you have no chance in direct confrontation. I know that, I designed these cards. But please, stop whining, get a grip and think. Think! I gave you tools to outsmart Moloch. Use them wisely.

***

I had two amazing decks in Convoy. They played so different. I loved them both. And then it took me ‘only’ 6 months of day by day testing over and over to balance this shit.

Effect? I can’t wait for you to try it. I couldn’t be more proud.

About wearing two hats

wood-architect-table-work-largeAs you probably heard already, Martin Wallace decided to close his company – Treefrog Games and focus on designing games that will be published by other companies. As he wrote in his statement: “We will cease to produce our own titles and focus instead on designing games for other companies. There are numerous reasons behind this decision, but the main factor has been the increased costs of running the company from New Zealand. This does not mean the end of ‘Treefrog’ style games, it just means they will appear with another companies [sic] logo on.

I am this guy who wears two hats too, I am designer and I am publisher. I totally understand his decision.

Managing company is a huge task, no matter if you work in software industry, food industry or board game industry, it is a huge thing. Being entrepreneur means being at work 24/7.  It’s answering hundreds of emails, it is having tens of Skype meetings, it is catching up every single day. Never good time for setting up prototype and testing for few hours.

I have a team behind me, I managed to build a pretty solid company here with seven full time employees who do all that crazy work that has to be done. And yet, it is a rare time that I can sit in my office and do actual design. When I am in the office, for most time I have to be CEO of Portal Games. I can wear my designer hat after hours, in the evening, at home. That’s how it is.

That’s why I am happy for Martin. I actually envy him. I know it is best for him and I know it is best for all of us, fans of Brass, Steam and all other great designs he made. When he cuts off all those business emails, when he cuts off all those customer service emails, when he cuts off all those shipping issues, production issues, delays issues, he will be finally  able to breath.

And then he’ll give us plenty of amazing designs.

Can’t wait.