Aussie Tabletop Creators

A few months back, a friend of mine and fellow board game designer Peter Sanderson interviewed a number of board game designers, including myself, about our current projects. Interviews took place at our local incubator meetup and a local board game convention, OzBunnyCon, both in Melbourne, Australia.

I show up at 4.35 play-testing Pirates: Scourge of the Seven Seas if you wish to jump right to it but it is fantastic to see so much boardgame game design and development happening in one city.

Also, a shoutout to Peter on his successful Kickstarter campaign Mothership: Tabletop Combat!

Vectors, OzBunnyCon 2016 and Looking Forward

As usual, the lead up to this convention was very busy, filled with implementing changes and making new pieces.

My tiles are now in vector form
I used Inkscape for all my tiles. My colour palette was on my template down the right.

The biggest change for me was switching from CAD outlines and hand coloured tiles to vector images. The advantage of vector images is they are scalable to any size without loss of quality.  This was especially useful as I have reduced the number of tiles you play with so decided to make the remaining tiles bigger to give players more room to get at their ships. Additionally, having everything done digitally made making changes to tiles and generating new tiles a lot faster.

I also made new treasure map spawning cards and new player boards.

Regarding game changes, I have gone full circle with a number of things from my first version. Players need to carry treasure all the way home before opening it, similar to the first iteration, but can now hold one chest per crew member on your ship. The idea behind this is to add in the excitement of chasing someone down before they get back to their port.

OzBunnyCon First Playtest
First playtest of Pirates at OzBunnyCon2016

I have also changed how treasure spawns yet again to stop people camping islands (I’m looking at you Sye 😛 ), and players can now select where their port  is located during setup to give them slightly more control.

OzBunnyCon was a big 4 days of board games over the Easter long weekend. I spent the first 2 days playing a variety of games from the library with my partner, new friends, and people we have met at other conventions. The third day I signed up to an Arkham Horror all 7 hour session with all 8 expansions. The last day we had a Play Prototypes session for myself and other designers.

It was really good to play games for the first few days and not have to think about my game. Over the weekend I managed to squeeze in 15 new games (23 if you include expansions) and 4 I’ve played before.

OzBunnyCon 2016
How I spent my time gaming at OzBunnyCon 2016 & how I spend my lunch times at work.

A few that really stood out to me were: the pyramid dice roller in Camel Up, this was beautifully made for a die-cut and had me thinking about things I could make using similar principles; Rattlebones, this is a dice building (like deck building) game where you play around a theme park by rolling dice that you can change the sides on to change the outcomes. It was really fresh to see something so different; Dragonwood was a very cool little set collection questing game where you play sets to increase your chances to defeat goblins & trolls etc. This was a neat little filler that I would like to get my hands on; and Xenon Profiteer, this was a cool deck-deconstruction game that had some very nice visual design to make your element separation device cards all join together seamlessly.

We also met the guys from Games Vs Play on day one and played a few games with them. Games vs Play, a local Melbourne blog whose mission is to investigate, celebrate and experience everything that the strange and wonderful world of games has to offer, from board games to zombie shuffles, game theory to medieval re-enactments, retro computer games to the latest in virtual worlds.

Arkham Horror with all 8 expansions
Arkham Horror with all 8 expansions

Day 3 for me was an epic battle against evil as we tried to defeat Zhar, a colossal mass of tentacles that you have to beat twice if awoken in Arkham Horror. Well, after hours of closing gates throughout Arkham, we were on our final stretch, with 3 gates to close and 3 of us fighting our way through the Other Worlds when the beast was awoken. Although we put up a good final battle we were all slowly dismembered (I had my arm ripped off 😀 ) and brought to our demise. Although long and complicated to begin with, this was a great couple of hours with my fellow Investigators and we put up a good fight and I had a lot of fun.

Day 4 the real work began with the Play Prototypes session. Along with myself there were 3 other games on show. Sye Robertson had his new Hotel Game on show, where players are architects competing with each other to get more of their designs in a hotel commission. Although I didn’t get to play this iteration, it looks like Sye has made good progress with everyone building on the same hotel now and the addition of individual and public goals.

Denise Shaw has a finished game that she has designed called Celebrity: Race to the A-List. Players must answer trivia, perform impersonations, who am I? and celebrity challenges. The first person to get around the board with at least 1 million fan club members wins.

Peter Sanderson's Game Mothership
Peter Sanderson’s Game Mothership

Although I didn’t get to play, it is clear Denise has put a lot of time and effort into her game. It looks good and marketed to the right audience I think could do well.

The third game on show was Peter Sanderson’s Mothership. Mothership is a tactical space game where you battle your opponents while managing income and extensive tech upgrades, allowing each fleet to be tailored to your own play-style. The objective is to wipe out all opponents Colony Stations while keeping yours alive.

I played half a game of Mothership (only because we ran out of time) and really enjoyed it. Pete has put a lot of effort into Mothership and is getting ready to put it on Kickstarter, and it shows. The components are fantastic, the mini’s look great and the laser cut acrylic components really give the game a very classy touch. Gameplay itself moves fairly fast and the combat system is very intuitive. Really liked the tech tree and being able to spec your fleet as you wished too. I am looking forward to playing again in the future and seeing where this one ends up 🙂

I also got 2 playtests of Pirates in. As usual, some of my last minute changes made the first game we played a bit unbalanced with too much treasure spawning but it went fairly well with pretty good feedback. The second time round it played and flowed better; however, there were still questions about the heart of the game, such as ‘What do I think makes my game fun?’ and ‘What game am I trying to make?’.

Second Playtest of Pirates at OzBunnyCon
Second Playtest of Pirates at OzBunnyCon

I have been working on Pirates for nearly a year now and I feel that recently what I thought made Pirates a fun and great game has been lost in the process of fixing issues or doing what I thought would please people. It is because of this that I think it is time for me to take a break from Pirates and investigate another idea for a game that I have had floating around my head for the last 6 months or so. I would like to thank everyone that has helped, played and supported me on this journey so far. I have learnt a lot about game design and the board game industry in general, and am proud of all the growth I have had while creating Pirates.

Thanks for reading,

This will not be the last you see of Pirates: Scourge of the Seven Seas 🙂

MeepleCon 2015 & TGDA 2016 January Incubator

Hi World!
I have been a bit slack with my posts lately with Christmas holidays getting in the way and getting sidetracked with other life events so I will begin where I ended my last post (ConCentric).

Back to Designing after ConCentric
Back to Designing after ConCentric

After ConCentric I took a week off designing to let my mind settle and gather my thoughts. After that I got straight into transcribing the feedback that I recorded after each playtest. Taking all this information into account, changes began to fall into place. Between then and MeepleCon, with a lot of testing the game at home, I made several changes: the map and ports themselves, some changes to the way the turn is played to speed up gameplay, changing the actions, removing the player elimination, adding player boards, and ship upgrades.

Late Night Playtest before MeepleCon
Late Night Playtest before MeepleCon

During this time I learned of Tabletop Game Designers Australia (TGDA), a great community of Australian Game Developers. After introducing myself to the group, I thought I would try and organise an impromptu playtest to make sure everything was in order before MeepleCon. This was really good to meet some other local devs who were also attending MeepleCon, get some well needed feedback on my changes, and even play a few other games in development 🙂 Everyone in this community is very welcoming and I would recommend anyone who is interested in getting into board game design to join the group.

AHOY! MeepleCon Ahead!
AHOY! MeepleCon Ahead!

After a few more tweeks, MeepleCon was upon us. It was much nicer to only have to drive a few hours down the road rather than fly to Adelaide, and to stay with a friend who lived just around the corner (thanks Lachie 😛 ). MeepleCon had a really great setup for devs, allowing them to pay a small fee to have a table to themselves to leave there game set up over the weekend. This made it much easier to get people to play and meant we could get right into the action without having to take time setting up the game. This also meant that people could look at my game while I was playing other games too.

Explaining the Rules of the Seven Seas - photo by Uberjoi
Explaining the Rules of the Seven Seas – photo by Uberjoi

As with ConCentric, after each playtest I recorded the valuable feedback of the buccaneers game-enough to tackle the seas. Feedback was generally positive yet again; player interaction was a lot better than at ConCentric with ships being able to move further now and treasure spawning was a lot more consistent now, with barely a turn with no treasure on the map. The most common issues were: upgrading ships needed to be balanced a lot more, better benefits from the upgrades, and that the board should be smaller with less people for even more interaction.

Custom Dice ready for MeepleCon
New Custom Dice for MeepleCon 😀

I was also able to play a few other prototypes while there, as well as a few published games too 🙂 Darren Broad came across from Adelaide and brought 3 games he has been working on, I was lucky enough to play 2 of them; the first was Sensei, a 2 player, dice chucking game where you are trying to knock over your opponents standee. The resting place of the dice is also used to determine damage. This was the first dice chucking game I have played and I liked the feel of it; other than being very uncoordinated, it was simple to play and has the beginnings of a good, quick, portable, exciting game. The other game was Darren’s main project, Road Rage Rampage. I had been wanting to play this since ConCentric and it didn’t disappoint. Road Rage Rampage is a 2 part, deck building / car racing game (think Mad Max). First you upgrade your basic car, essentially building your deck with weapons and defensive measures until someone calls for the race to begin, Then players spend cards to race around the track, or use them to attack or defend against opponents. Once you get your wheels off the line, it is pretty intuitive. I liked that just because you win the race you may not win the game, as damage comes into it as well. Darren has also implemented a really cool mechanic to change gears, allowing you to travel faster on the straights, but you have to slow down for the corners or take damage. Really interested to see the next iteration of this.

The other game under development I played was Sye Robertson‘s Power and Prestige. This simple card drafting/set collection game is very different to anything I have played before. Sye has come up with a fresh twist on the standard draft and how it moves around the table. This is the second time I have played it (although under a different name last time) and it was much improved. The simplicity of the game allowed it to be grasped by most people, while the draft mechanic created suspense as you try to determine what sets others are going for.

Gifts from my Reddit Secret Santa – Thank you so much 😀

After MeepleCon wound down, I got a bit caught up in Christmas. Although I never really stop thinking about developing, having time to think through your ideas before implementing them all can be valuable.

Over Christmas, I was lucky enough to be matched with a fantastic Reddit Secret Santa, receiving not one but TWO games as well as some more camping supplies 🙂 Both Codenames and Exploding Kittens have had a good workout since I unwrapped them.

My family have obviously caught on to my board game obsession too, with my parents giving me Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King and my sister surprising me with Cards Against Humanity 🙂

4 player test at Games Lab Incubator
4 player test on the new smaller board at Games Laboratory Incubator

After emerging from my Christmas / New Years food coma and welcoming in the new year with 3 days of board games at various friends houses, I got back to work on Pirates for the first of many Incubator meetups in 2016 at Games Laboratory in Melbourne. The Incubator meetups are basically a monthly meet for devs to test their games with other devs and a few people who just come along to play. There were 9 games on show this month, all at various stages of development from first open playtest to looking for a publisher.

I implemented some big changes to try at the incubator after feedback from MeepleCon and most of those changes worked really well. The biggest change now is that Captains only have 1 ship – this works well in speeding up the gameplay and fixes a few thematic issues with treasure being on ships.

3 player test at Games Lab Incubator
3 player test at Games Lab Incubator

Sinking ships is back on the board too, with a respawn mechanic if you get sunk. For simplicity, all the Sailing, Crew and Port actions have been combined. The player board has changed yet again, although this still needs some work to balance it, along with some balancing of costs of crew, cannons & sails, and the amount of gold received per chest. Overall I’m really proud if it at the minute, and most of the feedback was really good, I even got an “I wouldn’t change anything” 🙂

Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it to CanCon, Canberra’s annual board and tabletop gaming convention, but if you can make it I would recommend going. The next outing for Pirates at this stage (other than the monthly Games Lab Incubator) will be OzBunnyCon in Melbourne, held over the Easter long weekend. There looks to be a large selection of board games for all to play and hopefully a few other devs there too 🙂

Until next time,

Karl 🙂

ConCentric 2015 & International Talk Like A Pirate Day

Myself (right) and my two offsiders at ConCentric 2015
Myself (right) and my two offsider’s at ConCentric!

From Friday 18th to Sunday 20th September 2015, Ark Angel Games and Pirates: Scourge of the Seven Seas had their first official outing at ConCentric 2015 in Adelade, SA.

ConCentric is one of many conventions held all over Australia (and the world) where people come to play board games. Although most people are there to play published board games, a few of us came with games in various prototype stages to put through their paces!

Convincing people to play a prototype game was actually much easier than I had anticipated, this may have been because 3 people in pirate outfits intimidated them into it, but I would like to think that board gamers are just friendly and like to try something new 🙂

The first ever public playtest of Pirates! Photo courtesy The Campaigner.
The first ever public playtest of Pirates!
Photo courtesy The Campaigner.

Within minutes of signing in on the Friday we had our first 2 victims at hand and from their the weekend just got better.

Of course what sort of self respecting game developer wouldn’t launch a pirate game on International Talk like a Pirate Day Saturday 19th (this of course didn’t stop us dressing up on the Friday and Sunday either). Before returning on Saturday morning we heard a whisper that glazed treasure be afoot, so tried our luck hunting for the fabled loot! After a short walk we followed our trusty map and noses right to Krispy Kreme where we managed to hall away an amazing 36 delicious treasures for nothing more than a hearty ‘ARRRRR!!!‘. This newly acquired loot provided quite beneficial when convincing prospective gamers to set sail on the seven seas!

Another crew of land lubbers being put through their paces! Photo courtesy The Campaigner.
Another crew of land lubbers being put through their paces!
Photo courtesy The Campaigner.

After each play test I quizzed the buccaneers on what they liked and didn’t like about the game so far. I received a lot of positive feedback with people loving the boats & the map, and thinking it was different to other games they have played. The most common feedback was people wanting to be able to interact more with others on the other side of the map, and treasure to appear more consistently. I certainly have a lot of new ideas bouncing around my head that I plan on testing in the future.

Sunday of the convention for myself, a few other budding game developers, and some experienced developers, was filled with an organised prototype session run by Kim Brebach of  Secret Base Games. Kim has recently put his first game, Monstrous, through Kickstarter, reaching over 200% of his goal.

Valuable feedback at the Prototype session. Photo courtesy The Campaigner magazine.
Valuable feedback at the Prototype session.
Photo courtesy The Campaigner.

The day started with a brief introductions before looking over each others games (shoutout to @drbroadgames) and splitting up into groups to playtest. This was an especially valuable playtest as I had several people playing who have previously developed and worked on numerous board games, and I was able to get much more constrictive feedback on Pirates so far. After a quick break for lunch we reconvened and Kim gave a presentation on board game design. Topics included tips and tricks on how to define your core game mechanics, how to define your audience, and how to go about getting a game funded or published. This was an invaluable experience and I hope over the coming months I can put a lot of what I learned into practice.

A huge thank you to everyone that play-tested Pirates over the weekend, was a fantastic experience :) Photo courtesy The Campaigner.
A huge thank you to everyone that play-tested Pirates over the weekend, was a fantastic experience 🙂 Photo courtesy The Campaigner.

Aside from playtesting Pirates, I was able to play a number of games that I have been wanting to play for a while and a few new ones that I would like to add to my library, including 7 Wonders, Power Grid and Coup.

A huge thank you to everyone who played over the weekend. Without people willing to test and give feedback, new games would never see the light of day. Also, a congratulations to Ben and the rest of the ConCentric crew for organising a fantastic and very successful weekend for everyone. Of course I can’t forget my two pirate offsiders, it means a lot to me that you came over with me from Victoria for the weekend – your support has been great throughout everything so far. And finally a monstrous thank you to Kim for running the prototype session, I hope to show you the next version of Pirates at a convention in the future!