Sunday, December 15, 2013

Spatial Delivery: New Cards in the Works

Recent changes to my boardgame design-in-progress "Spatial Delivery" seem to be working out. Last Thursday, over at Rainy Day Games, three kind people gave it a near-blind playtest. They had a good time (I was watching) and they "got" the game, making the right kind of plays and doing the right kind of thinking. Most of their feedback had to do with ways to make the game more accessible on the first play: quicker setup, better player aids, improvements to the rulebook, and so on. (I screwed up and brought a somewhat out-of-date rulebook, so I had to intercede occasionally to answer questions and make corrections.) The actual rules and gameplay went over well.

Given that, Helen and I decided that it's time to re-think the physical bits, with an eye toward first-time players. We may eventually rework the hex tiles, perhaps eliminating them in favor of an actual board; we're still discussing that. But the urgent priority is a new card deck.

Older versions of the game had very simple cards. Artwork aside, each card just had a color: red, yellow, green, or blue. But when I added the new Card Powers feature (see A Bit of Game Design), the cards became more complex. Each card now has one of nine different Card Powers, each of which can be used only at certain times in the game. Initially I'd hand-scribbled some rough icons for the various powers on my old cards, with explanations in the rulebook. That got us through our recent playtests; but the players always had trouble learning what the powers were and exactly when each one could be used.

So Helen and I are now brainstorming iconography and card layouts, trying to make the cards and their effects as easy to understand as possible.

In general I like to avoid text on cards if possible, because it makes international editions of a game more expensive to produce. But the various card powers are complex enough to need one to three sentences of explanation each. We want new players to be able to understand each power without having to constantly look them up in the rulebook. A separate player aid would be a reasonable compromise, but for our prototypes we've decided to put some text on each card, in addition to the iconography. If the game is ever published, the publisher can decide whether to keep the text or not: the icons are sufficient for players who are already familiar with the game.

We've decided to try a smaller card size, to reduce the area needed for the game on the table. While the card displays aren't the biggest offender, the game does take up a lot of table space so we're trying to minimize that without impacting ease of play.

Even though the cards are smaller, some elements of the card design still have to be reasonably large, because they must be visible from a couple of feet away when the card is lying face-up on the table. At the same time, compact iconography is needed along the left edge of each card (the "index column"), so that players can fan their hands and easily see what they've got. I was originally fixated on point symmetry, which would mean an index column along both sides; but that was taking up too much space. Helen broke my fixation by showing me that an asymmetrical design gave us enough room for a nice layout.

Here's a mockup of the new design. The actual size is a bit bigger than shown here, and of course the printed cards will have finer resolution. We've printed some proofs to be certain that the text will be readable.
The new card layout
Anybody got any suggestions for improvements?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Whitish Christmas

It's not Christmas yet, but if the weather keeps on like this, Christmas might well be white when it gets here. That will be a novelty for us. We're already enjoying the novelty of having a little bit of snow, right in our very own yard. It's not much, just a dusting; but it comes with several days (and counting) of day-long freezing temperatures. We are used to San Jose, where we counted ourselves lucky if it even bothered to rain in the winter. (There was one really cold winter during my 30ish years there, where icy winds drove snow from higher airs down to the ground in our yard; but even then, none of it stuck.)

The view from our deck.
We've just returned from the grocery store: a shopping trip at 25°F. Helen figured we should stock up the larder in advance of the snow forecast for tomorrow. While we don't expect the snow to be deep, we do live halfway up a small mountain; there's no route to our home that doesn't involve some really steep climbs. If those roads ice up, we may have to cocoon for a bit.

A neighbor's fountain, after several days' freeze.

Most of the rest of the country is having a terrible winter, according to the TV news. We're having a "just right" winter: enough cold and snow to be interesting, not enough to cause trouble. So all the rest of you, stay warm and stay safe, and don't worry about us. We're having a good time!