Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Villages of Valeria

Sometimes you get good news, but it's not the right time to make noise about it. And then when it is time, you're busy and you don't get around to it. That happened to me this year with this bit of news: I sold a card game design, which we hope will be published in (probably) 2017!

That design was called Deckville: City of Cards, and you can read about my early design work on it here. In March 2015, I went to the excellent GameStorm convention in nearby Vancouver, and showed off three of my designs in their Game Lab area, which is dedicated to as-yet-unpublished games. There were few publishers in attendance that year, but I got lucky: Deckville was noticed by Daily Magic Games. They were looking for card games to publish, and thought that Deckville was a good candidate. I gave them a copy to take home and try out, and soon after we had a deal.

Since then, I've been working with Isaias Vallejo, an experienced designer and founder of Daily Magic Games, to get the game ready for publication. We've made a lot of changes to my original design in order to make the game more suitable for their target audience: they want games that are easy to learn and quick to play. I was a little reluctant at first, thinking that they wanted non-strategic games with little to think about, but happily I was wrong about that. We've worked over the design until its play time is significantly shortened, but it still offers plenty to think about in under an hour of play. It's been a pleasure working with Isaias on this project; it's definitely been a joint effort, and we will both be listed as designers when the game is published.

...is now Villages of Valeria
We also gave the game a new theme (which I admit it desperately needed!) and a new name. It is now Villages of Valeria, with a fantasy theme to match their first-published card game. That game, Valeria: Card Kingdoms, will be available in stores in early 2016. It's a fun, light-weight game featuring wonderful artwork by Mihajlo Dimitrievski, who is also doing the art for Villages of Valeria. Here's a sample, the artwork for the "Witch's Hut" card:

Kickstarter and Print-and-Play
We hope to launch a Kickstarter campaign for Villages of Valeria in early 2016. I'll post here when the Kickstarter is up. In the meantime, a print-and-play version of the game is available now on BoardGameGeek: click here if you're interested, try the game, and send us your feedback!

Related Games
Another of Daily Magic's games is now in the last days of its Kickstarter campaign. Check out Mana Surge on Kickstarter!

Isaias Vallejo is also the designer of the board game Sunrise City, which is a nicely designed game that's a lot of fun. I recommend it.

Press Gang

I have a new boardgame design under development. Its name is “Press Gang”. It got its start several years ago, when I thought up a mechanism for players to select tiles from an array of tiles on the table, by “walking” a pawn from tile to tile to reach the one you want. The cost of acquiring a tile would be the sum of the cost of walking your pawn and the cost of the tile itself. I wrote up a page of notes and thoughts about this mechanism. Here’s a quote from that page:
Players must balance the perceived value of a tile against the expense of acquiring it; and every move will change that equation for the next turn by putting the pawn in a different neighborhood. This sounds like a reasonably rich set of choices.
I filed my write-up, and forgot about it.

In late January of 2015 I was browsing old files out of boredom. I found my page of notes and starting thinking about it. In fairly short order I had the outline of a complete game, got excited, and started developing it.

Tile collection immediately suggests set collection as a goal: there would be different classes of tiles, and different individuals among those classes. Players would score by collecting appropriate sets of tiles.

Variety is important. Without it there is no compelling reason to walk an expensive distance to get a tile over there, instead of grabbing a cheap one nearby. Reiner Knizia’s amazing game Ra was my model for this: scoring would be different for each class of tile, giving players some difficult choices in deciding which tile might be best to acquire on any given turn.

Budget management usually adds interest to a game. I decided that there would be money, which could be spent to gain extra actions and get more done, or saved to be worth points at end of game. (Money is also a nice balancing system: if a choice is so obviously good that it’s a no-brainer, make it cost some money and tune the amount until it becomes a tough choice.)

A lesson learned from the games Ra and Coloretto, among others: it’s good to have “poison pills” in set-collection games. A poison pill is anything that reduces the value of your collection, but that you have to take anyway as part of collecting something good. Poison pills make players balance conflicting goals. Do I want this really good thing even though it comes with this really bad thing, or do I want that lesser good thing that comes with a lesser penalty?

When I’d reached this point in my thinking, I found a good theme for the game. I’m a fan of C. S. Forester’s wonderful novels of Horatio Hornblower, the fictional captain in the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Recruiting a crew for a ship of the line was not an easy business. A captain needed a variety of experienced officers, but he also needed deckhands, which as often as not came from the press gangs.

This gave me thematic classes: each tile was a crewman, who might be a Lieutenant, a Midshipman, a Petty Officer, or a deckhand. And deckhands provided a great poison pill: you must have them, but you must get them from the Press Gang. They are landsmen who know nothing of the sea, and who must be trained in order to become useful.

Each class needed some feature to make it different from the others. For example: I felt that if the entire game were merely a matter of walking around and picking up tiles to fill your collection, it would not be sufficiently interesting. So when your recruit a Midshipman, you get another choice: you can keep the tile for scoring at the end of the game, or immediately sacrifice its score to get a benefit called the Privilege. There are several different Privileges: they can help you move your pawn more quickly, get you money, recruit another officer, change your end-game scoring, and so on. The decision you must make is whether the benefit will eventually be worth more points than the Midshipman’s basic score.

Within a couple of weeks (which is remarkably quick compared to my usual rate of progress), I had a perfectly playable game on my hands. Since then I have been tuning the game: adjusting the costs and values of things, and trying to streamline the rules. I think it’s getting close to done, but it’s not there yet. But more than one knowledgeable person has told me it’s my best design yet, so that’s encouraging!