Designer Diary 4: Fork Your Neighbour.

Whenever I playtest or demo Forks people get the game quickly. Which they should, it’s simple with few rules. It takes a little longer for the penny to drop regarding why the mechanics set up the game- but eventually they turn to their neghbour and exclaim ‘excuse me sir/madam, but you have just passed to me the worst choice which will surely decimate me’, or words to that effect (occasionally unprintable ones). The question which normally comes is ‘Why is it named Forks?’. So here’s why.

That feeling described above, when your neighbour gives you a horrible choice and both of you know it, is what I wanted to name the game after; but ‘aaaggh you bastard’ and variations thereof didn’t really seem appropriate. Whilst I could have just named the game ‘Embezzler’ or ‘Financial Dealings with your Neighbour’ or ‘Enron:The Game’, I didn’t just want to stick to a bland description or allusion to the theme. I wanted something which said ‘Here is a choice, but if I’ve done this well, it’s a horrible choice. If I’ve played really well, it’s a horrible choice which also benefits me’. Something which described the actual game, but if it also alluded to the theme in some way that woud be nice.

Morton’s Fork doesn’t quite fit the above, but it’s close. When it comes to tax people you either admit to being frugal, in which case you must have saved enough to be taxed, or you admit to being a spendthrift, in which case you are wealthy enough to be taxed. It’s a choice, but either way you’re going to lose. The reason it doesn’t fit the game is because it’s a false choice, and in Forks there are no false choices. But it does have that central essential idea of giving your neighbour a choice they are not going to like, and alluding to theme (although in a very slight manner). Morton’s Fork was close, but when considering it I was reminded of other Forks.

I played a lot of chess when I was younger. A lot. And whilst I only teach chess these days I still remember the language used for attacks: pins, skewers and forks. A fork is where you attack two (or more) pieces at the same time, leaving your opponent to choose which one to save and which to lose. And it wasn’t always an obvious choice. Which is an apt description for the choices in Forks- here are two cards which you can invest to save a company, but you take the hit on the one you don’t (possibly). Not an easy choice, and it’s not luck of the deck, but skill from your opponent giving you the choice.

And so the name was chosen ‘Forks’. It’s still one of the earlier questions asked, but I like the name. A youth spent forking people in chess ‘I’ve forked your bishops etc’ meant I didn’t even notice the innuendo until one memorable playtest session. So, as people who know me will attest, that was completely unintentional, but I’ve grown too fond of the name to change it. Also no other game is called Forks (probably for that reason).

Small current update: Just spent some time writing the script for the ‘how to play’ video, and in Kickstarter terms we should be going live in about a months time (still waiting on final Brexit outcome to see how fulfillment can be done). If you’re interested please subscribe to the BGG page/facebook/blog/twitter etc.

Designer Diary 3: With thanks to Wibbell++

Forks (or Rainmakers) as it was sat for while after the microgame competition. There were issues with it (turns out negative numbers can cause issues for some, which means negatives have a downside), but it wasn’t until a competition run by Bez which kickstarted a new design path which fixed a whole load of issues, and discovered a bunch of new game design routes to go down.

Quick note about Wibbell++ by Bez, Wibbell++ is an ingenious set of cards which have a superbly thought out distribution of letters on cards, accompanied with numbers and patterend borders. There are a number of games which can be played with them, but it’s also encouraged to design your own. Bez ran a competition last year looking for new games which can be played with the cards, and after I submitted a word game (one which I still play), I wanted to see if I could submit a game that didn’t use the letters at all.

I adapted Rainmakers to fit the cards. Instead of just positive and negative values there were 6 values (to fit the borders of the cards). Instead of tracking the cards with a counter, the discarded card was added to the centre to see which ‘suits’ had the highest discard value- the 3 with the highest discarded value were considered the winnig suits, the others losers. Winning suits in hand were worth positive points, losing negative. And it revitalised the game. Now the cards in the middle of the table told a story about what was happening, and the choices weren’t completely obvious. The number of cards worked well, the mechanics were solid. The numbers needed work, some suits were objectively worse than others, but that just needed refinement.

The feedback was great. Top 5 at the end, and a load of suggestions which I’ve taken forward and worked on (mitigating the chaos was number 1). Since this contest I never stopped working on the Forks (although the name came later). The prize here was twofold- getting someone like Bez to play through your design and give you feedback, and being pushed into developing something, that nudge to push through a design doldrums state. Now I had structure and mechanics, the small beginnings of a theme (my entry was Economickell) and feedback to work on. Time to start the refine/playtest/refine engine.

And if you see Wibbell++, get it. It’s brilliant for inspiration and fun.

Post #Airecon Report/Interlude

I was going to write a designer diary here, thanking Bez for his competition inspiring me, but first I want to do a quick Airecon report, mainly consisting of telling you who you should be liking:

Mark of Wreck and Ruin game fame is an absolute star. Check out his game here:

It’s a post-apocalyptic dice chucker which loads of people love, and I urge you to check it out at the next big convention (UKGE I guess, but I’m sure he’ll be at others). Mark is a fantastically friendly guy who would love to talk to you about the game (or any game, including Top That!)
James Naylor, who’s game Magnate: The First City  I actually got to play, with terrible-at-rolling-dice Richard from We’re Not Wizards. It’s a city game which actually feels like you’re building a city. Not making a tableau of cards, not laying down tiles, not collecting sets, but building a city. It’s about time somebody finally nailed that, and James really has. Including the point where all the landowners sell off their buildings to foreign investors essentially scooping out all the profit and leaving a ghost town in its wake. It’s coming out on Kickstarter, so look out for it!
Ayden from Granda Games (half panda, half dragon) was there with Solar Storm, a beautiful co-op in which you have to escape man’s greatest enemy: the sun. I didn’t get to play this one unfortunately, but heard a load of good things from the people who had. If you like your co-ops thinky check this out (they’ll be at the UKGE this year, KS later this year).
Still some more shout outs to the denizens of Demo Alley: Keith from Coffee and Cardboard games: https://www.facebook.com/CardboardAndCoffee  ; Bez with his amazing Cat Wall, who is one of the greatest ambassadors of gaming, whether you’re a player or designer, https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamepublisher/29655/stuff-bez. And Emma was their with Quirk!, a lovely looking family card game full of strange expressions and noises.
I was also lucky enough to be there as part of Playtest UK, and we playtested a whole bunch of games. If you’ve never playtested a game at a convention before I urge you to do so. It feels incredibly rewarding, and everything you play will have something unique about it. Not all of them will see release, some of them will be hugely flawed, but behind those flaws there’s almost always a spark worth discovering. Similarly, it’s a puzzle in itself to search out problems, try and break games, and suggest massive changes just to see what happens. For more info on playtesting, the website is here: http://www.playtest.co.uk/

Finally a massive thanks to all the reviewers/podcasters/bloggers who took the time to have a chat, and perhaps even stop and play Forks. I’m not going to go on about them, because I’ll just repeat myself, but they were all welcoming, easy to talk to and just great people. All of the following deserve a follow and a subscribe: We’re Not Wizards , Boardgame Opinions, The Game Shelf, Ross from More Games Please (who is an excellent Avalon liar it turns out). And a super thanks to Behind the Box: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC37TG_LOCXyCLr0kxzLrpuA who have done a lovely video showing Forks, and giving their thoughts on the game:

And another massive thanks to Unlucky Frog, who I just had a wonderful chat with on Sunday, and also talked about Forks in their Airecon podcast here: https://www.unluckyfrog.com/

I caught up with Peter from ITB, we chatted about Newspeak, and how thrilled we both are that it funded and will be in people’s hands next year. He also pointed out that will mean I’m a published games designer, which feels like a dream at this point.
Finally Forks got a load of plays. A load. If I wasn’t playtesting I was playing that (or a ridiculous game of Sidereal Confluence which we timed to the bell- thanks to https://herefordshireboardgamers.co.uk/ for joining in, and sorry I didn’t get to see your giant games the following day). Forks finally feels like a real game which is a real thing which is happening, and I couldn’t be happier with how it went. If you stopped to play, or even just take an interest in it, thank you.
As for the Con itself, Mark smashed it out the park again. More people than before, and one of the best atmospheres in any convention. Chock full of gaming, with anybody looking for a game finding one in minutes. Bring on 2020!

About Forks

Morton’s Fork: A financial choice with two options, both of which will cost you.

Forks is a quick fun card game about embezzling money for 2-4 players that takes about 30 minutes. Players are boardroom members, funnelling money into various companies, but taking a slice for themselves. Each turn players draw 3 cards, choose 1 to embezzle, and pass the other 2 to the player on their left. That player then chooses 1 to embezzle and invests the other. At the end of the game only the top 3 invested companies will score positive points, the other companies score negative points.

Because of this ‘giving decisions’ mechanic, players try to give each other ‘Forks’- decisions in which both options are financially terrible.

Forks comes with a host of abilities and a Merge/Swap variant, meaning it has plenty of replayability and is different each time.

If you are interested and want to be informed when it is Kicstarted please sign up to our mailing list!

Prep-Airecon

With Airecon just around the corner (a week away, unless you’re reading this in the future) I’ve spent a load of time getting prepped for Airecon. And not just pre-arranging a game of Sidereal Confluence and looking at what games I want to sell. This is the first time Forks is going to be really displayed to the public and reviewers. It’s gulp time. So what have I done to prepare:

  1. Volunteered to run the playtest UK stand rather than have a stand purely to demo Forks.

Yep, probably the least wise decision I’ve made. When I finally got to the stage when I was happy booking a demo table (at the end of last november) all exhbition space was gone. Luckily Mark suggested running the Playtest UK stand, and demoing my game there (within certain parameters). So completely not ideal, but it’s something! It also means I get to give back to the Playtest UK community, after they have been fantastic and supportive, so I’m happy with that.

As a result I’ve gone to town on what to have when I’m there. Promotional copies, prearranged times to speak to games press, fliers, a Forks t-shirt, and promotional cards to entice people to sign up to the newsletter and back it when it’s released. The shebang and then some. I’m still pondering how I’m going to get people to play it when I’m helping out on the stand most days, but I’ll try and think of something. The biggest concern for me is that I’ll get sidetracked by all the other fantastic game offerings and lose focus completely.

So all in all it’s going to be interesting, and hopefully fruitful. No matter what happens I’ll have something to write about for the post-mortem!

And if you see a chap wearing this:

Then that’s me! Come and ask for a demo or just say hello!