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.

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!

Forks Designer Diary 2: Making it Rain with 18 cards

Often the best way to help promote creative fecundity is to restrict things. My boss used to blinfold people and get them to describe polyhedrons to help with their use of descriptive language (note: he was a teacher). So it’s no suprise that 2017s BGG 18-card microgames competition got me thinking. Make a game with only 18 cards. Including rules and tokens in that 18. I love challenges like this, that make you rethink your ideas and conceptions, and trim down all that’s unnecessary. I wasn’t going to enter, but during the day my mind kept on coming back to it, and to my previously thought of as-yet-unamed-not-quite-social-deduction game.

As I mentioned prevoiusly, I got rid of the role cards, so the only things left were a tracker and the values. The tracker could be put onto three of the cards, along with the rules, leaving 15 for play. Obviously 15 cards is nothing, games would be over in a heartbeat, so how to extend? Recycle the discard pile. A small change, but one that leads to more complex situations. Now every card you discard has the opportunity to affect the score multiple times, whereas the ones you keep are out the game for good. The restriction had bought about an interesting predicament for players.

The system was set, now for a theme. I needed something strictly binary which players could push for, and settled for Rain or Sun. Players now had to take payment for the weather, but by doing so were making it less likely for that weather to happen.

 

So I entered, and got joint best game! Which naturally I was delighted with. Looking back, it is a fun little thing, but the main issues were: the lack of cards in the game, even with recycling the discards it was too few and the number of cards needed to make the recycling have a big impact was massive. The second was choosing any other player. A lot of downtime was coming about from this decision, which also resulted in some players having very few cards in their hand and fewer decisions to make. I loved that central mechanic and decision point, but it was just slightly lacking and I wasn’t sure why (until another competition some time later).

You can tell I'd just discovered photoshop filters

If you want to try Rainmakers it only needs 2 sheets of A4 and can be downloaded here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/19rUsTvn6RS3Gr_Llx_J83RIrm3Obobnm/view

Forks Designer Diary 1: Choices

Forks started out as a social deduction game. It’s moved away from that in its various iterations, but the first idea, borne from playing a lot of resistance, was one of shared problems in which you need to work out who you can trust. At it’s most basic:

Begin with 32 cards, ranging from -8 to +8

Draw 3 cards keep 1, pass 2 to any other player.

That player keeps one and discards the other.

A tracker in the center records the total value of cards discarded. If total is negative the bad guys win, otherwise the good guys win.

Immediately there are a couple of issues with this. Whilst in theory this allows for deductive logic- Give someone a negative and a positive and you’ll know from which they discard which team they’re on (unless it’s a bluff); in real life it falls down in a fair few places:

Well actually one place really- where are the choices?

You’re good? Keep the lowest value card and pass /discard the others.

Bad? Do the opposite.

The only choices come from choosing who to trust, which players have little information about to begin with, and really players only need to trust one other player.

And a game without interesting choices is not much of a game.

So instead it became a semi-coop. Whoever kept the highest value cards won if the discarded total was positive, otherwise only the bad guy(s) won. In this case, with an added incentive for players to keep the high value cards, fewer baddies were needed to even things out. But this still has problems:

Are there really interesting choices for the baddies here? If every player is now wanting high value cards, what’s to differentiate the baddies from the goodies in how they play? And, more importantly, the semi-coop problem:

If players aren’t going to win, what’s to stop them throwing the game to the bad guys?

I’ve found this is a key issue for many semi-coops, and have never seen a solution I’m 100% satisfied with. I play games with loads of different people with different views, and the question of is it okay to sink a game you’re losing just so someone else doesn’t win is still unanswered. There have been 100+page threads on forums about it, and it’s not something I want here. The fix: give people a legitimate reason why they want the value to be negative, make it a possible way to win outside of being on the bad team.

Now, if the final discarded score was negative, players with the lowest possible score won. This turned out to be a really elegant solution, but it meant one thing- there was no use in the traitor anymore. Now players could switch allegiance depending upon which cards they had, in fact it didn’t really make sense to think of them as teams or allegiances anymore. The choices of what to do were never obvious and always impactful. And so, the game was no longer Social Deduction.