Excalibur's Zone Gaming

Games are what I love, games are what I do. But family comes first.

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Second Trike Ride! (Yes, I’ve Recorded the First…)

So, as you may know, I picked up a Sun Seeker T3 CX recumbent tadpole trike after I cashed in my Magic: The Gathering collection. I’d like to get a bag with reflective tape on it to improve my visibility at dawn, dusk, and night. I have my eyes set on one but I’m also looking at saddlebags for my rack.

The first ride was rough because the rear derailleur cable got overstretched, the brakes were too loose (oh, man the stock brakes on this bike), and the seat wasn’t set to what I needed. I recorded this ride, but the footage is very jittery and the sound is entirely too horrible to listen to since it sounds like I’m rolling marbles over asphalt. I’ll be uploading this soon, but will do a voice over to spare you from hearing that junk and I’m going to try to stabilize the video. With this recording, I used a clamp and an adaptor to mount my Cube+ to my seat back. Not the best idea.

This second ride, however, went MUCH better! The brakes needed to be broken in a little, but they are much tighter, I rode to my mom’s house and after dinner, rode back in the dark. My wife and son followed behind me to make sure I was OK. 😉 The rear derailleur was fine this go around (there and back again) so the ride was much smoother.

I’ve since put a strap mount on my helmet and tested it out a little. I didn’t record the ride back because it was too dark and I didn’t record the ride there because I didn’t have the helmet mount attached at the time :\ I’ll be getting more footage soon, however, since it’s my goal to bike every day I can!

I will be uploading my videos to a new playlist, but I could set up a new channel later. The playlist is “Sunseeker Trike“, though I might change the name of this playlist. I’ll play it by ear for now.

My full trike kit is as follows:

That doesn’t seem like much, but a lot of time went into choosing the components (except the bag, I just needed something quick) and building the trike. What should have taken a few hours took 6+ hours due to odd mounting points and bent mounts. Everything is good to go now, though!

Things I have to do: Learn when to shift. I need to get a better bag, either a pannier, a set of panniers, and/or a track-mounted bag. PRACTICE! It was only a few miles today, but I’m so out of shape it was rather tiring. I’m going to need to ride a lot more to get myself to the point where I can take on the full length of the Capital Trail and back! That’s roughly 110 miles! And I want to do it in one day! There are others I want to do as well. Such as taking USBR 1 from Richmond to Washington DC and back or USBR 76 from Richmond to Blacksburg and back. Sadly, at this point in my life, I can’t do a cross-country bike trip. BUT! That doesn’t mean I can’t tackle that at a later date 🙂

Maybe I’ll live stream some of the trips using Periscope? But I’m definitely going to record every trip I take from here on out.

CardCrawl by Tinytouchables

I have been playing various versions of solitaire card games for many years. I’ve played a large number of solitaire variants from Klondike and Hoyle versions of this classic card game to home-brew rules where I used the cards like chess pieces. My most-played variant has to be tri-peaks and I don’t know which rules were the least played.

I recently noticed a Twitter friend of mine playing a solitaire variant about dungeon crawling called CardCrawl (@cardcrawl, http://www.cardcrawl.com). The graphics seemed well done and humorous and apparently, the game allowed you to post your score to Twitter. That was something missing from a bunch of other games that I enjoy playing (well, the ones with high score tracking). The more I saw these posts, the more I wanted to try the game. There was only one problem: the game was only available for iOS…but after speaking with the devs, Tinytouchables (@tinytouchtales, http://www.tinytouchtales.com/) I found out that they had a beta test going for the game! But it was over. After a few months of trying to keep track of beta tester requests, the game finally released for Android. And so I finally got to play, and purchase, the game.

This is the type of solitaire game that I really enjoy! It’s laced with theme, uses the cards in a fashion that makes some choices pretty challenging, and you fight monsters! Basically, you’re going through a dungeon crawl, fighting monsters, finding coins, using weapons, and wearing armor. You also gain keys which you can use to unlock special abilities that interact with the cards in different ways. AND one of the game modes allows you to construct your own dungeon crawl deck.

The game is pretty simple in its layout: Seven spaces for cards which are all filled from the deck and one space for your adventurer. You start with 13 health and nothing on you. The dealer shuffles the deck and deals four cards in the top row. You can find potions, swords, shields, coins, monsters, and abilities in that row. Dropping coins or potions in an empty slot (left or right hand) uses them. Dropping coins on your inventory slot uses the card. Dropping a sword, shield, or ability on a hand or in your backpack allows you to carry the item.

Swords are dropped on monsters to deal damage. Monsters are dropped on shields to reduce incoming damage. Abilities are dropped on whatever cards it effects. Some abilities turn items into potions, others banish cards to the deck, while others allow you to attack or defend in different ways. There are many, many other abilities you can use and I haven’t uncovered them all.

Your goal is to keep your adventurer alive while you deal with the cards that are dealt to you. It might seem like an easy and straightforward task, but sometimes you have to choose which monster does damage first so that you can free up a hand for a potion. Sometimes you get hit with monsters and no sword, shield, or potion to save you. It can get pretty hairy. You can also sacrifice non-monster cards to the shop in an effort to discard them or turn them into gold.

There is another mode, the daily dungeon, which allows you to play a different deck each day; a refreshing feature for a solitaire game.

The graphics are pretty nice in a Tim Burton-esque sort of way. The colors are muted but fit the theme very well. I tend to play with sounds off but they also fit the theme very well, especially when the dealer gets angry that you’ve won or when he drinks his mug of ale between hands.

I haven’t played this game long, but I can tell you that it has quickly become one of my go-to games for when I want a quick game to play while doing other things. I highly suggest this game to anyone who enjoys solitaire and fantasy-themed games. I also hope that the developers turn this into a physical game. If they did, I’d be the first in line to buy it.

Expect to see me post my game score once every few days, perhaps alternating between the Normal and Daily Dungeon modes.

 

-Ex

Re: Fostering an “Open” Game Culture (via subQuark)

Please visit the original article on subQuark’s blog here: http://blog.subquark.com/fostering-an-open-game-culture/ and visit him on Twitter here: http://www.twitter.com/subquark

In this article, game designer subQuark (David Miller) talks about expanding his upcoming game, Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse (MTMA), into a more open gaming framework in much the same way that a deck of cards can be used to create a multitude of different games. I believe this may have been sparked by some of the ideas I threw at him while we were chatting on twitter. David was displaying a map idea he had for using Google maps for the game’s deluxe playmat. I suggested he look at several spots around the world with run down and abandoned areas that look post-apocalyptic and make several mats. I then went on to suggest that these mats could have different missions tied to them, making them a new expansion where each mat has a different objective.

In this new blog article, David asks for opinions about how the components of MTMA could be used in an open framework for player-inspired scenarios. While the default game would be available, players could use the components to modify or create different ways to play the game or possibly new games altogether.

This is a slippery slope, to be sure, because you don’t want to make anything so abstract that players have a difficult time thinking of what to create. The goal is to provide a set of base rules that can be easily modified or substituted to provide a new game experience. Different playmats, layouts, missions, and other elements are a good way to go about this.

In his post, David suggests that you could play the game as is or you could use streets to split the map into zones where players’ meeples may start in different locations, provide alternate routes to the safe zone (through the sewers), or to rescue hostages. Different mats could provide different experiences or hazards to completing the set missions.

David then goes on to ask for opinions and ideas about this idea, if we have ideas, or questions about it. To me, this sounds like a fantastic idea! I have already suggested the multiple mat idea. These can be made into missions, for flavor, change of scenery, or a host of other game elements. What I’m going to do now is make a few (or more) suggestions that David can possibly use to benefit his game. Now I am an amateur game designer. I’ve only self-published print-n-play games on Board Game Geek through design challenges. But I do have a few decades worth of gaming experience under my belt…

Modular rules:

I think that if the rules for MTMA are modular, it will become much easier for players to add, substitute, modify, or ignore what they want to create the gaming experience they want. This might not be an easy task to accomplish, but I think that this would make things easier in the long run. The ability to take a specific element of the game and mutate it can change gameplay dramatically. Think of chess vs hnefatafl. Both are grid-based capture/control games. Except hnefatafl changes the number of pieces per side, the types of pieces, the starting location of the pieces, and the win conditions for each side. Those are a lot of changes, but fundamentally, the games are very similar.

For example: imagine MTMA that you could change those elements as well. You’re on an arena mat. The blue payer has 4 pieces and the green monster. The yellow player has all five pieces. The blue player must get the monster to one of the exits while the yellow must stop them. The pieces move like pawns in chess, moving one grid spot at a time and one piece per move. We’ve not only changed the mat, but we’ve changed the win conditions, we’ve changed the piece distribution, and we’ve changed how the pieces work. Instead of having to rewrite the game from scratch, we simply substitute the mechanical aspects (pieces, movement) and then we allow the mat to provide the setup and theme.

Mission cards:

An open game system might benefit from a deck of mission cards that can be hidden or visible to all players. A secret mission that will allow you to win the game (capture or eliminate 3 of the opponent’s meeples, unleash the monster from the cage, be the first/last to the fallout shelter) can provide a very exciting atmosphere for the players. The cool thing about this is that you do not need to have custom cards printed for this. A standard deck of cards (or a custom one that mimics it) with a chart can provide everything you need. The ability to change the chart is also a wonderful bonus! This way, you only have to print the chart for default missions! But why stop there?

Instead of providing just a mission deck, why not make the chart about equipment? Or items essential to survival? Or events? Or giving the monster different abilities? Or giving the meeples different abilities? Or all of these?

Cards, in general, would expand this game to explosive levels and make it even more expandable! A custom set of cards with stats, numbers, and pictures of weapons or equipment could easily provide most (if not all) of the suggestions in the previous paragraph. Even a plain deck of cards with charts that provide meaning to the cards could be done. And the awesome thing is that these charts could be online! A deluxe option with them printed in a booklet could be available, but not entirely necessary.

Meeple decals:

It is of my opinion that the meeples need to be numbered or uniquely identifiable in some manner that makes it easy to distinguish one meeple from another. This would make a lot of things easier. Players could refer to a specific meeple for effects, missions, or any other number of things. Labeling each meeple this way becomes tedious, yes, but if there is a sticker sheet that’s supplied with the game, put the option to uniquely identify the meeples in the players’ hands (saving a lot of work).

Summary

These are all the things I can think of right now. I do not have a copy of the game’s rules to make any further suggestions, and I haven’t played the game so I don’t know how it feels or what would need to be done to make it a more open system. Though, it’s not like I don’t already use game bits for other things in other games! But building a system from the components in MTMA is a bit trickier without added “stuff”.

Good luck with getting the game funded, David! I know that I will be backing it!

The New Series!

You may have already seen the announcement of Episode 1 and I’m here to confirm that, yes, I am going to be running through Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition! The first episode is going to run a bit long since I’m going to create my character and go through the opening tutorial/story stuff. Future episodes will hopefully only run 20-30 minutes each instead of the hour that the premiere is set at.

This Let’s Play series is going to be mostly unabridged since there’s a lot that goes on in the game. I will be recording 99.9% of everything with exceptions of interruptions, taking time off, family, work, etc. jumping into break up recording (and my current chest cold).

I plan on going through the complete main campaign and as much extra stuff as is humanly possible. After I’ve finished everything for Baldur’s Gate, I will move on to the next  game released chronologically by Bioware. At least by series. For instance, some games had extra content added via expansions after other games were released. I’m going to ignore that bit and go with the base game’s release. So here is the list of games that I’m going to play in order. If the game has an Enhanced Edition, I’ll be playing that version.

  • Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition
  • Planescape: Torment
  • Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition
  • Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition
  • Neverwinter Nights
  • Icewind Dale II
  • The Temple of Elemental Evil
  • Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Dragonshard
  • Neverwinter Nights 2

I may go on to retro games such as the Gold Box series of games put out by SSI in the 80’s Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades, and Pools of Darkness. In addition to the Krynn and Savage Coast games, Eye of the Beholder series, etc.

That’s the current plan, anyway! We’ll see if we can keep this going since I don’t have to wait on a server or other people’s schedules to put this out! 😉

DieCiv Pre-Alpha Report #1

Today, in addition to playing some FUN commander games, I was able to sit down with my friends L and C (until I get permission to use names, I’ll use letters for the playtesters) for another pre-alpha playtest. The focus of this game was to see how other players felt about what was going on with the core mechanics of the game.

The results? It took a few turns for everything to click, but luckily I was there to explain things. I believe the core mechanic is sound but there needs to be a concrete, documented explanation of the terms, zones, and actions that can be taken during a turn. I had to explain how the dice worked more than a few times and I kept going back to the core mantra that I set for the game. I was hoping it was a simple one…

The big hurdle was understanding what active dice were and how limiters worked. After a bit, we were able to push a turn around and go. There were still questions about what should be done with dice, what order things should be purchased in, what is the strategic value of this or that. But, after a while, I started seeing L and C start to think about where their dice should be spent, given their limited resources at times.

L said he had a fun time and enjoyed the game. C said the game was something he’d play if it was offered but he wouldn’t rush out and buy it. Mainly, C only saw a small portion of the game and we didn’t get to any of the stuff I’m still working on.

We were able to:

  1. Gain 2 VPs each by completing a technology,
  2. each research a tech,
  3. use the Wonder cards for their start player effects,
  4. and see all of the Tech Level 1 techs.

Some lessons learned:

  • There are still too many technologies being displayed for each tech level in order for the game to be considered speedy.
  • Players are initially very confused about the core success/failure mechanics and the value mechanic.
  • Players are initially very confused about how to use dice as successes on technologies (as Research Dice) and when to use them for actions (Action Dice).
  • Players are confused as to what can be done with dice if you don’t have any successes or are severely limited by the number of successes allowed.
  • More of the game has to be designed (the technologies and wonders at the very least) so that players can have a better view of the game.

To that end, here is a short intro about the game I’m working on. Not the particular mechanics, per se, but an overall description of the beast:

Die Civilization is a game about civilization building using dice. Dice represent production, manpower, military prowess, espionage, agriculture, think tanks, and other aspects of a civilization. Technologies are cards that represent milestones in human development from the stone age to the medieval era. And finally, you can build the seven wonders of the ancient world.

You win the game in one of three ways: Collecting the most victory points by researching and acquiring technologies, finishing your wonder before anyone else, or by completing the majority of the achievements available at the end of the game.

I’m still up in the air about achievements. Initial plan is to have them face down and hidden throughout the game. You can use dice and production to look at them throughout the game, but I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not.

The number of technologies available aren’t moving fast enough on a per-tech level basis. I think I’m going to revamp the initial deck to have less techs in the “play deck”. Currently, you draw twice the number of players for each tech level, shuffle them, then stack them with tech level 1 on top and 5 on the bottom. I think I’ll go to number of players + 1. That might be a better route to go and speed up the game. Everyone advances tech level at the same time–when a higher level technology hits the table. I think this is the most balancing way to do it, though the person who starts their turn with the new tech in play is going to have a small leg up over everyone else. But I have to see how well this works before I make the final call.

Technologies really need to be designed next. I want them to have two benefits that the player has to choose from when they complete it. Then they place their tech under their tableau in such a way that the benefit they chose is displayed. Other players still need to be able to research the tech as well. So I have to figure that one out. Technologies give a free die and 2 benefits for completing it. The die is for the one who completes it first. You’ll want to complete it for the benefits and possibly for the achievements as well.

Wonders need to be designed. They are an ongoing project which is another place to dump dice. Each has a number of stages that need to be completed and each stage provides something interesting to the player completing them. I was going to have players draft their wonders, but then I realized that may break balance if someone has played a particular wonder enough to figure out tricks and grabs it every time they play (to go first, second, last, whatever). Random distribution is the best bet here.

One last thing on the dice: I’m debating making dice a limited resource and it may enforce player interaction to gain those resources. I like the idea, but I have to figure out if it’s feasible.

I hope with the initial game that there is enough randomness and components that the game has a lot of replayability. The game is being designed for 2-4 players with a customized 54-card deck of cards, a number of dice, and 10 cubes (or meeples) per player. That’s quite a number of components. So I may look at going into a digital version first and a physical version after. Again, something I’m examining.

Back to dev and work! Hope my meanderings are somewhat interesting to you!

Why I Love Innovation’s Mechanics

I’ve been playing games for quite some time. Many of those games have a card component where you either follow the instructions on the card or you add values together from one or more cards.

Games like War, Hearts, Spades, Cribbage, Poker, Go Fish!, and others have been staples in my gaming pantry for years. It’s pretty easy to pull out a deck of Bicycle cards and play Solitaire, Tri-Peaks, or Old Maid. And games like these tend to be “time passers” rather than for excitement.

In the nineties, Magic: The Gathering changed all of that for me. Cards were no longer about a value or a suit. They were instead creatures, spells, enchantments, and artifacts. Taking my love of fantasy into a new realm and making cards a part of a strategic game more akin to my beloved Stratego.

Since then, I’ve discovered other games that use cards in ways different than the traditional value comparison, set collection, or point accumulation games. I’ve seen games where cards represent units in an army (Summoner Wars), creatures (Talisman, Magic), or abstract ideas (Dixit).

My favorite, thus far, has been from Innovation. Cards represent technologies during certain ages of human history. But that’s not the mechanic. Splaying (or fanning cards in a particular direction) is where this game is unique.

We’ve seen splaying when people hold their cards or when a prestidigitator fans cards out on the table for someone to choose. But innovation does this in an interesting way.

Each card has four icons on it. One hexagonal and three square icons. Each icon represents something, an abstract something, about human culture, society, religion, or other ideal. The splaying mechanic is what makes these icons, or rather the placement of the icons, unique and interesting.

If the pile of cards you are splaying (a single-card pile cannot splay) is splayed left, the pile shifts to the left until the right-most icon on each card is displayed. If the cards are splayed right, the two icons on the left of the card are displayed. And finally, if the cards are splayed up, then there are three icons at the bottom of the card that are displayed.

Each time you splay your piles (Innovation has from one to five piles per player) your civilization becomes stronger. The more icons of a particular type that are visible, the more adept your civilization is at performing card actions associated with that icon. This means that your attacks will work more often, or that you will share your actions far less. But this also means that you get to partake in other player’s shared actions, which gives you board and/or card advantage in many situations.

I enjoyed the splaying mechanic so much, I designed a game called GalaXism off of that mechanic. In this game, you are piloting a starship. Each part of your ship is a stack of cards (starting at one card per stack) with one stack in the starboard, port, aft, fore, and command sections of the ship. Each card has icons which represent weapons, shields, armor plating, thrusters (a fast ship), maneuverability (an agile ship), and initiative (a trained crew). You ready weapons by choosing a stack and splaying that stack to a level equal to the number of weapon icons on the top card. So, if you have one icon, you splay to “Shift Level One” which equates to splaying left. If you have four weapon icons, you splay to “Shift Level Four” which shows all icons on all lower cards. This is slightly expanded from Innovation.

Overall, the mechanic is pretty awesome and I believe very usable for different genres of games. GalaXism suffers from an unbalanced set of icons (one player can turtle so effectively, nobody can hit him) and a cumbersome tableau. Shifting all those piles of cards around then back again makes it somewhat sloppy to play. I consider this game to be a success at re-purposing a mechanic, changing the theme if you will, but a failure as a fast, fun game.

The game has gone back to the drawing board to be redesigned for more components and to allow for some balance to be added. Until those rules are ironed out, I’m going to enjoy playing Innovation, well when my gaming crew is in the mood for it that is.

What Does IGLPR Mean to Me?

It seems that I’m releasing an Indie Game Let’s Play & Review (IGLPR) video every day now. What started out as an attempt to break into the world of Let’s Plays and Minecraft has instead turned into applying my computer science education to indie game reviews.

 

You see, an IGLPR isn’t a method for me to get new games to play. It’s all about providing feedback to the game developer by using elements of a usability test. This is a type of analytic tool that developers employ to better understand how users interact with software. Usually, a person who is taking a usability test is given a script to follow that asks for specific actions to accomplish. “Open a document from the USB drive”, for example. The user is expected to perform the action and describe what they’re doing, what they’re thinking about, and other factors in their experience in performing the task requested. There are usually several tasks, questionnaires, and maybe a short survey. All of this data is recorded, whether it’s a good experience, bad experience, how difficult or easy the tasks were, and things of that nature. The developer then has information that can be acted upon to make an interface easier or more intuitive to use. You see, usability testing is a valuable tool that allows a developer to improve a product and make the user experience (or UX) more “enjoyable” for those who are the intended audience.

 

Usability testing is not the same thing as alpha or beta testing. These types of tests are used to find and report bugs, for the most part, and are usually not set in a controlled environment.

 

From my time as a game dev (very limited at that), I usually had one or two people to bounce ideas off of and check out my game’s interface or limited functionality. Usually, I got feedback that was meant to make me happy or to encourage me to continue. I love my friends for thinking of my feelings like that, but as a developer, I want the good, the bad, and the ugly for what I’m presenting. If a feature sucks, tell me with all the vitriol in the world if that’s how it makes you feel. If something is awesome, praise it if that’s what you want to do. If something needs work, give it the praise or hate you feel fit to provide and then suggest alternate methods to how you would like to see the interface handled. I didn’t really have that. And any time I got a partner to work with, I did the communication, the work, and then things fizzled with me holding the project and doing it by myself anyway. Which ultimately lead to failure. Which is not a bad thing, in and of itself, just something that kept me from getting something out there in a more permanent fashion.

 

The long and the short of it is: If you’re working as a solo developer, it is really, really frustrating and difficult to get good, honest feedback. Especially if you don’t have presence in the indie dev world. It is very hard to do everything yourself. It is very easy to become invested in the way you present a game, design the interface, apply the mechanics and physics of the world. You become too close to what you’ve created and that means you generally don’t see things as clearly as an “outsider” might.

 

So, with my IGLPR videos, I provide a valuable service. First and foremost, I provide a first look/first play of a game. I refuse to do an IGLPR for any game I’ve played before. Why? Because that initial reaction you get from a new player can’t be captured after the first time the game is played.

 

I play many games without reading the instructions first. Why? Because that’s how an average person is going to play the game. They are going to start it up and jump right in, feet first, shouting about their new game all the way until they hit that wall. If there are in-game instructions, that makes things easier. Though, if it’s a lot to read, I’ll skip right to the action and start playing, using the in-game instructions as a reference. This shows how intuitive the game is to play, how easy it is for a new user to start the game and just go.

 

I ignore the graphics, audio, technical aspects, and gameplay when I give a rating. Sure, I comment on how they look, whether they’re pleasing or whatnot, but these things are superfluous and can change at the drop of a hat. The only thing I harp on is the ability to customize a user’s controls. There are many people who aren’t right/left handed, that are handicapped, or have issues with certain control setups (WASD irritates me). Without giving the users the ability to change how they interact with your game is a sure-fire way to lose those players.

 

I play the game for roughly twenty to thirty minutes, though sometimes the length can get out of hand if I’m really enjoying a game or if the game is really complex. Even games that are simple to play and have rounds that last only a minute or so get at least a full twenty.

 

And why do I do this? Why do I do it free of charge? Well, it’s my hope that I can help devs improve their games and make them more fun. A lot of indie devs can’t afford to pay for proper usability tests and, to be honest, I don’t think many even realize that they can do this. They’ve heard of playtesting (alpha or beta) or unit testing but may have never even heard of a usability test before.

 

In the end, I hope this helps get my name out there, that I’m here to help others, and that I can become a successful game reviewer. I hope that one day I can do this for a living, devote more time to it, and have fun doing it.

 

Well, this was a bit of a chaotic read. I hope you got a bit out of it. And, as always, this is Excalibur. And I’m out.

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