It’s been quiet around here lately. I’m still looking for work, and Unemployment is about exhausted. So, I still don’t have the luxury of spending much time here, and I’m… significantly stressed. Still, this is worth noting. The Gearpunk Dice that we’ve been waiting for since last year are finally here, so we’ll be shipping them out to everyone as soon as we can process them. Thank you for your interest and patience!
I’ve been dabbling in game design again. It’s just one of those things that I do to keep myself from stressing too much, and since this whole “being unemployed” is really stressful, well, I’ve been doing a lot of creative things to destress. I suppose I could have played more games to get through my backlog, but creative pursuits just seem more wise in the long run, since there’s at least some potential to make some money to pay a portion of the bills.
That’s part of why I did the Tinker Gearcoin Kickstarter. It turned out really well, so thank you, all of you, who were a part of the campaign! Despite the pretty numbers that we posted there, it’s still not a career replacement stream of revenue, though, so I keep on creating.
Anyway, this Chromaround game may someday turn into a project that we put on Kickstarter, just to get them professionally printed on spiffy paper, complete with a nice box and shrink wrapping. We may put them up on TheGameCrafter.com before that as well, like we did for the Tinker Deck prototypes, but the whole point of taking it to Kickstarter is to get a bulk deal going to leverage the economy of scale that we get from printing a large quantity of decks.
For the moment, though, we need to really put it through the wringer and playtest the game to make sure it’s ready for release. I’ve ordered some sample decks from Artscow.com for testing here, and I may send some out to other interested parties. We’re also offering this “print and play” version of the game (again, like we did for the Tinker Decks). It’s technically based around color, so printing in black and white won’t give the full effect of the game, but I’ve tried to make it possible to work for colorblind players with the elemental logos.
Rules for the core game are below. This is where we really would love some input, if you’re up for some experimentation. These cards could be used for several different games, actually, especially if we make them hexagonal and have the outer gems sliced in half (so they could be placed side by side to create a whole gem, making for puzzles and position-based games), but for now we’re just looking to develop this one. (The game is playable by 2 to 8 players, though there are special rules for two players.) Words that are bold are key terms for the game.
Thank you everyone!
Each card has a Core (large colored gem) that consists of one or two colors, and a set of smaller outer Gems that indicate what colors of opponent Cores that card can defeat. A dual color Core is considered to be both colors, and therefore may be defeated by any other card that could defeat either of its colors. The grey “chips” around the perimeter are placeholders and do not affect either offense or defense. Each color has an attendant elemental logo to help identification, especially for color blind players, but these logos do not have a direct impact on play in this game.
Players are trying to collect the most points. Each trick you collect is worth one point. (For a more complex game, score by counting the Cores that you collect in tricks that you win. Single color Cores are worth one point, dual color Cores are worth two points.) A trick consists of the stack of cards after every player has played a single card. (Two cards per player if playing with two players.)
A round is completed when all players have exhausted their hands. A game may consist of one round or several, depending on how long you’d like to play. We suggest letting each player be the dealer once (change the dealer each round) as a simple baseline. Record your cumulative score after each round. The player with the most points after all rounds is the winner.
For each round, shuffle all the cards and deal 5 cards to each player. (10 for each if you’re playing with two players.) ***This is an easy place to suggest variation. Odd numbers of cards make scoring less likely to produce ties, and fewer cards make play faster and decisions easier. Two player games tend to play better when each player can play two cards per trick.***
Set aside the rest of the deck. The rest of the deck is only used during play in a two player game.
Basic Play Structure
The first player plays any card from their hand. This is the lead card for the trick. (If you are playing with two players, for each trick, flip over the top card of the deck as the lead card, then proceed as usual.)
Each player must then play a card from their hand (see below in Card Interaction for how this works), taking turns in sequence. After every player has played one card (two if playing with two players), the owner of the top card on the stack takes all of the cards in the stack. (This is a trick, which is relevant for one style of scoring.)
The player who took the trick starts the next one, playing the next lead card (or card after the lead card if playing with two players).
Once all players have played all their cards, it is the end of a round, and you should record your scores.
When a player must play a card, they may play any card they have in hand. If the card played can defeat the top card already in play on the stack, it is placed on top of the stack and becomes the new top card. If the card played cannot defeat the existing top card, it must be placed somewhere under it (order does not matter), and the existing top card retains its position on top. (Keep track of what you play, since the player who played the card that remains the top card at the end of the trick claims the cards in the stack.)
And that should cover it. It’s designed to be fairly simple and quick, at least before you start trying to plan a few plays ahead.
The big question we have is, well… is it fun? Also, is it actually simple and quick? Does it allow for any sort of strategies or interesting decisions, or is it so easy to play that there’s not much mental meat to it? (That’s not enough to kill the game, but it could constrain its appeal to children learning colors and how to play card games… more of a gateway game rather than one to break out in more serious settings.)
We have two big structural questions beyond that, though.
One is about the cards and their Core-Gems system. Presently, they are designed in two “paper rock scissors” triangles (primary colors clockwise and secondary colors counterclockwise) such that:
- Blue always defeats Purple and Red
- Red always defeats Orange and Yellow
- Yellow always defeats Green and Blue
- Purple always defeats Blue and Green
- Green always defeats Yellow and Orange
- Orange always defeats Red and Purple
This was a simple rule to allow for some element of memorization and planning, to see if it’s possible to force others to play into your longer term strategies.
It might prove more interesting to make the perimeter gems more varied by making the perimeter gems more arbitrary and not follow a pattern. This would make planning almost impossible, but it may make for more varied and unpredictable play, for better or worse. Would you like a more unpredictable set of outer gems on each card? (This has considerations for alternate game rules as well, like card placement games, if we can get them made as hexagonal cards.)
Two, do the dual color Cores help or hinder the game? There are some clear tiers of efficiency among color combinations, but dual color Cores might make the game too easy, meaning the last player in a trick is almost always going to be the one to win that trick, since most can defeat a wider array of other Cores, and each in turn can be defeated by a wider array of attackers. The hope was to make the game more varied but still allow some planning, but they may not actually be performing that function. They also make scoring more varied, with some more subtle decision making about when to play them, but maybe that effect is also not working, or is not interesting enough.
If the answer to the first question is “yes, make the perimeter gems more arbitrary and unpredictable” it would naturally affect the approach to the second question, as the cards could be balanced along different lines. The dual color Cores are inherently a “more options on offense and more weaknesses on defense” sort of system, but they need not stay that way if the color defeat cycles are broken.
Thank you everyone for your interest and feedback! Comments here or via email to tishtoshtesh at gmail will be most appreciated.
I can’t help but feel that there’s something here, but the game really needs to be put through the paces to see. I look forward to any opinions or data points you might offer!
The deck is designed as a standard-ish 54 card deck. That means you’ll print one of each of these and then three more copies of the simple single color Core cards (so there will be four copies of the single color Core cards and single copies of each of the dual color Core cards). The backs are optional, of course.
I’ve become fond of Slingshot Braves, an Android game that’s a nice mix of Squids (another good game) and billiards, with a little Final Fantasy VII flavor thrown in (with their Elements, a sort of materia or socketable gems character enhancement system, with some locked, some open slots). It’s not a perfect game, but it’s fun and entertaining, though I may be biased since I love the geometry of billiards. Throw in a bit of character building, and I’m sold, much like how I’m a fan of how Puzzle Quest takes match-3 gameplay and adds RPG elements.
Tangentially, Gem Spinner II is an excellent match-3 game that I stumbled across recently. It’s my new favorite in the genre, even over other great games like Puzzle Quest, Marvel Puzzle Quest (qualified) and Bret Airborne.
Slingshot Braves even starts you off in proper Metroid tradition, with super strong characters fighting a dragon… then pulls you out of the daydream and into the life of a lowly Adventurer. Yeah… the story isn’t the game’s strong point. It’s not bad, it’s just thin, but I don’t mind. The play’s the thing.
You control a team of three characters, two of which are active on the battlefield at once. The third sits in reserve, where they can heal, which is handy if someone gets hurt. You can rotate characters out to approach tactical situations or heal up. There are five different types of weapons with different uses, though I’d note that spears are more tactically useful than the others due to the combo system. If you can keep a combo going by bouncing off of your teammates and baddies, you can really rack up bonus damage. Spears pierce through enemies (in fine RPG tradition), so they make it much easier to maintain combos when you can bounce off your friends, even if you’re surrounded.
Using the touch interface, you pull back on your character and launch them at the enemies (all on a flat XY plane, no 3D gameplay here, though the game uses 3D models), which is the “slingshot” mechanic. If you can figure out how your unit’s round footprint will bounce off of other units’ round bases, you’ll have a lot of fun bouncing around the arena, smashing foes. The game shows you the results of the first bounce with a dotted line, but if you’re good, you can get two, three or more bounces plotted mentally, which can be really satisfying to execute.
It’s a solid game, and free to play to boot. Some will react allergically to that, but it works very well here. There is some light competition involved, but it’s a matter of racing for points to get better gear in a prize ranking, never PvP. There’s little that offers good value for money, so it’s not crucial to spend on the game, and the game isn’t broken if you don’t. The main purchasable is “gems”, which can be used on a variety of things, but none are essential. The best gear is only available from the “Gacha” system, which is effectively a gear slot machine, but since multiplayer is always cooperative (metagame races for points aside), any money someone else spends on elite gear is only going to help you in the long run. (And perhaps oddly, they would make more money from me if they did move to a straight up “buy X armor/weapon” model. I hate crapshoot gambling for gear in general, and there’s no way I’m spending real money on a chance for goodies. The Extra Credits crew savaged the current F2P design ethos, rightfully, I think, but the lack of direct competition in Slingshot Braves saves it, I think.)
PvP won’t work in this design, being more or less “buy to win”, but at the moment, they aren’t bothering with PvP. So, there’s that asterisk waiting in the wings, perhaps, but I can hope that they are smart enough to keep away from PvP, or to normalize it if they introduce it, leveling the playing field. I suppose we’ll see.
For now, though, I heartily recommend the game.
Oh, and as to the “diversity” in the title, this amused me greatly. One of the recent armor sets in the Gacha was a really great set, with a Counter ability (automatically hit back for 10x damage received in melee) and a health regeneration ability. Either alone is worth its weight in gold, but both on one piece of armor, well, that’s borderline overpowered. Of course, it’s about the skimpiest armor in the game, which is ridiculous… but at least the design is almost equally ridiculous on both genders. Yes, that’s my lead character with a Predator/Optimus Prime helmet and a Las Vegas dancer outfit. Even his companions, in silly gear of their own, can’t really look at him. But it’s his best gear!
I didn’t realize it until I ran into this latest study/poll making the rounds, thanks to TAGN’s post on the same, but I’ve been kicking around in Azeroth for 9 of the 10 years that World of Warcraft has been live. I’ve had a few accounts over the years, so I don’t know my total /played time, but I suspect it’s probably not much compared to most who have had as long of an association with the game. Still, my first blog post here (aside from the “Hello World”) was about WoW, so it’s not like I’m a stranger to the game, either.
Tangentially, this was an interesting find, as I was perusing my archives. Just in case you needed a little more navel gazing.
Anyway, for posterity’s sake, here are the study’s questions and my responses. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I have a love/disgruntled relationship with WoW. Great art direction, animation and world design, decent game design, lousy monetization. It’s a game I keep coming back to, but then, I play a lot of games. It’s never a place I could “hang my hat”, as it were. I have too many other things to do than be tied to one game. Still, I love the sense of place in the game, and I think on balance, I like it more than I dislike it.
Why did you start playing World of Warcraft? *
2005. I was interested when I saw the original magazine ads, but the subscription model kept me away. That is a recurring theme.
What was the first ever character you rolled? *
A Tauren Shaman. I loved Tauren in WarCraft 3, and was looking forward to playing one up close and personally, as it were. The Shaman looked flexible, so I figured I’d give it a shot. My main today is a Tauren Druid (er, that I just changed to a Worgen… still getting used to that), my only level capped character, but just below that is a Dwarven Shaman, and I love them both.
Which factors determined your faction choice in game? *
I started Horde because my friend was playing an Orc. Turns out it was pointless since he was level 58 or so, and we couldn’t even group up anyway since I was just on a trial account. Since then I’ve played both factions, though my core love is still the Tauren people. They are close to neutral philosophically in the Warcraft mythos, and I appreciate that. I don’t buy into the faction pride… contention… thing.
What has been your most memorable moment in Warcraft and why? *
Trying out Flight Form. There’s just nothing else like it in the game. My favorite place to explore is Northrend, but there are a great many beautiful places to explore in WoW, and flight form facilitates exploration in ways no other mechanic can. (And BASE jumping from Dalaran or other high spots, popping Flight Form at the last second, that just doesn’t get old.)
What is your favourite aspect of the game and has this always been the case? *
The world itself; always has been, always will be. I’ve always appreciated Blizzard’s art ability, and the world of WarCraft is what always interested me about the game. I enjoyed the WarCraft games, and really wanted to see what the world looked like from the ground. And in the air.
WoW might not have the highest resolution graphics or 3D meshes, but they make the most our of what they have with the strongest art direction in the industry. Others are catching up or edging ahead, most notably Guild Wars (albeit in a different style), EQLandmark and Wildstar, but Blizzard was there first and still manages to look great, even on low end machines (which is important).
Do you have an area in game that you always return to? *
I used to perch my Tauren Druid on the center totem of Thunder Bluff often, since capital cities allow me to conduct business and get rested. Now that he’s a level capped Worgen, he’s not really grounded, but I’m still fond of Northrend, especially Grizzly Hills.
How long have you /played and has that been continuous? *
The longest continuous streak I’ve played was two months. I’ve had a foot in WoW for about nine years, but I can’t stand the subscription model, so I just pop in on occasion when there’s something of note that I want to see.
Admit it: do you read quest text or not? *
The vast majority of the time, yes. Sometimes I’ll skip to the quest goals, but I read fast enough and like reading enough that I only do that if I’m feeling strongly pressured for time.
Are there any regrets from your time in game? *
Nothing strong. Sometimes I wish I’d played more, sometimes I wish I’d played less. I don’t regret spending time with the game, only money.
What effects has Warcraft had on your life outside gaming? *
It’s a significant component of why I bothered to start a blog, and I’ve met friends that way. The audience there also led to an audience that has given me a bit of a headstart on some Kickstarter successes, so that’s nice. Beyond that, it’s also been nice to know a bit about the game since I worked in the game industry and can talk intelligently about game design considerations based on the game. It’s an occasional cultural touchstone, too, which can be handy in some conversations.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that it’s already been a month since I deleted Marvel Puzzle Quest from my smartphone. I played the game for almost six months and had a decent roster of characters built up. And yet… almost every single change that the developers made during the time I played the game made the game less appealing. I finally reached the point where I just didn’t want to like it any more, and gave up.
The sad part is that the core gameplay is actually really solid. The puzzle combat isn’t finely balanced, but I’m fine with that, as I don’t mind a bit of imbalance. It is well crafted and adds some nice twists to the Puzzle Quest formula. If the game can be taken purely on its combat, it’s a fine addition to the pedigree.
And yet, the progression scheme and monetization scheme (intricately tied together, but even without monetization, the progression would be awful) just kill the game in the long run. Of course, that’s “kill the game for me”, since it’s apparently still live and gathering clients, but I would really love to see some numbers on what sort of churn they are seeing. It is very much a “winners win more” game, with elements that skirt the dreaded “pay to win” area. Some of the judgment on the latter depends on how you define the phrase, but for me, it’s clearly designed to give an edge to those who spend inordinate amounts of money on the game, in no small part because of how glacial the progression system is, and that you can pay to speed it up.
This is not anything new in the F2P arena, to be sure, and it’s less grievous than being able to flat out buy victories, but it does undermine what could be very satisfying PvP combat puzzling.
In the end, though, it wasn’t any single huge change that made me uninstall the game. It was a death by degree. The poor progression scheme. Nothing worth spending money on (which saved me money, but it was still what I thought of as poor design). New characters introduced fairly regularly… but predominantly at the rare tier, so recruiting them was a crapshoot with their slot machine sort of character acquisition. (Almost everything in the game is tied to a random chance of acquisition or absurdly overpriced… sometimes both.) The change in healing so that it was limited to the combat of the moment. Damage persists after a fight, limiting the ability to play multiple rounds in succession unless you heal in the fight or pay for refills between fights. You get a few free refills, but they don’t last long if you’re in a heated race to top the competition boards to get some character you’d like. You can buy refills or wait for them to recharge, 1 every 35 minutes, and you can hold 5 at a time. (With 3 characters in combat, that’s not a lot of healing to go around.) Competition is mostly PvP of a sort (never against other players; the AI just takes their team and runs it), which isn’t terrible, but PvP really needs to be balanced to be fun, and when character levels can be as disparate as they are in the game, it gets old when you play a few successful rounds and then get matched with an overpowered team you have no chance of beating. Normalized PvP (like Guild Wars) where skill and team composition rule would go a long way to making the game better… but that sort of level playing field is harder to monetize.
Playing the moment to moment combat was still good fun. It’s just… everything else isn’t, and the combat alone isn’t enough to save the game.
On the other hand, there’s Slingshot Braves. It’s sort of a weird mix of PS1-era graphics (so it still looks good; I’m playing on a phone for crying out loud), Squids and Angry Birds, with a gear upgrade system that feels a bit like Puzzle & Dragons (consume hundreds of little pieces of loot to level up your gear) and a newly introduced gem/slot system that is a bit like socketed gear in a Blizzard game, but you can also level up the gems by combining several of a kind, and you can move some gems around, so it has a slight FFVII flavor. It’s simple, but the five weapons are fairly elegantly designed, each with its own niche. Leveling gear is slow, and the only way to make your team stronger, but it feels just fast enough to be acceptable. Marvel Puzzle Quest’s character leveling is very, very slow by comparison.
Acquiring gear is only done via very rare loot drops or by the “Gacha” system. It’s effectively a gear slot machine. This is a bit annoying, but the game provides you with enough “gems” (the currency you can buy directly or earn via play or the occasional promotion) to get the occasional new bit of gear in that system. Gear is in four tiers (C, B, A, and S, increasing in value), and you’re guaranteed at least a B level bit of gear in the Gacha. It’s a bit annoying in that the best gear seems to be in the Gacha gamble, but at the same time, you can level up your gear and evolve it to a higher tier with enough little loot drops, so you can grind into some good gear eventually. It’s slow, and annoying to get great new gear that you then have to level up, but that’s the quirk that comes with leveling gear in general. It’s still much faster than MPQ’s system, and less frustrating.
I’m not sure there’s much that offers good value for real money here, either, but at least progress in the game isn’t as tedious as is is in MPQ. You can buy gems, which allow character renaming, larger loot libraries, Gacha “pulls” and stamina refills (each mission you play consumes stamina, which recharges slowly; a standard F2P throttle). Still, it’s not necessary, and most importantly, buying gems doesn’t have a huge effect on your success or pace of progress.
Perhaps most importantly, though, the only multiplayer system is a cooperative one, so it’s OK if someone else is stronger than you. You both win faster that way. There is some light competition among scoring leaderboards on some events, but the majority of the time any reason you have to care about the gear other players have is in how much it helps you, not how hard it is to beat. That’s a huge underlying shift in assumptions and goals, and it makes a world of difference.
…and is it telling that the progression scheme is the first thing I write about? That’s really where these games live or die, since that’s where they monetize, usually. It’s also where things get annoying, and where MPQ got worse as time went on, SB just keeps getting better. Loot drops have been made more frequent, promotions give people more goods to work with, the gear Gacha was split into a weapon Gacha and an Armor Gacha (anything that increases player control over the slot machine is a Good Thing for players), and the new socketing system makes gear more flexible.
But how does it play, moment to moment? Largely like Squids, where you fire your character in a direction and watch it bounce around the arena, beating on foes or careening off of your ally unit or the walls. Maybe it’s just the billiards fan in me, but I love that a good eye for angles and thinking ahead pays off in the game. It’s a simpler game than MPQ, but it still seems to reward player skill, and that’s one of the things that I appreciate most in games.
So, while Marvel Puzzle Quest’s fortunes in my library sank, Slingshot Braves has risen to be the game I most prefer to play at the moment on my phone. Tiny Dice Dungeons is another great contender, but it hasn’t seen as many “live” changes.
I find it striking that MPQ made most of its changes to try to squeeze out more monetization, and it’s obvious. SB wants more money too, certainly, but their changes have almost uniformly felt like they were improving the progression scheme, and occasionally the combat engine. My visceral response to the two development teams couldn’t be more opposed. The more I see each in action, the more I like SB, and the less I like MPQ.
In a world where games can mutate and adjust over time, I think it’s critical that the changes feel like they are making the game better, and that’s really the difference between these two when it comes to whether or not I play them and recommend them.
The Tinker Gearcoin project funded, thank you everyone!
Of course, we still have some time to go and room to grow, so we’re doing something kinda crazy. We want to design a 12th coin, but we’re crowdsourcing the design. Sort of. It’s like Magic the Gathering, when they do their “You Design The Card”; we’re going to ask a series of polls and let the community decide on what we do with the design of the coin. We’re starting with this (36mm diameter, image not to scale):
…which will be a “driver” coin. That smaller gear’s round center will be a big hole, right through the coin, so you can put a pencil or finger in it as a handle to crank the coin around. Or it can be a pendant, earring or something else. It’s weird, it’s wacky, and I really don’t know where it will wind up.
So if you have a moment and are interested, please check out the campaign over here, spread the word, and join us for the crazy ride ahead!