Games, Design & Game Design

Archive for the ‘Game Designers’ Category

This Is Important

In Game Design, Game Designers, Links on August 22, 2010 at 2:46 pm

I just finished listening the Clyde‘s interview with Vincent from GenCon – Theory From the Closet interview w/Vincent Baker.

A lot of good stuff to think about, specifically the fact that holy crap, there still isn’t anywhere to go to learn about how to design a goddamn game.

The Forge was really good at hammering out WHY to design a game. Story Games Praxis might have some potential (he says as someone who keeps not keeping up with it). Glyphpress Game Design Studio is pretty decent for production aspects. And there’s the Design Patterns of Successful Roleplaying Games (which is now wikified, cool!)

These are all really good resources for people who have, as Vincent says in the interview, “been struggling to design a game for the last 10 years.” But for new folks, where are you supposed to go?

On a related but tangential point, these are all places that I have been increasingly blah about because I feel like the conversations are endless retreads of material that’s been clear to me since, oh, 2006 or so. Which is why my game design process tends to involve personal friends who I know are on the same page with me, it’s just more productive for my process. But, you’ll also notice, that I’ve basically been working on the same game since 2008. Related, I think so!

There’s something in the air, and (to quote Vincent again) “we can finally start talking about actual game design.” And that’s pretty exciting.

My Thoughts On: Hell 4 Leather

In Game Design, Game Designers, My Thoughts On, Roleplaying Games on August 21, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Hell 4 Leather is a really cool game.

Hell 4 Leather cover

Hell 4 Leather, by Joe Prince

I’m a big fan of Joe Prince as a game designer – actually, I think he’s one of the most underappreciated small-press designers out there. Contenders, first of all, is a great game. The way it structures play is wonderful. I particularly like how it allows players with vastly different play agendas to play the same game, together, without stepping on each others toes. The cardplay to resolve the boxing matches is tactically interesting and fun to play, and it’s just overall really tight and good.

So, with that in mind, I was excited when he entered my Two Games One Name competition. And he delivered – I actually declared Hell 4 Leather the overall winner of the competition. As I said then:

It’s just the cleanest, tightest, most ready-to-go of the games that grab me. Joe writes good games, and this is no exception.

A lot of contest games start off strong and then peter off towards the end, or have one core good idea that isn’t fully explored. Hell 4 Leather felt ready to play, and the playtesting and smoothing he did since the contest just made it better.

The game is a GMless shortform game that centers around the use of the major Arcana of a Tarot deck (though normal playing cards can be substituted). The players will all play the members of some kind of gang who have killed on of their own. The murdered “leather” (whoever draws the Fool card) goes down and cuts a deal with the Devil in order to have the opportunity to come back and exact his bloody revenge on those who wronged him. At the end of the game, we find out the ultimate fate of ALL the characters – are they saved or damned?

I played the game a couple of weeks ago, in a game where I played the Fool. We were prohibition-era gangsters in Chicago, and over the course of play we determined that my character was just not smart or bloodthirsty enough to take down the folks really responsible for his betrayal and murder.

I was actually surprised by how much I liked the game. From the contest entry, the general premise, and the repetitive nature of how scenes are resolved, I was a little nervous that it would be more of a “windup” game where the course of play is strongly scripted. I was totally wrong!

First of all, you don’t need to write anything down for this game. Characters are discovered and scenes are resolved entirely through the use of the Tarot cards. This was a cool feature.

Second, while there’s a specific scene structure (the game progresses through seven discrete scenes), and the method for resolving each is pretty much the same each time (the Fool picks a card from a set of 2 or more, aiming for the Death card in order to exact his revenge), the game is completely agnostic about the actual content of the scenes. Characters are implied by which card is drawn, but other than this basic sketch, everything else is completely player-driven. In our game, the other players ended up creating such sympathetic characters (my old flame, my ex-con brother) that I didn’t want to cause them harm! It was surprising and satisfying to have such an organic growth of character and relationship.

Third, the game resolves the state of ALL the characters in the end, not just the Fool. So the end of the game is a wrapup where you determine and then described how all of gang end up damned or saved, based on the Fools actions and the events of play. I think that endings are satisfying and necessary, so this was a good design choice in my eyes.

I also dig the form factor (a three-panel glossy brochure), though the graphic design and presentation is a little over-the-top for my taste. I know why it is what it is, but I find it hard to navigate. It’s also definitily one of those one-game-learning-curve games, where I think the first game would be kind of fumbly if the group is coming too it cold. If you have the benefit of playing it with someone who already knows it, like I did, this isn’t as much of a problem.

It’s weird, it’s cool, it’s surprisingly deep, and I think it’s a lot of fun. And it’s cheap (less than 10 bucks). If you’re interested in tight, sleek modern design with a progressive edge, you should check out this game.

And that’s what I think about Hell 4 Leather.

My Life In Games

In Chicago, Game Designers, Gaming on August 20, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Since moving to Chicago, playing games has been low on my priority list. My graduate program is intense, and I was also dealing with moving (twice, one to Chicago from Boston and then again within Chicago last winter), and making a new life with my lady. Which has all been great and rewarding, but given the whole “there’s only so many hours in the day” problem, the little time and energy I had left over from all of these things has been focused towards publishing games, not playing them.

Coming back from this years Gen Con, though, has really energized me to get my game on. I’m happier when I’m making things up with friends on a regular basis. Of course, we’ll see how this all lasts once school starts up again, but I’m hoping to maintain at least occasional gaming over the next couple of months!

Last night I just started a new game of Annalise with Ron and Tim, and the first session was really solid. On the horizon, I hope to do some gaming with Will, who just relocated to Chicago (and who I have a very funny story about, for a later post). And Keith keeps threatening me with playtests of stuff he’s working on, which I am looking forward to as well. Oh, and I picked up Infinite City at GenCon, and I really really like it! It’s a really solid board game that plays equally well with 2 players up to 4 (haven’t played it with more than that yet).

I’m excited to use my game energy to play, for a bit. It’s been too long.