Idea Bargain Bin: A Hidden Movement Mechanic

Games about finding someone come in many forms

There are a good few games percolating in my noggin – at least a dozen1)though from what I hear many successful designers have far more. But there are even more ideas than there are games – and I don’t feel comfortable abandoning a good idea even if I don’t know what to do with it.

So I’m going to use today’s blog to do something with one of those useless (to me) good ideas.

I was listening to a podcast on Hidden Movement Games and I got stuck on a single thought: Why can’t the game pieces serve as a neutral arbiter? Perhaps it’s because I loved Stratego as a kid, or my interest in MtG’s design but I simply couldn’t resist fixing the problem of relying on player honesty.

The Solution?

For the purposes of this solution we’re reliant on a game with only one player controlling hidden characters: changing that is possible but awkward and, if you want characters to bump into each other, an engineering challenge (I’ll give a brief thought at the end as to how to make it work).

The core of the vast majority of hidden information in games is having something face down – and this is no exception. But just one face-down thing is useless for a hidden movement game – you can see exactly where it is!

Instead you use multiple face down things, just one of which matters – you pull a three-card monte. In addition to your “I am here” token, the hidden player has a number of “nuh-uh” tokens, with identical backs, that indicate places they could be – until searched.2)Amy’s suggested I was drawing on Flashpoint (one of my recent favourites) when I came up with that idea, and it’s set of false alarm tokens. She might be right, it has certainly been on my mind as part of another game design…

That gets the hidden placement down, but hidden movement requires a tiny bit of extra finesse. First you have to define how your hidden character can move.3)If you’ve got more than one type, they’re either going to have to all have the same movement method, or they’ll need different backs and separate sets of “nuh-uh”s. Then you have a three stage process of movement:

  1. Pick up any number of “nuh-uh” tokens, revealing them, and putting them into your hand. These are spaces that it’s now clear you’re *not* in.
  2. Choose any token that you want to move into previously empty spaces, and a set of empty spaces it could move into.
    1. For each such space, take a “nuh-uh” token, then take the original token (without revealing it) and put them all onto the board face down, as you wish. The original token may now be in any of the spaces filled this way (or even back where it started – this is after all about hiding your position)
    2. Rinse and repeat – remembering that this process can only be used with empty spaces, not ones filled earlier this turn.
  3. Pick any number of tokens on the board in spaces that weren’t empty at the start of the turn, and that can all reach each other by a single movement (in some games this will always be a pair tokens, in others it may be more).
    1. Pick up all those tokens, without revealing them, and then place them back down in any arrangement you want.
    2. Rinse and repeat, but with the restriction that you can never pick up a token you’ve already used in part 3.

 

And that’s it. Thoroughly hidden movement – how the other player goes about flipping your pieces to take a look is part of the rest of the game, and I’m not worried about it.

But what about having multiple players with hidden movement?

Well, each could player have their own tokens, each part of the board having space for one from each player. That’s really damn awkward – you could be in the same space as each other and you’d never know it. The engineering comes in at this point – each players real piece, the one that isn’t a “nuh-uh” has a magnet in it: just a small one, not very sensitive, but enough that if placed in “sensing range” of another players piece they’ll feel the tug. If placed directly on another players piece, it may even be obvious to the whole table!

What are your thoughts? Anyone got a brand new idea for how to make a great game from this? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter

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References   [ + ]

1. though from what I hear many successful designers have far more
2. Amy’s suggested I was drawing on Flashpoint (one of my recent favourites) when I came up with that idea, and it’s set of false alarm tokens. She might be right, it has certainly been on my mind as part of another game design…
3. If you’ve got more than one type, they’re either going to have to all have the same movement method, or they’ll need different backs and separate sets of “nuh-uh”s.

Adventurer’s Backpack Sell Sheet

So, for today I’m going to be looking at the sell-sheet for our main current card-game project, it design and a breakdown of what we’ve put in there.

This is not a how-to guide – it’s a how-I-did log: much of it is being written as the process is ongoing.

Step One: Look for Advice

I’ll start by linking a how-to guide, because that’s where I started on making the sheet.

Step Two: The Base Statistics of the Game:

How long does it take to play?
That varies, of course, but with timed playtests we’ve determined that it lasted 20-60 minutes. With a few minor rules adjustments, to allow compensating for player count and experience, it fits in the range of 25-50 minutes. Still a large variance, but not quite as extreme, and something that may be reducible further – but sell-sheets need to reflect the game as-is, not as-desired: a publisher won’t look kindly on a designer who deceives them from first interaction!

How many players can it take?
For Adventurer’s Backpack that’s a hard one to answer – technically it could be played with 20 players with no need to change the rules – but it would just be frustrating at that point. Deciding a cut-off for “How fun is fun enough” is necessarily arbitrary, but we went with a max of 8 players because we’ve been unable to playtest with 9 enough to say for sure, and 11 players is certainly no longer fun.

On the other end, it’s technically possible to play Adventurer’s Backpack solo – as a simple memory game – but it loses its greatest strength, the way that storytelling aids and influences memory! With two players the game works, but to my mind lacks most of its charm – so 3-8 it is.

What age is it for?
This one I actually missed out at first – a clerical error that I’ve just corrected. From our testing, some children as young as 6 may have fun with the game, but the combination of structured gameplay and freeform storytelling doesn’t always sink through – while we’ve only had a few playtests with children we believe that from age 8 most children will be able to grasp the game.

What components does it need?
It’s easy to forget this one – it doesn’t go on the outside of the game box like the others – but it’s absolutely vital. When it comes to mass-producing a game the materials needed and the manufacturing costs are vital – if the game is too expensive to make, then it’s not worth making; the more expensive it is the more it has to be able to grab its audience!

And Another Thing…
While not part of the standard set, I chose to include two/three further “stats” with those core ones:

Setup time – Most of our games are very quick to set up, and long set-ups can get frustrating, so keeping that clear in the core facts is valuable.

Rules and Strategic Complexity: The age range for a game is often used as a rough-and-ready guide to this, but the two can be very different – take Cards Against Humanity: it’s rules complexity is low, and its strategic complexity is zero, but it’s still at least a 12+ on age.

 

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Patron Participation – Getting Input from Fans

A backer on the Science Fiction Concept Cards Kickstarter recently asked us about the possibility of a digital template for the cards, so that the backers could make their own afterwards for their personal characters. It’s not something we’d ever considered, but it made sense to us so we’ll be doing so – although the template is not trivial to use, with multiple fonts and a few fiddly bits.

This interaction brought to the fore one of the most important things about Crowdfunding – the opportunity for the crowd to give their input.

Whenever we’ve run a Concept Cards Kickstarter we’ve always included a few backer levels that allow those who select them to work with us on designing a card – and from this process come some of our favourite cards; including the only recurring character who exists throughout all the sets.

Diot-Haen, or Diothaen, has appeared in every Fantasy set in some form, and has now managed to jump the genre barrier

But those are just the most obvious way in which backers can contribute to the project. Marcos Hidalgo (our artist throughout the fantasy series of concept cards) forcibly improved our art in the earliest days, when we didn’t have a clue where to look for the right artists. Other backers have given us advice and guidance in other ways – and we often seek their input on which project to do next.

Working with our community is part of what makes Artemis Games what it is – and that includes you.

So come on over to Facebook and Kickstarter, and give us your input!

-Ste

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Kickstarter – SF Concept Cards 13th of March

The Art is In

We delayed Science Fiction Concept Cards because we knew the art would be arriving late – due to illness on the part of the artists we were working with.

Fortunately despite the current freezing weather, the art we required has come in; meaning that we can plan a launch date – and as the title says we have picked the 13th of March

We are of course looking to further polish these symbols, and any comments on likes and dislikes are appreciated. Let us know on Facebook.

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SF Concept Cards – When is “Done” Done?

“Perfect” and “Done” are opposites.

At Artemis Games we can be perfectionists to a fault. We hate releasing anything with identifiable flaws – and yet as everyone knows “only God is perfect”: There are claims for many religious artistic traditions, from Islamic geometry to Amish quilting, that they deliberately include imperfections to avoid blasphemy. 1)Of course that’s not even slightly true. Few people will deliberately introduce an error into their work, and of those who do none of them do it because they think they’re better than God and don’t want to upset Him. It’s a training technique for some recovering perfectionists, and a trick for many contractors, to introduce an error and never fix it.
A perfectionist will be forced to accept that searching out every error is futile, as they already know where one is (likely a tiny one) and aren’t allowed to fix it.
A contractor on the other hand does it because they know the client wants to give input – by including an obvious error for the client to fix they can avoid more difficult editing when they’re confident their product is good.

We’re not God, we don’t even actually have Artemis on the team (although we do like her, partly on account of the inherent contradiction her being the goddess of both childbirth and virginity) – so perfection isn’t an option for us.

That means we have to have a way of deciding when something is sufficiently good, rather than perfectly good. We have to have (high) standards, but also ways of accepting our limitations, and our imperfections2)Which there are many of, with three out of four of us having chronic health issues yet still putting out a product.

So how do we set the bar? How do we let go, and say it’s done? With the Jigsaw Fantasy project we’ve used the deadline approach – it’s done on the release date, end of story3)well, not quite – we’re allowed to go back and improve things post-release, as it’s purely digital and we’ve been learning to make that work – ensuring that

There are a number of facets to how to make that principle work for us, but two of them are key:

1) We need to know exactly how long it will take to finish the work – and double it to include time for problems and polish. This generally means that we need to have done about half the work before we set the deadline, or (in the case of regular projects) before we can be sure which options are ready to go.

2) There must be a set size to the project. We’ve done things with stretch goals expanding them before, but that will always make deadlines wrong, and if the deadline is wrong we no longer have a release point!

But that’s for our writing work; Jigsaw Fantasy and Concept Cards. For the game design side of things, such as Clash of Blades, we still don’t know when to call “done” done – writing for us is as much writing as polishing, but good game design is all about the polishing; I could design three unique new games in three minutes, but they’d all be terrible.

So when is “done” done?

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References   [ + ]

1. Of course that’s not even slightly true. Few people will deliberately introduce an error into their work, and of those who do none of them do it because they think they’re better than God and don’t want to upset Him. It’s a training technique for some recovering perfectionists, and a trick for many contractors, to introduce an error and never fix it.
A perfectionist will be forced to accept that searching out every error is futile, as they already know where one is (likely a tiny one) and aren’t allowed to fix it.
A contractor on the other hand does it because they know the client wants to give input – by including an obvious error for the client to fix they can avoid more difficult editing when they’re confident their product is good.
2. Which there are many of, with three out of four of us having chronic health issues
3. well, not quite – we’re allowed to go back and improve things post-release, as it’s purely digital

SF Concept Cards – Pushing Back the Kickstarter

Our previous kickstarters have had unexpected delays after they finished, this time we’re hoping to get them out of the way beforehand.

We’ve learned over the years that it’s better to launch late and deliver on time than to launch early and deliver late: and unfortunately we’re in a space where we’re making that choice this week.

Art for the Science Fiction Concept Cards suit symbols was meant to be all in at this point, so we could launch on Tuesday confident that we had what we need, but unfortunately both artists fell ill, causing significant delays, and so we only have one of the five suit symbols we need at minimum: a clubs representing the connections of a planet:

We don’t want to take any chances with regards to delivering on time, so we’re pushing back the launch back and working with the artists to plan a new schedule. Once that’s done we can let you know the new launch date – which is likely to be in mid-march.

Be Well

-Ste

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SF Concept Cards: Cardbacks and Backgrounds

Two of the most important things about a card are how the back looks, and how the front looks.1)Technically that’s everything about a card – but in this case we’re thinking purely visual

So we’ve been putting some work into getting those aspects right – we’re not quite there yet, but we’re closing in.

For the fantasy line of Concept Cards we started with a very simple concept: That the characters were written on parchment: so the background was slightly yellow and lightly textured.

 

Fantasy Characters Background

Later fantasy decks had slightly more exotic, theme-tied backgrounds, but they strove to remain simple (with the exception of a few special cards, such as the elemental cards in epic decks)

 

Fantasy Treasure Background

The cardback came from Fiverr – after a number of false starts, we recieved something that looked simply excellent, so we used it.

Fantasy Cardback

 

While we like everything we made for fantasy, it’s obviously unsuitable for sci-fi. We so far haven’t found useable simple textures, so as seen previously we’re simply using coloured backgrounds. Meanwhile we’ve been working on cardbacks that keep the double-circle of the fantasy deck, but go in a more sci-fi direction. What we’ve got at the moment is nebulous:

A B
C

 

What do you think? Which do you prefer?

Which is your favourite of the cardback designs?

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Let us know why on Facebook.

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References   [ + ]

1. Technically that’s everything about a card – but in this case we’re thinking purely visual

SF Concept Cards: The Other Two Decks

Last week we showed you an unedited video of us playing with cards, and one of the planetary cards mentioned.

This week I think it’d be good to talk through a couple more cards – one from the Characters deck and one from the Locations.

First the Character. Why would you draw from the characters deck?
The most common reason is that the players decide they want to talk to a local, or someone travelling with them, or whoever – and you haven’t actually planned the details of that particular bit of background scenario.

Between sessions you might instead draw cards to plan your next adventure. While planets or station locations may be more common sources of adventure, the characters involved are what make a story truly gripping, so drawing a few of both is often the best idea.

So, on to the example:

We’ve flipped the secret because it’s easier than you flipping your monitor.

Roberta, even more so than most characters, is capable of turning up anywhere – possibly even showing up repeatedly on different planets.

My immediate interpretation is that she’s one of the characters that falls into the category of “NPC Adventurer”, someone who is likely to deal with problems rather than screaming and running away.

The value of her hearts makes it clear that while she has a meaningful desire something about it is lackluster – she wants to see everywhere, but not only is that impossible, she doesn’t even have a plan!

The value of her clubs suit (above average with a 7) tells us that she’s well-connected, despite the constant movement – she doesn’t stick around but the friends she leaves behinds are still friends, and new ones are a constant.

Her diamonds (profession) is “Whatever it Takes” gives a lot more depth to her character – she’s not a spoiled noble brat, she’s travelling on her own dime, on her own blood, sweat, and tears.

The spades describes her, while also reinforcing the fact that she’s self-mobile.

The secret is the key to building a whole plot around her – she wants to prove that she still has a soul, which is not an easy task in a science fiction world where souls may not even exist in the first place! If the players get interested you may find yourself leading them on a trail of mystics and priests, looking for someone who can actually prove that their spirituality is reality.

 

Now onto the Location. Again, you might draw this when planning a session, or you might draw it when your players decide to wander down another corridor or another street, and need somewhere interesting to walk into – somewhere other than the adventure that you’d originally planned.

You might get to point them back at the plot, or perhaps you’ll find the card gives you a whole new plot:

A high hearts in locations means that the place is host to important people – in this case an extremely competent law firm.

The spades and diamonds both reinforce that these are skilled lawyers – but not kind ones. Still, they might be useful for adventurous types like player characters, who break laws in order to do what’s necessary.

And even if the PCs don’t have enough money to pay them, the secret provides an obvious out: They’re in need of protection, just the sort of story the PCs are used to sorting!

 

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Sci-Fi Concept Cards – In Use (The Sage of Hyblos IV)

Today we printed up and set out a whole load of concept cards, having set up some transitional suit symbols for them (they’re not final, but they’ll work for now).

And we decided to start trying for our Kickstarter Video, going with the approach that has served us best: sitting in front of the camera for ages playing with the cards, and cutting together something cool from that.

We did get something cool, but it’s a lot longer than we can use for the final video – so we decided to share it now!

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Third Thursday Freebie: The Druidic Paths

This piece is one drawn from our currently active 13th Age campaign – a solution to a common problem “How do we allow people to get to distant places quickly, without removing the potential of travel-related plots”

Of interest to some might be its original inspiration – a different take in some ways, while similar in others, and serving similar purposes for the play of its game – the Trods of the Empire LARP

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