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Found 18 results

  1. If you're reading this, that means you've decided to consider participating in the ancient and venerable art of tabletop roleplaying. Congratulations! Infinite worlds of adventure await you, full of adventures to tackle alongside trusty companions. However, that rather large prospect can be quite daunting to those unfamiliar with tabletop RPGs. I promise that with this guide you will be able to stand proudly alongside your nerdy brothers and sisters when the time comes to roll initiative. Now, before you pull a Magnus and rush in, take some time to consider what, exactly, you'd like to do in a roleplaying setting. Are you the kind of person who loses themselves in fictional worlds within your own mind? Do you stand in the shower until it runs cold while dreaming about an epic adventure? Maybe you don't want to play just one character and want to take on a wide array of different roles? If those describe you, you might want to consider becoming a Game Master or GM. GMs act as a kind of author and arbiter of the world within the game. A GM typically brings the game to life at the table. They are the ones who craft the world in which the game takes place and breathe life into its various denizens. They also weave an evolving story that changes over time in response to the actions of other players in the group. The GM enforces the rules and attempts to give fair judgments that help everyone at the table have a good time. The flipside of the GM is the PC, the Player Character. Everyone in the game who is not the GM controls an avatar in the game, their own player character. PCs typically bring their own characters to life and then respond to the world and inhabitants that the GM conjures into being. By inquiring about the world and interacting with different characters, the PC forces the GM to expand the setting in new and interesting ways that the GM might never have expected. It is best to think of the GM and PCs as collaborators working to build a fun and interesting world that becomes more alive and reactive with each choice the players make while advancing through what the GM has created. Once you have decided which role you think might be good for you, it’s a really good idea to talk about boundaries. In a world of infinite possibilities, what some might think dramatic or funny might be deeply traumatizing or offensive to others. If a player has a phobia and requests that it not come up in-game, respect their wishes. Other players might be uncomfortable with torture or sex scenes. Have an open conversation with your group about what everyone’s boundaries are and then respect those limits. Remember: The goal is for everyone to have fun. That brings us t- wait, have you read the rules of the game you’re playing? Whether you’re going to be a GM or a PC, you need to know the most basic rules. It will still be a bit bumpy your first time playing even if you do read the rules, but it helps to have some understanding of what’s going on before you’re thrown to the wolves (sometimes literally thrown to wolves). If you are acting as the GM, you should absolutely have a firm grasp on the fundamentals. PCs have a lot more leeway on rules, but know your character well enough to be able to look at your character sheet and understand about 80% of it. Knowing your PC’s abilities will help the GM quite a bit; it is unlikely they have memorized every rule for every class in the entire game. Now comes one of the best parts about tabletop roleplaying games: Creation. Once you know the rules, you can get to work making the building blocks of the world and the people who inhabit it. This is where the GM and the PC really diverge. A lot depends on what the GM wants to achieve with the game. Is it meant to be a sweeping tale of adventure with a party of heroes and/or villains? Or is it a smaller, more intimate tale meant for only a session or two? Both approaches necessitate different amounts of planning. For example, if it is intended to be a sprawling campaign that takes place over vast geographical areas with varied peoples and cultures, it is worth thinking about the histories, religions, and conflicts that have sprouted up between the various groups. Having broad ideas regarding those subjects will help you to think on your feet if you need to improvise and plan out potential courses your campaign could take. A shorter campaign or a one-shot don’t necessarily need the same level of planning since it is unlikely the players will deviate far from the smaller scope of the GM’s planned and prepared content. It doesn’t hurt, certainly, but less of a necessity. However, put some thought into the non-player characters. Your NPCs should all relate to different things in the world. What does each character care about? What are they willing to do to obtain or protect what they care about? Having those motivations in place will help make your NPCs feel more like real people when the PCs interact with them. Or perhaps you aren’t super interested in using the rules to create a new setting and world on your own. It’s certainly a daunting task, even for experienced tabletop aficionados. A great option to gain some experience or save time is to grab a pre-made adventure. Most game systems have years of stories and quests drawn up in either physical or digital forms. For five dollars (and often less than that) you can find yourself a whole new adventure to run made by another player. Or you could jump into a more expensive and polished journey created by the company behind the system. There’s a definite upside to having all the information readily available and organized. The only catch is that there can be a lot of reading and remembering to do that can get overwhelming for the inexperienced. These pre-fabricated settings and adventures usually come with pre-made characters for PCs, too, making them great introductions to the game system. For players, once the GM gives you the basic parameters of the world, ask questions with the goal of finding out how your character concept might fit best into their world. It might, for example, profoundly change the adventure if your character is an elf if most people in the GM’s world haven’t seen an elf for a thousand years. You should also consider making a second character to keep in your back pocket in case the worst happens. The GM shouldn't be actively trying to kill your characters, but sometimes things happen; the die rolls poorly or goofs are goofed. And when your character dies, as painful as that might sometimes be, it helps to be able to slap down a new character sheet and introduce them. It's your opportunity to be someone completely different, so run with it and have fun. Once all of that has been settled, it's time to actually show up to the sessions and play! Some general points of courtesy if you have never been to a table before. First, if you disagree with the GM's ruling, bring it up for discussion after the session concludes so the two of you can share your respective points of view without stalling the game and making everyone uncomfortable. Second, be respectful of everyone's time. Most people came to play, so try to give all of your attention to what's going on. Chances are your GM or your players put a lot of effort into making the adventure you're participating in, so value them. Finally, Not everyone gels well with every group. Some tabletop players are more involved in the tactical and mechanical aspects of combat while others live for the story or puzzles. Different groups will have different dynamics, so don't feel bad if the group you initially join up with doesn't quite click with you. There are players out there for you! If you can't wrangle some friends to play and are still interested, keep an eye out for local comics or games stores. These will often have weekly or monthly tabletop events that welcome newcomers. If all else fails, you can always find games played in various forms online (forums, voice chat, voice and tools like Roll20, and more). You've got options! With that, you are ready to hop into the wild world of... well, any one of an infinite number of wild worlds, really. Have fun and happy questing, you crazy kids! Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  2. Jack Gardner

    How to Get Started Playing Tabletop RPGs

    If you're reading this, that means you've decided to consider participating in the ancient and venerable art of tabletop roleplaying. Congratulations! Infinite worlds of adventure await you, full of adventures to tackle alongside trusty companions. However, that rather large prospect can be quite daunting to those unfamiliar with tabletop RPGs. I promise that with this guide you will be able to stand proudly alongside your nerdy brothers and sisters when the time comes to roll initiative. Now, before you pull a Magnus and rush in, take some time to consider what, exactly, you'd like to do in a roleplaying setting. Are you the kind of person who loses themselves in fictional worlds within your own mind? Do you stand in the shower until it runs cold while dreaming about an epic adventure? Maybe you don't want to play just one character and want to take on a wide array of different roles? If those describe you, you might want to consider becoming a Game Master or GM. GMs act as a kind of author and arbiter of the world within the game. A GM typically brings the game to life at the table. They are the ones who craft the world in which the game takes place and breathe life into its various denizens. They also weave an evolving story that changes over time in response to the actions of other players in the group. The GM enforces the rules and attempts to give fair judgments that help everyone at the table have a good time. The flipside of the GM is the PC, the Player Character. Everyone in the game who is not the GM controls an avatar in the game, their own player character. PCs typically bring their own characters to life and then respond to the world and inhabitants that the GM conjures into being. By inquiring about the world and interacting with different characters, the PC forces the GM to expand the setting in new and interesting ways that the GM might never have expected. It is best to think of the GM and PCs as collaborators working to build a fun and interesting world that becomes more alive and reactive with each choice the players make while advancing through what the GM has created. Once you have decided which role you think might be good for you, it’s a really good idea to talk about boundaries. In a world of infinite possibilities, what some might think dramatic or funny might be deeply traumatizing or offensive to others. If a player has a phobia and requests that it not come up in-game, respect their wishes. Other players might be uncomfortable with torture or sex scenes. Have an open conversation with your group about what everyone’s boundaries are and then respect those limits. Remember: The goal is for everyone to have fun. That brings us t- wait, have you read the rules of the game you’re playing? Whether you’re going to be a GM or a PC, you need to know the most basic rules. It will still be a bit bumpy your first time playing even if you do read the rules, but it helps to have some understanding of what’s going on before you’re thrown to the wolves (sometimes literally thrown to wolves). If you are acting as the GM, you should absolutely have a firm grasp on the fundamentals. PCs have a lot more leeway on rules, but know your character well enough to be able to look at your character sheet and understand about 80% of it. Knowing your PC’s abilities will help the GM quite a bit; it is unlikely they have memorized every rule for every class in the entire game. Now comes one of the best parts about tabletop roleplaying games: Creation. Once you know the rules, you can get to work making the building blocks of the world and the people who inhabit it. This is where the GM and the PC really diverge. A lot depends on what the GM wants to achieve with the game. Is it meant to be a sweeping tale of adventure with a party of heroes and/or villains? Or is it a smaller, more intimate tale meant for only a session or two? Both approaches necessitate different amounts of planning. For example, if it is intended to be a sprawling campaign that takes place over vast geographical areas with varied peoples and cultures, it is worth thinking about the histories, religions, and conflicts that have sprouted up between the various groups. Having broad ideas regarding those subjects will help you to think on your feet if you need to improvise and plan out potential courses your campaign could take. A shorter campaign or a one-shot don’t necessarily need the same level of planning since it is unlikely the players will deviate far from the smaller scope of the GM’s planned and prepared content. It doesn’t hurt, certainly, but less of a necessity. However, put some thought into the non-player characters. Your NPCs should all relate to different things in the world. What does each character care about? What are they willing to do to obtain or protect what they care about? Having those motivations in place will help make your NPCs feel more like real people when the PCs interact with them. Or perhaps you aren’t super interested in using the rules to create a new setting and world on your own. It’s certainly a daunting task, even for experienced tabletop aficionados. A great option to gain some experience or save time is to grab a pre-made adventure. Most game systems have years of stories and quests drawn up in either physical or digital forms. For five dollars (and often less than that) you can find yourself a whole new adventure to run made by another player. Or you could jump into a more expensive and polished journey created by the company behind the system. There’s a definite upside to having all the information readily available and organized. The only catch is that there can be a lot of reading and remembering to do that can get overwhelming for the inexperienced. These pre-fabricated settings and adventures usually come with pre-made characters for PCs, too, making them great introductions to the game system. For players, once the GM gives you the basic parameters of the world, ask questions with the goal of finding out how your character concept might fit best into their world. It might, for example, profoundly change the adventure if your character is an elf if most people in the GM’s world haven’t seen an elf for a thousand years. You should also consider making a second character to keep in your back pocket in case the worst happens. The GM shouldn't be actively trying to kill your characters, but sometimes things happen; the die rolls poorly or goofs are goofed. And when your character dies, as painful as that might sometimes be, it helps to be able to slap down a new character sheet and introduce them. It's your opportunity to be someone completely different, so run with it and have fun. Once all of that has been settled, it's time to actually show up to the sessions and play! Some general points of courtesy if you have never been to a table before. First, if you disagree with the GM's ruling, bring it up for discussion after the session concludes so the two of you can share your respective points of view without stalling the game and making everyone uncomfortable. Second, be respectful of everyone's time. Most people came to play, so try to give all of your attention to what's going on. Chances are your GM or your players put a lot of effort into making the adventure you're participating in, so value them. Finally, Not everyone gels well with every group. Some tabletop players are more involved in the tactical and mechanical aspects of combat while others live for the story or puzzles. Different groups will have different dynamics, so don't feel bad if the group you initially join up with doesn't quite click with you. There are players out there for you! If you can't wrangle some friends to play and are still interested, keep an eye out for local comics or games stores. These will often have weekly or monthly tabletop events that welcome newcomers. If all else fails, you can always find games played in various forms online (forums, voice chat, voice and tools like Roll20, and more). You've got options! With that, you are ready to hop into the wild world of... well, any one of an infinite number of wild worlds, really. Have fun and happy questing, you crazy kids! Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  3. For some of us, board games have been a staple of our households from the beginning. Who hasn’t found frustration playing Monopoly or ravenously devoured marbles in Hungry, Hungry Hippos? These games are absolutely everywhere, so it can be easy to forget that each of those games had to be made by someone or a team of someones. Everyone’s favorite tabletop games started out as a glimmer in a creative person’s eye. It begins with a vision, a dream of a game that might one day become a reality. However, in order to become a game, it takes the extra motivation to begin creating. Writing out playing cards on scraps of paper, drawing up a comprehensive list of rules, sketching out a rough game board on a piece of card stock, all of these are important moments in the creative process. However, when I reached out to an indie dev who designs games for fun in his spare time, there’s much more to it than that. Join me and tabletop game creator Kurtis Holme as we talk about how he found himself making board games in the digital age, the way he and his colleagues made Mario Kart into a working board game, and what it takes to finish a game of your own. You can listen to the audio interview or read a lightly edited version of it below. --- --- So, who is Kurtis Holme? What do you do? How did you get into making games? Okay, so I’m Kurtis Holme. I work in software […] and went to school for computer science. I guess, making games has been something that I have always kind of done, but I didn’t really realize it until later. How so? I think all kids kinda make up games; that’s not an abnormal thing, but maybe the extent to which I did it was? [laughs] Maybe abnormal wasn’t the right word, but at an early age I was very into games. I enjoyed playing them a lot. I would play them by myself; I would create tournaments. I would have, like, a dozen different Magic: The Gathering decks, and I’d play them against each other until there was a winner. I never played Monopoly by myself, that’s for the truly insane. [laughs] So, the earliest game that I remember where I was actually going about it with some sort fo active process in mind was with a game called MLB Showdown. I think this was in 1999 when MLB Showdown came out. This was Wizards of the Coast, and it was baseball cards, except you could play a game of baseball with the baseball cards. It was SO much fun. I loved it. Baseball is one of my hugest passions, and this was when I was playing baseball all the time, six days a week for multiple hours per day. Yeah, MLB Showdown, I love that game so much, I am sad they discontinued it. How does baseball work in card form? So you have the players and they have a couple of different statistics on their cards. They're split into hitters and pitches. The hitters have an on-base number and the pitchers have a control number. To simulate a player at bat, the pitcher rolls a d20 and take the result and add it to their control, the batter rolls a d20 and they take the result and add it to their on base number. Whoever wins that roll has advantage. So that simulates a pitching count where a hitter will be at an advantage in “the showdown.” They also have a chart where you have different results that can happen. So both hitters and pitchers have different charts and their charts will be better the better the player is. The chart has a roll result for your action at that at bat; strike out, ground ball, fly ball walk single, single plus double triple homer, for both the pitcher and hitter. So after you figure out who has the advantage, that player rolls the dice to see what happens for the at bat. If the pitcher wins, they roll the die, they take the result and look up on their chart what happens. So pitchers, everything below a 16 is usually an out; the really good pitchers, everything up to an 18 is an out. Whereas, if the hitter gets the advantage then it is usually 1-6 would be an out and 18 or higher is a homer. So you play out a game of baseball like that: Rolling a d20. That sounds like an RPG system! It is. It is an RPG system. It was actually my first introduction to an RPG system. I had never really played Dungeons & Dragons before that point. You fell in love with MLB Showdown, so how did that roll over into creating your own games? Right, so… Basically, I became so enthralled with this game that I wanted to do two things with it. One was that the rules didn’t encompass all of the intricacies of baseball like I wanted it to. It wasn’t just rolling dice, you also had a strategy deck and you would draw something like three cards per inning. The cards would be something like "steal a base" or "give a bonus to your swing if you have a lefty batting and a righty pitching," stuff like that. But because it was a deck, it was random. That didn’t make much sense to me. Like, if you are trying to play the advantage of having a lefty versus a righty, that’s something you plan in your lineup. It’s not a random thing that happens. I built out rules for a lot of these things that weren’t in there. I had a whole bunch of stuff, like I added in a chance for an error or- So you were modding this game, but in the tabletop sense rather than the digital one? Yep! [laughs] So then then next thing that happened was that the game was discontinued in... 2005, I think it was. Every year that the new set came out, I was always so excited that I would buy a whole booster box at a time to try to get all the players that I wanted. Not being able to do that made me so sad that I went online. I found forums dedicated to this game and people who had basically taken all of the stats for previous years and scienced that into the formula that Wizards of the Coast used to create these cards. I made some tweaks to that on my own for some of the stats. I went out and bought the baseball reference almanac. This thing is probably 8 inches thick, it’s basically a phonebook. It has every single player that has played the game of baseball, their entire career stat lines from 2005 to the 1850s. So, once I had my formulas, what I would do is every night before I went to bed I would just open to a random page and make that players card for at least players. [laughs] I guess that in and of itself it wasn’t very innovative, but… You were making your own game! You saw this game wasn’t being made anymore and decided to take matters into your own hands. That’s awesome! You went about making this game; did you wind up with a handmade, functional deck that you could use to continue playing MLB Showdown? So I just wrote them down on index cards, basically, so yeah I would play with the index cards when I had enough of my handmade cards to form a team. I never went so far as to try to print them out or get pictures of the players and put them on the cards. I know right now that you develop tabletop games in your spare time. That’s not a very common hobby. A lot more people these days seem more interested in developing video games. You hear about struggling indie devs, but that’s almost always in the digital sense. So how did you go from being a kid making your own MLB Showdown to someone who does this more seriously? Okay, so, I guess tabletop games are what I did growing up. We didn’t have video games in my house until… Dreamcast was my first gaming system. It was always board games and stuff first, that was what we did with family, you know? As I got older, I started shifting more toward video game stuff, especially when World of Warcraft came out. That was basically my life from 2004 until 2009. [laughs] When I went to college, I didn’t really have a solid idea of what I wanted to do. Up until that point, it had always been, “I’m going be a baseball player!” and when reality set in that that probably wasn’t actually going to be a thing that was going to happen, I had to take a step back and decide what I was actually going to do with my life. I really had no idea, I feel like I still don’t. We had to do this for a math class in high school. We had to pick out an engineering field that sounded interesting and do a presentation on it. The field I did was aerospace engineering and, yes, the list we were given was alphabetical. I pursued that my first year at college and didn’t really like it, so I was looking for something else to do instead. I had computer science classes in high school; I didn’t do as well in those as I did in my other classes, but I still enjoyed being on the computer. I liked typing at the bare minimum. So I figured, well, okay, I like video games; maybe I could make video games. I’d need a computer science degree to do that, so I decided to give that a shot. I liked it better than aerospace, but I didn’t like it so much… I always felt a little bit estranged from the rest of my classmates in C. Sci. because they always seemed to be really into the theory of computer science programming. Whereas for me, it was more of a means to an end rather than an actual passion. I was considering switching again until I took AI 1, AI turned out to be the thing that kept me in computer science because it was such a cool application. I was thinking that AI would be the path for me into making games. I applied for internships at Blizzard, Riot Games, a ton of places, but I never got any of those internships. That’s when I realized that I had picked something that is incredibly hard to get into. That all got put on the backburner when I got done with school and needed to figure out what to actually do with my life in the immediate sense to survive. That’s how I got the job I have now. While I was there, some of the people I was working with, we became good friends – they liked board games and stuff, too. I think I had brought Pandemic the board game to work, and we played it at work during lunch one day. [..] That got us talking a bit about games in general. They had been interested in making video games, as well. I don’t know how we got onto this, but we started talking about Mario Kart as a board game. I was just… I dunno, the lightbulb came on and I was like, “This is totally doable. We should make this!” That’s how it started. We just sat down at lunch with a deck of cards and started trying to figure out what that would look like. I really like thinking about those types of problems. Thinking about how something could be modeled as a game mechanic is really enjoyable to me. So taking Mario Kart and dissecting it to its smallest pieces and figuring out what that looks like on a tabletop – that’s basically how it began. How would items work as a game mechanic? Well, you could have decks of cards, maybe specific items, but then you start thinking about all the little things. Like, in Mario Kart, if you’re in last place you are going to get a better item than someone who is in first place. We kept solving all of those little problems and eventually we had something that was playable. That was when we actually printed out- we found a picture online of an aerial view of a Mario Kart track and printed that out on a piece of paper at work. Then we went to a local game store and bought a random bag of random assorted shapes for pieces. We gave each piece a role in Mario Kart, like this is a banana, this is Donkey Kong, etc. We made that, and it was a ton of fun. It was really fun to play. Eventually someone asked me, “What are you gonna do with this now?” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know. We were kind of just making it for fun, but it would be really cool if we could do this and make money off of it.” That’s when it became less academic and more what would it actually take to do this for real? That’s when I started getting more serious about it. Taking classes online, reading books, going to conventions, all that stuff. Did you ever try to pitch Nintendo the Mario Kart game? No, we did not. We never actually figured out how we should go about doing that from a legal standpoint. So it seems like you got into game design because of the problem solving aspect of it; how you go about making mechanics that reflect the core conceit of a given idea? Yes and board games in particular because I don’t love programming. As time has gone on, that’s become more and more true. Making a game, a video game, is such a large task. There are still some games that I would like to make that would be digital. However, ultimately one thing that I’ve realized is that board games can achieve something from a social aspect that I don’t think video games will ever be able to replicate. Maybe there’s a VR game in the future that can get there, but… it’s not the same experience. There are certainly things a board game can do that a video game can. I’ve found myself appreciating the social aspect of board gaming more as the differences between the two have become clearer to me. So what are some things socially that board games are better at than video games? Board games allow for a lot more creativity. It’s based a lot more on the people playing than the rule set. You can have the best crafted rule set and people will still tweak it to their own means, like I did. [laughs] That’s good and that’s fun. You can make it what you want to make it. Video games, just by the way code has to exist for a computer to run a program. It’s very, very difficult to get that same sort of dynamic environment. Just being able to house rule something – you can’t do that as easily in a video game as you can in a tabletop game. Right. What are some of the lessons you took away from building your own board games? The biggest takeaway is that the first 80% is easy and the last 20% is nigh on impossible. [laughs] That’s an exaggeration, but getting that last 20% completed, polished and functional, is very hard and takes a lot of time. By that do you mean the production end of things? Getting it a nice looking box and pieces, is that the hard part or are you still talking about the rules, mechanics, and systems? The rules, mechanics, and systems. To get something that other people will like, you need to playtest it a lot. You need to playtest it with a lot of different people. Everyone is going to have different opinions on it; I’m sure it’s true of video game development, as well. That’s something that we, as a group, have struggled with. We have never been short on ideas, but we have always had trouble taking something past iteration X. What becomes the major stumbling block? Part of it is the group of people that we have. We’re idea people, not get-it-done people. It’s hard to identify when something isn’t working- how do I describe this? When something isn’t working and you know it’s not working - a mechanic, a system, whatever. Is it an inherently flawed idea or does it just need tweaks? Because it if it is inherently flawed you should just scrap it and move on to the next idea or you just end up trying to iterate on this thing forever. We did the latter the first time through, where we just iterated on Mario Kart forever, but never actually solved the problems that we were having with games taking too long. For a lot of the other games, we might have been too quick to throw out ideas without iterating on it. It’s a hard balance to find. And it seems like it would be harder to playtest those problems outside of your development group without the resources of a publisher. It just seems like it is easier to find people to QA a game that’s digital. Yeah, you can just release the code and have thousands of people who will playtest it. Whereas with me I’m basically begging people to please play a board game with me for an hour. [laughs] What are a few of your other game projects you’ve been knocking around? The other one that we got the closest to comple- actually it was a completed game. Our working title was Death Train. It was basically a train race. We had this idea where it would be cool to have this mechanic where you have a train and you are racing against other trains on parallel tracks. The mechanic is that you are physically moving your train along this track back and forth by adjusting your speed and how you align with other players on the tracks is how you interact with them. We had this thing were you’re building cars as you’re going – we called it a train builder as opposed to a deck builder – you are building your train as you go. Your cars would be anything from an extra engine to a tesla coil that zaps adjacent train enemies. That one was actually really fun and it was pretty much working. The problems we ran into with that one were that we were trying to do a little bit too much. We didn’t want it to just be a race; we didn’t want it to be just a battle. We wanted there to be multiple paths to victory, kind of eurogame it. We added in victory points and all this other stuff that muddied the waters a bit too much. Do you just then leave that entire idea behind and move on? Or what happens when you hit that 80% mark? It goes on a shelf, basically. A lot of the things I’ve read in my pursuit of more knowledge of game design, I guess there are different schools of thought on it, but there are a number of people who like to have multiple games that they’re working on at the same time and advocate for that. […] The idea behind having a bunch of games that you’re working on at the same time is that you’d be working on Game C and you come across an idea that might be applicable to Games A, F, and G. Then maybe you can revisit those games and cycle along with it. I like that, but it’s a slow churn through that last 20% with that method. And the alternative is trying to brute force your way through the last 20% which is also grueling, just in a different way? Yes, exactly. You mentioned game design resources. In terms of books, lectures, forums, or whatever, what have you found to be the most helpful for designing tabletop games? There is a specialization track on Coursera from the California Institute for the Arts. I took that, it’s four courses, four weeks each. That got me a lot more insight than I had going in. I didn’t start doing this until after we finished Mario Kart and kind of when we started hitting the first roadblocks on Death Train. That’s the point where we got to where we needed to take a step back and figure out what it was we were doing instead of Wild Westing it or whatever. Coursera was one of the first places I went for that. I really enjoyed that specialization. It was really fun and I learned a lot from it. The next best was probably a book, “The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design” by Mike Selinker. The book, specifically, is more of a book of interviews with a bunch of different game designers and taking their opinions on a bunch of different things. It’s cool to see what Steve Jackson is thinking when he’s starting to make a game. That gives you some insight into what you’re doing well or what you’re not taking into account that you could be. Oh, and also, there’s a podcast that I also started listening to around the same time. That’s Designer Notes. Designer Notes was actually probably one of the most influential. It might also be one of the most accessible of the ones you mentioned. Yes. [laughs] So having done all of this, having gained experience in designing these games, what would you recommend people do if they want to get into designing a tabletop game? What are your first steps? Your first steps are to get something made and on a table in front of people to play it. The most progress that we as a group have actually made is just by actually doing. You learn so much more about what works and what doesn’t when you’re actually sitting at a table trying to play it. You can have what seem like the best ideas in the world, take it to the table, and they don’t work. Then you’re back to square one. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get something to a playable form as quickly as possible. Even if it is absolutely horrible, as long as you can play it, you’re learning something from it. You aren’t actually learning what you think you might be learning until you’re actually playing it. What does it mean to get something on the table when it is first draft of a tabletop game? I think some people struggle with that; how do you make a thing? It depends on the game, it depends on so many things. Taking an idea and seeing if the simplest form of that idea translates to a board game or a card game or what have you. It could be taking random scraps of paper and finding out, “What’s an interesting way to have these things move around a track?” You’re just sitting there, literally rolling dice and seeing what is fun. That’s what game design is: It’s engineering fun. What would you tell someone to do – they are getting their game past 80%, maybe they are even at 100% – how do you make this game into a sold-for-money board game? That’s a part that I haven’t got to, so take my advice with a grain of salt. There’s Kickstarter, but that has a whole bag of intricacies by itself. You could write to publishers.... These are more advanced steps. I guess it depends on how you got to that feeling of 100% done. Have you had a whole bunch of people playtest it? And when I say a whole bunch, I mean hundreds of people playtest it, not just friends, but random strangers, people who had the rules and people who don’t have the rules. If you haven’t playtested the game, then I don’t think you’re at 100% yet. So playtest, playtest, playtest. If you are truly at the point where it is as good as it can be and no more playtesting is going to help that, then I think your next steps are one of three things – at least things that I have been looking at doing myself. The first is conventions. Here in Minneapolis, that’s Con of the North. At pretty much any tabletop convention, there’s going to be a space for playtesting, games that are known to be in prototype phase. People sign up to play knowing it is not necessarily a completed game. This is a great way to get more playtesters and feedback, but it is also a good place to make contacts and maybe run into a publisher that you might be able to pitch an idea to, stuff like that. Speaking of publishers, pitching your idea to a publisher is an option. You have to do your research. You have to know what kinds of games the publisher has published in the past, what kinds of games they’re publishing now. It has to fit with their MO as a publisher and what they have in their pipeline already. Then the last one would be Kickstarter. Kickstarter is the one that will make you the most money if it’s successful.... Probably. All the caveats. Yeah, I can’t say that with certainty. At least you are controlling that entirely yourself. You’re not selling your idea to a publisher. There’s a lot of hoops to jump through with Kickstarter to get that to work and it’s risky. One of the things we have learned from conventions is that to produce a board game at scale is very expensive. If you’re talking a medium sized board game with some components and a board, you are looking at $60,000 to get that game produced. If you are going to Kickstarter, you’re going to have to ask for less than that, significantly less than that, as your goal. People have done all kinds of research as to what your goal value should be to get people to contribute to your Kickstarter and stuff like that. If you end up going that route and it’s unsuccessful and already footed the bill for $60,000 worth of production, then you are going to be in trouble. You have to know what you’re doing with the Kickstarter. Do you have any final words to add? That kind of ended on a downer note. I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom, “oh, this is so hard, expensive, and risky.” Ultimately, I think it’s worth it, no matter what. One of my favorite things that I’ve read in my perusal of these resources. If you make a game, that game is going to be at least one person’s favorite game. There is absolutely at least one person in the world who would consider your game their favorite. Just think about that and think about how happy you’re making at least that one person. There’s nothing quite like enjoying your favorite game. It’s even better when you can see other people enjoying something to that degree that you have made. Almost like you’re giving back to all the games that you enjoyed; putting your own little bit of that in the world. The world can be a pretty crappy place sometimes, so if you can make it even a little bit happier sometimes, then I feel like that’s worth it. --- Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  4. For some of us, board games have been a staple of our households from the beginning. Who hasn’t found frustration playing Monopoly or ravenously devoured marbles in Hungry, Hungry Hippos? These games are absolutely everywhere, so it can be easy to forget that each of those games had to be made by someone or a team of someones. Everyone’s favorite tabletop games started out as a glimmer in a creative person’s eye. It begins with a vision, a dream of a game that might one day become a reality. However, in order to become a game, it takes the extra motivation to begin creating. Writing out playing cards on scraps of paper, drawing up a comprehensive list of rules, sketching out a rough game board on a piece of card stock, all of these are important moments in the creative process. However, when I reached out to an indie dev who designs games for fun in his spare time, there’s much more to it than that. Join me and tabletop game creator Kurtis Holme as we talk about how he found himself making board games in the digital age, the way he and his colleagues made Mario Kart into a working board game, and what it takes to finish a game of your own. You can listen to the audio interview or read a lightly edited version of it below. --- --- So, who is Kurtis Holme? What do you do? How did you get into making games? Okay, so I’m Kurtis Holme. I work in software […] and went to school for computer science. I guess, making games has been something that I have always kind of done, but I didn’t really realize it until later. How so? I think all kids kinda make up games; that’s not an abnormal thing, but maybe the extent to which I did it was? [laughs] Maybe abnormal wasn’t the right word, but at an early age I was very into games. I enjoyed playing them a lot. I would play them by myself; I would create tournaments. I would have, like, a dozen different Magic: The Gathering decks, and I’d play them against each other until there was a winner. I never played Monopoly by myself, that’s for the truly insane. [laughs] So, the earliest game that I remember where I was actually going about it with some sort fo active process in mind was with a game called MLB Showdown. I think this was in 1999 when MLB Showdown came out. This was Wizards of the Coast, and it was baseball cards, except you could play a game of baseball with the baseball cards. It was SO much fun. I loved it. Baseball is one of my hugest passions, and this was when I was playing baseball all the time, six days a week for multiple hours per day. Yeah, MLB Showdown, I love that game so much, I am sad they discontinued it. How does baseball work in card form? So you have the players and they have a couple of different statistics on their cards. They're split into hitters and pitches. The hitters have an on-base number and the pitchers have a control number. To simulate a player at bat, the pitcher rolls a d20 and take the result and add it to their control, the batter rolls a d20 and they take the result and add it to their on base number. Whoever wins that roll has advantage. So that simulates a pitching count where a hitter will be at an advantage in “the showdown.” They also have a chart where you have different results that can happen. So both hitters and pitchers have different charts and their charts will be better the better the player is. The chart has a roll result for your action at that at bat; strike out, ground ball, fly ball walk single, single plus double triple homer, for both the pitcher and hitter. So after you figure out who has the advantage, that player rolls the dice to see what happens for the at bat. If the pitcher wins, they roll the die, they take the result and look up on their chart what happens. So pitchers, everything below a 16 is usually an out; the really good pitchers, everything up to an 18 is an out. Whereas, if the hitter gets the advantage then it is usually 1-6 would be an out and 18 or higher is a homer. So you play out a game of baseball like that: Rolling a d20. That sounds like an RPG system! It is. It is an RPG system. It was actually my first introduction to an RPG system. I had never really played Dungeons & Dragons before that point. You fell in love with MLB Showdown, so how did that roll over into creating your own games? Right, so… Basically, I became so enthralled with this game that I wanted to do two things with it. One was that the rules didn’t encompass all of the intricacies of baseball like I wanted it to. It wasn’t just rolling dice, you also had a strategy deck and you would draw something like three cards per inning. The cards would be something like "steal a base" or "give a bonus to your swing if you have a lefty batting and a righty pitching," stuff like that. But because it was a deck, it was random. That didn’t make much sense to me. Like, if you are trying to play the advantage of having a lefty versus a righty, that’s something you plan in your lineup. It’s not a random thing that happens. I built out rules for a lot of these things that weren’t in there. I had a whole bunch of stuff, like I added in a chance for an error or- So you were modding this game, but in the tabletop sense rather than the digital one? Yep! [laughs] So then then next thing that happened was that the game was discontinued in... 2005, I think it was. Every year that the new set came out, I was always so excited that I would buy a whole booster box at a time to try to get all the players that I wanted. Not being able to do that made me so sad that I went online. I found forums dedicated to this game and people who had basically taken all of the stats for previous years and scienced that into the formula that Wizards of the Coast used to create these cards. I made some tweaks to that on my own for some of the stats. I went out and bought the baseball reference almanac. This thing is probably 8 inches thick, it’s basically a phonebook. It has every single player that has played the game of baseball, their entire career stat lines from 2005 to the 1850s. So, once I had my formulas, what I would do is every night before I went to bed I would just open to a random page and make that players card for at least players. [laughs] I guess that in and of itself it wasn’t very innovative, but… You were making your own game! You saw this game wasn’t being made anymore and decided to take matters into your own hands. That’s awesome! You went about making this game; did you wind up with a handmade, functional deck that you could use to continue playing MLB Showdown? So I just wrote them down on index cards, basically, so yeah I would play with the index cards when I had enough of my handmade cards to form a team. I never went so far as to try to print them out or get pictures of the players and put them on the cards. I know right now that you develop tabletop games in your spare time. That’s not a very common hobby. A lot more people these days seem more interested in developing video games. You hear about struggling indie devs, but that’s almost always in the digital sense. So how did you go from being a kid making your own MLB Showdown to someone who does this more seriously? Okay, so, I guess tabletop games are what I did growing up. We didn’t have video games in my house until… Dreamcast was my first gaming system. It was always board games and stuff first, that was what we did with family, you know? As I got older, I started shifting more toward video game stuff, especially when World of Warcraft came out. That was basically my life from 2004 until 2009. [laughs] When I went to college, I didn’t really have a solid idea of what I wanted to do. Up until that point, it had always been, “I’m going be a baseball player!” and when reality set in that that probably wasn’t actually going to be a thing that was going to happen, I had to take a step back and decide what I was actually going to do with my life. I really had no idea, I feel like I still don’t. We had to do this for a math class in high school. We had to pick out an engineering field that sounded interesting and do a presentation on it. The field I did was aerospace engineering and, yes, the list we were given was alphabetical. I pursued that my first year at college and didn’t really like it, so I was looking for something else to do instead. I had computer science classes in high school; I didn’t do as well in those as I did in my other classes, but I still enjoyed being on the computer. I liked typing at the bare minimum. So I figured, well, okay, I like video games; maybe I could make video games. I’d need a computer science degree to do that, so I decided to give that a shot. I liked it better than aerospace, but I didn’t like it so much… I always felt a little bit estranged from the rest of my classmates in C. Sci. because they always seemed to be really into the theory of computer science programming. Whereas for me, it was more of a means to an end rather than an actual passion. I was considering switching again until I took AI 1, AI turned out to be the thing that kept me in computer science because it was such a cool application. I was thinking that AI would be the path for me into making games. I applied for internships at Blizzard, Riot Games, a ton of places, but I never got any of those internships. That’s when I realized that I had picked something that is incredibly hard to get into. That all got put on the backburner when I got done with school and needed to figure out what to actually do with my life in the immediate sense to survive. That’s how I got the job I have now. While I was there, some of the people I was working with, we became good friends – they liked board games and stuff, too. I think I had brought Pandemic the board game to work, and we played it at work during lunch one day. [..] That got us talking a bit about games in general. They had been interested in making video games, as well. I don’t know how we got onto this, but we started talking about Mario Kart as a board game. I was just… I dunno, the lightbulb came on and I was like, “This is totally doable. We should make this!” That’s how it started. We just sat down at lunch with a deck of cards and started trying to figure out what that would look like. I really like thinking about those types of problems. Thinking about how something could be modeled as a game mechanic is really enjoyable to me. So taking Mario Kart and dissecting it to its smallest pieces and figuring out what that looks like on a tabletop – that’s basically how it began. How would items work as a game mechanic? Well, you could have decks of cards, maybe specific items, but then you start thinking about all the little things. Like, in Mario Kart, if you’re in last place you are going to get a better item than someone who is in first place. We kept solving all of those little problems and eventually we had something that was playable. That was when we actually printed out- we found a picture online of an aerial view of a Mario Kart track and printed that out on a piece of paper at work. Then we went to a local game store and bought a random bag of random assorted shapes for pieces. We gave each piece a role in Mario Kart, like this is a banana, this is Donkey Kong, etc. We made that, and it was a ton of fun. It was really fun to play. Eventually someone asked me, “What are you gonna do with this now?” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know. We were kind of just making it for fun, but it would be really cool if we could do this and make money off of it.” That’s when it became less academic and more what would it actually take to do this for real? That’s when I started getting more serious about it. Taking classes online, reading books, going to conventions, all that stuff. Did you ever try to pitch Nintendo the Mario Kart game? No, we did not. We never actually figured out how we should go about doing that from a legal standpoint. So it seems like you got into game design because of the problem solving aspect of it; how you go about making mechanics that reflect the core conceit of a given idea? Yes and board games in particular because I don’t love programming. As time has gone on, that’s become more and more true. Making a game, a video game, is such a large task. There are still some games that I would like to make that would be digital. However, ultimately one thing that I’ve realized is that board games can achieve something from a social aspect that I don’t think video games will ever be able to replicate. Maybe there’s a VR game in the future that can get there, but… it’s not the same experience. There are certainly things a board game can do that a video game can. I’ve found myself appreciating the social aspect of board gaming more as the differences between the two have become clearer to me. So what are some things socially that board games are better at than video games? Board games allow for a lot more creativity. It’s based a lot more on the people playing than the rule set. You can have the best crafted rule set and people will still tweak it to their own means, like I did. [laughs] That’s good and that’s fun. You can make it what you want to make it. Video games, just by the way code has to exist for a computer to run a program. It’s very, very difficult to get that same sort of dynamic environment. Just being able to house rule something – you can’t do that as easily in a video game as you can in a tabletop game. Right. What are some of the lessons you took away from building your own board games? The biggest takeaway is that the first 80% is easy and the last 20% is nigh on impossible. [laughs] That’s an exaggeration, but getting that last 20% completed, polished and functional, is very hard and takes a lot of time. By that do you mean the production end of things? Getting it a nice looking box and pieces, is that the hard part or are you still talking about the rules, mechanics, and systems? The rules, mechanics, and systems. To get something that other people will like, you need to playtest it a lot. You need to playtest it with a lot of different people. Everyone is going to have different opinions on it; I’m sure it’s true of video game development, as well. That’s something that we, as a group, have struggled with. We have never been short on ideas, but we have always had trouble taking something past iteration X. What becomes the major stumbling block? Part of it is the group of people that we have. We’re idea people, not get-it-done people. It’s hard to identify when something isn’t working- how do I describe this? When something isn’t working and you know it’s not working - a mechanic, a system, whatever. Is it an inherently flawed idea or does it just need tweaks? Because it if it is inherently flawed you should just scrap it and move on to the next idea or you just end up trying to iterate on this thing forever. We did the latter the first time through, where we just iterated on Mario Kart forever, but never actually solved the problems that we were having with games taking too long. For a lot of the other games, we might have been too quick to throw out ideas without iterating on it. It’s a hard balance to find. And it seems like it would be harder to playtest those problems outside of your development group without the resources of a publisher. It just seems like it is easier to find people to QA a game that’s digital. Yeah, you can just release the code and have thousands of people who will playtest it. Whereas with me I’m basically begging people to please play a board game with me for an hour. [laughs] What are a few of your other game projects you’ve been knocking around? The other one that we got the closest to comple- actually it was a completed game. Our working title was Death Train. It was basically a train race. We had this idea where it would be cool to have this mechanic where you have a train and you are racing against other trains on parallel tracks. The mechanic is that you are physically moving your train along this track back and forth by adjusting your speed and how you align with other players on the tracks is how you interact with them. We had this thing were you’re building cars as you’re going – we called it a train builder as opposed to a deck builder – you are building your train as you go. Your cars would be anything from an extra engine to a tesla coil that zaps adjacent train enemies. That one was actually really fun and it was pretty much working. The problems we ran into with that one were that we were trying to do a little bit too much. We didn’t want it to just be a race; we didn’t want it to be just a battle. We wanted there to be multiple paths to victory, kind of eurogame it. We added in victory points and all this other stuff that muddied the waters a bit too much. Do you just then leave that entire idea behind and move on? Or what happens when you hit that 80% mark? It goes on a shelf, basically. A lot of the things I’ve read in my pursuit of more knowledge of game design, I guess there are different schools of thought on it, but there are a number of people who like to have multiple games that they’re working on at the same time and advocate for that. […] The idea behind having a bunch of games that you’re working on at the same time is that you’d be working on Game C and you come across an idea that might be applicable to Games A, F, and G. Then maybe you can revisit those games and cycle along with it. I like that, but it’s a slow churn through that last 20% with that method. And the alternative is trying to brute force your way through the last 20% which is also grueling, just in a different way? Yes, exactly. You mentioned game design resources. In terms of books, lectures, forums, or whatever, what have you found to be the most helpful for designing tabletop games? There is a specialization track on Coursera from the California Institute for the Arts. I took that, it’s four courses, four weeks each. That got me a lot more insight than I had going in. I didn’t start doing this until after we finished Mario Kart and kind of when we started hitting the first roadblocks on Death Train. That’s the point where we got to where we needed to take a step back and figure out what it was we were doing instead of Wild Westing it or whatever. Coursera was one of the first places I went for that. I really enjoyed that specialization. It was really fun and I learned a lot from it. The next best was probably a book, “The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design” by Mike Selinker. The book, specifically, is more of a book of interviews with a bunch of different game designers and taking their opinions on a bunch of different things. It’s cool to see what Steve Jackson is thinking when he’s starting to make a game. That gives you some insight into what you’re doing well or what you’re not taking into account that you could be. Oh, and also, there’s a podcast that I also started listening to around the same time. That’s Designer Notes. Designer Notes was actually probably one of the most influential. It might also be one of the most accessible of the ones you mentioned. Yes. [laughs] So having done all of this, having gained experience in designing these games, what would you recommend people do if they want to get into designing a tabletop game? What are your first steps? Your first steps are to get something made and on a table in front of people to play it. The most progress that we as a group have actually made is just by actually doing. You learn so much more about what works and what doesn’t when you’re actually sitting at a table trying to play it. You can have what seem like the best ideas in the world, take it to the table, and they don’t work. Then you’re back to square one. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get something to a playable form as quickly as possible. Even if it is absolutely horrible, as long as you can play it, you’re learning something from it. You aren’t actually learning what you think you might be learning until you’re actually playing it. What does it mean to get something on the table when it is first draft of a tabletop game? I think some people struggle with that; how do you make a thing? It depends on the game, it depends on so many things. Taking an idea and seeing if the simplest form of that idea translates to a board game or a card game or what have you. It could be taking random scraps of paper and finding out, “What’s an interesting way to have these things move around a track?” You’re just sitting there, literally rolling dice and seeing what is fun. That’s what game design is: It’s engineering fun. What would you tell someone to do – they are getting their game past 80%, maybe they are even at 100% – how do you make this game into a sold-for-money board game? That’s a part that I haven’t got to, so take my advice with a grain of salt. There’s Kickstarter, but that has a whole bag of intricacies by itself. You could write to publishers.... These are more advanced steps. I guess it depends on how you got to that feeling of 100% done. Have you had a whole bunch of people playtest it? And when I say a whole bunch, I mean hundreds of people playtest it, not just friends, but random strangers, people who had the rules and people who don’t have the rules. If you haven’t playtested the game, then I don’t think you’re at 100% yet. So playtest, playtest, playtest. If you are truly at the point where it is as good as it can be and no more playtesting is going to help that, then I think your next steps are one of three things – at least things that I have been looking at doing myself. The first is conventions. Here in Minneapolis, that’s Con of the North. At pretty much any tabletop convention, there’s going to be a space for playtesting, games that are known to be in prototype phase. People sign up to play knowing it is not necessarily a completed game. This is a great way to get more playtesters and feedback, but it is also a good place to make contacts and maybe run into a publisher that you might be able to pitch an idea to, stuff like that. Speaking of publishers, pitching your idea to a publisher is an option. You have to do your research. You have to know what kinds of games the publisher has published in the past, what kinds of games they’re publishing now. It has to fit with their MO as a publisher and what they have in their pipeline already. Then the last one would be Kickstarter. Kickstarter is the one that will make you the most money if it’s successful.... Probably. All the caveats. Yeah, I can’t say that with certainty. At least you are controlling that entirely yourself. You’re not selling your idea to a publisher. There’s a lot of hoops to jump through with Kickstarter to get that to work and it’s risky. One of the things we have learned from conventions is that to produce a board game at scale is very expensive. If you’re talking a medium sized board game with some components and a board, you are looking at $60,000 to get that game produced. If you are going to Kickstarter, you’re going to have to ask for less than that, significantly less than that, as your goal. People have done all kinds of research as to what your goal value should be to get people to contribute to your Kickstarter and stuff like that. If you end up going that route and it’s unsuccessful and already footed the bill for $60,000 worth of production, then you are going to be in trouble. You have to know what you’re doing with the Kickstarter. Do you have any final words to add? That kind of ended on a downer note. I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom, “oh, this is so hard, expensive, and risky.” Ultimately, I think it’s worth it, no matter what. One of my favorite things that I’ve read in my perusal of these resources. If you make a game, that game is going to be at least one person’s favorite game. There is absolutely at least one person in the world who would consider your game their favorite. Just think about that and think about how happy you’re making at least that one person. There’s nothing quite like enjoying your favorite game. It’s even better when you can see other people enjoying something to that degree that you have made. Almost like you’re giving back to all the games that you enjoyed; putting your own little bit of that in the world. The world can be a pretty crappy place sometimes, so if you can make it even a little bit happier sometimes, then I feel like that’s worth it. --- Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  5. Extra Life's annual Tabletop Appreciation Weekend has arrived! In honor of the weekend, we have put together a short campaign with Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition called Dragonguard. Join Naomi Lugo (Nomsooni the druid), Marcus Stewart (Scratch Mangy the ranger), and Kyle Gaddo (Barphus the bard) as they don the armor of the illustrious Dragonguard, sworn to defend and protect the realm of Alterra from the dragons at their doorstep. Jack Gardner serves as the Dungeon Master, guiding our heroes through their journey. Following a dangerous encounter in the night, our heroes stumble upon a colossal dragon skull in the middle of the Morrithil Wastes, a swamp near the village of Verne. A village on stilts sits in the shadow of the long-dead terror. What secrets might lay in store there for those who call themselves members of the Dragonguard? If you want to get a sense of how great a time tabletop roleplaying can be, you're invited to enjoy the adventure along with us. The initial plan was to play through this self-contained adventure in one sitting and post the entire campaign on Tabletop Appreciation Weekend. However, in true organic roleplaying fashion, it turned into so much more. This weekend will see the release of six episodes covering the adventures of the Dragonguard as they investigate signs of a possible dragon invasion. Intro and Outro music: "Furious Freak" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  6. Extra Life's annual Tabletop Appreciation Weekend has arrived! In honor of the weekend, we have put together a short campaign with Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition called Dragonguard. Join Naomi Lugo (Nomsooni the druid), Marcus Stewart (Scratch Mangy the ranger), and Kyle Gaddo (Barphus the bard) as they don the armor of the illustrious Dragonguard, sworn to defend and protect the realm of Alterra from the dragons at their doorstep. Jack Gardner serves as the Dungeon Master, guiding our heroes through their journey. Following a dangerous encounter in the night, our heroes stumble upon a colossal dragon skull in the middle of the Morrithil Wastes, a swamp near the village of Verne. A village on stilts sits in the shadow of the long-dead terror. What secrets might lay in store there for those who call themselves members of the Dragonguard? If you want to get a sense of how great a time tabletop roleplaying can be, you're invited to enjoy the adventure along with us. The initial plan was to play through this self-contained adventure in one sitting and post the entire campaign on Tabletop Appreciation Weekend. However, in true organic roleplaying fashion, it turned into so much more. This weekend will see the release of six episodes covering the adventures of the Dragonguard as they investigate signs of a possible dragon invasion. Intro and Outro music: "Furious Freak" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  7. So you want to play Monopoly, huh? Good luck with that. Though a great game, it’s a notoriously tough sell with friends and has only become less appealing over time. Why would we, broke millennials, want to spend hours playing with phoney money when we could laugh our sorrows away with, say, Cards Against Humanity? Is mortgaging Baltic Avenue going to help pay off my student loan? To be fair, Baltic Avenue couldn’t buy a single Community Chest card. I still love Monopoly, however, and am always looking for ways to tric-*ahem*-convince others into slinging properties for a night. I’ve largely failed at this in the past decade or so, but I’ve learned valuable lessons about making it happen–by any means necessary. If you too hope to trade bills with Papa Monopoly (that’s the old dude’s name, right?), follow my patented tips on making Monopoly night a reality. Plan Ahead Trust me when I tell you that no one wants to play Monopoly on a whim. You may as well ask your friends if they feel like climbing Everest in the middle of your get-together. Planning a dedicated Monopoly night in advance eliminates the knee jerk reaction to refuse and it respects everyone’s time. Players can clear their schedule, have time to get excited, and pen farewell letters to their loved ones. God only knows when they’re returning home once the game starts. Assemble a Feast Food can make anything more tolerable. Turn your Monopoly session into a potluck! The sting of losing cash on Richard’s ill-gotten utilities feels less potent with a mouth full of Swedish meatballs. Or, if you want to guarantee future Monopoly nights, supply all of the grub yourself! People will line up to play if they know they’ll get to chow down for free. It’ll hurt your wallet but you’ve got to spend money to make not-money. Choose a Rage-Resistant Play Setting When people joke about board games ending with someone flipping the table they’re talking about Monopoly. I’ve witnessed it first-hand when a three-day long game (yes, really) ended with a “friend” sending the board flying. The floor may seem like the perfect counter to this, but it’s actually more prone to game flippage. Tables might be the meme, but few are bold enough to actually turnover another person’s furniture. Like, are you going to pay for my now three-legged table? If you’ve got one of those fancy kitchen islands, that’s perfect. Your nice granite top is not only a permanent fixture of the building but, as previously mentioned, the surrounding food will help quell any volatile emotions. Put on a Movie About Money and Business This is purely optional and kind of dumb, but some might argue the same about playing Monopoly in 2018. I think having a relevant film play in the background of your session would really up the ambiance. Maybe Wall Street–the first one, please–or something recent like The Big Short. If nothing else, it’ll help take your guests minds off the fact that they’ve sacrificed their entire night to Old Man Monopoly. Volunteer to be the Banker No one wants to be the Banker. Though not a difficult job, being in charge of the money simply means more work. You’re lucky to have gotten this far. Don’t push it by forcing the possibility of fumbling with cash on your friends. Bite the bullet and prepare to spend the night dealing out $500 bills. Just kidding. We all know those orange notes barely get touched. Be Open to “Street” Rules I’m admittedly a hard-nosed traditionalist when it comes to board games. I prefer play a pure, by-the-book game instead of implementing “street” or house rules. You know, the made-up decrees everyone seems to know despite believing only you and your inner circle invented them. These include adding houses without building a monopoly or the popular Free Parking jackpot rule. Sticking to the traditional rules can get in the way of more casual players who just want to throw dice, move the little Scottie dog around, and have a stupid good time. So ease up, Rulemeister, and let everyone have their incorrect fun. Create an Easy-to-Achieve Endgame Winning Monopoly requires one player to bankrupt everyone else on the board. Since that can take roughly an eternity and a half, you may want to consider changing that. A common solution is “first to X-amount of money wins”. Maybe the victor can be the person who completes a certain number of laps around the board. It could even be whoever owns the most property once they’re all bought up. Whatever goal you concoct, just make sure it makes the light at the end of the tunnel brighter than a supernova. Have Fun! At the end of the day isn’t that what Monopoly is about? I mean, historically no, but isn’t that what we like to believe Monopoly is about? This list is all about finding ways to have a grand time with the people you tolerate and perhaps even like. After all, board games have a way of bringing us all together. We should try to preserve their emphasis on fun camaraderie and healthy competition–no matter how inherently frustrating the game may be. If it means awarding $500 bucks and a railroad to pass Go while Blank Check blares in the background, this will all be worth it. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  8. So you want to play Monopoly, huh? Good luck with that. Though a great game, it’s a notoriously tough sell with friends and has only become less appealing over time. Why would we, broke millennials, want to spend hours playing with phoney money when we could laugh our sorrows away with, say, Cards Against Humanity? Is mortgaging Baltic Avenue going to help pay off my student loan? To be fair, Baltic Avenue couldn’t buy a single Community Chest card. I still love Monopoly, however, and am always looking for ways to tric-*ahem*-convince others into slinging properties for a night. I’ve largely failed at this in the past decade or so, but I’ve learned valuable lessons about making it happen–by any means necessary. If you too hope to trade bills with Papa Monopoly (that’s the old dude’s name, right?), follow my patented tips on making Monopoly night a reality. Plan Ahead Trust me when I tell you that no one wants to play Monopoly on a whim. You may as well ask your friends if they feel like climbing Everest in the middle of your get-together. Planning a dedicated Monopoly night in advance eliminates the knee jerk reaction to refuse and it respects everyone’s time. Players can clear their schedule, have time to get excited, and pen farewell letters to their loved ones. God only knows when they’re returning home once the game starts. Assemble a Feast Food can make anything more tolerable. Turn your Monopoly session into a potluck! The sting of losing cash on Richard’s ill-gotten utilities feels less potent with a mouth full of Swedish meatballs. Or, if you want to guarantee future Monopoly nights, supply all of the grub yourself! People will line up to play if they know they’ll get to chow down for free. It’ll hurt your wallet but you’ve got to spend money to make not-money. Choose a Rage-Resistant Play Setting When people joke about board games ending with someone flipping the table they’re talking about Monopoly. I’ve witnessed it first-hand when a three-day long game (yes, really) ended with a “friend” sending the board flying. The floor may seem like the perfect counter to this, but it’s actually more prone to game flippage. Tables might be the meme, but few are bold enough to actually turnover another person’s furniture. Like, are you going to pay for my now three-legged table? If you’ve got one of those fancy kitchen islands, that’s perfect. Your nice granite top is not only a permanent fixture of the building but, as previously mentioned, the surrounding food will help quell any volatile emotions. Put on a Movie About Money and Business This is purely optional and kind of dumb, but some might argue the same about playing Monopoly in 2018. I think having a relevant film play in the background of your session would really up the ambiance. Maybe Wall Street–the first one, please–or something recent like The Big Short. If nothing else, it’ll help take your guests minds off the fact that they’ve sacrificed their entire night to Old Man Monopoly. Volunteer to be the Banker No one wants to be the Banker. Though not a difficult job, being in charge of the money simply means more work. You’re lucky to have gotten this far. Don’t push it by forcing the possibility of fumbling with cash on your friends. Bite the bullet and prepare to spend the night dealing out $500 bills. Just kidding. We all know those orange notes barely get touched. Be Open to “Street” Rules I’m admittedly a hard-nosed traditionalist when it comes to board games. I prefer play a pure, by-the-book game instead of implementing “street” or house rules. You know, the made-up decrees everyone seems to know despite believing only you and your inner circle invented them. These include adding houses without building a monopoly or the popular Free Parking jackpot rule. Sticking to the traditional rules can get in the way of more casual players who just want to throw dice, move the little Scottie dog around, and have a stupid good time. So ease up, Rulemeister, and let everyone have their incorrect fun. Create an Easy-to-Achieve Endgame Winning Monopoly requires one player to bankrupt everyone else on the board. Since that can take roughly an eternity and a half, you may want to consider changing that. A common solution is “first to X-amount of money wins”. Maybe the victor can be the person who completes a certain number of laps around the board. It could even be whoever owns the most property once they’re all bought up. Whatever goal you concoct, just make sure it makes the light at the end of the tunnel brighter than a supernova. Have Fun! At the end of the day isn’t that what Monopoly is about? I mean, historically no, but isn’t that what we like to believe Monopoly is about? This list is all about finding ways to have a grand time with the people you tolerate and perhaps even like. After all, board games have a way of bringing us all together. We should try to preserve their emphasis on fun camaraderie and healthy competition–no matter how inherently frustrating the game may be. If it means awarding $500 bucks and a railroad to pass Go while Blank Check blares in the background, this will all be worth it. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  9. Jack Gardner

    A Teaser for Dragonguard

    With Extra Life Tabletop Appreciation Weekend coming up (and Naomi never having played Dungeons & Dragons before) we decided to record a short campaign and release all or most of it during the event. If you want to get a sense of how great a time tabletop roleplaying can be, you're invited to enjoy the adventure along with us. This is just a quick taste of what's in store in Dragonguard, so be sure to tune in again this weekend! In addition to Jack and Naomi, Marcus Stewart and Kyle Gaddo round out the adventuring party. Intro and Outro music: "Furious Freak" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! If you want to have your opinion heard on air, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  10. Jack Gardner

    Podcast:A Teaser for Dragonguard

    With Extra Life Tabletop Appreciation Weekend coming up (and Naomi never having played Dungeons & Dragons before) we decided to record a short campaign and release all or most of it during the event. If you want to get a sense of how great a time tabletop roleplaying can be, you're invited to enjoy the adventure along with us. This is just a quick taste of what's in store in Dragonguard, so be sure to tune in again this weekend! In addition to Jack and Naomi, Marcus Stewart and Kyle Gaddo round out the adventuring party. Intro and Outro music: "Furious Freak" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! If you want to have your opinion heard on air, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  11. The gang receives two pieces of gold to buy a pair of pants for the upcoming mission. This serves as the conclusion of the prologue and the beginning of an even greater adventure.... As a side note, the audio quality can become a bit bumpy over the first few recording sessions, but it will get better. Please bear with us. ❤️ We Wanted Adventurers is a liveplay Dungeons & Dragons podcast that follows a motley trio of unlikely heroes as they bumble into adventures both big and small across the fantastical continent of Nevarrone. For the uninitiated, a liveplay podcast features an unscripted recording of a traditional tabletop roleplaying game, with all of the goofs and drama that comes with the territory. With Tabletop Appreciation Weekend on August 25-26, you can also delve into the deep worlds of imagination and fun with your own friends and family. There's no better time to start a game of your own and forge some memories you'll never forget in the old-fashioned and time-tested form of pen and paper RPGs! You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and (soon) iTunes. You can follow the show on Twitter, too. Let us know what you think of the show! We know that some parts of it are a bit bumpy, but I hope it doesn't get in the way of your enjoyment as we all learn and grow together. Thank you for listening! New episodes of We Wanted Adventurers will be released every Wednesday Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  12. The gang receives two pieces of gold to buy a pair of pants for the upcoming mission. This serves as the conclusion of the prologue and the beginning of an even greater adventure.... As a side note, the audio quality can become a bit bumpy over the first few recording sessions, but it will get better. Please bear with us. ❤️ We Wanted Adventurers is a liveplay Dungeons & Dragons podcast that follows a motley trio of unlikely heroes as they bumble into adventures both big and small across the fantastical continent of Nevarrone. For the uninitiated, a liveplay podcast features an unscripted recording of a traditional tabletop roleplaying game, with all of the goofs and drama that comes with the territory. With Tabletop Appreciation Weekend on August 25-26, you can also delve into the deep worlds of imagination and fun with your own friends and family. There's no better time to start a game of your own and forge some memories you'll never forget in the old-fashioned and time-tested form of pen and paper RPGs! You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and (soon) iTunes. You can follow the show on Twitter, too. Let us know what you think of the show! We know that some parts of it are a bit bumpy, but I hope it doesn't get in the way of your enjoyment as we all learn and grow together. Thank you for listening! New episodes of We Wanted Adventurers will be released every Wednesday Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  13. It's the beginning of August and Tabletop Appreciation Weekend awaits us later this month. For the past few weeks, I wracked my brain to try and figure out a good way to kick off the lead up to the weekend we all come together as gamers over all things tabletop gaming related. Then I realized that I was being silly; I already had the perfect way to do that up my sleeve, and I had been working on it since last year with a small group of collaborators. That project is We Wanted Adventurers, a liveplay Dungeons & Dragons podcast. A liveplay podcast follows an unscripted recording of a traditional tabletop roleplaying game, with all of the goofs and drama that comes with the territory. The show follows a motley trio of unlikely heroes as they bumble into adventures both big and small across the fantastical continent of Nevarrone. I take on the role of the Dungeon Master, or DM, acting as the omniscient narrator of events and agent of fate over the fictional events within the game. Extra Life contributor Marcus Stewart takes on the role of Sean Valjean, a bard trying to rekindle his love of music. Kevin plays Arakiel, a barbarian wanderer born with a cursed fate. Finally, Alex appears as Pribi, a feared pirate captain who lost everything when his ship sank to the bottom of the sea. The adventure begins as a bard, a pirate, and a barbarian wander into the coastal city of Faragos.... It took a long time to put all the pieces together, but we can finally reveal the show to the world! The first two episodes are available now and new episodes will be released every week for the foreseeable future. You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and (soon) iTunes. You can follow the show on Twitter, too. Let us know what you think of the show! We know that some parts of it are a bit bumpy, but I hope it doesn't get in the way of your enjoyment as we all learn and grow together. Thank you for listening! With Tabletop Appreciation Weekend on August 25-26, you can also delve into the deep worlds of imagination and fun with your own friends and family. There's no better time to start a game of your own and forge some memories you'll never forget in the old-fashioned and time-tested form of pen and paper RPGs! New episodes of We Wanted Adventurers will be released every Wednesday Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  14. It's the beginning of August and Tabletop Appreciation Weekend awaits us later this month. For the past few weeks, I wracked my brain to try and figure out a good way to kick off the lead up to the weekend we all come together as gamers over all things tabletop gaming related. Then I realized that I was being silly; I already had the perfect way to do that up my sleeve, and I had been working on it since last year with a small group of collaborators. That project is We Wanted Adventurers, a liveplay Dungeons & Dragons podcast. A liveplay podcast follows an unscripted recording of a traditional tabletop roleplaying game, with all of the goofs and drama that comes with the territory. The show follows a motley trio of unlikely heroes as they bumble into adventures both big and small across the fantastical continent of Nevarrone. I take on the role of the Dungeon Master, or DM, acting as the omniscient narrator of events and agent of fate over the fictional events within the game. Extra Life contributor Marcus Stewart takes on the role of Sean Valjean, a bard trying to rekindle his love of music. Kevin plays Arakiel, a barbarian wanderer born with a cursed fate. Finally, Alex appears as Pribi, a feared pirate captain who lost everything when his ship sank to the bottom of the sea. The adventure begins as a bard, a pirate, and a barbarian wander into the coastal city of Faragos.... It took a long time to put all the pieces together, but we can finally reveal the show to the world! The first two episodes are available now and new episodes will be released every week for the foreseeable future. You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and (soon) iTunes. You can follow the show on Twitter, too. Let us know what you think of the show! We know that some parts of it are a bit bumpy, but I hope it doesn't get in the way of your enjoyment as we all learn and grow together. Thank you for listening! With Tabletop Appreciation Weekend on August 25-26, you can also delve into the deep worlds of imagination and fun with your own friends and family. There's no better time to start a game of your own and forge some memories you'll never forget in the old-fashioned and time-tested form of pen and paper RPGs! New episodes of We Wanted Adventurers will be released every Wednesday Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  15. How do you take a brilliant idea for a tabletop board game and make it a reality? Many people have some vague idea of what that process looks like for a video game, but it's quite a bit different for a board game. We sat down with Andrew Reiner, the executive editor at Game Informer magazine, and Chris Kluwe, a former punter for the Minnesota Vikings, to talk about their upcoming board game. Code named Project Grendel, the duo offered numerous details on the co-op (or competitive) adventure title while also offering insight into their process and advice for how others can successfully create and sell the game they've always dreamed of making. If all goes well, they hope to have the final version of Project Grendel (which will have a different name upon release) available in stores sometime late 2018 or early 2019. In the meantime, they have opened up about what it takes to make a new kind of tabletop experience. ~~~ How exactly do you two know each other? A former NFL punter and the executive editor of Game Informer seem to be a very unlikely pair for making a board game. Chris Kluwe: No, no, it's totally natural! [laughs] Andrew Reiner: You want to do this one Chris? Kluwe: Yeah, sure, I'll take that one. Basically, I was with the Minnesota Vikings for eight years, and the first year I was with the team one of the local radio people, Paul Charchian, he does Video Games Weekly on the local sports radio station, he invited me to go on the show with him. During that show he mentioned he did a board game night like once a month or so at his house and asked if I was interested in going. I said, “Sure that sounds great! I'm huge nerd; I love board games; this will be fantastic.” So I went to the board game night and Andy was there. I had no idea who he was, he had no idea who I was. I was playing Guitar Hero and we started talking. Andy mentions that he knows all this cool stuff about what's coming up for Guitar Hero and I was like, “hey, I know all this cool stuff about that too because I know people at Activision.” That had us both thinking “who is this guy?” We figured out later that, yeah, he was the executive editor of Game Informer and I was the punter for the Vikings! Then we learned we live about 10 minutes away from each other and figured we should hang out and play games because it seems like we both enjoy that. Reiner: It was funny, yeah. That night we were leaving at like 1:30-2AM. It was the dead of winter and Chris was putting on sandals at that point right? Total California mistake of wearing sandals in the Minnesota winter, but Paul Charchian is like, “Chris, you’ve got to wear shoes and socks! You’ve got to protect that leg of yours.” I had no idea what he was talking about. Chris had glasses and was wearing an anime shirt - he looks like a typical gamer, right? I thought maybe he had leg surgery or something like that. When I went to Video Games Weekly a few weeks later, Chris was there and I was confused. “Why is Chris here?” It wasn't until Charch started the show and introduced us that I realized he was of Minnesota Viking. It was super funny, but that's how we kind of met each other and learned who we were was through that radio show. Kluwe: It was pretty cool. Obviously we both love videos games, we both love board games, and, yeah, we decided to make one based on a dream Andy had! Wait what? I didn't know this! Reiner: I think we are driving to band practice or something like that. Chris and I would carpool because we live so close to each other. We would carpool the Minneapolis, and I told him, “Yeah, I had this weird dream that you and I were at a game convention sitting at a table signing autographs for a board game we made. And this board game, Project Grendel is the working title, it's about going crazy and stuff and people loved it.” Chris is like, “That sounds cool… We should make that!” [laughs] As we're driving in the car we started talking about what it would be. Chris immediately had a vision of what it could be, so that's how Project Grendel started. Just by saying, “That was a cool dream, let's do it.” Kluwe: And here we are. So from that dream until now, how long has it taken you to come up with the prototype of Project Grendel? Kluwe: Ouf, that'd be like seven years to get to this point, maybe eight years, something like that? Reiner: I mean, it has gone through a number of revisions and renditions. Yeah, up until this point, I think it has been something like seven and a half to eight years Kluwe: The idea we originally came up with - it was okay, but it felt a little overly complicated. It wasn't really striking us as cool as we wanted it to be, so we kind of just sat on it for two to three years. Something like that. Reiner: We got it worked up to the point where we had the art, the map, all of that done. It was map-based at that time, and we just realized there was something not quite right. So, yeah, we sat on it until I got a text from Chris which was, what, 2 years ago now? Kluwe: Yeah, yeah, two years ago now, I think. Reiner: I just got a text a random text from Chris and he says, “I figured it out I know what to do with Grendel!” I was like, “What?” and he was like, “I was in the shower and I figured it out!” Kluwe: [laughs] Yeah, just random shower thought. Reiner: He told me what it was and Chris, obviously you had a random thought in the shower, but I think that's because you were working on your card game at the time, too. Kluwe: Yeah, I think that helped crystallize a lot of game design stuff for me. [In addition to Project Grendel,] I also worked on a card game called Twilight of the Gods which just came out. One of the big philosophies on that game for me and my friends that were working on it was: Everyone gets to play with their toys and players always face meaningful choice. So I was thinking of that and for whatever reason Project Grendel popped into my head. How can we make players have meaningful choice? How can we make sure that everyone is doing something? I was sort of spitballing ideas to myself and all the sudden I was like, “Oh, I think I have it! I think this will actually work really well.” Then I kind of tested it out with my brother, Greg, and I was like, “I think we have something here now,” and I obviously called and told Andy. We had the discussion and it was starting to sound cool. What was that shower idea? Do you remember? Kluwe: Oh, yeah, so originally the idea for Project Grendel was your group is a team of adventures going around this map and as you all go deeper into the game your characters go more and more insane. That part is still in the game. Reiner: From the dream, that's the original inception, yeah. Kluwe: The core concept of the game is that you're this group of people, and there's this thing, this Grendel, you have to kill it before it drives you mad. Now the thing is in this game you accumulate madness which is represented by negative victory points. So, essentially, the more madness you accumulate, the more you're losing, but the more madness you accumulate the more powerful you become. You have to balance this fine line between, ‘okay, how can I be powerful enough to survive these and counters without someone else being able to beat me in the game?’ because you can play this both cooperatively and competitively, and if everyone wants to work together to beat the game, they can you can get a co-op victory. But if it turns out into a competitive victory, there's a bit of a betrayal element in there so someone can decide to screw the group over. If it turns into that, then whoever has the least madness at the end of the game is the winner. So now it really becomes important to watch your madness relative to everyone else's madness while at the same time making sure you're still powerful enough to defeat the various encounters. So that was the shower idea? Kluwe: No, that was the core idea that stayed consistent throughout development. In the original version, we had this map thing where you could go to various places on the map. It just felt kind of like there wasn't a lot of replayability to it in that once you knew the map you could path out an optimal route and that was it. The idea that came to me was why don't we do it more like a tile placement type game, like House on Haunted Hill? That way the players are determining the outcomes. For example, we're exploring out into this wilderness. There are various modifiers on the tiles and you're almost building this path as you're exploring away from the central hub and it's up to you how to forge the path. What kind of modifiers do we want to put on what path? Because some of them will make monsters stronger, some of them make the mini-bosses that you face stronger, some of them will give you more items, but you'll have to face more monsters - stuff like that. The tile system added a lot more variety and meaningful player choice to what was going on. Real quick: Why did you decide to go with Grendel as a name for the various boss monsters? Reiner: That's what the dream told us! [laughs] Kluwe: Yeah that's part of the original dream. Reiner: The name we're not giving you right now because it's not official yet - that is the name from the dream and we were both like, “Yeah that's a badass name for a game.” Basically, the moral of this story is pay attention to your dreams and don't waste your time in the shower it's productive time. Kluwe: Right, that's where you get the majority of your work done! In this case you very literally chased your dreams. Kluwe: [laughs] Dragged them down kicking and screaming until they made sense. Once you had those ideas, those core elements, in place how did you go about actually developing the game? I think lot of people have an idea of what it's like to develop a video game, but I don't think many have an idea of what it's like to develop a board game. Reiner: We talked about the board games the games we liked to play. One of the central things was that we wanted to keep it as simplistic as possible. That's, you know, kind of where the original idea fizzled out. It was a little too complex, a little clunky. That's where Chris really kind of streamlined it. With tweaking the rule set, we looked at things like Betrayal, Eldritch Horror, stuff like that. It wasn't looking at the rules of those games, but how they're constructed; the pieces we wanted and how we wanted the players to interact with the game. Those are things we about early on. I would say that we sat around for a couple hours over the course of three or four nights just kind of hashing out what it was. We started by building the rulebook before we even play tested it we had pieces or anything like that we kind of had a full rule book before we did anything else. Kluwe: From the game design perspective, what you really want to do is figure out what your mechanics are. Once you have your mechanics down, or at least an idea of what you want your mechanics to be, then you need to test those mechanics to see if they are actually fun because there's a difference between an interesting mechanic and an interesting and fun mechanic. [laughs] I've played a lot of games where I'm like, “oh, cool, that's a really interesting mechanic, but I'm never playing this game again because that was an awful experience,” so that's really the big thing. Anyone who wants to do game design just iterate, iterate, iterate. Always be asking yourself, “Is this a fun experience as well as the mechanical experience I want the players to have?” I’ve played some early builds of Project Grendel and you don't have to start your prototype with a fully constructed board game. Your prototype, for example, was drawn-out on pieces of paper. If you’re creating a tabletop from scratch, you don't have to go through the whole production process before you playtest your game. Kluwe: Right and I actually recommend that because it's the same thing I did with Twilight of the Gods. Before we printed out any cards whatsoever we were writing things down on pieces of paper and then sleeving them with Magic the Gathering cards to provide a backing. [laughs] That was literally how we built that game! The thing is you don't need fancy art. You don't need graphic design in order to test your mechanics and what the heart of your game is. That stuff is necessary, but it's kind of like the coat of paint on a car. Yeah, it's great if your car looks cool, but if the engine won't take it anywhere then it is kind of a useless car. When you're designing this stuff, don't worry about the outside coat of paint until you've got the engine humming the way you want it to hum. Reiner: When we playtested the game for the first time on the first day at 2D Con, the playtests were going really well, but we realized there wasn't a lot of variation in the weapons or style of play with that and some of the items. So, we started adding secondary effects to them. You know, just sitting at a table writing on the cards themselves, tweaking what they were to kind of enhance the play. The next day we play tested it again and we were like, “Yes, there's something here now.” It's very much something as you’re playtesting - paying attention to what's going on and how people are interacting with it and figuring out what you can do with it in that capacity. Kluwe: And also listen to feedback from your testers because there may be a mechanic where you love it to death and you think it's the greatest mechanic ever, but if each tester is saying, “Yeah, you know, I'm really not feeling this mechanic. This kind of slows the game down. It's not great and you should probably get rid of it.” Even if it's your personal baby, if it doesn't make the game fun then it doesn't belong in the game because you want players to have a good experience so that they'll come back and play it again and again. How valuable was it to take the prototype for Project Grendel to events like 2D Con to test it with people who aren't necessarily your close friends, neighbors, or family? Reiner: The first year was just seeing if there we had something there, and people seemed to really like it, but we knew something was still kind of missing. That’s where Chris really hit the homerun with making it tile-based. There's some really unique things going on with those cards that enhance the play, too. Then this year we challenged people to try and break the game, to really kind of push it to its limit. We realized that it held together; it was springing leaks, but it held together remarkably well. We realized this game is almost done now, right? Just through these playtests we know we’re super close. It's just a matter of tweaking a couple more things to get it there in a final state. Kluwe: And it's super valuable to have that kind of feedback from people who may not even necessarily know you or have any sort of relationship with you because they're really going to give you their honest opinion. They're going to tell you A. This sucks B. This was great C. I think there's something here, but you should probably do this and this and this. All of that is really super useful as a game designer because if you can get a consistent amount of feedback on certain aspects of the game then you know, okay, if five out of six people are saying they didn't like this mechanic you should probably change that mechanic. If five out of six people are saying they thought a certain part was amazing, well, maybe expand on that part and build it out a bit. It's hard to get feedback like that from people who you're close to like family and friends because there's always that fear that they don't want to offend. Getting that testing at to 2D Con was amazing because they had no horse in the race and could care less who we were or sparing our feelings they found something not fun. Reiner: And a lot of them came back the second day this year which was kind of crazy. Kluwe: They were invested in it! Reiner: We gotta get this game out there! [laughs] Kluwe: They were champing at the bit to try and take down the hardest boss we have in there. That was great for testing purposes, too, because when coming up with the numbers and abilities for the bosses essentially we are just theory crafting. We think these are the right numbers, but we're not entirely sure. We need to see this live, we need to see what happens when people actually use the system. That's another thing that's really important for game designers: It doesn't matter what you think a system will do; you have to actually see it in practice. That's when you'll know what it can do and it might challenge your assumptions about what you thought was possible. If that's the case, you need to decide was that intended play or was that not intended. If it's not intended do we like the intended purpose? Or do we need to change that to make sure that that interaction doesn't happen? Reiner: We have a third person who's been working on this, Greg. He’s Chris' brother, and Greg is really amazing at breaking things and seeing where there might be something that needs work. He's been working tirelessly on making this thing as solid as can be, too. I think we're hitting all the right notes. Hopefully it turns out and we get this thing made. […] We're super close I feel like we're if we show it again it should be some kind of final version. Kluwe: There should be at least placeholder graphic design in place. The next part of game design after you have your prototype, you have to figure out how we relay information to the player in a manner that is understandable. I've also played games where it's like, “wow, this game is really cool, but I hate looking at it because it's a wall of text on a card.” [laughs] That’s an awful visual experience, so it needs to be intuitive for players when they look at a card or a tile or whatever it happens to be, it makes sense. It should be obvious where the elements are and a player should be able to learn what those elements are within hopefully two to three playthroughs. They should be able to just glance and say, “Okay, I know this card, I know what every part of this means.” You were talking about how you had recently released another game, Twilight of the Gods. For people who maybe out there wanting to make their own tabletop game, how exactly do you take it from a solid prototype to the box in the store for people to play? Kluwe: Find a publisher. Show them the game. They will probably sit down and play it through with you. Most likely they will also bring in a couple of their heads of design on their side, and if they like what you have, then they'll probably say, “Hey, we're interested in this game, and we would like to develop it.” And then you talk numbers for contracts or whatever and figure out how to make it a reality. Generally most publishers have published a lot of games, and so they'll be looking at it under the guise of is this a something that we think we can sell, will we make our money back on this? If you have interesting mechanics, if you have something that's new and unique that hasn't been done before, your odds are really, really good. It's okay to take elements of other games and incorporate them into your own, but you also want to kind of have your own thing that sets you apart because if you're just a clone of something, then odds are your publisher is probably going to pass because people who already invested in the original thing are probably not going to play your game, but if you have those unique elements… that's where their eyes light up and they're like, “Oh, yeah. We should do this.” I know you've both written a couple Sci-Fi books together. Is there a background setting to your game beyond the basic dream-Grendel concept? Reiner: I can tell you that we were originally going to go with a steampunk fantasy Cthulhu-esque setting with weird beasts you've never seen before trapped in a Myst-like valley. We ended up moving in a different direction now. We're taking it- We can say right, Chris? Kluwe: Right now we're looking at taking it in more of a Sci-Fi direction, so kind of like Event Horizon - you're trapped on this spaceship, things are going wrong, you have no idea what's happening. But the thing is that might change depending on what the publisher wants to do. So it's great to have an idea of what you want your universe, but also bear in mind that it might be something that your publisher might say, “Well, we love the mechanics, but we want to put a different coat of paint on the outside.” That's what ended up happening with Twilight of the Gods. Originally it was this original thing I had made up of four elements on this Island - it was essentially, you know in eighth grade when you drew on your graph paper notebook and you come up with your greatest RPG ever? That was pretty much what Twilight of the Gods was, and it wasn't great. So the publisher, Victory Point Games, they were like, “Yeah, we love the mechanics. Your mechanics are rock solid, we just need to figure out a different universe for this.” We eventually ended up with ancient mythology, you've got things that all sorts of people can relate to. So, with Project Grendel, I think we'll probably end up going in the Sci-Fi direction, but who knows? It might be a western game, you know? It might be set in ancient Egypt or something like that. You can do any coat of paint you want as long as your engine is good. Are those ideas – steampunk fantasy monsters trapped - are those things that might come up again in a future novel? Reiner: We've talked about maybe writing stories based on this, but now it has changed so much that I don't think we've ever really ever thought about that. We are still thinking about finishing off our trilogy, The Genesis series. We've done Prime, and Splice should come out before the end of the year. We have a third book that we want to finish there so that's probably the priority before you write any fiction based on this, but who knows if this thing takes off. Kluwe: Because you never know what's going to succeed and what's not if. All of a sudden something starts selling like gangbusters, then, well, we should probably write some books in that universe as well seems like a good idea I know it's probably kind of nebulous at this point, but you say you're pretty close to being done with the prototype of Project Grendel. How long do you think it might be until it actually releases? What kind of time line are you looking at? Kluwe: From a design standpoint we are near the end, in the polishing stages where all the mechanics are working well. The interactions are what we want them to be, now it's just balancing tiny little numbers to make sure that everything is perfect. Once that is done, then we'll take it to a publisher. The publisher will either say yay or nay - I highly suspect they'll say yay just because there's already interest in it and they know that we do good work. From that point it comes down to how long it takes their artist to do the art assets; how long it takes for the graphic design elements to come together; and how long it takes to write the rule book in a way that's readable and understandable and doesn't feel like wading through dictionary. For Twilight of the Gods, that part took about Five months, I think five to six months. Then you have to ship it to where you're getting it printed. Usually that's in China just because it's the cheapest place to make board games and card games. From there it's probably another four to five months for them to make it get it shipped over on a boat and then to get it to a distributor so I would say quickest timeline probably ten months from now, eleven months from now. Reiner: There's a chance it could be out next year. I would love to see it, but we'll see. Kluwe: A lot of that depends on whether the publisher loves the mechanics in the universe. And again, they might love the mechanics, but they might want to put it with a different type of universe. In that case, okay, we'll have to make some small changes in terms of what all the items are named, what's the equipment named, who are the characters now. If they're not these people on a spaceship, if they're in some other universe, what are their backstories in that universe? This game could be on store shelves next year? Kluwe: I would love for it to come out next year! That would be awesome. I will be pushing for it to come out next year because I do think we have a really cool game that, just based on the feedback from the people who have tested it, people are champing at the bit to play. Our playtesters want the game, so we want to give it to them. But I also want to make sure that when we do give it to them that it's a great experience for them to have it. I feel like that's one of the things that sets us apart. It's easy enough to rush something out, like, okay; I have my cheap Milton Bradley box of cardboard I've got some plastic pegs inside and some tiles that's it. Like, that doesn't really feel great. Okay, the mechanics are fantastic, the world's fantastic, but it just doesn't feel great. I want it to feel like you're opening up this box, you're playing this game - you are embarking on this adventure. You and your friends, you're going to have this challenge and it's up to you if you succeed or not. You've both touched on this a whole lot throughout this entire interview, but do you have any advice specifically for people who are looking to start from scratch making their own board game? Kluwe: I think the very best advice I can give would be to play a lot of games. That way you can identify which mechanics work best for you, which mechanics don't work for you, what situations you find are fun, and what situations you find that are unfun. For example, for Twilight of the Gods the inspiration for me behind that was that I love playing Magic the Gathering, but I hate getting mana screwed in Magic the Gathering. That was literally the reason I made that game! [laughs] I love this game but there are these problems with it and I think I can solve these problems. Then along the way it led to this other unique idea that I had never seen before in another game. I'm going to incorporate that and now to turn it into my own thing. The only reason I was able to do that was because I had played so many games throughout the course of my life that I could say, “Ok, I can grab this mechanic from here, this mechanic from here, tweak this mechanic here, build my own thing here, modified this other thing here, and put it all together, and boom! Now I have my own game.” The same thing happened with Project Grendel. Both Andy and I have been playing tons of games and saying “Okay. What are the kinds of things we like in these games? What are the things we don't like? How do we fix the situations that we don't like?” Reiner: Yeah and make sure you have the “It Factor” when you go into development. What kind of sets your game apart from the pack? Like Chris said, he didn't like getting mana screwed; that was kind of the “It” right there. That really made Twilight of the Gods different and he just kind of built on it from there and found more unique ideas. For us it was the madness. Even if you're having a game where all five members of the party want to just be cooperative and go for a cooperative victory, as you go mad you might turn on your friends whether you want to or not. I think that really makes our game something special and really kind of puts you on edge as you play. It makes it more exciting. So we knew right away that this was something special, we just needed to make it work. So don't just go into it thinking you're making a clone or like you don't have any ideas; you got to have that one spark that's really going to lead to something unique. Kluwe: And for us that madness thing – okay, we've played betrayal-type games. An issue with betrayal-type games is they’re generally very binary, right? You’re either the betrayer or you're not. So with our game, how do we make this more a player choice? How do we make it so a player can try to betray the others, but if they don't do it at the right time the others can try and pull it back into a cooperative game? Because usually most games you can't do that. Once someone betrays everyone, that's it. You have a betrayer and now it's a competitive game. We've built in ways where it's like, okay, you can try and betray the group, but if you're not doing it correctly, they're probably going to smash you down and force it back into a co-op victory. Then you have to decide if you want to try and do it again! Just clarify, the betrayal element was there from the beginning, right? Reiner: Oh yeah that was my favorite game of all time, Betrayal, so that was something we wanted to have. Kluwe: The other thing is, I love games with betrayal type because it adds that human element where it's not so much the group playing against the odds, you're also having to play against the other people at the table. You know there's always that one guy in the gaming group where you're like, “I know he wants to try and screw us over! [laughs] Will he screw us over or not?” And generally I am that guy. Reiner: It's pretty funny. As we are playtesting it, you know, we kind of set up the game; you're adventuring together. People started looking at the cards and what their characters could do and they started asking questions like, “So does this mean I can do this and go off on my own?” And we're like, “Yeah.” Then we started to see it where players were lying to each other! “Okay, I'll journey with you to take down the mid-boss…” and then then they didn't. They went somewhere else and let this guy go off to the boss on his own. We’re here like, holy cow, this is actually happening and we didn't prompt it. They're fully embracing these mechanics. Kluwe: Right and that's what's so important. Again, I mentioned it earlier on meaningful player choice. If players feel that they have a choice that affects the outcome of the game, it generally makes the game a lot more fun from their perspective because, again, they’ve been able to exercise their own agency. It's not always this card told me to go here and do this thing, essentially playing as an AI not as player. The more meaningful choice you can give to players, the better. Just make sure it's meaningful choice and not just choice for the sake of choice. I played some of those games where you realize it's like none of these choices really matter. I can pick A, B, C, or D and it won't really matter. That's not choice, that's just trying to overload the player with options.
  16. How do you take a brilliant idea for a tabletop board game and make it a reality? Many people have some vague idea of what that process looks like for a video game, but it's quite a bit different for a board game. We sat down with Andrew Reiner, the executive editor at Game Informer magazine, and Chris Kluwe, a former punter for the Minnesota Vikings, to talk about their upcoming board game. Code named Project Grendel, the duo offered numerous details on the co-op (or competitive) adventure title while also offering insight into their process and advice for how others can successfully create and sell the game they've always dreamed of making. If all goes well, they hope to have the final version of Project Grendel (which will have a different name upon release) available in stores sometime late 2018 or early 2019. In the meantime, they have opened up about what it takes to make a new kind of tabletop experience. ~~~ How exactly do you two know each other? A former NFL punter and the executive editor of Game Informer seem to be a very unlikely pair for making a board game. Chris Kluwe: No, no, it's totally natural! [laughs] Andrew Reiner: You want to do this one Chris? Kluwe: Yeah, sure, I'll take that one. Basically, I was with the Minnesota Vikings for eight years, and the first year I was with the team one of the local radio people, Paul Charchian, he does Video Games Weekly on the local sports radio station, he invited me to go on the show with him. During that show he mentioned he did a board game night like once a month or so at his house and asked if I was interested in going. I said, “Sure that sounds great! I'm huge nerd; I love board games; this will be fantastic.” So I went to the board game night and Andy was there. I had no idea who he was, he had no idea who I was. I was playing Guitar Hero and we started talking. Andy mentions that he knows all this cool stuff about what's coming up for Guitar Hero and I was like, “hey, I know all this cool stuff about that too because I know people at Activision.” That had us both thinking “who is this guy?” We figured out later that, yeah, he was the executive editor of Game Informer and I was the punter for the Vikings! Then we learned we live about 10 minutes away from each other and figured we should hang out and play games because it seems like we both enjoy that. Reiner: It was funny, yeah. That night we were leaving at like 1:30-2AM. It was the dead of winter and Chris was putting on sandals at that point right? Total California mistake of wearing sandals in the Minnesota winter, but Paul Charchian is like, “Chris, you’ve got to wear shoes and socks! You’ve got to protect that leg of yours.” I had no idea what he was talking about. Chris had glasses and was wearing an anime shirt - he looks like a typical gamer, right? I thought maybe he had leg surgery or something like that. When I went to Video Games Weekly a few weeks later, Chris was there and I was confused. “Why is Chris here?” It wasn't until Charch started the show and introduced us that I realized he was of Minnesota Viking. It was super funny, but that's how we kind of met each other and learned who we were was through that radio show. Kluwe: It was pretty cool. Obviously we both love videos games, we both love board games, and, yeah, we decided to make one based on a dream Andy had! Wait what? I didn't know this! Reiner: I think we are driving to band practice or something like that. Chris and I would carpool because we live so close to each other. We would carpool the Minneapolis, and I told him, “Yeah, I had this weird dream that you and I were at a game convention sitting at a table signing autographs for a board game we made. And this board game, Project Grendel is the working title, it's about going crazy and stuff and people loved it.” Chris is like, “That sounds cool… We should make that!” [laughs] As we're driving in the car we started talking about what it would be. Chris immediately had a vision of what it could be, so that's how Project Grendel started. Just by saying, “That was a cool dream, let's do it.” Kluwe: And here we are. So from that dream until now, how long has it taken you to come up with the prototype of Project Grendel? Kluwe: Ouf, that'd be like seven years to get to this point, maybe eight years, something like that? Reiner: I mean, it has gone through a number of revisions and renditions. Yeah, up until this point, I think it has been something like seven and a half to eight years Kluwe: The idea we originally came up with - it was okay, but it felt a little overly complicated. It wasn't really striking us as cool as we wanted it to be, so we kind of just sat on it for two to three years. Something like that. Reiner: We got it worked up to the point where we had the art, the map, all of that done. It was map-based at that time, and we just realized there was something not quite right. So, yeah, we sat on it until I got a text from Chris which was, what, 2 years ago now? Kluwe: Yeah, yeah, two years ago now, I think. Reiner: I just got a text a random text from Chris and he says, “I figured it out I know what to do with Grendel!” I was like, “What?” and he was like, “I was in the shower and I figured it out!” Kluwe: [laughs] Yeah, just random shower thought. Reiner: He told me what it was and Chris, obviously you had a random thought in the shower, but I think that's because you were working on your card game at the time, too. Kluwe: Yeah, I think that helped crystallize a lot of game design stuff for me. [In addition to Project Grendel,] I also worked on a card game called Twilight of the Gods which just came out. One of the big philosophies on that game for me and my friends that were working on it was: Everyone gets to play with their toys and players always face meaningful choice. So I was thinking of that and for whatever reason Project Grendel popped into my head. How can we make players have meaningful choice? How can we make sure that everyone is doing something? I was sort of spitballing ideas to myself and all the sudden I was like, “Oh, I think I have it! I think this will actually work really well.” Then I kind of tested it out with my brother, Greg, and I was like, “I think we have something here now,” and I obviously called and told Andy. We had the discussion and it was starting to sound cool. What was that shower idea? Do you remember? Kluwe: Oh, yeah, so originally the idea for Project Grendel was your group is a team of adventures going around this map and as you all go deeper into the game your characters go more and more insane. That part is still in the game. Reiner: From the dream, that's the original inception, yeah. Kluwe: The core concept of the game is that you're this group of people, and there's this thing, this Grendel, you have to kill it before it drives you mad. Now the thing is in this game you accumulate madness which is represented by negative victory points. So, essentially, the more madness you accumulate, the more you're losing, but the more madness you accumulate the more powerful you become. You have to balance this fine line between, ‘okay, how can I be powerful enough to survive these and counters without someone else being able to beat me in the game?’ because you can play this both cooperatively and competitively, and if everyone wants to work together to beat the game, they can you can get a co-op victory. But if it turns out into a competitive victory, there's a bit of a betrayal element in there so someone can decide to screw the group over. If it turns into that, then whoever has the least madness at the end of the game is the winner. So now it really becomes important to watch your madness relative to everyone else's madness while at the same time making sure you're still powerful enough to defeat the various encounters. So that was the shower idea? Kluwe: No, that was the core idea that stayed consistent throughout development. In the original version, we had this map thing where you could go to various places on the map. It just felt kind of like there wasn't a lot of replayability to it in that once you knew the map you could path out an optimal route and that was it. The idea that came to me was why don't we do it more like a tile placement type game, like House on Haunted Hill? That way the players are determining the outcomes. For example, we're exploring out into this wilderness. There are various modifiers on the tiles and you're almost building this path as you're exploring away from the central hub and it's up to you how to forge the path. What kind of modifiers do we want to put on what path? Because some of them will make monsters stronger, some of them make the mini-bosses that you face stronger, some of them will give you more items, but you'll have to face more monsters - stuff like that. The tile system added a lot more variety and meaningful player choice to what was going on. Real quick: Why did you decide to go with Grendel as a name for the various boss monsters? Reiner: That's what the dream told us! [laughs] Kluwe: Yeah that's part of the original dream. Reiner: The name we're not giving you right now because it's not official yet - that is the name from the dream and we were both like, “Yeah that's a badass name for a game.” Basically, the moral of this story is pay attention to your dreams and don't waste your time in the shower it's productive time. Kluwe: Right, that's where you get the majority of your work done! In this case you very literally chased your dreams. Kluwe: [laughs] Dragged them down kicking and screaming until they made sense. Once you had those ideas, those core elements, in place how did you go about actually developing the game? I think lot of people have an idea of what it's like to develop a video game, but I don't think many have an idea of what it's like to develop a board game. Reiner: We talked about the board games the games we liked to play. One of the central things was that we wanted to keep it as simplistic as possible. That's, you know, kind of where the original idea fizzled out. It was a little too complex, a little clunky. That's where Chris really kind of streamlined it. With tweaking the rule set, we looked at things like Betrayal, Eldritch Horror, stuff like that. It wasn't looking at the rules of those games, but how they're constructed; the pieces we wanted and how we wanted the players to interact with the game. Those are things we about early on. I would say that we sat around for a couple hours over the course of three or four nights just kind of hashing out what it was. We started by building the rulebook before we even play tested it we had pieces or anything like that we kind of had a full rule book before we did anything else. Kluwe: From the game design perspective, what you really want to do is figure out what your mechanics are. Once you have your mechanics down, or at least an idea of what you want your mechanics to be, then you need to test those mechanics to see if they are actually fun because there's a difference between an interesting mechanic and an interesting and fun mechanic. [laughs] I've played a lot of games where I'm like, “oh, cool, that's a really interesting mechanic, but I'm never playing this game again because that was an awful experience,” so that's really the big thing. Anyone who wants to do game design just iterate, iterate, iterate. Always be asking yourself, “Is this a fun experience as well as the mechanical experience I want the players to have?” I’ve played some early builds of Project Grendel and you don't have to start your prototype with a fully constructed board game. Your prototype, for example, was drawn-out on pieces of paper. If you’re creating a tabletop from scratch, you don't have to go through the whole production process before you playtest your game. Kluwe: Right and I actually recommend that because it's the same thing I did with Twilight of the Gods. Before we printed out any cards whatsoever we were writing things down on pieces of paper and then sleeving them with Magic the Gathering cards to provide a backing. [laughs] That was literally how we built that game! The thing is you don't need fancy art. You don't need graphic design in order to test your mechanics and what the heart of your game is. That stuff is necessary, but it's kind of like the coat of paint on a car. Yeah, it's great if your car looks cool, but if the engine won't take it anywhere then it is kind of a useless car. When you're designing this stuff, don't worry about the outside coat of paint until you've got the engine humming the way you want it to hum. Reiner: When we playtested the game for the first time on the first day at 2D Con, the playtests were going really well, but we realized there wasn't a lot of variation in the weapons or style of play with that and some of the items. So, we started adding secondary effects to them. You know, just sitting at a table writing on the cards themselves, tweaking what they were to kind of enhance the play. The next day we play tested it again and we were like, “Yes, there's something here now.” It's very much something as you’re playtesting - paying attention to what's going on and how people are interacting with it and figuring out what you can do with it in that capacity. Kluwe: And also listen to feedback from your testers because there may be a mechanic where you love it to death and you think it's the greatest mechanic ever, but if each tester is saying, “Yeah, you know, I'm really not feeling this mechanic. This kind of slows the game down. It's not great and you should probably get rid of it.” Even if it's your personal baby, if it doesn't make the game fun then it doesn't belong in the game because you want players to have a good experience so that they'll come back and play it again and again. How valuable was it to take the prototype for Project Grendel to events like 2D Con to test it with people who aren't necessarily your close friends, neighbors, or family? Reiner: The first year was just seeing if there we had something there, and people seemed to really like it, but we knew something was still kind of missing. That’s where Chris really hit the homerun with making it tile-based. There's some really unique things going on with those cards that enhance the play, too. Then this year we challenged people to try and break the game, to really kind of push it to its limit. We realized that it held together; it was springing leaks, but it held together remarkably well. We realized this game is almost done now, right? Just through these playtests we know we’re super close. It's just a matter of tweaking a couple more things to get it there in a final state. Kluwe: And it's super valuable to have that kind of feedback from people who may not even necessarily know you or have any sort of relationship with you because they're really going to give you their honest opinion. They're going to tell you A. This sucks B. This was great C. I think there's something here, but you should probably do this and this and this. All of that is really super useful as a game designer because if you can get a consistent amount of feedback on certain aspects of the game then you know, okay, if five out of six people are saying they didn't like this mechanic you should probably change that mechanic. If five out of six people are saying they thought a certain part was amazing, well, maybe expand on that part and build it out a bit. It's hard to get feedback like that from people who you're close to like family and friends because there's always that fear that they don't want to offend. Getting that testing at to 2D Con was amazing because they had no horse in the race and could care less who we were or sparing our feelings they found something not fun. Reiner: And a lot of them came back the second day this year which was kind of crazy. Kluwe: They were invested in it! Reiner: We gotta get this game out there! [laughs] Kluwe: They were champing at the bit to try and take down the hardest boss we have in there. That was great for testing purposes, too, because when coming up with the numbers and abilities for the bosses essentially we are just theory crafting. We think these are the right numbers, but we're not entirely sure. We need to see this live, we need to see what happens when people actually use the system. That's another thing that's really important for game designers: It doesn't matter what you think a system will do; you have to actually see it in practice. That's when you'll know what it can do and it might challenge your assumptions about what you thought was possible. If that's the case, you need to decide was that intended play or was that not intended. If it's not intended do we like the intended purpose? Or do we need to change that to make sure that that interaction doesn't happen? Reiner: We have a third person who's been working on this, Greg. He’s Chris' brother, and Greg is really amazing at breaking things and seeing where there might be something that needs work. He's been working tirelessly on making this thing as solid as can be, too. I think we're hitting all the right notes. Hopefully it turns out and we get this thing made. […] We're super close I feel like we're if we show it again it should be some kind of final version. Kluwe: There should be at least placeholder graphic design in place. The next part of game design after you have your prototype, you have to figure out how we relay information to the player in a manner that is understandable. I've also played games where it's like, “wow, this game is really cool, but I hate looking at it because it's a wall of text on a card.” [laughs] That’s an awful visual experience, so it needs to be intuitive for players when they look at a card or a tile or whatever it happens to be, it makes sense. It should be obvious where the elements are and a player should be able to learn what those elements are within hopefully two to three playthroughs. They should be able to just glance and say, “Okay, I know this card, I know what every part of this means.” You were talking about how you had recently released another game, Twilight of the Gods. For people who maybe out there wanting to make their own tabletop game, how exactly do you take it from a solid prototype to the box in the store for people to play? Kluwe: Find a publisher. Show them the game. They will probably sit down and play it through with you. Most likely they will also bring in a couple of their heads of design on their side, and if they like what you have, then they'll probably say, “Hey, we're interested in this game, and we would like to develop it.” And then you talk numbers for contracts or whatever and figure out how to make it a reality. Generally most publishers have published a lot of games, and so they'll be looking at it under the guise of is this a something that we think we can sell, will we make our money back on this? If you have interesting mechanics, if you have something that's new and unique that hasn't been done before, your odds are really, really good. It's okay to take elements of other games and incorporate them into your own, but you also want to kind of have your own thing that sets you apart because if you're just a clone of something, then odds are your publisher is probably going to pass because people who already invested in the original thing are probably not going to play your game, but if you have those unique elements… that's where their eyes light up and they're like, “Oh, yeah. We should do this.” I know you've both written a couple Sci-Fi books together. Is there a background setting to your game beyond the basic dream-Grendel concept? Reiner: I can tell you that we were originally going to go with a steampunk fantasy Cthulhu-esque setting with weird beasts you've never seen before trapped in a Myst-like valley. We ended up moving in a different direction now. We're taking it- We can say right, Chris? Kluwe: Right now we're looking at taking it in more of a Sci-Fi direction, so kind of like Event Horizon - you're trapped on this spaceship, things are going wrong, you have no idea what's happening. But the thing is that might change depending on what the publisher wants to do. So it's great to have an idea of what you want your universe, but also bear in mind that it might be something that your publisher might say, “Well, we love the mechanics, but we want to put a different coat of paint on the outside.” That's what ended up happening with Twilight of the Gods. Originally it was this original thing I had made up of four elements on this Island - it was essentially, you know in eighth grade when you drew on your graph paper notebook and you come up with your greatest RPG ever? That was pretty much what Twilight of the Gods was, and it wasn't great. So the publisher, Victory Point Games, they were like, “Yeah, we love the mechanics. Your mechanics are rock solid, we just need to figure out a different universe for this.” We eventually ended up with ancient mythology, you've got things that all sorts of people can relate to. So, with Project Grendel, I think we'll probably end up going in the Sci-Fi direction, but who knows? It might be a western game, you know? It might be set in ancient Egypt or something like that. You can do any coat of paint you want as long as your engine is good. Are those ideas – steampunk fantasy monsters trapped - are those things that might come up again in a future novel? Reiner: We've talked about maybe writing stories based on this, but now it has changed so much that I don't think we've ever really ever thought about that. We are still thinking about finishing off our trilogy, The Genesis series. We've done Prime, and Splice should come out before the end of the year. We have a third book that we want to finish there so that's probably the priority before you write any fiction based on this, but who knows if this thing takes off. Kluwe: Because you never know what's going to succeed and what's not if. All of a sudden something starts selling like gangbusters, then, well, we should probably write some books in that universe as well seems like a good idea I know it's probably kind of nebulous at this point, but you say you're pretty close to being done with the prototype of Project Grendel. How long do you think it might be until it actually releases? What kind of time line are you looking at? Kluwe: From a design standpoint we are near the end, in the polishing stages where all the mechanics are working well. The interactions are what we want them to be, now it's just balancing tiny little numbers to make sure that everything is perfect. Once that is done, then we'll take it to a publisher. The publisher will either say yay or nay - I highly suspect they'll say yay just because there's already interest in it and they know that we do good work. From that point it comes down to how long it takes their artist to do the art assets; how long it takes for the graphic design elements to come together; and how long it takes to write the rule book in a way that's readable and understandable and doesn't feel like wading through dictionary. For Twilight of the Gods, that part took about Five months, I think five to six months. Then you have to ship it to where you're getting it printed. Usually that's in China just because it's the cheapest place to make board games and card games. From there it's probably another four to five months for them to make it get it shipped over on a boat and then to get it to a distributor so I would say quickest timeline probably ten months from now, eleven months from now. Reiner: There's a chance it could be out next year. I would love to see it, but we'll see. Kluwe: A lot of that depends on whether the publisher loves the mechanics in the universe. And again, they might love the mechanics, but they might want to put it with a different type of universe. In that case, okay, we'll have to make some small changes in terms of what all the items are named, what's the equipment named, who are the characters now. If they're not these people on a spaceship, if they're in some other universe, what are their backstories in that universe? This game could be on store shelves next year? Kluwe: I would love for it to come out next year! That would be awesome. I will be pushing for it to come out next year because I do think we have a really cool game that, just based on the feedback from the people who have tested it, people are champing at the bit to play. Our playtesters want the game, so we want to give it to them. But I also want to make sure that when we do give it to them that it's a great experience for them to have it. I feel like that's one of the things that sets us apart. It's easy enough to rush something out, like, okay; I have my cheap Milton Bradley box of cardboard I've got some plastic pegs inside and some tiles that's it. Like, that doesn't really feel great. Okay, the mechanics are fantastic, the world's fantastic, but it just doesn't feel great. I want it to feel like you're opening up this box, you're playing this game - you are embarking on this adventure. You and your friends, you're going to have this challenge and it's up to you if you succeed or not. You've both touched on this a whole lot throughout this entire interview, but do you have any advice specifically for people who are looking to start from scratch making their own board game? Kluwe: I think the very best advice I can give would be to play a lot of games. That way you can identify which mechanics work best for you, which mechanics don't work for you, what situations you find are fun, and what situations you find that are unfun. For example, for Twilight of the Gods the inspiration for me behind that was that I love playing Magic the Gathering, but I hate getting mana screwed in Magic the Gathering. That was literally the reason I made that game! [laughs] I love this game but there are these problems with it and I think I can solve these problems. Then along the way it led to this other unique idea that I had never seen before in another game. I'm going to incorporate that and now to turn it into my own thing. The only reason I was able to do that was because I had played so many games throughout the course of my life that I could say, “Ok, I can grab this mechanic from here, this mechanic from here, tweak this mechanic here, build my own thing here, modified this other thing here, and put it all together, and boom! Now I have my own game.” The same thing happened with Project Grendel. Both Andy and I have been playing tons of games and saying “Okay. What are the kinds of things we like in these games? What are the things we don't like? How do we fix the situations that we don't like?” Reiner: Yeah and make sure you have the “It Factor” when you go into development. What kind of sets your game apart from the pack? Like Chris said, he didn't like getting mana screwed; that was kind of the “It” right there. That really made Twilight of the Gods different and he just kind of built on it from there and found more unique ideas. For us it was the madness. Even if you're having a game where all five members of the party want to just be cooperative and go for a cooperative victory, as you go mad you might turn on your friends whether you want to or not. I think that really makes our game something special and really kind of puts you on edge as you play. It makes it more exciting. So we knew right away that this was something special, we just needed to make it work. So don't just go into it thinking you're making a clone or like you don't have any ideas; you got to have that one spark that's really going to lead to something unique. Kluwe: And for us that madness thing – okay, we've played betrayal-type games. An issue with betrayal-type games is they’re generally very binary, right? You’re either the betrayer or you're not. So with our game, how do we make this more a player choice? How do we make it so a player can try to betray the others, but if they don't do it at the right time the others can try and pull it back into a cooperative game? Because usually most games you can't do that. Once someone betrays everyone, that's it. You have a betrayer and now it's a competitive game. We've built in ways where it's like, okay, you can try and betray the group, but if you're not doing it correctly, they're probably going to smash you down and force it back into a co-op victory. Then you have to decide if you want to try and do it again! Just clarify, the betrayal element was there from the beginning, right? Reiner: Oh yeah that was my favorite game of all time, Betrayal, so that was something we wanted to have. Kluwe: The other thing is, I love games with betrayal type because it adds that human element where it's not so much the group playing against the odds, you're also having to play against the other people at the table. You know there's always that one guy in the gaming group where you're like, “I know he wants to try and screw us over! [laughs] Will he screw us over or not?” And generally I am that guy. Reiner: It's pretty funny. As we are playtesting it, you know, we kind of set up the game; you're adventuring together. People started looking at the cards and what their characters could do and they started asking questions like, “So does this mean I can do this and go off on my own?” And we're like, “Yeah.” Then we started to see it where players were lying to each other! “Okay, I'll journey with you to take down the mid-boss…” and then then they didn't. They went somewhere else and let this guy go off to the boss on his own. We’re here like, holy cow, this is actually happening and we didn't prompt it. They're fully embracing these mechanics. Kluwe: Right and that's what's so important. Again, I mentioned it earlier on meaningful player choice. If players feel that they have a choice that affects the outcome of the game, it generally makes the game a lot more fun from their perspective because, again, they’ve been able to exercise their own agency. It's not always this card told me to go here and do this thing, essentially playing as an AI not as player. The more meaningful choice you can give to players, the better. Just make sure it's meaningful choice and not just choice for the sake of choice. I played some of those games where you realize it's like none of these choices really matter. I can pick A, B, C, or D and it won't really matter. That's not choice, that's just trying to overload the player with options. View full article
  17. In preparation for Tabletop Appreciation Weekend on Sept. 16-18, Jamison from the Chits and Bits Extra Life team shares why he plays Tabletop games to support Extra Life. As Extra Lifers, we’re gathered together by the common threads of gaming and our desires to make the world around us a little bit better; by turning our passion for games into helping the kids and families that need Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. We give a piece of ourselves, in the form of time and effort, for those that are forced to face what could be the worst moments of their lives. We do this not because of the medals, or recognition, or personal benefit – but because it’s the right thing to do. One third of the Extra Lifers last year were tabletop gamers. Many of us also love video games, and vice versa. But tabletop gaming will always be my first love. Extra Life has recognized that we are a growing part of the team, and last year started Tabletop Appreciation weekend, which this year is September 16th-18th. It will be a time to gather your friends, sit down at a table and play some games, face to face. That’s part of the draw of these games. You can sit down with a complete stranger and forge a bond by the shared experience. Three years ago, I began a 24 hour tabletop game marathon for Extra Life. I was new to the local board game community, so I was very unsure of whether it would be successful. Sitting down and playing games with people I barely knew was an easy way to establish a rapport. I was able to talk to them about what I was doing and why it was important. That quickly translated to new friendships and the growing success of the marathon. I met one of my best friends, Rob, who has helped me take our event further than I ever dreamed. The first year, we raised just over a thousand dollars; our event this spring, we had over 100 participants, and have raised just over $22,000 for The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital. All from taking a chance over a board game. Tabletop gaming has taken me some amazing places. Extra Life United this past February, was one of them. I met so many people that shared the same passions and goals as I did. I met the families and children that we work so hard to support. I met people like the Enmons and Jeromy Adams, who started Extra Life. Through the lens of playing games, I went home with so many new friends. If I hadn’t sat down at the table, I wouldn’t have had the courage to interact with them. This past spring, I hiked 250 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a lifelong dream, carrying my Extra Life flag every step of the way. I have made it to Gen Con a few times, where I get to meet publishers, designers, board game media people, and tens of thousands of other gamers. All of whom I can connect with in a way that non-gamers can’t really understand. I hope you take the time during Tabletop Appreciation weekend to gather some friends or family and dust off some of those board games you haven’t played in a while. Break out a deck of cards and play some Hearts. Set up the chess board. Share a few hours with someone face to face, without your cell phone, without a screen. Laugh with the people you care about, or even better, a stranger that becomes a friend. If you take a chance, you might find that it’ll pay off. Learn more about how you can participate in Tabletop Appreciation Weekend at extra-life.org/tabletopweekend.
  18. In preparation for Tabletop Appreciation Weekend on Sept. 16-18, Jamison from the Chits and Bits Extra Life team shares why he plays Tabletop games to support Extra Life. As Extra Lifers, we’re gathered together by the common threads of gaming and our desires to make the world around us a little bit better; by turning our passion for games into helping the kids and families that need Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. We give a piece of ourselves, in the form of time and effort, for those that are forced to face what could be the worst moments of their lives. We do this not because of the medals, or recognition, or personal benefit – but because it’s the right thing to do. One third of the Extra Lifers last year were tabletop gamers. Many of us also love video games, and vice versa. But tabletop gaming will always be my first love. Extra Life has recognized that we are a growing part of the team, and last year started Tabletop Appreciation weekend, which this year is September 16th-18th. It will be a time to gather your friends, sit down at a table and play some games, face to face. That’s part of the draw of these games. You can sit down with a complete stranger and forge a bond by the shared experience. Three years ago, I began a 24 hour tabletop game marathon for Extra Life. I was new to the local board game community, so I was very unsure of whether it would be successful. Sitting down and playing games with people I barely knew was an easy way to establish a rapport. I was able to talk to them about what I was doing and why it was important. That quickly translated to new friendships and the growing success of the marathon. I met one of my best friends, Rob, who has helped me take our event further than I ever dreamed. The first year, we raised just over a thousand dollars; our event this spring, we had over 100 participants, and have raised just over $22,000 for The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital. All from taking a chance over a board game. Tabletop gaming has taken me some amazing places. Extra Life United this past February, was one of them. I met so many people that shared the same passions and goals as I did. I met the families and children that we work so hard to support. I met people like the Enmons and Jeromy Adams, who started Extra Life. Through the lens of playing games, I went home with so many new friends. If I hadn’t sat down at the table, I wouldn’t have had the courage to interact with them. This past spring, I hiked 250 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a lifelong dream, carrying my Extra Life flag every step of the way. I have made it to Gen Con a few times, where I get to meet publishers, designers, board game media people, and tens of thousands of other gamers. All of whom I can connect with in a way that non-gamers can’t really understand. I hope you take the time during Tabletop Appreciation weekend to gather some friends or family and dust off some of those board games you haven’t played in a while. Break out a deck of cards and play some Hearts. Set up the chess board. Share a few hours with someone face to face, without your cell phone, without a screen. Laugh with the people you care about, or even better, a stranger that becomes a friend. If you take a chance, you might find that it’ll pay off. Learn more about how you can participate in Tabletop Appreciation Weekend at extra-life.org/tabletopweekend. View full article
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