The Swing of Things

Getting back into the swing of things indeed! Seems I have slipped back into a thread of slackness with regards to keeping this stream of things updated, by not to worry, things have been ticking along in the background nonetheless:

– A good friend has put together some branding artwork for my game/design-focused stream of work so I am getting a new website/identity together soon
Agnes Forsell has put together some slick icons for the Otherworld game I am working on – one of my most favourite things is getting artwork from great artists, it always feels like a very special surprise
– Just got back from a board game-design focused weekend up in the Coromandel and my fairy-catching game (At the Bottom of the Garden) went down well, with a big thumbs up by Martin Wallace so I will be looking more seriously into getting it published!

I have also been meeting some interesting creatively-streaked folks and making some good connections, slowly building up a bit of a network here in Auckland. Busy times ahead!

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A new year cometh

The holidays created a semi-enforced break from creative activities, other than getting a lot of board game play in and finally finishing reading a couple of books.

Game design-wise the biggest recent event has been a change of illustrator for ‘At the bottom of the garden’ – the fairy catching game I am publishing this year. My initial illustrator, Hamish, had to pull out of the project due to other commitments, which was quite a blow, but pushed me to reach out to a wider community of illustrators/designers/gamers and I now have a host of artists I am keen to work with on projects. These include Agnes Forsell from Sweden, Romina Marti O’Toole from Catalonia and Allan Xia here in Auckland.

Meanwhile, I have been lucky enough to find Bek Farr to take over the fairy reins and I am looking forward to her vision for the game. It is great to be able to work with an artist who is also a gamer, and so understands the intricacies of how everything fits together.

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Metagaming and Sprinting

Last weekend saw the third Board Games by the Bay event for the year held in Hamilton. Though I was feeling rather under the weather, I was able to play a host of new games, and older games I have never had a chance to lay my hands on. A favourite was Kill Doctor Lucky – a reverse Cleudo in which players are trying to well, kill Doctor Lucky, without anyone else seeing them do it.

On the Saturday I ran a meta-game during the day, themed around the Fairy board game I am developing. In the back of everyone’s name tag I slipped in one of seven fairy cards, each ordered in rank from the lowly Jester to the regal Queen. The aim of the game was to be holding the queen card at 5pm at the end of the day. It was a bit an experiment as I had never run this game before and I wasn’t sure how it would pan out. Sure enough, I didn’t see any action at all until an hour before the close of the game, when people started scurrying around swapping cards and trying to hunt down the Queen. By 4:30 there were some teams forming and some sneaky traps being laid. With ten minutes to go the swapping was fierce, with people circling the Queen, waiting to pounce. In the end I had to call the game with minutes to spare, lest it all got out of control. But I think it worked well, and the winner deserved the prize of a free copy of the board game once it is published next year.

Ivy fairy watercolour test
Ivy fairy watercolour test

Last night was the e-centre Demo Day. I am six weeks through the Sprint course being run through the Massey University coordinated e-centre in Albany on the North Shore. The Demo Day was a chance for us as start-ups and entrepreneurs to showcase our ideas and projects before an invited cadre of interested industry professionals. I was unfortunate in not being able to give my one-minute pitch until late in the evening, but I was able to chat to several interesting gentlemen about the Otherworld project I am working on with Theo from Crumbling Worldand have a few leads to follow up on. I am not quite a natural within networking environments such as this, but it was a great learning experience and am keen to get involved in more.

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A big move

Well this has been a busy month, which has deprived me of time to work on many creative projects – other than processing and designing in my head. I am in the process of moving to Auckland, which will mean I will finally be settled in one place, with a helluva lotta less driving and flying around the country.

I have also just started a new course being run through the ecentre at Massey University. This ‘Sprint’ course is designed for entrepreneurs and small start-up businesses to help develop and validate business ideas. So far it has been extremely informative and I have met a swathe of interesting folks.

Lastly, I have been discussing and refining ideas of what to name my game design business. A major factor has been whether to focus on a connotative name (something that helps define what the business is about) or an evocative name (something that will leave people with a strong image in mind). I have chosen to go with an evocative name, supported by a connotative, and related byline. More on all that shortly…

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Emerging Fae

Ivy Fairy version three
Ivy Fairy version three

Only a month or so ago I was all-Zombie. Now I am on a Fairy-roll. Playtesting has been charging ahead and Hamish is hitting the artboards with some amazing initial fairy card sketches. Seeing new artwork is one of the biggest buzzes I get from game design and Hamish never fails to impress – even though these are very early ideas. The modern Art Nouveau style we are going for is starting to come through and I am very excited!

This weekend is the Tauranga edition of ‘Board Games by the Bay’ run by David and Ange at Seriously Board which I am helping facilitate. I will be running more playtesting sessions of the fairy game and so decided to finally mock-up a proper version of the game board. Up to now I have been using a hand-drawn board scrawled on pattern-making paper, which though rather crafty, is feeling it’s age. I am pretty happy with an afternoon spent putting the new board together, though it is not in any way the style the end product will be. Very tricky trying to fit everything in though, as the board is looking very busy…

Fairy Board Prototype
Fairy Board Prototype

I am also excited to have hooked up with more New Zealand game designers in both Wellington and Auckland. Ever since I moved back to New Zealand I have been keen to get involved with a network of board game designers. There are already a number of video game designer networks and organisations out there, but not as much support for board games. I have come across the NZ Games Association and have been in touch with them, but have not had any responses from my enquiries. It’s not clear how they support the industry, so I am looking forward to hearing from them. In the meantime I am looking forward to developing a small network of on-the-ground designers forging ahead with developing a strong local design industry!

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The Street Trash Sculpture Clash

My good friend Davian from Rooftops Media approached me a few months ago for a crazy idea to run an event in South Auckland.  He had noted how large piles of interesting looking rubbish piled up in the neighbourhood every year during the annual inorganic rubbish pickup service run by the local council.  Being the clever fellow that he is, he saw the potential in these piles of trash and decided to do something about it.

So last Sunday I helped Davian run the inaugural ‘Street Trash Sculpture Clash‘.  We had four teams step forward and take on the challenge to create a masterwork from materials found on the streets of Otara.  Each team were given two and a half hours and a bunch of tools and were let loose to create.  The results were amazing.  This was the first time we had run anything like this and had no idea what would happen.  Every team came up with something completely brilliantly different – a giant lizard made out of plastic children’s toys, a wooden/twisted/booth/box/house/shed building, a giant ‘OTARA’ sign and a fully working punked-out time machine.

Giant recycled lizard!
Giant recycled lizard!

For me the joy of the day was both seeing how these fantastical creations evolved into life and the process through which the teams developed their work.  I liked hearing how the team making the giant lizard started the day gathering all sorts of plastic kids toys, without yet knowing what they were going to make.  Then the design organically started to take shape and they threw everything into it, then worked on refining the design, taking bits out and keeping it streamlined.

The other joy was the interaction we had with the local community.  There were loads of kids around, asking questions and getting excited about the whole process.  No one had any issues with us hanging out on their sidewalks and at the very least we provided some entertainment on a lazy Sunday afternoon…

We will definitely be doing it again next year!

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Rise of the Fairies

I finally made it down to Wellington last week and was able to gather some fine folks for a day of playtesting. As well as getting a busy play of my fairy game in, I was stoked to finally play Selandia, one of Shem Phillips games, and also another play of Theo’s Time Traveller game. We were able to make a good long day of it, and even snuck a play of my zombie game in (we all died on the same turn…).

We had some great discussions around this fairy game, which I am getting rather excited about. The other players struggled a bit at times – it was their first play and my tendency to remember small rules part way through didn’t help – but everyone really ‘got’ the game by the end. It does make me think about which parts I can continue to simplify though – there are gameplay strategies in there, I just need to draw them out a bit more. Or explain them a bit more when introducing the game. I would love to be able to play games twice in a row when playtesting though, or at least twice in the same day. Martin Wallace talked about this when we played some games with him last week, and it makes a lot of sense. Often people playtesting a game are also learning it for the first time, which skews the useful information gained from playtesting.

The main areas for me to focus on now are the traps and the bridge. The traps should be fine – I am going to go back to having a six-fairy limit per trap – but the bridge location still needs a bit of work. But it is getting pretty close! I will be mocking up a new map next week, getting some graphics in and saying goodbye to my hand-drawn board. Hamish is eager to get stuck into some illustrations as well, so I am gleefully looking forward to seeing what he comes up with.

Also exciting to look forward to doing a PledgeMe for the game and thinking about the rewards and stretch goal opportunities!

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Zombie overload

Had a brilliant impromptu playtest of this zombie game the other night.  I have made a new prototype board (my original being hand drawn lines on brown pattern-tracing paper – very hi-tech) and tried it out in a three player game, along with a host of rule tweaks.

First thing that was obvious from the first couple of turns was that the board was way too big for three players.  This wasn’t a new revelation, just something I had forgotten about when setting up the game.  This resulted in little interaction between players (a bad thing) – though I was running around trying to catch up to someone!  It also meant there were often many rooms free of zombies (also a bad thing).

Zombie board prototype

The second thing that affected the game was that one player didn’t get any cards that killed zombies (or he didn’t have the right trait when the cards did come up).  Partly this was my fault, in that I think the cards weren’t shuffled properly (I had printed a new set to use) and so similar cards were coming up all the time.  I am not sure if he really tried to do anything else – killing zombies isn’t really the point of the game! – but he took it badly and was soon munched on…  The other player was the total opposite and was offing the beasties left and right.  He had a good store of kudos which put him in a good position for implementing a rule change I was trying out – I have made it so that you can spend 3 kudos to make a trait positive at any time, and you can freely make a trait negative at any time.  He used this brilliantly – switching traits back and forth mid turn to use his cards very effectively.  It was great, and something I really wanted to get into the game.  he was however a bit over-powered and so I think I will add a 1 kudos cost change to switch from a positive to negative trait.

A flawed game, but a really useful playtest – I want people to break my games in ways I was not anticipating.  One thing I need to work around is how to ensure the house stays crowded throughout play and that the number of rooms in the house is right for different numbers of players.  I may need to introduce some way to make rooms inaccessible during different stages of the game (i.e. every time someone gets killed off).

Bit overloaded on zombies now, need some timeout!

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Found the fairy dust

Many more plays of this fairy game under my belt now.  I have added in the fairy dust – a nice little touch of magic that boosts the end stages of the game and gives the players a few more choices – do they go for the harder, more valuable sets of fairies, or the easier ones, which give them a chance to get more dust to play with.  I have also been tweaking several of the locations, to make them more useful and relevant.

It’s probably about time I gave an overview of the game:

‘Catching Fairies Game’ (working title!) a 2-5 player board game, 60mins, ages 10+

Did you know Amelia has fairies in her garden?  Really!  How wonderful!  Lets go catch them!

The players are a group of Victorian children who are spending the week at Amelia’s house.  They have found a book of fairies and are using it to identify the different types of fairies visiting the garden at the bottom of the house.  Using nets and traps, the players spend the week (seven rounds) catching sets of fairies.  The player with the most valuable collection of fairies at the end of the week wins the game!

Each round (each round is one day), players must plan how they are going to spend their time – what they are going to do in the morning, at lunchtime and in the afternoon.  Once everyone has planned what activities they are going to do, they are resolved in order.  The garden is then reset and the next days planning begins!

Early prototype in play

During the day players can ride the bike to the shop and buy supplies, get some toys (fairy bait) from the toyroom, do chores in the kitchen (for pocketmoney), build part of the bridge across the river at the bottom of the garden, visit the treehouse to read the fairy book and trade fairies, go hunting fairies in the flowerbeds or set some traps down at the orchard.  But of course everyone else is trying to do the same thing…

A more recent prototype board

It is a nice and simple, quick to play worker placement and set collection game.  The main focus for me now is to keep playtesting for balancing different strategies.  I am also not 100% happy with how the traps work, but it is close.

I am also really looking forward to how this game is going to look.  I have a Pinterest board up here – – which gives a bit of a feel for the types of fairies, now I am browsing for how I want the board to look.  The aim is to also include rules for games younger children can play with just the fairy cards.

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The fairies are coming

Just got back from an epic weekend of gaming in Auckland.  As well as a host of shorter games, we got a big six player Battlestar Galactica game in on the first day, then a big six player Game of Thrones in on the Sunday.  With the right players these games are awesome and intense.

We also got some playtesting in.  Met an interesting Frenchman (Pierre) who had a ‘mad scientists creating frankensteinish monsters to sell’ game up for testing.  Great game and I hope we helped with some useful feedback – I look forward to playing it again.

I got some playtesting of my own games in as well.  Two more games of my Zombie House and I was also able to get a second play of my Catching Fairies game in a week.  Really useful being able to run several playtests in a row with different people.  It is in a pretty good place now.  I have done some simplifying, some crunching of numbers to balance resources somewhat, and am ready to add in some fairy dust!  It still needs a bit of a magic touch and I still need to find it’s heart, but it is going in the right direction – which I am very happy with.  The pacing is interesting as well.  At the moment it is a bit short – both groups of players felt it needed to go longer (and I did as well) as they were just getting into it when it ended.  But that’s cool, because the game plays a lot faster than I anticipated.

I love being able to strip a game right down, get it humming along and then adding more to it bit by bit – and not being afraid to strip it back down and start again if need be.

Some more tweaks and refining today before flying down to Wellington for some more testing on unsuspecting folks…

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