It’s been a whirlwind of activity at Weird City Games getting ready for our March of the Ants Kickstarter launch inthe past few weeks, but we’re finally here. From the page to the video to the game itself, we’re incredibly proud of the work we’ve done and we’d love for you to check it out and support us.
- Pledge at the Marching Ant level or higher and you will receive the game before it is available at retail and at $10 below expected MSRP.
- We offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If you are not completely satisfied with the game, return it to us with 30 days of receiving it and we will give you a complete refund.
- Your Support is Essential: We have completed all of the design and original art for this game and need your help to make it a reality.
- Awesome Stretch Goals: By pledging now for $35 or more you are eligible for any and all Kickstarter stretch goals.
The excitement is building as we are only a few days from launching our Kickstarter campaign for March of the Ants. The game has been in development for over a year, has undergone extensive testing in large part thanks to all of you, and we are ready to share it with the world. The launch is set for 10 am pacific standard time on Tuesday, April 29th 2014.
You are cordially invited to join the designers to celebrate the launch of March of the Ants, Portland’s hottest new boardgame. Play your first game, compete in the first ever tournament, hobnob, eat pizza and salad and make merry. Food and prizes will be provided. Drinks will be available at Guardian Games bar the Critical Sip. Party starts at 6 PM and goes till 10 PM.
Invite friends and family and everyone who loves games. We hope to see you there!
345 se Taylor St, Portland, Oregon 97214
If you are unable to make it to the launch party we would still love your help and support. First off please share the event and the Kickstarter page with everyone who loves board games, ants and fun. Secondly, if you can pledge support of any amount we seriously thank you. Not only is Kickstarter about raising funds it is also building a community and the more supporters we have the more awareness we will have. Thanks so much!
As spring dawns the great thaw begins. Deep beneath the lush meadow grasses the queen stirs in her nest as the colony comes to life. Soldiers venture forth, battling centipedes while competing for territory with opposing colonies. Workers dig an ever-expanding network of tunnels as they search for food. As the first larvae hatch it is clear this generation will be different: the young colonies are rapidly evolving into a multitude of new forms, marching out to claim the meadow as their own. In this mid-range strategy game, each player takes the role of a newly formed ant nest seeking to achieve ecological dominance through expansion, conquest, or evolution. Coming to Kickstarter in April 2014!
March of the Ants is Weird City Games first full project. We are finalizing playtesting and graphic design and are very excited to be launching our Kickstarter campaign in April 2014. Our design goals for this game were to make a complex strategy game that was approachable, fun, interactive and with minimal set-up. With beautiful, original artwork and highly thematic gameplay, we are very excited to be publishing March of the Ants.
I had always enjoyed play and make believe, from Dungeons and Dragons, to Magic, to boardgames I was very interested in make believe. In 2003 I moved to Bellingham, WA and, at the urging and advice of my good friend DK, I enrolled in an improvisational theater class. Here at last I had found an arena where adults truly play. Laughter, emotions, funny noises, wild characters and deep stories emerged. I knew how to play before I learned improv, but my understanding of play expanded exponentially. In games they talk about the magic circle that you invite players to enter when they play your game. In improv a similar circle is created by the actors as they spontaneously create a scene. In improv people talk a lot about the game and finding the game in the scene. What they are referring to is finding what aspect of the scene is the most interesting or odd or exciting and digging into that. A game may be that actors talk about watering the plants but are really talking about their relationship. It may be that one character is afraid of chairs. By finding what is unique in a scene improvisors are able to make an ordinary scene interesting and fun. The most skilled improvisers can find a game and use it not just as a gag to bring out the laughs but also as a way to dig deep into the connection between the characters and have the game be both meaningful and hilarious.
As a game designer I strive to find the game within my games. What is the part of the games that is the most engaging, unique or fun. How can I heighten that and bring it into sharper focus. In my game Little Pig the main action in the game is centered around each player simultaneously choosing which resources they want to gather. Players choose secretly and then reveal. At different stages in development I added in a board, and pig markers that players could move around. However, I found that the board and pigs didn’t really add to the tension of the game, they actually detracted and confused what the game was about. In a more recent incarnation I have removed the board and added in cards that can be played at the same time that players are choosing which resource to gather. This intensifies the central aspect of the game and makes the player choices both more meaningful and more interesting.
Offers are another term central to improv. They refer to anything that a player brings to the scene. “Hey boss” is an offer to the other player to be that player’s boss. If the boss says “This is the third time you are late this week” That is an offer that accepts and builds on the previous offer. Offers should be built on other offers following the yes and maxim. In the above example the boss, “yeses” by accepting that he or she is a boss, and “ands” by adding on the late offer. Common issues in improv scenes are too many offers and offers that don’t yes and. Actors in a scene will often keep adding new offers if they don’t know what the scene is about. The more offers in a scene the harder it is to keep track of them and the more muddy the scene becomes. I find a strong parallel in game design in that often I or other designers will keep adding in new elements to a game, sometimes to solve problems, sometimes just because they seem interesting. Adding in and testing new elements in games can be very positive and often you need to test an idea to see if it actually works. And in games unlike improv, we have the luxury to go back and tweak or remove elements that are not working.
Thanks for tuning in. Next post I will get into Catan and the Eurogame invasion.
“Wow I have never met a game designer, how did you get into that?”
“Well I was looking for a new creative career and I play a lot of games and always tinkered with them and thought hey this is something that I will be happy I did, even if I don’t make any money.”
All of which is true, but to really explain why I now spend the majority of my waking life thinking, making, discussion and designing games I need to go farther back. When I was young my father taught me and my brother to play chess. I can’t remember exactly how young but I am sure that by age 5 or 6 I was moving my pawns, sliding the bishops and hopping about with my knights. My dad would play us without his queen, he would offer us a hundred dollars if we won, and all the while he taught us the basic openings, how to control the center, the value of the pieces. Later he taught us exposed checks, forks, trades for positions and everything he knew.
One of my most profound experiences with chess happened when I was traveling in Nicaragua and met another traveler named Tim. He had a chess board and we played a game. I clobbered him. I was one or two steps ahead the whole time. After we played he wanted to play again, and moreover he wanted to learn. He asked me to teach him and explain my moves and help him see his options. He was very attentive and very into learning. After 5 or 6 games we played and it was a close game. I learned as much as I taught in those games and through teaching reconnected and realized a lot about the inner workings of chess that I knew intuitively but hadn’t really consciously processed.
Chess more than any other game instilled in me the love of the logical interconnected nature of games. The precise mathematical alignment of games. I continue to learn more about chess and revel in its complexity, beauty and challenge.
My next great love affair with a game came about through my mother and father’s cribbage rivalry. During elementary school my parents would play a game of cribbage every day and keep a running tally of wins and losses. Cribbage was fun in a way that chess wasn’t. Cribbage had random chance and guessing. It had a fun track and was quick and light. It to me epitomizes a near perfect balance of luck and skill. I have played cribbage for over 25 years and played probably 1000 games at least and it still confronts me with new hands and situations, forcing me to choose which cards to put in the crib and which to keep.
Cribbage is an excellent game for many reasons but the aspect of the design I love the most is the dual nature that your hand has. Not only do you count the points present in your hand, you also use it to peg which brings it to life and makes the game full of interaction, second guessing and bluffing. I think games that have multiple uses for game components offer a more complete experience and really make you involved in the game.
When I was 13, after a half year of him talking about it my brother bought us each a starter deck of Magic the Gathering 3rd edition. This changed my life. If cribbage and chess had laid the foundation for a love of games, Magic took that and transported it beyond my wildest expectations. Magic is a great game, it is fun, diverse, full of art, it is logical, complex, fun and exciting. It is also not the best game ever. It is not chess or cribbage. Many times playing magic it is one sided and not a really fun game. Other times it is a universe unto itself with heroic comebacks, vicious losses and near legendary plays. The greatness of Magic is more in the fact that it taught me what a game is. Magic is always evolving, it continually has new rules and cards added to it, it occasionally has cards removed and rules changed. It is a live game. Chess and cribbage are thousands and hundreds of years old, respectively, and so approaching them you don’t see the rough edges (many have been worn down by the centuries), you take them as they are. Through playing magic and reading about its design I began to realize the possibility of creating games.
That’s all for now. In the second in this series I will talk about Catan, Improv theater and what it means to play.
Boardgame designers and players will often talk about balance. A game that is well balanced is often well respected and thought of as a good game. There are many different aspects to balance within a game and many different ways to approach balancing a game. In addition there is often the question of whether a game can be too balanced and thus not be as fun.
Balancing internal mechanics – Games present players with a series of choices all of the choices that a player has need to be relatively balanced. For example say it is a simple race game where each player is trying to move their pawn 10 spaces to the finish. On a player’s turn they may either move 1 space forward or draw a card. If it is always better to move your pawn than to draw a card, than an experienced player will never draw a card and so that option that was included in the game is a false choice. The two choices don’t need to be equal (and shouldn’t be) but they both need to be viable options. If the cards offer only two options: move your pawn 1 space, or move your pawn 0 spaces than a player should always choose to move their pawn 1 step. If on the other hand the cards say: move 1 space, move 0 spaces, move 3 spaces, move other pawn back two spaces – than the players are presented with a real choice as both the slow and steady route and the random card drawing route could win out. For internal balance to be achieved all choices presented to players need to be viable. Some may be used more often than others and there may be a usual order that they are chosen in but all choices should be useful and necessary for the game to play.
Balancing Luck and Skill – In addition to balancing the internal mechanics a good game will find a balance of luck and skill. Some games will be purely skill, such as chess and go, and others will be heavily luck based like Yahtzee. Many players like a game that is pure skill or heavily weighted towards skill. However, a game with no random elements will often be less fun to play and also more difficult for new players to learn and be competitive. It is important when designing games to know who your audience is and how much of the game you want to be random and how much based on skill. A game that is mostly luck is generally considered lighter and for the most part these games work if they are playable in 20-30 minutes. If a game is longer and has more in-depth, complex maneuvering and choices then the presence of a lot of luck can be frustrating to players as all of their careful plotting and planning can be negated but a lucky draw or turn. Another upside of randomness is it increases replay value and keeps the game from being a strict battle of the minds. As a player I really enjoy those moments when I make a plan that involves a lot of skill but is still dependent on the right roll, or card, or action being chosen and it is! Not only do I feel smart that I was able to plan ahead so well, I feel that the odds are in my favor.
Finding Balance – I will write more on this later but for now I want to stress the importance of identifying the victory conditions in finding balance among the internal mechanics and luck and skill. A designer can use the Victory Conditions, whether they be points, location, last one standing to evaluate all of the options presented to a player. By having these solidly mapped out you can structure and adjust the mechanics so that they all provide a fair path to victory. The victory conditions can also be adjusted to balance out certain mechanics but I have found that since everything in the game is linked to and pointing at the Victory conditions it is important to have them clear in your mind for the majority of the design. That is not to say that they won’t shift and change, but that if they do you need to be conscious of how that affects each of the mechanics.
When and how often to prototype? This is a question often asked by new designers and one that I think has a simple answer; as soon and as often as possible. There are only a few drawbacks to prototyping and many benefits. Developing an idea in your head is valuable and relatively easy with no material cost. I find that after a few hours or days (depending on how eagerly I am attacking a design) I will reach a wall which limits further development. Putting ideas on paper or into physical form allows for both more complex design and also allows you to see if it actually works. I am also a hands on person so I find joy in the cutting and pasting aspect of prototyping.
Another issue in prototyping is how fancy to make your prototype? Having a nice looking game is beneficial as it allows playtesters to engage more and gives the designer something they are excited to share. One drawback is the cost of ink or printing and a larger pitfall is feeling that “Oh I just printed this new set I don’t want to make changes, even though they are needed.” Some balance is needed here and I think having a gradual progression to a more polished prototype that matches the polish of the design is a good way to go. With a rough design you can and should have a rough prototype (scrap paper with writing in magic card sleeves, rough drawings on cardboard etc…) As your design becomes more refined having better materials, images and bits will help you and playtesters stay motivated and involved. Of course this is all relative to your personal tastes and those of your playtest group so the only major warning is not to spend two days making an elaborate prototype of an untested design, which when tested proves unplayable and then getting frustrated and stopping work on it altogether.
Deadlines can be of major assistance with prototyping as they force you to actually get your game made into a playable form. No time is quite as productive as right before a deadline and even though you may not feel ready you will get ready. The best deadlines I have found as a budding designer are for the Gamestorm and KublaCon conventions. For both of these conventions I submitted games to contests and was pushed to create a workable copy. I cannot stress enough the great motivation that comes with a deadline. So even if it is self imposed or something as casual as next weeks game night I urge all you designers to set deadlines and goals and get something on the table.
(March of the Ants first board – The rough prototype.)
How a game ends and how to make the end compelling, meaningful and balanced is one of the trickiest aspects of game design. In March of the ants the victory conditions and paths to victory have changed almost more than any other aspect of the game. In the original design victory points were available only from victory cards. As this path was heavily random it soon became apparent that other paths were needed to achieve balance.
Victory collection sites were introduced onto the board to balance the victory cards and to provide more diversity and incentive to have a board based strategy. This worked well but something was still lacking. A static bonus for ants, larvae and food was added, closely followed by a bonus for a completely evolved body and multiple evolutions in a single body segment. The static bonuses were good and victory felt pretty balanced and allowed multiple strategies to be employed. However, the end game felt stale and the counting required from static victory conditions didn’t help the end feel momentous.
The next step (and most current) was to replace the static bonus with victory tiles that give a bonus if a specific condition is met. The victory tiles work quite well and create player interaction and tension around the endgame. The tiles also help the victory cards shine as they give you a secret strategy to compete for while still vying to complete the public victory conditions laid out by the tiles.
This will be an ongoing blog series that looks at how game design relates to the rest of life and how the rest of life relates to game design. I like to live holistically and find there is much to be gained from integrating as many aspects of my life as possible. I am also starting the new year by reflecting on the last year and what I have learned and examining what game design has taught me about life in general.
I started last year taking a sabbatical from work to focus on learning the ins and outs of game design. As this was a mostly unstructured process I developed several methods to keep me on task. My favorite method was the awarding of points for work done. Each chapter I read in my game design books, each playtest, each new prototype was worth a set amount of points and 10 points, or 15 or 20 could be redeemed for a reward. Rewards were going out to dinner, taking a trip, buying a new game.
Truth be told this structure didn’t hold up very long. But it did give me a new perspective on my learning and made it fun and challenging. One of the strongest attributes of games is that they are a structure for learning that is engaging and fun because we are playing. By looking at my game design education as a game (even one without strict rules) I was able to become more engrossed and more excited about the different aspects. Each time I did a playtest I was excited not only for the playtest but because I felt I was playing the game well. Life is the greatest game ever, full of resource management, puzzling decisions, intense player interaction and though it is often fun and exciting it can also be tedious and boring. Looking at life as a game allows us to step back, take a deep breath and engage with it from a new perspective. For me it is one that allows me to challenge myself and take joy in challenges and joy in the rewards.