Designing from First Principles

I’ve written before about different tools for running play-tests, ideating on designs, and interpreting feedback, but none of those have ever really covered how to develop a framework around implementing that feedback.

After I sent my proto off for publisher review, I started mentally projecting myself into a future where I would be asked to make hard decisions about Valour’s final incarnation, and I could picture this publisher having to interact with designers who were defensive about their baby, and making the process challenging. Based on conversations I’ve had with play-testers, I knew there were some things I was totally unwilling to change, things I would happily change, and some gradient in between. But if the publisher came back and asked me about changing “X”… how would I determine where on that spectrum that landed? Continue reading

Valour’s “Divine Mandate”

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Dumnorix’s successor as chieftain of the Aedui is a playable character in Valour!

Last night, I headed to Denver to see one of my favorite bands live — Eluveitie. Their “Folk Metal” brings elements from Celtic tradition into the metal genre; for real: There’s a woman in the band who can simultaneously play the hurdy-gurdy and headbang. No joke.

One of their most popular albums, Helvetios, was my soundtrack when training for the Highland Games (both times), but most importantly for this post, working on Valour. Embarrassingly, it took a number of episodes of Eluveitie-fueled late-night hacking through Valour rules and/or Creative Suite documents of boards and cards to realize that the album is actually also a retelling of the Gallic War, just like Valour.

The album’s track list includes so many of the same references as Valour that I’m clearly an idiot for not picking up on it sooner: Helvetios, Alesia, Uxellodunon…! But once I realized this, it definitely became official. Any time I go heads-down to push through to a milestone, this is what I put on.

I don’t go to many concerts, but when Songkick told me these guys were coming to town, I bought tickets that minute, from my phone, at the bar at Root Down in the Denver airport. While the show would have been a sick way to get pumped for this year’s Highland Games, the timing actually ended up being perfect.

Sometimes a concert gets you right in the feelers in a way that seems cheesy to relate in retrospect; but that’s exactly what happened to me last night. I attended the show with a hardcore ‘fuck it’ attitude, as part of a recent attempt at slaying my mammoth. After forty-five minutes in the mosh pit (in a kilt), I was sufficiently out of my comfort zone to start thinking about the deeper questions about life and all that shit.

Eluveitie’s false-finale is a song called Alesia, an alternately brutal and wistful retelling of The Battle of Alesia, fabled turning point of the Gallic war, when Gaul’s defeat became inevitable. In my shields-down state, the sadness and loss in this song really got to me. I spaced out through the encore, and left the show trying desperately to hold on to the feelings that hearing Alesia live had invoked, in the face of driving all the way home, and sleeping in so I wouldn’t pass out at work today. I had something important to remember.

My conclusion was this: the world needs Valour to ship. The profound sense of loss expressed by Eluveitie, and the historic indignation of Terry Jones can’t be expressed in enough different media, to enough varied audiences. No matter what setbacks or obstacles: This must happen.

ps: I’d be incredibly pumped if the band were to see this post, or hear about the board game. If you could share this, or the tweet I sent during the show, that would be so cool :D.

Playtesting Feedback Tips

IMG_4525A few weeks ago, Valour was tabled FOUR times in one weekend, with four entirely different groups. One group, after having the game significantly stalled early on by an edge case I hadn’t yet considered, soldiered on to completion late into the night.

Overall, feedback was extremely encouraging. Many of the mechanics are feeling more streamlined, and the repeat players all said this was the best session yet. A few systems in the game which are absolutely critical to gameplay are still experiencing some ambiguity and confusion, so those are the next things I need to address.

I’ve seen a lot of posts recently from other first-time designers struggling with how to react to feedback during a playtest. This can be really hard, but I’ve developed a few strategies to make the most of it, no matter what the situation. Putting them down here in hopes they’ll be useful. Continue reading

Valour: The Game

When we left off last week, I had the first physical prototype of my board game in-hand. Not knowing any better, I thought I might be near the end of the road. Now, after countless hours of play testing and revising, I know two things: a) I was WAY off the mark back then, and b) while I don’t yet know exactly where the road ends, I’m moving in the right direction. Read on to see the ins and outs of the current, and hopefully near-final, state of gameplay.
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Valour: The Backstory

With all the posting I’ve done about Protospiel, board game testing, and marketing, it dawned on me last week that I have yet to actually put out a canonical post on the game I’m designing and developing. Whoops! Then I started writing it, and it got a little long, (which is why this post ended up coming out late this week!) so here’s the first in a three-part series about Valour, the board game I’m working to get out the door this year. Continue reading

Protospiel 2014

Since last year’s Protospiel, a lot has changed for me, both with regards to the state of my prototype, as well as my level of contact within the board game designers’ community. So this year, trepidation and rookie mistakes were replaced with excitement to see some other designers (whom I know primarily online) in person and a clear sense of purpose.

Whereas before, I thought I was only a few small tweaks from a finished design, this time, I knew I had work to do. And my mission was to get some hard-hitting feedback in order to confirm things I knew, experiment with changes I had in mind, and get a few really workable suggestions in areas I was still scratching my head over.

This year, perhaps feeling a little guilty about having clear personal objectives, I wanted to make sure I paid it forward, so I tried out a few games before attempting to table Valour. I didn’t take great notes on several of the prototypes I played, so this is from memory, so a few may have slipped my mind. The highlights: Continue reading