Thursday, December 29, 2011

Epic Spell Wars

Skullzor Ring of Power is one of the treasure cards from the card game I’ve got coming out from Cryptozoic in February. You can find a PDF of the rules here. The longish post that follows is about how a humorous spellcasting battle game between Vancian wizards transformed into an over-the-top Skullzorian explosion after I submitted the design to Cryptozoic.

I’ve been tinkering around for years with game mechanics that use a source, some type of adjective and a final attack method as three separate elements of what will become a single attack/combination/spell. I started this dueling wizards game as a new riff on the feel of one of my favorite little board games, Tom Jolly’s Wiz-War. Wiz-War sometimes has the problem of going through dry spells when no one wants to engage. Or taking forever to finish as wizards staggered blindly on the wrong side of a thorn wall!  

So I aimed for a consistently fast-playing game that would have the flavor of the wizardry employed by Jack Vance’s wizards in the Dying Earth books. Typical spells included Flibwort the Traitor’s Festive Pustule, or Drusilla’s Scandalous Phantasmagoons. My code name for the game was CANTRIP, kind of the opposite of the game’s expansive feel, but a fair illustration of the Midwestern restraint that suited my notion of Vancian dignity.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to publication by Cryptozoic. While Mike Donais and Matt Hyra worked on developing the system, paring away complications and improving most all the cards, their boss Cory Jones revised the names of all the cards to match splatterwhack new art suggestions. Nick Edwards executed the art suggestions. The game transformed away from Vancian restraint into an Erol Otus Meets Robert Crumb Meets Adventure Time mode. Phantasmagoons was one of the few names I’d originated that survived Cory's re-engineering of the IP. Matching the new ‘this one goes to 11’ mentality, Cory named the game Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre.

As the art and the names started trickling back to me on the home-garage side of the freelance experience, I had the wonderful experience of watching something I’d designed transform into a better idea. Cory's vision allowed the new art to blossom. Getting better art than you expect for a project is like opening a wonderful birthday present when you had forgotten that it was your birthday. You can’t expect or even wish for these lucky moments, you just have to be grateful. 
[[*I note that the Summer 2012 note at the bottom of this wallpaper image is too pessimistic; the game is still on track for February.]]

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Midnight Riot through the Rivers of London

     A few weeks ago our friend John asked me, “So how do you feel about Midnight Riot?”
     “Rivers of London?”
     “What are you talking about?” I asked, thinking he might be naming bands and albums that I had missed. It turned out that he was giving me the American and UK names for the first book in a magic-cop series by Ben Aaronovitch. And then he gifted me with the book. I devoured it, then read the sequel Moon Over Soho on Kindle. I can recommend both books to most anyone. They’re funny, imaginative, tense and touching. They fit a category of reading I’m fond of, presenting themselves as light-reading but deeper than they let on.
     I love the UK cover concept for the series. 

The USA title Midnight Riot does not do the book justice. But I can see how Rivers of London probably wouldn’t have worked out as a title in the USA.
     The next book, Whispers Under Ground, appears in the US in May.   
     Apparently I might have known about the author beforehand if I was familiar with the new Doctor Who. Aaronovitch wrote for it in bunches. But I haven’t gotten over my early-adolescent Doctor-hate, so Midnight Riot is the first I’ve heard of the bloke. 

I’m starting over as a blogger here on Blogspot. Livejournal has issues. Blogspot offers synergies. 

The end of the year has been all about finishing projects. I turned over a new card game to the publisher today, finished work on an electronic game design team a couple weeks ago and finished the playtest version of a new tabletop game in-between.

But enough about things that aren’t properly announced yet. My friend Lee Moyer has also managed to finish a long-term project recently and his project is already published. Given that his is a wonderful 2012 literary pin-up calendar, it’s just about the last moment for me to give it a plug. I bought more copies than can be counted on one hand to give as gifts. You should try one, especially since the purchase supports the Heifer International charity and I’ve heard the hopes for the future of the project.