Monday, April 30, 2018

Cursed Court: Four Coins Variant

This is a guest post from Jonathan Tweet about a game we both love. You can find him on Twitter at @JonathanMTweet or on Google+ as Jonathan Tweet 
Atlas Games has a new board game that’s about placing bets based on shared, limited information, and it’s become one of my favorite multiplayer board games. Cursed Court was designed by Andrew Hanson, with great art by Lee Moyer. The board and cards consist mainly of art, so it’s an attractive game. The core mechanic is simple but deep, where each player starts with foreknowledge of two cards guaranteed to come up, one card secretly shared with the player to the left and the other with the player to the right. Players take turns betting on which cards and card combinations are going to turn up, watching each others’ bets closely to try to discern what the other players know.
Coins are used to guarantee the bets that players make. Each round, each player ends up with four bets placed on the board, each one backed up with a number of coins. Another player can take your place on a bet if they devote twice as many coins to the bet as you did. For example, if you bet on “The Scandal”, you score 3 points if, at the end of the round, the Courtesan, Queen, and Assassin are all in play. You can also put any number of coins on the bet, and they indicate how committed you are to it. Later in the round, another player can kick you off “The Scandal” by committing at least twice as many coins as you did. The coins add an important degree of strategy, both in how you assign coins and how you interpret the coins assigned by others. Bluffing can throw off other players, so it sometimes pays to assign coins to a bet that you’re not sure of.
The drawback of using the coins is that they lead to time spent counting and calculating. Players are stuck sometimes trying to figure out whether it makes more sense to commit 6 coins or 7. To figure that out, you need to know how many coins other players have left to play, which means counting their stacks.
When I play, I make a simple change to the rules. Instead of each player starting with 20 coins, you get 4. At this scale, the difference of 1 coin plus or minus is actually significant, and you see at a glance how many coins each player has left to use. Players get the same range of options, from committing no coins on a bet to committing all of them, but their intermediate options are limited to three: 1, 2, or 3 coins. The game moves faster, and you don’t really lose anything.
One game design rule of thumb that I’m sometimes credited with is that in a game two things should be the same or different. When we designed 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, we made all the standard humanoid monsters, such as goblins and hobgoblins, noticeably different from each other. That was an example of the same-or-different rule in practice. The four coins variant is another result of that thinking. With 20 coins, when you back up a bet with 6 of them, it’s not the same as using 7 but it’s not all that different, either. Likewise, backing a bet with 1 coin is almost the same as not using any coins at all. Using only four coins, two different levels of commitment are always significantly different from each other because each individual coin is one-fourth of your total.
—Jonathan Tweet

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Book of Demons: using symbols from @GameIcons

In the last chapter of Book of Demons, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan wrote some deceptively calm text describing things that can be found in the Citadel of the Diabolist. I loved his understated approach to iconic horrors, and realized that using a traditional illustration style wouldn't fit. Instead, I decided to try understated silhouette-style symbols to maintain the contrast.

I asked layout artist Badger McInnes to play symbol-artist, but before Badger started, ASH LAW pointed me towards the treasure trove of Creative Commons symbols made available by @game-icons/. They're up to over 3300 symbols tailored for gaming, wonderful stuff for both published games and prototypes.

The site is searchable with tags and it was no problem to find ten symbols that worked by Lorc and Delapouite. Badger slightly modified the symbols, we handled the Creative Commons licensing text in the credits, and you can find them on page 103 of Book of Demons. Here's a snippet of the page with Gareth's text and three of the symbols . . . .

My stupid mistake was that I miscounted and only credited them with nine symbols. I left the Cultist icon by Lorc out of my count, the symbol just above. We ended up using ten symbols from game-icons, not nine. I didn't discover the error until I was writing this blog post and realized I wasn't going to be able to simply recommend the game-icons site, I also need to apologize for screwing up the count.

Apology: I apologize. I got confused. Gosh darn demon cultists.

Recommendation: Game-icons is a wonderfully useful site. Follow them on twitter at @gameicons. Design a game about prehistory because they just uploaded wonderful prehistoric icons. Have fun!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Interviews & Lists

broo minis painted by Richard Bark, octorilla/walktapus mini from when Jonathan and I designed Dreamblade

I've done a few interviews in the last couple weeks, two about 13th Age Glorantha and one about monster design.

JM, Mark, and Nick's Iconic podcast on all things 13th Age-related has started up for a second season! Jonathan Tweet and I were guests for the first episode. We started by discussing the biggest design challenge we faced on 13G: fitting everything into a 190 page book. (Spoiler: we failed!) Our hosts were funny and fun and I'm looking forward to joining them again some time.

Also in the world of radio podcasting, The RevEnFuego interviewed me about 13th Age Glorantha for a BJ Shea's Geek Nation segment. Unlike the Iconic trio, the Rev wasn't familiar with Glorantha before he got hold of 13G, so we started with some of the runic, mythic, and Staffordian basics. As with the Iconic chat, we eventually landed among ducks. Along the way we talked a lot about 13G classes like the trickster that might also be used in 13th Age games that aren't set in Glorantha.

That was also the subject of a column I wrote for the Pelgrane Press website, New 13th Age Classes: A Swordmaster & an Earth Priestess Walk into the Dragon Empire. Originally I was going to write about all the new classes in 13G, but I opted to go in-depth into two (Humakti and earth priestess) as examples of what's possible.

Meanwhile in a text interview that had nothing to do with ducks, but one good question about Glorantha, Phil Pepin of High Level Games asked me questions about monster design, including a question that led back to designing miniatures games at WotC. That ties nicely into the miniature photographed above, a walktapus-by-another-name that Jonathan and I made as part of a Dreamblade set while at WotC.

Another thing we took along with us from WotC was a fondness for the OGL. We used it for 13th Age so that other people could create compatible products with the system and I enjoyed Wade Rockett's recent round-up of notable books compatible with 13th Age published by third-party publishers. There's a lot of great stuff here, and it didn't mention some of the cooler free stuff, like Tim Baker's Escalation fanzine.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

13th Age Glorantha: Delicious (to Trolls)

Of the little things I like about our 13th Age Glorantha book, one of the silliest is how pages 347 and 348 look like they've been eaten by moths. It’s the o Darkness section of our runic geography chapter. o Darkness is the rune of the trolls, and trolls a) eat anything; and b) herd giant insects. So it always makes me happy that pages devoted to troll territories look like they’ve been nibbled by bugs!

But did I say this was silly? It’s not really. It’s the kind of thing Greg Stafford planned when he envisioned Glorantha’s runes. It’s more cosmic than it is accident.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Heinsoo: Rainbow over the Wine-Zoo

How do you pronounce my last name? Yes, you, the reader, the comrade sharing this line.

If you pronounce the first syllable to rhyme with ‘wine’ and the second syllable to room with ‘zoo,’ you’re agreeing with nearly all English speakers. Well, American-speakers, at least.

If you pronounce the first syllable to rhyme with ‘rain’ and the second syllable to rhyme with ‘bow,’ you’re either Estonian (or maybe Finnish or Dutch), a member of my circle of family or friends with a good ear for language, or someone who has had me correct you two or three times already.

My wife Lisa (not a Heinsoo, by the way, she has a very cool name of her own that’s marginally easier to pronounce) advises me to give it up, and just let people pronounce my name the way they’re going to read it, because come on, who am I kidding? She’s probably right. When Shane Ivey of Arc Dream asked me last week about the pronunciation of my name for the upcoming Wrestlenomicon Kickstarter video, I could have let the original wine-zoo pronunciation roll. Because really, I don’t care if people say my name wrong. 

I just can’t bring myself to ignore our Estonian selves, not when I say my own name, or when someone asks. Who would I be if I’d grown up with a name that other people could pronounce properly? Maybe less of an unusual person, I say, being polite.. I suspect I wouldn’t be me, not in some odd ways that matter.

So it’s OK if you pronounce the name of my company to rhyme with Rob Wine-Zoo Games. I don’t mind, I expect it. But if you hear me talking, I’ll continue to rhyme my name with rainbow. And in honor of that pronunciation, here are four beautiful color treatments Lee Moyer (rhyme scheme starts with Wheee!) created of the logo for the new company, and two black and white versions like the one that appears on the cover of 13th Age Glorantha.