About jesusgaray

I am a writer and freelancer of many things. I was born in Lima, Peru, but I was raised in Northern New Jersey. As a consequence of that, I have moments where I curse in Spanish profusely.

How Will Our Rulebook Look Like Compared To Others?

Our game, on its own right now, is pretty easy to explain. But there’s a difference between explaining it to someone in person, and that person pulling out the rules from the box and hoping they don’t scratch their heads in confusion and putting the game away forever. Our game has some very unique concepts, so our rulebook has to be as well thought out as the game.

The best rulebooks go in-depth and explain every little mechanic about their game. It is chock-full of  images, examples, and understandable language that fill the player’s head instantly. Without it, an intense session that goes wrong won’t have the right information to fix it, or have the stuff to get a game going to begin with.

I was looking at a few rulebooks, some at Phil’s suggestion and some on my own, to get started on how our rulebook should look like. Here are some that were effective for their games.

Image result for terra mystica

Terra Mystica

The strategy territory-building game use a lot of icons that make it easy for the player to remember what is going on. The setup and turn sections are explained plainly and in detail.

Image result for lords of waterdeep rules

Lords of Waterdeep

We’ve played this game before, and it is arguably one of the best rulebooks we’ve seen. After the regular rulebook part is finished, it has all the tiles, agents and lords used in the game, explained and divided by appendices.

8-Minute Empire

The beauty in how this Kickstarter-funded game made its rulebook is simple. First, it’s barely a book – just two print-ready pages. Second, most of it is either written in lists to explain order or short blurbs that keep things clear.

Image result for mage knight rules

Mage Knight

For all intents and purposes, this game can be very complex at times. So, this is more of an example of how the writers did such a good job in creating a rulebook that made it as made it as accessible as possible. Players have a good start on first page from an image of the player area in the setup page. All the sections have strong headings that pop out and make it easy to find the portion you need.

 

alchem

Alchemists

The flavor text throughout is tongue-in-cheek and well placed. Texts are changed in color to get the reader’s attention, whether it be to read about a mechanic of the game, or one of the many examples described throughout the rulebook.

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Clockwork Wars

What makes this game’s rulebook stand out from the other is that I has a cool map-generation section. From there, players can use the hex tiles to configurations for different styles and numbers of players.

What Our Rulebook Needs

Our rulebook needs an appeal so that it isn’t just about understanding how the game works. It will need clear visuals of the cards and setup along with clear language about mechanics. It wouldn’t help putting in some flavor to get the theme across, either. As soon as we get this done, we won’t have to worry as much when start blind playtests.

 

Cram @ Gen Con: Takeaways Between One Year

 

Hi!

Phil, Cindy, and I are still here, I promise you. We’ve been working on the game as best we can. What really helped us came from Phil’s two trips to the table-top gaming con Mecca known as Gen Con. And they have been very important trips to the game’s development.

Truth Bombs at Gen Con 2015

When Phil took the game to Gen Con 2015, it was very different.  The 2015 version of the game had Influence cards, which players could use to draw cards, gain points, etc.  At that point, Phil considered the game completed. There was some complexity to it, but it had solid mechanics that let you do interesting things once you figured it out.

He presented the game to some designers at the Game Crafter Community Game Night (they’re the ones that print our game). It was there where fellow designer Andrew Voigt – designer of Perspective – delivered the strongest criticism about the game it had ever received.

“If I went over to a friends house and they asked me to play this game, and after we were done they asked “do you want to play again?”, I would say “no thank you”.

Phil said it hit him so hard that he still remembers it.

 Andrew explained it further.There was too much decision space in the game. All the choices and different directions that find the best way to win were mentally draining. The game was overloaded with effects, most of it coming from the Influence cards.

 Scrapping, Stripping, and Simplifying

After the criticism, the options were to either accept the game as is or do some major fixing. That very night at the hotel Phil started working (with Emma‘s help) on making the game a simpler one. The focus was finding what were the key interactions of the game – and cutting out the ones that weren’t.

After feedback with the different Gen Con crowd, this was how the game changed:

  • We cut Influence and Cultures as cards from the game.We are now using the word “Influence” to mean victory point. Cultures are now just a flavorful aesthetic for your cult.
  • Shrines are now part of a player’s starting setup and are the focal points for interactions.
  • Followers are now the main currency of the game. You work to attract and use them to “power” your actions.
  • Relics are the only way you can score points now, so you need to interact with them to win.  They are now center stage in terms of the game theme as well.

The game now now has a much more simple core gameplay loop Now that the heart of the game centers on three types of cards instead of five, it’s more accessible.

What Happened One Year Later?

This year at Gen Con 2016 Phil had playtests with this leaner version of our game, and the reports are that it went well. Two of the groups managed to get through two full games. One three-player group got it done under 30 minutes, which is awesome.
There was still room for improvement, of course. Here’s a few of the major points of feedback that Phil collected:
  • There is some confusion and/or loopholes on some of the cards. They aren’t major but they need to be fixed for clarity and to plug any exploits.
  • We’ve still had issues with a tiebreaker option. Phil asked the groups that played for good ideas on a tiebreaker, and he thinks he has figured it out.
  • One game had a problem where a player was essentially eliminated from play because they did not attract enough followers. This might turn off new players, so Phil has a potential fix for that as well.
  • Everyone loves the art and the flavor.
  • The game description was appealing and drew people to come play it.

The most important aspect of this feedback is that it’s coming from regular players. The help of other designers has been essential to getting the game this far. However, game designers are always looking to give you feedback and they aren’t always interested in the kind of game you’re making. This event was nice because the people who played chose to play it. In the end, you can’t beat the satisfaction of watching people enjoy your game and have fun.

Revamped Designs Means Revamped Cards!

We’ve been working on major changes to the game in the months since our last post. Phil made great strides on the mechanics from playtests. His updates meant there was a need for new changes in the card design, and Cindy delivered. Here is a preview of the new deck design.

RevampCard1

The most important changes come from Phil’s removal of a lot of components from the previous prototype. There were a lot of things on the left sidebar that are gone now, and as Cindy said, ” less complexity is always a good thing.”

The deck is neatly divided by the colors of the back of the cards. The backgrounds and back of cards all have a weathered aesthetic to fit the theme and Cindy’s art.

RevampCard2

Here is the before and after of one of the Influence Cards, Revisionism. You can see the changes in font, icons, background color, and size of the text boxes. The overall dark tone of the new card helps push the dirty look we are looking for. It works great with the Follower and Shrine cards.

While they’re not include in these photos, I had some updates of my own. Since the design changes also affected the Culture cards, I made sure that those made sense thematically. Those were rewritten as well. Stadium, one of the Shrines, also needed a flavor text change since Phil made extensive switches on it. I also fixed the title of a Relic that’s been bothering me since I got on this project.

There’s the matter of one more major change left. The three of us would like to change the name of the game – the more we’ve pitched the game to others the more we’ve come to the conclusion there’s a better name we can use. When the time comes, we will release that as well. Hope you enjoyed the update!

The Three Prophets

At first dawn I see the Prophet call for new followers

Bellow the simple prophecy and a complex truth

That convinced builders and strong warriors,

That guarded the construction of a holy booth

Where more can sit, and soak in the words

And gaze at the mantle and the wonder

 

At second dawn, the Usurper comes, abstract

In the teachings that attracts iconoclasts

Hungry for new excuses of relic blasts

And orators, their false words backed

With glorious purpose that move the herds

To spread their faith with great ardor

 

At third dawn, appeared a sacred Diviner

Spouting what he found in texts olden

That attracted scholars, always beholden

To the sacred words of past reminders

Of the World Before – the prophet’s records

Grows, but will it one day be put asunder?

Playtest Story – The Bloom of the Beasts

It’s the way of the fool  to marginalize any living thing. Even the smallest, most chaotic ones can surprise you with their victory.

The legend said that there was a certain breed of survivors of the Darkness that did not hide from the terror of that time. In fact, they fed from it until their bodies were strong enough to set out and claim what was left of the world. They were small bands living from meager supplies, with stories told of mythic fire-weapons from the world before. To their disappointment they could find no traces of any in their hunts. They decided then that it was time to make their own weapons from what was left with no regard to the quality of the construction. Those that did find strong materials made deadly arms, such as the Red Crescent – a giant, oddly angled disc cut into the shape of the first sign of the moon.

One of the most dangerous threats to the Beasts was a time called the Prophets’ Culling. Many so-called seers of the future proclaimed of some good, but mostly horrible tidings. As a consequence, fear invaded the minds and hearts of the people. The Beasts became the scapegoats for the doom that fell out of the prophets’ mouths.

The iconoclasts from the Hammers of Light, in their mission to break down anything from the blighted past,  smashed icons considered holy to the Beasts. The Water Runners casted out the rugged warriors into the raging seas when they encountered them on the coastline. The Beasts, however, were born from the calamity of an apocalypse – these new attacks were merely a scratch. Their numbers never faltered, and even in the most trying of moments found manners of survival.

In retaliation, the tribes of the Beasts joined together, and their sole prophet made a declaration:

The moon will bring us her strength in the form of a red bloom. We will harvest it, and from it will come the weapons of victory.

At first, many scoffed at the threat, but as the revolutions of the sun progressed and people became more complacent, the Beasts gathered their small army, each holding Red Crescents, and attacked. Shrines were cut down like chaff in wheat fields, icons were turned against their owners, and the Beasts bestowed on their opponents the mercy they had inflicted onto them. The Prophets’ Culling turned into the Bloom of the Beast. The Beasts made semi-permanent camps after that, knowing full well no one would have the nerve to attack them, and  even to this day when one sees the moon turn red, they look off to the horizon hoping that they do not see the crescents coming their way.

Spreading the Cult at Boston FIG

Phil and I brought the cult with us to the Boston Festival of Indie Games on Saturday. There were 18 exhibitors and a few sponsors showing games at the tabletop showcase. The hall was packed within the moment attendees started coming in, and our table was constantly filled with players wanting to take a shot at creating the largest cult.

Phil and I used this as our pitch:

The theme of the game is that in the far future, the current human society has completely lost track of our society having ever existed. However, they begin to unearth artifacts from our time. Not knowing what these objects are, they proscribe their own meaning to them and ultimately start forming cults around them. Each player is a cult leader, vying to create the most powerful cult.

We must have said our sales pitch more than….what, 50-plus times? It became just another reflex after a while. People liked the theme – they were saying things like “Yeah, in a post-apocalypse I’d start a cult too.”

We had a good variety of people sitting down and playing the game. There were MIT college kids, couples, kids and adults, and more. Our first 4-person game brought in really interested people who got the hang of the game quickly.  One player pulled off a good Revisionism/Overwork combo on Scholar follower cards. What was really interesting was the trend of women playing very aggressive games. They smashed other player’s credibility and stole followers as if they were on a crusade.The really inspiring thing was when a pair of attendees coming back for a second play-through, bringing more friends to play with them.  It was awesome to see the two explain the mechanics of the game without our help.

Cindy got a lot of praise for her work on the relics. She and I designed three flyers – one for the Enduring Confection, Second Skull, and Elixir – that had a snake-oil salesman vibe to it. Attendees were definitely feeling Skull and Confection. Check them out here:

key_to_cityThe tongue-in-cheek take on the Key to the City relic made a lot of people laugh. I’m so glad that the idea of relics went well with those who checked out the game. Boston FIG was an amazing way of putting our game through the gamer’s gauntlet, and while Phil and I came out of that day wiped out, the feeling that the game is working made up for all of it.

Unearthed Relics

Our great artist Cindy has been hard at work the relics.  In my opinion, this is part of the game that really cements the themes and world. As mentioned in my first post, the idea is to make these seemingly normal items into something you would put on a pedestal. With that in mind, I present to you the first one, the Earth Grinder:

“An unorthodox sword to fight greedy earth spirits”

RELIC-Earth_Grinder

This was one of the first Phil came up with. It is one of the Faith (general utility) cards. When sacrificed, it allows the player to draw more cards. I chose the name  to continue on the narrative of how the loss of information has made words as simple as “shovel” disappear.

Next one up is the Enduring Confection:

“Sweet ecstasy from the World Before attracts the hungry”

RELIC-Enduring_Confection

This is one of our Zealotry (attack-based) cards. When sacrificed, a player can steal a follower or missionary from another player. This one actually came from a friend of mine. I wanted to make an “edible” relic, and he was the one that suggested a Twinkie-like pastry (personally, I think they taste bland as hell).

We’ll put up more as the art progresses.

The Undertow – A Playtest Story

Every time I take part in a play test, my mind isn’t always on winning. I’ve tried to weave little vignettes to give myself more of an idea of the cultures we’ve made cards for. I’ve toyed around with the notes I write down during games, but after seeing that a Kickstarter-backed PC game (Torment: Tides of Numenera) dropping a free novella for their backers to read, I don’t really have an excuse to put down the stories. Here is my first stab at one from a couple of playtests ago.

culture_the-undertow

I recall one movement, perhaps a few turns of the moon ago, of a clever fisher of followers. That leader came from a dock owned by the Water Runners, men and women who saw the unforgiving ocean as their friendly pond, born fearless of the void past the horizon. That fisher told them that only the true believers, not the mediocre seafarers, had the inner faith to risk and survive the crashing waves.

To the fisher’s surprise, the sermons worked. The wonders and preaching dissolved all fears of the converted. But it was not enough  – total dominance of the waters was the goal, and as such all influence must come to the fisher’s control. A group was created, the Order of the Radiant Net,  but others called them by the denigrating nickname of Water Rats . Initiates in the order were  fervently cast off into the sea to find new followers, but their leader made sure to send a select few in each boat that were the true rats.

They were saboteurs and thieves loyal to their ocean master. Every pier they docked in, while the missionaries began their work in a port town, the others crept into shrines, stealing relics or eavesdropping on the leaders of other cults. They would take the spoils back to their leader, who would then re-purpose them as “divine knowledge” the leader gathered from the ocean.

The coastal empire of the order grew with each stolen follower and relic. Soon those that still saw the order as a threat gave them a new name – The Undertow. It was befitting, as while a member anointed a new follower on the beach, with a mix of sea water and other liquids, the tide hidden underneath would force them to prostate. And in the end, their leader had many kneeling on the sand.

Research Bookmarks 1

I figured it would be a good idea to get behind the little things I’ve been picking off the internet to help me get a better image of the game’s world. Disclaimer: while I might grab some stuff from them, there is no real way of knowing what will or won’t make it, so don’t take them all as primary sources from what I will eventually put into writing.

Under Tomorrow’s Sky

Description: Under Tomorrow’s Sky is a “fictional, future city…assembled by a think tank of scientists, technologists, futurists, illustrators, science fiction authors and special effects artists to collectively develop this imaginary place, the landscapes that surround it and the stories it contains.”

Why I’m Stealing It: The photo above is a pretty cool concept of a supposed future city. Honestly, though, does the place look…advanced? There’s a goat sitting down in the bottom right corner, and the irregular, raw-cut openings have cloths of many colors draped on them. It’s a rocky mess. But a cool one.

Prophetic News

Description: Oh boy. A little backstory – I run into quite a bit of end-times sites when I sift through lists of links for my day job. This one is the latest of the batch. To give you an idea of the crazy in this one, there is a post where, using completely insane “research”, the ethnicity of the future Antichrist is revealed. It even has end notes.

Why I’m Stealing It: It’s a treasure trove of insane ramblings. The important part of the game is that there needs to be a need of an impending doom, of prophecies and leaders doing what they can to make them real. While I don’t think the blog creator is trying to bring  people to a hidden compound out in Middle-of-Nowhere, USA, the amount of effort made into it shows that even the most irrational things have a solid base of sorts.

Random Cool Church Photo

Description: It’s a weird fish-eye lens take on a church.

Why I’m Stealing It: It just looked cool.

Seven Abandoned Wonders of Institutional Architecture

Description: While I’m still on structures, I found this photo set of broken-down areas in the US, Spain, Scotland, and other places.

Why I’m Stealing It: The world of the card game is strewn with crumbling buildings that house makeshift shrines. These structures are going to be good source.

The End of Reason, Pt. 1

The death came in two parts. The first was the physical one that came in the form of my master’s slow decline into the other world. It was sad, in a profound way to him – his family’s whole existence was devoted to protecting an inner light, one in the…what’s that word he used? Ah, yes – “mind”. In his rare moments of pride he would proclaim that it was that invisible object known as the mind that resided in the head of his family and in that of all people. None of us could ever find a visible example of this object – and trust me, there were some who risked opening their heads to do so. It was the inner mind of my master that allowed his control the of the glowing eyes and veins of the snake. I was taught how to control the heart of the snake, so in a sense perhaps I too have a “mind”.

The stories master would tell the rest of the clan were wondrous at first. He told of the World Before, when light filled the dead glass monoliths and the infinite blue canopy above the world housed silver birds the size of houses. A time where all of those with a mind could talk over long distances, much further than the tunnels we lived in. Of how we had the power to fight the fearsome ravages that plague our bodies.

Then he would tell us about how we as a mighty race still did not have the foresight to see the cliff, and how we did not have enough knowledge to understand the depth of our civilization’s fall. The Darkness, he would call it, a disappearance of light, in all forms, mind, body, and spirit.

“Disorder covered all,” the master would say in hushed and defeated tones. “Entropy of the mind, of the body…all of us almost fell into the Darkness.” He then said that we, the Clan of the Metal Snake, were descendants of those who left the chaos. Our ancestors braved that first descent into the shadows of the tunnels in order to survive the Darkness above.

“We ran because we thought,” was the first line of the tale. “We represented not just a threat – a false one, at that – but as an excuse, to inflict the pain so many had felt when the lights went out.”

He would never tell us the true cause of the Darkness, just as his father could not nor could his grandfather  or the rest of his lineage. His answer was always the same: “I am still investigating it.”  Lamentably, his  search could not stop his coughs, growing stronger every day, or his inability to hold  the controls of the snake. His reliance on my strength increased with his age. That is how the second death started.